400 Miles: Nasty, Filthy Rocks. We Hates Them.

2016 Flip Flop: SNP to ME/SNP to GA

The second half of Pennsylvania’s 229 Appalachian trail miles is making me feel decidedly Gollumish—or worse—like a sullen teenager. I have found myself dragging my feet while daydreaming about all the mean things I could say about this section since Duncannon. Things like “The road to hell is paved with Pennsylvanian rocks.” or “So help me, if I twist an ankle or hurt myself in any way, I’ll never forgive you Pennsylvania!” And no, it wasn’t funny, Mr. Trail Maintainer, when you joked about the year the club installed these rocks.

One season, contestants of the reality TV show, The Amazing Race, were forced to endure a painful Chinese foot massage during a “road block.” It’s the kind of therapeutic treatment that makes you writhe and scream, but afterwards your feet supposedly feel better. I’m pretty sure the experience of hiking in the north half of Pennsylvania is worse. Far worse.

Earlier, a well-traveled NOBO had showed me how to rock hop over larger boulder fields in order to avoid foot fatigue and make better time traversing these sections. Those nasty, filthy, whoops, I mean fleet-footed NOBOs. They are flitting, flying and hippety-hopping their way across Rocksylvannia. The trick, it seems, is to read a pattern among the larger, taller and most solid-looking rocks that keeps you high and off the ground, a reverse sort of whitewater navigation. It’s faster and less physically exhausting than picking your way through the rocks with careful and deliberate foot placements. On the other hand, it mentally demands careful attention and is unsafe when the rocks are wet.

Most sections of the trail, however, are comprised of rocks ranging in size from a russet potato to Paris Hilton’s dog tote. And when present, they often occupy 75% of the trail’s surface. You can’t do any meaningful rock hopping on bits this small. Another hiker speculated that the only reason why the trail follows these craggy ridge lines is because no one else can use this land in any other way.

Oh, Pennsylvania. All I know of ye is geology. The Pinnacle. The Pulpit. Knife Edge. Bake Oven Knob. Wolf Rocks. These are words that can instill fear your heart, if not your feet. Sharp apexes. Sheer drop offs. Copperhead habitats.

I reached Port Clinton on a day that reached 85 degrees. The next day, with my newly resupplied food bag, I hiked up out of town and into temperatures in the 90s.

I was no longer having fun. Pennsylvania is to Flip Floppers as Virginia is to NOBOs. The initial excitement of trail life, the honeymoon, is over. Whereas NOBOs have a never-ending state to mentally and physically get through, Flip Floppers are being mentally and physically challenged by the never-ending rocky trail.

I hadn’t planned on it, but I ended up taking a zero on another 90 degree spring day, only 15 miles out from Port Clinton, PA at Common Ground Farm and Retreat Center. A few weeks ago, a 20-year-old hiker told me that she’s cried at least five times since she’s been in the trail and I thought to myself, well yeah, you’re only 20. After a day of downing 3.5 liters of water and feeling like my left foot had been impaled by a railroad spike, I almost cried when I saw this place. I needed to stay longer than one night. It’s not the cheapest place to be found on the trail, but it was exactly what I needed when I needed it.

I’m not sure if was due to the power of a zero day or the slack-packing day I took the day after that or that the Rocksylvannia foot massage is becoming therapeutic, but the last three days hiking out of Pennsylvania hasn’t seemed quite so bad. Yeah there are rocks, but not every mile (and never have been). And wouldn’t you know it, once I look up, there are farms nestled in the valleys below, birds riding the thermals and all sorts of flora and fauna.

I’ve made it to Delaware Water Gap without injury ready to tackle the next hundred miles. Rumor has it that the New Jersey and New York clubs might have installed a few rocks within their trail sections too.


Note: I am keeping a daily blog chronicling my progress in between these mileposts. See my AppTrials bio page and click on the home icon link to follow me.


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Comments 3

  • Michael Goldman : Jun 2nd

    New York is made of rocks but they’re solid and pretty rocks. They’re like smooth hard dirt.

  • Ronald Springel aka Hikinfool : Jun 3rd

    I grew up hiking the AT in PA 45 years ago. Now, every other stretch of trail seems like a broad highway covered in moss!

  • Bear Finder : Jun 5th

    I got myself through by thinking about all the things that would be cooler than rock fields like a trail of foam blocks or trampolines!


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