Day 94: Goodbye, Pennsylvania!
On a Mission
My feet were a little hammered from yesterday’s marathon, but they wanted out of Rocksylvania, so they were up with socks on and shoes laced up almost before I was. We’d boondocked right at the trail crossing in Wind Gap, so I only had to stumble out the door and start climbing.
Same Old Same Old
PUDslyvania said its goodbyes the same way it had said its hellos for the past two weeks – a steep, sweaty climb out of the gap, and then a rocky ridge walk through the long green tunnel. Today’s ridge started with seven miles of imbedded pointy rocks, and a few rock rivers thrown in for good measure.
Then came Wolf Rocks, a bedrock outcrop just high enough to see out over a tree-covered terrace below. Comments on the FarOut app promised copperheads and rattlesnakes sunning themselves on the ankle-busting cliffs. No snakes were out this morning, so I had to settle for a trio of buzzards that let me walk up to within 10 feet before they slowly flapped their wings and lumbered away.
After that, six more slightly less rocky, but still viewless, miles took me to the Delaware River overlook where I stopped for an early lunch and a look at the river below. Besides a couple of day hikers, I passed only two thru hikers all day.
The first was an older guy, hiking solo of course, who said his name was “Jon – J-O-N,” spelling it out for me. He said someone had tried out “Jontana,” after his home state, but it didn’t stick. The second was a young man named Fizz, who I hadn’t seen since the Blue Ridge Parkway. He asked about Gus, chatted a bit, and disappeared down the hill.
Straight Outta’ PA
I walked into the town of Delaware Water Gap just before noon, met Northstar, and walked with her and Gus across the bridge to New Jersey. I brought a little pile of rocks to mound up on the Pennsylvania side of the boundary sign and left them there as an offering.
In a fitting reminder of what I hope we’re leaving behind, we saw a pair of twenty-somethings approaching the bridge as we returned to the van. They saw us, crossed to the other side of the road, and passed by without a wave or a nod.
The PA AT
I won’t miss Pennsylvania. Rockslyvania. PUDslyvania. Tickslyvania. Hotslyvania. But I feel a little sorry for the state. It can’t help the miserable weather we had for the last two weeks, the tick infestation, or the local geology, but the ATC could have done more with the trail.
The long rocky sections are ridiculously unpleasant. I’ve hiked lots of rocky trails. I fully expect mountain trails to be rocky in places. My home trails in Arizona are rocky. But after two weeks walking the trail through Pennsylvania, I’m convinced the AT does not need to be so rocky.
Rocky Trails Are a Choice
I believe the Pennsylvania AT is rocky primarily because of poor trail building. Sure, the geology creates rocky conditions, some of which can’t be avoided, but consider the following:
- The bedrock that lies under the AT doesn’t change much in Pennsylvania, but the annoyingly rocky sections don’t begin until well north of Duncannon. The rocky and non-rocky trail sections north of Duncannon have the same bedrock geology. We can’t blame the geology.
- Stagecoach Roads. Between Duncannon and Bordnersville, I walked almost ten miles along a 170-year-old former stagecoach road that was one of the smoothest trail sections in Pennsylvania. If road builders in the 1850’s could figure out how to build smooth trails through the Appalachians that have lasted almost two centuries, I’m pretty sure the ATC could too.
- Forest Roads. The same argument applies to the smooth-as-butter forest roads I walked. They cover the same terrain and have more restrictive right-of-way requirements as the AT but are smooth enough for wheeled travel. If forest roads (and old wagon roads) can be rockless, the AT could be too.
- New Trail Sections. The beautiful new trails near Palmerton also prove that the foot trails on Pennsylvania’s ridges don’t have to be rocky. It may take more work to build non-rocky trails, but it can be done.
In my career, I’ve worked on dozens of road alignment, bridge design, and planning studies. I completely understand about budget, right-of-way, jurisdictional, environmental, and political constraints. Sometimes roads and bridges get put in places that don’t make sense one to particular stakeholder. I’m sure the same is true for trail building.
I also know that AT thru hikers’ foot comfort wasn’t the only or primary concern when the AT was built. That said, much of the AT in Pennsylvania is a crappy trail. We could have done better. In some places in Pennsylvania, we have done better. We should fix the rest of it.
Time For a Day Off
Whew. I had to get that off my chest. Feel free to disagree. I found lots to like in Pennsylvania, but I had to work a little harder to find it. I’m guessing that it would be easier to find in Spring or Fall.
But I’m very happy I’m hiking in New Jersey now.
- Start: Wind Gap (Mile 1281.4)
- End: New Jersey (Mile 1297.2)
- Weather: Overcast, smoky, humid, warm. Occasional drizzle.
- Earworm: Hosanna. Again. Sigh.
- Meditation: Mark 12:30
- Plant of the Day: Water lily
- Best Thing: Done with PA
- Worst Thing (besides the humidity): Sore feet
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