Hiking Through Smoke on the Appalachian Trail
Bama➡️Baxter Day 103&104
Day 103: 24.5 miles
This morning I woke up around 6:30 a.m. and packed up slowly. Sweet Pea did the same but Boosted was knocked out. Once I was packed up, I enjoyed the luxury of a bathroom with running water. I couldn’t resist brushing my teeth at a sink. And when I got back Boosted still wasn’t up. So we gave his tent a shake and told him that we were both already packed up and ready. That sure got him moving. Not long after that he was ready as well and we set out.
The morning really flew by once we got going. We passed loads of day hikers over the first few miles of the morning. Some stopped to talk to us about thru-hiking and what not. Once we had gone about six miles we decided to stop off at a shelter to take a break. The air quality was pretty bad today once again because of the smoke from the Canadian wildfires. A healthy air quality rating is around 50 or less, but the air quality where we are is around 100 today. I’ve certainly hiked in worse though. Hopefully it won’t get much worse as the week goes on.
While we were at the shelter, I ate something and did some stretching. Sweet Pea played RuneScape on his phone, which was hilarious. I used to love that game on the computer when I was younger. During our time at the shelter, Boosted was looking at the Far Out app and realized that there were a couple different roads up ahead that we could take into town. Originally we were planning to resupply first thing tomorrow morning. But Roxy was a little low on dog food. So we decided that we’d pop into town today off of a road in nine miles. Once we decided that, all of us were excited at the prospect of town food today.
After spending a while at the shelter, we continued on. We did a quick and easy five miles to a water source, where we took a quick break. All of us topped off on water and chilled for a few. Then we pushed on to get to the road to hitch into town.
When we popped out at the road, we sat around for a few and took off our packs. Then we began trying to hitch a ride into Waynesboro, PA. After just a few minutes a guy pulled over for us. He said that he couldn’t fit all of us in his car, but that he had a truck at home that could fit us. So he drove back home to switch cars! All so that he could drive us into town. That was so unbelievably nice of him. He drove us all over to the dollar general in Waynesboro, which was next to a deli. We got food from the deli for lunch and sat outside to eat. Then I resupplied at the dollar general before we headed back out.
Once we were all ready to go, we began walking down the road and hitching. The road we were trying to hitch from was really busy and the speed limit was 50 MPH, so it was a tough hitch. About ten minutes in, a lady pulled over and told us that she knew someone who could give us a ride! She didn’t have the space in her car, but someone she knew helped hikers here and there. So she gave him a call and he came to pick us all up.
It only took about 15 minutes for him to arrive and then he packed us all into his car and drove us back to trail. When we got dropped back at the trailhead it seemed like the air quality was even worse than earlier. There was a steep climb to start once we got back. It felt even harder to me because of the smoke. Once we got to the top of the climb, we did a short side trail to an overlook. There was a parking area up there, so tons of people had driven up for the view. The rocky overlook was covered in graffiti, but it actually looked pretty cool.
The three of us enjoyed the view for a bit and then kept on walking. There was a steep descent coming off the top of the overlook. The terrain was pretty rocky so it was slow going for a while. You had to use your hands on occasion to slowly lower yourself down along the rocks. It felt like the trail was welcoming us into Pennsylvania early!
After a couple of miles we passed by a picnic area and couldn’t resist stopping off for a break. There were bathrooms with running water, so I washed my hands, which felt great. Then we filled up our water bottles and chilled for a bit before we kept going.
Only about a half mile after we left the picnic area, we crossed yet another AT milestone! We officially crossed the Mason Dixon Line, leaving Maryland and entering into Pennsylvania. We’re in the North now, baby! We took a bunch of pictures there at the sign and the guys drank some tequila. The air quality was still terrible too, so of course we smoked a cigarette there at the sign.
Then we continued walking towards our camp site for the night. We weren’t far now. It was only a mile or so away, so we were there in a flash. The sites were right by a river and were perfectly flat. All of us found a good spot to set up. Once I had everything set up, I laid in my tent to stretch. Then I joined the guys outside to eat dinner. I still had a half a sandwich from earlier, so I ate that for an easy dinner. And after I while I retreated back to my tent to call it a night.
Day 104: 20 miles
This morning when I woke up, the air quality was notably worse than yesterday. When I checked the air quality index, it was around 190, which was way higher than yesterday. A score between 150-200 is categorized as “unhealthy for sensitive groups” and anything above 200 is considered unhealthy. The weather app was suggesting that anyone in areas with an air quality index above 150 should abstain for outdoor activity.
