Old Stone House Rd to Duncannon, PA (19.8 miles on the day , 1146.6 total)
Terodactyle, Pebbles, and I got our first taste of the brutal PA rocks today as we came into Duncannon. Thankfully though, the day ended extremely well: My grandmother’s cousin Paula and her husband Jim were kind enough to take us into their home in Hamburg for the night. Big thanks for all of the hospitality, Jim and Paula! It also rained overnight – there’s almost nothing as satisfying as sleeping indoors for a rainstorm!
Before Jim came and picked us up in Duncannon, we were able to eat at the church in town, which cooks up a big spaghetti dinner free for thru hikers every Wednesday night in the summer. Their generosity was seriously appreciated by all of the hikers in town. I ate a ton of pasta and meatballs, before heading over to the trail famous (or maybe infamous) Doyle hotel. “The Doyle”, as its colloquially known, is a very run down old hotel, housed in an ancient Anheiser-Busch building. The place is falling apart, and is kind of a dump, but they have a bar downstairs that is always chock full of interesting folks from all walks of life. While enjoying a beer at the bar, I was also able to pick up a package sent to me by my grandmother, full of a ton of goodies. Thanks grandma!
Around 6 or 7, Jim came to pick us up and take us to paradise! Terodactyle and I stayed downstairs, in an area that had its own bathroom, living room, and kitchen, while Pebbles got her own room and bathroom upstairs. We were some very spoiled hikers! Thanks again Jim and Paula!
Stealth site outside of Pine Grove to Old Stone House Rd (22.7 miles on the day, 1126.8 total)
The trail today took us through some really cool farmers fields; it was a nice change of pace, but hiking through an open field during the middle of the day is tough due to the heat and sun.
Today, with Terodactyle and Pebbles, I hiked into Boiling Springs, PA. We stopped briefly for some late lunch, and while we were hanging outside of the ATC mid-Atlantic regional office, we met the owner of a new hostel in town (really though, Terodactyle did the meeting part – he talks to pretty much anyone willing to listen, which is awesome in times like this!). She has 3 bunks built in her back yard, along with tent sites, overseen by her and her husband. For $10 per person, she offers showers, laundry, and unlimited eggs (from chickens that she owns), hotdogs, and grilled cheeses. Her hostel (hostel isn’t quite correct, it’s more like they allow hikers to stay in a small portion of their home) isn’t listed in the guidebook yet, as this is her first full year, but she has signs up at the ATC office. Since it was supposed to rain that night, we were all interested in a bunk, especially for only $10! Unfortunately though, we didn’t want to stop in Boiling Springs because there were many hours of daylight left to hike. Good old Terodactyle got that figured out though – he talked with the hostel owner and got her to agree to pick us up 8 trail miles out of town, and then drop us off there the next morning.
At the hostel, we met a group of hikers that set out to thru hike last year, but got off in Harper’s Ferry. They were back now to finish the rest of the trail. Goose, Maverick, and Roxie (the hikers), along with the owners of the hostel, were nice company for the night around the fire. It was cool to talk to hikers from another year and hear about all of their experiences, and the husband was also interesting – he used to mountaineer, and has summitted Mount Rainer in addition to hiking across Antarctica (he had to pull weeks worth of food behind him on a sled!)
Quarry Gap Shelters to stealth site just outside of Pine Grove Furnace SP (19.6 miles on the day, 1104.1 total)
My blister still hurt today, but it was much improved compared to the night before. Tape and ibuprofen got me up and moving for sure. Today was a very big day – I passed the numerical halfway point, and crushed the “half gallon challenge” at Pine Grove Furnace State Park.
Once you pass the halfway point, you shortly hike into Pine Grove Furnace SP, where there is a camp store, the official AT museum, and an awesome lake. The camp store is the location of the “half gallon challenge”, where hikers try to finish a half gallon of ice cream in one sitting (and if you’re good, under 30 minutes). To be honest, I was a little disappointed because the ice cream cost $10, but it was still fun. I easily finished the challenge (I skipped breakfast to prepare) and even had a small order of fries after.
