A Rocky Start
My first trail update is not actually from the trail. Dan wanted me to title this post “F*** PA” but I went with a pun instead. We started Sunday from the NJ/PA border heading south, and four days and 37 miles in I called it quits on Northern PA while standing a third of the way down Lehigh Gap.
I was sick of the rocks about .1 miles into PA, and they only got increasingly worse as the days went on. The second day we walked 14 rock-miles and I rolled my ankle just about every other step. I had heard about the rocks. I knew they were coming. But I was still completely unprepared for how impossible it would feel. The trail was extremely flat and we should have been breezing through the miles, but each step required such careful placement. It’s one thing to walk this section when you’re about halfway through and you know the rest of the trail is not rocks, but it felt endless and made a terrible way to start our AT journey.
So we quit. Or, more honestly, Ollie quit. We got part of the way down Lehigh Gap, which is basically a rock slide with white blazes painted on it at arbitrary points. When we got to a point where he would have to jump about five feet, Ollie wouldn’t go anymore. He got scared. We went back up the way we came and took a detour trail into Palmerton. We were also completely out of water at this point because another sucky thing about PA: there is no water. It rained all night the two nights before and still, we didn’t hit a drinkable water source once during the 7 miles leading up to Lehigh Gap (or the miles leading to our campsite the night before). I say drinkable because we did pass a stream that the AWOL guidebook describes as “High metal content” and “emergency drinking water only” because of its proximity to a previous zinc smelting site.
We didn’t quit for good though. My parents will drive us back to the trail on Saturday, and we’ll start again in Boiling Springs, well south of the rock gauntlet we spent the first days in. We’ll get back to the rest of the section we skipped when we flip back north, and Ollie will sit it out. I thought starting out with the worst section of the trail would be a good way to get it over with, but it turns out starting with the worst part is just the worst. It’s hard to picture the trail ever getting better when you start with such a frustrating section and we didn’t want to risk calling it quits for good or destroying our ankles before we ever got a decent day of hiking in.
My advice for northern PA: don’t plan to move very quickly, don’t bring your dog, carry more water than you think you need, and keep a mental picture of your favorite view because you won’t be seeing any (both because there are none, and because you literally cannot look up while you walk).
We’re excited to get back out there and tackle the rest of the trail, but for now, Northern Pennsylvania will have to wait.
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