The Story of the Lost Hat

June 27, 2009

Recently I had my nice leather sun hat mailed to me from my parents. This hat has quite a lot of sentimental value to me. It protected me from the burning sun in the treeless terrain of the Camino de Santiago trek in Spain. I thought it could be put to good use in New England where the trail is supposed to often go above the tree line. Well, not being used to having new gear, I promptly lost it. Last I saw, it was strapped to the back of my pack, but perhaps not well enough. So at the next shelter I asked a southbound hiker that if she saw it, could she please mail it to the Dalton, MA post office for me (where I figured I would be in a couple weeks). She took my info, I thanked her for keeping an eye out, and I moved onward, completely convinced I would never see this hat again.

Well exactly 4 days later, I’m sitting on a nice rock outcropping, enjoying the view of a lake below. Through the trees below I hear someone coming up the trail. A jovial looking thru-hiker with a head and beard full of thick red hair stumbles up and exclaims “Are you Bojangles?” (Bojangles is my trail name). I’ve never met this person, so I give a very surprised response, “yes that’s me.” He responds, “Alright dude! I’ve been trying to catch up with you for three days – I have your hat!”

Awesome. His trail name is Jeremiah Johnson, very cool guy, and we walked together for the next couple days. He apparently discovered it and the southbound hiker I had talked to relayed to him that I was only a few miles ahead. The people on the trail never cease to amaze me!

So after I left the Mayor’s house in Unionville, I finished the rest of New Jersey and quickly entered New York. There have been heaps of low-land marsh walking, not what you would expect on the Appalachian Trail, but I enjoyed the change of scenery. The local clubs here have built some amazing boardwalks – especially on the last miles of New Jersey – that zig-zag through marshes.

Other highlights have been the Dover Oak, the largest tree on the trail, views of the Manhattan skyline (the trail gets to within 36 miles of the city), my first encounter with a timber rattlesnake, and finally after weeks of rain, some sunshine! I reached Connecticut today and after 50 short miles in this state, I’ll be in Massachusetts.


Jersey…only the strong survive.

June 18, 2009
Fellow hiker 'Steamboat'

Fellow hiker 'Steamboat'

Seriously. If you aren’t being eaten by a bear you are quite possibly drowning in the fast flowing creeks that used to be the Appalachian Trail. This crazy rain on the east coast has completely waterlogged the trail. Today I came to what was once a small creek crossing. The wooden bridge was about 100 feet down ‘river’ swept away by newly formed class III rapids. To cross, I had to find a calm spot and wade across in waist-deep current. Boardwalks intended to keep hikers out of the water in boggy areas are now completely submurged themselves! Today was by far the wettest day I’ve ever had on the trail. In the morning I was tip-toeing around the copious amounts of puddles until about 10 minutes later when I said “forget it”…or something like that… and walked in soggy shoes for the next eight hours.

Back to bears, I have unfortunately not seen one yet in New Jersey, but other thru-hikers have all had sightings. My friend Phoenix saw three yesterday! One was only 10ft from the trail picking blueberries and didn’t even flinch when he saw him. Needless to say, Phoenix quickly moved along.

Despite the wetness, I love New Jersey. It really is a beautiful part of the trail and I hate to say for any

Sunfish pond in New Jersey, the Southern-most glacial pond in the U.S.

Sunfish pond in New Jersey, the Southern-most glacial pond in the U.S.

lovers of Pennslyvania out there, the A.T. is much better in Jersey. Better maintained, more interesting ridgetop views, glacier lakes, and best of all, less rocks. I am SO glad to be finished with Rocksylvania, the state formely known to me as Pennsylvania. To get an idea of the trail in Rocksylvania, imagine someone made a trail in the woods then took three hundred million grapefruit sized rocks and scattered them throughout the trail. This apparently has something to do with glaciers melting and refreezing over the last millinea but I’m skeptical. It seems like a consipiracy because the trail magically became much more tolerable in New Jersey.

Palmerton, PA rock scramble

Palmerton, PA rock scramble. Yes, I scrambled up from the road.

One fun part of the rockiness of Rocksylvania was the climb out of Palmerton, PA. After spending the night in the old ‘jail’ of Palmerton (the city converted it to a free hiker hostel), thru-hikers get their first taste of a real rock scramble. Because of a zinc smelting plant near town, the entire mountainside in now bereft of any trees and wildlife. The EPA has classified it as a super-something site. i.e. lets throw lots of money at the problem and try new techniques to grow trees in a polluted area. But to me the ‘dead’ mountainside makes for wonderful, perhaps the only, views in Rocksylvania. I thought it was kind of fun. Come’on Rocksylvania! You should have more zinc smelting plants.

Kidding aside, I’m glad I enjoyed this section of the trail because I hear there are more rock scrambles, albeit natural ones, in New Hampshire and Maine.

