No Half Gallon Challenge (5/18, 5/19, 5/20)

Day 82, 5/18: Birch Run shelter -> James Fry shelter (17.1 miles)

This morning I woke up around 5:30 and deflated my pad inside my hammock, which is the international, “I’m getting up” hiker sound. Usually the cold floor or hammock bottom forces me up, but since it was still so warm, I fell back asleep. I woke up an hour later and got up to make breakfast. We talked with Van Grizzle, Nomad, Crazy Tree, and a latecomer last night, Antman. I was on the trail by 8:00 with Rash and Piñata not far behind me. We met up at the official halfway point and Crazy Tree took our picture.

Officially halfway done

The area with the sign, Dead Woman’s Hollow, was unimpressive. We didn’t stay long. Rash, Piñata, and I hiked at a good pace with the Half Gallon Challenge in mind. There is a store right on the AT where if you can finish a half gallon of ice cream, you’re awarded with a wooden spoon. We didn’t want to participate in the challenge so much as we really wanted burgers and fries. I was really sick of hiker food and have been craving a burger for a few days. We stopped at the shelter a few miles before the store and relaxed for a few minutes from the heat. Van Grizzle, Antman, and Crazy Tree trickled in.

The temperature was steadily increasing all morning, and it reached a peak when we had to walk on the road for 100 yards to get to the store. The heat was reflecting off the black asphalt and was unbearable. We see Van Grizzle in the distance, sitting at a table, eating something. We’re almost there and we can’t wait. As we approached though, something was wrong. He was eating hiker food and no one had ice cream. The hikers informed us the sign on the door said the store was closed during the week until mid-May. Since it was May 18th, and that more than qualifies as mid-May, I was furious. I hadn’t snacked all morning on purpose waiting for this burger I imagined was in my future and I was more than a little hangry. The other hikers already there shared my indignation.

Our sad no ice cream faces

We had done 10 miles and had 7 left, but it was the hottest part of the day, so we hung out on the store patio for a few hours. Hikers came through, each one sharing in our sadness of not being able to participate in the famous Half Gallon Challenge. We met some interesting people: Norm (an experienced hiker finishing his triple crown), No Rush (an animated man in his early 50’s who hikes 5 miles a day), and we also had Antman, Crazy Tree, and Nomad from the last shelter. As we were packing up, Honey Badger and Mots came in. Mots finished his 99 mile section and today was his last day.

Left to right: Crazy Tree, Norm, Nomad, and Antman

Mots and Honey Badger

We went to visit the AT museum before it closed. It was small, but packed full of history about the AT. It talked about Benton McKaye, Earl Shaffer, and Grandma Gatewood, among others that made the trail what it is today. It was humbling to walk through the history of the shelters on the trail, see old Katahdin sign, and see how the trail had changed over the years.

The outside of the museum building. The museum is part of the first floor.

We stayed in the museum for as long as we could, but at 4:00 we decided it was time to hike. The last 7 or so miles flew by, and besides the occasional rocky part, was mostly flat and dirt. We filled up on water at the base of the blue blaze by a stream with a bridge, and while bending down to get water, Rash found a geocache under the bridge. I used my bandana to wash the accumulated dirt off my legs in the stream. I’ve been using sunscreen and the dirt and dust stubbornly stick to it. 2 ladies hiking who we saw go up the blue blaze came back down because they thought they went the wrong way for the shelter. The shelter was 0.2 off trail but it felt longer because it was uphill. Antman came to the water and we climbed the long 0.2 to the shelter.

Eating dinner

We found a hiker in the shelter who asked us for weed (we didn’t have any to his disappointment) and we made dinner. After fantasizing about a burger all day and then being disappointed, hot food tasted delicious. All 3 of us hung our hammocks and we were on rain alert for the first hour or so. I hung my Christmas lights for the first time. Rash waited until dark to snap a really awesome picture with his good camera. I spent the evening texting my mom since I had great service before falling asleep.

Christmas lights on my hammock (photo by Kris Mast)

Day 83, 5/19: James Fry shelter -> Carlisle, PA (20 miles)

We took a while getting out of our hammocks this morning. We finally got on the trail around 8, and Rash and Piñata stopped for water at the bottom of the blue blaze trail. I hiked ahead. There were a few short, steep climbs this morning and even though it was morning it was hot and humid, and I was sweating. I went through the rock maze which wasn’t terrible. At one point I jumped down off a rock to walk in between 2 large rocks, and the trail went over a rock in front of me that was eye level. I couldn’t physically pull myself up, so I backtracked 10 feet and scrambled up a steep part.

