Halfway to Nowhere, and Fun with the Tramily

Reunited, and it feels so good!

I enjoy a nice break and look out over the beautiful fall foliage as I sit upon the ledges of Round Head. I’ve done a humble ten miles and the clouds are beginning to turn pink as the sun begins to set. I arrive at 501 Shelter just before it does set. I let myself in and am grateful to be fully enclosed within four walls.

This shelter is legit! It has a skylight and pizza delivery if that’s your bag. I’m alone at the shelter for the night, as it would seem. The caretaker comes by and gives me the rundown along with the rules. He’s a straight to the point, no-nonsense, but good-natured type of fella. I decide that after such lavish trail magic that I can forgo the pizza delivery and eat the ramen that’s been sitting in the bottom of my stinky yellow food bag. After my dinner I snuggle into my top bunk (being a little sister, the top bunk is always a privilege) and read a chapter of The Wind in the Willows. Just as I finish I hear somebody at the door. She apologizes profusely for coming in so late and politely turns her headlamp to the non-blinding red setting. I immediately bolt upright and exclaim, “Legolas, is that you?” “Flicker?” she replies. Sweaty gross hiker hugs are exchanged and I decide to stay up a bit longer and catch up. I haven’t seen her since Vermont. She tells me that she, Shepherd, and Bala just knocked out over 20 miles and the others are just behind. I am so excited to see everyone and it’s a wonderful reunion.

I would walk 500 miles and I would walk 500 more

It’s so good to have some familiar faces to cross the 1,000-mile marker with. We stop at the William Penn Shelter for a photo-op. We do a total of 19 miles and set up camp at a campsite just beyond Rausch Gap Shelter. The temperature drops below freezing that night and in the morning none of us wants to leave the warmth of our tents. We eat inside our tents, cooking underneath the vestibules just so that we don’t have to leave our tents. Finally we one by one make a run for it and hurriedly pack up camp so that we can get moving and warm up. The girls are getting picked up by friends so I hike on and find an awesome campsite with wood laid out next to the fire ring. I set up my tent and enjoy my ramen by warm firelight. I sleep very well and feel very blessed to have the fire to warm me. The next day I see the girls pass by as I’m finishing up breakfast. They are slackpacking through the friends they stayed with. I am slightly jealous but so wouldn’t trade it for the awesome fire I had the night before. I end up catching up with the group around lunchtime and hike on with them into Duncannon. Its a beautiful day with warm sunshine. I decide that I’m going to see what all the fuss is around the Doyle Hotel while the girls go back to their friends’ house.

The Doyle

The Doyle Hotel has quite the reputation on the AT. Some say the rooms are so dirty your best best is to sleep in your sleeping bag, while others flat out refuse to stay there. I’ve heard everything from “I set up my tent inside the room” to “I slept in the bed; just a bit of dirt!” I walk into the lobby/restaurant and take a seat at the bar. A nice lady takes my order and while I’m waiting the gentleman next to me starts asking about the trail. He offers to buy drinks for me and the other hikers seated at the bar. The other hikers’ names are Strider and Sour Patch. They are a girl and guy who hike together and enjoy doing bigger-mile days. I ask them about the rooms and they tell me it’s just fine, so I go ahead and book a room. At $25 a night I’m not complaining. That’s cheaper than some of the hostels for a private room and shared bathroom. I walk up the wide staircase and have the feeling I’m in an apartment complex, not a hotel. The sign reads, ” No smoking”; however, the entire second floor reeks of cigarettes. I get to my room and open the door. I see an average-sized room with a double bed, a small table, a single chair, and a dresser blocking the door that leads to the room next to me. The floor is a stained, cracked linoleum. There is a closet with no door, a box fan, and a few wire hangers. The window curtains are just old comforters they’ve hung from a bar. Besides the cigarette smell it doesn’t have an unpleasant aroma. I set my things in the chair and lock the door behind me. I examine the bed. It has mismatched pillow cases, and an old pink quilt with some tears in it. I check for bedbugs and there is so much dirt in the corner of the bed that you really can’t say whether there is a bug problem or not. I decide to use my sleeping bag liner on top of the sheets and hope for the best. The Doyle offers free shuttles to the local grocery store and back so I grab my necessities and meet my driver. He’s a young man, probably 18 years old or so. He doesn’t say much on the short ride but is pleasant enough. I go through the store and get far too much food, as always. I get back to my room and devour the things that won’t last, like the Kombucha and vegan ice cream. There isn’t laundry service at the Doyle so I make the executive decision to do my laundry in their shower. The bathroom is a shared space. The toilet is stained, the floor is the same cracked linoleum with some of the original wood showing through in some places. The shower ceiling has a big hole in it and the floor is questionable. I decide to wear my Crocs to the shower along with the clothes I’m washing. At one point my back touches the side of the shower and I shudder with disgust. The sink is pretty dirty with several bars of random soap. I debate for longer than I should where to set my toothbrush and clean clothes. I hang my clean clothes in the closet and turn the box fan on high. I sleep fairly well, and with ample door locks I feel safe. With how inexpensive it was, along with the free resupply shuttle and just the general kindness of the owners, I would say I had an overall pleasant experience. In the morning you leave your key in the room and leave through the back balcony doors walk-of-shame style since the front doors are attached to the restaurant, which is closed until later in the day.

Oh, we’re halfway there

I hike up and out of Duncannon and am rewarded with a beautiful view of the town from the top of the ridge. I do a modest 12 miles and decide to call it a night at the Darlington Shelter to avoid the rain. The following day is bright and sunny. The terrain is nice and relatively flat. I enjoy my lunch at an old cemetery at the edge of a field. I pass through Boiling Springs, stopping at the ATC mid-Atlantic regional office. They have a nice hiker box where I find a single beer and a bandana. I sip the beer while enjoying the porch swing. I fill up my water using the spigot on the side of the building and weigh my pack on the scale they have. With food and water I’m at around 45 pounds. Not bad for a winter pack. There are many fields in this section. I cross one and watch a farmer spraying his crops the whole while. I get to Alec Kennedy Shelter and set up for the night. I am alone until a hiker comes in the middle of the night and sets up as well. They leave before the sun rises. It’s strange to have shared a shelter with someone and not have passed a single word between us. I pass Legolas, Shepherd, Bala, and Shepherd’s friend from home on trail the next day. I am surprised to see them cowboy camped at the water source. It was very cold the night before and there is frost on the grass. I am up unusually early and they are still in their sleeping bags. I enjoy the crisp morning alone and the sunrise. I listen to Pride and Prejudice on audiobook as I hike through the beautiful, giant boulders of the rock maze. I take a short break at the Green Mountain Store and get a deli sandwich full of veggies and charge up my phone. The people are super nice and helpful. The state park shower is closed for the season but the bathrooms were open and nice and warm inside. I hang out for a little while, charge my phone, and warm up before hiking on. The AT museum as well as the ice cream challenge are both also closed for the season. I get to a shelter where I see The Natural. I haven’t seen him since New Hampshire. He is making hot water for tea over a huge bonfire. He asks if I’d like to stay and enjoy some tea and I decide that sounds like a nice idea. Legolas, Strider, and Sour Patch show up shortly after and we all spend time around the fire. The following day I cross the halfway marker.

That night I stay at the Quarry Gap Shelter with Legolas and The Natural. The camp is so cute! There is mountain laurel all around, and a porch swing. The three of us sit on the swing that night and we see a shooting star. It’s magical to share this experience with others. Happy Animal hikes 25 miles in the night to be there for The Natural’s big finish the next day. I begin to understand the depth of the word tramily.

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