Tonight I’m staying in Unionville, NY with ‘Phoenix’ (former Lockheed engineer from Springfield, VA) and Steamboat (former journalist from Steamboat Springs, CO). We were in New Jersey, left the trail and walked a half mile west into this NY border town. Dick, the former mayor of 12 years in Unionville, has been welcoming thru-hikers in his home for a few years now. Completely based on word of mouth, there is no sign or advertisement in the trail guide. I heard about it from other hikers on the trail. So we walk up to his house and he invites us in, does our laundry, orders us pizza, and gives us free reign to his fridge stocked with beer and soda! What an awesome guy! He says he has three rules: 1) we are supposed to make ourselves at home 2) we are not allowed to do dishes 3) we are charged 25 cents for every word we say that is over three syllables. Hmm…I like this place.

Delaware Water Gap, PA had a business with a striking similarity to my trail name: Bo-Tangles Hair salon!

Delaware Water Gap, PA had a business with a striking similarity to my trail name: Bo-Tangles Hair salon!

New Jersey ridgline view of a lake below.

New Jersey ridgline view of a lake below.


After 1100 some miles, my shoes finally died and were replaced by a second pair.

After 1100 some miles, my shoes finally died and were replaced by a second pair.


Thunder, Lightning, and Yuengling!

June 11, 2009

image22809495.jpgThree nights ago I awoke around 5:30 AM to the sound of rolling thunder. I couldn’t see any light flashes from under my tarp, but I could tell from the wind and the sound of the thunder that a storm was moving in fast. What is the old adage? The time between the thunder and the lightning is how close the storm is? Well let’s just say about thirty minutes later the prominent sound was BOOM-POW! Thunder instantly followed by lightning cracks. I could feel the earth shaking from each hit! This was by far the most scary experience I’ve had on the trail and the first time I legitimately was concerned for my safety.

I’m sitting there in the middle of the woods, riding out an insanely powerful thunderstorm, huddling under a tarp which was suspended by my metal trekking poles. Fortunately they are rubber tipped on both ends, were grounded, and I wasn’t touching them.

The torrential downpour of rain that accompanied all this lightning added to my worries as a huge puddle of water began creeping under my tarp. On a humorous note (though certain people I know would probably freak at this), five large toads hopped out of the rain and onto my sleeping bag. I kicked them off but they still stayed under the tarp and just gave me a relaxed look reminiscant of the Budweiser toads as if they wanted to tell me “thanks for the shelter dude, it’s wicked out there!”

Fortunately I had chosen to sleep on the side of my tarp where the huge water puddle did not creep, the thunderstorm moved out quicky without striking me, and I was able to make five new friends.

On a more enjoyable note, just yesterday I took a zero day near Pottsville, PA and visited the Yuengling brewery, the oldest brewery in the U.S. Fun facts: the brewery is family owned, currently in it’s 5th generation and is soon to be passed to the 6th: four daughters of the current Mr. Yuengling. Despite being sold in only ten states, it was the 6th largest producer of beer in the U.S., behind the national brands like Busch, Coors, etc. During prohibition they made dairy products like ice cream to stay alive as a business. After prohibition officially ended they sent a barrel of beer to the White House as a gift to President Roosevelt. The president gave the beer to the press though as he “preferred whiskey.”

The tour was free, very informative, and included multiple samplings ;). My favorite part was ‘the cave.’ In the 1800s they built a cave into the mountain, underneath their brewery, where they could store barrels of beer at naturally cool temperatures (before refridgeration). The picture above is from the canning process – thousands of cans being whisked down a conveyor belt and filled with beer.

70 miles left in Pennslyvania and still loving the trail!

Mobile Blogging from here.

Crossing the Mason-Dixon

June 5, 2009
Me, Bernie, Nick at High Rock, MD

Me, Bernie, Nick at High Rock, MD

Last Sunday I was joined on the trail by friends and former housemates Bernie and Nick. They picked a great day to hike with me both for the weather and the scenery. Together we hiked the last few miles of Maryland and crossed the Mason-Dixon line into Pennsylvania. We took in views from High Rock, the highest point in Maryland, and clamored our way through some treacherous boulder fields – a preview of what I expect to see in northern PA. By far the highlight of our day together was Penn-Mar park. We were walking together in the woods when all of sudden we hear big/band swing music. As we made our way through the forest opening, we stumbled into a park fillled with senior citizens dancing the afternoon away to a 12-piece band. It was quite a sight, one I certainly was not expecting.

Penn-Mar Park

Penn-Mar Park

We were tempted to break out our superior dance skills and try to pick up a few new lady friends under the dance pavilion, but I think we were more concerned with our lunch and the ice cream stand. Besides, we had plenty of fun conversing with all the folks at the picnic tables about the A.T. and hearing unique send-off’s like “tally-ho young man!”

