June 12th, 1997
Harper's Ferry about 3 miles Weverton Cliffs

I woke right on time, 8:00. I don't usually wake on time. My alarm goes off, I flip the switch, and I go right back to snoozeville. Then I'm late. I've been doing this for years now, and it's just how I start my morning. This morning, though, was special. My girlfriend would be there in just two hours!

Oh, and I'd be leaving for my next shot at the Appalachian Trail. I was an accidental section-hiker of the Appalachian Trail, a stubborn thru-hiker. After nearly 1000 miles last summer I broke my foot and was forced to take five weeks off. Then, after a 333-mile section at the northern end of the AT I broke both feet, putting me out of commission until the hiking season started again the following year. That season was about to begin.

I had spent the night before trying to work out the technical bugs from my computer system. The Newton seemed to be working correctly, the Motorola modem was being recognised by it, the cable connected right to my Motorola 550 phone. Unfortunately, I lived too far out in the country to test the complete process, as there was no cellular service. 360 Communications had been kind enough not to blight the northern Albemarle County skyline with a celltower. I had to assume that the modem error was a result of the lack of service. As a result of being up until 2:00 AM working on this, I hadn't packed and was pretty tired.

I spent my morning packing. Though I hadn't packed it up since the previous October, it came easily. From so many early trail mornings stuffing things in, I supposed. The Last Breakfast was a rousing bowl of Grape Nuts (named by C.W. Post, because it contains maltose, known as 'grape sugar', and has a nutty flavour), though I did enjoy my shower. My parents were out of town with my sister, and my brother wouldn't be up for hours. Alone, I finished my preparations and listed to David Bowie's Earthling. The worst part about preparing to leave was not knowing how long I'd be gone. I'd told people, during the individual goodbyes, that I didn't know how long it would be until I saw them. I could be gone for a week and re-break my feet or I could be gone until August. I had to assume the best and get my ducks in a row for a couple months of hiking.

Amber Capron, the aforementioned girlfriend, arrived just after 10:00. I couldn't finish my cereal, so I threw away what was left, stuffed my remaining items in my pack, and we left. She'd brought her father's Chevy, a grey, generic car. It should be called 'Car'. We had a two hour drive up to Harper's Ferry, where I was to meet Chris "Seeker" Gorski and his friend Melissa. Seeker and I had hiked together for a bit back in 1996. He e-mailed me a few times during the winter, and we realised that we had basically the same sections of the AT to finish up. Seeker started back in southern Virginia a few weeks earlier, and had stayed at my house a few times as we made his way to Harper's Ferry. In the process, this girl Melissa had contacted him. He didn't know her terribly well, but they had a few friends in common. She'd decided that she wanted to take a month off from life and do a long-distance hike. Seeker, being a pretty friendly, open fellow, welcomed her to join us. She, too, would be starting at Harper's Ferry.

Seeker is a 26-year-old guy from Goshen, Connecticut. He's a substitute teacher and nanny who is taking his third summer to complete the AT. He, too, had started off with the intentions to thru-hike, but kept on encountering problems. He was injured shortly after we'd hiked together in southern Virginia in 1996, getting him off of the trail until this year. Seeker is tall, around my height of 6'4", with a crew cut and often a week's stubble. He's the same sort of brainiac goofball I am, with the same weird esoteric hobbies and interests. We have similar hiking philosophies and spontanious natures. Seeker is shuttling a car with him as he hikes, a bright red 1979 Chevy Impala. He drives it ahead a couple hundred miles, hitches back, and hikes up to it. This means that every week or two he can go farther than these small towns to resupply, take a day off in a big city, visit far-off non-trail spots, or whatever. Seemed like a great idea to me.

So, Amber and I drove up to Harper's Ferry to meet Seeker and the Mysterious (to me) Melissa. We drove much of the way in silence. I think I fell asleep a few times, feeling vaguely guilty for not talking with her all the way up. I think we were both lost in our own thoughts. Shapeless raindrops spattered on the windshield, smearing away by the swishing wipers. I flipped around on the radio for a bit, though eventually gave up looking for music.

We got to Harper's Ferry at precisely noon. I recognised much of what we drove through from my last visit on July 30th, 1996, my last summer day on the AT. We pulled up in front of the Appalachian Trail Conference offices. Out front there were a couple of frame packs. I felt instantly alert at the sight of fellow hikers. We spent a good couple of minutes saying goodbye. I'd thought of so many things that I could say -- it would be hard to be away for so long. We'd discussed the difficulty of long separation, but neither of us has ever been very good with words. We said our goodbyes, I grabbed my pack and got out of the car. I didn't look back.

* * * * *

I sat in front of the ATC offices for a long time. Seeker had just left a few minutes earlier, an ATC volunteer told me, to drive his car to Duncannon, Pennsylvania, and hitch back. He wouldn't be back until late afternoon or early evening -- a 3-hour drive and then a long hitch back. I'd brought Tracy Kidder's "Soul of a New Machine", his 1981 true story on the creation of a new computer system. Just my cup of tea. Unfortunately, I read really quickly, and went through much of the book. I'd have to ration it from there. Melissa appeared. She was around Seeker's age, of medium height with dark black hair in two long braids. She was a little softspoken and quite nice. She recognised me from my picture in the Appalachian Trailway News, which Seeker had given her to recognise me. We didn't talk much, as I was feeling inexplicably shy. Not just around her, but around everybody.

I'm not shy. I am, in fact, probably as far as one could really get from shy. I've walked straight up to everybody from Pat Buchanan to Al Gore to Roger Ebert and introduced myself. I have no qualms with being bold. On the steps of the ATC on June 12th, 1997, however, I became shy. I think it was because I still thought of myself as a thru-hiker. But here I was, around all of these thru-hikers going in and out, and I knew not one of them would consider me a thru-hiker. I'd taken eight months off, I'd not hiked a step this year -- how could I be a thru-hiker? But I firmly believed myself to be a thru-hiker, not a section hiker, and knew that talking to any of these hikers would surely result in just such a discussion taking place. It was also very odd to see all of these hikers that I didn't know. I was used to the concept of knowing most of the hikers on the trail. In 1996 I'd either been reading the journal entries of everybody ahead of me or I'd heard of those behind me. There were few strangers. Here I was the stranger, I was the one who'd have to prove myself. It was a frightening situation.

I did manage to meet a few folks, however, as AT hikers are almost inherently friendly. I met Sandman, a fellow in his 50s from Texas, owner of a couple of restaurants. I immediately liked the guy, not only because of his talkativeness -- which I relate to well -- but because he mentioned that he was carrying a cellphone. I can't help but like a fellow technocrat. A teary-eyed woman with a bearded guy walked up, too. Her name was Fruitcake, his Pan. Fruitcake's hike ended there, right on the steps of the Appalachian Trail Conference. Her plan was to hike the first half then and finish up the rest in 1998. While she was glad to be going home to her family, she'd discovered the inevitable bond to the trail that lives in every true thru-hiker. Pan had hiked with her some -- I didn't know how long -- and seemed disappointed to see her go. Fruitcake looked like she was in her 30s. She was a small, attractive woman, of a good nature. Pan appeared in his early 20s, a bearded guy with a smile on his face. They mentioned that they'd like to get a ride across town to check into the Comfort Inn, where I'd stayed the year before. (The hotel picked me and my hiking companions to take us there, which was nice. The downside was that the bartender, who provided our ride, seemed rather drunk. I advised Pan and Fruitcake to try and hitch.) Lo and behold, as they uttered their desire, over pulled a jeep. "Anybody need a lift?" Trail magic.

