AT Day 62 – Snap Back To RealAT
Port Clinton to Route 309
Home Sweet HomeSpice Camp to Spring Snowbow Camp
AT miles: 25.6
Total miles: 1254
Elevation change: 4810ft gain, 3593ft loss
By some miracle of serendipitous timing, SpiceRack’s surprise visit, though short, came at precisely the right moment to shield me from the elements just as things got spicy. A concerned text from my parents in the morning told me everything I needed to know about the storm that had rolled through yesterday evening. I’d heard the rain pummeling the van roof, of course, but it was a distant concern with the protection of a metal shell, which insulated us from the icy onslaught. Canceled baseball games, huh? That didn’t concern me, not while I was in my warm bed. Now, after seeing the snowy aftermath and hiking through the final shakes of white flakes, Spice’s visit feels like a dream. It brought together two worlds that are still too distant to coexist in my mind. I’ve been hiking alone for so long in the east coast, how could my person and my home just appear along the trail? Until I see them again, I won’t totally believe it.
The pattering rain drumming the sunroof and the cozy bed made getting stoked to hike a challenge this morning. Fortunately, Spice was a good motivator, and got me up and moving towards the trail. She handed me a bowl of breakfast and fished some bars from our stockpile of trail food, while I removed one limb at a time from the covers. I changed back into my nasty hiking clothes while gulping down my fifth cup of tea in the past twelve hours. The puddles were full, but the sun was shining when I stepped out and hauled on my pack.
We all started out along the Little Shuylkill River, which didn’t look so little today. It moved fast and brown, high above the trees that lined its banks. Then we crossed under the highway bridge, where someone had scribbled in sharpie what appeared to be the entire Communist Manifesto on the green support structure. A steep hill waited for us on the other side, as hills always do, and we plugged away. It was pretty standard stuff to my eyes, but the environment was new to Spice. Her comments about the brown leaves and cool weather creating a late-Autumn vibe reminded me of my own during the first weeks of the AT. The season of brown leaves moves fast in the West, whereas it lingers, and perhaps never ends, in the Appalachians.
Spice and I said goodbye at the top of the climb and went our separate ways. Tango was confused by the split, but ultimately made the right decision and turned towards home. Alone again, I hopped across some rocky portions of trail, then up a little higher, where the thin blanket of snow was almost complete. The dark trail cut through the white, and the forest flickered from sun to shade under the passing clouds.
I met briefly with Cheif at the next spring, then made great time down an old dirt road, out of the snow and back into the green. I still hiked in my wind jacket even though the sun was breaking through again. The air was chilled and the movement too easy to generate much warmth of my own. At the bottom, I crossed through a wide patch of grass at the junction of two more old roads. It felt like a place of significance, historical at least, but a sign from 2012 commemorating the first 75 years of the AT was the only thing around. Remember when people thought the world might end in 2012? I hadn’t ruled it out myself. Lol.
I paid a visit to the nearby privy, perfectly timed, then kept on going, gaining back all the elevation I’d just lost. The climb was steady, short, and easy though, and I appreciated the chance to warm up for real. The top of the ridge was a bit rocky, but my fresh legs barely noticed as I skipped past an unexpected observing dome.
A mile later, I took the short side trail to The Pinnacle, a cliffy viewpoint, not unlike Tinker Cliffs. I wasn’t quite ready to stop for lunch, but the place was perfect, so I planted my butt on a stone chair and popped off my shoes. Puffy gray clouds, some trailing showers of snow blew across the expansive valley below. The sound of a truck, here and there, grumbled up from the country roads that meandered across the quilted patchwork of green pastures and bright farmhouses. A vulture rode the wind blowing up the cliff at my feet. My gaze followed the straight ridgeline to my left, tracing the AT maybe to the end of Pennsylvania, many miles distant. I ate a lot of things, dragged on a crusty change of socks, laced my kicks, and got hiking after about an hour. Despite being warned that it was a popular day hiking destination, I’d had it all to myself. A perk of the mercurial weather.
The next few miles were as easy as could be for the trail continued on another old dirt road at a gentle downgrade. I bounced around flooded portions of the tread, feeling light and fast, appreciating the road all the more because of yesterday’s frustrations. A snow shower scattered white poppyseeds across the forest floor, but the cold pellets didn’t bother me even though I harbored some confusion about their timing. I admitted to myself that I would probably never understand the Appalachian weather.
The trail morphed back into single track as it guided me across a valley bottom, then up steeply to the next ridge. Like all climbs since Shenandoah, this one was short and sweet. Just enough to warm me up to the point of feeling the first pricks of sweat spread across my scalp. On top, I was now on that straight ridge that I had ogled from The Pinnacle. It would more or less take me the rest of the way to Delaware Water Gap, some large number of miles and rocks away.
Speaking of rocks, the terrible PA rocks, which had remained absent for most of the day, started up in full force just as my physical and mental spunk was beginning to fade. They threw the book at me, so to speak. Big hoppers covered in green lichen and moss, small pokers, sharp and jabby. Several blow downs added to the parkour maze and my pace slowed with care, and I took on the graceless falling strides of someone just barely in control. My brain was too tired to push my body faster than it naturally wanted to go, so I plodded like a sheep without a shepherd, occasionally twirling with a flourish in instances of utter athletic grace. It was actually kind of fun when I gave up on trying to get anywhere fast. The snow came and went, never sticking or threatening anything more than my confusion. I churned along in resigned indifference and lack of understanding.
After many miles, the rocks released me back to my friend, the old dirt road. One final blast of snow produced a snow rainbow through the trees, which combined with the easy walking and blissful afternoon daze to create my favorite moment of the day. I couldn’t recall seeing another rainbow on the AT so far.
I filtered water one last time from a yummy spring, and pushed my tired legs and feet to carry the rest of me a couple more miles to camp. The sun did the thing where it set behind the clouds, before breaking through for a final few minutes of orange warmth until dipping behind the horizon. I found a flat, not-rocky spot a minute later, grateful for the end to my stumpy walking. Sure enough, my feet were angry with me after all those rocks, and I was happy to give them the rest that they were calling for. I pitched my tent as the chill air took hold of the night. This home wasn’t quite as cozy as the van, but it was home and perfectly comfortable. My eyelids drooped with fatigue before the sky was even totally black. Stars twinkled through the tent mesh like little pellets of snow. Maybe the last. Probably not the last.
This post was originally published on my blog hikefordays.com. Check it out for trip reports from my other hikes including the CDT and Sierra High Route.
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