The road less traveled…

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6/8/12 Goodbye New Jersey, Hello New York

I spent a wonderful day in the town of Vernon, NJ resting up and trying to remember a time when my feet didn’t constantly ache. It was a little ironic how I ended up there because I actually had no plans to go into town at all. However I was walking along the trail trying to ignore the dark rumbling clouds off in the distance when a day hiker and his 2 kids passed by me. One child was roughly 3 years old and very adorable and the other one was so small the guy had her in one of those fun backpacks that are also child carriers. We chatted for a little bit and he asked me if I had planned on going to Vernon to the hostel. I was unaware that there was a hostel in this town that I had never heard of and was definitely convinced that it would be a good idea. Once I got to the road the guy mentioned, I was lucky enough to barely stick out my thumb for a hitch when another fella across the street hollered that he’d be happy to give me a lift to town. And just like that…Vernon, NJ.

I stayed in the basement of a church where we were given access to free laundry and showers and even able to use the ginormous church kitchen. There was a lovely selection of VHS movies to choose from (I can’t even remember the last time I used a VHS) including Beauty and the Beast, Independence Day, Apollo 13, Overboard…..let’s just say I had myself a mini-movie party. There was also an awesome restaurant called the Mixing Bowl that was situated in a Victorian looking house that happened to be very bright pink. They recently started doing a “hiker Brekkie” for $3 that included coffee, 2 eggs, hash browns, and 3 pancakes. It was a pretty excellent deal.

Finally go back to the trail and after a few miles found myself at the state line of NJ/NY. I actually arrived there as a trail volunteer was “touching up” the painted line. I was sad to say goodbye to NJ as it was a beautiful stretch of trail and the weather was pretty spectacular the whole time, but I was also happy for a new state. One state closer to home. A little bit past the state line is a viewpoint where you can see the NYC skyline in the distance, about 50 miles away. It was a lovely clear day and the sight of the city was awesome! Whitewater was with me and this was actually the first time he had laid eyes on the city. We were also lucky enough to be there with some day hikers who let us use there binoculars for a closer look. Very cool.

The actual trail has been a little more difficult lately. A lot of rock climbing and scrambling makes for a long and exhausting day. There were also moments where it was difficult to locate the trail as there were lots of intersecting unmarked trails. Every rock I climbed brought me to some nice views and the breeze was keeping me cool, so it was decent hiking.

The guy that was “touching up” the state line marking told Whitewater and I about a place close to the trail that we could get ice cream. Our eyes lit up in happiness! That is how we ended up at Bellvale Farms Creamery! (Only 0.3 miles from the trail) We were told the Banana Split was the way to go so you can choose your own flavors and toppings. This is what mine looked like:

Ice Creams:

Bellvale Bog: dark chocolate with brownie dough and fudge swirl

Great White Way: white chocolate with raspberry swirl and dark chocolate chunks

Calf Trax: vanilla with peanut butter swirl and mini peanut butter cups

My 3 toppings in addition to nuts, whipped cream, and cherries were m&m’s, strawberries, and hot caramel sauce. It was the most delightful banana split I’ve ever imagined and consumed!

Afterwards was a nice slow 2-mile hike to the next shelter where I encountered many other familiar faces: The Lionkillers, Zoso, Rayo, Ratbucket, Redman, Stinger, Mo, Whitewater, and many other section hikers. There was some guitar and ukulele playing.

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June 30, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

1st week of June – Deleware Water Gap: Gateway to New Jersey

Before arriving at Delaware Water Gap, a few noteworthy things happened.

1. I chanced upon a baby albino deer. It was such an awesome sight and was really sad when I had to walk away from it. I really hope that it survives.

2. Only 24 hours after spotting the albino deer, another baby deer is hanging out on the trail making itself completely comfortable with passing hikers and licking the sweaty salt off our legs.

