A Love Letter To Pennsylvania

Yes, You Read That Right – I Loved Pennsylvania!

It has been entirely too long since I’ve posted an update. With each passing day, the miles left behind seem unimaginable. Yet, we’ve hiked them with 20-25 lbs on our backs, up and down mountains, and through treacherous terrain. Driving those miles back home to western North Carolina could only partially serve to put the distance covered into perspective. I wrote the following about Pennsylvania many weeks ago, and felt it appropriate to not just file away my experiences in this state without reckognition. Rocksylvania, Painsylvania, 2nd longest state on the Appalachian Trail – I certainly did love you!

Because, PA Rocks!

I am not sure Pennsylvania would have been so enjoyable without the love & support of the many trail angels in PA. As an early flip flop thru-hiker starting the journey at the end of February and hiking through VA alone for the first 300+ miles, I saw no one for 10 days straight. Though I enjoyed the solitude and mentally became “my own trail magic,” I was looking forward to my daughter joining me for at least a couple weeks (and overjoyed she decided to commit to thru hiking the trail as well). We breezed through the low mileage states of WV and MD and found ourselves welcomed with an abundance of trail magic and new hiker faces in PA.

The Trail Angels 

Soggy & Fila

“Soggy” and “Fila” in Waynesboro picked us up at the Mason Dixon Line, housed us, fed us, and shuttled us to and from the trail. Soggy, an ALDHA and PACT member, has section hiked 1,450 miles of the AT and completed other long distance trails to include the Trans Adirondack Route, Long Trail, and High Sierra Trail. Together, they completed the Portuguese Coastal Route. Fila has also covered some AT miles and participates in ALDHA. She opened her home for us to take a nero + a zero day and woke early to prepare an amazing breakfast for us before going to work. We were invited to relax in her home, shower, wash our clothes, and take our zero on a cold rainy day. What was even more heartwarming, was to see both Soggy and Fila standing at trailside parking with a trunk full of gatorade, oranges and fried fruit pies for thru hikers at the end of our full day back on trail. They wished us well and said their final goodbyes as we disappeared into the Caledonia forest.

Prickleberry, Lucky Penny, Fila, Nero







Prickleberry, Lucky Penny, Fila, Soggy, BougieBoss

Trail Magic Natalie & Just John 

Further northbound, we were treated to a wonderful stay with “Trail Magic” Natalie and her husband “Just John” who picked us up in the quaint town of Boiling Springs with 2 other hikers – “Little Engine” from Quebec and “British Froto” from London. This generous trail angel couple are parents to two adult children, and their parental love spills over into a dedication to take care of weary thru hikers. Both have hiked portions of Shenandoah and Harper’s Ferry to 501. They have housed over 50+ thru-hikers and have thought of EVERYTHING a hiker may possibly need; shuttling, a hot shower with an abundance of toiletries, a large hiker box filled with resupply food and hiking supplies, designated space in their garage for each individual hiker’s backpack explosion, comfortable beds, a 3 course dinner, refreshments, and a nourishing breakfast before hitting the trail the following morning. Sitting at their kitchen table watching the large variety of wild birds they have attracted with several bird feeders was so relaxing and peaceful. Trail Magic Natalie has faithfully supported my thru-hike on social media from the very beginning. Her heart for the trail and other hikers is so astounding. My daughter and I felt very loved and cared for by both her and John.

British Frodo, Little Engine, Trail Magic Natalie, Just John, Prickleberry, Lucky Penny

Fresh Ground’s Leapfrog Cafe

We were fed by Fresh Ground’s Leapfrog Cafe  a few times in PA; a roadside burrito dinner, breakfast at Ironmasters, and breakfast in a parking area north of Duncannon. Our food supply had run low prior to  Duncannon, and the Leapfrog Cafe gave us the fuel I needed to get through the day. Fresh Ground has a servant’s heart for feeding hikers that goes far beyond raising funds, traveling hundreds of miles, and preparing meals for thousands of hikers each year. He creates a safe space at each road side stop for all who visit his table. The seating around his traveling van opens the thru hiking culture dialect for all to connect. Though Appalachian Trail hikers come from all over the world and different walks of life, we are all part of a community that care for one another. You can feel that genuine connection in Fresh Ground’s presence. You won’t find better bacon and blueberry pancakes on trail just below the golden rainbow above his van. One may never know of The Leapfrog Cafe’s whereabouts, which makes it even more trail-magical when you stumble upon it.

Filling up on FG’s Leapfrog Cafe burritos!

