Accept my apology, Pennsylvania

I stand by my previous statement that Pennsylvania is rocky, buggy, rocky, humid, rainy, and very rocky BUT yesterday PA redeemed itself. I had one of my favorite days, from both a hiking and social standpoint, and it goes to show what a little sunshine and good weather can do. Yesterday morning we were hiding in our tents waiting for the storm to lighten and by last night we were sitting at an outdoor bar and grill that we bushwhacked to from our campsite, eating a hot meal and enjoying the views and good smelling people.

Hiking with Siren and Jstroke, I did just under 15 miles; a short mile day, but still long because of the challenging rocks and scramble sections. Lehigh Gap was one of my favorite climbs of the whole trail so far and the views did not disappoint! Once at the top, we walked along the ridge with clear views of PA for a few miles. I’m so glad I’ve slowed down my pace because doing this climb in the rain we have had the past few days would be no fun and we would have missed out on views. The majority of the trail yesterday was beautiful, with pine needles covering the ground and rows and rows of bright green ferns.

Lehigh Gap scramble
Blue skies at the top of the ridge line
We climbed loooots of rocks!
Smiles for the sunshine!

We camped at a tent site which we heard was about half a mile from a local resort with real food, so of course we made it our mission to hike even more after we set up camp to find this place. More important than the food, was the opportunity to fill up on water as we are in a 20 mile stretch of the trail with no safe water to drink. We had a little trouble finding our way, but once we got there it was so worth it! The restaurant had unlimited fry refills and live music πŸ™‚ Turns out we even got a ride at the tail end of walking there by the performer who was about to start his show in two minutes!

We went to bed with full bellies and happy hearts. At the end of a long few days, bushwhacking for warm food and music is a perfect reset. After spending about 3 hours there, we reluctantly started the walk back to our campsite. After about 5 minutes of walking, we noticed the fireflies and stars lighting up the sky. Though initially difficult to leave the warmth and creature comforts of the lodge, we all agreed we would much rather be in our tents in the woods. We questioned this paradox: when we are in the woods we want civilization, when we are in civilization we want the woods. I’m pretty sure if I had to choose one or the other I would choose the woods.

This raised the question: If I had been raised in the wilderness with this simplistic lifestyle I am currently living, would I feel the urge to venture off into civilization for 6 months?

When the sun is shining, my belly is full, and my body isn’t hurting (at least not too much) the answer is simple. Keep me in the woods. On the harder days, the temptations of civilization hold a stronger pull. All I know is NEVER EVER quit on a bad day. And this applies to anything you set out to achieve in life. A guy I was hiking with quit two days ago; the rocks and rain became too much. Yesterday I kept thinking, if only he powered through one more day he would have dry gear, blue skies, and much higher spirits to conquer the trail.

– Rocket

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