Miles Hiked: 17.5
Miles Left: 995.7
Ending Location: 501 Shelter, Mile 1189.6
Miles Hiked: 1.9
Miles Left: 1040.3
Ending Location: Staying at the Stardust hotel, Duncannon PA, Mile 1145.0
After hiking 25 miles the day before I was ready for a relaxing zero day. The problem was, I didn’t want to spend it at the Doyle. Looking back at it, I should have sucked it up and stayed there, but I had visions of a proper hotel floating in my head.
The Stardust motel was a couple miles off the trail but in my guidebook it mentioned they would provide rides to and from it so I figured I’d give them a try. They picked up from the Pilot gas station on the edge of town so if you want to get technical I turned today into a Nero by hiking the two miles to it. Every little bit counts 🙂
Miles Hiked: 25.4
Miles Left: 1067.8
Ending Location: Staying at the Doyle hotel, Duncannon PA, Mile 1143.1
Originally I had been planning to zero today. I was at a nice hotel and my last zero day was all the way back in Waynesboro VA. My goal was to update my blog, sleep, and perhaps even watch some Netflix. I know, real exciting. I decided to hike instead since it was a Monday and pretty much everything in the resort was closed. Not only that, but with no wifi and no cell signal I would have been able to check “sleeping” off my todo list but not much else. Even that would have been tricky since if I wanted anything to eat I would have had to hike downtown. The ironic part was that Sunshine, Youngbeard, and Owl did end up zeroing even though they had originally planned to go hiking today. Sunshine was still feeling sick and Owl was nursing an injured foot. It would later turn out that Owl was suffering from a ruptured nerve casing in his foot but don’t worry, he seems to be doing ok as of when I’m writing this, (nearly two weeks into the future).
So that’s how I went from zeroing to hiking 25 miles instead.
The first eighteen miles were surprisingly pleasant. Flat, relatively rock free hiking through fields and strips of forests pretty much sums it up. Some of these were Amish farms so it was hard not to stare at the men and women in old style garb working the fields. At one point I ran across some amazing trail magic as well in the form of two coolers filled with ice cold soda and beer along with some folding chairs set up for hikers to relax in. I ended up showing some rare good judgement by grabbing a beer for later and drinking lemonade instead. Near the end of this section the trail it ran along a fairly substantial river. Considering that it was downstream of all the farms I had been passing I had no desire to go swimming in it, but there were a lot of kids playing in the shallower parts.
After that the AT returned to normal with a rocky climb up to a ridge line. This was where the two shelters for this section were located. The Darlington shelter contained one of the bigger disappointments of the trail so far. AWOL’s guide stated it had a “Taj Mahal” privy. When I got there the outhouse was much like any other privy though. It just had a “Taj Mahal” sign over it. I guess it’s all about the branding. Hey, these things matter in the woods!
By the time I reached the second shelter it was already getting dark so I just paused long enough to read the log book. According to the entries written by other hikers, a porcupine lived under the shelter and would occasionally get aggressive. Yet another threat I hadn’t considered when deciding to hike the AT. There was also a plastic monster glove hanging from the wall. No clue about the story behind that one.
Now the climb down to Duncanon may have been one of the more dangerous things I’ve done on the trail. Rocks doesn’t really describe it. You know when you see a rock slide along a mountain? That was pretty much it all the way down with football sized rocks stacked on top of each other forming the stepping stones. Now imagine all if these rocks being loose and hiking on them in the dark with a backpack on and you can start to see that it was a bit tricky. The worst part though was unknown to me the AT took a turn to go over one last hump so I completely missed it and kept going down. I found myself in a parking lot with no white blazes anywhere so I consulted my map and realized my error. Then it was back up the mountain, over the hump, and then back down to a spot about 50 feet from where I was originally. Grrrr.
