Sunday, June 29, 2008

PO'ed in PA

Ok, so I'll admit, I cribbed this title from a series of comics drawn by this guy "Butters" on the trail. He leaves them in every trail register and they're pretty consistently hillarious, so I figured I borrow it for today. Its hard to believe that the last time I posted was in Harper's Ferry, WV, yet now all the sudden I am here at the end of Pennsylvania, and none too soon either. We're all tired of the state and its near constant rocks, though there are few hills or other major challenges to get in the way. The terrain in PA was one of the trail rumors everyone's been hearing about for hundreds of miles, and they don't disappoint. While the worst bits didn't start until a few days ago, my feet have been getting roughed up with every mile of walking. But, instead of complaining, I'll just go back to the beggining and spare you.
After the long haul through VA, the states of West Virginia and Maryland blew by like a breeze. After leaving Harper's Ferry, we got a nice stroll along the C&O canal path, the same trail that heads through Georgetown in D.C. It was nice and relaxing, with the Potomac on one side and the tranquil canal on the other, but once again made me miss the city. We had a few parting glances from the cliffs back down the river before heading into MD, which was full of Civil War history and old momuments, including a small stone one to George Washington. Nothing to rival its bigger cousin, but something cool to see anyway.
We passed into PA, which started benignly enough with some easy ridge trail that gave way to the farms of the Cumberland Valley. State parks were sprinkled along the way, including the milestone Pine Grove Furnace Park, where the official half-way point is located. Its also the home to the "Half Gallon Challenge", where hikers routinely down a box of ice cream in a minor gastronomic feat that inevitably leaves one sprinting for the bathroom (chocolate chip cookie dough for me, in a measly 30 minutes; the record is 4:30 or so). The flat land afterward was a bit disorienting, walking across the fields with corn growing on one side and wheat on the left or wading through grass grown head-high, the hills receding for a short time. Luckily the trail passes straight through several towns, including historic Boiling Springs with many preserved buildings and a clear lake in the center. Several of us got to witness a wedding at a gazebo right off the path; the coupled walked down the aisle on the same trail we'd been following for 1,100 miles. Next came Duncannon, a slightly less charming town on the Susquehanna (sp) River, home to the seedy yet legendary Doyle Hotel. In a great stroke of luck, Anastasia came to visit on here way back from a wedding in WV with a friend and we got to have a few drink together. On the other side of the coin, I got an egg thrown at me on the way back to my campsite; a glancing blow to the foot, but annoying none-the-less and asign that not everyone understand that they have something unimaginably cool going right through their home town. I'm eternally gratefull that I didn't grow up in that particular burg.
The rest of the state proceded along ridgelines and down into the river vallys between, passing through Port Clinton and skirting the rememnants of an envirnmental disaster outside Palmerton, where years of zinc mining and smelting left the hills denuded and dead, a wasteland with a view. From there on out, our feet became punching bags, constantly getting beaten and twisted by rocks. I was fortunate enough to fall in briefly with a group of fun people, so at least themisery was shared, and now I've been relaxing the past couple of days with my mom and brother who met up with me in Wind Gap and did some hiking with me today. There's been tons of food, a gradual lessening of the rocks, and some nice downtime and company, as well as some new shoes and gear to take me the rest of the way. Now that the tough terrain is gone for the time being, I should be flying along from one visit with friends and family to another. I'm looking foward to seeing and meeting more people as I go north, the next few weeks should be a fun time... until the White Mountains at least anyway.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

1,000 miles and feelin' fine

I'm here at the ATC headquaters in historic Harper's Ferry, WV, having passed the 1000 mile mark sometime earlier today. In addition, we finally passed out of VA, having come some 535 miles through the state. While its not quite the physical half way point, the town still holds a special place for hikers on the trail, and it defitinitely feels good to be here, and to be able to add another state to those finished. The area is beautiful, filled with old buildings and situated on a hill where the Potomac and Shenendoah Rivers converge, and luckily the weather has cleared up after a thunderstorm hit last night. The last few days have been eerily sparse as far as other thru hikers go, so I'll be trying hard to catch up with a few guys who got ahead of me in Front Royal; hopefully they aren't hurrying through the area, as I would like to spend some time in town. With D.C. so close by, NYC approaching, my stay with my sis in Front Royal, and my mom coming to visit soon, I have lots to look foward to in the coming weeks. The states and the miles should be coming fast now, time for the second half to begin!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Through the Shenendoahs and Beyond