3. I fell. Badly. It was a moment when for a split second I thought “this could end my hike”. But my new pack broke the majority of my fall and I hobbled away with a long gash on the back of my leg. I am so sick of Pennsylvania and its freaking rocks.

4. Came upon “Firehands” doing some Pepsi/PBR/Snickers trail magic. He was whittling a spoon that put mine and Ratbucket’s whittling skills to shame!!

Once at Delaware Water Gap I made myself comfy in the free hostel located in the basement of a church. Saw some familiar faces and headed to the outfitters to get my packages which included my new summer sleeping bag. By saying new, I mean Joe sent me his from home. Thanks Joe!

Another hiker scored a ride to the store so I joined and got some lucky charms and milk to feed my cereal craving. Later that evening a handful of us went to the local pizza place for some good food and beer. The next morning was spent lazying around and lacking the motivation to get going, but I was ready for New Jersey, so I eventually made my way back to the trail.

So far New Jersey has been amazing. Although I think I would be happy with anything that is NOT Pennsylvania. I took a break from the shelters and started camping out on my own a little bit more. I like how it gives me more freedom to stop whenever I choose. I also spotted my first New Jersey bear, who seemed a little more intimidating then the bears of Shenandoah.

For the last few days I’ve been hiking mostly on my own, not seeing too many other people. On one of my longer days I was trying to make it 29 miles when a bunch of darker clouds were off in the distance. I felt it was another sign when a day-hiker passed by me and mentioned an awesome hostel in a nearby town. Instead of hiking up a mountain in a rainstorm, I chose to go to town. Luckily I came to the road right as another day hiker, Russ, was heading back into town. I stuck out my thumb for 2 seconds and he called over and offered me a ride. Not just any ride…a ride in a totally decked out Jeep Rubicon. I had to stop myself from drooling, it was one of the most awesome looking jeeps I’ve ever ridden in.

The awesome hostel was indeed awesome. It was also located in another church basement. TV, Internet, shower, free laundry and use of the church kitchen including all the coffee I could drink. The best part was convincing the other 4 guys staying there to watch Beauty and the Beast with me. To tell you the truth, it really didn’t take all that much convincing. Almost done with New Jersey, then on to New York.

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June 29, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

5-30-12 The Thunder Rolls…and I get stuck in small town America.

Being stuck on a ridge when a crazy storm rolls through is never a good idea. I could honestly say that this was the first moment that I was truly afraid on the trail. I heard the storm coming and once I got to a clearing and was able to see the clouds, I paused long enough to say “Holy Shit” and started searching for somewhere to make camp. I knew I couldn’t make it off the ridge before the storm hit me so I had to try my luck with my tent. I barely had enough time to get my tent pitched and threw my pack and my muddy self into it before the hurricane winds picked up and rain came pelting down. And of course my phone had zero service so I couldn’t check to see how bad it really was. It was a long night, but I survived.

The next morning when I started to descend from the ridge, I knew I made the right choice in staying up there. It was such a steep descent that in the rain it would have been similar to a water slide. Even without the rain I was slipping all over.

Getting to the town of Port Clinton was very exciting for me as I was expecting my brand new backpack! My old backpack, named Luigi, had broken straps and seams ripping to the point that it was keeping me off-balanced while I was walking and leaving chaffing marks on my arms and hips. When I got to the post office around 8 a.m. the postmaster sadly told me that it was not there and that it was possibly delayed due to the holiday weekend. I decided that I would wait until the next morning, hoping that it would come in by then.

As I was sitting outside the post office, a guy from the Barber shop across the street invited me in for some free coffee. Having no other plans for the day, I happily accepted. It was an awesome barber shop full of all kinds of musical instruments and hunting memorabilia and a handful of guys chatting with the barber. I was enjoying my coffee and a couple of cookies and light conversation with the fellow patrons when another gentleman walked in with 2 suitcases. The others greeted him warmly and I had the look of crazy bewilderment as I watched him open the suitcase, take out an accordion, and begin playing wonderful music. It was one of those “Is this really happening?” moments. My concerns of my backpack were suddenly lost as I was completely enjoying the random situation that I found myself in.

