Day 91 – The Breaking Point
This one’s going to be a little bitchy.
Sorry about that. But it ends well. Maybe not today, but eventually.
On a Bender
The Pennsylvania Appalachian Trail went out drinking Saturday night and had a little too much. After a hot, sweaty evening pounding shots with its crew – humidity, rocks, rain, pointy rocks, and ticks – it stumbled back to our campsite and threw up on us all night. Rain, that is. It had nothing left by morning but woke up sick and irritable with a nasty hangover, and angry about something I’d written.
Apologies were useless. Out of sheer cussedness, the AT dumped more rain, humidity, rocks, ticks, and poison ivy on my all morning.
The Downside of Vanlife
We love our van. I remember waking up one snowy morning in Utah, surrounded by tent campers in puffies and wool hats trying to shovel snow off their picnic tables and get their Coleman stoves lit. We watched them struggle until the microwave dinged letting me know my tea was hot. Ah, roughing it.
Van camping is fantastic. Except when it’s hot and rainy, there’s no electrical hookup, and you’ve been running the AC off the solar batteries all afternoon. Under those conditions, the van becomes a very expensive tent with absolutely no ventilation. Last night was that kind of night.
I woke up early. And by “woke up,” I mean I stopped pretending to sleep. Northstar had been getting up to soak her shirt in the sink every few hours and got a little more sleep than I did. She looked great. My eyes were bloodshot and puffy, my hair stuck out in all directions, and I had no color.
While Northstar headed into Walmart to use the facilities, Gus and I climbed into the front seats, fired up the engine, and cranked the AC. Gus stuck his face right in front of one of the vents and looked over and said, “I’m staying in today. Have a good hike out there.”
The Pennsylvania Blues
I’ve got the Pennsylvania Blues. I’m so sick of the humidity. I’m tired of sweat-soaked clothes. And smelly, sweat-soaked clothes. And even more tired of chaffing from my smelly, sweat-soaked clothes. I hate being able to see the moisture-saturated air. It’s so humid that I can’t use my iPhone by mid-morning because my thumbs are too sweaty for the touchscreen, and I have no clothes dry enough to wipe them off. How do easterners live like this?
I’m fine with the rocks. I’ll walk on them, avoid them, bypass them, curse them – whatever it takes. I can avoid the ticks and the poison ivy. I’m not loving the viewless ridge walks through long green tunnel, but I’m used to them. The humidity, however, is gonna push me over the edge. Maybe it already has.
On the Trail
I took my bad attitude back to the trail at Port Clinton and I started the 1,000-foot climb back to the top of yet another long, rocky ridge. Wisps of fog hung between the dripping trees along the steep, rocky trail. On a cooler day, I’d have found the ambiance enchanting, mystical, and inspiring. Today, as once again, my sweat-soaked shirt clung to my skin and my drenched pants stuck to my thighs, and I carefully picked my way through the wet rocks, I had no kind thoughts about Pennsylvania.
I slogged along for five miles until the trail crossed Reservoir Road. A quick look at FarOut indicated a Blue Blaze option along the Reservoir that cut off four miles of the official AT. The AT makes one of those weird horseshoe-shaped loops, presumably to pick up viewpoints at Pulpit Rock and The Pinnacle. I only had 14.5 miles planned for today, so I didn’t need to shave any miles. Blue blazes don’t tempt me if they miss notable views or other landmarks.
But then I looked up at the fog and rain clouds clinging to the ridge. There would be no views today and the rocky trail leading to them would be wet and slippery. Plus, the description of the viewpoints included warnings about copperhead sightings. And I think I mentioned that I might have been in a bit of a mood.
The FarOut description mentioned that the blue blaze option used to be the official AT alignment, as if to appease the purists looking for an excuse to shorten their day. I’m no purist, so that excuse would not work for me. As a committed impurist, I need no excuse to blue blaze, but I was still conflicted.
I even investigated whether cutting out four miles would let me bag some extra miles today that might shorten our stay in Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, unless I was willing to commit to three 25-mile days in a row, four miles wouldn’t help.
As I pondered, I checked the weather forecast. Sure enough, it would be raining and cloudy all day, guaranteeing no view and miserable trail conditions. Then I noticed that the rain, heat, and humidity would continue through the night, which meant another stifling night in the ProMaster sauna.
Northstar texted me that the caretaker wouldn’t allow us to park at the Eckville shelter where we’d planned to boondock. Plus, nothing nearby had cell coverage. So I asked her, “How would you like a night in an air-conditioned motel?” I thought she was going to cry, she was so happy. That was reason enough to shorten the day, find some air conditioning, and get out of this miserable weather.
I put it in high gear, hiked up the blue blaze trail, and rolled into the Hawk Mountain Road crossing just before 11:00 a.m. A few hours later, we’d both showered, I’d washed my sweaty clothes, taken a chilly air-conditioned nap, and gotten cold enough to want hot chocolate from the lobby coffee bar.
Maybe Pennsylvania isn’t that bad after all.
An Attitude Adjustment
It’s amazing what a good night’s sleep will do. Afterward, I realized I’d been at the breaking point. A thru-hike is supposed to be fun. Sometimes, it’s Type II fun. Other times, it’s just needlessly miserable and I need a break.
- Start: Port Clinton/PA 61 (Mile 1220.6)
- End: Hawk Mountain Road (Mile 1235.1)
- Weather: Rainy, fog, near 100% humidity, warm
- Earworm: None
- Meditation: Mk. 9:35
- Plant of the Day:
- Best Thing: Air conditioning
- Worst Thing (besides the humidity): Even more humidity
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