After finishing the ice cream, I headed down to the lake to hang out and swim before pushing on yo camp for the night (we couldn’t camp in the park). Here’s a pic from the lake:
Falls Creek Campsite to Quarry Gap Shelters (19.9 miles on the day, 1084.5 total)
This was a rough day – a blister (that already existed) really flared up towards the end of the day, even though I had taken my usual blister remedy steps (drain at night, bandaid/tape during the day ). It made hiking really painful. I won’t lie, this blister really tested my resolve, and I had a small breakdown at the end of the day – thankfully Lizzy was there to help me through it. At least I was almost numerically half way!
Not much else really stuck out about the hiking for the day – it was mostly straightforward hiking, mostly flat and a little rocky (though not nearly as rocky as what was to come further north in the state). Towards the end of the day, we hiked into Caledonia State park. There were SO MANY people there, either cooking on charcoal grills or swimming in the huge swimming pool. Some were also swimming in the little river that ran through the park (us thru hikers joined them for a dip). There were probably about 800 people there. It was almost overwhelming to me; I hadn’t seen so many people in one place in such a long time. Hiking the last few miles from the park to the shelter was tough on my blister, but I made it. Tomorrow I will hit the numerical halfway point!
Dahlgren Backpacker’s Campground to Falls Creek Campsite (24.3 miles on the day, 1064.6 total)
I successfully escaped the south today – and completely unscathed! I never even once heard strange banjo music in the woods.
Dahlgren campground was a cool place to camp – I didn’t take any pictures, but it was basically just a grassy (and thankfully flat!) area, that had a full bathroom near it with showers and flushing toilets. It was luxurious compared to the shelters! This place was also very close to a restaurant, according to our guidebook. Terodactyle decided to go, but no one would join him – the guidebook specified that all patrons must have sleeves, and that it was preferred if we showered before dining. That struck everyone as odd – we figured it would be too nice for us. And boy were we right! When Terry came back, he told us he ended up spending $70+ on dinner – thankfully I dodged that bullet (though supposedly the food was very good).
Since Maryland was so thickly settled, the trail went over a lot of roads and near many amenities. With this in mind, I wanted to try and make it through the state without having to filter water a single time – after all, I was already halfway! Yesterday I got water from a pump outside of the bathrooms at Gathland State Park, and then I got more from the spigot provided at Dahlgren camp. With only about 20 miles to go, I had a chance.
Unfortunately, I grew too thirsty and had to filter some stream water after going over Annapolis Rocks, about halfway through the day (and 75% through Maryland). Still though, I ended up only filtering water once, out of the four total times I got water in Maryland, which isn’t too shabby.
A hiker that we had met around a week ago named Muffin Man lived in Maryland, and he told us about a big hiker feed on the trail about 5 miles after Dahlgren camp. Unfortunately, it wouldn’t start until 11; I didn’t feel like waiting around that long, even for free food (I still felt good from Otter’s), so I hiked right by the site of the feast. Terodactyle and Odie, on the other hand, pretty much scheduled their day around the food – the feast was so epic sounding, it may have been the right thing to do (they somehow had a pizza oven going, making homemade pizzas, along with Maryland crab! I guess about 20 members of Muffin Mans family showed up, almost all of them with food).
Since I didn’t stop for the trail magic, I ended up hiking ahead of Terodactyle and Odie for the day, and I was ahead of Pebbles too, who had a slower pace stopped somewhere earlier. So, for the first night in a while, I camped with no hikers that I knew, just barely across the state border in PA.
Harper’s Ferry, WV to Dahlgren Backpacker’s Campground (17.2 miles on the day, 1040.3 total)
Today was my first day hiking without ibuprofen in a while, which is a good thing for sure. I felt great! It was also cool to enter Maryland – 1 state closer to Maine!
The terrain in Maryland is pretty rocky (though I would later discover, not nearly as rocky as PA), but it is for the most part flat, which is nice. I’ve also noticed a huge increase in day/weekend hikers around now that I am a bit further north – I don’t know if it had more to do with the time of year, or the fact that the trail is a lot closer to a lot more people in the Mid-Atlantic.