The barber shop, Port Clinton PA, heard some awesome Accordion music.

Saying farewell to the fellas I walked to the Pavilion that is a free shelter in town for thru-hikers. I figured I would find the familiar faces of Avatar, Ratbucket, Kittens and maybe a few others, but the only one there was Pretzel, and he said none of the others had actually stayed there the night before. I assumed that they had continued on the trail already and I decided to hitch over to Hamburg, about 4 miles away, to spend my afternoon. The major factor about Hamburg is it had a Cabella’s, and I could probably spend all day walking around a Cabella’s, yes I know, you can judge me all you want.

When I walked back up to the road by the Post Office to get a hitch, I ran into a couple hikers and chatted with them for a bit and then a guy came out of the Post Office and asked if I needed anything. When I said I was heading to Hamburg, he said that he was too. I love it when rides just tend to happen without the difficulty of hitching.

Once at Cabella’s my phone finally received some cell service and I discovered that the hikers mentioned earlier had actually crashed in another hiker’s hotel room just across the street. After taking care of some errands I met them at the hotel and took advantage of a free shower and hanging out in an air-conditioned room. I told them I was staying in Port Clinton at the Pavilion another day and they were easily convinced at taking a zero with me.

Later on when we were hanging out at the Pavilion, I decided to go for a little walk around the town of Port Clinton. It didn’t have much. There was a small hotel/bar, a Peanut shop that sold mostly sweets and trail mixes, the Barber shop, and the Post Office. I found some awesome Jalapeno jellybeans at the Peanut Shop and a group of us later went to the bar/hotel for dinner. A handful of other hikers showed up that we had recently seen in Duncannon and we all got some 40’s to drink at the Pavilion later that night.

Avatar, Ratbucket, Redman and I at the Pavilion in Port Clinton with our 40’s of Yuengling.

Ratbucket and Avatar: “I can’t tell how much is left”.

I thought this sign in the ladies bathroom was hilarious. I really wanted to test the “Septic Alarm System”…but I didn’t.

It was a great day and I was thankful that my bag didn’t arrive. If it was there when I wanted it to be, I would have switched out my gear and hiked out of town. Instead I was able to truly experience the small town of Port Clinton, from the Barber shop boys to the crazy little peanut shop. It was a good time.

P.S. My pack arrived the next morning. Luigi is officially retired, the new pack is yet to be named. Special thanks to Michele for helping get my pack to me and doing all the hard work! I owe you!

June 29, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

5-25-12—5-26-12 Duncannon and the Doyle…such a trap.

One evening I arrived at a shelter to find Ratbucket packing up and leaving. Confused as to what was happening, he didn’t need long to explain that the bugs were terrible. I was there for less then 2 minutes and was getting eatin alive. I didn’t even take off my pack and followed him right back up the hill. We ran into Kittens coming down the side trail and told him to turn around, we were going to town. Duncannon was just another 4 miles, so we booked it to make it there before dark. As we were getting closer to town, the boys were farther ahead of me and light was fading fast, I missed a crucial trail intersection and ended up walking down the side of the mountain the wrong way. I realized my mistake when I got to the bottom and had to get out my headlamp and retrace my steps back UP and then OVER the other side.

Finally walking into Duncannon I saw Pretzel sitting on a bench and he offered me a slice of pizza! I met up with Ratbucket and Kittens at the Doyle hotel a little later and had a beer with them. I say Doyle “Hotel”, but this is like no hotel I’ve ever stayed at. I’ve seen hostels that are thousands of times nicer then this, but hey, it was an experience. I will simply let the pictures speak for themselves. The cool thing about the Doyle was the 2nd floor had a sweet wraparound deck, so we got some pizza and beer and congregated up there with some other hikers.