5:15. I'd been sitting on the steps of the ATC since noon, reading, playing with my computer and not hiking, to my displeasure. I'd called home to get my brother to read some instructions off my cellphone guide, which I'd left at home, which was really the most thrilling point of my afternoon. Melissa and I decided that Seeker must be on his way back from Duncannon by now but taking a little longer than perhaps he planned. It made sense, though -- three hours there, three hours back. Melissa told me that she and Seeker had agreed to meet at the Harper's Ferry Youth Hostel if he hadn't arrived by 5:00 at the ATC. So, on went the packs and we strode on down Jackson Street, over Fillmore and down the hills of Harper's Ferry. There were dozens of steps carved into the stone of the steep slope, which locals had carved out years and years ago. The trail was very poorly blazed through Harper's Ferry, so I ended up having to drop my pack and walk back up the steps we'd just come down. It seemed that we were still on the AT. We crossed the Potomac River on the 600-foot-long Goodloe Byron Memorial Pedestrian Walkway, which we shared with a large fierce-looking train, its cyclops eye bearing down on us at a clanking 3 mph. Passing touristy-looking folks bearing video cameras, we turned onto the C & O Canal Towpath, which we followed for a couple of miles.

The C & O Canal was scouted by George Washington, the ninth president of the US (I swear: check out this website on John Hanson) and early proponent of the canal system. The C & O Canal is a 184 mile long National Historical Park, beginning in Washington, D.C. and following the Potomac River to Cumberland, Maryland. The canal was built from 1828 to 1850, when it reached Cumberland. Original plans would have had it extend much farther west, but railroads proved a far more effective and popular means of transporting goods west to the frontier. The frontier, Wingfoot points out in "The Thru Hiker's Handbook", was not awfully far from Harper's Ferry at the time. A series of floods finally convinced the C & O's series of owners that it was a bad idea. Unfortunately, the park service still hasn't caught on to that, as they continue to gather dozens of volunteers a couple of times a year to repair damage from flooding.

The walk along the muddy trash-strewn ditch (aka The C & O Canal) was nice, flat and filled with wildlife. Geese quacked their way down the river to our right, a row of five perfect little ducklings wiggled and peeped through the puddles in the canal to our left. Melissa and I talked about hiking as we headed the longer-than-expected distance to the youth hostel. We eventually hit the blue-blazed side trail on the left that led there. We walked along the squirrel-strewn shoulder of a winding road, up a long hill to the hostel. Melissa told me that she and Seeker had stayed there the night before, so she knew the woman that run the place.

Liz, the caretaker, let us chill on her porch to wait for Seeker. I hoped he'd come soon so that we could hike on out of town. After getting up so early, leaving Amber, sitting on the porch of the ATC all day and walking here, I just could not bring myself to pay $4.50 that I didn't have to be permitted to camp on a lawn. By 8:00 Seeker, all smiles and cheerful, moseyed up to the hostel. He said that he had a heck of a hitch getting back, but did it in just three rides. Seeker immediately agreed to keep on hiking. We filled up our water bottles and got the heck out of Dodge.

Back on the C & O Canal, we continued the nice, flat walk in the increasingly-dark evening. My right foot began to ache, a bad sign, considering my history of breaks, but I ignored it and continued. By 9:30, walking by the half moon, we'd arrived at Weverton Cliffs. We'd noticed signs earlier saying that we were not permitted to camp for a distance of several more miles. Somewhat guiltily, we decided to camp there. We didn't have the energy to continue, and I figured it would be a chance to practice our low-impact camping skills.

I munched on a dry Lipton meal for dinner -- yuck -- as Seeker, Melissa and I sat on the edge of the cliffs. Far below us cars sped along the roads, several trains honked their way by, and clouds drifted along below us. It was wonderful out, the moonlit terrain appearing in negative and a breeze blowing from the river beneath us. We talked for an hour or more, watching the toys beneath us, right in front of our faces but a world away. Melissa slept in Seeker's one-man tent, Seeker and I beneath my tarp. Seeker and I slept on the best surface we could find, which was a ten degree angle. Light raindrops plipped on the leaves as we slipped and slid our way down our sleeping pads throughout the night.

June 13th, 1997
Weverton Cliffs about 14 miles Dahlgren Backpackers Camping Area

I slept fitfully last night. Seeker and I slept under my tarp, fearful of rain, on the flattest, least rocky surface around. Unfortunately, this was at a 10 degree angle, which was not ideal for our sleeping bags on our Thermarests. Both of us managed to curl up in semi-appropriate positions such that we didn't slide too much. I put a big rock at my feet that kept me fairly well anchored. Despite all of this, I slept pretty well, and there was no rain.

I woke at 7:00 (none of us have watches, but we could hear the 7:01 train pulling into Harper's Ferry in the valley in front of us.) Seeker and Melissa were eating breakfast. I lounged in my bag for a few minutes, trying to get used to the fact that I was in the woods of Maryland.

As I extracted myself from my sleeping bag, we heard the first sprinkles of rain. Just enough to make the leaves quiver, not enough to cause much worry. Where Weverton Cliffs dropped off in front of us, wispy clouds drifted by Harper's Ferry. I munched on some dry apple-flavoured (it actually tasted nothing like apples) cereal and Pop-Tarts. There was still an emptiness in my stomach from failing to eat enough last night.

We packed in the sprinkling rain and amid the scurrying red ants. I couldn't find my Therm-a-Rest stuff sack, so I rolled it and stuffed it in my pack as best I could. The terrain on the profile map looked fairly flat, so I latched my Leki poles onto my pack, and we were off.

The terain was rather easy, with slight, rolling hills and light rain. I didn't mind the weather in the least. It was quite warm out, and really ideal hiking weather. We saw at least a dozen yellowish-brown toads, all about 3" long, hopping out of our path. Even one box turtle (southbound, as they all seem to be) poked its head up at us.

The rain got stronger, so I stretched a trash bag over my pack and Melissa donned her poncho. Seeker and I just put on rain hats and removed our shirts -- nothing makes better rain gear than skin.

Before long we were at Gathland State Park, which consisted of a couple of monuments, a cemetary, some picnic stands and bathrooms. We bought a few sodas, Melissa and Seeker made some phone calls, and we spent a while sitting, leaning against our packs, butts on the damp cement, sipping drinks and talking. The next shelter was only .2 miles away.

Crampton Gap Shelter, nearly 8 miles from where we'd started at Weverton Cliffs, was a welcome break. We took our socks and shoes off, Melissa wiped down her legs (she'd come in contact with poison ivy), and Chris and Melissa cooked some lunch. I munched on some chocolate-dipped grahams (120 calories each!), Snickers and dry cereal. I'd intended to cook a little lunch, but everything was just too wet to start a fire.

We sat for nearly an hour, in no hurry at all, talking, reading, and flipping through the shelter register. It was odd to flip through the register and not see any familiar names. Voices, probably half a mile away, floated up the hollow to us, along with dogs' barks and the crowing of a rooster.

As we ate the rain slowed, and soon the sun flooded our resting spot. To our right, we noticed, was a strange structure, just a few steps away. It looked like a very small picnic table, but covered, with a little deck attached to the side of it. We tried to think of a purpose for it, but the best explaination was in the register, written by "Two Winds" 10 days ago: "they just got stoned and biult something with the extra wood".

