Cumberland Valley Blues: Days 8-10

Day 8: 14.2 AT miles

When planning the stretch from Pine Grove Furnace to Duncannon, I was apprehensive. There weren’t many shelters or tenting locations, as much of the stretch wended through farmlands. Those that existed had reported signs of vagrancy. One already endowed with their trail legs could easily do this stretch in two days, avoiding potentially sketchy areas. Unfortunately, that is not yet me.

For the first night, I figured I’d avoid shelters and find a good spot to tent camp. There was a promising looking spot near a stream about 12 miles away on FarOut and I decided to push for there. There were some rocks today, but not quite as many as the last section of Maryland.

I stopped off at a store a little bit from the trail and got a snack and used the bathroom. I was getting annoyed because I had two bars of cell service, but it wasn’t working. I couldn’t check the weather or stream music or anything. I forged on, frustrated.

At a random point on the trail I started getting notifications on my watch—the reason I keep news alerts on is that they’re a sure predictor of cell service—and popped a squat to play the NYT games. I started to get a bad feeling about the weather, but I still couldn’t check it on the app for some reason. I also wasn’t sure exactly where I was. I called my mom and asked her to check the weather for Boiling Springs, since I knew I was headed in that direction.

As she told me of the impending storms, it started thundering. I realized I didn’t know what to do in the event of being on trail in a storm. My brother was also on the call and he looked up the ATC’s recommendations. One was to stay away from bodies of water. Well, there went my camping plans.

I just kept moving forward, as there didn’t seem to be much else to do. There weren’t any hostels or hotels in the area and the road crossings weren’t frequent or busy. I was doubly scared because this section of the AT wasn’t very busy along with the aforementioned vagrancy concerns. It seems the less desirable sections of the AT are compounded by the fact there aren’t as many day hikers, thus making them more desolate.

I stayed on the phone for a couple hours with my mom, already tired but not able to stop until I found somewhere adequate to camp. It didn’t help that the tail end of this segment was super rocky and that said rocks were slippery from rain earlier that day.

Only picture I took all day

When the storm was nearly impending, I happened upon an unmarked tent site. It was a little close to a road, but I was tired at that point and just wanted to set up camp. However, when I walked closer, I noticed trash in the fire pit. A thunderstorm was one thing, but I didn’t think I could also handle a bear encounter that day. I begrudgingly pushed onto a site that was about as far away as the storm was. There was a shelter another mile or two away, but I didn’t think I had the energy to walk that far. Plus, there were reports that someone was living there.

When I got to the marked tentsite on FarOut, there was nothing there, and I was dejected. I kept walking, hoping for a stealth site—anything I could set up at before the storm hit so that I didn’t have to push on to the shelter.

A tenth of a mile ahead, the heavens began singing. The small campsite was just marked poorly and it was a little further north. I set up my tent as fast as I ever had and crammed my stuff under the fly. I ate a well-balanced dinner of corn nuts and applesauce and put my bear can under a fallen tree away from my tent. I felt validated in my decision then more than ever—theres no way I could have done an adequate bear hang with an impending thunderstorm.

Just as the rain started, I bundled into my tent, laying out my foam pad and tried to distract myself. I counted how far away the lighting was and it was at least ten Mississippis, so I felt a little better. After about an hour, the thunder stopped, but the rain pattered on. Unfortunately, water had seeped through the tiny rips in the bottom of my tent and I had to use my small washcloth to bail it out as best I could. I did my ablutions quickly and prepared for bed.

I slept really horribly. I kept waking up, thinking the sounds of the rain were people’s footsteps. The age old question rang in my head: are you more scared of man or bear? Tonight, man, as my scented items were safely squirreled away. What man would brave this weather to perpetuate misdeeds seemed a minimal risk, but my subconscious was not so convinced.

I’ve been having a new genre of dreams since coming on trail. Sure, I’ll still have the random dreams where I’m hanging out with a friend I haven’t seen in ages shopping at Target or something equally banal, but I’ll have hyper-realistic ones where I’m awake in or outside of my tent or the bed in sleeping in. I’m usually doing something simple, like brushing my teeth or laying out my sleeping bag, so it feels like I’m awake. I think I’m asleep for most of the night, but these dreams make me feel like I’m not.