The next day was the Memorial Day parade in town that passed right by the hotel. A couple hikers, Mark and Sean, are doing a “Warrior Hike” fundraiser and were going to actually be in the parade so we decided to stick around and watch. Their hike is all about raising donations and increasing awareness for wounded veterans, if you would like to learn more check out their page:

The parade was okay, not awesome (there was no candy being thrown out). The highlight for Avatar, Ratbucket and myself however was that we decided that was the perfect moment to attempt the famous 1/2 gallon ice cream challenge. It was tough. Really tough. It took me 45 minutes to complete and I was feeling a little ill afterwards, but it still got done. Ratbucket and I exchanged our wonderful handmade commemorative spoons, and then I gave in to an ice cream coma.

My stomach was no where near ready to start hiking so I hung around for a few hours…and then decided I was ready for a beer. Many hikers were congregating in the Doyle Hotel’s bar and before we knew it many games of pool were played and nobody wanted to leave. It was also starting to look really eerie outside as dark clouds were moving in fast. After going to the store for a couple of things and walking out to a downpour, I decided another night in town wouldn’t be terrible. This is how accidental “Zero’s” happen….parades, ice cream, beer, pool games….it’s all a trap.

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June 28, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

5-24-12 Bruce & Susan: Wonderful Trail Angels of Boiling Springs, PA

What seems like ages and ages ago when I stayed at Woods Hole Hostel in Virginia, I met a wonderful couple, Bruce and Susan.

Susan, Bruce and I.

They gave me their information and asked to call them when I got to PA so they could give me a place to rejuvenate. Even though I gave them less then 12 hours notice, Bruce said the timing was perfect and that they were just talking about me and my crazy group of friends, hoping that I would call them.

Ratbucket was hiking with me at the time so he also scored a free place to crash and get cleaned up. We got to town right when Susan pulled up to meet us and drove us to the store so we could re-supply. Their home is one of the most beautiful homes I’ve ever been in.

Bruce and Susan’s beautiful home.

It’s possible that I think this because it is exactly how I would design my own home. Susan made us a wonderful meal, fruits, salad, a bowl of chili, peach pie, and a couple of beers.

Bruce used to live in a house that was extremely close to the trail and he actually had a free shelter in his backyard for their use. He showed me all of his hiker log books from over the years and then took us to his “man cave” over the garage. I would technically call it a “man cavern” because it was huge and awesome. I knew that Bruce was an avid hiker, but I didn’t realize he was a triple-crowner until seeing his memorabilia. A triple-crowner is someone who completes the 3 major U.S. long distance trails: Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and Eastern Continental Divide Trail.

Bruce’s “Man Cavern” with his hiking poles and hats from his 3 “triple-Crown” hikes.

His bookshelves were filled with heaps and heaps of great hiking books, including a signed copy of “Walking with Spring” by Earl Shaffer, who was the first thru-hiker of the trail. It turns out that Bruce was friends with Earl and had hiked with him several times when he was still alive. He then showed me more pictures of him on various hikes and some of the gear he used for them. So amazing.

That night I slept on their futon and their cat, Luna, curled up next to me. It was alarming at first to wake and find a fur ball next to my face, but then I found it comforting. No mice would think of bothering me then.

The next morning Bruce made us a hefty breakfast and got us back to town, fully rested, clean, and ready to hike.

Spending time with Bruce and Susan once again made me appreciate how wonderful it is for Trail Angels to invite people into their home and care for them. There is so much kindness in the world, and sometimes we forget to look and really see it. Moments like that definitely reaffirm my faith in humanity.

June 28, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

5-23-12 Just keep walking…almost there.

Over the years the trail changes a little bit here and there as it is re-routed or switchbacks are added. Therefore the “official” halfway point, about 90 miles north of Harper’s Ferry, changes from time to time and the sign has to be moved. I can’t even begin to describe the thoughts and emotions I experienced as I came upon the actual halfway point of the A.T. The experiences and adventures I’ve shared with both new and old friends to get to that point have been so wonderful.

