As if the rocks of Pennsylvania weren’t enough, Mother Nature decided to rain for days and flood the trail with puddles and mud. Enjoy reading my latest journal entry as I backpack the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. If you missed it, here are my previous entries and videos from the trail.
Check out my latest video from the trail as I cross the halfway point and indulge in ice cream!
I woke up in my tent and the sun was shining. So much for the rain forecast, though I knew it might come later. There had been at least three tents down the trail the night before but they were all gone when I set off and it was only 7:45am.
I only saw five people on the trail all day and none of them were thru-hikers. It was a strange limbo I was in suddenly. I was ahead of my NOBO friends and ahead of the flip-flopper bubble that started in Harpers Ferry. Also, Trail Days in Damascus, VA was starting Friday. This week-long event is the biggest AT festival, although other trail towns have their own fests. They try to time the Damascus festival around when the big bubble of NOBO hikers arrive. Apparently a lot of people ahead or behind me will leave the AT and head to Trail Days before returning back to the trail. I’m told that the trail will be sparsely populated this weekend and next week because of the fest.
Most of the day was free from the crazy rock and boulder fields of previous days, though they were still present. But today my new obstacles were puddles. It had rained two nights ago, hard. There were large sections of trail covered in puddles. A detour paralleled the trail and was almost as worn as the original trail.
I’ve been trying out a pair of waterproof socks I bought on Amazon. If they didn’t work, it was only $20 spent. So far so good, though I haven’t been purposely splashing through puddles. Occasionally my shoe might dip a little bit into the water and I can feel the temperature change around my sock but my feet feel dry. The only problem is that they heat up my feet and thus my feet sweat more. I have sock liners to wick the moisture but I don’t think it’s enough compared to wool blends. A few small blisters have cropped up lately. It also could be the huge miles I’ve been hiking daily.
With the sunny yet wet conditions on the trail, I saw several frogs and a large rat snake as it slithered noisily and very quickly away from me. We both startled each other.
I came across a small, unmarked campsite where someone had left two ziplock bags of clothes, two unopened Mountain House dehydrated dinners, rope, and one trekking pole. No one was around and I called out to check. There was no tent or pack. Peculiar, I thought. I waited a bit and put on sunscreen before deciding that the camp was abandoned. I grabbed the two Mountain House dinners before I left; I hadn’t tried the beef stew variety yet! It felt like a video game where the player just happens upon ammo or health packs that someone left behind for no obvious reason. Trail magic!
I stopped for lunch at Eagles Nest Shelter. It was 0.3 miles off the trail which is kind of far but I wanted to use the privy. The shelter was a descent size and two section hikers were just leaving. They hadn’t seen any hikers who might have left their belongings behind but pointed to a tent and bag of garbage that had been abandoned next to the shelter. We guessed some townies had a horrible experience and left everything behind. They need to be taught the principles of “leave no trace.”
As it turned out, the privy was being rebuilt so I had to make my own. This was all good and fine except for the ants that kept crawling on me while I was in the middle of it. I thought my repellent-treated clothes were supposed to keep bugs away! After eating lunch at the shelter I noticed tiny, green bugs were all over my pack and myself. A small mantis kept jumping on my pack as well.
Later in the day the temperature was in the 80s, the sun was out, and I was soaked in sweat. My water was low but there was an unreliable spring ahead. With all the rain and the puddles from earlier, I figured the spring would be reliable today; in the morning there were springs that weren’t even in my guide. I was sure I’d be fine—I was wrong. The unreliable spring was as dry as a desert. Oh well, I’d survive the three miles into Port Clinton, PA, where I could have a meal and Dr. Pepper.
It was a long, steep descent into Port Clinton. Before I reached this point, strong, gusting winds picked up. The trees shook, thunder rolled in the distance, and small branches fell. I was seriously concerned a tree would fall on me. I threw my rain cover over my pack and apologized to my knees as I ran as fast as I could down the steep hill, losing almost 1,000 feet of elevation in one mile.
The skies were dark but the rain didn’t hit until I was in the middle of town. It was the cats and dogs kind of rain. I wasn’t completely soaked when I paused underneath an awning but was getting there. I suppose I needed the shower.
I stopped at The Peanut Shop to resupply. There wasn’t much in the way of stores in Port Clinton, in fact, this was my only option. The Peanut Shop sells almost every kind of candy imaginable. Instead of peanut butter, tortillas, cheese, tuna, or granola bars, I bought Kit Kats, watermelon wheel gummies, and mixed nuts. Between the candy and the dehydrated dinners I found earlier, I’d make it to the next town with enough food. The trail provides!
