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Appalachian Trail: Days 78-87

Day 78 - May 17th

Daily miles: 21.3

Official distance covered on trail: 1106.1

Man it feels goooooood to be back on trail! After taking 4 days off in DC to rest, we were all just itching to start hiking again. DC was a lot of fun though! Met all of Wilson's roommates, who were lovely; stayed with my friend Jackson, who was kind enough to let me and Mitch and Scott take over his apartment for a few days; and even saw my college friend Karrie, who just moved to DC for a nursing program! We mostly just sat on the couch and watched tv - I cannot reiterate how much our bodies needed rest - so I'll have to go back to the area and actually check it out. We did walk around the National Mall with Maria, who also took some time off in DC, so we at least did one DC thing! I thought being back in a city would be super overwhelming, but more than anything, it made me think a lot about and get excited for moving to Denver in August.

Oh and big shoutout to Wilson's boyfriend Joey, who graduated on Sunday from George Washington's law school! He also drove us the two hours back to the trail at 6:30 this morning. Stellar dude. We love him. Wilson, you can keep him.

Pennsylvania so far is wonderfully flat, which was great to get us back into the hike. I made an effort to take it easy and slowly, and still found myself going 3 miles an hour or faster because there was hardly any elevation gain to slow me down. The trade-off is there are basically no views, but right now, I'm just trying to keep my body from falling apart!

We made it to the ~official~ halfway point! There wasn't a sign or anything because the halfway point changes every year, but halfway this year is at mile 1096.5.

There was a statue commemorating the midpoint placed somewhere along the trail in 2011, so we were able to get in a photo op. The signs say the midway point is at 1090.5, which is a 6 miles differential from where it said in our guide, but the trail changes every year, so we just accept the inaccuracies.

Also around the midway point is Pine Grove Furnace State Park, which is famous on trail for its general store, which is where the half gallon challenge takes place. People get a half gallon of ice cream and try to eat it in one sitting. Some hard asses have added the stipulation that it has to be completed in a half hour. Of the four of us, I was the only one to not attempt it. Of the three of them who tried, Mitch was the only one to finish. It took him 26 minutes and 34 seconds. I am both impressed and concerned for his wellbeing. He felt very ill afterward - shocking - but at least he can say he did it. Basically every challenge here is for bragging rights and nothing else. I still got to eat ice cream, though; I knew the others would flake out before finishing, so I took their leftovers. Some call it mooching; I call it being resourceful.

We talked a bit to a flip flop thruhiker who we met while we were doing the four state challenge. Flip floppers start somewhere in the middle, go one direction to a terminus, then return to their starting destination, then hike toward the other terminus. She started in Harpers Ferry last Saturday. We all commented after she left on how comically green she was, and we tried not to be condescending because we know we were there at the beginning too. But it's hard to pretend like her input on the trail is anywhere near ours, given that she just started, the weather has been perfect, the terrain has been easy, there have been consistent and good water sources, the shelters and campsites have been super nice (seriously one today had flower hangers and a bench swing), and there are towns every few days. I went back in my journal and read the first few days of my experienced and laughed at how badly I wanted to do laundry on day 5 after having done 50 miles in cool weather. We all start somewhere. (But really, flip floppers, please refrain from giving advice or comparing experiences at this point. You don't even know what you don't know. I guess that's how people who have already done the PCT and/or CDT feel about us.)

Hiked a little more so the guys could walk off some of that ice cream. We set up camp at a stealth spot, played some euchre, and ate a small dinner. We discussed how cool it would be if we could have certain weird stats available about our thru hike. For example: How many calories do we actively burn per day? How much weight have we maintained from drinking? How many people have we met who have quit hiking? How many times have we stumbled or tripped? How many bears have seen us that we haven't seen? How many bugs have I accidentally stepped on?

We got in our tents before dark. After so many nights on couches and air mattresses, we all missed our tents. The other sleeping arrangements were very comfortable, but our tents have become our homes. We know we're going to sleep well tonight.

Day 79 - May 18th

Daily miles: 25.8

Official distance covered on trail: 1131.9

Oh, we slept like rocks. Mitch and I didn't leave our tent until almost 7:30, we were so cozy. We're usually out of camp around that time.

Most of the hike was easy and relaxing. There was an interesting rock scrambling section labeled in the guide as "rock maze," and it was a fun way to add texture to the hike. Most of it was flat. I sweat due to uphill hiking for the first time in a long while today. But almost 10 straight miles of our hike today was totally flat.

