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Date: 26th June
Location: Delaware Water Gap
Miles left: 896
Pennsylvania rocks, stupid questions, high temperatures and crushing miles . . .
Mucking around with Juggles at the AT mid point
It’s a barrage of common questions that face us whenever we encounter a day hiker. I know they’re just curious but it does little to placate our frustration with the same old questions. Usually we’re on warp drive on the way to town with nothing more on our minds than eggs over easy, sausage and hash browns, washed down with coffee. And then they speak.
‘Hey! Y’all hiking the trail?!’
This is a stupid question. Firstly, we’re thru-hikers, we look different. Our hair is matted, our clothes streaked with dirt and we have gear different from the main stream, packs and equipment manufactured by cottage companies that most people on the street have never heard of. You’d be hard pressed to see a thru-hiker sporting the North Face or similar. They know we’re thru-hiking purely based on appearance.
Secondly, we’re on the AT, actually walking on its surface so of course we’re hiking the trail. The initial response that I would like to retort with is something like:
‘What the bloody hell do you think I’m doing?!’
Thirsty, Juggles and me catching a ride out of Palmerton
Politeness wins the day always but we tire of the same questions. ‘Ya’ll hiking the trail’ is followed by machine gun rapid fire questions, often asked when we are still answering the previous enquiry.
‘Where did you start?
Where are you heading?
When did you start?
When do think you’ll finish?
How far do you walk each day?
Where do you sleep, how much does your pack weigh?’
Blah blah blah . . .
Let me try and elaborate on the situation and same old questions by placing you in a scenario. You’re sitting in a restaurant. As you look up you see me approaching.
‘Hey! How’s it going?!
Y’all eating a burger there?
How’s it going so far?
When did you start?
When do you think you’ll finish?
What’s the weight on that thing, about a 1/4 pound?!’
Get my drift? If you’re going to ask us questions please think of something original and throw in some free food as well, that always helps. You must have some leftover, you’re only out for the day. Come on, hand it over.
The trail in Pennsylvania – not ideal!
Juggles, Bush Goggles, Thirsty and I are currently in Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania, around the 1288 mile mark with 896 miles to go. Getting under the final 1000 mile mark is a positive achievement and the miles seem to fall quicker. My AT plan has worked well. The initial goal of walking 10 miles a day for 2 weeks and then another 2 weeks of 15 milers set me up well physically and so far at least has caused no blister problems. Now I’m fully ‘warmed up’ and pushing long miles each day to eat away at the distance deficit caused by that first month. The second half of any thru-hike is always quicker and the AT is no exception.
Up to the halfway point which we passed 2 weeks ago I averaged 13 miles a day including days off, so about 16 each day actual walking. Already in the second half I have averaged 19 per day with days off making around 25 per day when actually walking. One stretch of 14 days pulled in an average of 26.1 each day. We don’t consider anything under a 25 mile day worth it now, this is our minimum goal and often we pull in a 30. August is looking good to finish and maybe it will be early in the month as opposed to later. I’m very pleased, perhaps my experience on the PCT taught me well, hopefully there will be none of that Last Englishman stuff out here.
A quick pause for a rare view on the approach to town
The weather over the past 3 weeks has been great. I can’t remember the last time I walked in the rain and it makes me think whether this will be one of those years where everyone says;
‘Yep, 2012 was a great weather year on the AT.’
We did have a spell last week where everyone was suffering in the heat though. 2 days in particular the heat index touched 105 degrees coupled with 100% humidity. Needless to say it was ludicrously sweaty, our t-shirts soaked with sweat with an absorbent cloth at close quarters ready to mop our brows and arms. Many stopped walking at mid-day and took a siesta in the shade or a shelter but, although difficult, I prefer to grind through and rest when I hit camp around 6.00 in the evening.
Pennsylvania has been a sweet state and it’s hard to believe that we will be in New Jersey in a few days and also be in a position to see the New York skyline from our perch on the ridge. Juggles has promised to take us to his place and offer a guided tour through the city. I’m not a city sort of bloke but the Big Apple beckons and I admit to a little excitement thinking of a New York breakfast and a stroll around Central Park. Yep, walking, even on my day off.
