Sunshine, smiles, and big miles

Day 75

We woke before twilight under the red lights from our headlights as to not disturb the others in the shelter.  We had a big milage day planned.  We packed up quietly, ate breakfast, and drank coffee in the twilight hours.

We got on trail a little before 7AM.  It was still foggy.  The spider webs added to the spooky feeling brought on by the swirling mists through the winding trail. We thought about the good times happening in Salem Mass right now, oh how we miss our old city of residence and of course our favorite restaurants.

By 10AM the sun finally burnt off the fog.  We were delighted to be hiking under blue skies again.  We enjoyed nice views of the valley below. The lush green rolling hills reminded us a little of Vermont.

We walked the ridgelines and could see the Delaware River peaking through. The land on the other side of the river is our next state, Pennsylvania.

After 27 long miles we made it to our campsite. We are glad to be in our tent again, while we are grateful the AT offers these shelters (especially when raining) but we just love being in the woods with our tent.

We set up our tent quickly and were able to enjoy a nice view of the sun setting and then the deep red colors of twilight. We have another long day tomorrow but are very excited the terrain and our physical condition allows us to do these miles. We are starting to feel like professional hikers.


Day 76

We enjoyed restful night with nice temperatures. It feels like just yesterday we were sweating in our sleeping bags from the intense summer heat.  Our routine has changed slightly now that we’re hiking bigger miles and the sun rises later and later.  We get up in the dark and pack up under headlamp.  We enjoy drinking coffee in the cool morning air as light comes back.

This morning we were met with an unexpected surprise while Eric was attempting to use the privy.  He noticed the door was not locked and could hear some scurrying.  He slowly opened the door to reveal a porcupine nawing away at the wood inside the privy.  Not something you see everyday, a porcupine in a privy.  In fact most privies have signs posted inside and out instructing people to latch the door from the outside so critters don’t get in. We guess someone forgot to latch the door late last night. We tried coaxing the critter out and we tried just leaving him alone for a few minutes but to no avail.  He was intent on finishing his breakfast regardless of the human interactions. I guess that privy stop will have to wait.  You win this time porcupine.

We set off shortly after and cruised the 5 miles downhill and ran into Just Jeremy. For once we were the ones with the crazy wildlife story, Just Jeremy’s “luck” with animals must be rubbing off on us. Together we crossed the Delaware River into our 8th state, Pennsylvania.  Wow!  We have now completed half of the states on the Appalachian Trail.  It still feels like yesterday we were in Maine.

Once across the bridge (a terrifying experience as it’s a fast moving highway full of enormous trucks), we went into Delaware Water Gap for second breakfast.  Village Farmers Bakery is by far the best bakery we’ve been to on trail.  We enjoyed the many delicious baked goods, coffee, and sandwiches.  It also provided an opportunity to charge our devices.  We enjoyed chatting with Just Jeremy and Sean (SOBO we met in Monson) about our plans for the PA stretch ahead. Our bellies were full but prior to heading back to trail we made a quick pit stop at Church of Mountain hostel to refill water bottles and use the restroom (thanks to Mr. Porcupine).

We climbed up Mt Minsi easily. The weather has been perfect. Sunshine for days with comfortable hiking weather.  The terrain has been flat but extremely rocky.  The rumors about Pennsylvania are true: rocks, rocks and more rocks.  We have been able to keep a good pace with all things considered.  The trail includes all kinds of rocky sections, some parts have big slabs and medium boulders similar to the whites.  The game is “guess which one will move”. You step on one rock and it teeter totters you off balance.  The next section with be littered with baseball size rocks that roll ankles.  Next with be jagged sharp rocks that pinch the arch of the foot or stab the side of your toe.  The final challenge is now many are covered with leaves causing us to lose balance.

Image this: walking at a good pace.  You are completely focused on the ground, scatters with rocks of all shapes and sizes with no patches of dirt to fit your entire feet between them.  Most of these rocks also move when you step on them.  You glance up briefly to find the next blaze and ensure you are still on trail, then your right foot kicks a rock that is hidden under some leaves.  This lurches you forward, taking a much bigger step than usual.  You try to recover and your foot finds a rock that moves and your ankle rolls.  You curse under your breath, take a moment (or not) and then step again.  This happens several times an hour. This is why when asking a thru-hiker what their favorite section of the trail is…Pennsylvania is not their answer.