The walk into Duncanon was a bit depressing at night. This wasn’t what I would call an up and coming town and everything looked worn down and dirty. This impression continued as I got closer to the historic Doyle hotel where I was planning on staying. Well add to that the fact that it was locked up and closed to and you can imagine my disappointment. There was a bar downstairs and it was only 11 so I was sure it would have been open. Luckily another hiker was on the patio so he grabbed one of the owners and I was able to get a room for the night. The place itself was a hoot. Decrepit doesn’t even begin to cover it. Holes in the roof, mold, carpet that hadn’t been cleaned since the Eisenhower administration…. It was one of the most run down places I’ve stayed at on the trail so far. But I was exhausted so I immediately fell asleep.
Miles Hiked: 19.8
Miles Left: 1067.6
Ending Location: Staying at the Allenberry Resort Inn and Playhouse, Stopped at mile 1117.7
I found myself on the trail this morning by myself. Sunshine was feeling very sick so her, Youngbeard, and Owl ended up zeroing and skipping ahead to Boiling Springs instead. I on the other hand had the ambitious goal to hike 19 miles that day and meet them in town later that night.
It certainly was good terrain for a high milage day. The trail in the park followed an old railway track so it was mostly flat and rock free. Even when the AT eventually broke off and left the park it was easy going. The only thing I needed to keep an eye out for were people running along the trail. With the lack of rocks, proximity to the park, and it being the weekend there were a ton of joggers out. Being the slow one I always tried to get off to the side of the trail to let them pass but it was a bit disheartening to see someone going back and forth while you trudged on with your pack.
At the first shelter of the day I came across a beer sitting on the shelter log. My initial reaction was “Woho! Trail Magic!”, but on reading the last journal entry I saw it was left for someone’s friend who was lagging a day behind. Since I’m all for giving your friends a hard time I reluctantly left the beer where it was. That was probably for the best as it was still early in the day.
Near mile 1110 in AWOL’s guide it lists “Rock Maze”. I found out that was a pretty good description since that point was actually a mountain covered with huge boulders. Rather than going up or around them the trail weaved in and out of the crevices and paths created by the rocks. This led to some interesting trail paths where the entrance and the exit would often be a couple of feet away from each other but you would have to scramble fifty feet to follow the real trail and hit every white blaze. It was a ton of fun and really helped liven up the day.
Near the end of the day I stopped by the Alec Kennedy shelter to take a quick break. As I was there it started to rain a bit which was annoying. It’s never fun to be tired and wet. Reluctantly though I put on my rain gear and pushed on. Shortly afterwards I came across the halfway rock which was a reproduction of the original AT halfway marker. Around then the rain stopped misting and things cleared up a bit which was much appreciated. Then it was down the mountain and the start of the Pennsylvania farm section of the trail where the AT runs right between farmers’ crops. There wasn’t much of that today but the next day would contain a lot of paths through the fields. These sections of the AT had been seized using eminent domain when it was being built and the story goes the farmers are still mad about it to this day. I didn’t have the chance to talk to any farmers to confirm this, but I have to say it was a fun switch up to find myself walking through fields of wheat.
The last bit of the trail for the day went through downtown Boiling Springs PA. There used to be a huge foundry operation there and the main remnants of that were the springs themselves which had been turned into canals and walled ponds to support the foundry. Now they served as the center of the town park and made the place quite fancy. This was one of the few towns that has seemed to prosper after the disappearance of the iron jobs and the area I walked through looked very well to do. Considering the “local” bar was a five star restaurant and the only hotel was a country club/resort/theater company, you can kind of get an idea of what the place was like. The AMC headquarters was also here but surprisingly it has a reputation of not being very friendly to hikers. They do mostly administrative stuff there so it is simply not set up to provide services for people currently on the AT.
Luckily the Allenberry resort and playhouse was extraordinary hiker friendly. Rooms were only $40, when normally they would go for much, much, more. Admittedly they put hikers in their own building to separate us from the paying guests, but hey the PA fly fishing museum was in the basement, (supposedly it was haunted), so I’m not going to complain. They also had a great common area there with pool tables, couches, and TVs for the hikers to enjoy.
