The Pennsylvania Blues: Harpers Ferry to Delaware Water Gap
Not Virginia Blues—Pennsylvania has been the hardest state for me so far.
In my last post, I examined how I had changed after 1,000 miles.
At the time, I had just completed one of the major milestones on the trail, and was headed into DC to visit some friends for multiple zero days. My spirits were high and I felt great. While many of the things I said still hold true, I haven’t really examined the downsides of thru-hiking.
I got back on the trail in Harpers Ferry and was immediately greeted with the worst thunderstorm that I’ve experienced on this hike. It seemed like an omen for the weeks to come.
Maryland and Southern PA were some of the easiest miles on trail so far, and yet I wasn’t motivated to hike like I was in the miles prior to hitting 1,000. Some combination of losing my group of friends on trail, the lag of almost a week off from hiking, and the slowly dawning realization that I still had more than halfway to go put me in a fog that I don’t think I’ve fully recovered from yet.
Trail Magic and Family Kept the Bad Mood at Bay
I was reunited with Singsong and our new friend Pinto at Penn Mar Park near the Mason Dixon Line. This lifted my spirits a bit and made the hiking easier. Soon after I was greeted by my Aunt, Uncle, and Mom, who hosted me and my friends for the night. It was great to see my family and we all enjoyed staying inside during a week of bad weather.
After crossing the halfway point on the AT and successfully completing the Half Gallon Challenge (which involves consuming way too much ice cream), I got into Duncannon a few days later.
The church hostel here was awesome, with a large basement, powerful shower, and pavilion out back for hammocks. I ran into more familiar faces here, many of whom I hadn’t seen for hundreds of miles. This capped off a period of good hiking and allowed me to shake off much of the blues I was feeling. And yet I still had some lingering fatigue and motivation issues. Seeing the halfway marker didn’t feel as exciting to me as I thought it would. My main thought was, “I’ve been out here a long time, and I’m only halfway. Can I do what I’ve just done all over again?” Little did I know that my resolve would soon be put to the test more than ever before.
Northern PA would end up being the most taxing hiking I’ve ever done. It was a confluence of the worst conditions: trail composed almost completely of jagged rock; rainy, muggy weather; and a return of the wildfire smoke that the East Coast has been experiencing over the past month.
Everything seemed to turn for the worse. I would go for days without getting dry—I was either soaked from rain or soaked from sweat. I started chafing and getting blisters. It was so rocky that I fell and broke a trekking pole. I didn’t realize how much poles had been helping me hike until I was forced to go without one. My pace decreased dramatically, and my ankles bore much more of the strain trying to keep me balanced on the rocks.
I didn’t keep many notes from this section of trail. Most days, I was too exhausted and in too bad of a mood to write. For the first time, thoughts of quitting entered my mind.
Back to Basics
Just to keep myself moving, I tried to shift my mindset to the present and put one foot in front of the other. I stopped listening to podcasts and music, and simplified my daily routine to eating, sleeping, and hiking. This might seem counterintuitive to some, but it helped to reduce the distractions and treat hiking more like a job. I perform better when I focus on the task at hand.
I also put my budget on pause and splurged on more hostel stays and restaurant meals to keep morale high. I had the wiggle room, and I’d rather save my hike than save a few hundred dollars.
Finally, I made it to Delaware Water Gap
The last town in Pennsylvania, this was the spiritual end of the hard times I’d been dealing with. I stayed at another awesome church hostel and ran into many of my friends, old and new. I decided to take a few unplanned zeroes here to visit some friends in NYC. I’m feeling confident that I’m regaining the trail mojo I had before, and I’ll be ready to crush miles after a rest. New Jersey, here I come!
Other Changes on Trail
I forgot to cover some important changes in my 1,000 mile post. I’ve dropped weight—in more ways than one! I’ve lost about 10 pounds since starting my hike, and I’m guessing that I’ll lose 5-10 more. Physically, I’m feeling better than I have in a long time—my athletic ability is at a point I haven’t experienced since high school.
I’ve also made a lot of gear changes. Astute readers may have noticed that I have a new pack: a Durston Kakwa 40. This is smaller and lighter than the REI Flash 55 I started with, weighing less than 2 pounds (27 ounces, to be exact). I love it.
I’ve also switched from my 20 degree quilts and cold weather clothing to 40 degree quilts and summer clothes. After a pack shakedown to get rid of my unused smaller items, these changes have cumulatively brought my base weight down to 10-11 pounds. Hiking feels great, and I think I’m close to having an optimized kit for the AT.
Soon after my first trekking pole broke, my second pole bit the dust. I was able to mix and match broken poles in a hiker box (and the usable parts from my old poles) to create two working poles. These should last me until I can get some spare poles shipped to me from home.
My rain tarp has also seen better days. Somewhere in Tennessee/North Carolina, ash from a campfire burned some holes into my tarp. More recently, I accidentally launched a tent stake with the elastic that pulls out my bugnet. The stake impaled my tarp and I once again had to break out my patch kit. So far, my repairs have held up and I’ve stayed dry in the rain.
Finally, my food bag buckle broke, leaving it haphazardly dangling from a bear hang. I fixed it with some spare line because it has sentimental value now. I started collecting signatures of the friends that I’ve hiked with, and I’m determined to keep it going until I finish the trail.
Stories from the Trail
Berry season has begun, and every time I came across some wild blackberries or blueberries I have to grab a couple. It’s such a nice treat when my diet is mainly a mixture of processed junk food.
In an effort to get dry, Singsong and I hitched into the tiny town of Pine Grove, PA, to do laundry. After sitting in our rain gear in 85 degree heat, we got our clothes back on and surveyed the town for a place to get a drink.
With limited options we decided to give the Veterans of Foreign Wars lodge a try. We walked through the door into a hazy room filled with cigarette smoke. As we entered, *record scratch* everyone stopped talking to look at us. But as we sat down and started talking to the locals, they warmed up to us quickly. There were plenty of questions about our hike, reminiscing about old adventures, and the beer was super cheap (1.75 for a pint of Yeungling!). To cap it off, as we got up to leave after a few drinks, we were offered a ride back to trail.
Our new friend Bob the Builder was a contractor in town. We squeezed into his work van and he drove us all over to show off the projects he’d been working on, and the house he built for himself. As we got dropped off, he thanked us for the opportunity to drive hikers back to trail. Feeling grateful, we continued our journey.
Flora and Fauna
To cap off this post, here are some pictures of flowers and wildlife I’ve seen in this section of trail.
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.