Saturday, December 27, 2014

Outsider II - Another way to look at it

Previously, I have written about being an "Outsider".  Basically spending more time in the "out of doors" than inside.  Not too many people can say they are Outsiders.

The other day, I started thinking about another way of being an "outsider" and how wearing that moniker can influence your behavior and others around you.

Back in the Coast Guard, being the smallest of the Armed Forces, there were many times when I found myself being somewhat of an outsider.  Spending a few weeks as one of only a couple of Coasties on a Navy Base going to some training would hit it home every day.  It wasn't a bad thing.  Sort of like being the underdog.  And I always find myself rooting for the underdog.  It made us feel special, but sometimes it could be a drag.

When I had risen in the ranks, I found that it really didn't matter if I was the underdog.  My Anchors and Stars made people sit up and listen to what I had to say and I saw it as an affirmation of my accomplishments and experience.  It didn't matter if I was the outsider,  my input was welcome.

Flash forward to today.  I am experiencing another bout of being a little bit of an outsider, but my position is opening doors that I can easily enter and offer my new experience and knowledge.  But first some descriptions of the different people who hike the Trail.

In the world of the Appalachian Trail, there are a number of players.  First, you have your regular Day Hiker.  Someone who has set foot on the trail for a nice little out and back or maybe moving off the white blazes to do a pleasant loop that brings them back to their car after a nice, refreshing visit to the outdoors.  With an estimated three million people setting foot on the trail each year, the Day Hiker is most likely the most numerous.  

Next, you have your Weekender.  Someone who carries enough gear to get themselves to a shelter or campsite within a days hike of their starting point, to spend the weekend in the woods.  They are usually a good source of food on Sunday, when they need to hike back to their car, have realized that they packed way too much food and want to lighten their load.  

The next player is the Section Hiker.  This hiker is usually still solidly connected to the "real" world with a job, spouse and kids.  They get to the trail when they can, for as long as they can and they count the number of unique miles they have hiked, adding them together to one day hopefully finish the trail and earn their 2000 miler patch.  The Section Hiker comes in many flavors.  A weekender can be a Section Hiker, if he is hiking new territory each weekend.  A Section Hiker can be out for a few days, a week or two or even a month or more.  I all depends on how long they can leave that "real" world and travel the trail.  The last version have also been called LASHers, which stands for Long Ass Section Hiker.  

The next subgroup of hiker is the Avid Hiker.  This person can fall into a number of categories as they hiker the trail.  They are usually a Section Hiker and are keeping track of their unique miles, but they also get on the trail wherever and whenever they can, no matter if they have hiked that portion before or not.  Sometimes, they hike the same portion of trail many times, because they might maintain that area or it is close to home and when they need some time on the trail, this section is easy and quick to get to.  I place myself in this group (for now).

Lastly, we have the Thru Hiker.  Someone who most likely started their hike down in Georgia on Springer Mountain and plan to hike all the way to Maine and Mount Katahdin.  These are called Northbounders or NOBO.  This is the most popular (read crowded) way to hike.  We also have our Southbounders or SOBOs.  They start at Katahdin, usually in late May or early June and head south to Georgia.  We also have our Flop-Floppers who, for various reasons, start one way and end up going the other way.  The most common reason is that time has gotten away from the hiker and they start to fret that they will get to Katahdin too late to climb it, so they head up that way and then head south to chase the fall.  There are many other flavors of Thru Hikers, so let's just say that to be one, your intention should be to hike the whole trail in one long journey.  Some say, one season (which technically isn't possible, if by season, you mean Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter) or in one calendar year or 12 months.  The debate on the specifics can go on for the length of a Thru Hike, which is an average of six months.  

Thru Hiker Attemptees make up about one tenth of one percent (.001) of total users of the trail.  So you can say that Thrus are either very rare, or very special.  The number of successful Thru Hikers are even smaller with an estimate of about 25 to 30% of all attemptees, making it the whole way.  Because of this rarity, I have been known to refer to Thru Hikers as the Rock Stars of the Trail.  To successfully hike the whole trail is an awesome feat and that is why I one day want to make my own attempt.  

You will hear stories of "entitlement" or "Thruleetism" out on the trail and I have witnessed some snobbery from time to time, but for the most part, I have really great experiences meeting the Hikers who have made it to the Halfway point of the trail in PA where I work as the manager of the Appalachian Trail Museum.  

So, I will finally get to the point of this long post.  As the manager of the AT Museum, I get to meet a lot of movers and shakers in the AT world.  A large number of them are successful Thru Hikers.  Not being one, (yet) is what makes me feel the outsider.  I feel sometimes, while talking to these sages of the trail, that I don't quite have the "Trail Cred" that I should have to hold the position that I do.  I don't let it bother me (much) and it doesn't effect my job performance (at all), since my job means I get on the trail all the time and fill my needs of trail time, where I can get sweaty and smelly for small lengths of time, whether the miles I walk are new or ones I have hiked before, I just need to be out there.  

When it really comes down to it, we are all just Hikers.  I really don't need to put a descriptor in front of that word.  We are all brothers and sisters of the trail, doing our thing and hopefully having fun doing it.  I really doesn't matter if you are out there for three hours, three days or three months.  

For now, I'm still strongly attached to the "Real" world with family responsibilities and this job, but we are hoping (Lisa, AKA LoGear and myself) to one day head to the Trail head, wherever it may be, with our gear on our backs, and embark on an adventure of our lifetimes; to Thru Hike the AT.  Until that time comes, I will happily be an Avid Hiker, slowly adding to my miles when I can, but getting out on that trail (and others) whenever I can, to feel the dirt on my hands and the welcome soreness of a day spent hiking.   