1090 miles done, 1090 miles left to go!

Official halfway sign

Knowing that my journey is only half over, or that another part of my journey is beginning, it felt like I was starting a whole new chapter. It also brought on a new wave of confidence in my ability to be able to accomplish my dream of finishing the trail. I’ve had my doubts and fears in the past, but upon reaching that midpoint, I realized those same fears had been slipping away as each day passes.

To celebrate the midpoint of the trail, there is a place in Pine Grove State Park that does the 1/2 gallon ice cream challenge. Basically, hikers are supposed to eat the whole thing in one sitting. I was super-excited and craving ice cream all day, but when I got there, Ratbucket was sitting on the porch with a sad pouty face. The famous 1/2 gallon store was CLOSED!! It was too early in the season and had only just opened for the weekends. We were deeply saddened and tried to drown our sorrows with a soda from the machines outside…but it didn’t work. We resolved to do the challenge on our own in a town later on the trail. Ratbucket was deeply concerned about the “commemorative spoon” that hikers receive upon completing the challenge, so we pinky swore that we would whittle each other spoons and exchange them when our own challenge was completed.

As we were sitting on the porch, a dark ominous storm was creeping closer, and we did not wish to set out in that weather, so we walked across the street to check out the A.T. museum, that WAS open.

There were some really amazing artifacts and stories about various hikers that I found very interesting. Exhibits included a trail shelter that was built by hiker legend Earl Shaffer, and named after him as well. The shelter, which has been replaced with a more modern one, was painstakingly disassembled at its former site on Peters Mountain in Pennsylvania and reassembled in the new Museum. There was a story about how Earl did not want a floor put on the shelter and when a floor was put in, he asked that the shelter be re-named.

Old shelter that is currently in the A.T. Museum. One of the 1st shelters ever to have existed on the trail.

In addition, there are artifacts that belonged to other hiking pioneers such as Grandma Gatewood, Gene Espy, and Ed Garvey. I thought the story of Grandma Gatewood was awesome. She was an extreme, ultra-light hiking pioneer who was the first woman to hike the A.T. in one season and by herself. She hiked the Appalachian Trail in 1955 at the age of 67, wearing Keds sneakers and carrying an army blanket, a raincoat, and a plastic shower curtain which she carried in a homemade bag slung over one shoulder. She hiked it again in 1960 and then again at age 75 in 1963, making her the first person to hike the trail three times and was also credited with being the oldest female thru-hiker. She decided not to tell her family what her plans were until she reached Virginia and sent them all postcards.

Old sign from Katahdin, now housed in the A.T. museum. The signs are replaced every 10 years or so.

I thought it was really awesome seeing all of the gear used by these pioneer hikers, and learning more about the history of the trail and everything involved in making it still be in existence today. The hikers of today and tomorrow are forever grateful.

June 28, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

5-22-12 Pennsylvania…where the rocks stab your feet like daggers, and the people are Angels.

After stopping at Pen Mar Park in the morning for a cookie/coffee break with the boys, I crossed the famous Mason-Dixon line into PENNSYLVANIA.

Crossing the Mason-Dixon line

I was finally feeling a big-mile day so I was ready to hike! Later on in the afternoon I crossed a bridge and found Ratbucket talking with a couple, Charlene and Thane, who were surrounded by their FIFTEEN little yappy dogs. It was quite the sight.

Charlene and Thane and their family of dogs

Astonishingly they were actually in good control of the dogs and the dogs listened to their every command. Only a couple of them needed to be leashed and that is because they were “dogsitting” them.

Charlene introduced herself as a ‘Trail Angel’. A Trail Angel is a person who leaves food and performs other acts of kindness for hikers. Whether it be a woman who bakes chocolate-chip cookies just for hikers, a shop that offers hikers free milkshakes and most wondrous of all, the rare sighting of a can of beer left chilling in a stream. Some Trail Angels bring supplies to shelters, first aide, water, toilet paper, and some even leave their numbers in log books for hikers to call up if they need anything.

