AT - Day 53

In the dark of night, Sweatbucket returned from the privy, tripped over his hiking poles, and fell partly on top of me. I woke up with a start, reaching out in the dark and backing off. In the morning, he apologized, adding with a smile, “You were pretty scared there.”

Sweatbucket took his time in the morning. He had a maildrop in Waynesboro, Pa. Across the Mason-Dixon line, I stopped in PenMar County Park for a soda. I visited High Rock on a blue-blaze trail at the advice of a local dayhiker. The AT continued past varied fields, woods, and powerlines. A rocky section near Camp David made me ask, “Would pioneers even take this trail?” The roadway became soft and sandy near Pogo Memorial Campsite. Nobo Mars commented, “Everybody is a section-hiker until they finish.” His words rang hauntingly true. Late in the day, I stopped at the beehive-shaped rock tower built in 1827, honoring George Washington. At dusk I pulled up short to dine and spend the night at Dahlgren Campground with section-hikers Dr. Dick, Phil, and sobo Caboom. I slept on a picnic table. Other campers came in loudly at midnight, walking back and forth with flashlights.

I curtailed my hiking plans in order to meet Caboom, a Canadian nicknamed the “Queen of Trail Magic.” She could ask a stranger for water or directions and soon get a ride or sleep on a screened-in porch. Poof! No bugs at night!



The K-Rock

AT Thru-hikers who had just graduated from high school made a strong impression on me. I spent a day hiking with Wrong Way, and parts of a couple days with Devin and SlowRide. Their maturity and common sense promise great things for the future of our country.

In Pennsylvannia, where the rocks pounded all the sensation from the soles of my feet, I caught up with an informal group of hikers that separated during the day and often met at night. SlowRide was a runner-up high-school state wrestling champion from Indiana. Eagle Scouts Phil & Devin came from Ohio. Toll Booth Willy, a little older, hiked at 3.5 mph in wool socks and rubber sandals. By the time this “posse” got to Springer Mountain, the total number of hikers swelled to ten, including others I knew.

On the first night, these guys had a plan to stop at an old pottery workshop, so as to send out for pizza. So we ate more than we could easily finish and stuffed ourselves to the point of groaning. The only problem with this plan was the 34.9-mile distance to the next convenient shelter.

So, as usual, I got going early. Phil and Devin soon passed me. Plodding on, I would catch up with them when they took a break. Then Devin took it into his head to go full-speed uphill, so off he charged at 4 mph using hiking poles for power, with Phil following
almost as fast.

A minute or two later, Toll Booth Willy caught up. He had started last, and before long, he passed me. Later on, after missing the side trail to a shelter, I came upon Toll Booth Willy again, sitting on a rock in the middle of the trail and finishing a cigarette. We figured Phil and Devin had lunch at that shelter. Toll Booth Willy went on ahead.

The day dragged on and on, and finally I arrived at Peters Mountain Shelter, somewhat out of breath after an uphill climb. Another posse of southbound thru-hikers had just arrived at this new, upscale shelter. There was Toll Booth Willy looking well-rested and blending in with them. An older gentleman, section hiking with his two-grown-up daughters, was also there.

By the time I got water from the spring, Phil and Devin arrived. Then a little while later SlowRide arrived. His shorter legs prevented him from keeping a fast pace, so he had spent the whole day catching up. From the bottom of the hill, he started shouting, “I’m NEVER going to hike that far again! I don’t care if I sleep in a SWAMP! I’m NEVER going to hike that far again.” Pretty soon he was in a good mood, joining others in a card game.

The atmosphere of this chance congregation of hikers spontaneously became festive. The two section-hiking daughters handed out cheese snacks on crackers, so I ate them as fast as they could make them. Their father, whom I’ll call the Warrior, was telling veteran stories with salty language, as if to show his daughters how real men live. It seemed that this was a longstanding family tradition, and maybe now the daughters were taking HIM camping.

