Into the North
It’s been less than 500 miles since I wrote last, but it feels like time for another update––so here we are!
Harpers Ferry and Maryland
Arriving at Harpers Ferry and the “psychological halfway point” of the AT was every bit as satisfying as I imagined it to be. Patches and I got our photos taken at the ATC, lodged in a comfy hotel room, and prepared to keep walking north. It was a strange feeling to continue, in a way, because for months I had only been focused on getting to Harpers Ferry. Then, all of a sudden, I was there––and it was time for a shift in perspective as we continued hiking.
We didn’t spend much time in town; we were there just long enough to eat at a bar and visit with friends, hang out at the Conservancy, and check out the historical park. It was hot the day we left, summer finally settling in, so we did just a few miles out of town.
As soon as we crossed the Potomac and entered Maryland, we were greeted with three miraculous miles of flat trail along an old railroad track. It ended, though, like all good things, but the hill leading up to the first Maryland shelter wasn’t as bad as I was expecting. Our first night in Maryland was also the first night that our entire tramily was reunited: Krazy Glue returned from three days in Washington, DC, and Hermione and Slouch caught up to us after being just behind us since the beginning of Shenandoah. It was a fun and satisfying night, all sitting together at the shelter, excited to be past the psychological first half of the trail.
Maryland was a treat. The trail was well graded, had good views, and frequently passed through state parks with marvelous resources like flush toilets, spigots, and benches. We camped at Annapolis Rocks the second night in the state, all sitting together, cooking, talking, listening to music, as the sun sank behind the trees.
The narrow state was short and sweet, and over in a flash. Though I was loathe to leave it, I was excited to be in the North.
Pennsylvania started out beautiful, with conifer forests and soft trails layered with fir and pine needles. The grade was manageable and we all felt strong, especially as we crossed the Mason-Dixon Line with a huge group of extended trail family. I was happy to be there.
That is, I was happy until we hit Duncannon and crossed the Susquehanna River. That’s when the going got rough. After a late morning in town, enjoying the air conditioning at the fantastic Assembly of God hostel, we got a slow start up an unkempt, rocky hill. From that point forward, the trail in Pennsylvania had brutal steep climbs with few views, swarms of gnats, miles of mud pits, and low-elevation ridges from which the heat refused to move. I was miserable for most of the second half of the state, honestly.
Despite the common moniker of Rocksylvania, it wasn’t necessarily the rocks that bothered me. To be sure, there were sections where it was difficult to walk because of the awkwardly tilted and pointy rocks in the trail, but it was a combination of all the elements of misery that really got to me. I kept thinking, if only there were a view. But there weren’t views. There were rocks and rain and gnats and suffering, and I was happy when we crossed into New Jersey at last.
Despite the misery and all my whining, Pennsylvania wasn’t all bad. We had two memorable weekends with friends and family. First, we visited Slouch’s friend Bernie in Mont Alto. We slackpacked for two days, played with cute kitties, and enjoyed wonderful cooking and hospitality. Second, Patches, Krazy Glue, and I spent a weekend with my aunt and uncle in Kunkletown, near Lehigh Gap. It was Patches’ and my first zero in over a month, and we relished the chance to relax and be clean. And I enjoyed visiting with my aunt and uncle, whom I had not seen in nine years. These weekends kept us from going completely mad in Pennsylvania, and I am very grateful for the hospitality that was shown to us.
To New Jersey and Beyond
Though some warned me that New Jersey was worse than Pennsylvania with its rocks, I was just elated to be out of there. When we crossed the state border on the Delaware Water Gap toll bridge, I felt victorious and excited. Sure, Pennsylvania was technically in the North, but New Jersey really felt North. New Jersey means we’re close to New York City and bagels and delis; New Jersey means we aren’t in Pennsylvania anymore. I welcomed the cross into New Jersey with joy.
Though we’ve been dealing with a heat wave, the trail has been beautiful recently. The hills are rougher than what I got used to in the 220 miles of Pennsylvania, but they are worth the struggle because they pay off: in views, in wetlands and boardwalks in the valleys; in interesting combinations of fields and towns and rocks. It can be difficult to keep upbeat and high energy when the heat index soars over 100, but I am still grateful for the chance to be experiencing this trail, and I look forward to the next 850 miles.
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