Rocks schmocks. We trotted twenty-five miles over what we were told was the beginning of the Pennsylvania rocks and our feet were not more sore than any other day. We were even offered a pop as we relaxed in the grass near the Port Clinton trains, waiting for some friends to whisk us away to their house for a night in a bed.
While most thru-hikers have black flies and mosquitoes buzzing around their heads at all times, Lucky has trail angels fluttering around him. As Nate and I neared the end of our hike that day, a man clearly not dressed for any length of a hike approached us.
“Do you know Lucky?” he asked us.
We confirmed that we did. The man was wondering if Lucky would be coming to town on this night. Those weren’t Lucky’s original plans, but we thought he would push through to town, based on his midday progress. The man turned around and walked back to the parking lot with Nate and me. Then he gave us the pops.
At midday we had caught up to Lucky and pulled over to the side of the trail to eat lunch. Never the best planner, Lucky was stuck eating tuna packets and poptarts. He was lamenting about his lack of candy when Nate pulled out our gallon-sized Ziploc bag bulging with chocolates, fruit chews, mints and bubble gum. Lucky’s eyes lit up. He wasn’t shy about following our instructions of taking as much as he wanted. As a reward, he told us his best story ever!
We talked about how far we would go that night and Lucky was sure he’d abandon his morning plans of stopping at the next shelter, but he wasn’t sure he’d make it all the way to town. With the lack of water sources and good tent sites, and Lucky’s stubborn ways, we thought he’d come all the way.
After consuming our drinks, we put on our camp shoes and limped our stiffened legs another half-mile to where our friends were meeting us. “Would you rather go get a shower or jump off a cliff?” was the first thing they said to us. Nate and I were thrown back. We stood staring at each other for what seemed like minutes. What we really wanted was a shower, but a good cliff jump was not something to be turned down. Thinking of the 1,000-plus miles we had left to hike, we opted for the safe shower. We were tired anyways.
We awoke to the smell of a real breakfast: eggs and toast and fresh-brewed coffee! Not wanting to weigh ourselves down, we warned our hosts not to feed us too much in the morning, knowing we would have eaten everything and anything they offered us. After a quick resupply at Walmart, we said our good-byes and hit the trail, fully refreshed from a wonderful visit.
During our Walmart resupply, we ran into Temper who had spent the night in the town’s park with all of the other hikers we had met at the 501 shelter. She informed us that the trail angel who waited for Lucky actually took the old guy back to his own home! And this morning he was shuttling all of the hikers to the Walmart then back to the trail. She reckoned they wouldn’t get moving again until after noon, so they all planned to stop at the first shelter, making the day a short six miles. Nate and I had planned to get fifteen in.
We arrived at the six-mile shelter after two hours of hiking. It was still before noon, most likely earlier than the other guys were even back on the trail. Needing to empty some of the food from our packs, we sat down for lunch. But we never left.
It started sprinkling just as we finished eating. The log book warned of snakes sleeping in the shelter. Convincing ourselves that we didn’t want to jump ahead of all of our newfound hiking buddies and that we really could use the day of rest, we waited for the sprinkles to dissipate before we set up our tent and climbed inside. We had good cell phone service, good food and a good amount of time. We relaxed.
At around five o’clock Mother Nature and Between stumbled into the shelter. They reported that they were the trail angel’s last drop at the trailhead, and everyone else should have been ahead of them. No one else had stopped at the first shelter. We were a half a day behind the rest of our group! But we did have Mother Nature, Between and a young kid who was also spending the night in the shelter, Bruin.
The trail angel struck again, and this time we learned his name. It was a very hot Mother’s Day and we were making great time when we came across the turnoff for Eckville Shelter, advertised to be better than some hostels found along the AT. Before we stepped on the road, we spotted two bottles of pop, one orange and one Coke, leaned against a rock in the middle of the trail. They were still cold! We opted for the orange, leaving the Coke for a group of weekend hikers we had just passed. As we stood on the side of the trail sharing our beverage, the weekenders caught up to us. They pointed at the Coke, looked around to see who it belonged to, and continued past it.
