Thursday, June 27, 2013

New York, New York

So at this point we have walked into and out of New York and into Connecticut. The terrain in New York was pretty killer. It made me glad for the few times I went bouldering at the rock climbing gym back home because may times the trail called for it. The problem is that its all a little more difficult with a huge backpack on. Still, the state of New York had some really pretty parts and definitely some interesting characters.

There was one night that we stayed at a shelter and a guy who hiked southbound last year showed up announcing he had trail magic: hotdogs, cookies, whiskey and weed (the weirdest trail magic I've heard of). We took him up on the food and eventually a few swigs of liquor to aid in sleeping and just about the time we finally got to sleep another hiker comes into the shelter. This guy had hiked northbound last year and had brought cold PBRs and candy bars. He was on what he called a day-night hike. Just a short day hike length that he does at night. Odd guy. The two of them went back and forth about hikers they had both known and how the hiking season had been for them and we hikers passed out, it being well past "Hiker Midnight".

A few days later we crossed up and over Bear Mountain and the Hudson River. That night we camped at a monastery that allowed for tenting on their ball field. The next day we had planned to stick around and wait for Evan and Katelyn to come by. They were coming up to New York for an event and were going to pick us up for dinner so we wanted to be near a road so they could collect us and we could already have camp set up so we didn't have to hike at night. So we stayed put that day and as we were hanging out in the pavilion by the ball field a couple of guys came down to play soft ball. Then about 70 more showed up! Some played soft ball and others just hung around and talked. We sat an talked with several of them for about 4 hours, amazed in each others lives and the parallels of our communities. They were drug addicts at the rehab at the monastery and had plenty of stories to tell and we were able to tell them all about the trail and how we had been living for the past 3 months. They were definitely the most interesting and fun folks we had met on the trail.

We kept trucking through NY, which was wildly hot, humid and buggy and crossed into Connecticut yesterday. Officially being in New England, I was hoping it would magically be cooler but it is just as miserable. I think the sticky heat is worse than the snow and cold. At least I used to be able to get in dry clothes and get in a warm sleeping bag. Now my clothes are soaked through and through in sweat, which doesn't dry it seems, and then you don't want to get into your tent because its a sauna but you have to because the bugs are so bad but it rains everyday so your tent is always soaked. Things really suck right now, in short. We are looking at a week straight of thunderstorms, so I am just preparing to be wet for a long time. We are hoping to get through CT and MA fast but the weather looks like it may prevent that. Time will tell and we are hoping to get some cooler weather too.

Massachusetts update coming next!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013


We left George and Karen's house just outside of Wind Gap and walked right into Delaware Water Gap. Up in these parts we are hitting a town almost everyday. It is nice to have the option to jump into town for food or a shower if you want.

The Gap was a fun town because we had several visitors. The night we got in town our good ol pal Hermes came for beers!! Gonzo and I had not seen him since we had walked into the horrible snow in the Smokies and were so excited to be able to catch up with him. He is a PA native and is currently living fairly close to Delaware Water Gap. We got a 12 pack of beer, compliments of Hermes, and sat at a picnic table catching up.

The next morning my brother and sister in law came up from New Brunswick, NJ just to hang out for a few hours. They are the best! Besides driving over an hour, one way, just to hang out for a few hours, they also took a car load of hikers to Wal-Mart to buy food! Then they hung out at the church hiker hostel in town with us. It was a view into the hiker life during a town stop and they were great sports about it. I am excited to have them as my northern trail support!

After Evan and Katelyn left, we hit the trail, hiking out of PA and into NJ. Sun Fish Pond is just a bit over the state line and is the only exciting thing on the trail in Jersey. So far it seems that the Jersey section of the trail is about as one would expect of Jersey. It's muddy and there are trees in the way and over all it feels a bit like the turnpike. Northern Jersey is a lot of very pretty farm land and just last night we stayed at a beautiful shelter built by a farmer on the edge of his property. It had a well drawn spigot and a shower nestled by the rustic shack in his fields.

