Appalachian Trail Mile 1146.8; Duncannon, PA

Tuesday, July 25, 2017 (Day 83)

I could not sleep last night. Slumber did not greet me until well after 3 am.  I began hiking at 9:38 am. There is a thick grey sky of clouds, mild temperatures, rushing of cars, bird song. The stream beside me, rushing at below 500 ft, collects foam in its nooks and crannies.

I watch a flock of birds in a circular dance near the earth. They are joined by another flock and off in to the distant sky they soar.

I graze on a breakfast of red raspberries. I determine that they are far superior to the blackberries.

I cross the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Focusing intently on the various shapes and sizes and placement of stones beneath my feet, so as not to stumble, I rather forcefully hit my head on a substantial tree limb. I let out a small whimper and hold my head for a moment in foolish amusement, then onward.

I cross interstate 81, farmlands sprawling about me.

I cross through yet another corn field. Curious I pull a young ear from its stalk and eat. It tastes fresh. There are so many! Thousands upon thousands! How can one harvest these…how is it done!?

It is 10:27 pm. I am cowboy camping on a lawn beneath a clear dark Pennsylvania sky. I am in Duncannon. There is a pastor here that opens the basement of his home, and a pavillion, and a side yard to hikers.

I can see that the clouds are not heavy, but sweetly painted and slightly hazy, rosy in the distance. They roll in to one another, like a wispy, slow-galloping herd.

And alas! I can see the stars!
what a splendid way to bid the day farewell.

Appalachian Trail Mile 1125.4

Monday, July 24, 2017 (Day 82)

I was rained on last night. I tried not to set up my tent. I tried to drape it over myself. This was silly. Eventually, I just set the darn thing up.

It was not terribly late when I rose. It was not early either. In an effort to save time I opted for caffeine pills in place of my usual cup of coffee. Round and bright yellow in the palm of my hand, I popped two in my mouth and packed up, ready for the day.

It was not long before I developed a slight head-buzz, with a gentle undertone of relative certainty that I may very well be a crazy person.

A nice, hot shower is just what I need, I thought. I was only about a mile from Pine Grove Furnace State Park. They have a restroom there with free showers.

Before reaching the park, I passed Ironmasters Mansion Hostel. They had a hiker-box on the front stoop. I rummaged through, as the care-taker came outside. She was extremely amiable. She told me that I was welcome to use the facilities. She showed me an old portion of the building that had been part of the underground railroad. I crawled down and she stomped around on the floor-boards, re-enacting officials in search of escaped slaves. I could not begin to imagine what it must have been like.

I played fractions of classical pieces on the old piano in the dining area. The weight of the keys felt nice beneath my fingers and uneven nails. I bid the kind lady farewell and continued on.

I reached the park and the showers. The water temperature was not adjustable, but being as the temperature was quite perfect, I was happy to be releaved of the burden of calibration. There was no shower head, so the water shot out in a heavy, powerful stream from a pipe in the wall. Just as well, I thought. A gentle showering would not be nearly as efficient. I ripped a corner of the plastic trash bag and used it to collect hand-soap that would serve as both shampoo and body wash. I used my bandana to dry myself as best I could, and wrapped my hair up in a bun. Refreshed? I asked myself. Yes. Yes, I think so.

I felt very peaceful walking the tree-lined gravel road which reconnected me to the trail.

I stopped at the Green Mountain General Store just off of PA route 34. The man at the counter was very kind. I purchased canned beets and navy beans and ate them on the front porch.

I then came to wide pastures and open skies and a setting sun.

I walked through Boiling Springs, PA in time to see a dusky mist settle hauntingly, and beautifully over Boiling Springs Lake.

I purchased a banana and apple from the gas station and ate those with some hiker-box peanut butter for dinner. I enjoyed this on the benches outside of the ATC Regional office, located in town just along the trail.

After passing through the town. The trail crossed road and parking lot and pasture, then repeated.