Keep on hiking and keep having fun...


TL;DR: I feel I need "Trail Cred" to not be an "Outsider" in my current world.

Saturday, December 20, 2014


I have been thinking of writing a little review of the book/movie Wild, so here goes.  

My wife, Lisa, bought me the book a couple years ago and I started reading it right away.  A few chapters in, I had to put it down and walk away from it for a while.  Cheryl was just kinda pissing me off with the way she was.  

So after quite a few months, I decided to pick it up again and give it a chance to see where it would go and I was satisfied with the way it went after that.  I guess I just had to get over her flaws and see how her hike went.  

A few days ago, Lisa and I went to see the movie on a rainy weekday.  Once we found the right theater, we sat down during the previews and watched.  

I actually liked the movie.  It was true enough to the book and Reece was realistic enough to me as a hiker.  

What I liked:  She carried a real heavy pack, not a pack that was made to look full, but was actually full of light padding.  (This I heard from Cheryl herself in an article, as she acted as a consultant for the movie).  

The bumps and bruises captured the reality of long distance hiking with heavy gear.  It hurts.  

A little bit of the camaraderie that comes naturally and quickly between hikers on the trail.  

What I didn't like:  The focused a little too much on the creeps of the trail (yes, they are out there and her rendition of the assholes seemed true enough), but I would have liked to see more of the relationships she developed with the hikers during her hike.  Maybe less drama, but that is always a special part of a hike.  

I was dreading the horse scenes.  They did it OK and the pain was much shorter in the movie then when I read the detailed accounting of that poor beasts demise in the book.

So, all in all, we enjoyed ourselves.  I love watching hiker movies almost as much as I like being out on the trail myself.  It lets me escape to the woods without the soreness of a long day's hike to contend with.

The movie is entertainment.  Not a "how-to" for solo female hikers.  I'm sure all of us could have learned a few "what not to dos" and it is always prudent for everyone to keep their creep radar on standby at all times.  I encounter a lot of solo hikers out there (both male and female).  Sometimes I'm one myself.  I never fear for their safety as most develop a good sense of themselves and know when a situation can go wrong and react accordingly.  As I said, the creeps are out there (they can be found everywhere), but the good far outnumber them on the trail.   

So if you want to escape for a couple hours, go see Wild.  If you are a hiker or dream of becoming one some day, sitting down and watching this movie would be a lot of fun.

Monday, November 10, 2014


Now that I have spent the last year working as the manager of the Appalachian Trail Museum in Gardners, PA, I thought it would be nice to reflect back on the last few seasons and talk about my latest journey in this thing called life.

My story starts back in the Fall of 2011.  I had just started my obsession with the Appalachian Trail (AT) and was doing my first extended section hike.  This hike ended at Pine Grove Furnace State Park.  I had read a few press releases about the new AT Museum and was hoping to visit.  On this day, I would be out of luck as the museum was closed during the week in the fall, so I had to content myself with looking into the windows to see what I could see.  I vowed to return some day when the museum was open.

Trail Halfway Marker, first section hike.
My next chance came at the beginning of another section hike in 2013.  I had just retired from a nice 30 year career in the Coast Guard and my wife and I were traveling up and down the East, visiting special spots along the trail and hiking a few days at a time.  We had decided to hike in the area of the AT Museum and when we parked our car in the State Park, I popped into the museum to take a quick look around before we headed out and got to meet two very nice Docents, Georgia and Joan.  I hardly had any time to look at the exhibits, but seeing what I did, I knew I would be back in two days to take a better look.
LoGear and EarthTone at Fontana Dam
McAfee Knob
When we hiked back to the park, my wife and I went into the museum for a little longer visit, this time meeting Howard the manager of the museum.  We enjoyed reading about the history of the trail and checked out the gear used by the early hikers of the trail.  It was very interesting and rewarding to see how the trial came to be and to learn a little about the people who made the Appalachian Trail a household name.  

A rainy day north of the AT Museum
A few weeks later, I was reading one of the many AT related newsletters and I saw an advertisement for a new manager at the AT Museum.  Since I was still thinking about what I was going to do with the next stage of my life, I decided to submit a resume.  As I wrote a cover letter for the application, I recalled that I had repeated to my co-workers, that I was hiking the trail after retirement to find my next job.  It was only half in jest that I said that, because the trail had become a part of me after hiking small parts of it over the years.  Finding a job along or on the trail would be perfect for me.

Well I think it was about 20 minutes after sending the resume to the museum, that I had a reply back from the President of the Appalachian Trail Museum Society, Larry Luxenberg, asking if he could call me.  Our first conversation increased my interest in the job and I decided it was time to get involved with the museum to see what the job entailed and to volunteer my services.

I spent the next few weeks traveling up to the museum to act as a Docent and greet the visitors to the museum.  I quickly found that talking to the visitors was a very rewarding thing to do and before long, I accepted their offer to become the next AT Museum Manager.

My tenure started November 1st, 2013 and I have been serving in that capacity for a year now.  I tell everyone who will listen, that I have found my dream job and have really enjoyed working with the volunteers, the park crew and the visitors of the museum.  Talking to the hikers who pass by on their epic journey is especially fun.  

The AT Museum has changed my life for the better and I look forward to being a part of the Society for many years to come.  

So, reflecting back over the last year, I have had a great time being the manager.  I try to continuously find ways to bring in the much needed funds that we require to keep on flying and to expand the museum to the other three levels of the Old Mill.  I added some retail items that I thought our visitors would enjoy and they have not disappointed.  