By 1:00 we'd packed, donned our damp socks, and headed back up the quarter-mile shelter trail to the AT. The hike was quite level -- quite remarkably so. "This is the nicest hiking I've done on the A.T.," Seeker pointed out. One rather mysterious feature along the trail was a tall, rocky ridge that ran along with us, 100 yards to the right, for over a mile. How did it form? Why was it there? We sure didn't know.

We took 20 minute breaks at several overlooks, since Melissa & I were far from Trail Ready. At one of these we met "Silence", a friendly northbound guy-he seemed fairly young. Over the next few miles, en route to shelter, we passed him (and vice-versa) a few times. We talked at the shelter - he knew of me, so we talked computers.

Rocky Run Shelter was kinda weird, like the last one. The actual sleeping space was cramped -- one could not have sat up there. But in front of the shelter was a swing, two porches with seats and a table, and a pile of timber filled with nails. We took this shelter as another excuse for a long break, but we finally left at 5:30.

We had about two more miles to go to Dahlgren Backpacker's Campground, where hot showers lured us. The trail to the campground was flat and without incident, so Chris and I blabbered on as we'd done all day. In little time we found ourselves at the campground.

There were already three other guys there, a pair of southbounders and one northbounder. We collapsed on a picnic table, Melissa and I rubbing our sore shoulders and hips. (That is, our own sore shoulders and hips, not one another's.) I felt strangely prevented from talking to the other thru- and long-distance hikers here, as if I was not legitimate or a valid hiker. While I harbour none of these feelings, I still found myself being anti-social.

Each of us took showers, I tried to cook my mac and cheese by the hot tap water. I ended up with a lukewarm, thick, pasty, cheesy goo. Seeker offered me a big bowl of mashed potatoes, which I mixed with some cheese from said dinner disaster and leftovers from the previous night's dinner mishap. This resulted in a delicious cheesy, salty, crunchy, filling meal. It's nice how things work out. We sat around the picnic table and talked as it got dark, Seeker reading portions of Thoreau's "Walking". Two other hikers pulled in, a male and a female named, respectively, "Yoté" and "Footprints". Both were northbound.

One of the male southbound section-hikers came out of the shelter and warned us, "Don't use the right shower! I got shocked!" Well, just a few minutes later, I went to get water from the sink. Grabbing hold of the faucet, my hand began to tremor, and I couldn't figure out why. I let go, and it stopped, grabbed it again, and it continued! This provided a great deal of entertainment for about 15 seconds, until I realised that I was electrocuting myself. I'm waiting for my brain to hemmorage.

At 10:00 Melissa settled into Seeker's tent & Seeker and I spread our sleeping bags out on the ground and slept under the stars. How nice to be alive.

June 14th, 1997
Dahlgren Backpackers Camping Area 13.5 Hemlock Hill

I woke after a wonderful night's sleep at 9:30. I had strange dreams of police officers forcing me out of my apartment. Before I opened my eyes I heard the sound of the ridgerunner (employed by the Park Service) talking to Seeker and other hikers. Deciding I didn't want to wake during this, I kept my closed my eyes until I heard him head south on the AT. For breakfast I had a few Pop Tarts and a Zip-Loc of cereal. We took our time breaking camp, so the others got out considerably earlier than us. We spent a bit eating, talking and packing. Yodi and Footprints left as we packed -- the other three guys were long gone. Soon Silence had caught up with us from the previous shelter, so we decided that it was time to move on.

Shortly we started hiking, jabbering our way down the trail, we came to Washington Monument State Park. After several unsuccessful attempts to Yogi goodies off of the day hikers, we proceeded north along the gravel path through the park. A small copperhead blocked our path briefly, but Seeker kicked gravel at it, and it was out of our way with good speed. It was, I realised, the first poisonous hike I'd seen on my thru-hike.

Just up the trail from there was (really!) The Washington Monument. It was the original Washington Monument, built by some locals in 1827 for our first president. It was, to be kind, really ugly. It looked like a stone milk bottle, perched on the top of a rock slide. There were spiral stairs, dungeon-like, leading to a top balcony, which was crying out to be spat from. We refrained, however, due to the dayhikers gathered beneath us.

The hike (fairly easy all day, really no terrain of note) proceeded nicely from there. We passed a few power lines, all of which had a mysteriously strong a scent of fruit."Those power lines smell fruity -- I'd like to lick one," said Seeker. We prevented him, but did continue sniffing. The gas lines, other grassy gaps in the woods, had no such scent. Weird.

We took breaks every hour or so, having lunch around 1:00. I had a Snickers and some chocolate-dipped grahams, Seeker and Melissa some ramen. Quiet a few day hikers passed us -- we'd seen but one hiker the day before, today it was packed. Being a Saturday, it was no great surprise, as this section was easily accessible by many roads.

We stopped at Pine Knob Shelter for water, where there were three people in for the evening. A brother and a sister, both in their late teens, sat side by side, along with the guy's girlfriend. The girl was smoking a large joint, attempting to engage in converation with us, but was clearly stoned beyond verbal coherence. This entertained us for ten minutes, but we figured we had some hiking to do.

Soon we found ourselves at Annapolis Rocks. We had to wade through dozens of Boy Scouts to get to the actual cliffs, which were suitably impressive. Both children and adults in this huge Boy Scout troop were happily chopping through live trees, hacking through undergrowth and starting fires, burning whatever they could get their hands on, all for no readily apparant reason. Seeker calmed me down before I could go yell at the Scoutmaster, and we left with me quivering in righteous indignation.

Black Rocks was shortly beyond this, which had a much nicer view than Annapolis Rocks. It was slightly hazy out, but athere was a nice 180 degree view anyhow. Children played around the very edge of the cliffs, their parents blindly permitting their kids to dangle by their tiny fingers over huge precipices. Anticipating death, we moved on.

We'd hoped to camp at Pogo Campsite, shortly after Black Rocks. Along with approximately ten thousand other dayhikers, we followed the gently rolling trail for the better part of a mile, but decided when getting there that we'd move on.

I realised then that I'd lost my lovely $70 Bausch and Lombe sunglasses. At one ounce, they were barely noticable on my face or in my pack, so I did not notice them slip off of my packstrap. I will just have to beblinded during field walks. I was bummed.

It was a difficult -- for Melissa and for me -- few miles from there to Hemlock Hill Shelter. We arrived around 8:00. We stayed there with two sisters in their 40s, trail name "The Big Chicks". They were out for a week, hiking to Harper's Ferry, to get away from their husbands and collective 6 children. As we ate our Liptons we talked 40s movie trivia with them we relaxed and made tea over the fire. They were wonderful evening companions. They retired to their tent at dark, the three of us all read and wrote in the shelter. What a nice day.

June 15th, 1997
Hemlock Hill 9.8 Pen Mar Park

We slept late this morning, until nearly 9:00. It was nice to do, and not bad, since the road to Smithsburg crossed the trail but a few hundred feet up the trail. Being a Sunday, surely nothing would open until 10:00, anyhow.

The two sisters that we'd met the previous evening left at 9:00, and we by 9:20. We skipped breakfast, planning to get it in town. Hitchhiking, the first fellow that passed us picked us up, and we piled into his pickup. It promised to be a beautiful day, so it was a nice ride. He took us straight to the Tastee Freeze, where we dropped our packs outside and went in for food.

We all got large portions of pancakes, meats, toast and such, and finished just about everything before us. It wasn't very good, but we were happy.

