Hot, Hot Heat

This has not been a hiking year for me. I keep in shape as I do not own a car and Atlanta has many parks, and many hills. In recent months I have been doing somewhat strenuous physical labor to fill up my hiking fund and that has kept me strong too. I don’t have grand ambitions for 2017, but it would be nice to live in the woods for a month or so again. A long separation from the back country can be frustrating. What’s worse, is staying committed to writing blog posts about the Appalachian Trail when you haven’t set foot on it in months. This requires working from notes and memories, and while embellishment may be part of the writing process, one certainly wants to paint an accurate picture of experience. It is mid July and hot as hell in Atlanta, Georgia. Sometimes it gets so hot at work I sweat bullets. I get so heated up and pumped I flash back to the trail.

I remember two especially hot spells on my 2011 Georgia to Maine hike. One hit me in Pennsylvania. A heat index of over 100 hit me the day I hiked into Boiling Springs. You can stay hydrated, but when the temperatures get like that, especially when the terrain takes you over open ground exposing you to direct sun, you can enter a near hallucinatory state. I was fortunate to meet a southbound section hiker at the ATC office in Boiling Springs, an older man going by the trail name of “Slow Mosey.” We moseyed our smelly, sweaty selves to the local tavern and sat at the bar for sandwiches and sodas. We discovered we had a mutual friend in Kentucky, a talented poet and artist. We split a discounted room at the Allenbury playhouse– it was an evening of quiet reading in air conditioning. In the morning I went north and Slow Mosey went home.

It was only June and the Pennsylvania heat continued. On the way to Darlington Shelter, the temperature that day cracked 100 degrees Fahrenheit as I crossed the Cumberland Valley over much flat, exposed terrain. The heat cooked me all morning as I passed cornfields in the sun. At the busy US 11, I took a siesta at a Dunkin Donuts and the Flying J truck stop. I drank a gigantic frozen soft drink and did laundry while watching daytime TV with wired looking truckers. I headed out after five when the temps dipped below 100 again. The differences between 90, 95 and 100 are increments of misery. I arrived at the shelter with the last vapors of light (after getting caught in an evening thunder storm). There I met True Grit, one of the more remarkable hikers I met on the AT– a baseball umpire destined to become an officer of the United States Park Police. She hung my food bag on a high branch after my repeated failure to do so. That lady had one hell of an arm.

It was hot much of the time across Pennsylvania and New Jersey. I hiked a long spell of it with Delaware Dave, who had been within a day of two of me for months, since Springer Mountain, but never met me– and we were something like doppelgangers of one another. People used to ask me if I was him and vice versa. Dave and I finally met at the Doyle Hotel and spent some fun days hiking to Port Clinton. Across Jersey I hiked with Turnaround, a guy I’d met weeks before in Virginia. I took a week off the trail in New York and dodged some heat indoors, but it was waiting for me when I returned to the trail.

The summer heat in the mid Atlantic states forced me to change my hiking for a while. Where ever possible, I would hike in the morning, take a long siesta during the hottest hours of the day, and make an evening push with the heat receding. The available access to publicly air conditioned spaces in this most population dense and commercially developed section of the AT corridor can provide both refuge from the heat and money-trap. I will never forget camping out back on the shaded grounds of the Blue Mountain Bar and Grill in PA and teaming up with the late John F’n Wayne to beat two euro hikers in a USA vs. Germany horseshoe pitching contest. Fellow New York Mets fan, the hiker Arrow, was there. I think he saw our horseshoe match, if he was sober enough. A hiker can find creative ways to beat the heat, but sooner or later, you have to get out moving in that hot mess again. It ain’t easy sometimes. Especially after a chicken parm sandwich in a room air conditioned to arctic perfection.

The very hottest temperatures I experienced were in Connecticut. Along with the welcoming committee of ravenous mosquitoes, the heat conspired to make one of the briefest states memorably miserable. There was a three day stretch of temperatures well over one hundred. I took the opportunity to take a triplet of zeroes in Salisbury where I stayed with Maria McCabe, one of the legendary trail angels who for years has opened her home to hikers for safe, clean lodging. Salisbury’s library is a castle– I mean it really looks like a castle! It is also well air conditioned. By day, I read Gary Snyder at the library, and at night I read the speeches of George Washington from the extensive library of the late Mr. McCabe. I saw two brave souls, Dutch hikers pressed by visa restrictions, pass up Salisbury in brutal heat. I’m awfully glad I didn’t.

I’ve braved some seriously dangerous cold in the Smokies, on numerous occasions now, but I am not nearly as tolerant of temperatures above 92 Fahrenheit as I am of temperatures below 32. Whether in extreme cold or extreme heat, a hiker should take care not to succumb to the elements. Anticipating water sources and staying hydrated is crucial to hiking in hot summer temperatures. Replacing salt and other minerals is important too. Sometimes the best move is to stop moving and try to cool off. Some people night hike, but I’m not a fan. I was awfully relieved to feel the first cool breezes of northern New England. When it gets so hot in July in Georgia, I start thinking about Maine.

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