Me on day two of the 2014 season.
Photograph by Robert Sutherland
The one challenge I have is the two hour drive needed to get to the museum when I have to be up there.  I can do a lot of the work of organizing the volunteers and retail from my home, but I do need to be up at the museum from time to time.  This makes me plan my visits carefully to get as much done on each visit.  Sometimes I will spend a few days at a time up in the area, working during the day and heading up onto Piney Mountain to spend the night in a nice mountain top camping area.  I will also hike out to one of the nearby shelters and spend the night there with all my gear.  It gives me a chance for some good dirt time.  I feel a sense of freedom and contentment as I build a nice campfire and relax in its glowing warmth.  My hammock is always cozy and I love the exercise a seven mile hike will give me.  Some of the volunteers have also offered the use of their cabins in the area, so I enjoy taking them up on that and seeing some really nice local cabins.  

To sum it up, I'm still having fun and as long as I can get out on the trail from time to time, I am content to see that white blaze right out the front door of the Museum.  

As Bilbo Baggins reflected on his travels, I offer his song The Road Goes Ever On as a parting bit of advice.  (with some minor changes to a word)

The Trail goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Trail has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Swatara Gap to Palmerton, PA - Section Hike - Day 5

PA Hike Day 5
1. Treesday, Winterfilth, 4. Goal - Palmerton, resupply for rest of trip. 18 miles.
2. Day 5
3. Morning temp: 55
4. Weather: perfect
5. Time start: 0620
6. Time stop and miles: 1420 13.9
7. End point: Palmerton
8. Events: Knife Edge, finishing section
Log: loud night with road noise so we were up and out early. Feet were pretty painful, but I soldiered on to get to Palmerton. The knife edge was sick, but the other constant rocks took their toll and I realized I didn't want to do this for three more days, so I decided to bring this section to an end. Sequoia decided to stop too and his wife Smiles A lot came and picked us up at the Jailhouse Hostel in Palmerton. I had enjoyed some ice cream and a beer while we waited around and tended to my torn up feet. Good ride home and now I'm on the couch.

Total hike: 77.1
Good hike. At least I got some of those nasty rocks out of the way.
Shared from home...

We were up even earlier this morning, with the trucks that must climb the mountain to this point and then immediately start using their engines to brake on the down hill.  My feet had ached most of the night.  The rocks had taken their toll and the blisters, although not too bad, could be painful of that area of my foot came up on the side of a rock or root.  We headed out at 0620 by the light of our headlamps.  I had noticed that Sequoia's batteries were much fresher than mine and I knew I would be starting out slow on the climb back up to the ridge top, so I asked him to lead for a bit.  My gait had changed due to the ball of my right foot hurting.  It felt like my tape was messed up or my sock had folded, so after a while we took a bathroom/foot care break.  The tape and sock were fine.  What I was feeling was the beginning of Metatarsalgia, (which I would find out later after using the magical google machine).  The swelling and deep blister can feel like you are walking with a pebble in your shoe.
I took the lead, but felt I was flagging.  Hind site shows that we still moved at a good pace, even though I was favoring that foot a lot and would have a sore calf for a few days after.  We were pretty much going to stay up on the ridge all day until we descended into Palmerton.  What laid ahead was some technical and fun walking across the Knife Edge and Bear Rocks.  The Knife Edge was pretty cool.

Through these bushes lay the Knife Edge
Me working my way up the Knife Edge (photo courtesy Sequoia)

Our original plan was to hike all the way to Delaware Water Gap, another 36 miles past Palmerton, with more rocks on the schedule.  When we stopped for a break, I told Sequoia that I might have to end this section at Palmerton.  What I needed was a zero to tend to my feet, but that is one of the challenges of being a Section Hiker.  Time constraints are usually much more... constrained...  I didn't want to extend the hike into Sunday as I wanted to be home to watch the Steelers play the Panthers (another hind site, maybe I should have kept hiking as that game was more painful to watch than hiking on rocks with blisters).

View from the Knife Edge
After my decision was made, Sequoia checked his guide book and when no alternate plan looked doable, he decided to end his hike too for now.  After our encounter with the W of H, he really didn't want to be sleeping out in the lonely woods and neither would I.

Grizzled Hiker
As we headed out towards Lehigh Gap, he made a call or two and the plan was altered to have Smiles A Lot come pick us up at the Jail House Hostel in Palmerton, sometime that evening.  We made our way down the ridge to the river and crossed the bridge.  We tried to hitch the 1.5 miles into town for a few minutes, but then I just called the Shuttle Service and Brenda was there in about 10 minutes to pick us up and give us a quick tour of the town as she drove us to the Hostel.  We had to really squeeze into her small Scion, but we made it.  She was very nice.

We checked into the Hostel, even though we didn't plan on staying the night and took advantage of their powerful shower.  Feeling refreshed, I took a limping walk down a few blocks and had myself an ice cream cone.  I then crossed the street and topped it off with a nice Lager.  There was an interesting hiker at the Hostel who had made a few gear changes and was heading out shortly.  Him and Sequoia had some pretty interesting conversation.  This guy was carrying his own sprout garden.  Basically a bag with various bean seeds in it that he could use for some nice fresh veggie wraps.  That was a first for me.

Jail House Hostel bunks
A rather large area able to accommodate lots of hikers.
We relaxed for a couple of hours and before long, Smiles A Lot pulled up and we loaded up and headed back West.  It was cool looking to our right and seeing the ridge we had walked for the last five days and were now backtracking in a little over an hour or so.  We had hiked a total of 77.1 miles in those five days.

