Life on the Trail – Continued

Where are you now?

This morning I am sitting at a computer at the Econolodge in Harper Ferry, WV. Over the past five days I hiked almost 100 miles. Yesterday, I came into town, had lunch at a restaurant, then hiked to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy headquarters where they were holding a package that I had mailed to myself from Boiling Springs, PA. This box contains the remaining food from two boxes that I prepackaged and Becky mailed to me, one to Duncannon, PA and one to Boiling Springs, PA. There are two problems with the food that I prepackaged. First, it is just too heavy, and second, I am tired of the things that I sent.

I had planned to put that food in my food bag, pack up and be back on the trail this morning, but  after evaluating what I have (both appeal and quantity) for the next 8 – 9 days, I decided that I need to do a resupply at Walmart. I found out that the local bus will take me to a Walmart about 15 minutes away. I am going to stock up on freeze-dried foods (Mountain House) because it is very light weight and I still like them. I will use some of the food on hand, but will forward some of it on to Waynesboro, VA, where I will resupply again. The box that I am forwarding will also contain some extra items (hand sanitizer, batteries) and some clothes that I will not need until I get to Waynesboro. Basically, I am trying to lighten my load right now while anticipating cooler weather and knowing that I will soon need to add some cold weather clothing.

Today I will take a zero – that means I will not be hiking on the AT at all today. Tomorrow I will get an early start and continue my trek south.

Trail Legs, Terrain, or Both?

In Maine and New Hampshire, I averaged about 9 miles per day (including zeros). Since then, I have averaged 14 miles per day. Over the past five days, I proved that I can consistently do 20 miles per day (at least for a few days). I am sure that younger folks scoff at this with their 26 or 30 mile days, but my knees and hips are old and need gentler treatment.

I know that my legs have become stronger. That’s what day after day of hiking with a 25 – 30 pound pack does. But, a lot can be said for the change in terrain. The ascents are not as great as they were in Maine and NH. Some complain about the rocks in Pennsylvania, but I have not found them to be any worse than Maine and NH, plus the terrain is flatter.

Boots Make a Difference

When I got to Port Clinton, PA, the boots I was wearing were worn out. The soles were peeling off and I could feel sharp rocks poking into my feet. I went to Hamburg, PA and got a new pair of Danner boots. By the time I got to Duncannon, 70 miles down the trail, my feet hurt so bad, I was limping on both feet. The Danners dug into my feet at several pressure points and almost crippled me.

On Labor Day, my niece, Laura, drove 2 hours from her home and took me back to Cabela’s in Hamburg (another 2 hours round trip) so I could exchange the boots. Cabelas gave me a refund for the muddy, wet boots with no questions asked. I got a pair a Keen boots, and they feel great, but I still have a couple sore spots from the Danner boots.

I really appreciated Laura being there for me and sacrificing her Labor Day Holiday to spend with me. We had breakfast and lunch together and had a lot of time to visit and talk during the drive. Then we went for a hike together on the AT through the streets of Duncannon.

Solo Hiker

Old Timer and I hiked more or less together for 700 miles. He was faster than I was, so he ended up at the next shelter before me every day. Unfortunately, he had to leave the trail due to a leg injury and will not be able to return this year. He plans to finish the trail as a section hiker over the next couple years.

I am alone most of the days while hiking. Sometimes at shelters, I run into people I’ve previously met and we catch up on who is still on the trail and where they are. I do not mind being alone and do not feel the need for companionship. At several of the shelters I have been alone at night and have enjoyed the solitude. It is really quiet – no snoring (other than my own) and no rustling on squeeky air mattresses.


When I first started, I thought that I would set up my tent every night. I have found that I like the convenience of the shelters, and sleep in one just about every night. Shelters, also known as lean-tos, are basically three walls and a roof. Some are more elaborate with a two decks for sleeping or bunk-like structures to get hikers off of the floor. But mostly, you sleep on the floor.


There are supposed to be a lot of poisonous snakes (copperheads and rattlesnakes) in NY and PA, but, although others have reported seeing them, I have not yet seen one. I did hear a rattlesnake a few days ago. I was speedily hiking along the trail when I realized that I had walked past a rattling rattler. After I passed, the rattling stopped. I stopped for a moment, thinking that I would look back, and the rattling resumed. I took the hint and kept going.