Raspberries, and closeby we also had blueberries and blackberries
The state of Pennsylvania does have a reputation for flat terrain but it throws in a wild card as well in the form of the infamous Pennsylvania rocks. This section is well known amongst thru-hikers and for good reason. Sometimes we balance precariously on huge slabs and boulders, tentatively balancing on one foot as the other lunges for the next foot hold. More often than not though we are faced with long sections of what we refer to as the ‘Ankle breakers’.
Countless protrusions break the surface like icebergs at sea. I refer to them as shark fins sometimes, little pointed obstacles perhaps a few inches high but ready to catch a wayward, mis-placed step. Focusing our gaze and attention within 2 feet in front of us we constantly scan the ground picking out the best line. Bring one foot forward, note the placement and as this foot swings forward ready to land, avert the gaze to the next landing spot as the other foot prepares to fall. It is mentally very tiring having to do this for as much as 2 hours each time before finally we reach a safe haven of smooth dirt and prepare ourselves for the next section of rock. As we prepare to leave Palmerton we discuss over breakfast (at Berts Diner which should not be missed), the steep climb out of town known as Lehigh Gap. 1000 feet of ascent is not difficult for us now but throw this in over just 0.9 of a mile and our mental calculations know this will be a difficult climb.
The garlic plan has failed miserably and unfortunately I have to contend with my one other pet hate (apart from blisters) which is the insects. Midges constantly fly a few inches from my face and make a beeline for my eyes. Mosquitos hover around in the evening ready to nibble on any exposed skin. Bend over to pick something up and the little bastards will nip your exposed back flesh as the t-shirt rides up a little. Eat your food and constantly slap your neck and arms and above all, try not to scratch. It’s a similar scenario that I faced on the PCT and the only saving grace is that if you can bear the first day after being bitten, the itch does fade. I have decided, after several years battling the mozzies that prevention is fruitless and I now concentrate my efforts on dealing with the fallout after the bite.
Tomorrow we will be in New Jersey State, glad to be done with Pennsylvania. Although beautiful with friendly locals we will be glad to get off the rocks at last. New Jersey’s elevation seems kind, although a little more up and down is expected after Pennsylvania. A quick check further north towards Maine shows up some alarming hills, far more severe than what we have walked through so far and of course there is the summit of Mount Katahdin and the end of the Appalachian Trail. The hardest appears to be saving itself for last as this beautiful brute will see us struggling up 4500 feet in just 5 miles.
Bring it on!
Location: New York City
Miles walked: 1377
Miles left: 807
Agonies Grind, The Big Apple, 2 lbs of minced pork and 100% humidity.
“Don’t give up on your dreams and aspirations – they can’t do it without you.”
Sometimes I feel guilty for stopping at a beautiful spot. When your goal for the day is 25 to 30 miles, especially on the AT’s terrain, the sole focus is smashing some miles and reaching targets. Stopping to enjoy a view, or take a swim in a lake feels like a forbidden pleasure that should be indulged in sparingly.
However, sometimes guilt is told to sod off and that forbidden pleasure is dipped into. On the steady climb out of Delaware Water Gap Bush Goggles, Thirsty and I stumbled upon a lake. With no prior intention to rest this sweet little area won us over. It was surrounded with Blueberry bushes, rocks skirted the shore, vibrant green trees reached up to tickle a deep blue sky streaked with lines of clouds.
95 degrees and 100 % humidity – Not fun!
We even had some beer from town and settled down on the lake edge, downed packs and relaxed. The water was warm and clear and Thirsty and I enjoyed 2 swims each whilst Bush Goggles went from snoozing on a warm rock to a deep sleep.
‘I’m like a baby,’ he explained, ‘I need to lot of naps.’
We stayed there for some 3 hours, smiling, joking and listening to music quietly wafting from my iPhone. The temperature cooled a little and almost reluctantly we hoisted packs and made inroads to the not too invitingly named Rattlesnake Campground.
743.7 miles to go then
A ‘cook up’ is where fresh food is carried out from a supermarket on the first day back on trail from taking a zero for a camp fire feast. It’s not something we do often because of the weight but this little dinner was well worth the effort. Bush Goggles sliced up some potatoes and I chopped fresh green and red peppers with onions. Thirsty sprinkled some herbs over 2 lbs of minced pork and we spent an hour cooking the 3 dishes until our stomachs could take no more and we dived in to a mound of delicious food.