We headed back to their Gettysburg home where my truck was and I was pulling into my driveway sometime after 9 pm I think.  The next couple of days I would find out what had gone wrong with my feet and I'm now reading the book, Fixing Your Feet to try and learn the proper techniques to try to not have the problem repeated.  The main cause was doing too much too fast.  Once again a problem with Section Hiking.  I usually have no problem doing some longer mile stretches for about three or four days, but if it goes beyond that, it starts to take a toll.  If I plan another long(ish) hike, I will have to up the mileage slowly as not to overload myself.  I am also most likely going back to my New Balance Trail Runners.  I have never had major problems with them and the Merrells may have been just a little too restrictive.  I also am playing with different insoles.  My special made orthotics are wearing out and I'm just not sure the green Superfeet are the right ones for me.  I plan on making a good foot care kit that will be with me on my next Section Hike.

I am almost done with PA and the hikes will continue.  When you are out there, numerous times you ask yourself, "Why am I out here?", but I like to compare hiking to child birth.  It can be truly painful during the process, but once it is over, I start thinking about the next hike.  (mothers may disagree, but that is the closest correlation I can think of)

See ya on the Trail.

Section Hiker
2011 - Present
Thinking about my next hike...

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Swatara Gap to Palmerton, PA - Section Hike - Day 4

PA Hike Day 4
1. Moonsday, Winterfilth, 3. My 52nd birthday. Goal - Allentown Shelter or spring .3N. 16.5 or 16.8 miles.
2. Day 4
3. Morning temp: 45
4. Weather: cool in am but beautiful all day
5. Time start: 0700
6. Time stop and miles: 1815 - 20.6
7. End point: Blue Mountain Summit B&B. Camping behind
8. Events: turned 52. Blisters.
Log: A crazy homeless guy came in near dark with a dog. Spent the night ranting in the shelter and left us a manifesto of utter crazy. Nice hiking today. Some cool views and two long climbs. Rocks, rocks and rocks, but some good trail too. Got to shelter and decided to move on for water and a shorter day tomorrow. Developed a couple blisters on both feet, but all is good.

Shared from the trail

So I lived long enough to turn 52.  Continuing with where I left off.  I got up about 5:30 or so and checked out the shelter.  On my way there, I found a Ziploc with a notebook page in it.  Written on that paper was the most bat shit crazy stuff.  The Wolfman of Helltown had written a little manifesto when he was ranting in the night and he mentioned things like being Appalachia's most notorious murder suspect and winner of some malicious wounding case.  What a crazy fuck.  He also mentioned how people out here "Obama enablers"??? wouldn't give him or his dog food.  Oh well.  I thanked the gods that the shelter was empty.

We were very glad that he had headed South and we were continuing North.  We headed back up the mountain and before long we were at Pulpit Rock.  This was the location where Lisa and I had did some repelling and ascending during an Adventure Race several years ago.  The drop looked scarier this time.  I could see Blue Rocks where we had camped and the view was nice.  We met a couple who were out on an overnight and they mentioned encountering the Wolfman. 

View from Dan's Pulpit
The rock we repelled off of during an adventure race
After passing the Pinnacle we came to a forest road that made the next few miles very easy to travel.  We eventually moved off of Blue Mountain and up onto Hawk Mountain, then back to where Blue Mountain continued, which would take us all the way to Palmerton.  At Dan's Pulpit there was a register at the view and inside was another rant from our favorite crazy guy.  In this one he mentions not being able to get grain free dog food for his dog or some such nonsense.  It is a conspiracy I tell you.  

At the Pinnacle.  A big ass pile of rocks.
As the day wore on we had decided to move past our scheduled stop of the Allentown shelter, where water was listed as scarce.  Any amount of distance traveled would save us some of our 18 miles planned the next day.  After checking the shelter (another rant awaited us) we headed on and the spring listed nearby was dry.  We didn't bother checking the lower one, but decided to head for Rt 309 and Blue Mountain Summit.  I had remembered that there is a B&B, restaurant, bar at the road crossing and you could maybe camp behind the building and get water if you had permission.  It would make our day a 20 plus miler, but we were feeling ok and the trail was pretty good.  I had developed a couple small blisters, but they weren't too bad (yet) and we made it to the road around 6 pm.

We circled around the building and I found a guy stacking wood.  I asked him if he could grant us permission to stay and he introduced himself as Ken, the owner of the place and yes, we could stay. 

He quickly asked if we would help with the wood and offered some food and maybe a beer if we would.  We agreed and quickly set up our camp and returned to work.  He first said "never mind", but I had already set my sights on a meal that I didn't have to prepare, and it was my birthday after all, so I kind of insisted that we help him.  A B-day beer was certainly called for.  

We spent about 20 minutes stacking and Ken made each of us a very good sandwich.  I enjoyed a nice Yuengling along with the food and we had some nice conversation until about dusk, when we retired to our camping area, finished setting up and hit the hammock.

Selfie: l-r, Sequoia, EarthTone and Ken

My feet were aching this night and the road noise had me putting in my earplugs for the night.  I still slept ok, but needed some Motrin to cut the pain down some.  The ball of my foot was hurting pretty bad.  

So we did 20.6, had a nice meal and were bedded down next to the woods on some nice grass.  All was good.  Tomorrow would be a much shorter hike as we headed to Palmerton, PA.  