We went next door to the Food Lion, where we shopped for the next two meals. We planned at being at the Pen Mar Park that evening, where we could get food at the nearby store, so why carry more food? We tried to get a watermelon, but none of them were ripe, so we purchased some potato chips, candy bars, a cantalopue and even a chocolate creme pie.

While digesting our breakfast out front of the supermarket, a woman offered us a ride in a few minutes. We told her that we'd be over getting ice cream. We hurried over and bought soft-serve with jimmies (Seeker and Melissa, being from Connecticut, called sprinkles 'shots'. Weird, no?)

This kind woman met us outside, packed us and our gear into her little car, and drove us to the trail. Seeker hiked bearing the pie with one hand, like a tray, and I carried the cantalopue. Melissa just limped along, as her ankles and feet were hurting. We took it slow for Melissa, mostly debating religion as it relates to government-based dictation of morals (we did this all day, really.) The 4.6 to Devils Racecourse Shelter was surprisingly tiring for the not-terribly- difficult terrain. After hiking all the way up a big ol' mountain, we had to hike back down the thing on a side-trail to Devils Racecourse Shelter.

There we took a shoes-off break, ate our pie and potato chips, and talked for a while with a family staying there as part of a week-long trip they were taking. We filled up on water and pressed on to Pen-Mar State Park, which would mark the Pennsylvania border.

The few miles to there were long, flat and fairly unexciting. We chatted all the way there, stopping for Melissa's feet and to remove a tick from my thigh. By the time that the sun was getting low we knew we were close -- we saw lots of broken glass strewn about the AT. The park was small, with quite a few people, including Yoti, Footprints, Marilyn and Grasshopper. Seeker and I set out to try and yogi some barbecue or chicken or something.

While walking back around the park on our yogi-attempting, we passed the manual carousel that was obligitory in parks before insurance liabilities wiped them out. On and around it were five young children from one in diapers up to a little girl about 8 or 9 years of age. Footprints was spinning them in circles as they giggled and held on for dear life.

Seeker, who is a nanny, immediately dropped his pack and jumped on the carousel with them. I followed, and soon we were all spinning and laughing, Seeker running in circles as fast as he could, pulling us along with him.

Footprints informed us that Yodi had gone off seeking the childrens' parents, as one of the children had fallen and bumped his head. These five children, apparantly, were all of the same parents. The youngest in diapers, we were told, was age three. The others were all of the ages between. All had dirty or torn clothing, all seemed to have free range over this park, unguarded by anyone. Seeker and I decided, without talking, to watch after these kids until Yodi returned with the father.

Seeker continued to spin, with the 'aid' of some of the other kids, as Footprints and I watched the others to make sure they didn't fall off. Soon the park ranger came around to tell us that it was time for us to leave, since they were closing at sunset. I took the ranger aside and told him that we'd like to wait around for these children's father. He muttered something incomprehensible and moved on to the next clump of people.

Suddenly a shout came from the other side of the field - "C'mon, fall in!" Their father started counting up, probably as some warning. "Allen!", cried the kids, running toward him. They sprinted towards him, as their father shouted threats at them.

Seeker and I walked across to them, at the west-facing sunset-watching pavillion, as the father walked away. Seeker, siezing the time and opportunity, gathered the children and faced them westward.

"Kids, did you know when the sun goes down, a diamond sparkles? Just at that moment when it dips down, there's a little diamond just above the sun." This from Seeker quieted even the youngest ones down. They all stared intently at the clouded ridge as the sun illuminated them with a strong red glow.

Up walked their father. "C'mon, kids, let's go, let's go! Git!"

"Daddy," said one of them, "sssh! We're watching the sunset!" The father, seeing Seeker, decided he'd best sit. Seeker remained quiet. One of his youngest daughters explained that they were looking for the diamond in the sunset.

"You ain't gonna see nuttin' out there..the only thing you gonna see is streetlights." This father was clearly a creative dynamo. These children watched the sunset -- probably for the first time in their life -- before their father ushered them out with "Any of ya' kids puke in my car I'll chop your f***in' eads off an' put it in the stew." How depressing.

Off marched the kids. To keep from getting too depressed, we hunted for the first star and wished on it, reciting aloud:

Star light, star bright,
The first star I see tonight,
I wish I may, I wish I might,
Have the wish I wish tonight.

Then we found venus, and then decided to play flashlight tag. Seeker and I nagged two other thru-hikers that had showed up, then Yodi and Footprints to come and play with us. 20 minutes later, neither pair had shown up. Melissa's foot hurt, so that left Seeker and I to try and find one another. Within a few rounds we were pretty exhausted. I hid in the playground slide and tried to slide down when Seeker came up the ladder. While I got back to base in time, I rubbed some skin raw getting down the slide.

Seeker and Melissa and I just sat on the ground and talked and talked about our childhoods, dragging up memories that we'd not thought of for years. At 11:00, tired and a little cold, we turned in, stealth-camping under a pavillion.

June 16th, 1997
Pen Mar Park 8.4 Tumbling Run

We woke at the Pen Mar Park early in the morning, knowing that we were illegally camping. "Waldo," whispered Seeker, "there's a cute redhead here asking for you."

I just rolled over, trying to ignore the sound of the droning engine in the distance.

"Waldo," said Seeker, not much later, "these maintainence guys are going to mow you." I leaped out of my sleeping bag, fearing getting in trouble for illegally camping. Moving on automatic, I was packed and ready to go before either Melissa or Seeker had gotten entirely out of their bags. We couldn't manage to feel guilty for your stealth camping, since the signs prohiited setting up tents, RVs or mobile homes.

It had been quite cold the night before (actually, it was probably no less than 50 degrees), but I ended up with my head in the sleeping bag, my breath warming my body. I didn't lose any sleep over it, but I could have done without it.

We ate the cantalope that I'd packed up the night before, breaking it into thirds, standing in the sun to warm up. We were packed by 9:00 and continued down the AT. We crossed a railroad track and then arrived at the sign that marked the Mason-Dixon line. Seeker let out a big "yee-haw", I a weaker version. (Hey, I was hungry and tired.)

Our goal was just a couple of miles down the trail, to head to a road where we could hitch into Waynesboro, PA, buy some vittles, get some lunch and continue north.

Hitching wasn't difficult. We tried for about 10 minutes before we saw a VW van coming towards us -- a sure thing. Sure enough, it pulled over, and a woman invited us in. I tried to pull open the rear sliding door, but she quickly pointed out that the door would fall right off onto the asphault. We climed in through the passenger door, piling in amongst the skateboards, bike, handweights and knick-knacks. A large false-colour image of Jerry Garcia was stickered on the front windshield, an organic foods co-op logo plastered to the dash. She, clad in a tye-die t-shirt and Lennon specs, told us about Waynesboro and gave us the guided tour. She let us off right at the laundromat downtown, and we thanked her for her kindness. It was a good trip.

We washed our clothes, Chris wearing a little plaid skirt he kept to wear in laundromats, and made phone calls. I called home and called Motorola to find out why my Motorola Montana modem would not recognise my Motorola 550 Flipphone. We eventually came to the conclusion that they'd lied to me the previous year when they sent me the cable to connect these two devices and that I would need to pay $58 for a new cable. This did not go well.

After this we headed over to the Pizza Hut. We got the all-you-can-eat, a bargain at $6 each, and spent an hour stuffing ourselves silly. The waitresses were really friendly, keeping us stocked with drink refills and ensuring that we had everything that we wanted. It was a well-run place.