We’re reminded of the words Poet provided us way back in Monson, Maine.  “Pennsylvania is where you just need to put your head down and grind through it”, that is exactly what we’re doing!

We rolled into our campsite for the night a little after 7PM.  With the sun setting and only about 30 minutes of light left, we quickly set up our tent.  Again daylight will be a continued challenge throughout our hike.  This small stretch of trail is tough for water so after 25 miles and still nursing a sore ankle, Eric had to trek another half-mile with a steep downhill to a nearby spring and then hiked back up with 6.5 liters while Hayley set up camp.  Sometimes it really pays to have two people hiking together.

We packed out several goodies from the amazing bakery in Delaware Water Gap, including a Reuben sandwich and half a dozen delicious chocolate chip cookies.  After a long, exciting day we fell asleep quickly with full bellies.

Day 77

We woke up a little later than intended. Those rainy day hustles and big miles are definitely catching up with us. Just Jeremy arrived late last night and camped near us, we waved to him as he got on trail while we finished our coffee. Today is another big day with not many water sources. Rain is in the forecast for tomorrow and Monday so we are trying to get as many miles in today. At best it will be close to a 25 mile day.

We opted not to stock up on more water at the campsite. The spring was over a half mile away down a steep hill and we had to get moving. Looks like the water we have with have to get us the 16 miles to the next water source. We each had about 2 liters so it was a respectable amount.

The trail continued with the Rocksylvania theme from yesterday so we stumbled and tripped our way through the morning. Lots of sore feet and toes from the jagged ones. Eric’s ankle is still sore but feeling better. We are just going to have to put our heads down and get through northern PA, a common plan among the SOBO thru-hikers we have been talking to.

We stopped for lunch at a nice view of the tree filled valley. We are in rattlesnake territory now. Just Jeremy came by our spot and said he had just seen a rattle snake on the trail. He really is the animal whisperer. We also met Possum, another SOBO, while we were taking a break. Still can’t believe how many SOBOs we are meeting in this area.

The sun rose and the heat was heavy as we crossed the ridgeline and had nice views of the towns below. We got to Lehigh gap and had a very steep rocky descent. It was a bit dodgy in situations where the rocks moved beneath your feet. We haven’t had a nerve wracking descent like this in a while. Luckily we made it down in one piece and found someone had left 2 sealed bottles of water in the parking lot. Since we were very low on water and the heat was starting to affect us, we gratefully downed both. New Jersey and Pennsylvania both haven’t had the water caches that we had in New York so we will need to keep cameling up when we can.

We kept hiking at a good pace but were definitely feeling the physical and mental fatigue from heat and from our third consecutive day of 20+ miles. By the end of the day we will have done over 75 miles in three days. Finally we made it to our water source for the day, a pipe spring that was cold and refreshing. We cameled up and grinded through the last seven miles with packs heavy with water.

The one disadvantage we keep seeing that SOBOs have to NOBOs is just when you start to hit your physical and mental stride, you start to lose daylight. You are capable of hiking for 12 to 15 hours a day but now you are racing the sun. Each day we are rushing to be at camp for 7pm so we can hastily throw up our tent before it’s dark. While we do have headlamps, the lack of light is just another thing to contend with. Not to mention the thick canopy of trees that often protects us from sunburns also blocks the light from a setting sun.

So when 6:30 hit and the light started to ebb away we decided to call it quits about a mile earlier at a nice tent site we found. We will give PA credit where it is due, they have a ton of very nice tent spots. We also were ok with stopping early because the shelter which was our original destination is infested with snakes so we were going to tent away…

We got our tent up and were happy to find a nice fire ring with some wood collected by the previous person. Eric got a small fire going and we enjoyed a nice night. We went to sleep exhausted and mentally preparing ourselves for the upcoming rain again. We still can’t believe we’ll have experienced more rain in one week than we did the entire summer.

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