Today we did a nice, short day to Vernon, NJ which included almost a mile of board walks over a marshy area. Currently we are at another church hostel (interesting how all the sudden there are so many here in the north) and will be staying the night. They offer a shower and laundry to hikers and only ask a donation.

We will be walking into NY within a day or so and Evan and Katelyn will be coming to visit again on Saturday. By the time that happens, we should be halfway through NY and once we really start getting into New England things will begin to take on new form. Terrain becomes harder again but the payoff is better. It will be refreshing. Until then, many people seem to be in a bit of a rut as far as enjoying themselves. But having good friends around you makes it worth it, always.

Friday, June 14, 2013

The Jump to Pennsylvania

Since the jump up to PA things have been going very well. Gonzo and I hiked out of Port Clinton and it didn't take long to realize that be was a large part of what I had been missing. I just don't see how someone can happily hike the AT without an outrageous goofball for a hiking companion.

The weather has been a bit wetter than preferable recently and I have found that those who warned me about the rocky terrain were correct. The rain and rocks just so happens to make it even worse. One day in particular we only hiked just over seven miles before we stopped at a shelter that we knew we would have a spot in. If we hiked on we knew we would be pitching tents in the pouring rain. The next day when we covered the terrain we had opted not to finish the day before, we realize how lucky our decision had been. There were so many technical and extremely difficult rock scrambles that we would have had to cross in the rain. One, called the Knifes Edge, was perfectly described by its name the conjures up images of a serrated blade.

We went into Palmerton, which had a free hostel in the basement of their town hall. We did a 20 mile day into town and then walked a 1.5 miles trail into town. The trail walked high up alongside the sort of cliffs that run beside the interstate where you always see crappy spray painted graffiti. Then it dead ended at a huge locked gate over a bridge. At this point we had to work our way through some woods to the interstate by following a fence down to a point where it opened up, then crawl up to the interstate, jump the rail, cross the river along the interstate and work our way back to the trail, just on the other side of the locked gate. But even after all of this, Palmerton was worth it. It was a compact little town with everything you needed within easy walking distance. We went to the police station to get checked into the hostel and then got pizza. In the morning we did laundry, ate breakfast and were back on the trail by about 10am.

The climb out of Palmerton is a rocky and steep one. It was more like a bouldering with a huge pack on, a true cross between the sports of rock climbing and backpacking. Though it was pretty difficult, very hard to keep track of the actual trail, and down right scary at times, it was a pretty fun part and made for cool pictures.

Coming out of Palmerton, Gonzo and I did another 20 mile day into the town of Wind Hap, PA. We had heard there was a tavern there that allowed you to camp behind their building. We got there just as the dark set in only to find that it was a fairly shady biker bar. Not a single hiker was to be found so we started to look for accommodations elsewhere. One hiker had a room at a motel that he offered to share but then an even greater prospect arose.

I don't know if I mentioned in my blog about meeting Javaman while staying at Woods Hole Hostel, but we sat across from one another at dinner one night and found out that we were both from Atlanta, had both worked in the custom framing business, had both gone to school for photography and had both even been taught photo by the same professor. It was a true small world experience. A while after Javaman hiked out, I heard from Gonzo that he was traveling with Javaman and that they had become very good friends. Fast forward to Gonzo and I sitting in front of a hostile seeming biker bar, knowing a heavy rain is about to set in and he gives Javaman a call, who is staying in town with his fathers cousin, Goerge and his wife Karen. This was family he hasn't seen since he was two. Java had been experiencing a short of sickness similar to the Nora Virus that many people had early on and had been recuperating for a few days. The family graciously extended the invitation to us and came to pick us up. They let us sleep on couches and made an extravagant breakfast in the morning. Then they insisted that we stay another night while most of PA got hit with majorly severe thunderstorms.

Having accepted their hospitality, George gave us a family tour of town. Even though it was Javaman's family that we were learning about, I think both Gonzo and I really enjoyed it! When we got back Karen started cooking a huge southern dinner for us and Javaman made an apple pie for dessert. Then something happened that I had been waiting for since North Carolina but didnt think would happen until I finished the trail... We watched the movie Oh, Bother Where Art Thou? I have been listening to the soundtrack since we went into the Smoky mountains months ago and has never seen the movie. George and Karen had just happened to buy the movie not long ago and had yet to open it, so we broke it out after dinner. I was so excited to finally be able to see it.

