Sunday, November 25, 2012

Journal: 234 Miles. Stage One: Loafing

Two Hundred and Thirty-four Miles to Harpers Ferry

Stage One: Loafing

Hurricane Sandy didn't do much harm to the trail near Palmerton. Lots of little trees fell across the trail, but because only little trees are growing there, only little trees fell. During our hike out of Palmerton Silly and I earned our merit badges for trail maintenance by removing branches upon branches and quite a few small trees. With practice, clearing the trail is little hindrance to hiking. The key is to bring the movement of the trekking pole into your stride and flick the trees and branches off the path in tune with the movement of your body. It becomes a game and is endlessly entertaining. 

The hard part of the hike was the weather: cold fog. One day we were hiking in 60 and 70 degree temperatures, the next day it was in the low 40s and mid 30s. The persistent fog didn't help, making it wet and cold. Prime hypothermia weather.

That first night out of Palmerton we left at noon planning to hike eighteen miles. As the daylight grew scarce we were still two miles shy of home for the night. The heavy fog and cold made this one of my more dangerous hikes. There were a few moments where I was tempted to bivouac in the trail because the chance of losing the trail in the gloom was so great. Blazes were completely invisible until they were fifteen feet away. I walked right into the pointy end of a fallen branch because I only saw it looming a scant five inches from my torso. But I got to the shelter more or less in one piece, albeit with many scrapes and cuts.

We talked ourselves into easy days, made lazy by the extra stress of the cold. Eckville Shelter was a seven mile hike to delivered pizza and charged cell phones. The day after, the weather cleared a bit, enough to actually get a view from the famous Pinnacle. And the cold began to become bearable as my body adjusted. But where was Elvis? With the short hiking days we kept expecting to see him show since he was only one shelter behind Silly and me when we left Palmerton.
Strange pile of rocks at The Pinnacle with a cameo by Silly.

The fog clears! View at the Pinnacle. Strange hairy men hang out at the top. It's easier to remove a shirt than to change into shorts.
I crossed my 2000 mile mark outside of Port Clinton. Silly's 1000 mile mark was coming up not long after that. We spent the night at the fully enclosed 501 Shelter and determined to resupply in Pine Grove the next morning for a joint trailside celebration. Pine Grove is not a big town; when we asked the locals for a place to eat breakfast, they weren't sure we would be able to find a place. We were pointed to the American Legion, and despite misgivings about it actually being a restaurant, we gave it a try.

2000.1 miles completed.
I was pleasantly surprised. Russ, the steward, was incredibly friendly. We sat at his table and talked with him through all of breakfast. He told us about the town, the Legion, and even the local liquor laws. Then he arranged for us to get half off of our tabs! The food was good too. Not finished yet, Russ drove us to the grocery store.

After resupplying for hiking we still had to resupply for the celebration. For that we walked a mile to the liquor store where I bought boxed wine and Silly bought whiskey. I also picked up a special version of one pound Reese's peanut butter cups. Sometime later that afternoon we decided that we should actually head back to the trail and hike our four miles for the day. Those four miles would bring Silly to the 1000 mile mark for SOBOs. With all the goodies, my pack weighed in at a massive 53 lbs so I was very glad we had only four miles to go.

At the shelter we found a bunch of day hikers and two more SOBOs. We split up the goods among the thru hikers and toasted each other. The day hikers chimed in with meatballs for all the meat eaters. I regret to say that even with a thru hiker's appetite I was unable to finish my portion, one quarter pound, of the giant Reese's. And where was Elvis? He should certainly have caught up by now.

One lazy day deserves another, so the following day we headed to Rausch Gap Shelter for a thirteen mile hike. Along the way, Silly befriended JZ, a thru hiker extraordinaire who completed the triple crown and hiked the PCT twice more. JZ invited us to his house for the next day. How could you say no?