Just a it down the road was the Kmart and the Superfresh, where we figured that we could get some supplies. Each of us dropped our packs into a cart, and the three of us paraded about in Kmart, pushing our gear around, grabbing what we needed. I'd saved a $2 off coupon on 12-packs of batteries (I will go through about 13/week on this trip), which I purchased, along with some lunch foods, and a pair of $5 shades to replace my lost ones (we'd been blinded by bright sun in recent days.) Melissa bought a pair of these, too. Seeker just ran around the isles and giggled, flinging his cart ahead of him.

Seeker and Melissa lounged out in the sun while I did some food shopping over at Superfresh. I picked up some noodles, dried potatoes, candy bars, cereal and Pop Tarts, charging it all to the ol' Mastercard. This is a pain, but they don't take Most or Plus cards in this town, only Cirrus and MAC. This means I'll have to get cash whenever I can and send it home to cover the cost on my parents' credit.

We tanked up on water at the Subway (which, we found, has excellent water) and moved out. Chris had made an "AT Hikers to Trail Crossing" sign out of a cardboard box flap, which he waved in the air as Melissa and I stuck our thumbs up high. We had to walk several miles along narrow breakdown lanes with cars wizzing past before we had any luck. A local commercial realtor in a small Toyota welcomed us in, explaining that he'd grown up in North Carolina, and had done a lot of hiking on the AT there. We explained the seperate natures of our hikes to him as he drove up into the mountains. He told us that, trail-wise and town-wise and everything-wise, "Pennsylvania sucks". He went on to say that Pennsylvania could be used as a nuclear testing site with very little impact on the US as a whole. We thanked him for his fair and possibly (yet to be determined) accurate evaluation of our next few hundred miles, hopping out at the trail crossing.

We burned our hitching sign, Seeker adjusted Melissa's pack (either she's shrinking or the pack is enlarging), and we were off. Seeker and I ended up loudly arguing ecology (politics vs. reality) all day, pausing only briefly to hit Deerlick Shelter (after another 2 miles or so) and Antietam Shelter (2 miles later.) At Antietam there was a nice fellow and his wife, out for a week, who gave us some tasty granola bars and good conversation for a bit. Just a little bit beyond Antietam Shelter was a baseball field, where a camp full of 11-13 year-olds were playing games.

We sat and watched, drinking from the springhouse there, talking to some kids before we moved on. By 8:30 we were at Tumbling Run Shelters, a pair of shelters by the most perfect moss-covered limestone spring that ever was. I built a nice small cooking fire, Melissa (who has acquired, not without some hesitation, the trailname 'Wednesday', due to her resemblance to the Addams family character) washed her hair, and we all ate. I had chicken-garlic noodles and some cookies, which I finished by firelight.

The night was cool and beautiful, the wind rushing through the trees like ocean waves, our quiet evening conversation and writing lit by flickering candlelight. What a trail.

June 17th, 1997
Tumbling Run 12 Quarry Gap

"Cuc-koo, cuc-koo, cuc-koo!"

I didn't remember setting an alarm on my computer. Mostly asleep, in Tumbling Run Shelter, I managed to turn on my Newton and turn off the shelter-shattering racket. 7:10, the cutsie little digital clock said. Too early.

Later, around 8:30, I was woken by Seeker greeting another hiker. I shouted out a 'Good morning!' and started to prepare for my day. After a breakfast of Pop Tarts and cereal, we left by 9:30. It was slow going, initially, as the trail shot immediately uphill.

We had been and were still going at Wednesday's (Melissa's) pace, though there's no objection from us. We have a moderate pace that is marked by frequent breaks, sometimes just standing for 30 seconds, sometimes sitting for 10 minutes with our packs off. We spent our whole day leap-frogging two other section hikers -- they hiked slowly and steadily, we in short bursts.

The trail went up and down quite a bit, but there were lots of nice rock outcroppings and mountain laurels to make things interesting. It was 2:00 before we knew it, so we hurried on to the Rocky Mountain Shelters.

The shelter was too far off the trail to warrant the trip, so we sat and ate at the top of the side trail. It was a pleasantly warm day, in the low 80s, with some nice breezes that cooled us down. Still, Seeker and I hiked bare-chested, as we'd do most every day. Today, though, we found ourselves easily tired, unable to talk, so Seeker & I busied ourselves with some mental math problems. (We're such geeks.)

We were on the move again soon, lured by a park that the AT goes through, Caledonia State Park. "The Thru-Hiker's Handbook" lists it as having a swimming pool, which was a temping treat.

By 4:30 we'd gotten there. The park had some huge, beautiful trees in it and a wide, pleasant brook flowing through it. There were quite a few families out with picnics, spread out along paths winding through the park. Considering it's right next to an Interstate, it's surprisingly well-done. I expected it to be a real pit.

For $1.50 / person we enjoyed a swim and shower in the big 10' deep pool. The pool was a big, long, blue rectangle, with some lifeguards younger than us on duty. (That'll make ya' feel old.) There weren't many people around, though some other hikers (Grasshopper, Hardcore, who thru-hiked in '83 and again this year, Appleseed, Hardcore's 12-year-old short-term hiking parnter/grandson & others) were there. Seeker and Wednesday (Melissa) got some goodies at the snack bar, I talked gear with another hiker, and we were happy until 7:00.

We did not, it's worth mentioning, suddenly become sad at 7:00. But we did leave then. The 2.5 miles - first up, then flat - to Quarry Gap Shelters came easily, and we arrived before dark. The shelter was a little unusual. It was actually two tiny shelters, fitting about three people each, which were spaced about ten feet apart. There was one continuous roof that covered both shelters and about four feet in front of each. The space in front of and between the shelters had been turned into a deck, a picnic table placed between the two shelters. Things were a little cramped with abot ten hikers in for the night. The other hikers included Menomena, Hardcore, Appleseed, Meant2B and Motherbird. I made dinner over the fire, talked to the hikers, and typed quietly until 10:00 under a tree out in the forest. Returning to the shelter, I found that both sleeping portions of the shelter were full up. Menomena had taken the space behind the picnic table, Wednesday (Melissa) the right side of the porch, Seeker his hammock between two support poles. I wedged in to the right of the picnic table, reading a little by candlelight before blowing it out.


June 18th, 1997
Quarry Gap 13.8 Toms Run

It was a rainy night at Quarry Gap Shelters. Lacking sufficient shelter space, Seeker, Wednesday (Melissa), Menomena and I slept out on the covered porch connecting the two tiny shelters. Seeker had originally started up on his little hammock, but found the angle too strong to be comfortable. Once the rain started, he had to move into the shelter porch. Things were made further interesting by the whip-poor-will singing loudly at us all night. Fortunately, I'd packed earplugs!

The result was that, by morning, we were underfoot as the others attempted to pack up and leave. By the time came that I was fully awake, Hardcore, Appleseed, Meant2B, and Mother Bird had all left.

It was a little chilly out, so as soon as I arose, on went the long-sleeved shirt over my t-shirt. Seeker was just finishing up a batch of oatmeal, half of which he poured into a bowl and woke up Wednesday (Melissa) with. I munched on dry cereal and Pop-Tarts, as always, and talked to Seeker and to Menomena as he packed up. We discovered that we all knew the same comedy routines, so we had a few good laughs before Menomena started his hike for the day.

