Pennsylvania – Part 2

Day 14 – A Zero Day in Hershey

Day 15 – Duncannon to Peter’s Mountain Shelter

Sometimes I have long, vivid dreams that I remember in great detail upon waking. The last 36 hours felt like a dream, thanks to my sister’s and brother-in-law’s wonderful hospitality. I dreamt that we stayed in a beautiful home, took a walk in a tree-lined neighborhood, drove in a borrowed car to big box stores to replenish supplies (a less-dreamlike part), then went out to dinner with my family. That was Day 14.

When I woke up on Day 15  I found myself on the Main Street of Duncannon, with a 22-pound pack on my back getting ready to head out on the Appalachian Trail. The walk out of town was not at all dreamlike, but instead a sad reality. It revealed a slow-moving portrait of decline and abandonment that has befallen so many American towns and cities, including my own hometown. I was glad to move on.

The trail out of Duncannon crossed the Susquehanna River and a railroad track before marching up a steep slope. It felt like an obstacle course due to the number of fallen trees cutting across it. Once we made it to the top, we continued over more rocky terrain to Peter’s Mountain Shelter. It was the first day that I asked, “are we there yet?”

The tenting area was cramped and full, so we set up inside the shelter. We met a new group of through-hikers who started in Georgia. We learned a lot from them, especially Captain Chaos, who entertained us with his wit and wisdom. The day ended on a happy note.

Day 16 – Peter’s Mountain Shelter to Trailside Camp Site

After an excellent night’s sleep in a quiet, comfortable shelter, we ate breakfast, packed up, did our stretches, and headed out by 7:30. It was a beautiful day. Despite the 1,000 ft climb, the hike was not overly difficult; in fact, there were no punishing rock sections. We ended the 12-mile day relatively early at a trail-side campsite because the next shelter was another 6 miles out. Sometimes the spacing of shelters doesn’t work in hike-sized increments, at least not for hikers who aren’t up for an 18-mile day.

We crossed several streams, one of which was bright orange from a former mining operation at nearby Yellow Springs. It reminded me of a creek that I used to catch minnows in as a kid. One day it was bright orange, and after that, we no longer played in or around it.

The highlight of our day was gathering water and soaping up, thanks to a clever shower that Kevin devised. We hung our CNOC water bag from a tree, but instead of attaching the filter to the end of the drip hose, we attached our Smartwater flip-nozzle cap. It worked great, and it’s always nice when gear can serve more than one function. The water was cold, but not too cold. I didn’t wash my hair, but Kevin did. After that, we had an easy 1.2-mile walk to our tent site. Later Kevin said he was glad I talked him into taking a shower.

Day 17- Trailside Camp Site to Dispersed Camp Site

We did another 12 miles today, the first part of which was fairly easy. At Rausch Creek, we took a long break, where I sat on a rock and submerged my feet for over a minute at a time in the chilly water. The pleasurable sting of cold therapy extends past the return of socks and shoes and into the first half hour or so of hiking.

The trail was laden with shiny, black pieces of coal as it wound up a hill to a former mining village marked only by a wood sign. No streets or structures remained of the place that was once home to about 1,000 people. A crude map carved on the back side of the sign illustrated the location of its houses, roads, and railroad.

Next to the former town, a beaver dam interrupted the trail. We weren’t sure how sloppy the conditions would be and heard a less-than-favorable review, supported by a video clip, from a southbound hiker. We pictured ourselves falling into a muddy, stick-filled swamp and opted for the bypass route. The bypass was actually a construction road of hard-packed, black coal dust. It was built on the elevated bed of the former rail line to the old coal town. The road’s smooth surface and gradual grade allowed us to view up into the surrounding hemlock forest.

After a mile, the bypass reconnected with the trail, which became a rocky climb through a recently charred forest where the trees looked and smelled like charcoal sticks stuck in the ground. Rising temperatures and a hot sun added to the inferno atmosphere.

A little further on down the hill, we ran into a few other hikers and surmised that several were aiming for the same dispersed campsite with limited tent spots. This was yet another campsite without water. Since collecting and filtering water takes time, we decided to split our efforts. Kevin stopped to collect water at a stream while I hustled 0.8 miles toward the already occupied campsite in the hopes of securing a level tent spot. Our efforts paid off, but all the effects of yesterday’s shower were completely gone.

Later, at dinner, we learned that everyone else walked through the beaver dam without any problems. We explained our bypass decision based on the hiker’s video. Propensity and Bees pointed out that the last thing you want to do while walking atop a log in a beaver dam is to film it with your phone. That was a good point. We were sorry we missed the log-jumping adventure.

Day 18- Dispersed Camp Site to Shelter 501

Noise pollution from Interstate 81 dominated the campsite as well as the morning hike. Pictures conceal this aspect of beautiful view spots and forest paths. But it is unfortunately sometimes the case. Other spots are so quiet that a sudden wind creates a ruckus.

By midday, we were outside of the noise corridor and looking forward to Pennsylvania’s luxury shelter in this otherwise low-amenity ridge walk. We reached our destination, Shelter 501, but not without first picking our way through a tedious section of large rocks separated by almost equally large voids.

When it was all over, we connected with several hiker friends, then collectively ordered pizzas from a nearby delivery shop. It was pleasurable to take a cold outdoor shower, charge devices, and sit around a table with pizza and Little Debbies.

Day 19 – Shelter 501 to Dispersed Campsite

The highlight of the day was a stealth shower just before arriving at our campsite and also securing a hotel room at the Microtel in Hamburg, near Port Clinton, for Friday and Saturday night. The Microtel is the only hotel in the area, and previously they were booked solid for the weekend. Lucky for us, there was a cancellation. We were due for a zero day, a resupply, and laundry.

Day 20 – Dispersed Campsite to Port Clinton

On our last day of PA Part 2, we arrived in the old town of Port Clinton, located at the confluence of the Schuylkill and Little Schuylkill Rivers, home of the Reading Blue Mountain and Northern Railroad depot, and home to 881 people. The town was similar to Duncannon in that its setting was physically attractive, but the built environment was faded.

We walked to the northern end of town, where we joined a familiar group of fellow hikers who were tenting at the local church pavilion and park.

The park fronted the Little Schuylkill River, where we sat and soaked and even (sort of) cleaned up. The water wasn’t deep enough for a swim, but I managed to float on my stomach above the rocks.

Our friend Porcupine is thru-hiking with the support of his wife, Mrs. T, who lives out of their comfy converted Dodge Ram van.

They graciously made dinner for the group, then shuttled us to our hotel on the outskirts of Hamburg, the highway intersection/ non-town that has replaced Port Clinton.

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