Archives for the month of: June, 2013

When we started our hike we had different ideas about how often we would stay in hotels and hostels.  The reality has been not what either of us visualized and continues to evolve as the needs change with the conditions we experience.

Some hikers take every possible chance to go into town.  Others seem to adhere to the opposite end of the spectrum and slip in for resupply then fade back out to the trail without delay.  I have seen people take food from hiker boxes just to avoid going to town.  We have done it as well – a hiker got a huge maildrop from his aunt at Ironmaster’s and couldn’t hold onto it since A) It was too much for him for 2 weeks and B) He had just resupplied.  We pulled oatmeal, candy, toilet paper and other items out right after he put them in.  I found a new candy: Hi-chew.  Haven’t seen it in stores but will buy some if I do.  Sort of like taffy but easier to chew and tastier.  Also packaged in the right size to eat while hiking.

Our historical trend towards towns has been for two of Maslow’s necessities: food and shelter.  We have to eat (lots) and when we are sodden from rain we want to get indoors and get dried out.  Otherwise we have not wasted good hiking time lollygagging around in town.

Lately a new opportunity has arisen though.  Hiking the right amount of miles means that we spend the night in a bed, of sorts, and then get up and make good miles and wind up at another bed.  Where there are beds there are also places that serve food that is not what we carry in our packs.  Sometimes beer is available too.  (We only drink it for the calories – no light beer for us.  Right.)

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When we left Shenandoah it was on a slackpack through Terrapin hostel.  After only being out a night that put us into Bear’s Den.  After only a couple of nights out we hit Ironmaster’s.  After a night out from there we stayed in a Hampton in Carlisle.  The next night we made it to the Doyle.  After two nights out we are in a Comfort Inn where we are staying again for our first zero day in a long while.

The Doyle:

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Hiking from one source of hospitality to the next is very convenient.  We’ve had lunches that we carried out on the trail as well as lighter packs and of course ample opportunity to shower.  With the uptick in the temperature lately this is all in all very convenient.  Especially when you hike all day and can then get a beer.   Mmmm, beer.  Did I mention beer?

We are taking in the brewery tour at Yeungling in Pottsville tomorrow morning.  In order to do this we are renting a car and then we will get a late start on the trail afterwards.  (Oh no! We will be LATE for hiking!  It really is a big change from our previous lifestyles to be able to rewrite the schedule however we want whenever we want.  There’s some lingering feeling of Taboo but it’s fading.) 

We are past halfway done.  Maybe.  Sort of, depending on how you look at it.

The spiritual halfway point is Harper’s Ferry in WV at the ATC headquarters.  We had our photos taken and added to their annual log.  We are numbers 432 and 433 to have our photos added this year.

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Not all thruhikers get their photos in the book and not everyone who gets their photo added is attempting to thruhike but it’s still an idea of how many are making it this year.

The actual mileage halfway point is north of WV and shifts a bit each year as various trail reroutes are made annually.  Chronologically we are past
the amount of time we scheduled to be halfway (we’re behind a bit).  Personally I do not feel halfway through the trail.  As I write this we are 1142.5 miles from Springer Mountain in GA and the mileage halfway point was 1093.something.  The closest landmark to that is this unremarkable campsite where we stopped for lunch, about a tenth of a mile past it:

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A bit further up the trail we encountered a more notable marker, made by a previous thruhiker:

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So we’ve had several commemoratives of the halfway mark but I still need to relate the one that I remember best:

At Iron Furnace state park I tackled the “half gallon challenge” and breezed right through it.  To celebrate their halfway point many thruhikers go into the camp store, buy a half gallon of ice cream and then eat it.  Apparently it’s supposed to be tough for some folks.  I ate mine slowly and was done in around 15 minutes.  I could probably have done a twofer but I might have made myself sick so I stopped on a high point and went over to check out the new AT museum.