Meanwhile, I met the laconic Solo, one of the few thru-hikers from my age group. It seemed that thru-hikers were generally younger or older than us. He wryly commented that younger thru-hikers should do a better job of holding their liquor at town stops.

At some point I heard the Warrior incredulously ask, “Why didn’t he just break off a piece of it?” SlowRide had placed a big rock on the picnic table, claiming that he had carried it all the way from Mount Katahdin. It was oval, like a dinosaur egg, but imperfect at one end. It had to weigh AT LEAST 7 pounds! I was astounded.

In fact, for the remaining 1,139 miles of the Appalachian Trail, I told everyone about this incredible wrestling champion from Indiana and the rock he carried. It was the stuff legends are made of.

Early the next morning, Solo and I departed with our flashlights in the dark. As I prepared my pack near the fire ring, I brushed away some inquisitive daddy long-legs spiders. Nobody told me until much later that SlowRide got the rock from the same fire ring.

The joke was on me! SlowRide must have enjoyed a hearty laugh on many occasions at the rumor of his feat. Not me. I say he got that rock on Mount Katahdin. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.



AT - Day 44

Despite a late breakfast and an hour’s drive back to the trail, I made good progress on the long-ridged Kittatinny Mountain in Highpoint State Park. In Culvers Gap I lunch-ed on pastries at Worthington’s Bakery, served by a courteous, but distant lady. Did she see too many hikers? Kittatinny Mountain continued on a long, dry stretch over old gravel roads past Rattlesnake Mountain. Within earshot of summer communities, the trail split the gap between Crater Lake and Long Pine Pond, then diverted onto rockier paths. Search was sitting and enjoying the ambience of the woods when I caught up to him. We cheerfully hiked together and found a water pump at Blue Mountain Lakes Road. The miles through diverse green woods and pleasant dirt roads glided by easily, so we reached Mohican Outdoor Center by dusk. To my surprise, Mark, Odette and Donny (trail angels from Maine) met us there for a cookout.

Staying at the Pomeroys’ was not the only miracle to happen. My cross-country hiking style came together at the time of staying with them.
Search had the personality of a philosopher-poet. He had written in a shelter register about the “Sobo Void.” I knew what he meant. The solitude of the wilderness maybe desirable for several hours at a time, or overnight, but after a week without company, most hikers enjoy some conversation during a break or mealtime. Communication does more than share useful trail information; it stimulates the mind.
Search loved cycling. He meticulously described for me the ballet-like beauty of a chain of cyclists, how they take turns in the lead, then peel off, dropping to last place in line. Each conserves energy by drafting behind the others.



AT - Day 38

A heavy ground fog hung over the field in front of the shelter. I must have been bushed the previous night. All the hikers ate and left. Moving slowly, I departed last. The up-and-down trail moved pleasantly through a rural area near the CT/NY border. Emerging from the woods to descend along open cornfields in the heat of record-breaking temperatures, I passed the AT railroad station. The trail made a short climb and descent to Dover Road, site of an ancient oak tree and a house providing water to hikers. Nobo Growler and I relaxed on the lawn under maple trees, drinking ice water and letting the brunt of the heat wave pass. During the next 8 miles I took a dip in Nuclear Lake. I could hear but did not find hikers happily swimming there. I spent the night alone at Morgan Stewart Shelter. The Saturday morning pickup of my maildrop at the Bear Mountain post office was now at risk.

At the shelter, somebody had left a collapsible container of water on the front of the floor, which leaked down a board to the ground. Several yellow-jackets buzzed around the trickle, which I took to indicate the drought in the woods.




With my schedule calling for 6 more miles per day, a sense of urgency put me in a bit of a hurry.

As I walked around Upper Goose Pond (near the Mass. Pike) late in the morning, a disheveled raccoon made a left turn onto the trail and shuffled stiffly ahead of me. He paused to fish around with his claw under a log. His action caused me to catch up within 15 or 20 feet of him.