Our plan was to only do 18 miles to get to the town of Boiling Springs. We got there by 3:30 and hung out at a cafe for a bit, and we decided to push another 8 miles to get to the next down of Carlisle. When I say "totally flat," I mean it. We did 8 extra miles at the end of the day in less than 2.5 hours - a pace of 3.5 miles per hour. At the end of the day! It was too easy.

This section of trail is tough to plan because camping is so limited. There was a camp site a half mile before Boiling Springs, but the lack of desire to backtrack a half mile, plus the proximity to railroad tracks, made us hesitant to stay there. But past that, our options were either staying in one town or another. There was a bed a breakfast 5 miles down the way, but it was too expensive to justify. All 8 of the miles we did were surrounded by private property, so camping wasn't feasible. Usually we can find stealth spots, but that's not really kosher on private property, so we're in a hotel room tonight. The next listed camp site in our guide book isn't for another 22 miles, so we're going to stay there tomorrow, but this section is not great for camping.

Not that we needed this relaxation so early after taking time off, but I won't argue with watching playoff hockey in a bed after eating out at a diner and playing euchre on a table instead of the ground. Life is good tonight.

Day 80 - May 19th

Daily miles: 21.9

Official distance covered on trail: 1153.8

Whewie, my feet hurt today. The stereotype for Pennsylvania is that it's super rocky. So far, it's been only pretty rocky, but still uncomfortable for my feet.

If it's not rocky, it's just flat. We had several more miles of field, and I checked myself over for ticks many times because sometimes the grasses came all the way up to my shoulders.

The worst part of the day was a 7-mile stretch that was consistently rocky. Just enough that you were constantly doing weird shit with your feet. It was also during the hottest part of the day, and flies and gnats were constantly buzzing around my field of vision. At one point, I was batting my eyes to try to keep the flies away, and one got between my eyeball and lid? Like my eye closer on it? It was gross. I was very ready to get into the town of Duncannon, where we briefly stopped for food and drinks. The trail went through the few miles of the town anyway, so it wasn't an inconvenient stop.

I was mentally ready to be done once I hit town, but we still had 4.7 miles to go. I was the first to leave town because I knew if I didn't just leave, I'd be tempted to stay. The best way to get through it is just to do it and get it out of the way.

Day 81 - May 20th

Daily miles: 24.6

Official distance covered on trail: 1178.4

It took me ages to fall asleep last night because my feet were so sore, the pain kept me up. Also there were so many people in the shelter, the noise of the sleeping pads frequently interrupted my dozes.

Most of the hike today was really nice! Nothing of note, exactly, but just good hiking.

Finally saw some interesting wildlife today! Wilson saw a porcupine; he took a video for the rest of us to see, and they are much larger than I expected! I saw a bunch of frogs during the hike. And at one point, I saw Mitch and 9 to 5 had stopped ahead of me, and they pointed at a rattlesnake slithering near the trail that had rattled a warning to them as they obliviously hiked nearby. It was a small guy, but it left me a little paranoid the rest of the day, and I turned my music down a few notches, just in case.

The last few miles left my feet absolutely aching. I was so ready to be done, I actually teared up at one point. But we had to get to our destination, so I had to push on. Amazing how much we can do when we feel like we have to do it, even when everything in us is begging to stop. I rolled my feet out with a golf ball and gave them a nice long soak in the cold creek at our campsite, but I know it'll be like this until at least somewhere in New Jersey.

Finally, for the first time, over halfway in, we're cow-person camping! No tents, no shelters, just our sleeping pads and bags over a tarp (to protect the pads). We set up so we could all lie down and still be able to play euchre before going to sleep. A perfect way to end the day.

Now that we're out of freaking Virginia, the state that never seemed to end, it's wild to measure each state out in days or weeks. We'll be done with Pennsylvania, the fourth longest state on trail, in a week. We have, from today, exactly 8 weeks left until our target deadline of July 15th. We're all already talking about celebrating finishing in Maine and what tattoos we want to get afterward and how we're getting home. 8 weeks is a long time, but it feels like we're so close to the end, and since we'll be ticking states off so frequently from now until the end, I think time is going to pass quickly.

Day 82 - May 21st

Daily miles: 23.2

Official distance covered on trail: 1201.6

Under 1000 miles to go! Where have the miles gone?!

Today was a cool day of hiking! Pretty early on, we had to hike over a beaver dam. If it had rained recently, we would have had to take an alternative route because the dam would have caused the area to flood, but we've been super lucky with weather, so we were able to just go through it. It felt very otherworldly. Just wish the beavers would have popped out to say hello!