Seeker rationed out our daily Flintstone vitamins as we slowly packed up, putting off our surely-wet hike. A big pack of kids hiked by, all but ignoring us, lost in their own seemingly-terminal dampness. A couple of anonymous thru-hikers slackpacked by, and we stepped out of the shelter after then.

The rain was just dripping off the trees, fortunately, though the sky remained grey. The hiking was somewhat dreary, but not bad. Being a bit dark, due to the cloudiness, gazing fondly at the wildlife was not high on our to-do list. Sort of a nose-to-the-grindstone morning. After four miles or so we took a break at a Potomac Appalachian Trail Club cabin, which was locked, where we munched on some snacks and cooled down.

We met Redtop and Fox on the Run, two handshakin'-type men in their 40s or 50s, thru-hiking, but slackpacking for the day. They recognised Seeker, but couldn't quite pinpoint it. Before long, we came to the realisation that Redtop had photographed Seeker in drag at Trail Days in Damascus the month before. We decided that perhaps it was time to continue.

Our hiking was at a good pace, as the terrain was quite flat. We spent our time mostly on idle conversation, more concerned with pounding out the last two miles to the shelter. Birch Run Shelters popped up shortly, to our obvious delight.

We sat in the first shelter of the two. Why there were so many double shelters in PA and MD is beyond me. Why not just build one big one? The tiny shelter quickly took on a strong odor of feet. As Seeker and Wednesday (Melissa) cooked ramen and I ate candy bars, the sun began to poke out. By the time we'd gotten water, re-socked our feet and packed our gear it was downright sunny. The water source there was disgusting, filled with food chunks. Apparantly people didn't know how to clean their bowls.

We had around 6 miles to the next shelter, where we were considering staying. If the terrain stayed easy we'd even go on to Pine Grove Furnace State Park, another couple of miles north.

The terrain did stay easy. It was entirely level, periodically crossing dirt or gravel roads. We saw lots of chipmunks, a box turtle (heading south, as they always are), and heard ruffed grouse, which neither Seeker nor I had heard since Georgia.

By 6:00 we were at Toms Run Shelters (why no aphostrophe I don't know), another set of doubles. Hardcore and Appleseed were in the first shelter, a few section -hiking women in the other. The rain began as soon as we arrived.

I hurried around and collected wood before it got wet, hoping to cook my mashed potatoes, getting in just as it got heavy.

I got my fire going nicely when it got really heavy, thunder crashing all about us and lightning filling the shelter. My fire went out.

I cooked over Seeker's stove and sprinkled cereal in my taters to enliven them. Yum. Our evening was spent watching the shelter's bird try to feed her babies. It looked as if we wouldn't be going anywhere.

I finished reading "Soul of a New Machine", burned the final 50 pages, and started in on Dick Marcinko's "Rogue Warrior: Task Force Blue". It's not exactly classic reading, but I love the stuff. I typed quietly until 10:00, when Seeker, Wednesday (Melissa) and I finally settled down.

June 19th, 1997
Toms Run 17ish The Woods

Seeker, Wednesday and I slept in once again. Seeker was up and around by 9:00, waking me and Wednesday. Toms Run Shelters were alive with the baby birds peeping in the rafters and the mama fluttering around to get food.

Breakfast was cereal and Pop Tarts, camp time was short. Just a few miles away was Pine Grove Furnace State Park, with food, including ice cream, hot dogs, burgers and fries.

After talking briefly with three women in the other shelter, we were off along the wide, flat trail. The warm morning found us somewhat lethargic, a little haggard. Seeker was developing some rather uncomfortable poison ivy, my right foot had begun to hurt, and Wednesday's feet and legs were giving her all kinds of trouble.

By 11:00 we popped out of the woods at Pine Grove Furnace. There were already two folks, non-hikers, sitting on the large covered porch out front. Appleseed and Hardcore had already come and gone, according to the register on the front porch. Pine Grove Furnace, though actually 7 miles shy of the halfway point on the AT, is considered to be the traditional spot to celebrate having completed one half of the trail. Appropriately, this is done by consuming half of a gallon of ice cream. Neither Seeker, Wednesday nor I had this spot signifying halfway of anything, so we had no such plans.

While Seeker and Wednesday began eating, I realised that I had no money and that they would not accept Mastercard. I ended up hitching a little over 10 miles to Mount Holly Springs, where a nice fellow drove me to the bank and then most of the way back to Pine Grove Furnace. From there a town selectman / volunteer fire fighter / security systems specialist / search and rescue volunteer drove me straight to the store I'd started at.

Nobody was around by then, around 1:30. I ordered two cheeseburgers and bought enough food to last me until Boiling Springs, where I would arrive the following day. By 2:30 I'd finished up eating, cleaning out my pack, and headed north. The trail through the park was nice, flat, but rather torn up due to flooding. It wound by the remains of the over 300-year-old iron-smelting furnace, some sunbathing folks, and soon up into the woods.

I hit the halfway marker soon, marking what was once the middle of the AT. However, the distance of the trail is changed every year as local trail clubs add switchbacks, the ATC acquires new land for the AT, eliminates roadwalks, whatever. Unfortunately, the fellow responsible for moving the marker this year failed to do so, as the actual halfway point is at the side trail for Tagg Run Shelters, over six miles away.

The trail ascended lightly from there and turned fairly rocky. My pack grew uncomfortably hot, as it would for the rest of my hike, giving me prickly heat in the small of my back. As I walked, sometimes I'd remove one or both shoulder straps and hitch them around each elbow, other times I'd stuff a shirt or bandana between my pack and back to absorb a little of the sweat. This is the beast of internal frame packs.

The trail grew fairly rocky, though it continued to be quite level. Walking became a rather tedious act, as I found I had to think constantly about where to place my feet. My right foot began to ache, right where I'd broken it during my '96 hike. My doctor had warned me that if I ever broke my foot again, it would probably be in the same spot, having been made into an Achilles' heel of sorts. I would have to be very careful about stepping on rocks with my right foot -- the less flexing it did, the better off I'd be.

One of the neatest things that I saw that day was the ant mounds along the trail. Ants had built huge hills, maybe two feet high and a few feet across, which were filled with dozens of little holes for them to go in and out. If I listened quietly, watching the little black ants scurry around, I could hear their little ant feet on the dead leaves that covered the ground. Pretty cool.

By late that afternoon I was at Tagg Run Shelters, where Seeker, Wednesday, Hardcore and Appleseed were eating their dinner. Seeker, Wednesday and I resolved to nighthike, taking advantage of the near-full moon and the twelve-mile field walk that we were assured lay ahead. Our goal was to get to Alec Kennedy Shelter, about eight miles ahead.

Night hiking, if done with sufficient light and when one is not already dead tired, is a wonderful thing. It's a good way to avoid hiking in the heat of the day. A rule that some stick by in the summer is "10 by 10, 5 after 5." That is, hike ten miles by 10:00 AM and five miles after 5:00 PM. What I'd prefer is 5 by 10 and 10 by 10, which is really because I like to nighthike.

Seeker and Wednesday set off just about immediately, wanting to hike in the dark as little as possible. I decided to wait around for a bit, digest the two burgers I'd eaten a few hours earlier at the park, and then eat some of the ten-pack of hot dogs I'd bought at the store.

I slowly collected wood and gabbed away with Hardcore. She was almost as talkative as I was, so we got along right fine. She's a grandmother (Appleseed, real name Johnny, is her grandson, I believe) who hiked the AT in '83 and has been out for some distance on the trail every year since. While I didn't ask her age, I imagine she's quite a bit older than she appears. She looks and acts like a very fit 40-year-old.

