Pennsylvania is TOUGH!

The rumors are true…Pennsylvania is rocky, buggy, rocky, lacking views, rocky, and an overall grind. We’ve traded out challenging elevation changes for constant small, pointy rocks that hurt your feet. The northern section of the state is apparently constant boulder walking, so I hope I don’t kick myself later when I say I’m actually looking forward to that over the small ankle breaker rocks. That said, I continue to make progress and just passed 1,200 miles yesterday! I have been very conscious of listening to my body and hiking at my own pace the past couple of weeks, which means I have been floating between different groups of hikers and meeting lots of new people! Here are a few updates from the past couple of days:

I reunited with my tramily in Duncannon and hiked with them a bit for the start of Pennsylvania!

I’ve trudged through the constant rocks PA is known for.

I sent home three pounds of weight in clothes, so bought an actual book! I’ve been enjoying slower mornings reading rather than packing up right away and leaving.

I passed a trail runner who stopped and gave me this rock he painted! He said it was for good luck as I continue my journey toward Katahdin πŸ™‚

I passed 1,200 miles!

I’ve enjoyed hiking with a few new people: Spoons, Airbud, Gummy Bear, Peanut, and Chickadee.

I’ve savored the PA views that feel few and far between.

Now I’m at mile 1220 and never thought I would say this, but I’m excited to get to New Jersey!

If my trail name wasn’t already “Rocket” I think it would be “Fruit Salad” or something like that because what I crave most on trail is FRUIT FRUIT FRUIT! I’ve started packing out at least 2 pounds of apples, bananas, mangos, oranges, etc. and it’s always worth it!

My favorite lunch recipe thus far is a wrap with: Hickory smoked tuna, sharp cheddar cheese, parmesan garlic Snyders pretzel pieces and avocado πŸ™‚ Avocados keep surprisingly well in the heat!

I appreciate all of the continued support and words of encouragement! Though PA has been my least favorite state so far, I anticipated the challenge and am still as determined as ever as I continue toward Katahdin!

– Rocket

Officially past halfway!

Two days ago I passed the 1096 mile marker! I have officially hiked half of the Appalachian Trail! It feels like I was just deciding what pack I wanted…time has completely flown by!

Yesterday morning a bunch of my friends attempted the half gallon ice cream challenge (you eat the container in the picture below plus another pint of ice cream). I enjoyed the free early morning entertainment, but was too much of a baby to give it a try.

Today I did a short day into Boiling Springs, PA. This was my first Nero (nearly zero mile) day in a while, so it feels nice to relax. I got some good food in the tiny town and then headed to Lisa’s hostel – the only hostel in town, situated in a renovated shed behind Lisa’s house. It’s simple, cozy, has a warm shower and shelter from the rainy day. There are loaner clothes here to wear while we do our laundry and I had no clue putting on a cotton hoodie for the first time in almost 3 months would feel SO GOOD! Before heading to bed, we are sitting here watching the movie Gettysburg. I’ve never seen it, so it’s crazy to be seeing this movie for the first time, having just hiked through some of the places where battles took place. In just a few miles I go through Carlisle, PA.

Lately I have been very conscious of SLOWING DOWN and letting the day unfold naturally. I take my time in the morning, hike only the miles that I feel like hiking, and stop if I feel like stopping. I recently sent home almost 3 pounds worth of weight, so I bought a book at Walmart to help me relax at night. I was finding myself less inclined to read books that were downloaded on my phone, so I’m happy to have this luxury item.

I’m so grateful for this experience so far and appreciate every day out here more and more, taking nothing for granted.

– Rocket

Virginia Blues who?

And just like that, I’m out of Virginia! The state of VA was more than 500 miles itself, which is more miles than the prior 3 states combined. This makes it notorious for giving hikers the Virginia Blues, but I honestly did not feel this at all. Like the rest of the trail, this state flew by and it’s really hard to process that it’s already over. Despite its reputation of being a “flat” state, VA was deceptively challenging with tough climbs, rocky terrain, and the notorious 14 mile rollercoaster of steep climbs and descents. I am writing this from Harpers Ferry, WV. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy HQ is located here and this is the final major dropping out point for hikers. From here I hike on to Maryland then Pennsylvania! I have a feeling this second half of the trail will go by much quicker, so I am making a conscious effort to slow down. I would love to be hiking in Maine during Fall color, so I am trying my best to summit Katahdin in mid-September (I’m currently on track for early to mid August). Here are some highlights from the northern part of VA:

Got my picture taken at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. Hikers who arrive here, whether thru or section hiking, get their picture put in the archives that go back many and many of years. I started on March 17th as hiker #1047 and I am #489 to make it to this “spiritual halfway point” (the real halfway point is in about 70 more miles.