“That’s for you,” we told them, “It’s called trail magic! Someone left it here for hikers, and it’s still cold!” They hesitated. “Usually trail magic is for thru-hikers, but there is no one behind us, as far as we know. It’ll be warm by the time any other thru-hiker gets here. Drink it!” We couldn’t convince them. As normal and appreciated these kind gestures were to us, the non-thru-hiker wasn’t quite ready to accept a Coke from an unknown source, especially when two stinky vagabonds encouraged them to do so. They left it. So did we. Maybe someone else was behind us.
When we got to the Eckville Shelter, Between was lounging on an old bench seat that had been taken out of a van, munching on a bag of potato chips. Mother Nature was walking back to the shelter, her hair wet from the indoor shower. Knowing that we had more miles to hike, Nate and I opted to not take showers. We’d just get sweaty five minutes down the trail. After eating lunch, attempting to chat with the shelter caretaker and learning that the trail angel’s name is Iceman, we continued on our way.
We weren’t on the trail for long when we passed a couple going the opposite way. The woman looked like she had a secret to tell.
“Which trail are you guys headed to?” her male companion asked us.
“We’re taking the AT to Maine!” Nate told him.
The couple released a sigh of relief. “There’s a giant black snake on Haw Mountain Trail, just ahead.”
“We’ll make sure to stick to the white blazes, then,” I assured them.
A few hours later we stopped for the day at Allentown Shelter. It was supposed to be a beautiful night so Nate and I set up our tent instead of sharing the shelter with a few European guys who were spending a month hiking the Appalachian Trail. I got the sleeping pads and sleeping bags in order while Nate joined everyone at the shelter to cook dinner. Mother Nature was sharing some German candy her husband had sent her and Between. Nate accepted piece after piece. When he came back to me with dinner prepared he told me Mother Nature had given him a piece of German toffee. He was beyond impressed, “This is the best thing my lips have ever tasted…..and my lips don’t taste!”
It was a long, hot day. Leaving the shelter we missed the sign for the spring, so we hiked the first six miles without water. We were parched when we reached the turnoff for a campsite, 0.2 miles down a steep mountainside to a cleared-out area where we could hear water running, but could not see it. Nate threw down his pack, grabbed our water bottles and didn’t come back until he had found the source. Meanwhile, I made us some peanut butter, raisin and cheese tortillas.
Before our hike we had planned to spend a night at Bake Oven Knob Shelter. It wasn’t very far from Philadelphia and I had to travel back to school for a meeting that my advisors claimed was impossible to do over the phone (it would have been possible). Nate and I considered making small packages to leave there for one another, to be hidden and found when we reached this shelter along the trail (I’ve since learned that Nate was going to hide the engagement ring here! What was he thinking?!?). We never did this, though, because on the night we thought we would winter camp, temperatures reached below zero. I’m so glad the weather dissuaded us.
The hike from the parking lot to the shelter is a pile of jagged rocks littered with trash and tattooed with graffiti. The shelter itself was less stable than a rain-soaked cardboard box, covered in vandalism and with a large pile of trash in one corner. We minimized our time there.
We finally caught up to Mother Nature and Between just tenths of a mile before the road to Palmerton. They were going to stay in a shelter that smelled suspiciously like an animal had crawled underneath the floorboards and died. We felt bad for them when we found a few wonderful tentsites just beyond the shelter, but they were too far away to go back up the mountain, and they had already set up camp within the shelter. They’d be fine.
Nate and I were excited to be getting out of the woods yet again, this time staying with Nate’s brother’s wife’s aunt and uncle. We had never met them, but as we descending into the parking area and saw Rodger’s friendly face ready to pile two stinky hikers into his truck and take them home, we had no qualms.
Rodger and his wife, Diane, had never hosted a thru-hiker, but they were quite familiar with the like. Involved in the Palmerton city government, Rodger helped run the Palmerton Jail House Hostel. We were ashamed when he told us why the city was forced to close the hostel this year, another case of a few hikers ruining opportunities for the rest of us.
Not having taken a hiker home before, Rodger and Diane knew how to host. We were provided with our own bedroom, steps from the bathroom. They gave us clothes to wear while we washed every item in our filthy hiking getup. There was more food than we could eat: pizza, chips, fruit, macaroni salad and ice cream. In the morning, we had our choice of cereals, danishes, eggs, milk and juice. Rodger drove us to the store for a resupply, then loaded us with Powerades before taking us back to the trail. We are glad to call those two family, even if the relationship is remote!
Superfund is super fun. The rocks afterwards are not. This is where the real rocks begin.