Across the street was the Port Clinton Hotel where hikers are welcome to eat at the bar (you have to shower to sit in the dining room and rain storms don’t count). I charged my phone and ate an enormous early dinner of cheesy garlic bread, buffalo wings, tacos, cheesy fries, and Dr. Pepper. By the time I finished, my clothes were dry and I could pull the salt residue that was left behind from the day’s sweat out of my beard.
The rain storm had been intense but short. Funnel clouds were reported nearby but this had all passed when I left the hotel at 7:30pm. The sun was out and the sky was beautiful. As I walked through town back towards the woods, sunlight shone down. I passed a house set back with a big yard and two dogs were running around. A man was trimming some overgrown bushes as a woman hollered something at him from the porch of the house. The scene seemed so tranquil and warm. For a moment I felt this yearning for domestic life: a house, a dog, someone calling after me from across our yard.
The trail followed the Schuylkill River briefly before heading up a steep hillside. I chased the sunset as I climbed. At first the sun was below the distant hills but as I gained elevation, it peeked out again before setting. I caught glimpses of a beautiful sky between the trees.
As it got dark, my eyes adjusted and I hiked on. I arrived at a campsite but another tent was set up and I didn’t want to bother them with noise and my flashlight so I hiked further into the night. I found my own private spot a little ways on. I could see a show of lightning off in the distance but the storm was over for today. The lights of the worlds largest Cabela’s twinkled in the valley below.
Day’s Mileage: 21.4
Total Miles Hiked: 1,230.6
Remaining Miles: 969.1
My tent was pretty dry when I packed up. Rain was forecast but only three-quarters of an inch or less. I assumed it would just be a misty day. The high was 64ºF so I decided to wear pants and a t-shirt. I also decided to go back to my normal hiking socks to give my blisters a chance to not sweat so much in the waterproof socks. I set off on the trail but soon it began to rain…hard.
I put my rain jacket on but was already pretty wet. It was a constant drizzle and I quickly realized I should have worn my rain pants because my regular pants were soaked. Everything touching my body was soaked. The one day I should have been wearing my waterproof socks…
When I decided to hike the AT, friends would ask me why I wanted to do such a thing. One of the reasons I gave was for the mental challenge. I joked that it would be tough to maintain the will and drive to keep hiking when it rains for a week. Talk about foreshadowing!
The rain did not let up for hours. I stopped at a strange shelter that had a caretaker’s house next to it. It was completely enclosed but I stopped inside for lunch and tried to dry off. I hung my socks and pants up and ate lunch in just my shirt and underwear. I didn’t want to drink water because it cooled my body temperature down too much. At the shelter I met NOBO hikers Wally and Herb and a section hiker named Gator. It was interesting to be catching up with hikers that had started their hikes even earlier than I did. I must really be moving.
The rain was supposed to let up in the late afternoon so I continued on. The trail was tedious with wet rocks everywhere and when there weren’t rocks there were enormous puddles. I slipped a few times and my knees took the brunt of it. Between my race down the hillside the night before and the rocks today, I had to take a painkiller in the middle of the day for the first time since the Smokies. Usually I take them at night and only if necessary.
My blisters had been swimming all day and my feet had basically drowned. Dead skin was everywhere. Something in my shoe kept irritating me. No, it wasn’t in my shoe, it was in my sock. I took off my sock to discover that a toenail had fallen off and was poking me. By the end of the day, both feet would be missing one each.
I had planned on stopping for dinner at a B&B that had a restaurant. Closer inspection of my guidebook revealed that the place was only open Thursday through Sunday and it was Wednesday. My march continued.
The rain did stop for the afternoon and my clothes slowly dried out, mostly. I had some snacks at another shelter and met more NOBOs named Toasty Toes, Prof, and Lifesaver. I had seen their names in the trail logs so it was cool to finally meet them. They were staying at the shelter but I figured, I’m already wet and my feet are already f—ed. Why not keep going?
The last four miles were actually easy as the trail followed an old road and was free of rocks and puddles for the most part. I made it to a campsite just before dark. It was a small clearing on a ridge with several dead trees. I hoped the dead tree next to my tent didn’t fall on me; there were so many downed limbs on the trail from the previous night’s storm. Once inside my tent, a light rain began and didn’t cease.
I tried my best to hang my clothes inside my tent. My feet and knees ached from too many miles. Water somehow made its way into my pack but at least my compression dry-sacks worked. Every piece of clothing I had was beginning to smell like rancid, wet feet. At least I was dry in my sleeping bag.
I don’t know if I would say this was my worst day, but it was definitely in the bottom. It was mentally and physically challenging. There weren’t too many bright spots or when there were, I had to squint to see them. If it had been colder I really would have been in trouble. I could have injured myself on the wet rocks. I was grateful for the easy trail at the end of my day and the respite from the rain in the afternoon; it gave me a chance to dry off. I even made myself laugh at one point when I remembered back to the time I threw a banana peel into a tree by accident. Gotta look for the silver linings, I guess. Oh, and dark chocolate Kit Kats are amazing!