Day 9: 13.1 AT miles

In this stretch, I seriously contemplated the idea of quitting. What dissuaded me of it here was the fact that I had literally nothing better to do if I quit and went home. Most of my friends who also graduated are just messing around in Europe or Asia until their jobs start.

No one expects me to be doing anything productive a couple weeks after I graduated college. The kicker is how much time I have. I asked my work specially to get a start date in October so that I would have enough time to do the trail. If I quit, I wouldn’t have anything to do until then and, after about a month, it would no longer be socially acceptable to sit around my mom’s house. Plus, Ohio is boring when you have about two and a half friends left from high school who are also out of town for the summer.

This was a touch stretch because it was so solo and there weren’t good views. I know there is much to be gained from boredom and internal struggle, I just wasn’t yet in the mood. I wanted to make friends and see cool shit. I wanted to take the training wheels off already.

My tent was super wet from the storm the night before, so I was glad I’d planned to stay in town tonight already. I called the Quality Inn once I had a good signal and made a reservation even though they had insisted I could just walk in when I called about it a couple of days prior. I didn’t want to take any chances. I’m a light sleeper and never fully get a true night’s rest in a bunk room, shelter, or my tent, so it’s pretty necessary for me to stay in a private room every so often if my body is to recover enough to physically handle the challenge of the trail. I never truly appreciated beds before coming on trail.

More four-leaf clovers

After a brief woodsy section, the trail went into Boiling Springs. I ate brunch at a cafe, ordering some version of “the hiker plate” which seems a common fixture at many trailside establishments. I couldn’t finish the pancakes, so I’d say the portion sizes were pretty good. I walked back to the trail. Some was just on the road—I don’t like these sections—and not super intuitively routed. For such a well-marked established trail, I probably get briefly lost every other day. Maybe that says more about me than about the trail.

Once I got back on a true trail, it was quite muddy underfoot. I soon hit my 100 mile mark but didn’t notice on the dot. I guess the inside out flip flop thru hike isn’t popular enough to warrant makeshift milestones. It felt anticlimactic. I know its a big achievement, but I have friends who’ve ran a hundred miles in about a day—granted, with much easier terrain. Ah, well, all the more motivation to go all 2,200.

Random view near where I hit 100 miles

As I passed through interminable farmland, I mostly felt stressed about ticks since the grass was largely overgrown. I’d dug one out of my arm earlier that morning. It’s astounding how variable in size ticks can be. I’d never even seen one before trail. There were few people on this portion of the trail and it was hot. I was unmotivated, even with the promise of a bed and shower on the horizon.

I googled how far of a drive home was as I thought about quitting. I told myself if I felt this way in a week, I could leave trail. This feeling comes up occasionally, but it tends not to last for more than a couple hours.

Eventually, I reached my ending point of the day and took the 0.4 mile road walk to the hotel. The road was just shy of a highway, but there was a large shoulder, so it was okay. Another thru-hiker passed me, eager to get to the hotel as he hadn’t done laundry since Virginia. When I saw him in the diner later that evening, his shirt was fully a different color!

When I checked in, I showered and checked for ticks. None this time, but I did notice what looked to be a poison ivy rash. Great. I put some Neosporin on it and hoped for the best. It went away by the next day—I guess I’m not super allergic to it, which is a good surprise.

I decided to just hand wash my clothing since I had done laundry two days prior. Next time, I’ll just pay for the machine. It stayed rather wet even after air drying and using a hair dryer. You win some, you lose some.

I went to the diner next door for dinner. I know you’re supposed to order breakfast food at diners, but I had had breakfast food that morning, so I got chicken and broccoli with rice. The portions were huge and it came with two sides and a salad.

I forget that I’ve been living in high cost of living areas for the past four years and that the inflation in the rest of the country hasn’t all been so steep. It’s not only the prices of food that often amazes me, but how much of it is given. I’ve had a hard time finishing a lot of my meals eaten out, and these are made for the average customer, not someone who walks 10+ miles a day. We’ll see how I feel once the hiker hunger hits.

I went to bed shortly after dinner, telling myself that if I didn’t feel up to hiking the next day, I’d just take a zero.