Right by the camp store is the hostel in an old mansion that was associated with the furnace works.  It’s a grand old place with huge porches and a hidden room under the stairs rumored to have been a stop on the underground railroad.

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Leaving Harper’s Ferry you follow an old canal road for several miles.  The path runs right along the Potomac which is both scenic and flat which makes it quite enjoyable for someone who has been climbing up and down mountains a lot.  And after about 3 miles all that is over and you get to climb a mountain again.

There are some people who attempt a 4 state challenge out of Harper’s Ferry.  Slack-packing and going back a bit to get started in VA one can do miles in VA, WV, MD and PA on the same day.  Assuming that you hike 44 miles that is.  That shit is not for us.

Good thing, too.  We made it only around 10 miles out of Harper’s Ferry since we hung around so long we ate lunch at a restaurant.  And the climb when we did hit it – sucked.  Nothing like 3 miles of perfectly flat roadway to help you understand the exertions of a good climb.

The next morning we got completely soaked in a thunderstorm that Weatherbug said wouldn’t be along til after lunch.  ALL weather apps lie to hikers. 

As you leave Maryland and enter Pennsylvania you cross the famous Mason-Dixon line.  Unlike the Confederacy we are pushing well beyond that line.

Pennsylvania is known for being rocky on the AT.  People complain about it a lot.  Maryland was no bed of roses as far as rocky goes so I entered PA with some trepidation.  Rocks did not immediately spring from the ground and stab at my feet.  So far, so good.

Shortly after you arrive in PA there is the Pen-Mar park.  Bobby D’s, a local Italian restaurant, delivers to the park.  They had a $19.99 special:  large cheese pizza + 10 wings + 2 liter soda.  We ate the pizza, rebagged the wings (BBQ) and poured the remnants of the soda in our “extra” water bottles that we carry and only fill when we have need to do so.  Not wasting soda = need.  Then we booked it a few more miles to Deer Lick shelter.  As we left Hammer and Littlewing were arrivingat the park.

Hammer is a hiker we have seen a lot.  We met him back before the Smokies and he seemed very trailwise at the time.  He was just using a tarp to sleep under as were his buddies, Mallet and Mouse.  Oddity: Hammer and Mallet went to school together and their trail names are their actual surnames.  Mouse – I am not sure where he got his trail name.  We stayed behind them for a long time and saw the ledger entries at various shelters indicating how far ahead they were – yet we somehow caught up to Hammer who is now hiking with his girlfriend, Littlewing.  As a couple they are pretty cool.  We’ve been alternating ahead/behind them since Waynesboro.

Deer Lick is actually two separate buildings – one for snoring and one for non-snoring.  People failed to respect the designations.  We tented so it didn’t bother us any.  The leftover wings supplemented breakfast.

The next morning we were slow to start but had a good midday treat.  We walked 1.2 miles off the trail to visit the South Mountain Inn, which has no rooms to rent but to mitigate this omission sells Yeungling for $4 per pitcher.  They do a decent menu as well.  We had chicken tenders, burgers, onion rings, fries and salads.  By the time we finished lunch (and a couple of pitchers) we were pretty much over our indignation at all the motorists who had ignored our attempts to hitch there.  Good thing, too.  We got no ride back to the trail either.  Yankees do not pick up hitchhikers apparently. 

The afternoon sw us into Caledonia state park.  We made the mistake of paying $4 each for showers at the pool facilities.  The water was not only not hot, it was barely tolerable.  I spent my shower time shivering and wishing for my $4 back.  After that we declined to spend any money at the snack bar and headed out.  And ran smack dab into some trail magic.  Parmesan and Opie were thruhikers last year and laid out a good spread which we happily partook of:  hot dogs, baked beans, salad, several kinds of chips, fresh fruit, sodas and even ice cream.  We left the park with full bellies and a 700 foot climb for our last few miles into the Quarry Rock shelter.