Brand new Rausch Gap shelter; it reopened October 2012. I like the table design.
The next day, we hiked twenty miles to the arranged pickup point. JZ drove us to his house thirty minutes away. He gave us food, laundry, showers, and a place to sleep. We got to look through his albums, play with his cats, and ask him questions.Thank you JZ!
JZ, trail angel and hiker extraordinaire. 
My next stop on the trail was Duncannon PA, home of the Doyle. The town itself is not well kept. But Vickey and Pat at the Doyle are so friendly and welcoming. The food is good and the quantities are solid. But really the winner is the conversation. I spent hours at the Doyle just talking with Pat and Vickey. Silly had zoomed ahead and was long gone, but after a couple hours, Elvis finally showed up!  Elvis told me that he had been just a couple miles behind Silly and me each and every day, never catching up. Now I had another good reason to stay, not that I was planning on leaving yet.

Here at the Doyle, the last stages of my hike changed. Over the last few days I had been considering my options. Option A was to hike all the way south to Georgia. Option B was to skip ahead to friends on the trail and hike south to Georgia via a shorter path. Option C was to complete my hike at Harpers Ferry and move on to the next adventure. Through conversations with Silly, Elvis, and Sweet I weighed my options. In the end, it came down to a single fact: completing my hike at Harpers felt right.

At the Doyle I call Sweet from my cell phone about completing my hike and meeting up - it would be the last call that phone made. After making arrangements, I am hanging out at the bar with Elvis and Vickey when the screen on my phone fails. This began to happen back in Palmerton with an ever increasing frequency. I have been using the factory reset to bring it back to functioning but it's had less and less success of late. This time the screen won't come on at all. The failure came at a rather bad time. I just made arrangements to meet with Sweet, I have arrangements to meet with Darren, and I am making arrangements to meet with Kellie and my hiking group. And I just changed my plans to complete my hike at Harpers Ferry. I need a functioning phone.

I wrestle with the phone for a bit to no avail. Then I start the search for a replacement. Duncannon is a small town; there are no Verizon stores where I can get a replacement and I can't really wait until I reach one. Michelle, a bar patron, suggests that I get a TracFone. I walk to the convenience store to find that they used to carry TracFones but do so no more. I get directions to another convenience store that may carry them. The directions are convoluted and I get lost so I head back to the Doyle. I report the lack of success whereupon Vickey starts making phone calls to the local shops. Who carries TracFones? RiteAid does! But it's too dangerous to walk there. Michelle instantly says she'll drive me. Not only does she drive me to RiteAid but she has some experience with TracFones and speeds up the selection process mightily. Thank you Michelle and thank you Vickey!

Back at the Doyle I start the lengthy process of getting the TracFone charged and functioning. After an hour or so, the work is done, I have a functioning phone. But there's still a problem. I have only the phone number for Sweet. I have access to a public computer so I post my new phone number on Facebook. However, the computer access is not well controlled and I don't dare sign in to my Gmail account. Therefore I'm walking away with a phone but without phone numbers. But I do have a phone so it's time to move on.
Pat and Vickey are wonderful!
 It's 7 PM and the sun set hours ago. Elvis waited for me; we take pictures with Pat and Vickey before hiking out to the nearest shelter together. In the middle of the night at the shelter my original phone turns itself on. I try to get some contact information from it, but I am not prepared and get little before the screen fails again. That would be the last time it functioned.
A poem.
There is something to see here. Did you read the poem?

Elvis and hay bales.
Elvis and I hike through Pennsylvania farmland the next day for mile after mile after mile. It's an easy hike and pretty too. I haven't seen cow pastures for a while so it is a pleasant change. And the easy hiking brings us all the way to Boiling Springs - after nightfall of course. The AT office is closing for the day as we roll in. We head to the pizzeria where we order one large vegetable pizza each. And then we decide to stay for the night where we can finish the pizzas in comfort, at the Allenberry Resort and Playhouse. Unfortunately, there is no play this night, but the accommodations are still good and the hiker rate is awesome.
That's me.

Stage Two: Hike Like a Madman can be found here.

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