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Swatara Gap to Palmerton, PA - Section Hike - Day 3

PA Hike Day 3
1. Sunsday, Winterfilth, 2. Resupply in Hanover scheduled. Goal - Windsor Furnace Shelter. 14.7 miles.
2. Day 3
3. Morning temp: 55
4. Weather: windy but nice. Perfect for hiking
5. Time start: 0700
6. Time stop and miles: 1513. 14.7
7. End point: Windsor Furnace Shelter
8. Events: Bear
Log: Just a little rain last night but the wind dried it all up. Day started out fast with only some rocks then a loong down hill to Port Clinton. Before that I had a bear come face to face on the trail. (20 feet). We both said "oh shit" and he turned tail and ran. Awesome. We dumped our trash in town, then climbed out of the gap. Arrived at shelter. No one else here yet. Early day relaxing.

Shared from the trail

Another nice morning for getting up and out early.  It had rained for a very short time during the night, but the wind that came after had everything dry by the time I crawled out of the hammock.

It was my turn to lead again and  we were pretty much already up on the ridge and would stay there until the steep descent into Port Clinton.  About 45 minutes into the day as we headed along at a brisk clip, I was approaching a turn in the trail.  I caught a glimpse of something black coming along the trail and at first I thought it was a hiker headed our way.  To my surprise that flash of black became a large black bear with a brown muzzle.

We both said "Oh, Shit" and Mr be
ar exchanged head for tail and headed back down the trail.  I swear I heard the bear say "Oh, Shit" right along with me.  At first I quickly reached for my phone/camera, but realized quickly that I had left the phone off this morning to conserve some battery, but there was no way I was going to get a picture anyway, since he was gone in a flash.

I turned to Sequoia and ask if he had seen the bear and he hadn't.  I turned back and there was Mr Bear running across the ridge top in the woods and we both enjoyed his speedy exit.  It was quite an experience and it got my blood flowing for a good amount of time.  Very cool.

By 1100 we had arrived at Port Clinton.  The descent into the town is pretty close to 1000 feet in less than two miles, but it was the last 500 feet in about a half mile that did me in.  Some of the trail was very loose scree and I slid a couple times, going half down once.  But we did make it down without drawing any blood and we rested at the railroad area where some very big pieces of coal were displayed.

Behind those trees is the steep descent
Big ass piece of coal
Our original plan was to carry two days of food and resupply in Hamburg, which was about 1.5 miles or so down a highway.  We had changed that plan before the hike and had decided to carry four days worth of food and not lose any time trying to get a ride into town and back. (We would figure out later that we might not be carrying enough to get to Palmerton, but all would work out as it always does).
"Downtown" Port Clinton
Under bridge art work
Like all gaps, what goes down, must go back up and I slowly led us up the ridge after we had crossed the Schuylkill River.  We passed quite a lot of pokeweed on the way up, but once we finally reached the crest, it was time for lunch and we hung out at one of the trailside campsites to eat our chosen food.

After we continued along, the going was a little more easy, with the occasional rocky area, but mostly good trail and the last of it was pretty fast.  We refilled our water at Pocahontas Spring, which had enough flow to fill, but also had a resident fish and frog.

We arrived at Windsor Furnace Shelter a little after 3 pm and decided to end the day's hike as planned.  It was still early, but we had done 14.7 miles so far and to continue on would have been a climb back up the ridge to an unknown dry camp, somewhere up towards Pulpit Rock.  Today, there was no one already at the shelter, but we each decided to camp across the dirt road away from the shelter.  A fortuitous decision we would realize later.

After dinner we walked back the .3 miles to Furnace Creek that is the Hamburg Reservoir outlet and filled our bottles for the next day.  Back at the shelter area, I was waiting for my Aqua Mira to do its job so I could take my meds, brush my teeth and hit the hammock and in walks a guy and his dog.

It was dusk and we were about done for the day.  I was once again too tired to make a fire and just wanted to text Lisa, write some, read some and sleep on air.  Right away this guy raised my warning flag a little.  Being out here and seeing all the hikers come through the museum, I get a feel for each of them and their situation.  This guy just seemed a little off and after some conversation we learned that he is basically a trail traveller with no permanent home.  His dog was calm and quiet and was just sniffing around for any fallen snack he could find.

The guy (Wolfman of Helltown) hinted that he was low on money and out of food for himself and his dog.  We had just taken stock of our supplies earlier and both of us realized we wouldn't have enough food to get to Palmerton unless we rationed some.

I basically stated that we were low on food too and we took our leave to our campsite.  It seems the Wolfman was quite restless.  I didn't hear him as much as Sequoia did, but there was an uneasiness in the air all night.  Sequoia said he heard him ranting most of the night.  Around 2:50am I saw his red light moving about the area and I watched as he came towards our camp, stopped for a few seconds then proceeded down the road back to the trail.  Thankfully headed Sobo and away from us.

More on that in my next installment.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Swatara Gap to Palmerton, PA - Section Hike - Day 2

PA Hike Day 2
1. Starsday, Winterfilth, 1. Goal - Eagles Nest Shelter. 15.1 miles.
2. Day 2
3. Morning temp: 60s
4. Weather: fog in morning then quite nice.
5. Time start: 0700
6. Time stop and miles: 1630ish 15.1
7. End point: Eagles Nest Shelter
8. Events: peanut butter cup s'more
Log: up at 6 out at 7. Foggy morning, but ok. My feet feel beat by rocks and we haven't even made it to the bad parts yet. Ran out of water late in the day after finding a dry spring, but the one near the shelter was great. Met Shamen at the shelter and later Weezie too.