I realized that I never described Harper’s Ferry much, nor did I take good photos. Even though I was in MD for 80% of this day, I’ll tell you about Harper’s Ferry. First off it’s old – the entire town is full of historic buildings from the Civil War era. That’s kind of their claim to fame – there were civil war battles all around here, as well as numerous monuments, exhibits, and so on. The streets were old and narrow, and there weren’t a lot of hiker oriented businesses (the main area in the town basically had an ice cream shop, a restaurant, and a tiny general store posing as an outdoors outfitter). You can definitely tell that this town was more geared toward tourist dollars than hiker dollars.
Double zero at Otter’s house! (0 miles hiked on the day, still 1023.1 miles total)
The two zeroes I took at Otter’s house were by far my favorite on the trip. I was badly in need of some rest, it was nice to celebrate the symbolic halfway point (Harper’s Ferry), the company was great, and the food was even better! Otter, and his best friend Zack (nicknamed Squid), worked in the kitchen of a really nice restaurant before quitting to hike, so they both are very good cooks. They made us breakfast (multiple times – Squid made the best biscuits and gravy I’ve ever tasted), tacos, burgers, brats, potato salad, baked beans, and more. Definitely the best food I’ve had on trail yet.
Otter’s parents (Mr. And Mrs. Otter) were so kind and generous to let a bunch of hikers crash at their house for a few days. They’re both really into sailing too, so they were chock full of really interesting stories from on the water.
After a bunch of rest, some awesome food, a few movies, and a few comedy specials, it was time for most of us to get back on the trail. Otter dropped us off back in Harper’s Ferry, but he will be staying a few more days with his parents before heading back on trail. Once I got to Harper’s Ferry, I got the classic halfway point picture at the ATC HQ:
Campsite at end of Roller Coaster to Harper’s Ferry, WV (16.6 miles on the day, 1023.1 total)
Day 75 was really hot, and though there weren’t many miles to Harper’s Ferry (home of the Appalachian Trail Conference HQ and the symbolic halfway point of the hike) , they were rocky and tough. I also think I ate something that seriously upset my stomach earlier in the day; I ended up throwing up a bit off the trail about 1/3 into the day. I felt like crap all morning until I puked – afterwards, I felt much better (after drinking some water and brushing my teeth again too). Unfortunately, I puked up the only calories I really had left – I didn’t have any more food. It was my lucky day though; about halfway through the day, I ran into some nice older gentlemen who handed me a package of mini muffins, which were just enough to get me to Harper’s Ferry without resorting to eating bugs or something crazy like that.
Once I got into town though, I was too hungry to mess around. I skipped right by the ATC HQ, where hikers go to have their halfway photo taken and put into the ATC thru hiker book to be forever enshrined in the annals of hiker history. I knew I could get the that taken care of before leaving Harper’s Ferry, so instead I made a beeline for the Cannonball Deli. Pebbles and Terodactyle, who beat me into town and went to the ATC, met me there. I had an awesome chicken Parmesan sub, and then Otter, who had hiked ahead of us yesterday and already been home, came and picked us up (in a BMW I might add – who is the smelly homeless looking person now! Not us for the brief moment!). We then headed to Otter’s awesome house for some much needed rest.
Dick’s Dome Shelter to Campsite at the end of the Roller Coaster (22.2 miles on the day, 1006.5 total)
Today was the hardest day of hiking thus far, but it was pretty much my own fault. To any future thru hikers: I would not advise that you do a 20 mile day over the Roller Coaster (a 13.5 mile section of the trail featuring a rocky 9 ascents and descents of about 500 feet). I also passed the 1000 mile mark today, which felt great.
At Dick’s Dome, I met a cool thru hiker named Q-Tip (probably best beard/mustache I’ve seen on the trail yet, and he’s my age) who really summed it up best at the end of the day: “no more hiking over crazy boyscout projects – it’s really much nicer when they help build picnic tables or shelters instead”. Also, as a side note, Q-Tip said that Dick’s Dome shelter was in the shape of a geodesic dome, and was really cool to sleep in (I didn’t even check it out since it only could hold 4 hikers – the lowest I had seen before that was 6).