Joyce & Alyssa of Cafe on Broadway

Lucky Penny, Joyce, Alyssa, Prickleberry

A mother/daughter team who have owned and run Cafe on Broadway for 10 years were two unlikely angels. Joyce and Alyssa went out of their way to make sure we were well taken care of when we stopped in their cafe on a hot mid morning. The section through Wind Gap was particularly dry and we didn’t have enough water to boil for our morning coffee & oatmeal. We made our way off trail and walked into town for some much needed nourishment.  This cafe does advertise “hiker friendliness,” but they went out of their way to show us kindness and respect despite our disheveled, stinky and dirty appearances. Both made sure we drank enough water, filled up our travel water bottles, let us clean up in the bathroom, charge our devices, and then gave us a free ride back to the trail. Their Vanilla Latte and Greek Quesadilla was to die for!!

The Hostels

Ironmasters Mansion

Ironmasters Mansion, just past the official AT halfway marker, was my daughter’s first hostel experience. She described it as what she would imagine having a house full of siblings or cousins;  lights-out at hiker midnight, sharing a bathroom, listening to various snores and farts, and the smells of dirty wet feet. She joked that the mansion reminded her of a “little hiker village orphanage” and we had happily immersed ourselves in it. The hostel was 100% full the night we stayed. We were all drying out from several days of continuous rain. Ironmasters is an iconic thruhiker hostel, home to The Appalachian Trail Museum and the a Half Gallon Ice cream Challenge. The caretaker is very kind and you can’t beat a $25/$35 night stay.

Appalachian Trail Museum at Pine Grove Furnace and Ironmaster’s Mansion Hostel

The Lookout Hostel

The Lookout Hostel, just a few yards from the trail was a welcomed reprieve for our second and last zero day in PA after we had spent 11 days in a row hiking on trail. “Yardsale” and her husband purchased the property (formerly a small roadside diner) with a beautiful view. Yardsale has covered many miles on the trail with her daughter and in turn created a hiker haven that feels like a true mountain retreat. The Lookout has all the amenities a thru-hiker desires; resupply, hot shower, fresh linens, washer/dryer, free breakfast, clean loaner clothes, comfortable living space furniture, shuttling, and above all – open arm hospitality to all those who walk through the door. This is a must stop hostel in PA! Yardsale is a true gem.

The Lookout Hostel

New Faces on Trail

PA was filled with several Flip Floppers that started their journeys at Harpers Ferry in April- Hambone, Jazzy, LunaNate, Rooster, Wayfinder and others. We also found ourselves intertwined with a group of Springer Mtn NOBO’s just past Caledonia all the way through to the end of PA. Hikers in this bubble had pushed mileage into 35 + mile days, participated in the 4 State Challenge, and the 24 Hour Challenge.

Their high spirits triggered an athletic mindset within me that I thought I had long retired in marathon running days. We began waking and packing up camp earlier to push longer mileage. Which was all fun and games until the terrain in PA became more challenging.

Hiking in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania River near Tom’s Run Shelter

It rained on and off consistently the first week we were hiking in Pennsylvania. Though the difficult rock terrain did not begin until after Dunncannon, the trail was a river which lead to several nights in a row of drying out our trail runners just to get them soaked the very next day. It began to wear on our mental state. For the first time, I had thoughts of quitting after hiking over 800 miles.I had to pull out the tools I previously learned – my list from reading Appalachian Trials:

  1. Why am I thru hiking?
  2. What would it be like if I chose to quit?
  3. NEVER make the decision to quit on a bad day.

Bake Oven Knob

Lehigh Gap; The climb out of Palmerton, PA


On our last day in PA hiking into Delaware Water Gap we were treated with a beautiful parting gift from this state. A young  black bear playfully ran across the trail. In the distance we watched mama bear curiously acknowledge our presence. She slowly walked in the other direction as to give us permission to hike on before she rejoined her cub.
Instagram Video of our Pennsylvania Bear Encounter on The Appalachian Trail 

A perfect gift for mother’s day as my daughter and I finished the second longest state on the Appalachian Trail together. Pennsylvania will forever be one of my favorites.

“Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.” ~David McCullough Jr.


Happy Adventuring,

Joanne Gigliotti, “Lucky Penny” on the AT

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 5

  • CB : Jun 4th

    I had wondered what happened to you. Is the whole ‘I loved Pennsylvania’ thing a psychological device, to guard your mind for future AT challenges, or did you really enjoy it? Glad you made it.

    • Joanne Gigliotti : Jun 13th

      Hi CB! Thank you for continuing to follow my journey. I actually did enjoy PA! Of course the rocks did not come without some pain, but each state presents a new set of difficult terrain. Pennsylvania was the first longer mileage state that my daughter and I completed together. We were treated to amazing trail magic and met so many new faces on the trail in PA. I personally enjoyed the more challenging climbs – Knife Edge and Lehigh Gap!

  • Jo Anne Reinhard : Jun 7th

    My daughter and I have hiked several miles of the AT in PA as we live in NJ. Glad to see someone finally embracing the Commonwealth! A continued safe journey to you and your daughter!!

    • Joanne Gigliotti : Jun 13th

      Thank you for following our journey Jo Anne! Pennsylvania will forever be one of our most memorable portions!


What Do You Think?