I walked directly in to a large spiderweb and let out such a squeal of surprise, that I was brought back to childlhood. It is interesting what forms embarrassment takes– a certain mix of amusement and self-realization– when there is no one around to witness.

The spider was not harmed.

I continued to a stream crossing and found a flat space near the water and slept.

Appalachian Trail Mile 1101.7

Sunday, July 23, 2017 (Day 81)

Today was filled with hope and beauty and possibility and regeneration and the half-way mark.

In reflection, I realized that yesterday was likely the most mentally challenging day I have had on trail. A dragging culmination of un-animated drive –limp and weighty on the heels of my shoes –had finally grown large enough, and made itself known.

I have had to reach down in to my own murky depths in desperate search for the tiniest jewel of inspiration. It is always there. Just keep sifting. Quitting is simply not an option.

Appalachian Trail Mile 1082.9

Saturday, July 22, 2017 (Day 80)

I don’t want to be tired any more.

I long to be out there further. Away from the wooden benches and potable water from a faucet, and streets and streets and cars. I want the silence of the woods.

I stopped in a clearing off of the trail. When the wind blows, more rain falls, having collected in the trees. I long to set up my tent and sleep. Oh, sleep! but I can not. I must keep going.

I boil water for coffee. I must keep going, I repeat to myself. The thought settles in, taking on the form of something that could almost pass as motivation.

I crossed US Route 30. The trail on the opposing side offers an entirely different feel. Green with vines and low hanging musty clouds, fallen lychen covered trees, the woods are suddenly filled with birdsong.

I knew the rain would fall with the sun. That is why I am here, under this overhang atop the grey cement at Caladonia State Park. The black, metal gate, has been pulled down from the roof, like a garage door, protecting the ticket booth and the entrance to the pool. Signs are posted on the booth: “Cash Only” “No Refunds Due to Weather” “No Coolers Allowed”. There is a light bulb overhead, with a cloud of frantically dancing bugs. This light makes me clearly visible; me and all my things displayed in the corner of a brightly lit rectangle of cement, kept dry under a wood planked ceiling supported by stone pillars. This light will be on all night. Oh, how I wish it was not so bright. I watch the cars in the distance.

I pull my sleeping back over my eyes. Darkness.

Appalachian Trail Mile 1068.0

Friday, July 21, 2017 (Day 79)

I went in to Wayensboro, PA today. I hitched in with two other hikers, it was easy enough…though it is always easiest alone. We hitched from Pen Mar road to the Wal-Mart in town. We left our things to charge, leaning our packs against the wall between the curved black metal benches of the in-store arcade. I was a bit more decisive with my resupply. It helps to fall in to a routine, eat the same things each day: oatmeal, potatoes, plant protein, beans. On town days, I always get a grapefruit. They are delicious, and usually cheaper than buying juice.

A group had gathered in town. They were all eating lunch at the Applebees. I joined them and drank endless cups of coffee. The waitress was having a bad day. I said something to her, and she made an effort, but she was clearly not happy to have us as guests.

Two of us began the walk back to the trail. The others got a hotel and stayed the night in town. The hitch back was easy; a smiling middle-aged couple in a silvery SUV. They were locals and new where we were headed. We made small talk filled with pleasantries and genuine interest in each other’s lives.

I spent some time at Pen Mar park. It is a beautifully maintained park. It is very big with many covered seating areas and viewpoints. They host live music on Sundays.  I began hiking with the setting of the sun.

I passed the Mason Dixon line; a line created in the resolution of a border dispute involving Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Delaware in Colonial America. It is sometimes considered the cultural boundary between the North and the South. I was in the Mid-Atlantic.

After a climb and some road crossings, I came to a very cold and pristinely clear spring. It did not have a steady flow, but it had deep pools for collection. It was delicious, and full of fresh energy. It was the type of water one feels blessed to hydrate with…a true earthly gift.

I slept near the spring.