After a night of continuous circles, I heard some drops on the skylight of the shelter.  I thought it to be rain, but it was too sporadic and localized.  Sequoia went outside for a bit and reported back that we were in heavy fog and the drops were condensation from the trees.  It was 6:00am and we were to be on the trail just before 7 this day.  Sequoia is an early riser and I was glad that we had that in common as we packed up and headed into the early dawn mist.  

Wet spider web
I thought it be best to alternate lead, so I asked Sequoia to take the front today.  There was a morning climb, but it was gradual and the trail was not too bad.  I saw quickly that Sequoia was quick on the uphills.  I would only catch up on large rocky areas, but this was fine with me.  I like to spread out and didn't mind that my climbing was slower than his. 

Today I knew that I would be fighting the Day Two Blues.  I have learned to deal with them and sometimes they never show their heads, but today I knew I would have my usual thoughts of "what am I doing out here?" and I knew I could push through it in my own way.  We had over 15 miles to cover today. 

Foggy white blaze
Around 9 am or so, we descended into  a gap that is a camping area.  It was Sunday and there were numerous groups set up around the area.  The first people we encountered were a group of twenty somethings and one of the girls was making a S"more with a Peanut Butter Cup.  I marveled at the concept and she offered it to me.  I usually don't like that campfire favorite, but the Reece's sealed the deal and before long I was licking marshmallow out of my mustache and beard.  Very good.  

We got water and continued on.  Another climb and more rocks here and there.  We had lunch in a campsite near one of the road crossings and then continued on.  Water is scarce up on Blue Mountain at this time of the Year and we found one spring, Sand Spring, dry. I was pretty much out of water by this time, but I hoped that the spring near the Shelter would be flowing.  We headed down the blue blaze towards the shelter and we found the spring flowing good.  We filled up and headed to the shelter where we found Shamen sitting in the shelter.  He was a Sobo hiking home to Georgia and we had some nice conversation.  He was contemplating putting his ENO knockoff hammock up in the shelter and he found a good way to do it without taking away from Sequoia's area as he had decided to sleep in the shelter again this night.  Later, another Sobo came in called Weezie.  

I gathered some wood as Shamen mentioned maybe making a fire, but I didn't feel like using the energy to make one myself, since he wasn't moving to make one himself.  A family came down a trail that was behind my hammock and we had a nice conversation.  He had brought some family up to check out the place since the road was open and he could drive up close to the shelter.  He told us about another spring that is below the Sand Spring we checked and that it sometimes is flowing when the main one isn't.  I had thought about heading down to check lower when we were there, but being out here you measure and contemplate any off trail walking.  I laid my odds on the Shelter spring and it had paid off, but it was good info to know. 

Sally Mander
Before long, I was once again in my hammock, listening to the others chat by the cold fireplace and reading and writing a little before calling it a night.  I had good signal again, so I traded a few texts with Lisa before turning in.  

We had completed our daily walking by 4:30 pm and we had covered the 15.1 planned.  I had once again defeated the Day Two Blues and was ready for another day of hiking.  

Swatara Gap to Palmerton, PA - Section Hike - Day 1

Ready to start the hike.  EarthTone and Sequoia
Note:  Each day I would write a few notes in my notepad and then make an entry in my Google Keep notes using the following template.  I'm not sure exactly where I got the template, but I seem to remember that Earl Shaffer used something similar.  It is a good way for me to gather my thoughts and events of the day for later publication.  I would write up my 8 items and a short log entry and post it to Facebook each night before going to sleep.  This hike was marked by a lot of good signal at our stops for the day and I was able to post each night as we hiked along.  Below are my five posts along with expanded log entries of the daily happenings and some pictures.  I hope you enjoy coming along with me on my hike.

PA Hike Day 1
1. Highday, Halimath, 30. Hike starts. Goal - 501 Shelter. 12.8 miles.
2. Day 1
3. Morning temp: 60
4. Weather: clouds at first then a perfect hiking day.
5. Time start: 0910
6. Time stop and miles: 1600 - 12.8
7. End point: 501 shelter
8. Events: stung by bee.
Log: Nice chat with boy scouts. Some hikers and day hikers out all along the trail. Sleeping in shelter tonight since it is a nice shelter. Two other hikers here so far.

I left home around 6:30am with my full pack weighing in around 37 lbs.  I had packed it up a couple days early with four days of food and just under 2 liters of water and it came in at 38.6.  The next couple days I would think of what I could eliminate to try and get it lighter.  About a pound was all I could manage, but that is better than nothing.

I arrived at Sequoia's house in Gettysburg just before 8am and we were on our way to Swatara Gap with Smiles A Lot (Sequoia's wife) at the wheel.  We got to the starting point where I had finished my last day hike to even us up on the northbound trail and after a couple of pictures, we were on our way with me in the lead.  The morning was overcast, but the temperature was fine, with some humidity in the air to get the sweat flowing.  After a nice walk through the park we started up our first climb.  

We were hiking good when I came upon a hole in the ground right on the trail.  It looked as though someone/thing had dug it up.  Looking inside I saw a mass of yellow jackets.  I also noticed some comb laying about the area.  As I lollygagged by, I felt a sting on my calf.  I guess I went a little too slow and the bees were still pissed off.  I knocked it off and continued on.  

We continued along for a good three hours up on the ridge.  The trail was mostly good, with a few rocky places here and there.  After about six miles, we came on a group of four.  Two scouts and their leaders.  We had a nice conversation about the trail and all.  