The days prior to our climb up Superfund were the first times we had ever heard about the giant rock slide. Everyone around us wondered what we thought about it, if we would take our packs off, whether or not we were scared, what we would do if it rained and if we planned to tackle it at the beginning, middle or end of our day. Not knowing exactly what Superfund was, we just figured we’d take it as it came.
It came at the very beginning of a beautiful day after a night in a real bed and a resupply. Our packs were heavy. Not only had we just purchased more food, but we were carrying enough liquids to sustain us for the entire day, over sixteen rough miles. Still, we stood at the bottom of the rock slide excited to take it on. Nate is a rock climber, and with his instruction, I was confident that nothing would stop me. And nothing did.
We were slightly worried that being on an exposed incline made of pointed rocks would freak us out, but we were both fine. At a spot where other hikers would take off their packs to climb up with only their body weight then use a rope to hoist their belongings up, Nate propelled himself over the ledges without difficulty. With the desire to not be out-hiked, I refused his helping hand and, much more slowly, lifted myself up the rock slab. When we got to the top, the view matched what we felt: we had conquered the world.
The rest of the hike to Leroy A Smith shelter was long and monotonous. Nate used his cell phone to distract himself from the rocks. He called both his mother and his sister, arranging for a visit with his sister once we reached Connecticut, which we figured we’d do in eleven or twelve days. Lucky for us, the turnoff for the shelter appeared out of nowhere, and we pulled in with just enough water left for dinner. After chatting with fellow thru-hikers Old Blue and Good Kn1ght, the shelter’s caretaker and a group of college-aged hikers who were out for a few days, we set up our tent. Nate left me to finish setting up the interior while he left to get water. We had been warned that the water source at the next shelter was dry, leaving a 19 mile gap between here and the next water. Nate emptied his pack of all of his gear and filled it with every water receptacle we had. Then he started his search for “Spring Number Two,” because everyone reported that spring number one was already dry for the season.
I blew up the sleeping pads. I arranged the sleeping bag. I even checked out my Facebook page and wrote in my journal for the night. Nate was still not back. I pulled out the one bottle of water he had left with me and started cooking dinner, a task Nate usually takes care of. By the time he returned, dinner was cold.
“You’ll never believe this,” he sighed at me through a tired face, “I just walked an extra two miles, at least.” He was wearing his camp shoes.
Though he heard people talking near at a spring near the shelter, he didn’t turn down the path because the sign was for “Spring Number Three.” He knew everyone was talking about the second spring. Maybe the numbering was backwards, and the titles decreased as the springs were further from the shelter. He continued walking.
Nate walked down a rugged path until he reached an old dirt road. That was when he was willing to admit that he had gone too far. He turned around, trekked back up a hill to the shelter and pulled off at a perfectly running spring number three, the second one along the path from the shelter (number one is at the shelter). He was beat.
I thanked Nate for getting us eight liters of water to make it through the next day and I fed him a hearty dinner. The next day we would attempt to make it to the end of Pennsylvania!
The miles flew by after our lunch break and we succeeded in our goal of making it to The Church of the Mountain Hostel in Delaware Water Gap. Leaving Pennsylvania would be bittersweet. I loved the hospitality of all of our friends and family in our home state, but the rocks were getting edgy.
At 6:30 pm we got to the hostel and were immediately impressed by a luscious-looking cake Good Kn1ght had for a nighttime snack. He and the other hikers who had already settled in at the hostel warned us that the bakery closed at seven. We had thirty minutes to find it and indulge!
After hurrying Between out the door, he, Mother Nature, Nate and I dragged ourselves downtown to discover the goodness of a sweet treat and an affordable plate of three pounds of French fries. We made it there, but the grills and fryers had closed at 6:30. All that was left for purchase were a few wrinkled wienies, day-old pot pies and slices of pie. We were tempted by the selection of homemade goodies, but what Nate and I really wanted (and needed) was a good meal. We left, but not before taking advantage of my favorite type of photo op.
Nate and I ended up dining at the Sycamore Grill, an upscale place (going by hiker standards and a pretty nice place going by normal people standards). He got ribs and I got some sort of fancy chicken sandwich. It was tasty and we enjoyed sharing a meal together, by ourselves. But we were hungry shortly after leaving and there was no place open in town. On our last night in PA, we went to bed on the floor of an overfilled hostel with our stomachs rumbling.
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.