After finishing the Shenandoahs we backtracked 40 miles and aquablazed (canoed) the 40 miles we had already hiked. This was a wonderful 3 day trip with my tramily and a great chance to rest our legs. The most memorable part was the second day when we got stuck in a torrential downpour and had to pull over to scoop water out of our boats. Empty beer cans, boots, ziplock bags were scoopers of choice.

We passed the 1,000 mile mark! Crazy! I purchased new boots the day prior and was having issues with my left boot, so needed to hike about 5 miles with a croc on my left foot.

We saw lots and lots of bears in the Shenandoahs!

VA was a super hiker friendly state! I think I hitch hiked no less than 7 times.

That’s all for now…I have the whippoorwills to thank for my new habit of waking up and blogging at 5am πŸ™‚

– Rocket

Quick update from mile 870

I’ve become decent at multi tasking while hiking: brushing my teeth, taking my coat off, looking at my phone, eating, etc. Why not try blogging while hiking? Ignore the brevity and typos.

Trail Days was a great experience; I’m glad I went back to Damascus for it. Fun to reunite with old trail friends, talk to gear companies, and meet some notable thru-hikers. During the parade there were way too many men in thrift shop dresses.

We camped next to this rattlesnake for a bit.

We got a hitch to Devil’s Backbone Brewery for camping and showers with the help of Floyd – a local dog who likes to wander off onto the AT. His owner gets called all the time and offered to drive us after we called him about Floyd. Floyd drooled a lot on Wildcard.

I ate the second biggest cinnamon roll of my life in Waynesboro (first biggest was in Gatlinburg).

We sat in the parking lot of Kroger after resupplying and ate pints of ice cream. True hiker trash. I felt like puking after half a pint, so the half gallon challenge isn’t looking so great anymore.

Last night we made the spontaneous decision to stay the night at Basic City Brew – a brewery that offers hikers a shower and backyard to tent in. Only caveat is you have to purchase one beer.

We also did some hiking too…only 30 miles until 900!

We are in the Shenandoah now and in a couple days we plan to aqua blaze. Go backward and canoe three days of the miles we have already hiked!

πŸ™‚

Hit mile 800, saw first bear, and headed to Trail Days!

For the past couple days I’ve been hiking with Sticks, Wildcard, Deadcat, Bacon and Airborne – an awesome group! Yesterday we hit mile 800 (!!) and this morning we hiked 7 easy miles to get to a road crossing. We are currently waiting for a rental car so we can drive about 200 miles south back to Damascus for Trail Days. Trail Days is a big hiker festival, which we will be at for 2 days, then drive back to mile 808 and get back on trail.

Three highlights from the past couple days:

1. Hitting the Triple Crown in VA (with awesome weather). The Triple Crown is Dragon’s Tooth, McAfee Knob, and Tinker Cliffs.

Dragon’s Tooth
McAfee Knob
Tinker Cliffs with Wildcard and Paws

2. Getting trail magic in Daleville, VA from the Quirins. They found us resupplying in town at a coffee shop and offered us a place to stay out of the rain for the night, shower, laundry, home-cooked breakfast the next morning, and an opportunity to slack pack 18 miles. The Quirins thru-hiked two years ago with their 1 year old baby! They rock!

3. Sticks and I saw our first bears! It was a mama bear with 3 cubs. Very cool experience that gave us lots of adrenaline to get up the mountain.

We are all excited for Trail Days, but a bit anxious about the crowds and party scene, which will be quite a change from the environment we have been living in for the past two months. Everything has been great and I’m looking forward to slowing down the miles a bit after Trail Days because this experience is flying by and I want to be more conscious of savoring every moment. Today is day 61 on trail πŸ™‚

On a less happy note, there was some shocking news on trail. A few days ago there was a murder about 100 miles north of Damascus in VA. A male thru-hiker was killed and a female was injured. The individual who committed the crime is now in jail. This tragic event is disturbing for the AT community, but the hiker community is incredibly strong and will come out of this even stronger than before. Thoughts and prayers go out to the family and friends of the victims.

That’s all for now.

– Rocket

33 mile day brings me to mile 636!

Trail life continues to excite and inspire me every day. I woke up yesterday with no sure plan in mind and ended up hiking my highest mileage day yet – 33 miles total! Since hiking my first 20 mile day, I had two other goals in mind: hike a marathon and hike a 30 miler. As I set out yesterday morning, I realized all factors were working in my favor to go for a 33 miler. It was a bit rainy, which made for a cooler and shadier day, there weren’t many great views to stop at aside from Dismal Falls, the elevation was relatively mild and at the end of 33 miles was an enticing destination: Angels Rest hostel and Mexican food in Pearisburg, VA.

I went for it and am feeling very proud of myself. I don’t think I will do this many miles again for a while; the miles weren’t as enjoyable as other days because I found myself just wanting to get to my destination rather than enjoying the journey. That said, it was well worth it to meet up with my friends at the hostel and get a Cinco de Mayo margarita! I also now know how my body responds to 30+ miles. I’m a bit tired and achy this morning, but am planning to get a few errands done and have a leisurely hike out this afternoon. Maybe I’ll hike 1 mile, maybe it will be 20. The spontaneity and freedom to set up camp whenever I feel like is a characteristic of trail life that I really enjoy.