Charlene asked Ratbucket and I if we needed anything and we both replied that we were fine. Then she said “Well, how about some Burger King?” And of course we both said Yes, PLEASE!! So we made arrangements to meet her a little further down the trail at another road crossing as they had just started to walk their dogs. Talk about motivation…that was the quickest 6 miles on record to meet up with my Burger King meal. Not only did they get us a value meal with french fries, but also large sodas, a Hershey’s dessert pie, and a dozen cookies! It was some Great Trail Magic.

This is what my feet look like after hiking for 16 miles in soaking wet socks and shoes.

Burger King Trail Magic

About 5 miles later I was walking through Caledonia State Park and another couple called me over and offered me a sloppy joe. This was the first moment on the trail that I actually considered turning trail magic down, my stomach was not the least bit hungry. It just seemed wrong to say no, so I ate a sloppy joe and took the couple of kiwis and tangerines to save for later. When I got to the shelter, once again I didn’t have to make dinner as I was too full. I did enjoy some hot cocoa and a couple of BK cookies though. This was the 2nd day that week that I didn’t really eat anything from my food bag. This is normally a good thing, but I usually enjoy having my food bag getting lighter as days go by…and this was not happening at all.

Funky looking tree on the trail

June 28, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

5-20-12 Good day, Bad day, Naughty section hikers

The week following Harper’s Ferry was very relaxed and easy-going, taking my time and easing back into the trail life. I continued hiking with Avatar and Ratbucket for the most part, we would maybe go a day or two without seeing each other, but then we would catch right back up again. We also ran into some more familiar faces when leaving Harper’s Ferry, so it was nice to catch up with other hikers and see what the “trail gossip” was.

I was blessed with numerous trail magic moments this week, so much so that my food bag was almost unnecessary. One day while in Washington Monument State Park, I stopped at a park/rest area with bathrooms and nearby was a group having a ginormous feast. The group was an organized father/child weekend outing put on by Phil and his wife ( I can’t remember her name). They take care of all of the food and arrangements so that the father can simply spend quality time with their child, whether its hiking, fishing, or playing games.

Phil noticed Ratbucket and I (probably our dirty hiking attire and smell) lingering at a picnic table and invited us over to the leftovers. I ate 2-3 hot dogs (once again I can’t remember) and a Peanut butter and Jelly sandwhich. They gave us a candy “goodie” bag with Starbursts and Skittles in it. They also showed us a tote filled with apples, bananas, and oranges and told us to help ourselves. Chasing that all down with some nice Lemonade…oh ya, life is GOOD! To top it all off, we were ready to head off and they gave us a whole pack of extra hot dogs to have for dinner.

After such a feast it was difficult to hike any big miles for the rest of the day. Once we got to Annapolis Rocks with an awesome view, it was a unanimous decision to go no farther. Avatar and Redman joined us there as well and we all camped out on the ridge. I got there around 3 p.m. so the rest of the day included a much-needed siesta in the sun, a little bit of reading (but mostly sleeping), enjoying our hot dogs and campfire, lingering on the rocks while listening to Ratbucket play some guitar, and eventually watching an amazing sunset. I also packed out some Sparklers and busted those out for the wondrous occasion. It was truly an amazing day with great friends on the A.T.

The following day was rainy and gross, all the more reason to take a short day. I only ended up doing about 12 miles and possibly would have gone a little farther, however, towards the end I forded my first river. If my camera was not so buried in my pack to avoid the rain, I would have taken pictures. There was absolutely no other way across this river, I walked the shore for about 20 minutes trying to find a better route. But it was no good. I went back to the original spot to look for any type of stepping stones, but with the rain the stream was moving too fast that even if there were rocks to walk across, I probably would have wiped out anyway. So I just took a deep breath and carefully walked right in, praying that I wouldn’t get too soaked. It wasn’t terrible, but at one point the water was up past my knees. By the time I crossed and kept walking I was determined to stop at the next shelter instead of hearing/feeling the squish squish squish of my socks and shoes for the rest of the day.