Like I said, the trail in Pennsylvania alternates between very flat:j

and very rocky:

And every now and again, you get a nice view:

Got some trail magic today from a guy called Slick who thruhiked in 2004. Accidentally talked with him for an hour before moving on. I always ask previous thruhikers for their advice, and his was: don't thruhike on a schedule. My future teaching job says otherwise.

We also passed a shelter that's known for being a place to order pizza to, so we obviously did that, but we didn't stay because it was so crowded. I think shelters are going to be crowded for awhile until we get too far ahead for most flip floppers.

We decided to do 5 more miles, even though there were a few camping options before then. We'd heard a rumor that this particular site had a pond with a rope swing, and we had to check it out! It would have been better at 2:00 in peak heat instead of at 8:00 as the sun was going down - the water was absolutely frigid - but we couldn't pass up the opportunity! Fortunately, it was still warm, and Rocket Man had built a fire, so it didn't take too long to dry (mostly) off before going to bed.

Day 83 - May 22nd

Daily miles: 18.8

Official distance covered on trail: 1220.4

Just a day to get through. Nothing particularly notable. Had leftover pizza for breakfast and saw another rattlesnake.

In Hamburg, PA for the night. Campsites are spaced at weird intervals in this section and we had to come into town to resupply on food, so we just decided to stay here. Let me tell ya, hitching in was borderline treacherous, but we got here eventually!

Day 84 - May 23rd

Daily miles: 21.9

Official distance covered on trail: 1242.3

Ok. Pennsylvania was cool, and now I kinda hate it. The last 7 miles of the day were just me trying not to cry while my feet pleaded with me to stop walking on fucking rocks. Girl Scout said what we were all thinking: "I would pay so much money to never see a boulder field again." But the boulder fields aren't the worst part. It's where the rocks are smaller than your feet but the gaps between them are also too small so you just have to focus for every single step and try to pick the rocks that will fuck with your feet the least.

It wasn't all bad today, though. Saw some good views at Pulpit Rock and The Pinnacle, which are clearly popular spots for locals, since we were constantly surrounded by day hikers in that section. Took a long lunch break at The Pinnacle m, which felt nice; we haven't gotten to take a long break at a view point in awhile.

Also some stranger took a photo for me at Pulpit Rock, since I was alone there, and it's one of my favorite pictures of me from the trail, so thanks, random woman from Philadelphia!

I was going to roll my feet out with my golf ball when I got to camp, but also I have a bunch of bruises and blisters and hot spots, so half of my feet need a lot of pressure, and half of my feet need absolutely no pressure. So. Things are going well. We're all struggling with these rocks. Fortunately, we should be done with them in a few days. Hopefully my feet can hang in there that long.

Day 85 - May 24th

Daily miles: 18.0

Official distance covered on trail: 1260.3

Imagine how enjoyable hiking would be if it could always be be 70° and overcast instead of 85° and sunny. At the beginning, I probably would have killed for the heat wave we've been experiencing. Now, I'd kill for cold, crisp air. But today was wonderful.

We did some really fun rock scrambly sections today. Pennsylvania is mostly shitty rocky, so fun rocky was a good change of pace. Like there was a section called Knife Edge, which was kinda scary because if you misplaced your feet or lost balance on some of the rocks, you could easily get really hurt. If it were raining, I'm not sure how feasible this section would have been. But otherwise it was a good time!

The first 15 miles were honestly fine, but then the shitty rocks kicked in. My feet were howling going down the steep hill at the end. It also sucks knowing we'll have to start tomorrow on the same slope uphill. Although at least uphill we can control how quickly we go; going downhill over these small rocks, gravity can make it hard to control where you put your feet.

We're currently in Palmerton, PA. A kind lady called Squeak who previously thruhiked lets people camp in her backyard. There are currently 9 tents and 1 hammock in this yard. Fortunately we almost all know each other, so it's like a big party!

We'd love to have pulled more miles than 18, especially to get out of this fucking state, but this section is tough to get through. Today, we all had to ration our water because there wasn't a good water source all day. Literally all day. So we had to go 18 miles with just the water from our campsite, and you don't want to carry too much because it's so heavy, so we didn't want to carry our filled water filtration bladders, so we each only had 1.5-2 liters of water all day. And tomorrow will be worse.

Day 86 - May 25th

Daily miles: 23.5

Official distance covered on trail: 1283.8

The sun's been coming up before 5:30. I know this because almost everyone was awake and moving and talking in the backyard by 5:30. Mitch and I tried to resist the commotion, but we were out of the tent before 6:00. Too. Early.