Just saying hi from scenic Front Royal, VA today, the last stop in this state and the end of the Shenendoahs. The last week has been like hiker vacation with easy trail, easy grades and lots of available food from the restaurants scattered throughout the park. Got to meet lots of tourists along the way and educate people about the trail a bit which was fun; its kinda like being famous, but more smelly. Saw a total of 13 bears, countless deer, some woodchuck and racoons, tons of great views and had mostly fair weather. The mountain laurel was out in full force lending its distinct scent to every step, but unfortunately we were a bit early for the blackberries and such which also crowded the trail. I also had the chance to night hike for a bit which really is a different experience, getting to see the lights of civilization coming to life off in the distance from the ridges and with thte clear weather and full monn approaching, will be doing more of that soon. Met some new people as well and passed some others, but after taking a few days off in town here with my sis, I'm sure I'll be seeing them all again soon. Well, gotta run, next stop is Harper's Ferry then on into Maryland and Pennsylvania. Getting closer to home every day, hope to see yall soon.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Strenous Yet Satisfying

Writing to you from Waynesborough VA here on a sunny, breezy day. Alot has happened since my last post, but I might save some of it until I have more time to write.
Just a note, I usually use the word "we" when writing despite the fact that I usually hike solo. This is due to the fact that we all hike the same trail and go ver the same hill, visit the same towns, stay in the same places, etc. Even though I'm not really traveling with anyone in particular, it doesn't feel right to use the word "I", so there you have it.
The biggest challenge so far has been getting over the fact that VA is in fact not very flat. Many past hikers have told us so, but after making repeated 3000 foot climbs in stifling hot weather it has become apparent that that was a hoax. The trail paralles the Blue Ridge Parkway and is often no more than a hundred yards from the smooth, well graded road, yet we have to climb steep and rocky hills with no views; those are reserved for motorists it would seem. Couple that with the near incessant flies, the deteriorating boots, and sky high humidity, and VA has been anything but easy so far.
Regardless of the challeneges though, the trail has been rewarding. Some great views so far have been at McAfee's Knob, an outcropping with 180 degree views and a perfect sunset, as well as Tinker Cliffs, Hay Rocks, and Cold Mountain. Every day has afforded the chance to bathe in some cool creeks and under waterfalls, sample some wild strawberries and honeysuckle and see more deer than I can count. We've camped by mountain ponds filled with peepers, bullfrogs and birds, crossed the longest footbridge in North America over the James River, and met a Trans-Continental cyclist with his own traill stories to tell.
Furthermore, there has been a ton of trail magic lately to ease the hiking burden. At Thunder Hill shelter, a local man was cooking pancakes, eggs, and sausage for 8 hungry hikers, in the rain. Several times people have left coolers with drinks or given rides into town. And best of all, at Hog Camp Gap, shortly after completing a crippling climb in 90 degree weather, we stumbled upon a tailgate party held by past hikers with tons of free food, drinks, and music that lasted all weekend. It was very difficult leaving before the festivities broke up, and as result the last few days have been pretty solitary, with most people in town or at the party.
Next up is Shenendoah National Park, a hundred mile section before coming to Front Royal and the end of VA where I hope to take a day or two off and possibly see some old faces. Geoff, Bad Dinner, Bone Lady, Wild Oats, Tetris, New Guy, Mike, Wookie and Wasabi are all behind me somewhere, but theres 1200 or so more miles to go so I'm sure I'll see them all again sooner or later. It shouldn't be too long before I post again, but take it easy in the mean time.