Appalachian Trail Mile 1058.6

Thursday, July 20, 2017 (Day 78)

I woke to hikers rushing by me. The first moved swiftly in the earliest part of the morning. I could barely sense them. The next to pass was a group of three. They were young section hikers. They were quarelling over something or other; there was yelling up the trail, an uber was called, four brassy colored cans of chilli were abandoned at the shelter junction. “Do you want them, do you need a spoon?”.

“No, thanks”. By that time I had pulled myself out of my sleeping bag. He ran up the trail to catch the other two hikers and the summoned automobile.

I passed by Washington Monument State Park, named for the original Washington Monument, built there in 1827.

There were benches and green grass and electrified bathrooms and a water spigot.

I continued on and stopped at a shelter for water collection. It was rather far off trail and was not flowing strongly. I said hello to the familiar faces in the shelter. I sat at the bench and drank a liter of water and went on my way.

The sun had set, I wanted to get to the water source four miles out. I hiked by the light of my headlamp.

I finally came to the curving creek with its little cascades and grey and white and copper colored stones. Supported by limb and root, I lowered myself to a reasonable point of collection. The rocks shifted; a rush of uncertainty. I filled my bottles, climbed back up, and sprawled out on the banks.

I listened to the water. In Just .10 of a mile, on the other side of the creek, is a road. I could see the blurring headlamps through the trees, feel the weight of their motion. I dislike being so near a road…at least the creek is nearer, still.

Appalachian Trail Mile 1039.1

Wednesday, July 19, 2017 (Day 77)

I rose at a reasonable hour and felt hopeful for the day. The site I had chosen was beautiful at day break. I was back on trail. All was well.

I crossed in to Maryland. This was pleasing. It was hot, and the climbing was somewhat strenuous. It was not terribly difficult, but with the heat, I grew very thirsty. The next water was at a shelter approximately six miles from where I had camped. Not bad. Then I realized that the water was situated .4 of a mile downhill from that shelter. The next reliable water source, following this one, was in an additional 3.7 miles. I chose thirst over the additional .8 mile side-trek the water would demand. I would go to Gathland State Park. At the park I would find potable water and restrooms and outlets.

In the interim: jolly ranchers. I had snagged them from a hiker-box along the way. I sucked on them furiously. They distracted me with their fruity flavor. They kept my tongue from turning scratchy.

I arrived at the park thirsty, with a plastic pink sugary after-taste on my breath. I collected water and sprawled my things out on a bench. I sat and drank.

A lady came walking up from the parking lot. She was kind and inquisitive. “Are you thru-hiking?” she asked. I nodded. “Congratulations on making it this far!” , she smiled. She told me that she had a little bit of trail magic, and that I should meet her in the parking lot.
I put away my things and propped up my pack, pocketed my valuables, and joined her in her air-condition car in the parking lot. She offered me fresh fruit and crackers and engaging conversation. Oh, what a lovely encounter!

I returned to the trail.  I came to the junction of the Rocky Run Shelter . I dropped my things and took the side trail to collect water. I returned and unfolded my mat. I had positioned myself within a rather small, rectangular bare patch. It was hardly off trail.

I had intended to cook something. Once I sat down, part of me knew I would not be rising again that night.

Appalachian Trail Mile 1026.4

Tuesday,  July 18, 2017 (Day 76)

I sit on the sand on the banks of the Potomac River. I can hear the splashing of leaping fish and the chirp-chirping of crickets. The moon is a bright orange crescent in the night-sky. It’s reflection can be seen in the water, the mountains that frame the river, dark formations in the distance. I took a side trail from the Chesapeake & Ohio Canal Towpath, which the AT joins for a brief period. It led me here.

I spent much of my afternoon at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and then the library in Bolivar and then drinking endless rounds of coffee at The Towns Inn, until they closed at 10 pm. After closing, I proceeded to write and muse with hikers on the porch of the hostel. I finally hiked out by 2 am.

Appalachian Trail Mile 1,023.7

Sunday, July 17, 2017 (Day 75)

I walked through some neighborhoods, taking in the colors and shapes of the buildings. I visited the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History. I watched as people gathered about the rotating Hope Diamond, waiting eagerly for it to face their direction so that they might snap a photo with their phones. So many people.