Quarry Rock, if not the nicest, is certainly one of the nicest shelters on the trail.  Like Deer Lick it has two sleeping shelters, snoring and non-snoring.  The caretaker goes to much extra effort at Quarry Rock.  He has roofed over the walkway between the buildings, added a lockbox for food storage, installed solar lighting in the privy along with a doorbell, lined the stream with rock border and brought in hanging basket flowers.  He visits daily to water them and tend the area.  Tent pads are wooden elevated structures and like everything else at this shelter very nice.

Leaving SNP put us on the verge of increasing our state count again.  We had been in Virginia for quite a while so it’s been nice to see some state lines behind us again.

We are still dealing with a lot of rain, however.  After we left Terrapin hostel we were out for only one day before we were thoroughly drenched again.  Getting wet isn’t so bad – it’s having all our gear get soaked that sucks.  Walking long miles in wet shoes and socks just bites ass.

After we got soaked we wound up staying in a shelter that stank of urine – talk about icing on the cake.  But nowhere in the fine print did I find any guarantee that this wouldn’t happen. 

The pee-shelter day just made it seem even sweeter when we arrived at the Bear’s Den hostel.  Owned and operated by the PATC (Potomic Appalachian Trail Club), it is part museum, part meeting hall, part hostel.  The doors don’t officially open til 5PM but we got in at about 2:30 and were able to get showers, bunks and electronics charged all before check-in time.  And there was a boot dryer!  Since the trail looked like this so often, it was needed.

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They have a $30 hiker special.  You get a bunk, shower, laundry, large pizza and pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream for your money.  Not bad, especially on a rainy day.  Made me feel downright human again.

The hostel building is interesting in itself as well.  It was built to resemble a European castle, right down to having 3 foot thick interior walls.

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We paid the caretaker at the hostel to drive my pack to Harper’s Ferry the next day and we hiked with just one pack and only minimal items in that pack so it was under 10 lbs.  It was 20 miles to hoof with a later than normal start but we made it in good time despite increasingly rocky terrain.  Somewhere around this sign was where we left VA and entered WV.

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After a night at the Econolodge and a resupply run the next morning we took our time in Harper’s Ferry.

For starters there’s the awesome combo of Town Hall, Post Office, Police Station and liquor store.  Talk about a one-stop shop! Walmart, eat your heart out. 

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Harper’s Ferry is also home to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and we stopped in to have our photos entered into the 2013 hiker log. 

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After we hung around town so long that we ate lunch we finally started on our way.  Just a few miles would put us into Maryland – after over a month of just VA we were finally making some progress!

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We finished up our time in the park by getting rained on.  We left Luray a day before the forecasters showed tropical storm impact in the area.  The prediction was “mostly sunny” and couldn’t have been more wrong.  The drizzle started while we were waiting under the hotel pavilion for our promised ride back out to the trail.  And it didn’t stop for two days.  It got harder and lighter at times but the overall message was clear:  “I am rain and I am here to wet your ass.  Hear me drip!”

We set our tent up in the rain after 15 miles of slogging.  We broke it down in the rain the next morning as well.  (Side note:  I renewed the seam seal in Waynesboro and it held.  No leaks.  End side note.)  While packing items in the rain I discovered a salamander hiding out under my pack on the boulder I had it on.  Turns out it was a Shenandoah salamander though I refused to pull out any electronics in the rain for a pic.

We slogged another 10 miles to Terrapin Station Hostel and it was a very nice treat indeed.  It’s .5 miles off the trail and encompasses the bottom floor of the owner’s home.  What was once a couple of garages and utility rooms is now  a bunkroom, kitchen, and living room.  There’s a laundry and restroom with shower as well.  Food is stocked and reasonably priced and free town shuttles are run daily.  If you stay two nights you can get a free slackpack trip for 12 or 17 miles – your choice.  The bunk mattresses are all airbeds which I thought was a nice innovation.

