Adventures in Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania is commonly referred to as “Rocksylvania” on trail, due to the sheer quantity of rocks, big and small, that make up the trail in that state. I had been told this since Maine, and there are other parts of the trail that are Rocky to various extends. However, it was still a surprise to me that almost immediately upon entering Pennsylvania, that the level of rockiness went up about 5 levels.
The first 4-5 days in the state were probably the worst. On the first day, it was about 4 hours of trail made up entirely of small-ish rocks, the type that you have to concentrate really hard on in order to not roll your ankle. The trail was pretty flat in this area, so I continued to walk to a turning point, turn the corner and then be presented with another long line of rocks-as-trail. It was incredible tedious and also exhausting, as each step requires concentration and precision.
Over the next few days, the rocks varied from sketchy rock scrambles to trail that had only occasional small spiky rocks (excellent for tripping or bashing your toe on if you are not paying proper attention). Rumour has it that there are trolls in Pennsylvania that come out at night with giant files and file the rocks to sharp point. Having now come through the state, I would believe it.
On one particularly long and rocky day, I even composed an ode to Pennsylvania rocks – “Pennsylvania rocks how I loathe thee – let me count the ways”. However, I tried to keep a positive mindset and the rocks got slightly less frequent as the state progressed.
Autumn has arrived
On the plus side, the autumn colours in Pennsylvania have been absolutely beautiful. Endless ridges, fields and trail of reds, oranges and yellow and lots of satisfyingly crunchy leaves. Sometimes this made the trail a bit harder, as it could be hard to see some of the small rocks under the leaves, but mostly it was lovely. The bonus of being a SOBO (southbound hiker) is that I get to follow this season down, so I’m looking forward to more colours.
Hurricane Ian arrives
Pennsylvania was luckily far north of the devastating rains in the south, but did not escape Hurricane Ian entirely. After a couple of days of rain threatening, we had a 24 hour downfall (local reports were of 3.5 inches). I had luckily stayed the night before at a hostel (shout out to The Lookout) and when I saw the amount of rain forecast for the day, decided to stay put. It can be hard to know sometimes when to push on and when to stay in place, but when the downpour started at 7am, and then stayed that way all day, I was happy with my position.
The continuing kindness of trail angels
I have had a lot of amazing experiences from trail angels so far, and Pennsylvania was no exception. Thank you to Natalie and John for welcoming me into their home for the night (and my first home cooked meal since I have been in the US). Thank you to Larry (and Bula) for lunch. And thank you to Amy and Smooth for making my resupply easier. The kindness of complete strangers towards the thru-hiker community, and towards me personally, continues to warm my heart.
The coolest shelters on trail
Pennsylvania has had a number of very cool and somewhat unique shelters. From the 501 shelter with its giant skylight (which I ordered pizza to, as is tradition) to the Tumbling Run shelters (with matching “snorers” and “non-snorers” mini shelters), getting to camp and checking out my home for the night has been a fun experience. I also had my first and second times sleeping in a shelter alone. One of these was the Peters Mountain Shelter, which is two-storey and could sleep about 20 people. Felt pretty funny to be tucked up in a corner of the upper storey all by myself, but I did have a very good sleep that night.
I also had my first shelter sleep with a trail dog (real name Daisy, trail name Jingles), a little terrier. She was very well behaved, sleeping in her owner’s sleeping bag with not a peep out of her. I love meeting all the dogs on trail and loved hanging out with Jingles for the night.
Reaching the halfway marker. And then another one. And then another one.
The exact length of the trail changes each year, due to reroutes and other trail maintenance. This means that the halfway point of the trail also changes. My first halfway marker was Centre Point Knob, a hill that used to mark the halfway point. Then it was to Pine Grove Furnace, for another halfway marker. Then another hour or so and another marker before I finally reached the marker for the “official” 2022 half way point. Exciting!
My journey through Pine Grove Furnace also involved a trip to the Appalachian Trail Museum (thank you to Ironmasters Mansion for opening the museum for us). It is tradition at Pine Grove Furnace to do the “half-gallon challenge” to celebrate being halfway through the trail. This challenge involves eating half a gallon (almost 2 litres) of ice cream in 30 minutes. I am pretty certain I could not eat that much ice cream but the Pine Grove Furnace Store was closed the day I went through, so no attempt was made.
It is crazy to think I have walked over 1,000 miles (1,609km) and that I am halfway to Springer Mountain, Georgia. I guess each step is closer to Springer, and each day, and week and month, add up. Onwards to Georgia!
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