It was a beautiful day, outside.

I was careful not to miss my train this time. I was happy to be enroute to Harper’s Ferry. I engaged in inspiring conversation with the lady who was seated beside me. The future holds so much possibility.

I found a lovely spot by the river on the outskirts of town. I slept on a bed of sand.

Detour: Washington D.C., MD

Sunday, July 16, 2017 (Day 74)

I rose early in anticipation of the train. Also the porter, who came around to unlock the waiting room doors and empty the trash bins. They did not seem to mind me much. I spoke to a local who said I needed to order the train ticket online or by phone. I used another hikers phone over coffee, wrote down my confirmation number, and was ready to depart!

Arriving in Union Station was like arriving at a town mall; bustling with travellers and neon-signed vendors and specialty shops and shoe-shiners, cafes and buffets.

I exited quickly, in search of a T-Mobile. I had roughly two hours to procure a phone and return to Union Station to catch the only train back to Harper’s Ferry.

I glanced at my hand scrawled notes, trying to make sense of the curving streets and correlating signs and the quadrants by which D.C. is organized. After some wrong turns and kindly received inquiries, I found myself at the store front.

New phone, new plan, confirmation of qualification for promotional deal, blah-blah-blah…and done!

I had 15 minutes before the train departed. I hopped on the free public transit that pulled up just as I was exiting the store. well that’s a good sign, I thought. I ordered a train ticket online as the street car pulled towards the station. I hopped off the train and ran. Right, down the stairs, to the left. Wait. Stairs? No stairs? How do I get down. I turned in a circle frantically. The descending escalator was wrapped in caution tape. For a brief moment I considered trying to run down the ascending stairs. No. No, that would be foolish. I turned to security “How do I get downstairs?”. He pointed to an elevator. I hurried over. Someone at the far end of the floor was making their way over as well. As a group, us elevator riders waited. Finally, the door closed. I shot out for the exit that led to my desired train. The pole and ribbon roped line-former was empty. I tried running through its guided formation. The Amtrak employee said “Hurry, no time, go under”. I did, all the while knowing what would happen. My sleeping mat caught beneath the ribboned barrier, pulling me backwards. I was stuck. The employee came to assist me. I made it through and was running towards the train, when I was stopped by the manager. It was preparing for departure. I was too late. The doors had closed. Technically, the train left one minute early…

So…looks like I am in D.C. for the night.

Appalachian Trail Mile 1,023; Harper’s Ferry, WV

Saturday, July 15, 2017 (Day 73)

The parking lot was busy in the morning. The first car pulled in just after 7 am. I opened my eyes, sat at a 90 degree angle, and watched the passengers get out and grab their day packs and disappear on to the trail. I  returned to a horizontal position. More cars pulled in. It was Saturday, and the trail was popular. I decided it was time I began to put away my things. One day hiker offered me a PB & J and a gatorade. I accepted the sandwich gratefully.

More and more cars pulled in in rapid succession, until the only space left was right beside me. I began to feel self-conscious about the space I was taking. The hiker that pulled in to that very last spot was very kind. We spoke briefly and he let me use his phone to check the location of stores in D.C. He gave me $10 and a sparkling water, and as a result– much needed encouragement and motivation. I was so thankful! I began my hike in the best of moods.

I finished the rest of The Rollercoaster. I came to a road crossing. I glanced to my left “Welcome to West Virginia; Wild and Wonderful”, to my right “Welcome to Virginia; Virginia is for Lovers”.

I turned east towards Virginia to walk the road the .3 miles to the Sweet Springs General Store. They were very overpriced. I purchased oatmeal, a box of dehydrated potatoes, and off-brand saltine crackers. I repackaged the goods in the front of the store, smiling at the teenagers blasting hip-hop music in the parking lot.

…It was not far to Harper’s Ferry, now. I was excited.