Tall rocks of the rock maze

I didn’t stop at the shelter midway for lunch, and I left Rash and Piñata a note on a leaf. I was feeling good hiking and wanted to make it to Boiling Springs for lunch. I hiked through meadows and fields of wheat, and at one point it started raining while it was still sunny.

Leaf note

Fields of wheat were impressive

Wheat up close

I made it to Boiling Springs which is a beautiful town. Out of all the trail towns we’ve been to, Boiling Springs has been the best. I waited at the ATC mid Atlantic regional office talking to Norm and Antman until Rash and Piñata showed up. We went to the bistro in search of a burger and ice cream cone for lunch.

ATC mid Atlantic regional office

Long awaited lunch burger

I also got a replacement yellow tag since mine fell off on Little Hump Mountain when it was so windy. I filled up my water bottles, and Rash and Piñata left to start the 8 miles we had left to meet my parents. The weather was still hot but the hike was mostly in the shade. Those 8 miles were insanely flat and beautiful. If I ever come back to hike part of the trail again, this would be high on my list.

Meadows and farm houses

We came to the bridge that crosses route 11 and Piñata shared her goldfish with me and Rash while we waited for my parents. After loading our packs up, we headed to Walmart for resupply then to the hotel. It was late for hiker time, after 8:00, but we were hungry so we made a quick dinner to McDonald’s across the street. We were all 3 exhausted so we didn’t take long to settle in for the night.

Bridge crossing route 11 in Carlisle

Dad pushing the cart full of our resupply

Day 84, 5/20: Carlisle, PA -> Cove Mountain shelter (13.6 miles)

It took us a while to get out of bed and go to breakfast this morning in the hotel. Mom and dad were already there when we got to the buffet. It wasn’t like a regular breakfast buffet. This one was fancier with linen napkins and servers to get drinks, but the food tasted similar to regular hotel buffets. Rash, Piñata, and I had multiple courses of cereal, bacon, eggs, yogurt with toppings, and cinnamon raisin bagels with cream cheese.

We went back to the room and packed up slowly. We bought a ton of food and it was difficult to fit it all in our packs. Despite having tons of food, it won’t last more than a couple days. I feel like my appetite is still increasing at an alarming rate. My regular dinners are Annie’s mac and cheese with salmon packets or beef chow mein with sugar snap peas. For lunch I eat multigrain bread and butter or tuna packets. For snacks I have cosmic brownies (which I call atomic brownies), peach rings, toffee peanuts, fruit snacks, honey buns, ritz cheese crackers, and cashew cookie Lara bars.

Mom and dad in the hotel lobby

We checked out of the hotel and saw a wedding party in the entry way with the same colors Louis and I used in ours. Mom and dad dropped us off at the bridge where we left off, and they parked the car at the AT crew center a few miles up the trail. I started down the trail alone and I really didn’t feel like hiking. My pack was heavy, I missed Louis, and I wasn’t feeling it. I stopped and texted Louis for a while and rested on a cattle stile before moving on. I read on one of the AT pages on Facebook that we carry our emotions on our back when we hike. I think that’s a perfect way to describe how hard it is to hike and how much heavier my pack feels when I’m feeling emotionally down. I got out of my slump after talking to Louis and did the rest of the hike without incident.

Most of the morning hiking was through tall grass. Part of it was being mowed by an older man and a boy on a tractor. This was a relief because I already felt like I was covered in ticks from the tall grass.

Freshly mowed path

I passed some hikers and asked if they saw my parents. They said they saw a middle aged couple, the woman looked like she was struggling and the man looked like he was doing fine. I laughed at the mental image that fit my parents. I climbed the small steep hills and met my parents at the top of the second hill, sitting on a log, taking a break. I was impressed and surprised how quickly they’d been hiking today compared to how slowly my mom was going earlier this week. My mom found a cool hawk feather so we gave her the trail name Feather.

Mom with her feather

We hiked the last 3 miles to the shelter together and it was moderately rocky. The blue blazed trail was a steep downhill and we weren’t looking forward to climbing it tomorrow morning. When we got to the shelter we met OD who said Rash and Piñata were getting water. The water was down a very steep 0.1 mile blue blaze trail. Mom, dad, and I gathered our water supplies and headed down the trail. I showed dad how to use the Sawyer as a gravity filter. The climb up made us gasp for breath and I decided that I was only making that climb once.

We made dinner, chatted, and I helped mom and dad set up their tent. Rash and I set up our hammocks in the shelter and Piñata slept on a bunk in the shelter. Thankfully there was a bear box to store our overflow food that we all have from buying too much food at the store.

The porcupine warnings at the shelter

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