Moving North through Pennsylvania

I am well into Pennsylvania having hiked through the southern part of the state. My total mileage is approaching 200, so good progress but a long way to go. Overall I’m happy and my body is holding up well so far, something I can’t take for granted.

The Landscape

Early on in PA, the trail crosses the Cumberland Valley and parts of the trail are through or adjacent to farm land. Thereafter, the trail climbs and mostly stays on a ridge top, broken occasionally by moderate to steep drops into gaps. See the picture below of one of the steepest of these gaps into Duncannon where the Susquehanna River passes.

The trail mostly passes through forest with occasional scenic outlooks. These are highly dependent on the weather as we’ve had some rainy overcast days when the ridge tops are socked in the clouds. Surprisingly, the forest does not always appear healthy as the trail passes through tracts that have burned recently or in the past. If there is an abundant deer population, they can suppress regeneration and you end up with a thin forest filled with hay-scented fern. See picture below with recently burned trees, ferns, and clear cutting in the background. So while I love the forest, it ain’t always beautiful. One more thing I wanted to add that seems to be common in PA is the tunnel of Mountain Laurel or Rhododendron that sometimes lines the trail. See the second photo down for an example.

Shout out to Trail Angels

A trail angel is someone who helps hikers with treats, an offer of lodging, a ride, or any of a number of different things. The deeds they perform are called trail magic and these acts often occur as a surprise. I was very surprised a couple of days ago to encounter Jinx’s Trail Magic van. Jinx is a woman who parks her van once a week at an AT hiker lot and offers food and supplies to hikers. She has all kinds of food and supplies including homemade brownies, Gatorade, fresh fruit, and even packets of Spam. Even though it was only 9:30 am, Jinx offered to make me a root beer float. Of course I accepted. Thank you Jinx and all other trail angels for all that you do. See picture below of Jinx and I.

Watch where you Step

Yesterday afternoon I was hiking along when I nearly stepped on an Eastern Timber Rattlesnake. See the picture below. They like to sun themselves so us hikers need to be especially careful in sunny sections of the AT. Luckily, I saw this snake in time and walked a wide avoidance circle. The day before my incident, Ghost Hiker encountered an even bigger rattler and came close enough to get a hissed warning. Getting bitten by a rattler out in the woods would be tough. I’m told that death is rare but one can expect to be severely sick for many hours.

Living on the Edge

I wanted to share one more experience before closing this blog post. I’d read about and been told that there are folks out on the trail who otherwise might be homeless. I met a couple at one shelter who were clearly struggling. They had no money, very little food, and were very underequipped (no sleeping bags). They were very nice and talked about finding some work in upcoming towns. I gave them some food that I could spare and let them use my stove to make coffee. I’m not passing judgement here but only point out some of the folks one may encounter on the trail. There has been at least one other similar person I’ve met on the trail. All we can do is try to ease their journey as we can.


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Comments 3

  • Serena I Benson : May 10th

    Hi Doug.

    We love your posts. You’re a very good writer. The content is interesting and varied and the photos really help tell the stories. The ups and the downs, sometimes literally.

    Scott and I are in Charlottesville now and credit Scott’s visit with you ages ago with our move here. We hiked in Shenandoah National Park yesterday, crossing the AT, and thought about you. Please let us know how we can intersect with you if that’s something that would work out.

    You’re going great. The posts come to our email so we won’t miss any.

    Congratulations on realizing a lifelong dream.


  • Robin Robinson : May 10th

    Wow, Doug! It’s so great to read these posts, to hear how you’re doing and what you’ve experienced. Yay for the trail angel & root beer float, and yay, also, for avoiding 🐍!! Keep hanging in there; will hope for good weather and continued safety & trail angels! 😇

  • Anna : May 11th

    Your interest and kindness toward folks without resources on the trail is a very special form of Trail Magic. The AT has so much to teach.


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