I came to the highway bridge of US 340, across the Shenandoah River. As I walked alongside the highway on the bridge over the glorious river, the sky was peach with dusk. A flock of birds flew through the sky; synchronized shadows. I spotted young folks in the distance, splashing in the water at the river’s edge. I stopped and gazed at the water, transfixed. Someone barked at me out their car window, zooming from behind.

The river is such a wide expanse. The current appears gentle, but strong. Green shrubs grow on the scattered stones it rolls over. So calming is the hushing sound that rises from its movements. It makes me think that this is where the term “hush” comes from. Hush, be quiet and calm and steady as this river.

I cannot see the rivers end from my spot on the bridge that bounces with the weight of the heavy vehicles. It travels off into the pastels of the returning night; the pinks, greens, and blues that anounce the stars and moon.

The cars whizzing by sound so squeaky and laborsome and strenuous and futuristic…have they always sounded this way?

Across the other side of the bridge the sky is blue and the clouds wispy. The clouds are no longer white, but entirely pink and floating just above the trees.

It is just after 9pm when I walk in to Harper’s Ferry.  I am immediately struck by its old-world feel. The town is sleepy; everything has shut down for the evening.

I headed to the railroad tracks. I tried sleeping on the bench.  After a bit of tossing, I decided I would be more comfortable on the ground. I had just completed the relocation process and went to sit on my mat, when I spotted a light in the distance. Could this be an Amtrak? Would passengers get off here? it was certainly not a passenger train.

I had never seen a locomotive move so fast! So powerful! It seemed well within the realm of possibility, that it would fly off the tracks and careen towards me from the sheer force of its own weight and speed. Then, from the opposing direction, another train — equally as fast and powerful! It grew terribly cold in the wind of their speeds in opposing directions. The sounds were deafening and fierce. This is the dark side to my beloved train, I thought. A steam roller of the shadows; a train to take you to the underworld; so dark and industrious and beautiful.

I wonder if more will pass in the night.

Appalachian Trail Mile ~1,004.0

Friday, July 14, 2017 (Day 72)

I rose at a reasonable hour. I was brewing my coffee and began to power on my phone to review the next stretch of trail. It would not turn on. I fiddled and fussed and changed batteries and confirmed their charge…but nothing; nothing but a strange rebooting screen, and eventually no response at all. Oh, technology. By the time I gave up, it was past 10 am. I began hiking.

I sat by a stream, uncertain of my location. I guessed it was somewhere around mile 1,000. Because I did not have the waypoints, I determined it best to stop and drink from each water source and have at least half a liter on hand.

The sounds of the local radio stations played in my ears, picked up by my tiny FM radio. The weather report spoke of thunderstorms and heavy gusts and rainfall that afternoon.

I drank fruit flavored vitamin and caffeine enhanced powder, dissolved in stream water in my nalgene. It tastes fake, but somewhat pleasing. I pretend it is real juice. I continue.

Oh, classical music! How you thrill my soul. Such a brilliant pairing with the weaving trail and towering trees and all the shades of green and the golden glow of the sun.

It is 2:15 pm. The sky shakes. There is a pregnant rumbling in the distance. I still see blue in the sky. I hold out hope.

At around 3 pm it began. The rain was heavy. Just then, I passed a trail junction to a shelter. I decided to briefly duck for cover. It was not long before the storm passed.

I collected water from the nearby stream, but it was so brown I returned it to the earth.

I pressed on and soon reached Bear’s Den hostel. They were very welcoming. I showered and used the computer to try to order a phone. The transaction failed. I decided I would just head in to D.C., purchase one, and hopefully be done with any distractions of the technological sort.

It was late when I hiked on from the hostel. I did not make it far. At the parking area just after Snickers Gap, I sat beneath the trailhead sign. I eventually curled up and rested my head against my pack and dozed off.  I woke up and realized that I did not wish to hike any further. I moved my things to a flat space at the far end of the dirt parking area and went to sleep for the night.

Appalachian Trail Mile 995.0

Thursday, July 13, 2017 (Day 71)

I began at around 8 am. I was feeling more rested. The weather was pleasant. I was ready for the day.