Right now we are about to head back out to the trail and will be in Delaware Water Gap by tonight. We are hoping to get a spot at a hostel in town and then tomorrow morning my brother and sister in law will be meeting me. I am really excited to hang out with them and hope to make the best of being pretty close to them.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Half Way There, Learning and Cheating

So I am now halfway done with the trail, psychologically speaking. Harpers Ferry, WV holds the Head Quarters of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, one of the huge support groups for the trail. There on the facade of their building is an old wooden sign that every thru hiker gets their photo taken at and it goes into a book that logs your name, hometown, start date and the date you reached Harpers Ferry. It's a blast to go through and look at the photos of all the people you know ahead of you.

I pushed some big miles to make it to Harpers by mid day Friday so I could meet my mom and brother. It felt like Christmas because that is the only time I get to see them both at once. I had come from a hostel 20 miles out of town called Bears Den. It is a very cool, old stone building with a lot of AT history to it. When I arrived, other hikers were half way through a Lord of the Rings marathon. It was an atrociously rainy day and many had opted not to hike. I had sadly lost Captain Planet a day or so before. He is from Roanoke, Va and had met some friends in a near by town for a day or two with plans to go into DC as well once he reached Harpers Ferry. It seems that our time hiking together had ended much too soon, but I had plans cooking up in my head that made it okay.

Though I would miss Captain Planet, the only person I had met and actually befriended on a meaningful level in the 400 miles since leaving Woods Hole, I had decided I was going to jump up to PA, where all of my old crew was. Duffle Miner and Jean Genie were still some unknown place close to me but I had been unsuccessful in staying with them. In the time I had been hiking alone I had learned a lot about myself. Namely, that pride and independence are not the same thing and also that the glory of thru hiking the trail by the rules of everyone else is worthless when you're miserable when doing it. All the sudden I realized that its okay that I can't do this alone. It's freaking hard! And that's alright. So against the belief of almost all hikers, I decided I would "yellow blaze", which means take a car and cut of a section of the trail. I am skipping 195 miles, which I will make up later this fall after I reach Katahdin. This is against "the rules" of thru hiking, which has no rules except to live by the saying "hike your own hike".

So as my brother drives back up to New Jersey he is going to drop me off in Port Clinton, PA to meet Movie Star (now going by Gonzo) and Wild Blue, who I haven't seen since he raced off into the mountains as we left Hot Springs, NC. It is indeed cheating but I honestly believe it is the best for me, much like stopping to rest at Woods Hole long ago. I am tired of being alone. Of sleeping in an empty shelter, of worrying about who I can hitch hike into town with (ain't doin that alone!), of not having anyone to run my plans by and not having a true friend on the trail to watch of for me. Since day one, with out me even asking, Gonzo had my back and I always knew he wouldn't leave me in the metaphorical or literal cold. I want that again. Need it, I would even say. Hiking with Jeremy and Cameron reminded me of how good it is to have someone who is along side you in the journey. It's so comforting!

I don't need plush things, I just need friends to share what I do have with!

So this begins a new saga with old friends and a new outlook on the trail, again!

Monday, June 3, 2013

Shennandoahs Part 1

So the last you heard, I was seeing off Duffle Miner and Jean Genie as the went off on their aqua lazing adventure and waiting for Jeremy and Cameron to arrive. When they got in that night we hit the one bar in town for dinner and set out the next morning after resupplying. They had come in one car and Jeremy and I had previously mentioned that we would just hope for the best in finding them a ride back to their car in Waynesboro. The last stop we made in town was at the outfitter and just as we were finishing up arranging our packs, good old Yellow Truck pulled up and asked if we needed a ride. Waynesboro has an excellent system of trail angels to help out hikers and I had seen Yellow Truck giving several of my fringes rides throughout town. We told him we were alright for the moment but took his number so the guys could get back to their car after the hike. It was a good feeling to have it sorted it before we even started.