That’s all for now. Angels Rest is an awesome place and I highly recommend!

Oh and my Salomon boots that I put a little too close to the fire a couple weeks ago are holding up decently well! I’ll probably look to switch to the trail runner version in about 200 miles or so.

^^600 mile marker!

– Rocket

My favorite night on trail so far!

Last night was unforgettable and easily my favorite night on trail so far! I’ll do my best to explain, but it was truly an authentic thru-hiking experience and full of events that were unexpected and seemingly irrational to “non-thru-hikers.” Before that though, about three days ago I hit mile 500! Today I will hit mile 548, which means officially 25% of the trail will be done. Crazy! Here’s a picture of me and a pony that woke me up in my tent right around mile 500:

So yesterday I was hiking with Super Girl, Wildcard, Tigger, Dead Cat, and Stretch. When I say “hiking with” I mean we all leave the shelter at our own pace, hike on our own and meet back up for lunch or at the end of the day. It’s kind of like going off to work (fun work) and meeting back at home for dinner. We left the shelter in the morning and hiked about 19 miles to an old schoolhouse that we heard would have trail magic and camping spots. About 7 miles out from the schoolhouse there was a controlled burn happening near the trail, but luckily we got to that section of the trail early enough that we didn’t have to take a detour. The day was awesome – great weather, pretty views, and even a visitor’s center with a real bathroom! When we got to the old schoolhouse we were happy to see bins filled with snacks, toiletries, first aide, fruit and drinks! I was even happier to see my friends Sticks and Paws at the schoolhouse! I hadn’t seen them in a few days since I had to wait for a lost credit card and then got sick in Damascus (there’s a stomach bug going around). I’m all good now!

As soon as we got to the schoolhouse, Tigger was very eager to have a hot meal so decided he was going to try and hitch into town by himself to a restaurant he heard about. After a few failed attempts, he was successful and was off to town! Meanwhile, we all set up our tents and began making dinner. While we were eating, we spotted a man on a horse across the meadow galloping towards us with his two dogs running along side. With the setting sun beating down on him, I swear this was the most majestic thing I’ve ever seen. He comes over to us and introduces himself while we play with the dogs. After some standard trail conversation, he rides back off into the distance. About an hour later, Tigger reappears in the passenger side of a car, gets out, opens the trunk, and pulls out a case of Bud Light. “There’s another one where that came from,” he said. Then he proceeds to get back in the car and drives off with his new friends. He said he would be back later. We were pumped about the beer, which pairs strangely well with our ramen and pasta sides. About an hour later we’re all talking and drinking as it starts to get dark and out of no where we hear synchronized chanting coming from down the road. The chanting gets louder and as the people come into focus we see Tigger in the back of a line of six random women. They continue chanting all the way up to the schoolhouse and cheer when they reach us. While looking for food in town, Tigger met these six women and decided it would be funny to teach them this chant and march all the way back to the schoolhouse with them just to say hi. We were all so confused, so entertained, but also not that surprised because random and weird things like this happen on the trail all the time. We all try and process what just happened while Tigger goes to a pickup truck about 50 feet away to get the other case of bud light out of the bed. The night continues.

Full of beer and food, the stars begin coming out. A few of us lay down on our backs on the porch of the schoolhouse and look at the stars, talking about the universe, space, and random stuff people never have time to talk about in “normal” life. It was a perfectly clear night and we had no where to be, not a worry in the world, and were excited knowing that in the morning we had an easy 3 mile walk to a breakfast restaurant right along the trail. (We just finished said breakfast and it was delicious!)

Reading this back, it doesn’t sound all that exciting. It’s really difficult to articulate these events and why times like these are so very special, but last night we all knew how lucky we are. As the man road up on his horse, as Tigger approached with his troop of chanting women, as the stars came out, no one took out their phones to take pictures. We all just experienced these random and blissful moments. It was a perfect night and everyone went to bed so happy and so thankful to be right where we are.

Here’s a picture of the schoolhouse and some of the many amazing people I have met along the trail:

Writing this post honestly made me tear up. I love this lifestyle so much and I feel so incredibly grateful to be here. What makes this night even more special is it came after two somewhat lonely days of trying to catch up to my friends after falling a little behind due to sickness. Like so much of the trail experience it is really hard to do it justice in a simple blog post. Hopefully this portrays the beauty in the simplicity, spontaneity, and surprise of the trail.

Now I’m off to hike! Meeting my mom in a couple days and excited to hike a bit with her! Lucky for her, this is the longest I’ve gone without a shower. I think it will be day 9 by the time I see her.

Some more random pictures I’ve taken over the past few days…