Monday, June 20, 2005

AT 2005. Part Four

May 26, 2005

At 5:18 pm on Saturday, May 21 I completed the last mile of the Appalachian Trail at the Doyle Hotel in Duncannon, Pennsylvania. Not exactly Mt. Katahdin but a fitting end point, one that not only had beer but also did not require a five mile return hike over rocks and a 27 mile ride to the nearest town. Good enough for me and the friends who walked in with me. Beverly Carver, Norma Job and Pat Doyle shared my final eight miles. I was glad to have long time friends as company . We shared a round of beer before showering and returning to the Doyle for cheeseburgers and more malt beverage.

The 12 days from Palmerton to Duncannon were mostly pleasant, sometimes tricky but looking back across those ridges and miles, I had a decent walk--a far better one than thru-hikers now in southwest and central Virginia will have when they hit Pennsylvania in four to six weeks. "Rocksylvania" turned out far better than I expected. Yeah, I stepped over, on and around plenty of rocks but I never found it particularly difficult. No doubt a liesurely schedule and good hiking weather made the rocks less tedious. Even so, I looked forward to the end of several--some long-- rocky stretches. But they always ended and in some cases were followed by good trail and easy grades. In many places the rocks are cobbles, a nuisance but nothing really difficult. And, unlike many other states, Pennsylvania AT miles don't require much climbing. It's mostly ridge walking. I don't doubt that Pennnsylvania can be a real challenge. The thru-hikers I met in Delaware Water Gap in July 2002--Red, Gary and all the rest--came through in summer heat and humidity. They had to walk ALL the way down to the only reliable spring at most shelters where Pennsylvania in May 2005 is blowing with water. A drier, hotter May would have made my walk much less tolerable.

But I lucked out. I had good dates and good experiences. During my first week south from Delaware Water Gap I was largely on my own; met a few people but camped solo many nights. In Port Clinton, I was lucky enough to hitch a ride with two brothers whom I had met on the trail a few days earlier. I met thru-hiker Big Daddy D at the bar of the Port Clinton Hotel and we proceeded to the bar of the Port Clilnton Fire Department and shared the hospitality of the local volunteers. A few days later I met day hikers from the local AT club and was invited to their post hike cook out. I walked 15 miles that day and was pleased to share their food and company. In the following week I began to meet many more northbound thru-hikers from Georgia and distance section hikers. My rough count is 29 and 10, respectively.

Hiking the AT in Pennsylvania is not a wilderness experience. It's more an experience in the space bertween all the people. Between DWG and and Duncannon the trail follows ridge lines of Kittatinny Mountain, then Blue Mountain and Peters Mountain. On either side of those ridges are farms, homes, small towns, interstate highways and all the commotion of human enterprise. Noise is ever present, although the ridges are sufficiently remote that I can ignore if not forget it. Along the ridge is the habitat that remains for rattlesnakes, bear, deer, turkey and grouse. The plant life is varied if not as widespread as it is farther south. Many wildflowers--bluets, columbine, mayflowers, pink ladyslipper, jack-in-the-pulpit and others I cannot name were in bloom as I passed through. Mountain laurel and rhododendron are still to come. Fiddlehead ferns grew abundantly in many places, their massed greenery creating some of the most dramatic contrast in an otherwise muted forest. The forest is largely new growth, having been clearcut two or three times previously.

One of my greatest delights came at the Eckville Shelter where the Blue Mountain Eagle Climbing Club maintains a shelter with four walls, a door and windows, flush toilet, solar shower (not yet heated for the season but welcom at the end of a hot humid day) and a caretaker who stocks cold drinks and ice cream for hikers (also welcome, etc). The shelter register goes back to 2001 so I was able to see what my friends friends wrote when they passed through in June and July 2002. Seeing their words, their names, their humor and artwork transported me back to those days, the days when I was not with them, and suddenly they were a real part of me hike. That alone was worth th effort of this hike.

So now I've hiked the entire AT. I still have no great thoughts to share although I have learned that I can dry off with two bandanas after a shower, that camping alone is not bad but company is even better and that the AT and the people I met there will always be an important part of my life. I also learned that I am a lucky man to have had the support, assistance and good wishes of so many people. Even when I was by myself I was never alone.

I'm in western Pennsylvania, visiting my aunt, the last of my parents' siblings, and cousins. My brother came up from Atlanta and will haul me back to Virginia to find Montreal and Kutsa for a few more days' hiking on the AT before I head back to the blast furnace that is a Phoenix summer.

Rez Dog
GA=ME 02
Missing Miles 05


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