After the senior citizen mecca at Penn-Mar park, we made our way into Pennslyvania and eventually Bernie’s car. We wrapped up the afternoon with a trip to the local pub in Waynesboro, PA where Nascar and the local Pool tournemant were the talk of the day. Thanks for coming out Nick and Bernie!

Before

Before

The next highlight of my week was arriving at Pine Grove Furnace State Park in PA, which marks the official halfway point of the A.T. To celebrate this milestone, the tradition is for hikers to take the ‘half-gallon challenge.’ The goal is to finish a half-gallon of PA’s own Hersery ice cream in one sitting. Stuff-Sack (another thru-hiker) and I arrived around 3 P.M. and decided to undertake this challenge together. After carefully reviewing the multiple flavors available, I decided on plain chocolate as it had the least amount of calories and sugar compared to flavors like ‘cherry swirl’ and ‘moose tracks’.

After

After

I was slightly dreading this challenge so I had to make it as easy as possible on my stomach. As you can see from the pictures, I completed the challenge. It took me 45 minutes. Much like the morning after a night of heavy drinking, I’ve temporarly sworn off any and all ice cream.

Underground Railroad

Underground Railroad

Also in Pine Grove Furnace State Park, I stayed at the Iron Mansion hostel, a building that used to house runaway slaves during the underground railroad. A stay at the hostel comes complete with a tour of how the runaway slaves were hidden in the house and we all got to climb into the ‘secret basement’ room where the slaves stayed. According to the caretaker of the hostel, slaves would stay for only one or two days and travel by night. Their ultimate goal was not just the northern U.S., but actually Canada, where they were protected from bounty hunters who were trying to extradite them back to their owners in the South.

All-in-all it’s been a great week. I’ve met a lot of new hikers since my D.C. break and there are currently eight of us holding up at the Doyle Hotel in Duncannon, PA. This place is a legend among thru-hikers because of it’s small-town pub charm and cheap beer. We also have live music to look forward to tonight!

Cumberland Valley, PA

Cumberland Valley, PA


Breaking In…Again

May 30, 2009
IMG_0120

Beautiful sunset at camp

You would think that after an eight day break from the trail, my body would be rested and refreshed, ready to tackle the remaining 1,100 (and change) miles to Maine. Nope! I felt completely rusty and achy as I crossed the Potomac River into Maryland. On top of that, the trail has thinned out! I spent the night alone Friday and didn’t see another thru-hiker until my second afternoon. I also found out that 4 people in my tight-knit hiker group decided to drop out when I was in D.C. One I could have predicted but three of them took me by surprise. The mid-atlantic states historically really wear on people’s minds and many hikers who can physically make it to Maine, mentally burn out and choose to quit. So I miss my friends who I didn’t get to say goodbye to because of my D.C. trip and I’m missing those who are now a week ahead of me. Fortunately my body aches (and heartaches…teardrop…) only lasted a day as I felt more spring in my step today and met an0ther cool thru hiker tonight.

My break in Washington D.C. was excellent. As soon as I got off the train, I went to the Eastern Market for breakfast…one of my favorite food joints in the city. Some friends met me later at Cantina Marina for drinks on the SE waterfront. It was great to catch up with everyone and I was surprised to see how comfortably I transitioned from walking in the woods to the busy and noisy city.

Bottle and Cork mayhem in Dewey Beach

Bottle and Cork mayhem in Dewey Beach

For the memorial weekend, Christy and I joined friends in Dewey Beach, Delaware. As one of my colleagues put it, “from one wilderness to another.” I think this is a most appropriate statement. For those unacquainted with Dewey Beach, it is a 1 mile beach strip in Delaware of nothing but cheap motels, bars, and pizza-by-the-slice joints. I swear there must be like 40 pizza-by-the-slice joints in 1 mile. Dewey caters to all the 20-30 somethings from D.C. and Baltimore. Especially on Memorial Day weekend… it is quite a scene at night. According to Wikipedia, “While not as extreme as spring-break locales such as Panama City Beach or Cancún, Dewey Beach has developed a reputation as a wild summer “party town”, and is particularly popular in the Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Wilmington areas….the year-round population of about 300, it is not uncommon for 30,000 to descend upon the town during summer weekends.” You get the idea…fun times were had by all and I enjoyed being a beach bum for a few days.