Our first "view".  This is near the 1002 mile marker for Southbounders
Boy Scouts took our picture
We ate lunch by the William Penn Shelter.  I went to get water and it was just a trickle.  I only needed to fill my 24oz Nalgene, so it didn't take too long.

We arrived at the 501 Shelter around 4pm after a 12.8 mile day.  It was a decent mileage for the first day.  There were two other hikers there.  Sobo sectioners from Jim Thorpe, PA.  

At first, I put up my hammock in a small area to the west of the shelter, but after some conversation, I decided to sleep in side.  That would turn out to be what I call a circle night.  I would lay on my back, roll to my side, roll to my stomach, roll to the other side.  All. Night. Long.  Lesson (re)learned.  Sleeping on air is worth the work it takes to break camp if the alternative is sleeping on plywood.  

"Famous" 501 Shelter
Interior of 501 Shelter.  My plywood bunk on right.
The other hikers had a nice fire going, so I did some firewood gathering as my contribution and enjoyed the fire for a while.  But as usual, by the time dusk was settling, I was in my bunk, reading and resting.  Day 1 had come to an end.  

Friday, August 15, 2014

PenMar to AT Museum - Section Hike

It has been over a month since Turk and I hit the trail again, so I better get this written up.

It was time for EarthTone and Kangaroo Joe to hit the trail again. 

This time we hiked on the AT.  I have hiked this section before, some of it multiple times, but it was still a good hike and we met some cool hikers and did some good miles.

Turk (aka KJ) came to the Park and met me at the museum on the Sunday after the Fourth.  We stayed at Junker's place that night.  Junker is the local Ridge Runner and a volunteer at the museum.  He has also offered to shuttle us down to PenMar park to start our hike.  

His place is pretty cool.  He has a part of his land all set up for hikers.  There is a little cabin at the edge of his property with a couple of beds, kitchen and a place to hang out. There is a nice fire ring, privy nearby and he has a shower up by his house that we could use.  

Bear bench at Junker's place
We had headed over there in the early evening and had a little fire into the dark.  The plan was to head out sometime around 8 or 9 in the morning.

Monday, July 7th, 2014

We were up and ready nice and early after a good nights rest.  We arrived at the park and started hiking at 8:45.  Our goal was Tumbling Run Shelter, 8.3 miles down the trail.  This shelter is one of the best. Two structures with a covered table in between.  Also, clotheslines and nice clean firepits.  The shelter maintainers are pretty dedicated. 

KJ at the PenMar Park sign. Ready to start.
The hike that day was pretty easy.  PenMar itself is in Maryland, so within a few minutes of starting our hike, we passed the Mason Dixon Line sign and were back in PA again.  This wooden sign tends to disappear every once and a while, probably stolen by some rebel who is still fighting the Civil War.  Junker had told us that there was a plan to make the sign a little more permanent.  Kind of like when rural people get sick of the rednecks baseball batting their mail boxes and make a box of stone.  At least that is what the plans reminded me of.  From what I hear, it was erected a few days after we hiked by.

Back into the "North"
After the sign we hiked down into the Falls Creek hollow where I had camped on my first section hike.  There was a sign on the bridge over the creek warning you not to even let the water touch you as there was a sewage plant upstream and recent storms had caused escapes of untreated water.  Yuk.

We hiked on and had to detour around a large dead fall.  We made note of the location to report to Junker, so he could come cut it up with his trusty chainsaw.  

The days hike took me past a place where I remembered doing some trail maintenance.  It seems someone likes to dump their used tires over the hillside and the trail happens to be below the road where they dump.  I remember the fun of hauling numerous old tires back up the hill to a truck so they could be properly disposed of.

I helped build these "steps"
Water was plentiful and we passed two shelters before arriving at Tumbling Run at 1:20pm.  It was a beautiful day and the hike was completed early.  There was no reason to continue on, so we stuck with the plan and found a place for our tent and hammock.  This place also has some nice tenting areas and we found a nice place away from the shelter.  

First night's camp
We ate lunch, made camp and started gathering wood.  Tumbling Run the stream was nearby and looked pretty refreshing.  The spring was also nearby, across the creek and it tasted very nice.  We had had a nice first day's hike.

Trail Art
From time to time hikers would come in and hang out for a while and then continue on.  A couple of them stayed for the night and we hung out with them at the table and the camp fire and talked about their hikes.  One was a younger guy, with a spanish trail name that of course escapes me now.  I thought it was the word for sheep, but when I google that, it doesn't look familiar.  (my memory is slow, but it works sometimes.  It was Borrego, lamb, not sheep) Also, I remember that he mentioned that he had to get off trail for a while after a alcohol stove accident and the word Fuego had been added to his name. Fuego Borrego.  He was pretty cool and was a hammock hanger.  He was up and out the next morning before we even got up.

Such a peaceful, easy feeling
Another guy who hung out with us had a name that related to where he was from (Edit: It was Ski, from Colorado I think. Thanks Turk).  Geeze, now I can't even remember trail names.  I need to take better notes, but had forgotten to take my notebook with me.  He was cool, but talked a big talk about sleeping in really late, but still getting his 20 miles in...  We wouldn't see him again until the General Store in Pine Grove Furnace.  He came in behind us.  20 mile days, yeah, ok...

You lookin at me?
In the late afternoon, George and his wife, the shelter maintainers, came by with some trail magic.  Some apples and cokes.  They are very nice people and take pride in their shelter.  We gushed about how great the shelter was and they glowed in accomplishment.  

After sitting around the fire for a while and sipping on some vodka, it was time for bed for me and I headed to my hammock.  As usual, I slept off and on throughout the night.  My usual for the first night out, until I get used to the hammock or my fatigue build up.