We stayed 2 days, got slackpacked 17 miles, got resupplied, and got our gear dried out which was badly needed.  Water had got into everything not sealed in a Ziploc.  It took all of both days to dry out my pack.

So when we left there in good shape and spirits of course we got rained on again.  That cut our hiking day short as we got into a shelter after about half an hour of rain and called it a day.  The trail is unkempt and all the wet vegetation does more wetting than the actual rain.  Only 10 miles in a day is frustrating but not as bad as having all your belongings plus yourself soaked.

When we left Loft Mountain we would have needed to hike 26 miles to make it to the Lewis campground.  We hiked about 18 and had our first stealth campsite in Shenandoah.  Upon re-reviewing the rules I am now sure that it was 100% legal.  Not that my feet cared. (I am pretty sure that I inherited some malice about the camping rules from the guidebook and other reading sources that complain about the impossibility of camping legally within the rules.)  

We stopped by Lewis campground for an excellent lunch.  We ate food that was in our packs but it was supplemented with a big bag of Route11 BBQ potato chips and a couple of Yuenglings.  Sitting on a bench charging your phone and sipping beer for lunch can feel pretty damn decadent.

All in all we have been having it pretty good in SNP.  The easy access to food at campstores and delis means we have been carrying less in our packs and enjoying the lighter load.  Showers have been a lot more frequent as well – and that’s a good thing.

The only negative experience we’ve really had has been when we went into the Big Meadows wayside.  The staff there just treat hikers a bit poorly.  It’s the only wayside that has gas pumps and they really seem to not want to deal with hikers at all.  We had to leave our packs outside, which is not unusual but they have no real place to stow them.  While we ordered and ate they got soaked in a storm that blew in.  And the staff just were not nice.  Really rubbed me wrong, in case you can’t tell… 

Finishing the day up we wound up camping in a less than legal but obviously previously used site and got a fantastic sundown view.

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Byrd’s Nest #3 is a hut that was formerly a day use picnic area and is nicer than any of the other huts we’ve stayed at so far in the park.  Also, all of the huts have bear poles instead of cables.  I approve. 

We took a short day and went into Luray, VA where we rested, resupplied and did the tourist bit.  We toured the caverns, went to the car & carriage museum and went to the local historic culture museum.  Luray Caverns is something you should see if you get the chance. 

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The caverns are extensive and include many fantastic sights.  One thing I found fascinating was the organ.  It’s attached to electric solenoids all around the caverns that tap on cave  formations.  Mikes pick up the sound and speakers play it in the organ chamber.  Quite interesting and beautiful to hear.

Coming out of Luray we stopped at the first hut just to check out the kissing trees.  It was a half mile detour and we got drizzled on the whole time (all day in fact) but it was worth a little extra.

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At the end of the day we had to set up the tent in the rain (mostly sunny forecast, huh?).  That does not make for happy campers.  After getting rained on all night, packing in the rain, and hiking another 10 miles in the rain we reached the Front Royal Terrapin hostel right after lunchtime and were mighty glad to get into the dry.  The afternoon was consumed with the minor chores of getting our gear and our selves back to spec but since we were indoors they were happy chores.

When we left Loft Mountain we would have needed to hike 26 miles to make it to the Lewis campground.  We hiked about 18 and had our first stealth campsite in Shenandoah.  Upon re-reviewing the rules I am now sure that it was 100% legal.  Not that my feet cared. (I am pretty sure that I inherited some malice about the camping rules from the guidebook and other reading sources that complain about the impossibility of camping legally within the rules.)  

We stopped by Lewis campground for an excellent lunch.  We ate food that was in our packs but it was supplemented with a big bag of Route11 BBQ potato chips and a couple of Yuenglings.  Sitting on a bench charging your phone and sipping beer for lunch can feel pretty damn decadent.

All in all we have been having it pretty good in SNP.  The easy access to food at campstores and delis means we have been carrying less in our packs and enjoying the lighter load.  Showers have been a lot more frequent as well – and that’s a good thing.

