Day 87: Rumors of Rocks
I woke up nervous about today’s hike. At 24.9 miles, it would be my longest day yet. Twizzler, the guy from the local ATC Chapter at yesterday’s trail magic, said I was in for a doozy of hike. He said the first nine miles would be a pleasant walk, but after I crossed PA 325 I’d face a steep climb and 16 miles of rocks with no water, no cell coverage, and no exits. Also, he thought the recent storms might have washed out the beaver dam crossing at Stony Creek.
While I made my morning oatmeal, I told myself that 24.9 miles is well within my strike zone. My Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim hikes were longer, hotter, and had much more elevation gain. I’ve run a marathon, though that was 20 years ago. I’ve been training for this for three months. I’ve got this.
But what about the rocks? The Rim-to-Rim hikes are rocky, but they aren’t boulder hopping. Twenty-five miles of boulder hopping would be exhausting. I considered hiking just the nine miles to PA 325 and saving the hard part for tomorrow, sacrificing my planned zero day. I’m 62 years old and hiking alone. I should act like it.
In the end I just decided to go for it. Maybe I’d survive. Maybe I’d get a good story out of being rescued.
Never Believe What You Hear. Usually.
Twizzler was wrong about almost everything. I had decent cell coverage at PA 325. The climb up from PA 325 to the ridgeline was no problem. I crossed at least a dozen decent water sources in the last 16 miles. The beaver dam crossing looked exactly as described in FarOut comments from two weeks ago.
And the rocks? Twizzler had that backwards. The nine-mile walk from Peters Mountain Road to PA 325 was much rockier than the 16-mile section from there to Green Point School Road, but it wasn’t any rockier than the rockiest parts of the other states I’ve hiked through so far. In fact, parts of those last 16 miles were some of the best walking I’ve done yet. More on that in a second.
Advice From Another Local
I didn’t see a single hiker on the trail all morning. After lunch, I ran across a guy standing on a ladder taking wooden trail signs off a tree. He greeted me, so I stopped to chat. He said he’d made all the wooden signs for the local ATC Chapter and the tree had started to eat these, so he was replacing them.
I thanked him for the trail maintenance and commented on how nice the trail had been, especially since I’d been expecting endless rocks. He told me that almost everything I’d walked on since crossing PA 325 had been a stagecoach road between mining camps in the 1800’s. There had even been a resort along the route.
We chatted for another 15 minutes before I left him to his work. I heard about his 19-year AT section hike and answered the usual question about my small pack. As I left, he told me that the real rocky section would start on Blue Mountain in a few days and would extend along that ridge all the way into New Jersey. We’ll see. I’m skeptical.
Stony Creek Beaver Dam Crossing
I had no idea that any beaver dam crossings existed along the AT south of Vermont until Twizzler mentioned it yesterday. But when I reached Rausch Gap, trail signs pointed at a longer, blue-blazed, dry route around a beaver dam. I didn’t even consider it. I had no interest in additional miles and had a keen interest in seeing if Twizzler got something right. He didn’t.
I didn’t see an actual beaver dam, as it was probably well downstream of the AT crossing, but there was plenty of beaver activity, as well as a wide marshy floodplain typical of beaver habitat. The trail wandered into the marsh and then disappeared under water. In its place were several hundred feet of floating beaver-gnawed logs that hikers could potentially balance on and pick their way across. Or they could just dive in and wade.
I elected to try balancing my way across. It worked pretty well until one log started rolling under me. I did my best Minnesota lumberjack impression, walking the rolling log from end to end, and successfully hopping off it onto a much bigger, anchored log. And then I fell off the 2.5-foot diameter, totally stable log. Fortunately, only one foot got wet and even that had been wetter after the downpour walking into Boiling Springs two days ago. I made it the rest of the way across without incident.
I’d seen Tiger and Americano across Stony Creek just I started my crossing, but they were long gone by the time I got to the other side. I caught Americano on the next climb and then Tiger and Mystery Otter a few minutes after that. I was 22 miles into my day and they were the first thru hikers I’d seen. Just as I caught the rest of their group, I saw “Bells,” a little dog Gus and I had met back in North Carolina and hadn’t seen since.
Suddenly, it was old home week. As we walked, we talked about our hikes since North Carolina, hikers we knew, gear, Pennsylvania rocks, and our itineraries. I found out Mystery Otter had hiked the PCT in 2021 and is planning to complete his triple crown in 2026. The tramily thing seems to be working for them. They’ve weathered plenty of challenges together and are still talking to each other. Well done.
We talked right up to Green Point School Road where Northstar waited for me in the van. The tramily had a few more miles planned and hiked on. I said I’d be taking a zero day tomorrow but would look for them down the trail. They planned to zero in Pine Grove on Friday. Perhaps we’ll meet again.
Odds and Ends
- For some reason, I really loved the woods today. They had an inviting lightness that was somehow encouraging, despite having been extensively mined and deforested in the past. They gave me a strange sense of anticipation of something good coming my way.
- The gnats are out. According to my extensive research, Pennsylvania gnats prefer eyelids and ear canals. A few kamikaze gnats flew in my piehole and got stuck on my tonsils. Coughing, drinking, and gargling do not remove tonsil gnats. Eating Clif bars does. Just so you know.
- I briefly thought about asking Northstar to meet me another 1.3 miles down the trail so I could bag a marathon day. Briefly.
- Zero Day tomorrow. Woot, woot!
- Start: Peters Mountain Road (Mile 1158)
- End: Green Point School Road (Mile 1182.9)
- Weather: Sunny early, stifling humidity by mid-day
- Earworm: Sweet Caroline (Neil Diamond)
- Meditation: Rom 8:26
- Plant of the Day: Low Smartweed, American Pokeweed, Butterfly Milkweed
- Best Thing: Walking the abandoned stagecoach road
- Worst Thing (besides the humidity): Doubting myself
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