Luckily the next shelter was one of the 2-story fantastic structures that are perfect for spending a rainy day in. I also had a copy of Hatchet that took up the rest of my evening and enjoyed a couple cups of hot cocoa with fellow thru-hikers. A downside was when a bunch of section hikers came a little later and were nice enough people but didn’t understand simple trail/shelter manners. Things like taking off your muddy shoes BEFORE traipsing through the shelter, or ASKING someone to move some of their gear instead of doing it themselves, and my favorite was when a lady climbed to the 2nd part of the shelter (where all our sleeping bags were laid out) with her muddy shoes and stepped over/around our stuff dripping wet. Sigh….section hikers….

June 24, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Snail Mail: Harpers Ferry–Take 2

After some Dunkin Donuts and resupplying Brian dropped us back at the Appalachian Trail Center (ATC) in Harpers Ferry. It was fantastic seeing Brian, AKA Duke Nukem, again and I am truly thankful for all he’s done to help me out.

The ATC is extremely hiker friendly with a hiker lounge, sodas, computer access, and hiker boxes. It is here that you take your 1/2 way picture that is placed in the official book of A.T. hikers. I was the 137th Northbound hiker to get to Harpers Ferry. Very exciting to know that I’ve made it this far and am in extremely high spirits for the rest of the trip!

Before hiking out of town, I decided to catch a quick beer in the downtown area with some hikers I hadn’t seen in a while, Uno, The Dude, Philly Ben and a few others. Harpers Ferry is a nice little historic town and it was the weekend so it was hoppin’!

I finally left town and went 15 miles for the day. If felt so great being on the trail again that I found myself just standing there for a quite a while appreciating the sounds of nature. Because of my late start I had to walk about an hour in the dark with my headlamp. While doing this I’m obviously focused on my feet. Every so often I look up, and one time I looked up to find a bear on the trail looking right back at me. I may have made a few unnatural noises, and a few seconds past and the bear bounded into the trees. Lets just say for the next mile to the shelter my senses were on high alert!

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June 21, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Snail Mail: Taking a break from the A.T. and hiking around the nation’s Capitol

Day 1

While in D.C. we stayed with my friend Brian, who I met a few years ago in New Zealand. He was kind enough to offer us a place to crash on such short notice and was able to spend some quality touristy time in D.C. Of course we did the typical touristy stuff: went to the archives to see the Constitution and Declaration of Independence, walked around the mall checking out all the monuments and the White House, and went to Starbucks for a non-existing Frappuccino Happy Hour! Thanks for getting my hopes up Brian.

We later ended up at the Air and Space Museum where the boys got a little too excited about everything and dashed off in separate directions. I eventually found them and somehow got roped into a free planetarium show with a lecture following.

I found myself excited about the Planetarium show. It brought me back to the days in Astronomy class during my 1st year at college. I was also pleased with the idea of sitting in a comfy chair, and a dark room where I might “rest my eyes” a little bit after a long day of walking around D.C.

Surprisingly enough, the lecture afterwards was also more interesting then expected. At times I felt like Penny in the show, “The Big Bang Theory”, completely lost in a world of scientists, physicists, and other people fascinated with Black Holes and GRB’s. Then I realized that I was learning a few things. GRB, for example, stands for a Gamma Ray Burst, which is an explosion in space that happens when a supernova collapses, eventually forming a black hole. The lecturer, Neil Gehrels, is an astrophysicist and the Chief of the Astroparticle Physics Laboratory at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. He was very smart and used a lot of big words, but hey, I learned a few things and it was fun.

