Feet Don’t Fail Me
People will tell you that the AT in Pennsylvania is nothing but rocks. The truth is it’s much more that! It’s stones, pebbles, boulders, talus, and scree, each of which are capable of making a hiker miserable in their own unique way. And if you have a bad ankle, it will do everything in its power to make that ankle hurt.
Welcome to granite hell. Population: me.
Out of the Frying Pan…
I hardly remember the first day I spent back on the trail. I rolled through the Cumberland Valley so fast I barely registered a thought. I think I remember seeing a man hiking with a turned-off lawnmower but that could have been a mirage. What I recall clearly is the shelter in which I stayed that night, and the welcoming sign out front.
Absurdities aside, I was feeling great. I pushed on through the decrepit streets of Duncannon the next day and eventually caught up with a pack of thru-hikers in the evening.
I was bold enough to believe I was ready for anything coming my way. Fortunately for me, no one has ever faced consequences for hubris!
People call beavers “nature’s engineers.” Well, I was an engineering major in college, so I can tell you that engineers can be total assholes. This flooded section of trail has been around for a few years now, and there’s no way to cross it without getting your feet wet with stagnant water. If that wasn’t enough to slow me down, I rolled my bad ankle on a tree root just a couple of miles later, and the pain lingered for days.
Oh, and I was chased by a rattlesnake on top of a ridgeline. This damn state did not like me being there.
Several wipeouts and stubbed toes later, I grew accustomed to the rocks, and approached them with more respect. The last stretch from the Lehigh River to the New Jersey border is notoriously tough, with water sources scarce, a lot of the ridge exposed to the sun, and steep scrambles. I will admit that I blue-blazed around the most famous scramble (I had just road walked an extra mile and change from Palmerton and figured I’d done enough).
The Lenape lands taught me to be patient and to take on the big stuff slowly and methodically. I’ll always be thankful for that.
A Goblin’s Life
Whenever I wasn’t thinking about my ankle pain or frustration with the trail, I was thinking of my own identity and place in the world. Truth is, central PA is not an area where I felt particularly safe. A few of the trail adjacent communities gave me sundown town vibes. I woke up one morning to another hiker screaming homophobic slurs and watching conspiracy videos with no headphones. It was rare that I was willing to be openly queer in town or on trail. Nevertheless, I found short term kinship with people I passed by and many trail angels that I met in person or only know via the aid they anonymously left behind. A special shoutout goes to Borderline at the 501 Shelter, who provided me and another flip-flopper a lunchtime foot bath with Epsom salt.
While some will argue in bad faith that everyone’s walking the same path and therefore identity doesn’t matter, the reality is the AT can accentuate things about yourself and make you stand out. (Whispering: that’s why it’s such fertile ground for self-discovery). People I’d see again and again started noticing particular quirks: my tendency to fidget about and talk to myself, and a mischievous demeanor. According to one man, I was almost like a goblin.
Wait a damn second.
THERE’S THE TRAIL NAME, Y’ALL! Pretty fitting for a quirky nonbinary fella if you ask me.
But I digress. We aren’t done with PA yet.
Finding Home in the Delaware Water Gap
The final downclimb in Pennsylvania actually reminded me a lot of the hikes I’d do in college at Clemson. There were big ravines, rhododendron tunnels, lots of streams, and oh the humidity. So it’s fitting that I felt so at home in the town of Delaware Water Gap.
The town itself wasn’t very big, but it had all I needed. I stayed at the Presbyterian church off trail and got a quality shower, did a jigsaw puzzle, and recharged. They even had a guitar in the hostel that I got to play; I really missed making music.
I felt like an absolute royal in town. I saw a show at the country’s oldest jazz club, hung around at the local bakery, and had what may end up being one of my favorite trail town meals: an Okonomiyaki and a glass of sake at Sango Kura.
All of this to say, despite the frustrations and hazards I faced the weeks before, I rolled into town happy. I felt at home. And if I can feel at home in some random town in the Poconos, I can feel at home anywhere.
One more time: smell you later, Rocksylvania. Here’s to better states.
Coming Soon From the Trail Mixtape
- The unique campsites along the trail in New Jersey and New York
- I desperately try to keep my pants from falling down
- Good times in cold rain
- When bugs attack!
- The literal lowest point
Photos my own. Trail updates are posted as I’m able to write them. Subscribe to my Trek blog via email and follow me on Instagram at the links below. Stay shiny, friends.
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