Juggles is ahead of us as he lives near New York. He aimed to get back home and take an extra days rest whilst we caught up. Meeting us up from the Arden Valley Road we emerged from the woods battered, bruised and dripping a trail of sweat behind us after battling over a series of short hills otherwise known as Agony Grind. I feel I need not explain what this involved as the name tells all.
Remains of old settlements litter the woods here
Juggles had received a call from his agent about 3 days work in the city doing his juggling for the Americas got Talent TV show and the offer was too good to turn down. We have a welcome, if somewhat unexpected extra couple of days rest.
Spending the day in the Big Apple yesterday was a lot of fun and Central Park provided us with the trees and grass we have become used to and crave. Skyscrapers peeked over the trees and the whole metropolis seemed almost alien to me. It was Sunday so a little quieter. Joggers pounded the side walks with cyclists, families enjoyed the sunshine and frisbies flew here and there.
The net result of too much sweat and too much dust
We have a hard 4 days from Delaware Water Gap, mainly due to increased temperatures and humidity. 95 degrees and 100% humidity knocked 5 miles off our progress each day but we did manage 90 miles in that time. Physically draining as you might imagine we slogged ever on wiping the sticky, dirty sweat our faces and arms and slapping insects. The humidity was unbearable but just another factor to be dealt with on a thru- hike.
We are now just shy of 2/3’rds completed. Pennsylvania and her rocks is now a memory and we enjoyed flatter terrain to push out some good distances. Looking at what is left of the AT up to Maine I feel this last third could well be the toughest of the whole trip. Elevation looks crueler and we are now in the heat of the summer. Our finishing point, Mt Katahdin itself is still perhaps 6 weeks distance and involves a 5000 feet ascent over just 5 miles but we know, burning legs aside, that we will be sitting on the summit with smiles on our faces and some of the best memories to take back with us.
Date: 15th July
Current location: Bennington
Miles walked: 1606
Miles left: 578
It’s a dark morning. For once I can just make out clouds through the thick evergreens, the lack of sun light and trees make the woods seem eerie, a dog howls down in the valley adding to the atmosphere but apart from that it’s very quiet.
It’s 06.10 am and I’ve just started walking. I’m late, usually getting away at 06.00am so Bush Goggles, Thirsty and Lazagne are ahead of me. It’s still cool this early in the morning but in just a couple of hours if will be up in the 90’s again with humidity right up there. I wipe my face with a cotton cloth that I dip in cold springs as I pass them. A breeze hits the moisture and cools my forehead. Another sweaty day and 25 miles to go and I’ll be collecting water, rigging my hammock and looking forward to relaxing for a few hours.
We are now in the state of Vermont resting in a town called Bennington after a hot and dusty 7 day stretch and 7 day stench. We do stink bad, waitresses in the Diner point fans in our direction so as to blow the offending odours away.
Lazagne making full use of a road sign to hitch a ride
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‘You’ll be much cooler if I point this a you,’ they say politely.
Alternatively, even some of the town halls and other buildings have kindly opened their doors and showers for us. We revel in a shower and then 5 minutes later we smell again. It makes me wonder if the effort is justified.
We have around 550 miles left on the AT and are aiming for a finish date around the middle of August which will mean a 4.1/2 month thru-hike. This is a couple of weeks quicker than I had hoped for so I am happy with the target. However, judging by our elevation graphs, the last quarter of the bike could well prove the hardest. For starters, we are a week away from one of toughest sections of the whole trail, a mountain range know as ‘The Whites’. With elevations up to 6000 feet and some really demanding hiking through the entire section we expect our daily average to drop from 25 to 15 at best. There are fewer shelters and camp sites in this section so we will have to plan our days to take this into account. Much of the route is above tree line which we hope will afford us fine views of the north east top of the USA.
After The Whites it will be into the final state of Maine and what many believe is the finest section of the whole tree. We will be there to early to see the wonderful autumnal colours that this area of the country is famed for.