Over Halfway There
There have been a lot of big milestones since I last posted; 1000 miles, new states, the psychological halfway point, and also the actual halfway point. It has been a good few hundred miles! I’m currently at trail mile 1398 at the Bear Mountain Inn in New York.
One of the nicest parts of the trip has been all the real-life family time in the last month. First, Rocky’s parents came to visit us when we were in Harper’s Ferry. We had a great night that included lots of pizza and a pool. A few days later, Iron Chef’s dad came to visit and we spent a few days with him between Pine Grove Furnace and Duncannon. He treated us to meals, hotel rooms, and best of all a couple days of slack-packing. Then, when we hit Port Clinton (mile 1214) we spent a couple of days at Rocky’s house with his family. His sister made us a delicious lasagna and we took an absolutely glorious zero day. It’s been fun meeting families of my hiker friends, not only are they so kind, generous, and fun to be around but it’s a reminder that there is in fact life outside of the trail, as bizarre as that seems! Mr. and Mrs. Rocky and Poppa Chef –because I know you read this– THANK YOU!
For most of the period that this post covers I was hiking with the same crew as always, but recently we’ve parted ways. Iron Chef hiked ahead after Port Clinton and is a couple days in front of us, Rocky and Easy Rider are both within 40 miles (or, two days) and Ferris and I are in catch-up mode. I’m confident we’ll all be reunited at some point within the next few weeks. While I am very happy out here, I know I’ve hit a wall and it’s made me a lazier hiker. I just took a couple completely unnecessary zero days, and while I know they’ll set me back it felt like it was what I needed to do. It’s stressing me out to constantly be worried about my deadline, the group, catching up, and doing the trail “right.” Until recently, our group worked out really nicely because we all had similar paces and hiking styles. I’m not exactly sure how or when it happened, but these things have changed. Communication between everyone fell apart and it seems like we all need a bit of space to regroup. I know that a little drifting is natural and it’s a wonder that we all hiked together for so long, but still, I’m mentally at my lowest point yet on the trail, I’m feeling down and I miss the group. I guess all I can do is accept that everyone’s got to hike their own hike and hope for the best.
On a lighter note, the last few states have been great. Since I last posted I finished Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and have a couple days left in New York. Here’s some highlights:
First, I have words to say about Pennsylvania. I was really dreading this state because everyone warns that PA is their 14th favorite state (out of 14). The rocks are supposed to be hell, the sun unbearable, ticks and rattlesnakes abound. However, my experience there was really pleasant! We had decent weather and didn’t have to hike too much over slippery rocks, and for every boulder field there was a long stretch of grassy farmland. I didn’t encounter any rattlesnakes, and to date I’ve only had about two or three ticks that I’ve had to brush off my legs.
I was also shocked about New Jersey. Not that I really had any expectations regarding New Jersey, but man, the terrain there was basically all flat, and we had a lot of beautiful views. Our first night in the state we cowboy camped on top of Kittitany Mountain and saw the sunset and sunrise as we ate wild blueberries that were growing all around us.
New York was unexpected; way rockier than anything PA threw at us. There’s been a lot more technical stuff than we’re used to. I guess the “easy” mid-Atlantic dream can’t last forever!
and now going back a ways in time…
After almost 550 miles we finally finished Virginia! I’m proud of my mileage on this day but this night hike really showed me what my limits are. We got back on the trail from Front Royal at about 11am. By 7:30 we had put in a good 24 miles and it was pouring rain. Instead of stopping (like any reasonable person would do) we decided to try to pull an all-nighter and get into Harpers Ferry around sunrise. I’m not sure if it was the late start, the pouring rain, or the fact that we were night hiking the entire roller coaster (a 14 mile stretch of trail with a series of tightly packed steep ups and downs), or maybe a combination of all these things but needless to say we did not make it the entire 54 miles in one go. We hit the VA/WV border at mile 1002 at 2:22 am. We called it quits at about 3:00am after 37.4 miles. We slept for about four hours and then finished the 16 miles into town. The terrain on the last 16 was really mild but those were my most miserable 16 miles of the trip so far, I was so tired and the balls of my feet were screaming with every step. I absolutely over-did it and I think I learned my lesson.