Squeak is basically the coolest person. She and her husband Dave moved to Palmerton specifically to let thruhikers crash in their yard. She's currently the dean at a community college and previously worked as an English professor at Penn State, specializing in the American Romantic period, so she actually got Mitch's trail name Yawp without either of us having to explain it, which has only happened a handful of times. When she was in high school, she was the first female in the town's all-male bagpipe corps, which apparently was such a big controversy that her mom's tired got slashed, and she still plays in the evenings. I wish we had more than an hour to get to know each other this morning before she drove us back to the trailhead, where she hugged us like she'd known us for years.

The first section of today's hike was actually really fun - a mile-long uphill rock scramble. At times, it felt more like rock climbing than hiking, and it got a little sketchy with the extra weight and bulk of my backpack, and I had to hold my trekking poles in one hand the whole time because they're too bent to collapse down to fit in a side pocket, but overall it was just fun. Pennsylvania has been frustratingly monotonous, especially with having to look at our feet for tens of miles at a time to maneuver around the rocks, so it was a much-appreciated break in the routine.

Today is our last full day in Pennsylvania, thank god. We are all so ready to be out of this state. It's the fourth longest state on trail, and we won't experience one longer until Maine, by which point we'll probably be sad about being almost done with the trail. But for now, we're all very excited to leave. I've been having trouble sleeping because my feet throb so much once they realize they don't have to be working, and it's definitely kept me awake at night.

The biggest issue with today specifically was the lack of accessible water. From Palmerton until Wind Gap 20 miles later, the closest reliable water source was 0.4 miles off trail. That means a other 0.4 miles back to the trail, so almost a full mile detour. One source was listed as an "emergency water source, drinking not recommended" due to its "high metallic content" since we were near a zinc refinery. Sometimes, when the trail doesn't provide reliable water, people leave caches near road crossings. The first one we crossed was about 12 miles in, but all the jugs, which had clearly been there for several days, were already empty. The second one was right at Wind Gap, 20 miles in. Wind Gap at least was 0.2 miles from a hotel that lets hikers mooch water, so if there weren't a cache, we would have just done that. But we'll take what we can get. Other than that, we basically just rationed 2 liters of water over 20 miles. I usually have 2 liters of water before lunchtime.

We're at a stealth site now. We were all so tired, and all our feet so sore, we took to our tents almost immediately after eating dinner. No extra hanging out, no euchre, just bed and dreaming of getting the hell out of Pennsylvania tomorrow.

Day 87 - May 26th

Daily miles: 17.6

Official distance covered on trail: 1301.4

Wooooooo!!!! Out of Pennsylvania!!!!! Fucking finally. We all spent so much energy today just complaining about this state. I don't know if you'll ever catch me back here just out of sheer pettiness. But we're in New Jersey now! Who knew we'd all be so excited about this state in particular? And it's not just us. It's every thruhiker we meet. Also, we finished the 230 miles of PA in 11 days, which means we averaged 21 miles over a week and a half. That feels pretty significant.

Sprinted the 12.3 miles to Delaware Water Gap, the last town in Pennsylvania, so we could spend a few hours in town. There was a place in town, Village Farmer and Bakery, that we'd heard about because it has a deal for a hot dog and slice of homemade pie for $2.95, so obviously we had to go for that! Their other food and pastries and pies were incredible as well. Also went to a taproom for a few drinks, and a guy there bought us all a round of drinks as some off-trail trail magic. Could have stayed for a lot longer than we did, but we wanted to move on and get to a tent site before the coming storm hit.

Hit the border into New Jersey on a bridge over the Delaware River! Mitch and I were straight up screaming with excitement over the sounds of the traffic!

The trail in New Jersey is already just better. There were hardly any rocky sections, and the ones that existed were so manageable and didn't destroy our feet. What a concept!

Got to a campsite and set up our tents just before the first few drops started to fall. We haven't had rain since Shenandoah National Park, so we're definitely overdue. Still, I hope it's contained to tonight and doesn't affect us much during the day.

I think being in New Jersey is the mental reset we all need so desperately. We've found ourselves to be pretty consistently jaded, unimpressed, and generally over the daily backpacking experience. What's pushing most of us forward is the need to complete the goal we set for ourselves. Maybe Pennsylvania just kinda sucked. But maybe we're just too far out of the honeymoon phase. Hopefully we can find some more enjoyment in this next New England section of the trail. And if not... I guess we only have 7 more weeks to tough it out.


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