With my cousin accompanying me on the trail, we cross the halfway point of the Appalachian Trail and indulge in the Half-Gallon Challenge!
If you missed it in the last post, here’s my latest video showing my hike through Shenandoah National Park.
I awoke to a bright, sunny morning. Cousin Noah and I packed up our tents and were on the trail by 8:30. It wasn’t too bad of a start, I thought. The terrain was mostly flat but everything was green. The leaves were out and it was like we were on a Hollywood green screen.
We stopped at a campground for lunch and ran into Landfill and his friend. They had camped near us the night before but arrived late. They were going to hike a 20-mile day. I saw that there was a large, newer shelter at 25 miles. I suggested this to Noah and we decided to push for it. We could always stop short at 20.
After lunch we hiked to the Washington Monument. It’s different from the one in DC. This one is a stone tower only two stories tall and it’s been reconstructed many times. It wasn’t that exciting and the view was whatever. I’ve seen so many views that I’ve become a snob; I didn’t even take a picture of it.
Later we did come across a view I approved of: Annapolis Rocks was a nice cliff to stop and take a break. We hiked further on, me keeping us at a fast clip to make it to the shelter before dark.
The terrain soon became very rocky and slowed us down. Noah did not enjoy this at all. I gave him one of my trekking poles to help. Eventually the rocks ended. We passed the 20-mile shelter and were committed to five more miles.
Slowly but surely we climbed 600 feet in elevation for the grand finale to our day. We had made it to the shelter, and though exhausted, I think Noah was glad we did it and proud of himself. Transformer, Willow, and Nomad were there as well. Transformer commented that his longest day wasn’t even as far as what Noah hiked on his second day!
We ate a quick dinner as the sun set and Noah popped some blisters; I guess we were a bit overzealous today. We snagged spots inside the large shelter built in 2010 along with many other snoring hikers.
Day’s Mileage: 25.6
Total Miles Hiked: 1069.6
Remaining Miles: 1,130.1
I got up at 7:30am but somehow everyone else in the shelter had already packed up. It was strange. Noah and I hit the trail at 8am. The weather was sunny with a high in the 70s. A mile after the shelter we took a break at High Rock: an overlook. From there it was a long, steep, and rocky descent that killed our knees.
We were taking it easy due to Noah’s blisters and general soreness; we probably shouldn’t have pushed 25 miles the day before. Our next break was at Pen Mar Park, the site of an old amusement park. I was disappointed the mini-museum of the park’s history mentioned in my guidebook was closed. It was actually pretty empty and quiet.
Only a few miles later we were briefly stopped by a train at a railroad crossing. Just across the tracks we crossed the Mason Dixon Line and left Maryland behind us and entered Pennsylvania. Six states down, eight to go!
We walked further on past many shelters. Every couple miles was another shelter! We stopped for lunch at another park and relaxed. Afterward we had a long 900-foot climb. At the top we followed a rocky ridge until another overlook called Chimney Rocks.
The end of the day was gentle terrain without any rocks. This was good because Noah was hurting a bit from our long days. I remember the constant aches and pains from my first days on the trail. It’s that feeling you have after walking around a city or amusement park all day when you’re used to sitting at a desk or watching Netflix. Your feet are simply sore and tired.
We made it to Rocky Mountain Shelters. There were two small shelters from 1989 here. Nomad, Willow, and Transformer were in one. Shockingly the other was empty! We snagged it and had some dinner. Noah tended his blisters and stretched. I probably should stretch—my body is constantly in knots and I need a daily massage! I’ll survive. As we went to bed I could see a bright Jupiter rising on the horizon, the brightest it will appear all year.
Day’s Mileage: 19.8
Total Miles Hiked: 1089.4
Remaining Miles: 1,110.3
The sun came shining into the shelter making sure we were awake. We packed up and were gone by 8am. Transformer caught up with us and we hiked a few miles together. He left us at the US-30 road crossing. That was his mistake. Noah and I hopped off the trail and walked a half mile to Timbers Restaurant and Ice Cream Parlor. It was a wonderful start to our day, complete with French toast, eggs, bacon, burgers, fries, Dr. Pepper, and ice cream. Everything was made fresh (they have no freezer) and the prices were great! Transformer missed out.
Our waitress, Wanda, was so nice and told us how they’re trying to build up their hiker business. We signed their 2018 hiker board and log book and I used their WiFi to upload a backlog of trail videos to YouTube. Wanda refilled our water bottles and we charged our phones. It was totally worth the bonus mile off the trail. Landfill stopped inside as we headed out.
Back on the trail we had a steep climb but it wasn’t that bad. The day was fairly easy terrain with only a few rocky sections. I knew Noah’s knees and blisters were hurting so we took lots of breaks. The scenery was beautiful with pine forests and then deciduous ones and then some rocky sections. It was a great day.
As we hiked, our conversation somehow uncovered that Noah had brought hair gel on this six-day backpacking trip. I could not stop laughing; it seemed like extra weight for an unnecessary item. Though his days on the trail were numbered, I bestowed upon him the trail name Gel.
