Day 82: Going North in the North

Appa-LAY-shun Trail

Northstar drove me out to Pen Mar Park and decided to walk Gus and me up to the Pennsylvania Border. The state line is also the Mason-Dixon Line, the unofficial boundary between the South and the North. We whistled Dixie as we approached. But when we crossed the line, I switched to The Battle Hymn of the Republic, a critical mistake, as that became my earworm for the next eight hours.

I’m a Yankee by birth (not the baseball team, though…when the Brooklyn Dodgers went west, we were left only with our hatred of those pinstripes until the Mets showed up… but I digress), but I have lived more than twice as long in Arizona as New York. Arizona had not yet become a state during the Civil War, though it was mostly populated at that time by former Texans and other Confederate sympathizers. My ancestors, however, were abolitionists and helped with underground railroad, or so I’ve been told by the family historian.

South vs. North

All of which is to say that I’m not highly invested in the whole North-South thing. However, I’ve had to work hard for the past three months to say Appa-LATCH-chun, and will be happy to revert back to the more natural and grammatically correct Appa-LAY-shun. Also, gravy is NOT a breakfast staple. And what the heck is it with seven different kinds of gizzard in the buffet line?

Just kidding, of course (I’m not). I loved hiking the AT in the South. Early spring in the southern AppaLATCHchuns was fantastic, even if the trail itself was a chore. Spring in North Carolina and the mythical “state” of Tennessee was so beautiful. Virginia was my favorite, though I somehow missed the “flatter” part of Virginia where everyone said I’d be able to easily knock out 20-mile days.

I’m really looking forward to the cool, crisp air and the soft, pleasant trails of the middle Atlantic states. I’ve been told that the trails are all easy walking, I’ll probably need a sweater most of the time, and that there’ll be no more ticks or poison ivy.  Can’t wait!

A New Bubble

After I walked across the border, Northstar and Gus turned to head back to the van. Gus, the little traitor, didn’t even look back over his shoulder at me.  So, I walked on alone, with the morning trail all to myself as usual.

I guess I’ll be starting over with a new bubble of hikers. Almost everyone I started out with in the deep south is weeks ahead of me. Everyone I met in the Shenandoahs is weeks behind me. I’ll need to be extroverted to find my place in my new bubble, which is not exactly my strong suit. Oh boy.

An Ausssie, an Old Guy, and a 20-Something

Eventually, after passing quite a few still-occupied tents, a few other hikers began to appear. I mostly leapfrogged three other thru hikers – a young Australian woman, a pencil thin guy my age, and another young woman who had no more to offer than a reluctant nod.

I chatted with the Australian woman for a few minutes as I passed. She started at Springer the day after I did and expects to finish about the same time. I don’t think we’ll be besties, but she was nice and seemed intrigued by my slackpacking-vanlife regime. Later in the day, a day-hiker approached me to ask if I was “the vanlife guy.” Apparently, he’d met the Aussie, learned about my van (why?), and had a hundred questions about it for his upcoming (2036!) thru hike.

I passed the skinny old guy next. We exchanged the usual pleasantries until he told me, with an extremely guilty look, that he liked to book a motel every 10 days to clean up. I replied that I lived in a van and cleaned up every night, so I had no problem with motels.

He looked shocked. And then told me I was a cheater. I laughed, but when I turned to look at him, I realized he wasn’t kidding. So, I smiled, and I told him a few others had told me that before, that they are welcome to their opinion, but I’m happy hiking my own hike. Then he told me that I should probably move on since my pace was faster than his. So I did. Too bad. He seemed like a decent guy.

It’s Gonna Be Hot

I was kidding about expecting cooler weather in Pennsylvania. I grew up in upstate New York and remember those hazy summer 90-90 days – 90% humidity and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Yuck. So far, air temperatures haven’t crested the mid-80’s, but we all know what’s coming.

I only had about 3,000 feet of climbing today, but it included one 800-foot climb and a 1,000-foot climb. Both climbs were hot and sweaty, and the humidity kept me dripping all day. I never dried off. By mid-morning my pants, shirt, and underlayers were drenched with slimy, salty sweat. I tried soaking my head in a stream. It cooled me a little, but my hair never dried. This ain’t Arizona’s dry heat.


At least the bugs aren’t bad. I’ve seen a few hikers wearing head nets. I have one along, but it’s reserved for Alaska-level mosquito infestations or New England black fly swarms. I think I’ll miss black fly season up north, but I’ll probably get my share of New Jersey and Connecticut skeeters. If I do, I’ll share some Alaska mosquito stories for perspective.

Speaking of wildlife, besides bugs and birds (including one incredible scarlet tanager which landed on a branch right front of me), it’s gone. I saw only one deer in the woods today and it disappeared immediately. I also saw a fair number of hunting signs. A coincidence, I’m sure.

My only wildlife encounter was with a black snake. Not a Black Snake, a black colored snake I couldn’t identify. He’d stretched out across the trail, so I tapped his tail with my trekking pole, expecting him to slither off into the brush. Instead, he coiled up, lifted his head into the strike position, and stuck his tail up, wiggling it like he expected it to rattle.