Back on the trail in Maryland, I’ve really enjoyed the history of the area. In Maryland the A.T. loosely follows several troop movements and battle sites from the Civil War. Along the way there have been plenty of markers narrating the battles and stories from the war. I also enjoyed the first George Washington Monument near Boonesboro, MD. I must have spent about an hour talking to the monument & museum caretaker about Civil War history. He was an encyclopedia of knowledge and recommended many books to me. Since most are over 1500 pages I might have to wait until after the trail to tackle those…I’m not going to carry a 10lb book on my back! I also think he enjoyed my company as well. He said unfortunately the most popular question he answers is not about the Civil war, but rather “where is the bathroom?” This guy was so excited to find someone actually willing to talk for more than five minutes. After a lengthy discourse about the balance between individual state power vs. a powerful central government, I eventually realized I would never get to Maine, much less the next shelter, if I didn’t make a run for it. So I thanked him for the knowledge, and pressed onward.

Snakes on a Trail!

Snakes on a Trail!

Other highlights have been numerous snake sightings, lots of nice campgrounds with free showers (I smell good in Maryland!), and brand-spankin’ new shelters. Big shout-out to the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) which does a great job maintaining the trail in this section. I’m Looking forward to hiking tomorrow with former housemates Bernie and Nick who are driving out from D.C. to join me for the day. Together we’ll be crossing the Mason-Dixon line into Pennsylvania. It’s nice to finish a state in only 3 days after the never-ending 500 miles in Virginia.

Thanks again for everyone’s comments and emails of encouragement. It’s great to know folks are reading!

See the white blaze?

See the white blaze?


#95

May 19, 2009

image1034569043.jpgI’m officially the 95th person in 2009 to make it from Springer Mtn, GA to the AT Conservancy HQ in Harpers Ferry, WV. Now for a week off the trail in D.C. These feet need a rest!


Shenandoah and Northern Virginia

May 18, 2009

Harpers Ferry and Washington D.C. are just within reach.   Twenty more miles tomorrow and I’ll arrive at the A.T. Conservancy headquarters and get my ‘thru-hiker number’  i.e. what number person I am to have successfully made it from Springer Mtn to Harpers Ferry in 2009. 

I recently finished the 100 miles in the Shenandoah National Park (SNP).  The highlight of this park is two-fold:  Wildlife and Waysides. 

Wildlife:  The deer in the SNP  are quite used to humans tramping about their forest.  This combined with the fact that hunting them is not allowed in the park, they seem to have no fear of humans.   The deer would let me get within arms reach of them before they finally walked away.  When I was at Rock Spring Hut, one took quite a liking to my hat and decided she should take it from the bench I placed it on.  I came back from the spring to find a deer thoroughly disappointed that my hat was in fact not food and she decided to just leave it on the ground.   

About an hour before this occurance I saw a cute little black bear cub in the middle of the trail.  As soon as the cub saw me, it froze for about 10 seconds, gave me a look like “oh my gosh, mom would be so mad if she knew I was this close to a human'” and then promptly turned around and took off into the woods.  I also watched several falcons hovering near rock outcroppings and I decided if I could be any animal it would be some sort of predatory bird.  The way they float through the air streams looks so fun. 

Waysides:  Despite all the wildlife in SNP, it is probably the least amount of ‘wilderness’ I’ve walked through.  I was always less than a half mile from Skyline drive and would often come out of the woods to Waysides.  Waysides are a wonderful invention of the National Park Service to allow folks to get gasoline, food, and camping gear in the park.  Obviously I didn’t have much need for gasoline, but I definitely hit up the wayside grills!  I must have eaten a cheeseburger and milkshake every single day I was in SNP.  Ahh thru-hiker bliss…

I was also blessed to be able to experience this section with so many friends.  Christy visited me in Waynesboro, VA and brought delicious home-made cupcakes for my thru-hiker family.  Paul and Tanner also came to Waynesboro, VA and slack-packed with me on the first 10 miles in SNP (picture 1).  Thanks for visiting guys!

Five nights later, Andy Miller picked me up from Skyline drive and he and his wife gave me royal B&B treatment in their beautiful home in Browntown, VA.  I’m talking hot shower, laundry, sleep number bed, and a delicious meal of fresh food: broccoli & avocado salad, zucchini, fresh bread, steak filet, brownies, strawberries, ice cream…the works!  Thanks Andy and Marjorie! (picture 2 & 3).

This weekend Brian spent two days on the trail with me. He is been the first friend to brave an overnight trip with me.  It was wonderful to catch up with him and share the full experience of the trail.  Highlights of his visit were hitchhiking to Linden to avoid a thunderstorm, arriving to a shelter right before another thunderstorm, finally getting some good weather in Sky Meadows St Park (Picture 4), and a delicious meal at one of my favorite restaurants, Hunters Head Tavern in Upperville, VA. 

Now I’m resting up at Bear’s Den Hostel near Berryville, VA and look forward to the thru-hiker special here tonight:  1 large pizza, 1 soda, 1 pint of Ben & Jerrys ice cream, laundry, and a bunk bed.  All for $25!  Yes, I still am obsessing about food…