Day 10: 17.2 AT miles

When I woke up at 3 a.m. to pee, I thought, yeah, I’d like to zero today. It was supposed to thunderstorm anyway. When I woke up for good after more contiguous sleep than I’d gotten on the whole trip, I thought, alright, I’ll see if the hotel will extend my stay another night.

As I walked to get breakfast, I decided I’d eat a little before asking the front desk. As I ate, I got a sense that I didn’t want to stay any longer. Nothing was wrong with the town or the hotel; it just didn’t feel like a place where you stayed. Probably the only place I could safely walk to was the diner, and I didn’t feel like just sitting around all day. I got mildly Twin Peaks vibes, even though the place didn’t look like Washington.

I decided I’d just nero it, do the five or six miles to the next shelter, and make my next day shorter. I headed back to the trail and continued on. There was a little bit of rain in the morning and some mud, but nothing extreme. When I got to the first shelter after a few hours, I assessed the situation. There was trash in the fire pit. I didn’t want to stay and it was early, so I decided to push on to the next shelter, which would make today an average day after all. It was fine, I felt good from the sleep in a real bed the previous night.

The fields that came next were quite pretty. It rained off and on, and I slid my umbrella in and out of my side pocket, not fully securing it. At one point I felt back just to check on it. It was gone. I sighed and started heading back. It must have slipped out when I stopped to take a picture. Sure enough, it was about a tenth of a mile back. At least the backtracking was through a relatively pretty section.

There were a few nice views as I approached the next shelter. When I was a couple miles out, it started thundering and raining pretty heavily. I sped walked as fast as I safely could. When I got to the shelter, the path was a stream and it was about 0.3 miles straight downhill. I got to the shelter, body relatively dry but feet soaked. I didn’t have any dry socks. I’m learning that every descion I make out here, no matter how small, will come back to effect things later, to a much greater extent than in regular life.

On top of that, there was a sleeping bag and some other stuff rolled up in the side of the shelter and no one else there, owner or otherwise. I didn’t want to stay there, but I didn’t want to walk in a thunderstorm. I sat for a while and debated, telling myself I needed to make a decision by seven. Being a woman out here, I feel like I always need to be able to walk a few extra miles at the end of the day to somewhere safe to sleep in case I don’t feel comfortable staying at my planned stopping point. It’s frustrating; there’s so much freedom out here, but it’s not equally distributed.

Eventually, the weather died down and I assed my options. I really didn’t want to stay in the shelter. The hostel in Duncannon was booked up, but the Doyle Hotel still had some rooms available. I went to book one and it asked me what time I would anticipate checking in. I saw the latest option was nine and paid as quickly as possible.

Now, 2 hours to do 3.7 miles doesn’t sound too hard, but there was about 1,000 feet of elevation loss. Plus, I had already hiked over 14 miles that day. But, I knew I wouldn’t sleep soundly alone at the shelter and that was motivation enough to push into town on time.

My first mile out was probably my fastest of the whole trail—twenty minutes flat. Then the descent started. I couldn’t safely run down the rocks, but I certainly kept a jauntiness in my step. If someone had been watching me, they probably would have thought I looked quite silly. But, my next two miles were done in fewer than 30 mintutes each and I was making good time. By the time I reached civilization, I knew I’d make it with time to spare.

I only stopped briefly to take in my best view of the trail so far

There were beers set at the trail head as trail magic. I passed, because I don’t like beer. I’ve been thinking about alcohol some in my many hours alone in my head, and I decided I don’t like it enough to drink while on trail. It’s not a moralistic thing, I just don’t want to drink things I don’t like the taste of when I’m already eating lots of things I don’t like the taste of because the stuff I usually want to eat isn’t calorific enough or feasible to pack out on trail. I’ll have plenty of time to drink when I’m a twentysomething living in New York.

Anyway, I called the pizza place in town, but they were closed. So, dinner was milk, lemonade, and pretzels from 7-11. Don’t worry, I ate enough the next day to make up for it.

I went to shower but couldn’t figure out how to get the hot water on, so I decided to try the bathtub. While I don’t tend to take baths while traveling, the hotel had recently renovated and the tub looked clean. Huzzah! There was hot water. It was nice to soak for a while after so many long days of hiking. We won’t talk about what the water looked like when I finished.

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