Unfortunately they didn’t have any plays showing that night or Monday afternoon so I instead went to find Owl and company after getting settled in. Not surprisingly they were in the bar, which looked like it hadn’t been remodeled since the 70s with the dim lighting and carpet covered walls. The drinks were surprisingly good and cheep and the food was excellent though so we had a great time. A couple of the owners were also there meeting one of their daughter’s boyfriends. I got the distinct feeling that their grandfather had founded the resort and since then all if the kids have been living off of it and using it as their personal playground. They certainly liked hikers so I can’t complain though!
After that it was time to do laundry and spend some time cleaning and repairing my equipment. It had been a while since I had stayed in a hotel and while hostels are nice you really can’t doctor your equipment there like you need to. Hotels are nice since you can fully unpack, spread things around, and make full use of the shower, sink, towels, and hair driers. Because of all of this it turned into a late night but it was worth it.
Miles Hiked: 8.9
Miles Left: 1087.4
Ending Location: Staying at the Iron Masters Hostel, Pine Grove Furnace State Patk, Mile 1097.9
Finally! Today I hit the official halfway point for the AT. Since the trail is constantly changing, the midpoint moves from year to year so the only marker is a dinky little sign the trail maintainers move around. There was a more official looking marker a mile down the road, (I think it represents the midpoint of the AT in 1978), so of course I had to have my picture taken by both. This milestone was a long time coming and it feels good to know I’ve passed this hump. Admittedly it took close to four months, but please remember Owl and I started out doing 6-8 miles a day. Now we are routinely doing 14-18. So if we can both stay healthy the second half of this adventure shouldn’t take as long. That’s the plan anyway. I’ll admit when I started the trail I had hopes that I would finish in late July or early August. Now it looks like mid September is going to be the target date. On the plus side, this is one of the many reasons I started mid February. I certainly didn’t want to worry about running out of time before the endpoint in Baxter State park closed for the year.
Now the true celebration of reaching the halfway point is the half gallon challenge held at the country store in Pine Grove Furnace state park. The goal is to eat a half gallon of ice cream as fast as you can without throwing up or letting it melt into a disgusting goo. Even for AT hikers this was not easy and several people gave up while we were there. In the days leading up to this many strategies discussed on how to best tackle the challenge but when faced with the selection of flavors I forgot all of them and picked the dreaded Peanut Butter instead. I figured I didn’t hike one thousand miles to eat vanilla! Like many things in life it started out great and got progressively harder as time went on. A last chunk of chocolate peanut butter cup at the bottom almost defeated me but I prevailed with a time of 34 minutes!
Now, as I mentioned earlier I may have a case of the hiker hunger. About 30 minutes after finishing the ice cream I stopped back in the store and ordered a cheeseburger and chips. And that was just for lunch. There was a 25 year reunion of the AT class of 1989 and they were hosting a huge potluck. So that night I downed several hotdogs, lots more chips, various side dishes, and a hunk of pie. Besides the food, it was a great time to be there because it was fascinating to hear how the trail has changed over the last twenty five years. The equipment back then was heavier, there was worse maps and support, keeping in touch with loved ones was harder, and the camping food was worse. Basically I felt like a wimp compared to everyone else there.
Pine Furnace park was also the home of the AT museum. Currently it only covers one floor of a small building but still it was cool to see artifacts such as the gear some of the first through hikers carried with them. Once again it made me feel like I had way too much stuff. I mean, they certainly weren’t carrying around Kindles. The hostel we stayed in for the night was the old Iron Master’s house back when this place smelted iron. Considering Owl was a part time blacksmith, he was on cloud nine for this. Unfortunately they didn’t offer smithing work for stay. The hostel itself was nice and clean and I enjoyed sitting on the couch and working on my journal backlog. It also had a secret room that we all happily explored, but it was a little disappointing. It just lead to the area under the foundation and there was no pirate treasure to be found.
That was pretty much my day. Tons of cool stories, food, and secret rooms. Let’s see what the second half of the AT has to offer!