As we talked, two other hikers came in and set up over at the other shelter. Papa Bear and Wince were their names, both looking in their late teens. Papa Bear was hiking from Massachusetts to North Carolina over the summer, Wince from New Jersey to northern Virginia. I invited them over to help with the ten hot dogs I'd packed up, and between the five of us we finished 'em off, roasting them over the small campfire.

My night hike, spanning from 7:00 - 10:00, didn't take me all the way to Alec Kennedy Shelter. And it involved few fields. Under the thick tangle of branches, little moonlight came in, so I navigated much of the way with my headlamp. There were some maze-like rocky areas, lots of road crossings, and the temperature remained quite warm, hotter than was pleasant.

While I had the best of intentions to get to the shelter, I found Seeker and Wednesday a couple of miles beforehand. Just as I started to feel sleepy, I had a feeling that Seeker would have stopped nearby. Knowing that Seeker, as any real thru-hiker should, would try to frighten me, I resolved to give him his money's worth. When he gave a good scream from just a few feet to my right about a min ute later, I gave a good loud scream back. While admittedly, I was a little shocked, I did exaggerate my fright a little. I laid down my tarp next to them on the rocky ground, talked for a few minutes, then spent the next hour typing up my journal entry and reading a little more Dick Marcinko. Fighting off the invading ants and spiders, I fell soon fell asleep under the dense canopy of stars above.

June 20th, 1997
The Woods 20ish Darlington

I awoke on the ground a few miles from Alec Kennedy Shelter, looking up at the blue Pennsylvania sky. To my left lay Seeker and Wednesday, both of whom had just woken. It would be a hot, humid day. We were just over five miles from Boiling Springs, a town of 1500 people which would serve as the day's first goal.

By 9:30, early for us, we'd shaken the ants and spiders off of our gear, packed, eaten a bit and dragged our tired, sorry butts off of the hard ground. We got off to a slow start, already feeling the heat of the day.

The morning started with a fairly pleasant ridgewalk and light conversation, though the heat had already made us somewhat irritable. (At least, it made me irritable, which can skew the perception of the world quite severely.) It wasn't terribly long before we hit Kennedy Shelter. None of us cared enough to go the .2 miles down to the shelter, so we collapsed on the ground by the side trail.

We effectively collapsed our way down the AT, including up some big climbs and a long a big, nasty, hot, bright field walk into Boiling Springs. It didn't help that I was wearing glasses (I have extended-wear contacts, which I take out for one day each week), which slipped down my dirty, sweat-greased nose constantly and also prevented me from wearing sunglasses. (Not my beautiful $70 Bausch & Lombe sunglasses, mind you...nooo, I had to go and lose those the week before. I was stuck with $6 KMart sunglasses, instead.)

By noon we had sweated our way to Boiling Springs and dripped down the AT, past the big, shallow, duck-filled Childrens Lake in the middle of town, and flopped onto the wooden porch swing in front of the regional ATC office.

Remembering that my girlfriend had sent a care package to this town for me, I sprinted across the street to the post office, not feeling quite so slow anymore with this sudden incentive, and claimed my package. It contained M&Ms, those awesome cookies that come in the white rolled-up bag, dehydrated beef stew, a photo of her -- I'd lacked one -- and the all-important letter.

Seeker and I washed up in the lake -- he jumped in, I had a bandana-bath -- and the three of us went to Anile's Italian Restaurant, just down the street. We each got a pitcher of our choice beverage -- iced tea for me -- and I ordered a steak and cheese grinder. Footprints and Yoté were there, too, having spent the night in town.

We returned to the now-closed ATC offices around 1:30. Seeker and Wednesday left town soon afterwards, as they wanted to go the nine miles to US Route 11 to stay at the Super 8 Motel for the night. I decided not to go, as it seemed like a waste of money and time. Instead, I figured, I'd kill time until it started to cool down some. Then I could hike the 14.6 to Darlington Shelter, hopefully arriving by 10:00 PM.

I bought one day's worth of food for the 25 miles to Duncannon, where I hoped to be by the following evening. After a quick call home I returned to the ATC office to pack up. I wrote a letter, put in my contacts, sent home a few things (excess first aid stuff, my Pearl Izumi jacket, my lycra shorts) and talked with Hardcore and Appleseed, who had just pulled into town. Appleseed, having hiked over 50 miles, would be going home now. Hardcore had to attend a nearby class reunion, and would return to the trail by Monday. A quick goodbye and I was gone by 5:00 PM.

The trail was all field walks. I passed huge corn rows and walked along perfectly-aligned wheat stalks (I'd never seen wheat before!) for miles. I was crossing the Cumberland Valley, having reached the end of the Blue Ridge Mountains that I'd followed since Georgia. This means that a 16-mile valley walk, flat as can be, is required to get to Blue Mountain on the other side. This valley was settled by English and Welsh Quakers and German Mennonites in the early 18th century. Iron ore was discovered here in 1750, and the whole area became known for its iron furnaces. By the 1780s the area was an important gateway to the west for wagon trains.

Some of the walk was through narrow strips of trees, bordered on each side by gently rolling hills. The trees were covered in honeysuckle that grew with kudzu-like ferocity. It dripped off of the trees, white, yellow and light orange blooms everywhere, some higher than any hiker could ever reach. I sucked on honeysuckle throughout the evening. The best thing about the stuff is that you get so little -- it's tantalising.

I crossed quite a few roads, sweating like mad the whole time. Even in the early evening it was in the mid-80s and humid as can be. As it began to get dark I approached Blue Montain, which had been growing larger and larger as I got nearer. An owl hooted at me from the treees, sounding very much like a monkey. It followed me for nearly a mile, flapping from branch to branch quietly, sounding like a compy (the little buggers) in "The Lost World".

Soon it was quite dark, and I had to use my headlamp. Blue Mountain was a difficult climb, not due to the pitch or length, but due to my condition. I must have been sick from the heat, as I felt some nausea, unbelievably hot and tired. I stumbled into Darlington Shelter by 10:15, finding it empty. I promptly passed out.

After coming to, I was up until midnight reading and writing, spread out in the shelter, the sound of a highway in the distance. I skipped dinner, feeling too ill. Perhaps that beef stew will be lunch tomorrow. Ah, sleep.

June 21st, 1997
Darlington 20ish Duncannon

I woke in Darlington Shelter, the sun high in the sky, annoyed that the alarm on my computer (named "Fellow Max") had not gone off at 8:30. Alone, I flipped Fellow Max on -- 7:30 AM. That explained it. Being the first day of summer, I guess that was the highest the sun could ever be there at 7:30 AM. Also being the first day of summer, that would make today Nude Hiking Day.

Still feeling ill from the night before, I was unable to eat much for breakfast. By 8:00 I was packed up and on the trail. By 8:30 I was already taking my first break, sweating like crazy and hot as could be.

I had to take breaks frequently -- every ten minutes or so -- over the course of the morning. The heat quickly became unbearable. I also needed breaks for my feet, which were become sore at the points where I'd broken them in '96. The calluses on my toes had also started to become raw, so I wrapped them in medical tape. Even with this a considerable amount of pain was felt with every step. I also needed breaks to alleviate the pain of the heat rash on my lower back. It sucked.

The trail headed down the mountain, through a small farming valley and back up another mountain. In the valley the sun beat down on me with a force like that of a physical blow, relieved only by sporadic bursts of light breezes that waved their way through the grain around me.