There were flowers and fields and butterflies and…The Rollercoaster.

I had heard warnings of The Roller Coaster. I knew it was coming.  A 13.5 mile stretch of trail in Northern Virginia filled with continuous ascents and descents. It seemed a fitting way to bid the long, green, not actually flat trail in Virginia, farewell. I had plans to make it about half-way through The Rollercoaster that evening. Though not quite as challenging as the elevation reports made it seem, it was not easy either. I was slow, climbing up the stone covered path by the light of my headlamp.

I had travelled just over a mile before reaching a brook in Bolden Hollow. The water was shallow, but not too difficult to collect. There was a nice flat spot to the left of the trail. I spread out my ground tarp and unfolded my mat.

I thought about The moon. The moon was waning, but still full and bright. It was hidden now, but I remember when its glow caught me through the trees. It stopped me in my tracks. I was struck by the intensity of its hue; not its normal cold silvery reflective shimmer, but a warm burnt orange; an eerie fiery glow.

I glanced around me…so many creepy-crawlies (I do not know their official title)!

I had already laid out my things…I was not about to move. They would not hurt me. The idea of waking up covered by them was not a pleasing one, however. I brushed some away with a stick and propped up the edges of my ground tarp with my trekking poles and other random objects (a stone, my cooking pot), this way, should they desire to crawl on me, they would not be able to reach me.

Satisfied,  I fell asleep.

Appalachian Trail Mile 978.1

Wednesday, July 12, 2017 (Day 70)

I remember waking, staring at the green plastic ceiling of my tent, turning over, shutting my eyes tight; repeat.

I was drunk on sleep. It is a slippery slope. A balancing act. Too little rest and one faces exhaustion. Too much rest and one seems to fall in to some sort of conditioned laziness.

Oh, my.

I had to move. Night had nearly fallen when I started. Maybe night hiking would be the best strategy, considering the heat?

I came to a picnic bench at Tucker’s Lane parking area. I decided to try to cook up some noodles and motivation. Another hiker arrived and sat beside me. I was somewhat surprised to see anyone. It was very late at that point, well past 1 am. Since I began the trail, there was only one other time I had seen a hiker at night. We chatted briefly, and he moved on.

I did not.

Appalachian Trail Mile 973.1

Tuesday, July 11, 2017 (Day 69)

I slept and slept.

“Giggles! Breakfast is ready!”, I heard a voice call from downstairs. Breakfast was provided by the hostel at a time pre-scheduled the night before. I had already rescheduled it from 7:30 am to 8:30 am. Maybe I should have cancelled it completely and slept, I thought.

A fellow from Mexico, who was touring the U.S. on his motor bike, occupied the bed beside me. He said I was snoring so very loudly. He laughed.  I laughed as well, slightly embarrassed. “You should  have woken me!”,  I told him. “No. You were so peaceful. Everybody snores!”, he said.

Breakfast was oatmeal and almond milk and toast and homemade jam and fruit. Best of all: there was coffee. After the first few sips, I began to feel something just shy of alertness. I chatted and ate and wrote.

It was very hot out, though the forecast suggested rain that evening.

We all sat in plastic white chairs on the front lawn, moving seats on occasion to evade direct sunlight. We spoke of the trail and how quickly we needed to move to make it to Katahdin.

I was not moving quickly that evening, this was apparent.

I left the hostel at around 5 pm. The trail was very near, but I had to walk south about a quarter of a mile in order to connect my footpath to where I had originally hitched in to town.

By the time I reached a campground with a spring, only a few miles north from where I began, the sky was growing dark and my motivation waned.

I noticed that another hiker who stayed at the hostel had set up camp there as well. “You made it just as far as I did, huh?”, he called out from his tent. “Looks that way!”, I replied.

I set up my tent, as rainfall was anticipated, and went to gather water. the spring was not flowing well. It was cold and delicious, however, so I was pleased. I was rained on mid-collection.

Back in my tent I made supper, attempted to write, and soon fell asleep.