Except that it had no rattles, and he didn’t have a viper’s head shape. But he kept at it, defending the trail against any advance until I worked my way around behind him through the underbrush. I do not like snakes.

Life Intervenes Again

Northstar called as I was closing in on Caledonia State Park. Our daughter was headed back to the ER with a more severe allergic reaction than she’d had two days ago. It appears the ER had been more motivated to discharge (and charge!) her than to treat her, an all-too-common occurrence in the medical world.

By the time I found Northstar at the Park, she’d corralled our doctor son and her friend who’s an allergist to intervene and things seemed more or less under control, though we didn’t have any kind of diagnosis or prognosis. The poor girl just can’t seem to catch a break.

It Could Be Worse…

When things are going wrong, Northstar and I often quote the Marty Feldman line from Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein – “It could be worse, it could be raining.” Just after I climbed into the van, the skies let loose with the hardest downpour we’ve seen on the trail so far. The windshield wipers couldn’t keep up.

At least I wasn’t still hiking.

Daily Stats:

  • Start: Pen Mar Park (Mile 1067.1)
  • End: Caledonia State Park (Mile 1085.6)
  • Weather: Gray, humid, and hot.
  • Earworm: Battle Hymn of the Republic
  • Meditation: Mt. 24-25
  • Plant of the Day: Asiatic Dayflower
  • Best Thing: Hiking in the North
  • Worst Thing (besides the humidity): Jess back in the ER

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Comments 15

  • Cynthia Rosen : Jul 9th

    I just don’t understand the disagreements about how to thru-hike the AT. Or any trail for that matter. You, Jon, are hiking every step of the trail, as are many other folks. Who cares if you sleep in a tent, a hammock, a van, a hotel, or on the bare ground?! Who cares if you wear shoes vs sandals vs boots? Or carry 15 lbs vs 30 lbs!? Seems to be a lot of insecure folks out there who just have to think their way is the only way. Wish everyone would just hike their own hike and respect their fellow hikers. Carry on!

    • Charlotte : Jul 10th

      You are so right! I find myself getting as riled as you over these unpleasant, opinionated jerks! I can’t imagine being out on that trail and not talking to a fellow thru hiker, pleasantly I might add, let alone tell my fellow hiker they were fake!!!! It tickled me to hear Jon’s response was to laugh out loud!!!!

  • Smitty : Jul 9th

    I’ve seen black racers do that tail wiggle. In dry leaves it’s intimidating. They’ll rear up like a cobra too. I know a Devries in Wyckoff she’s 100 married a Smith and in the Holland home. How bout Streelman I’m a distant relative of the golfer, Dejong and the Leentjes Vriesma clan, upstate dairyfarmer relatives. In GR my brother married rev Hofmans daughter a rev herself

    • Jon : Jul 13th

      Probably a racer. I’ve got an Aunt at the HH. Knew a lot Dutch dairy farmers in NY too.

  • thetentman : Jul 10th

    The rocks are coming. Good thing NJ is flat and there are no mosquitos. LOL

    Oh, and there has been no humidity this year.

    I have a bridge for sale cheap if you want. It goes all the way to Katahdin.

    Love the post.

    • Jon : Jul 13th

      You keep trying to unload that bridge.

  • Leah : Jul 10th

    Thank you for your blog posts, I have enjoyed reading them! I am interested in hiking the AT in a similar fashion, with my husband driving along in our home-on-wheels. How have you found this logistically? Are there overnight parking spots/lots fairly regularly? or is it lots of picking up at trailheads/crossings and going to find somewhere else to park for the night?
    I am happy to have found your blog and excited to follow the rest of your journey. Happy trails!

    • Jon : Jul 13th

      Welcome! I’ll try to do a post about vanlife on the AT. If I forget, remind me as others have asked. I keep a list of everywhere we’ve parked that I can share at the end too.

  • Ellen R : Jul 10th

    I laughed at your Yankees comment as I can relate being a diehard Red Sox fan. When my son was about 4 he said he was going to be a Yankees fan. His twin brother replied”You better not or Nanny will never let you in her house again!” Even at that young age they knew where our loyalties lay(lie?).
    HYOH, ignore the grumps and enjoy the pleasant people on the trail.
    Could that snake be a rat snake? They only eat vermin.

    • Jon : Jul 13th

      Good advice!

  • CB : Jul 10th

    The “the more natural and grammatically correct” (dang, you sound like a Yankee) way to pronounce a man’s name, his hometown, or his region, is the way he pronounces it. Kinda ironic how you point out how others are judging you while you seem to be doing the same to others. I like your writing, but just sayin.

    • Jon : Jul 13th

      Just funnin’. 😉

  • Mike Nixon : Jul 14th

    So glad you’re back on trail! Also, glad you acclimated to the correct pronunciation of Appalachian. As you found out, we Southerners are touchy about that. Good news that Northstar is getting better. I pray that Jess does too. Disregard skinny, old guy! HYOH. Enjoy those cool, no humidity, easy 30 mile days from here on…🤣

    Stay safe & strong, brother.


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