At the base of my first ascent for the day I decided that I needed to eat. It was 10:00 -- I had been going quite slowly -- and I thought it was probably in the high 70s. I figured that my body was having a trouble dealing with the heat because I'd failed to eat enough that morning or the night before.

I built a fire while talking to a southbound section hiker -- he was my age and he, too, had to get off the trail last year because of stress fractures. He was only doing 60 miles, and didn't know how long it would be until he finished up the whole AT. I cooked up some of the beef stew that Amber had sent me in my Boiling Springs care package. I spent a good hour sitting, reading Marcinko's "Task Force Blue", greeting day hikers that went by, eating and drinking water from the nearby stream. I'd hoped that Seeker and Wednesday might catch up with me in this time, but they did not.

The climb up that mountain was more tiring than anything I've ever done before. I was guessing that it was, maybe, in the mid 80s then. I had to stop every fifty feet or so, as I frequently became too dizzy to walk. The heat was incredible. It was like being wrapped in blankets that have been soaked in boiling water. I had a very strong urge to just rip those blankets off. Those blankets, unfortunately, were my skin. Every pore felt as if it had been stabbed with a hot needle, like full-body heat rash. The sweat poured off of me, soaking my pack. My backpack rubbed against my sweaty back, giving me sores on my hips. I cried out a few times in pain and extreme discomfort, cursing the mountain, the heat and rocky trail. Low on water, I didn't dare touch my water bottle. The frustration, the feeling that surely there must be something to be done about this discomfort, was incredible. Every fifty yards I would remove my pack, fling it aside and collapse on the ground. It took me five minutes to cool down each time. During that climb I would have traded anything in the world to cool down.

The most frustrating part of this was thinking that this was what the whole summer would be like, that I may have had to surrender until Autumn. My hike into Duncannon would be long, slow and difficult.

At the top of the previously mentioned climb I met a few dayhikers that had passed me as I ate lunch. They gave me some of their water and some conversation for ten minutes of cool-down time. One of them was from Ellicott City, Maryland, a town about ten minutes from Columbia, where I grew up.

The hiking was mostly ridgewalking in the shade from there, though it still sapped my strength considerably. I quickly found myself low on water, so I rationed out the last gulps over the three miles to the shelter. At one point I came across a freshly blue-blazed sidetrail to the right, which I thought may lead down to water. Dropping my pack, I grabbed my water bottles and slid my way down the steep dirt-and-rock trail for nearly a quarter of a mile. The blazes continued, but I did not; there was no water.

The shelter appeared shortly thereafter, and I walked, duck-footed, as fast as I could in anticipation of the spring. I dropped my pack at the shelter, whizzing past the four dayhikers there, and rushed down the trail to the spring. I dunked my head in the small, deep spring and sucked in the clean, chilled water. Some seeped into my nose, but I didn't care. It was cold and delicious. I didn't even stop when I sucked in some poor frog by the leg. I filled up my quart bottle to the one-third mark and drank it down, three times consecutively. Now, instead of feeling sick from the heat, I felt sick from drinking too much. I'd never been quite so glad to be sick.

The next few miles to Duncannon were quite unremarkable. The walking was straightforward, the trail rocky, my hydrational level quite nice. There was a nice overlook, Hawk Rock, with a great view of Duncannon and the Susquehanna Valley. The descent, from there, was quite steep, weaving around the mountain towards the river. At one point, just before coming to the road, the trail -- quite mysteriously -- shoots back uphill for a few hundred yards.

I soon was on the streets of Duncannon, padding bare-chested along the hot asphault, walking sticks clicking with each step.. Few cars passed me, though several groups of kids on bicycles did. On my march down Susquehanna Avenue and North Market Street I found many of the buildings run-down, collapsing or simply abandoned. I was delighted to find that the temperate was, in fact, 92 degrees at 5:07PM, which were the facts reported on the scrolling sign in front of the bank. This meant that I could handle reasonable heat just fine, but when it came to near 100% humidity and temperatures 10 degrees above average I was a bit of a wimp. I headed straight down North Market without pause, aiming for 3B's Ice Cream on the other end of town.

At 3B's I picked up a cherry Slurpee and a cup of chocolate pretzel ice cream. While the cherry Slurpee was quite delightful, the fast-melting ice cream was not entirely tasty.

I spent a good two hours sitting in front of the Doyle Hotel, the only place in or around town with rooms available, hoping that Seeker and Wednesday would show up. That way we could take Seeker's car to Harrisburg, get a real hotel room, see Batman and not stay at the Doyle. (It looked scary from the outside.) I read a couple hundred pages of Dick Marcinko's "Task Force Blue" in the tired sunlight. Drunks staggered both out and in of the bar in the Doyle Hotel, jukebox country music leaking out of the door each time it was opened.

By 7:30 Footprints and Sandman had come into town. (Footprints, Gentle Reader, you may remember me meeting several times previously, most recently in Boiling Springs. She'd been hiking with Yoté. She's from New York City, in her mid 20s, small, attractive and quite fit (Seeker and I bet that she could beat the heck out of both of us) with short, dark hair. As for Sandman, I'd met him at Harper's Ferry the week before. He's in his late 40s, maybe 50s, and from Texas. He owns a couple of successful sandwich shops there, and takes his ability to hike as a sign of the success and long-term viability of these businesses. This is an awfully long parenthetic statement.) We each got a room up on the 4th floor for $15 apiece. More on those rooms later After giving ourselves sponge baths we headed down to Sorrento's Italian Restaurant for dinner.

The evening's big event was that "The Bud Girls" (this was supposed to mean something to me, but it didn't) were at Sorrento's, on the back porch, and were said to be wearing very little. We skipped that and sat inside. Our food took a long while to show up, though it was tasty when it did. We spent the time getting acquainted, though an obnoxious DJ spinning bad country records kept the music loud enough to make that difficult.

After dinner we returned to the Doyle Hotel, where we sat at the bar for a bit. Sandman had a couple of drinks and we talked with Wahoo (another northbounder, guy in his 40s, quite tall, grey hair, known for consuming a gallon of ice cream at Pine Grove Furnace State Park) and another hiker whose name I did not hear. By 10:30 I'd climbed the many flights of stairs to bed.

The Doyle Hotel was probably once quite beautiful. Now the wooden stairs were rotting, the walls were water-streaked, the windows didn't all open. There wasn't much hot water in the bathrooms, no showers, the doors locked only from the outside -- with Masterlocks -- the rooms weren't clean, all the wiring was original. There was no air conditioning, making the rooms extremely hot. I got a towel with all of the absorbancy of Kleenex and stained sheets. The mattress sagged so much it was comical. The whole place was in shambles, and about what you'd expect for $15 a night. I'm told that this place is a classic popular spot for thru-hikers, so I'll probably get all kinds of nasty e-mail about this, but this place was miserable. And it got worse.

Around 11:30 an alarm in a room on the 3rd floor started to go off. I went down just after midnight to ask that something be done about it. When I got into the bar, I found a shouting match going on. By the time I returned to my room the whole bar had a mug-banging chant going on. A simple three-word chant, something like "f*** all n*****s", a straightford commanding statement about how the locals felt about the county's African-American population. The ignorance and hate posessed by these people astounded me.

By 1:00 AM I'd managed to get to sleep, sprawled out on the bed, a damp washcloth plastered to my chest. It was a hot, nasty, sweaty, uncomfortable night. I did not dream.