Dogs on the Trail

A lot of people have dogs on the trail. I think they should all be on leashes. It protects the dogs as well as the people (at least one dog was bitten by a copperhead this year).

  1. A German shepherd came toward me and stopped 10 feet in front of me, growling and not wagging its tail. The owners not yet visible around the curve in the trail, so I stop. They come around the curve: Owner says, “He’s friendly, he won’t hurt you.” I reply, “When a big dog runs toward me growling, it scares me. He needs to be on a leash.” Owner: no reply.
  2. Another day – A yellow mix dog ran toward me. The owner said, “He’s friendly, he won’t hurt you.” So I put down my hand so the dog could sniff it (the way we are taught)….and he bites me. I said, “he bit me.” Owner: “He doesn’t bite, he’s just mouthing.” Me: “He broke the skin, I’m bleeding, that’s a bite.” Then I made a big deal of getting out antiseptic and spraying the wound. Me: “He really needs to be on a leash.” Owner: “He’s just mouthing, I don’t know why he is doing that.”
  3. Yet another day – Dog ran up to me barking and I put out my trekking poles to stop its advance. Owner says, “She won’t hurt you.” I reply, “I’ve heard that before. Just the other day, the owner said that and the dog bit me.” Owner said “That’s your problem.” I retorted,”You are my problem. The only thing worse than a poorly trained dog is a poorly trained dog owner. Your dog needs to be on a leash.” Owner: no reply.
  4. And yet another – Big Dog, on leash. Me: “Is that an Akita?” Owner: “Yes.” Me: ” I heard you tell those other people to not pet him.” Owner: “Yes, I don’t think that he would bite, but he really does not like strangers petting him.” Me: “Big dogs like that can be intimidating.” Owner: “Yes, that is why we always keep him on a leash.” Me: “Thank you.”



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Comments 4

  • stealthblew : Sep 13th

    Wow! My experience in the past has been that most everyone hiking distance with dogs comes to realize over a short time how difficult and demanding the trail is on their pets. Unless the dog is in the prime of his life (around 2 years of age) they start to getting run down over time. Loss of weight and problems with pads are just a couple of issues they face. Most dogs also struggle when a pack is placed on them. I would not be surprised if most of these pets were chaperoned by section or day hikers.

    My advice would be to always be ready to use your hiking sticks when confronted with an aggressive dog to keep it a bay. No not need to poke the dog unless it charges into the sticks… only have to keep it at a safe distance until the owner arrives. Kudos for confronting these owners about their offending pets. The truth is that there is no place on the trail for aggressive animals….even on a leash!

    Your restraint concerning the dog which bit you was remarkable as many would have demanded ID information and reported the incident to the authorities when in town. After all, who knows how many other people this dog either has or will ‘mouth’ again somewhere else on the trail.

    But always remember, that some of these folks may be more concerned about their enjoyment with their pet than the safety of others. Who knows, they may figure, “I will probably never see that fellow again so …who cares…I am having a blast with Fido.” Or even worse, “Who is that hobo bothering my dog?”

    Always remember, when confronting a dog on the trail one is also confronting his owner too. Consequently, great care should be taken when addressing these issues.

  • Steve Roberts : Sep 22nd

    Hi Tom

    I went to Seminole High School with you. Because of the fifty year reunion, I joined the SHS facebook group and was looking at profiles when I saw yours, which led me to this blog.

    I completed the AT in 2015 and hope you are having as great an experience as I had and wanted to wish you the best of luck on the rest of your hike.

    • Tom Abel : Nov 27th

      I remember you, Steve. Congratulations on your hike in 2015. I finished yesterday at noon. Gay Robertson Reed and her husband, Steve, picked my daughter (she joined me in Franklin to hike the last 110 miles) and me up at the USFS42 parking area and let us stay at their cabin last night. They are also going to give us a ride to Griffin, GA, where my daughter’s truck is parked.
      I’ll do a summary post when I get home and have time to reflect.

  • Mike Underwood : Nov 26th

    Congratulations on your accomplishment, Tom!


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