So we hit the trail on a hot yet windy day and only after the first two water sources failed to exist did I remember a warning Movie Star had given me when we talked on the phone just the day before. He had had such a hard time finding water that he had to flag down a ranger and finally got a bottle of Gatorade to last until the shelter. The Shenandoahs were already shaping up to be less than I expected.

We made it to the shelter, a bit parched but fine overall. Already I was impressed with Cameron's hiking. This was his first time backpacking and he just seemed to be made to move over the mountains. He was patiently waiting for Jeremy and I at the shelter when we got there and if I had to give him a trail name it would be Waiting, which he was doing a lot of. As for Jeremy, he thru hiked in 2010 and his trail name is Man Dog.

Our next day was much of the same dead heat and I began to feel scared about the idea of the really brutal heat I knew laid ahead of me in the mid atlantic states. Scarce water is also a fear of mine since I drink enough to pee twelve times a day.

On our third day out we finally hit one of the major perks of the Shenandoah National Park, a wayside. The waysides are all located right off of Skyline Drive, which is the back bone on the Park. They are all park of a campground and several have a camp store included. Hikers love them because it means real food! Burgers, fries and shakes! Tourist like it because there is no McDonalds this far out so it will have to suffice. After eating lunch at the wayside we slept out under the trees until the hottest part of the day was gone, then proceeded on the to shelter. The next day we hiked to where the trail met up with the road of Elkton, Va. This is where Yellow Truck came to pick up the guys.

I was on my own again as I set out to the next shelter out. It was absolutely fantastic having Jeremy and Cameron out to hike. I love having a tight knit group who is more determined to stay with each other than to make good mileage and this was small taste of that once again. It reminded me of how important people are to me on the trail and I began to really feel the void of camaraderie in my hike again. I had only been able to stick with Duffle and Genie for a few days before I lost them again and have still seen no sign of them. Mooch was a poor excuse for a comrade, though I had not seen him since Waynesboro, but I knew I couldn't count him or any other pink blazer as a trust worthy friend. I miss the old group again.

Thankfully I have found Captain Planet during the last few days. He is one of few people around me that I get along with in that seamless, completely non superficial way. Sometimes it's just all polite hiker formalities in the shelters but I have found a friend in him. He showed up at the shelter after me the day I left Jeremy and Cameron as realized how alone I was and I was very grateful to see him.

We ended up hiking at the same pace all the way to Luray, Va, where I am currently waiting on laundry to dry. We woke up this morning and hiked the 3 miles down to the road and got picked up by a French academic who translates books on the side. He is currently working on some of Thomas Jefferson's work that has never been translated to French so he wanted to see some of the area where Jefferson lived while in the states for work related purposes.

There are only a few days left of the Shennies for me and that makes me happy. They are easy terrain and nice enough but I am ready to get back to normal AT life. Summer time in the Shennandoahs is tourist galore. I have realized how different from "normal" people I have become. I came across a section hiker on the trail one day who had an interesting story about me. That morning, after trying to convince a bear to move far enough out of the way to allow me to pass, I went to a wayside restaurant up a gravel road and right off of Skyline Drive. I ordered a sausage, egg and cheese biscuit to go because I smelled too bad to be around weekenders and was trying to beat a storm. I walked around the side of the building and sat on a stoop to eat. I was facing the parking lot but didn't see around around as I ripped into the breakfast sandwich. But I was being watched, with what must have been the sort of intensity one watches a lioness take down a gazelle on television, as I wolfed down the biscuit. The section hiker, who remembered me well enough to recognize me 10 miles down the trail, told me this story when we crossed paths later in the afternoon. This amused me and made me see the disparity between he and I. Sometimes difference is a bit more obvious, like when and elderly couple asks to take your picture at an overlook next to a sign that explains a bit about the trail. Between battling bears and snakes that won't budge on my lonesome and the strange normal people I keep encountering, the park has been a surreal experience overall.

Harpers Ferry is only a few days away and both my brother and mom will be there to greet me! It is the psychological halfway point and a big change in my hike will be happening there, but that will be saved for the next post!!