Miles 1100-1300: Tom’s Run to Stream after Sunfish Pond
For weeks, it feels as if we’re half way done! This occasion is celebrated all the way from the psychological halfway, Harper’s Ferry, to the actual halfway point (mile 1094.5), the historical halfway point at Center Point Knob (mile 1118) and the thru-hiker’s favorite spot, Pine Grove Furnace State Park, home of the “Half Gallon Challenge” (read on!). PA has been very rocky with rocks of all shapes and sizes. The “Rock Maze” is an area requiring scrambling up big boulders and through small cracks. Seemingly out of nowhere, we hit the beginning of the longest flat stretch on the AT. It is 14 miles of corn fields, road walks, etc with virtually no elevation gain or loss. Boiling Springs, PA is on that stretch and took us past the historic “Children’s Lake,” a crystal clear pool fed by 30 local springs. The ATC Mid-Atlantic Regional Office is there. The flat field walk doesn’t last long. Soon, it’s back to rocks! We had nice views from the pipeline and Hawk Rock. Coming down from the rocky ridge line, we had several miles of urban walking through Duncannon, PA. Here, we crossed the Juniata River and the Susquehanna before climbing up another ridge for views of where we had just been. Table Rock, Kinter View, Kimmel Lookout, and Round Head made for scenic break spots. We crossed over 1200 miles shortly after Hertline Campsite and yet another pipeline.
Pennsylvania is known as “Rocksylvania,” “Penns-hell-vania,” or “the P word” by hikers due to the large volume of sharp rocks. In many places one is left to wonder if they even tried to make a trail… Many of the streams are either trickling or completely dry. Also, when we have to cross a road or do a road walk, it’s often along a busy and/or dangerous highway. So… on we walk. Due to fog, we missed the views at Pulpit Rock and The Pinnacle but we were able to see a little bit at Dan’s Pulpit. Then, miraculously, Uncle Mike picked us up and the rest is history. We were able to slack pack the majority of the time from mile 1243.5 to 1307! We did have our packs for the most difficult mile to date, between Palmerton through a Superfund site (4 miles total). It was rock scramble (1 mile) requiring 3 points of contact in many sections. The views were spectacular and once we made it up to the ridge line there were tall grasses and new tree growth. We saw a 360 view from a pile of rocks a smaller view from Hahns Overlook. Delaware Water Gap is a quaint little trail town with great pie! Shortly after, thru-hikers are required to walk a long distance on the side of I-80 to cross into NJ. Kittatinny Visitor Center offers great information about the National Recreation Area. Instantly, the trail becomes lovable again! There is a gradual incline up to Sunfish Pond, our southern most glacial pond on the AT.
Highlights and Surprises
The Half Gallon Challenge was a must-do for Andrew. He has been craving competition lately. Thru-hikers are challenged to eat a half gallon of ice cream in one sitting. There are two ‘legs’ to the half gallon challenge. First, a 1.5 quart container followed by a pint of hand-scooped ice cream. Andrew tried to pace himself and enjoy the first 1.5 quarts of black cherry ice cream, but about halfway through his enjoyment of this particular flavor began to diminish with each bite, so he sped up. For the second leg, he chose moose tracks. He enjoyed this flavor immensely after all of the black cherry but ate quite slowly. The ice cream felt like it was all sitting in his stomach, debating with itself which way to exit. . . so he continued to slow down. Three other hikers started the challenge shortly after Andrew, and their camaraderie helped him to push through and finish strong. Also he didn’t want to get lapped. His final splits were: 32 minutes for the 1st leg (1.5 quart), and 24 minutes* for the second leg (1 pint). Total time: 56 minutes. Having already hiked three miles and conquered the half gallon challenge he felt like his day was complete! Time for a nap! Claudia, having hiked three miles and eaten only a pint of ice cream, did not feel as accomplished and felt like hiking another 16 miles. We compromised and hiked 16 more miles.
*The time for his second leg includes time to go back inside the general store, select, and purchase the pint of ice cream.