With less than four miles to go for the day, we arrived at the Appalachian Trail midpoint. Well, actually there was a sign indicating the midpoint for 2017. Every year they reroute sections of trail and the total distance varies from year to year. Apparently there was no 2018 marker. It was a bit anticlimactic. Where was the giant sign I’ve seen in all the pictures?
We hiked on through fields full of dead trees. I was disappointed because I wanted a picture with the halfway sign that wasn’t there. It also didn’t feel like halfway. I understood why Harpers Ferry is considered the psychological halfway point; I felt like I’ve had my trail legs for so long now and this was just another day. I’m pretty much on cruise control.
The last few miles were a struggle for Noah. My feet were sore and I was tired. Maybe the heat was getting to us. We arrived at Toms Run Shelter and reunited with Landfill, Transformer, Willow, and Nomad. I exclaimed how anticlimactic the halfway point was without the sign. Transformer told me the sign was there off the trail and showed me a picture with it. I didn’t flinch but began setting up my bed in the shelter with crazy thoughts running through my head. “How did we miss the sign? Should I hike back 3.7 miles to get a photo with it? Should I wait until tomorrow? How much daylight was left?”
I decided to grab my headlamp and hike back to the sign, snap a picture before sundown, and then return in the dark. Just then Transformer sauntered over and told us that the big sign is actually just down the trail a quarter mile. He had freaked out earlier as well until some hikers traveling south told him where the sign was. Apparently the big sign everyone takes a photo with is at an old midpoint (it doesn’t get moved each year to the official halfway point). I laughed at his trick and how I was about to hike 7 extra miles!
Relieved, I dipped my feet in a freezing spring, had a quick dinner, and went to bed. For whatever reason, everyone was camping in their tents and Noah and I had the shelter to ourselves again.
What a crazy day. And what a crazy journey it’s been so far. Halfway from Georgia to Maine in 71 days, about 1,100 miles averaging 15.6 a day! Crazy to think I’ve done all that and yet I’ve still got 1,100 more to go! I’m loving every day of this adventure.
Day’s Mileage: 19.2
Total Miles Hiked: 1,108.6
Remaining Miles: 1,091.1
It was another beautiful day. We woke up in the shelter all to ourselves…except for whatever bit me on the neck during the night (not a vampire). I ate pop tarts for breakfast before we set off on the trail.
A short ways on we encountered the big halfway sign I had been looking for. I got my picture with it and all was well with the world.
Noah and I walked through a brief sprinkle before arriving at Pine Grove General Store in Pine Grove State Park. Landfill, Transformer, and Willow were here as well as some new faces. I met a cyclist who hiked last year named Happy Pants, a section hiker named Garbage Disposal, and a flip-flopper called Nameless.
FYI I’m a NOBO hiker since I’m hiking NOrthBOund from beginning to end. SOBOs travel the opposite (southbound) direction from Maine to Georgia. Flip-floppers start somewhere in the middle, go one direction, return to their midpoint and finish the remaining. Section hikers hike sections of the trail in any order. Hope that makes sense.
Everyone was waiting for the general store to open. This was the home of the Half Gallon Challenge! After hiking halfway, hikers try to eat a half gallon of ice cream in one sitting. I was excited! However, the store was supposed to open at 10am but the lady didn’t show up until 10:40. The AT museum next door also was supposed to open at 9am but was closed. It seems everyone around these parts was on their own schedule. It was okay because the delay helped us miss the rainstorm as we waited on a covered patio.
Eventually the store opened and Landfill and I took up the challenge; no one else partook. The ice cream comes in 1.5 quart tubs so I started with mint chocolate chip and then had a pint of chocolate to reach the full half gallon. Landfill finished in about 25 minutes. It took me about 35 minutes to eat 2,600 calories of ice cream; I was shivering by the end.
I thought I’d be more full but Noah had bought a sandwich and fries. He offered me some and I devoured half his fries. They were fresh cut and delicious!
We set off again. The AT museum still wasn’t open. The trail was mostly flat with no rocks the rest of the day. It was a very pleasant hike. Later in the afternoon we stopped at the Green Mountain Store and Deli where I ate a buffalo chicken sub and jalapeño poppers. While we ate, a huge thunderstorm passed through. My eating habits seem to save me from the rain! It was here I also found a tick that fell off me. Fun stuff.
We ended our day in a pine forest at a very small camp area next to a babbling brook. Another hiker had his tent set up named Double H. He was a historian who was flip-flopping and blogging about all the history on the trail as he hiked. We chatted a while before Noah and I made a quick dinner and went to bed. It was Noah’s last night on the trail. I also found another tick crawling on my tent—pray for me.
Day’s Mileage: 14.8
Total Miles Hiked: 1,123.4
Remaining Miles: 1,076.3
Daily Average: 15.6
THE ADVENTURE CONTINUES
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