Seeing me, he arched his back like a cat and hissed with a sort of clucking noise. If he could have spoken, he might have been saying, “Look, I’m having a very bad day, and if you provoke me, there’s no telling what I might do.” Having warned me, he irritably resumed walking up the trail.

We proceeded in the same direction, with him appearing not to notice me as long as I stayed 20 feet back. Presently the trail and the perimeter of the pond came to a bend. The raccoon disappeared behind a knee-high rock, presumably to descend the bank for a drink of water.

Quietly and cautiously, I tiptoed to the bend and peered around the rock. Seeing nothing, I scooted ahead on the trail. No sooner had I taken three steps, when the raccoon ran over the bank at full speed, chasing me with a crazed look in his eye.

Suddenly I was running and he was gaining on me, getting close enough for me see the foam on his mouth. Spotting a sapling tree growing on the bank of the pond, I leapt upward from the trail, pivoting on the tree like a fireman, in hopes that the raccoon would jump off the bank after me.

In a flash, the raccoon ran up the tree toward my hands, so I let go and dropped maybe eight feet into the brush on the edge of the pond. With one foot in the water, I scrambled to my feet, preparing for the next onslaught.

The raccoon had climbed the tree. He reversed direction, walking straight back down the tree. Fortunately, he returned to the trail, whence he came. I wasn’t sure, but I might have heard him mutter, “Some days it just doesn’t pay to get out of bed.”

A pair of fishermen in a nearby boat looked to see what the commotion was about. With false bravado I shouted in a shaky voice, “Bet you never saw a hiker run like that!” The incident caused no damage, beyond some scratches on my elbow and feeling of disorientation.

The next person I met afterwards was a remarkable grandmother. She never told me so, but I later learned through friends that she was thru-hiking the trail for her deceased son.

One-Braid had told me to “Listen to the trail.” Perhaps the trail was teaching me to treat it with more respect... We don’t conquer the trail. It lets us pass.



3b. Mansion of Many Rooms

Despite a heat wave, insect attacks, and shoe failure, my distance hiking style finally took form. In New Jersey, my pace improved by a half-mile per hour. The flatter terrain of the mid-Atlantic states certainly helped.

The diversity of experiences made me realize that the great cathedral of the outdoors has many rooms, indeed. As the rhythm of the daily routine took hold, I began covering marathon distances daily. Again I courted exhaustion, occasionally hitting the wall.

The “idea” began to occur that something healthy was happening in my body after three or four hours of exercise, something that promoted healing and recovery from injury. Once I attained this state of thru-hiker mode, I maintained continuity for as long as possible, limiting stops to five minutes or less.

This distance-hiking activity was certainly taking me a long way from home.



AT - Day 30

Descending Stratton Mountain at sunrise, I startled a bear, then met a moose three minutes later. At Story Spring Shelter, Wee Willie and Easy-Does-It stopped for a while. The trail passed a beaver pond, then passed through a well-worn section, and ascended Glastenbury Mountain, which has a firetower. A procession of nobos came through, including Vacilando, Satan and trailjournalists, Rocky & the Bedouin. The latter two traveled in a group of five. I attempted to increase my pace on the tedious ridge along Little Pond Mountain, but the rocky path caused me to stumble and bang up my ankles. Many nobos, plus a few LT end-to-enders, were staying and camping at Melville Nauheim Shelter. The names Homeless and Unemployed belonged to a middle-age, Midwest couple who sold their home and quit their jobs to hike the AT. Their humor lifted the spirit of everyone around them.

Wee Willie, Prince of Whales is a self-proclaimed blue-blazer. He hikes 6 to 10 miles per day, preferably around big mountains. He proudly wears a T-shirt, painted with a big blue blaze, that his friends gave him. He heads out into the woods each spring, as far as the trail will take him on his terms. Wee Willie knows all the places where the AT previously took a level route.
Most of the Internet journalists maintained their online journal at Trailjournals.com. I felt that I knew some hikers, like Little Bear or Hammock Hanger, before ever meeting them.