With that in mind, we packed up and set out to do a long day of outdoor activity! Nothing like 12 hours of hiking when you’re not suggested to be outside at all. The first handful of miles that we did in the morning definitely dragged on. I could certainly feel the effects of the poor air quality. My energy levels were a lot lower than usual. I kept thinking about the Pacific Crest Trail last year and the constant battle of avoiding wildfire. When I planned to do the AT this year, I was so happy that I didn’t have to worry about wildfires. And yet here we are! The air quality is much worse north of us along the trail, so we’ll just have to hope that it blows out in the days to come.
About seven miles into the day, we stopped off at a shelter to take a break. I ate some snacks and stretched. We kept joking around about the smoke and how bad it was. You have to make the most of whatever situation you’re in. Laughing things off is all that I know how to do.
After our break, we continued along and planned to stop at the next shelter, which was about six miles away. The trail has been super moderate lately with just the occasional short climbs. Time really flew by and when we were only a couple miles from a shelter a hiker going south stopped us. He told us that there was trail magic a mile or so ahead at a picnic area! So we decided to stop off there rather than going to the shelter.
In the picnic area, a guy named Tycoon was set up with hot dogs grilling, sodas, and a bunch of other goodies. He apparently comes out this time of year multiple days a week, and does trail magic for a month or so. He’s been coming out for years too! It’s so cool to meet people like that who are so invested in the trail and its community. All of us sat and enjoyed a few hot dogs, soda, and snacks. It was such an awesome break. I ate so many dogs and had a couple sodas. That was fantastic.
We hung out there for a while and then continued along. There were only ten miles left until we arrived at a road with a BBQ restaurant nearby! All of us were feeling quite motivated by the idea of delicious BBQ food. Once we got back to walking, we wound up pushing out 7.5 miles before breaking. We reached a spur trail to a shelter and decided to break there. The shelter was a ways off trail, so we didn’t want to walk all the way down to it. The spur was a perfectly nice place to take a break though. Everybody chilled out for a bit there before we set out to do the last 3.5 miles.
BBQ food was calling our names, so the last few miles flew on by. Before we knew it, we were at the road that we could take down to the restaurant. We arrived around 3:00 p.m., and luckily the place still had plenty of food. They are only open until the food sells out, so it can be a bit unpredictable.
At the BBQ restaurant, we all ordered loads of food and got comfortable. I plugged my electronics in to charge because I figured we’d be there for a while. I order Mac n cheese, baked beans, and a half rack of ribs. I’ve been craving BBQ for a while, so I was stoked. Everything was so delicious! And the icing on the cake was that the owner wound up making a full rack of ribs by accident instead of a half rack. So I wound up with a mountain of ribs and plenty to share.
While we were there eating and hanging out, I was messaging on Instagram with another hiker, Gasket. He hiked the PCT in 2017 and he yo-yo’d the PCT last year, but our paths never crossed either time. Not he is yo-yo-ing the AT this year and is getting close to where we are at on trail. And it turns out, he is going to catch up to us today. So I told him that we would be staying at the next shelter past the road from the BBQ place and he said he’d stay there too so we can all hang out.
We didn’t wind up leaving the restaurant until around 5:00 p.m. There were only 2.6 miles to go, and we decided to drag out asses as slowly as we could to get there. All in all, we stopped off two or three times along such a short stretch of trail. At the first break, I made my Bama to Baxter 1,500-mile marker. I passed 1,500 miles some time yesterday but never actually took the time to make a marker, as always. So here I am making it later.
All of us sat around at a picnic table for a little while before continuing on. Those two miles sure weren’t going to walk themselves. We wound up sitting down another time at least before arriving at the shelter around 6:30 p.m. That was the laziest stretch of miles that we’ve ever done. It was pretty funny, honestly.
When we got to the shelter, there was plenty of space for us to set up. It was one of the nicest shelters that I’d ever seen. There were two separate small shelters connected by an over hanging porch. There were only people in one of the shelters so the three of us wound up getting our own! Each shelter only had space for about three people. Any more would have really been pushing it.
All of us got set up, and not long after, Gasket arrived. It was so cool to actually meet him in person. We’ve had each other on Instagram for a while but have never met in real life. He actually works in Colorado too with a friend of mine from high school, which is some funny small world stuff. He dropped his stuff and we all hung out at the shelter for the rest of the night. Sweet Pea had tequila and Gasket had nic vapes, so it was quite the night for sure.
All of us stayed up for a while telling stories, joking around, and just shooting the shit. It was a really awesome night for sure. Around 9:30 p.m., we all decided to call it a night. We’re trying to have an early day tomorrow and get some solid miles in.
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