The only negative experience we’ve really had has been when we went into the Big Meadows wayside.  The staff there just treat hikers a bit poorly.  It’s the only wayside that has gas pumps and they really seem to not want to deal with hikers at all.  We had to leave our packs outside, which is not unusual but they have no real place to stow them.  While we ordered and ate they got soaked in a storm that blew in.  And the staff just were not nice.  Really rubbed me wrong, in case you can’t tell… 

Finishing the day up we wound up camping in a less than legal but obviously previously used site and got a fantastic sundown view.

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Byrd’s Nest #3 is a hut that was formerly a day use picnic area and is nicer than any of the other huts we’ve stayed at so far in the park.  Also, all of the huts have bear poles instead of cables.  I approve. 

We took a short day and went into Luray, VA where we rested, resupplied and did the tourist bit.  We toured the caverns, went to the car & carriage museum and went to the local historic culture museum.  Luray Caverns is something you should see if you get the chance. 

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The caverns are extensive and include many fantastic sights.  One thing I found fascinating was the organ.  It’s attached to electric solenoids all around the caverns that tap on cave  formations.  Mikes pick up the sound and speakers play it in the organ chamber.  Quite interesting and beautiful to hear.

Coming out of Luray we stopped at the first hut just to check out the kissing trees.  It was a half mile detour and we got drizzled on the whole time (all day in fact) but it was worth a little extra.

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At the end of the day we had to set up the tent in the rain (mostly sunny forecast, huh?).  That does not make for happy campers.  After getting rained on all night, packing in the rain, and hiking another 10 miles in the rain we reached the Front Royal Terrapin hostel right after lunchtime and were mighty glad to get into the dry.  The afternoon was consumed with the minor chores of getting our gear and our selves back to spec but since we were indoors they were happy chores.

We had a short day coming into SNP.  The Post Office had a nationwide data crash 5 minutes before we walked in the door to mail home 3 boxes of winter gear.  Eventually IP went over to Kroger and got some cash so we could pay up with dollars and be done.

We got a ride back out with a trail angel and slowly began our way into the park borders.  About a half mile up the trail we stopped at a kiosk and filled out the ridiculously wasteful permit before trudging on in the heat.  Are you getting the idea here – we were dragging ass despite having lightened our packs with the gear swap.

We made a short day of it and stopped at Calf Mountain shelter, only 7 miles in.  Given that the next shelter was another 13 miles away and how badly the camping rules suck we didn’t feel like we had a lot of choice unless we threw the rulebook out.  We were first in to the shelter and set up our tent in one of the designated sites only to discover that
A) the tent sites are not even long enough to accommodate our small 2 person tent
and
B) there are buku rocks under the tentsites.  Good luck getting a stake in the ground, sport.

All in all it wasn’t bad though.  Just little annoyances.

As we left camp we saw a small bear run away from us – small enough that we watched carefully for mom – who we never did see.

Then a couple of hours later we saw a larger bear trailside and I managed to get a pic, sort of.  Not just a blob but a bear – promise.

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Shortly after that we saw a deer right beside the trail and she made it clear that people feed deer here.  Not just a deer, but a s’mores deer.

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A little after that we saw a turkey that we watched walk calmly away instead of fleeing in the normal manner.  One can tell that there is no hunting here.

A couple of hours later we encountered a family taking pictures of a bear and we kind of looked at it before moving on but we were mostly “Oh yeah, we’ve seen a couple of those already today.  Hohum.”

We finished the 20 mile off day by going into Loft Mountain Campground.  We got showers at the campground store ($1 in quarters gets you 5 minutes – worth it), buying beer, hot dogs and buns and shelling out $15 for a campsite where we cooked and ate 10 hot dogs and 8 buns in short order and washed them down with our 6pack of Busch Classic.  Mmmmm.