We met up with our friend Jake and stay with his parents in Carlisle, PA! We have seen more of our family/friends in 3 months on the trail than we would normally see in a whole year! We enjoyed watching Jake’s son, Alton, toddle around, drop things, and say his favorite word ‘uh-oh’. The Albrights have a productive backyard garden, beehive, and have home brew on tap! We had a great visit and left with a chunk of honeycomb to spread on our tortillas. Jake was in the area for work for a few days that week. He was able to find us on a back road two nights later, and drove us into Harrisburg for dinner! It was a little surreal to drive into the capital after a day on the trail. After dinner he dropped us off to hike into the night and find a campsite. Jake earned his trail angel and navigation merit badges for sure! As we left his car a man waved us over to his tailgate with a spread of food and cooler. We felt a little guilty taking advantage of trail magic after our dinner in Harrisburg, but we are still thru hikers and his had a cooler full of local IPA (Troeg’s).
Two days later in Port Clinton, our friend James came up from DC to meet us! James loves logistics so we knew he would be easy to meet up with. We trust him so much, that, on our wedding day, when we realized we forgot to recruit an MC for the reception, Andrew turned to him and put him in charge. We visited the local Wal-Mart and the world’s largest Cabella’s together that afternoon, and camped at Blue Rocks Family Campground, a nearby commercial campground. Claudia and Andrew both bought new shoes at Cabella’s since our feet were hurting from the rocks. Andrew had 800 miles on his Brooks Cascadia’s, pretty good for trail runners! Now we are trying out Keen hiking shoes; they are heavier than trail runners but much sturdier. Our site at Blue Rocks Family Campground felt very remote. We were all impressed with our stay there. The next morning we drove to Pottstown, PA to visit America’s oldest brewery – Yuengling! The tour was focused on the history of the company and the different ways they have done things over the years. It started with their old kegging system, in which 4 men filled barrels of beer, moving them all by hand. The highlight of our tour was the beer caves. These were hand-dug in 1831 to provide a cool place for them to store lagers before the age of refrigeration.
After crossing the Lehigh river, the trail enters the Palmerton Superfund site. This was the location of a zinc smelting plant that polluted the air and water with heavy metals. This contamination denuded an entire mountain! The area has since undergone rehabilitation, and there are vibrant, young forests on the mountain. The area is rich with dewberries. We told ourselves not to eat anything in the Superfund site before we entered. . but we quickly forgot when we found the biggest, juiciest bunch of berries we’ve ever seen! After the first mouthful we remembered we were in an area contaminated with heavy metals and stopped picking. One has to wonder if the birds can taste the contamination of the berries and avoid them, because we have never seen so many ripe berries left on a bush.
Lastly, we received a thoughtful care package from the outpatient RDs at UAMS! (Claudia’s employer) They have been sending thoughtful words of encouragement along the way. We enjoyed the AR honey, trail mix, candies, and the awesome coffee shop gift bag! Thanks for the trail magic!!
We had been anticipating a visit with Andrew’s Uncle Mike, Aunt Debbie and their family for quite some time. His daughters are in Girl Scouts, and have been sending us boxes of Girl Scout Cookies and Clif Bars for months now! We were hoping he could drop off a food re-supply to us during the week, and then we would join the family that weekend for a zero day. Mike is an Army veteran, has expert navigation and logistical planning abilities, and calls our backpacks “rucks”, and going to bed “racking out”. Our plans went from the above described to 4 DAYS of SLACKPACKING!! AND A ZERO DAY! We slackpacked our last 4 days in PA, and our first day in NJ. This was salvific for our feet, which were very sore from all the rocks, and slowed our walking speed down to a trundle. Dropping our pack weight was quite a relief! Our routine for these days was to wake up early, have an omelet or quiche with Uncle Mike, and then set off for a trail head with day packs. We hiked around 15 miles per day, which lined up perfectly with his times commuting to work. Around 5:00, he would come pick us up, take us to get milkshakes, and then go home for dinner! We are definitely spoiled now if we weren’t already!!! I don’t know how Uncle Dave and Aunt Alice are going to top this when we get to their house in Maine 🙂 The highlight of our visit was when Uncle Mike planned a hike where he and Andrew’s sister Jennifer, and Aunt Fran, could hike with us! We started out at Delaware Water Gap and headed north which turned out to be a very scenic section, and Jennifer didn’t get bit by a rattlesnake! It was great to have that time to catch up and visit. We crossed the 1,300 mile mark that day and celebrated by eating sandwiches that Aunt Fran packed for us. After the hike, we went to Andrew’s cousin Marie’s house in Staten Island for a barbecue and dip in their pool and hot tub! We also got to meet her son Benjamin for the first time! We did several pool-hot tub rotations until we were well-pruned and feeling 100% good.
THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! We appreciate this week more than you can imagine! Thank you!!!
Favorite Recipes of the 11th & 12th 100 Miles
Foraging for berries has been such a perk! Mulberries, blackberries, black raspberries, cherries, strawberries, and now, blueberries! What a perfect season to be living in the woods! They never make it to camp- we eat as many as we can in passing.
Lazy but Good
1 pkg butter/herb Knorr’s pasta sides, 1/2 cup quinoa, 1/4 cup carrots
Where We Stayed/Mileage
Day 90 crossed 1100 miles, Tom’s Run (19), Albright’s in Carlisle, PA (11.9), Clark’s Ferry (21.9), Yellow Springs Village Site (20.9), William Penn Shelter (18), Eagles Nest (19.2), Blue Rocks Campground (9), Ridge between Pulpit Rock and Pinnacle (9.3), Uncle Mike & Aunt Debbie’s (UM & AD) in Scotch Plains, NJ (18), Superfund Detour North (17.6), UM & AD (16.5, 15.8, 12.7, 0)
We saw the usual squirrels, chipmunks, mice, deer AND we saw a porcupine! He was climbing a tree but was very curious about us down below. We saw him right at dusk as the sun was going down. It took us a few moments to figure out what he was until he turned and showed his quills.
Luckily, no one has been bit by a rattlesnake! The first one that we saw was at 4 ft Timber Rattler that was as thick as Claudia’s arm! The second, Jennifer saw just as she was about to step on it, so she hopped over! Both snakes gave us a good demonstration of their rattles.
Lollygag has a running mental list of wildlife he would like to see, and checked off two in this section. The first was a rattlesnake above, and the second was a box turtle! I have fond memories of moving turtles off the road as a kid, and thought they would be more common on the trail. We didn’t see one until day 98! It was in the trail on a rainy morning, and was busy chewing on some type of insect. The picture is stuck on our camera for now, sorry!
What We’re Reading
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy and Girl Walks into a Bar by Rachel Dratch (Claudia) and Adrift: Seventy-six Days Lost at Sea by Steven Callahan (Andrew)
I thought the trail was remote until I started reading Adrift. The author’s boat capsizes in the middle of the Atlantic, where there aren’t any airplanes flying overhead and cargo ships are rare. It made me realize that we have probably heard a plane overhead every day, and lately we can hear a road almost constantly. I would like to convince Little Rhino to go on a long sailing trip sometime, but this was the wrong book for that! It’s a great survival story though.
Trail Beta for Future Hikers
- The caretaker at the 501 Shelter will often slack pack hikers all the way to Port Clinton (24 miles). They also have tap water and a solar shower.
- Duncannon is not a trail town, despite having several miles of trail running through it. There are very few services for hikers but there is a historic hotel called “The Doyle” which is notoriously filthy. Also, the Lutheran Church does a Wednesday night dinner for hikers! We all congregated there for free spaghetti, garlic bread, salads, etc. They also offered snacks to take along and free post cards/stamps. It was a very friendly and welcoming atmosphere.
- In Delaware Water Gap at the Village Farmer & Bakery you can buy a hot dog and slice of apple pie for $2.95! They have many many flavors of Sweet Baby Ray’s bbq sauce to choose from. We never realized there were other flavors of Sweet Baby Rays! If you like bbq sauce, don’t miss it!
- The barber shop in Port Clinton is awesome. Go. In addition to coffee and cookies, they have guitars you can play, or maybe a patron will pick one up and play you a song! Since they are across the street from the post office, their hiker box has lots of interesting food items. Its fun just to listen to the barber shop chit chat, and the owner takes interest in hearing stories from each hiker that comes in.
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