Day’s Mileage: 25.2
Total Miles Hiked: 1,255.8
Remaining Miles: 943.9
I woke up to sprinkling rain. I wanted to keep sleeping but I had a big day ahead. My tent was soaked as I packed it up. My hike began with a treacherous section called the Knife’s Edge. The rain had stopped but the rocks were wet, sharp, and it really was the edge of the mountain!
I ran into Toasty Toes as we both picked our way carefully across the blade’s edge. I did slip and fall on my ass but no permanent damage done. I passed two women in their 70s slack-packing and they were cruising!
I stopped at two shelters for breaks and to snack. I met Mush at one of them. He started the same day I did. I’m pretty sure we’re the front of the pack, save for a few people way ahead who I’ll never meet.
At one point I left the trail to climb a tall deer blind because the view was amazing. The trail was either really easy or extremely tedious and rocky. There was no in between.
I descended down a steep and stony mountainside to cross the Lehigh River. Across the highway I then had to ascend back up. Because of a nearby EPA superfund site, the trail had been rerouted years ago so that hikers have to basically rock climb up. There were times when I had both hands and feet holding on to the trail.
I climbed and climbed, higher and higher. Sweat soaked my bandana, ran down my face, and collected in my beard. Finally, I reached the top and enjoyed a wonderful view of the nearby town of Palmerton.
I was growing tired but had 8 miles to go. My feet were sore and a bit banged up from slips on the rocks earlier. I hadn’t been sleeping enough and was generally fatigued. My last day off was in Washington D.C. 12 days ago. In a few miles was a ski resort with a restaurant open all year.
I debated whether I should stop at the resort. It was half a mile out of my way and I wasn’t 100% sure the restaurant was open. And I still had miles to hike afterwards. But food won out and I stopped at Blue Mountain Ski Resort to enjoy their Slopeside Grill. I had no shame at being complete hiker trash, hanging my stinky socks and bandana out to dry on a bench in the lobby. I also washed up in their bathroom before asking for a table near an outlet to charge my phone.
I lucked out and it was Burger Bash Thursday meaning $5 burgers! I started with a quinoa and kale salad to be healthy and then ate a bacon BBQ cheeseburger with onion rings on it. Then I ordered another. And then a chocolate mousse dessert shooter! I was treating myself and it was all worth it.
As I was leaving, I ran into the older hiker women. They had kicked ass today climbing up that rocky mountain! Back in the lobby I started putting my socks on when a couple started asking me about my hike. We talked a while and they invited me back inside for a beer. I hesitated as I still had four miles to go before the next campsite and it was going be dark soon. Nevertheless, I obliged.
Their names were Barry and Tara and they were very friendly. One beer turned into two and next thing I knew, I was invited back to their home nearby to sleep on their porch. I once again was hesitant but I figured I needed a break from the trail. Life was opening doors so why not step through?
At their home they let me throw in a load of laundry which was desperately needed. I set up my soaked tent to dry out and took a shower for the first time in 12 days, a personal record. Barry and Tara had two adorable rescue pit bull/boxer mixes which I cuddled before retiring to the porch for bed. I didn’t get the mileage I wanted for the day but what I did get was worth so much more: a wonderful meal, beer, and even better hospitality. Life’s good.
Day’s Mileage: 17.2
Total Miles Hiked: 1,273.0
Remaining Miles: 926.7
I woke up on the porch to dogs Jack and Mya licking my face and walking all over me. My tent was dry and my clothes were fresh out of the dryer. Barry had made me a delicious breakfast sandwich and some coffee. Tara offered me snacks to take with me. They are the nicest people. Refreshed and revitalized, Barry drove me back to Blue Mountain Ski Resort. I couldn’t thank him enough for their hospitality.
Back on the trail my day became tedious and somewhat boring. There were no views but loads of rocky terrain. I was constantly staring at my feet, trying to avoid the rocks and scores of millipedes. They were all over the trail and I could see many had been stepped on by less observant hikers.
I stopped for lunch at a shelter and was joined by Gandalf, Toasty Toes, Herb, and Prof. After lunch I was alone again and back to the grind on the trail. It was a long day but it wasn’t raining and the sun came out.
I arrived at the Kirkridge Shelter. Mush was here with his dog as well as NOBO hiker Flash, his friend, and two flip-floppers. We were later joined by Prof and Herb for a full house. We all squeezed into the shelter. Rain was forecast all night and the next day and I didn’t want to dry my tent off again!
Day’s Mileage: 24.1
Total Miles Hiked: 1,297.1
Remaining Miles: 902.6
Daily Average: 16.2
Every time it rained I hummed this song by The Script.