My nightly domicile
Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

The next morning was a little cloudy, but it didn't seem that rain was imminent.  We packed up and were on the trail at 7:45am.  Today's planned miles was 12.2, the Quarry Gap Shelter, just up from Caledonia State Park.  I left a little before Kangaroo Joe.  The beginning of the day had us climbing up almost 900 feet to Chimney Rocks, a view.  I thought I would see KJ after coming down from the view, but it was not until later that we would meet up again.  After that climb we headed up Rocky Mountain and ran that ridge all the way to Route 30.  Its name is well earned.  At one point the trail had moved down from the rocky ridge top, but then it took a sharp right and headed back up to scramble amongst the boulders again.  Maybe fun with a day pack, but with 30 plus pounds, not so much.  
Chimney Rocks View
But that is the name of the game and there is no such thing as a Pointless Up and Down (PUD) if it gets you further down the trail.  So we continued on.

Around lunch time we arrived at Caledonia State Park and the snack bar was open.  There were a couple hikers hanging out at the table and we ordered some lunch to go eat in the shade.  We had to wait a while as there was only one girl inside working and the pool people had formed a long line on the other side of the building.  But she did make her way over to us and we placed our order and had some lunch.  

After lunch we made the steep climb (about 500 feet this time) to the Quarry Gap Shelter.  George of Tumbling Run and Jim, the maintainer of this shelter like to have a friendly competition of which shelter is the better and I'm sorry but this one doesn't even come close.  Main evidence is I took no pictures.  I have been here before and it is nice, somewhat.  There are hanging plants and the spring is 10 feet in front of the shelter, but the niceness ends there.  The tent pads are wooden and the group area is down a rocky trail about 50 yards or so.  We arrived at 2:55pm and hung out for a while as this was our planned stop, but KJ had an idea to check out an area about .3 miles down the trail.  

As we hung out, another hiker came by.  Her name was Cherry Blossom (CB) and she was pretty cool.  I think she had gotten off trail for a while too and was just back for as long as she could be, hiking north.  She offered us some berries she had picked and KJ offered her some of his excellent vodka.  A fair exchange.  

She headed out and I took a little nap while KJ went for a walk to scout the other site.  He came back and said it looks nice, so we donned our packs once again and made the day a 12.5 mile day.  The campsite was nice.  Right next to the creek with plenty of flat space for Turk's tent and trees for my hammock.  We set up, cleaned up and I started making my dinner as the wind decided to pick up with the promise of a summer storm coming in. 

Day two camp
Just as I put my food in its cozy to finish cooking the rain started.  I just climbed under my tarp/hammock and sat the rain out.  I should have checked my pack a little better as the downpour let a bit of water into my pack and there was a nice puddle within the cover and some of my clothes got a little wet.  It wasn't too bad and is just part of being out on the trail.  You learn, and re-learn lessons all the time until avoiding them becomes habit.

Wet camp after rain
The rain eventually stopped, but all of our wood was wet, so no fire tonight.  At times like this, I just like to retire to my hammock and read.  KJ hung out for a while around the cold fire ring and had his own adventures.  Night came, and then sleep and then the morning dawned again.

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

We were up and packed and on the trail at 7:25am.  Today was our biggest planned day of 16.9 miles with a possible stop at Tom's Run if we felt like it.  Today's hike would become very familiar for me as I have hiked the last 8.5 miles numerous times with the Road Scholars.  KJ had even hiked a few of these miles when we stayed at the Milesburn Cabin and hiked to Birch Run Shelter last fall.

In the morning I realized I must have left my AT Guide pages at Quarry Gap.  Oh well, I didn't really need them and KJ had a copy.  I just had to recreate the sparse notes I had taken on them into my phone.  

As we talked to the day's hikers, it became evident that moving on was a good idea.  Quarry Gap Shelter had filled up to capacity and event the group area had hikers.  Don't need the crowds.  

Off we went on easy trail after the usual morning climb.  I stopped at the cabin to wait for Turk and we hung out there for a while talking about our fall stay.  When we were there last fall we rebuilt the fire ring, incorporating a nice grill as a keyhole cooking area, but someone had fucked it all up as usual.  They just pile rocks and keep adding ash until it looks like a pile of rocky ash.  Oh well. 

This year's portable halfway marker.  Hikers are helping me maintain it with their duct tape
The day was beautiful and before long we were at Tom's Run Shelter for another break.  We only had 3.8 miles left and I was ready to get them walked.  I headed out and made my way to the end of the hike.  It seemed, that someone had snuck in and added trail when I wasn't looking.  I would be walking along and would think, I don't remember this part of the trail even though I have hiked it about ten times now.  I think that when I am with the group, I go on autopilot as I talk to them and don't remember all of the trail.  At one point, yesterday's storm had knocked over a Very large tree and it was a challenge to get over it.  There were two hikers right behind me when we got to it and I made my over it using my ass as best I could and they found their own way around.  We all made it over eventually.  When I asked Turk about it later, he said he had fallen off it, but then saw an easy way around it using the nearby road.  

Before too long I was walking into Pine Grove Furnace State Park and the end of our hike.  

A lot of the hikers that we had seen over the last three days were there eating their ice cream and it felt good that we had pretty much kept pace with most of them.  I had a cone and waited for Turk to finish his hike.  

We put our gear into the truck, went and got some pizza at Sheetz and then headed back to Junkers for another night in the cabin.  

In the morning, I headed home and Turk headed to State College to continue his hike.

It was a good 37.7 miles hiked in three days.