The day started off innocently enough; the 9 miles leading up to the Roller Coaster were straightforward, with a bit of up and down but not much. The first few climbs on the Roller Coaster weren’t that bad either; actually, none of the climbs were bad by themselves, but I was really worn out by the end of the day. Around 18 miles into the day, about 2/3 of the way through the roller coaster, was Bear’s Den hostel. I contemplated staying there (a bed, even if just a bunk, is always nice and it would’ve broken up the roller coaster a bit) but I ended up deciding against it. I didn’t want to spend the $30, especially since I was so close to Harper’s Ferry, where Otter lives. Otter, being the nice guy he is, offered to let a bunch of us take zero days at his parents house; since I was going to do that, I didn’t want to wimp out and sleep in a bunk at the Bear’s Den.
Instead, Pebbles and I just visited the Bear’s Den, and got a pint of Ben & Jerry’s with Chuckles, who had decided to stay there. After quickly finishing my pint of Phish Food (this was training for the upcoming half gallon challenge right after the numerical half way point, where hikers are challenged to eat a half gallon of ice cream in one sitting), I almost immediately got back to hiking. The last four miles of the roller coaster, with a stomach almost painfully full of ice cream, were absolutely brutal. My feet hurt from all the rocks on the day, and I was in a terrible mood. I honestly don’t think I would’ve made it if it weren’t for Pebbles – she’s just always so darn positive, even when everything sucks beyond belief. I pretty much rode on the coat tails of her positivity for the last little bit of the day, but at least I made it!
Tom Floyd Shelter to Dicks Dome Shelter (18.1 miles on the day, 984.3 miles total)
The Tom Floyd Shelter itself is nice (well kept, with a deck and bench!), but the location is absolutely terrible. It is so rocky, perched on a hill, with a very weak water source. I wouldn’t have been able to get water from the “spring” if I didn’t have my scooper (aka, the bottom half of a plastic water bottle) because the water was so low. It probably took me 40 minutes in total to gather water – walking down the rocky hill and then collecting the water almost drop by drop really took a while.
The best part about the Tom Floyd shelter was the fact that it was only 3 miles south of the town of Front Royal, VA. In the morning, a few of us decided to head into town for breakfast, before pushing further down the trail. Pebbles and I finished the 3 miles to the road crossing first; Slow Jam was getting picked up by a friend, for a nearo day, but was willing to give hikers a ride into town. Unfortunately there were only 3 spots in the car, but 5 hikers wanted to go to town for breakfast (Pebbles, Otter, Terodactyle, and Fish n’ Chips). Since Pebbles was the only girl in the group, and space was limited, we figured that we should try to hitch a ride in, and let the other 3 get a ride wth Slow Jam’s friend. It only took us about 5 minutes to get a ride – surprisingly, a nice Lexus SUV stopped for us (usually, the not so nice cars stop for us smelly hikers).
The wonderful lady in the Lexus gave us a ride to L’il Dee’s, where we had all agreed to meet for breakfast. Pebbles and I patiently waited for the others (Terodactyle, Otter, and Fish n’ Chips) to show up, but after 45 minutes I knew something was up. Apparently they found out that L’il Dee’s was cash only, and they didn’t have cash, so they went to the Front Royal Diner instead (without telling us!). Worse yet, Terodactyle was feeling like a high roller (he is retired after all), so he paid for the entire breakfast at the diner! Pebbles and I would’ve been angry, if we weren’t already so pleasantly full of pancakes and eggs.
After breakfast, we quickly ran into the Food Lion (grocery store chain down south) before hitching a ride back to the trail. In the remainder of the day (with the intense mid day heat), Pebbles, Otter, and I were able to hike 15 miles to Dicks Dome shelter – Terodactyle, though slowest, decided to push on somewhere past that for the night.