Harpers Ferry lies at trail mile 1019 and it’s considered the psychological halfway point for the trail, it’s also home of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. These guys are the best, I’m still shocked that the first two people I met turned out to be such important parts of my journey. They’re two of the greatest people I know and if for nothing else, spending over half the trail with them (so far) has made the trip entirely worth it.
Yep. The trail is still beautiful. Mountain Laurel everywhere.
We’re still doing a lot of high mile days, but also really upped our goofing off. Right before the Mason Dixon line Ferris, Easy Rider, and I decided to hitch into Waynesboro PA for dinner and few games of bowling. Afterwards we hitched back to the trail, crossed into Pennsylvania, and night hiked the last 5 miles of a 30 mile day. It’s nice breaking up the day any way we can. There have been a lot of road crossings lately and they have become not just roads but opportunities for adventure; where can we hitch from here, and how easily can I find an orange soda?
The most common question I’m asked out here is “what’s it like hiking with a bunch of guys?” Honestly, the answer I always give is, “it’s been a lot of fun!” These guys really help push me to challenge myself. Being a naturally competitive person I enjoy trying to keep up.
Hiking with boys has made my knowledge of South Park increase ten-fold and I’d say I’m more on point than ever with “that’s what she said” jokes. Overall though, it’s a fun dynamic and 90% of the time I think everybody, myself included, forgets I’m a girl; gender is largely irrelevant…
…That being said, getting a little girl time in was just what I needed! When I got to Harpers Ferry I was able to visit my friend Clare in DC!
The actual halfway point! Halfway to Katahdin and still feeling strong!
Pine Grove Furnace General Store is home of the Half Gallon Challenge where hikers eat a half gallon (actually it’s only 1.5 quarts because ice cream doesn’t come in half gallons anymore) of ice cream to celebrate completing half of the trail. Iron Chef was the first finished in 21 minutes, then Rocky at 23, Ferris at 27, and I finished in 29. Rocky and Ferris both decided to get bonus pints and finished those at around minute 36. Easy Rider got a little over halfway through his ice cream before calling it quits.
We went into NYC on Friday for Ferris and Easy Rider’s 30th and 23rd birthdays. It was more than a little overwhelming to go from the woods to The Big Apple, we spent a lot of the afternoon hanging out in Central Park.
As I said before, we are definitely goofing off a lot more lately, sometimes it works out nicely and we’ll do something fun in town and then get back to the trail with no problems. Sometimes, a trailnado hits us and completely derails our mileage/plans for the day. We’ll decide to hitch into town for dinner, and all it takes is one person to say something along the lines of “hey guys, there’s an Econolodge across the street.” While the intention at first is totally a joke, someone then says “well, I mean, the weather forecast says there’s a chance of rain…” and finally a final voice will chime in, “I mean, I’ll do whatever you guys want to do.” Before you know it, we’re all huddled together on a hotel bed around an iPhone watching Caddyshack, again. I think this behavior is a lot of what led us to split up, and hopefully we’ll get everything under control again soon.
I got new shoes! This is my third pair of shoes but the first one that has fit me right. I can’t believe it took me 1200 miles to find good shoes. Since these Altra’s have come into my life I’ve been flying down the trail. Over the last three months I’ve lost four toenails (and a fifth is coming off any day now), I think I would have saved them all if I had been wearing proper footwear the whole trip. I’m finally learning that shoes make a big difference, seriously.
So that’s all the news from the trail; I’m making good progress, feeling overall good, have gotten distracted lately, and am feeling down about the trail family splitting up. I am still optimistic though that everything will work out for the best.
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