Friday, June 15, 2012

Pennsylvania: The End, A.T. Thruhike 2012

     A good nights rest and a good breakfast in Port Clinton, and I was back on the trail.
     The trail became exceptionally rocky as it climbed back up to the ridges. I was now certainly experiencing the "Pennsylvania rocks" that people talk about so much on the trail. The trail is typically rocky, but in this state, you literally are walking along boulder fields and mass piles of rocks. Your feet take a pretty good beating.
     Climbing up towards the viewpoint called "Windsor Furnace", I passed many day hikers. Some stopped me to ask about my hike. It seems I tend to see very few people, if any, on most days. But near popular day hikes, especially around weekends, I may see many people.
     Pulpit Rock offered some spectacular views, complimented by soaring raptors. I passed the last of the dayhikers here.
     A few more rocky miles, and I come to an area of cliffs known as "The Pinnacle". I was taken away by the unbelievable views! A vast, sweeping landscape of forest and farmland... I decided to spend some time here.
     The area had some interesting caves I began to explore, but when it became a bit challenging, I decided not to enter further. I was alone, and should I get stuck I could be there for a long time. It was fun and interesting, nonetheless.
     After sitting for a long time in a meditative stance , absorbing the fresh air and beauty at the Pinnacle, dark clouds began to gather. I decided to get back on the trail.
     Not more than a few miles down the trail, it began to really pour. I equipped my rain gear, and made it to the next shelter, Eckville Shelter.
     This was a particularly nice shelter, one with a caretaker living nearby. It had wooden bunks and tables, and a nice potable water source. It was a little early in the day to stop, but with the pouring rain and dangerous terrain ahead, I decided to stay.
     I had the company of two Amish brothers, which was great. I had never met an Amish person before, and they were very friendly and eager to answer my questions. It was a great perspective, too... You can really get to know someone when you are camped out in the woods, people become genuine and authentic.
     A few more thruhikers joined the shelter, including Steve-O, Blue (whom later I learned contracted Lyme Disease while on the trail), and Nake. It made for good company on this rainy eve. When we learned it was one of the Amish brothers' birthday, we all sang for him. It was fun.
     The next day I hit the trail early, and made it to the Blue Mt Summit road crossing for lunch at a little restaurant there. I was joined by Steve-O and Blue. Back on the trail, Blue walked with me for a few miles, and we talked about our lives back home. He is an interesting person, who likes to fly planes and looks forward to RVing with his grandchildren.
     The trail took me over an area of very steep rock called Knife Edge. It was very challenging, but I took much enjoyment from it; the rock scrambling, the rush from the steepness, and the nice views all made for an exhilarating experience.
     After about 25 miles that day, I arrived at Outerbridge Shelter. There were no good tentsites, and the shelter itself was less than impressive. It was leaking and flooded.
     I decided instead to push just a bit further to a road, and hitched the couple miles into Palmerton.
     There is a free hostel to stay in there, nicknamed "jail" because it is run by the police and is situated in the old, former station.
     It was a nice place. There was lots of reading material, a nice shower.... It seemed luxurious for a free stay.
     a hiker named Stinger and I had the place to ourselves. Another hiker, Motown, was also staying in town with her folks, and they dropped by to drop off some snacks and sodas. They also gave us a lift back to the trail the next morning.
     The trail coming out of this gap was some of the toughest yet. It was steep, loose rock, and required a lot of climbing.
     The area is known as the Superfund Site. The vegetation here was almost completely wiped out years ago from the mining and smelting that had gone on in the area, and the earth eroded down to the bare rocks as a result.
     I was walking along with Stinger and Motown, when out of the woods a baby deer came running.
     The fawn was beyond adorable! It showed no fear, making little calls as it came right up to us and began licking our legs. This was such an incredible moment, one I will never forget!
     Eventually, after spending much time in awe of this fearless fawn, we continued north. We came to a person with a foot in a cast, sitting by his tent in front of the trail.
     His name was Firehands, and he had attempted a thruhike this year, but ended early because of a broken foot after slipping and falling near a waterfall. He is now parked at this spot, handing out some trail magic. We talked for a bit, and he gave us soda and snacks.
     As we walked, it began to rain. I had to stop and put away some gear, and thus was once again walking alone, as one with the woods.
     Pennsylvania is a truly fascinating state. It's unique geology, from its massive rock piles caused by the melting and refreezing of glaciers, its strange rocks formed in the middle of glaciers that emerge similar in appearance to cement, and its various materials that were desired and resulted in all the mining along these ridges.
     The wildlife is amazing; I observed countless deer, colorful birds, and even spotted a rattlesnake in the trail.
     I spent that night camped on the property of a restaurant in Wind Gap. The people who own the place were very friendly, and fed me a very big breakfast in the morning. I enjoyed listening to the ins and outs of running a restaurant over coffee, and learned a bit of history of the area.
     A few tough climbs later that day, and I made it to the town of Delaware Water Gap. This is my last stop in Pennsylvania, and once I cross the bridge out of town, I will have entered New Jersey.
     I went to the Church Of The Mountain Hostel, the oldest A.T. hostel on the trail. I was greeted by a crowd of thruhikers, the largest group I've seen in a long time. Dundee, Stinger, Motown, Redman, Steve-O, Pretzel, Trotter, and several more were all gathered at this one place, resting sore feet after the punishing PA rocks.
     I had several packages in town, including my new shoes. I couldn't wait to get them, as my current pair was almost completely destroyed. I did recycle the old pair by constructing a pair of ultralight camp sandals using the insoles, shoelaces, and a little ducktape.
     I enjoyed hanging out with thruhikers, trading stories and laughing at jokes. We grabbed pizza and drinks at the local shop. A man I met way back in Virginia, who goes by the nickname "Guitarman", swung by, insisting on doing some "trail magic", providing some food and entertaining us with songs on his guitar.
     It was good times to say the least, and a pleasant way to end my walk in Pennsylvania. It was an amazing section of the trail, and I will remember it fondly always. While it was punishing on my feet, it was also intriguing, uniquely challenging, and offered good times and great rewards.
     It was sad to leave, as the bridge took me over the river. I looked back toward Pennsylvania, and thought of it and all the states south of it; how I had dreamed for so long of walking them in the trail's entirety; and now they were done. I am more than halfway. How quickly my dream journey is passing!
     I looked north, and thought of the Whites, the remoteness of Maine, the Long Trail, Hudson Valley, the Garden State.... I have so much to look forward to. And so I walked across that bridge, and entered New Jersey, continuing northward.

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