Day 2

Today we split up and started doing out own thing as the boys were both interested in returning to the Air and Space Museum and I was not. I went to the Portrait gallery and wandered around the art museum while waiting for my friend Amanda from Baltimore to meet up with me. Amanda and I worked with each other on cruise ships for a couple of years and were even roommates for part of that time. Once we met up, we had no interest for museums anymore, so we found a pub and started our afternoon of catching up and sharing fun stories. After a couple of expensive beers at the pub we decided to find a 6-pack and a sunny place to sit to continue our conversation.

Finding the 6-pack was easy; pouring the beer into my empty water bottles without making a scene, not so easy. We walked into McDonalds to “use the bathroom”, but it was one of those places in the city that the bathrooms are literally only for customers and a token was required. Luckily Amanda was wearing her University of Maryland shirt and the security guard started talking to her about U.M. and then gave us a token for free. Pouring beer into plastic containers in a McDonalds bathroom…check!

We found a lovely grassy knoll near the Navy Memorial with a relaxing fountain in the background. Sprawled across the grass and leisurely drinking our beers while reliving the good ‘ol days of ship life…sigh…it was a really good day.

After our beers were gone, we relocated to a nearby restaurant for some cheese nachos and Happy Hour. Avatar and Ratbucket met us there and after a tearless, but still sad goodbye, Amanda went back to Baltimore and the rest of us took the metro to meet up with Brian and his work friends.

It was more of a quick appearance for Brian’s sake. We split a bucket of beer, Avatar stole someone’s popcorn. We said hi to some of Brian’s friends and his boss, and then jetted to another part of the city to Breezy and David’s place for dinner. David made an amazing Thai dish and we all had a wonderful time chatting about this and that. I practically drooled over their massive library of books and Breezy forced me to take one, making that 3 books that I was carrying in my pack. Love the extra weight, thanks Breezy!

Day 3

For breakfast we went to Safeway before going to the metro and I loaded up on a bunch of dairy products! Yogurts and fruit smoothies! I miss having a normal intake of dairy so sometimes I get a little carried away.

The rest of the morning into the afternoon was spent at the Holocaust Museum. I’ve been there before and was definitely touched by everything I read, saw, and experienced. It was an emotional rollercoaster just like the 1st time I was there, and at the end of it I was feeling drained. It was really interesting watching some of the student tours walk through and see their reactions. Some of them zoomed thru nonchalantly, while others were deeply affected. Its sad to think that in a few years the last survivors of the Holocaust will no longer be around. After that, the museums and memorials will be all that’s left to tell their stories. If you ever make it to D.C., take the time to visit this museum. You will never forget it.

After the museum, we were feeling a little down and decided food and beer would help. While walking past a restaurant, there was a table that had just left and there was still a basket of chips on the table. Avatar walked past, hesitated, retraced his steps and took the chips from the table. This may seem unthinkable to some but for thru-hikers, its food and this kind of happens often along the trail. One of Avatar’s friends from college joined us for Happy Hour and after a few drinks and the weight of the Holocaust hanging on our minds we began wandering aimlessly around the D.C.mall. Eventually we just laid down on a patch of grass near all these sidewalks and took a little siesta. We were looking more and more homeless by the minute.

While we were waiting for Brian to get off work, we swung by the Air & Space Museum for a couple of hours. Brian has been amazing in letting us crash at his place and even offered to get us back to Harpers Ferry and camp out with us for the night.

On the way back we stopped for a 12-pack of Yuengling beer and once we found a section of trail, started searching for a campsite. We hiked a while in the wrong direction and ended up going uphill before we decided to turn around and try the other direction.

After going about 0.8 miles, we found a great spot right along the river. We had a great campfire with some pleasant guitar music provided by Ratbucket and stayed up late. I woke to a gorgeous view of the river with the morning fog rolling off the water and a family of ducks wandering the shores.

After just a few days in the city my senses were on overload. There was so much over-stimulation going on in the city that I was truly pleased to be back in the woods. It felt like I was home.

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June 19, 2012 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment