Here is the first of several posts in a major update! Thanks to various reasons it has been hard for me to keep on top of this, but I am still here!
Day 81: Campsite at Little Dogwood Run to Darlington Shelter
Well. It was still hot today. Even after yesterday’s 100+ heat index, weather in the 90s still makes me wonder if only crazy people go hiking, because it’s about the most uncomfortable thing you can choose to do on a hot summer day. Go to the pool? Drink ice cream floats? Stay inside and bask in the A/C? Nah. I think I’ll put on a 35 pound backpack and haul it around the countryside in the blazing sun all day. Thanks though!
What I will say about today is that it was super flat. There was one tiny climb in the morning, over Center Point Knob, and then it was down into Cumberland Valley, which is 15 miles of farmland and is about as pastoral and lovely as you can get. By the time I got down to the valley it was already an oven outside, and the glare of the sun brought sweat streaming down my face, neck, and arms, but it was still an enjoyable walk. Asters, clovers, and other wildflowers grow in profusion next to the cornfields, when they haven’t been mowed flat, and butterflies were everywhere, doing what butterflies do best.
I walked to Boiling Springs, which is a really lovely little town and home to the ATC Mid-Atlantic Regional Office, where I stopped for 20 minutes to take advantage of their porch swing and chat with a younger hiker named Derby. I say chat, but he did most of the talking. He’s definitely the guy you want to have in the front seat when you hitch a ride because he’s charming and can talk for minutes at a time without breathing, I think. Anyway it was fun to meet him and get to know another hiker but there was a ways to go yet that day, so I pushed on. Ten miles on, when I got closer to the Scott Farm ATC Crew HQ, there was a pretty boardwalk that brought me out to the Conodoguinet Creek, which looked like a nice place for a swim. Instead, I had my lunch at the picnic table at the HQ, and then fell asleep for two hours while I waited for Councilor, Sticks, and The Girl to catch up. When I woke up I wondered if they had passed me, so I pushed on, up the final hill to Darlington Shelter. It’s labeled in AWOL as having a “Taj Mahal” privy, and it’s pretty much big enough to park a mini-cooper in. I blinked a little at the double privy seat (so you can have a comfy chat with a friend?) until I realized that one was locked, and they must rotate the seats to ease the strain of maintenance. No friends, though, which was odd. I met a few sectioners, and checked my phone to see a text from Councilor that they had never left Boiling Springs. So that was that! I went to sleep, and only woke up briefly when a few late hikers rolled in after dark.
Day 82: Darlington Shelter to Duncannon, PA
It turns out I know the hikers who came in last night. Atlas and Straw, his mother, rolled in and set up hammocks. I hadn’t seen them since the Blackburn AT Center after the Rollercoaster. And Friendly Nate showed up as well, whom I haven’t seen since Damascus. Really nice to reconnect like that. The AT is sort of magical in that way: people appear and disappear and then pop up again unexpectedly and every time they show back up like that it’s a real joy.
I was eager to get to Duncannon, where I was planning on spending a night at The Doyle, so I got a fairly early start and hiked the nine miles or so into town by noon. It was the first section that might be considered a little rocky in PA, just tons of little toe grabbers along the path. Not much in the way of views, either, although the one from Hawk Rock, looking down over the town, is really good.
The Doyle is an interesting place. It was once a beautiful building, though it’s showing its age these days. It’s run by some extremely nice folks, Pat and Vickey, who provide an affordable, welcoming space for hikers to stay in Duncannon while we do our chores and resupply, and it has been around for quite some time, although it didn’t become a hiker landmark until Pat and Vickey took it over. Personally, I really enjoyed my stay there. It has a faded charm going for it.
Friendly Nate was there as well, and I saw Dulcey Girl again, although she was staying somewhere else. Nate and I each picked up a disreputable-looking book from the free pile with a promise to read and exchange. He chose a terrible looking sci-fi novel and I snagged a trashy romance novel.
There was a free meal for hikers hosted by Pastor Beth at the local Methodist church, and the three of us went there, as well as Chainsaw, a sobo I met in the bar at The Doyle, who earned her name when she helped a guy fix his chainsaw. Pat joked that with Vickey, and two women named Xena and Chainsaw, he was the safest man in Duncannon. I liked Chainsaw a lot, and I really wished I’d snagged her contact information before she headed out. At the dinner I also met Gimpy and Wheezy, a pair of friends from Maine who pretty much sold Chainsaw and I on moving to Portland when the hike is over, and I saw Dawdler and Flannelheart again.
The food at the church was fantastic, as were the people who organized the dinner. I’m so grateful to all the people who go out of their way for us. I say it over and over again, I know, but it’s true. None of the people who have helped me on my hike had any pressing reason to do so; it is pure human kindness.
Day 83: Zero in Duncannon, PA
My tendinitis felt like it was acting up again; my shoulder was really sore and lifting it was, not painful exactly, but definitely felt like it was turning into work. My original plan had been to hike out in the morning, but I decided it was wiser to spend the day icing the shoulder than risking making it worse. Also, I wasn’t ready to hike away from my new group, so it made double sense to stick around one more day. I stayed comfortable inside, read the trashy romance novel (it was really horrible), and kept the ice on.
Sticks, The Girl, and Councilor showed up in the evening, and we snagged some dinner at the tavern, where I met PBS, No Name, Wonderbro, and Klipspringer, a German woman solo thru-hiking who does insane miles. All in all, a pretty good zero day. I’m ready to hit the northern half of PA though!
Day 84: Duncannon, PA to stealth campsite at mile marker 1166.2
Today started out really, really horribly if you hate spiders, which, you know, I do. There’s a road walk out of Duncannon across two bridges, one across Juniata River and one across Susquehanna River. And apparently the pedestrian walkways on those bridges are totally perfect for the large local orb weavers. Do you know those scenes in Indiana Jones movies and he’s climbing into tombs and just wiping sheets of cobwebs out of the way? Yeah. Except the spiders were still home. And when I looked to either side, the bars of the railings were just crawling with more spiders. There were hundreds of them. I was thoroughly icked out by the time I crossed the last road and began the climb to the ridge line.
The climb out of Duncannon was fun, though, and so beautiful it totally made up for my squeamish start. Once I made it to the top the early morning sun lit up the moisture in the air and turned the whole trail into a misty golden paradise. It was easily the most beautiful part of the day, and I had fun climbing over the boulder-strewn trail.
I ran into Friendly Nate a few times during the day, getting water at the first shelter and lunch at the second, where I finally also met Special K, a fifteen-year-old (she just had her birthday) doing a solo supported hike of the AT. I’ve been seeing her name in the trail logs, and I’ve slowly been gaining on her, so it was nice to meet her at last. I wonder if she gets sick of all the attention, though, from all these older thru hikers being so excited to meet her. I hope she finds it encouraging. I think more young women should be told that what they are doing is pretty awesome on a regular basis. Personal opinion.
Anyway! Water sources are starting to dry up. I ran into a southbound ridge runner named PJ who warned me that several of the water spots I was planning to stop at were completely dry now, which is such important information to share out here. In the late afternoon, I ran into Friendly Nate reading the sci-fi novel while he waited for me by a running spring. Apparently this book was also as bad as it looked. We talked about camping options for the night, since the water source where I had been planning to stop was gone, and decided to hike to the next water source (about two miles on) and find a viable campsite after that. When we got there, there was so much iron in the stream bed that the creek looked orange, and left a cheetoh-like residue on my fingers as I filtered the water. Still tasted fine though. We found a campsite that could accommodate everyone’s tents and set up. Councilor and Sticks rolled in not long after, but The Girl didn’t show up until it was completely dark, since she had had to wait in Duncannon until later in the day for a package. It was a long day for me, I can’t even imagine how long it must have seemed to her, finishing with night hiking. She’s dealing with blisters, too. Rough.
Day 85: Stealth campsite to Rausch Gap Shelter
There were thunderstorms predicted for this afternoon, and I wasn’t too interested in being out in them. I guess, regardless of my author’s bio, I’m not actually all that stoic about getting rained on. So I planned a short day to Rausch Gap shelter and did the miles before the rain came in the afternoon. There is something very comforting about being under a shelter roof while thunder rolls overhead, and I enjoyed hanging out with friends there. Rausch Gap shelter is…well, it’s cute as a button. Well-constructed, tidy, with probably the best shelter water source I’ve seen on the trail: a spring that comes right out of the stone wall into a trough. There are tons of great camping sites nearby and it’s all situated in a beautiful pine wood. It’s 0.3 miles off the AT, but the trail is basically a gravel path in a park. As I walked down it, deer ambled in front of me before turning off down the hill and across the creek. There are certain moments when the trail provides a heavy dose of magic, or serenity, or whatever you want to call it, and that quiet walk in the half-light of the approaching storm was one of them. The shelter log mentioned some very active raccoons at the site, though, which we did our best to prepare for with a good bear hang. Over the course of the evening, PBS and Wonderbro both came in, which meant there were seven hikers sleeping in a six hiker shelter. It was, ah, cozy.
Oh, and a mouse ran right over my mouth while I was reading in the shelter. Eugh.
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