Day 84 – Wednesday, June 1: Stealth Camp (Pen Mar Road) to Caledonia State Park, 18.2 miles, 1,082.3 total AT miles.

I woke early again, running down the AT to find a spot to use the bathroom at 5:30am. I returned to our camp (in that lush backyard) to find Savage, Black Santa and Champa all up and packing.

I was excited to get moving today – the elevation profile looked nice and easy. But I really couldn’t wait to get to Caledonia to take a shower. The four of us were packed and on the trail by 6:30.

Note: I’m enjoying the sun rising earlier in the morning. Waking up at 5:30 is starting to become the norm – I always believed myself to be a morning person, this certainly confirms it.

I hiked north and quickly passed a campsite at Falls Creek. McDoubles was packing his tent – I shouted a good morning and told him I’d meet him at Deer Lick Shelter a few miles ahead for breakfast.

After a quick, but rocky, up and over, I crossed several roads before hitting Deer Lick – I was making pretty good time as it was only 8:00am and I had already hiked four miles. Black Santa decided to press on – I stopped with Savage and Champa to eat and wait for McDoubles.

He arrived and confirmed plans for the day – I told him I wanted to make it to Quarry Gap Shelter just past Caledonia. He hiked north and I continued eating.

Note: I know I’ve already said this before, but McDoubles is a fast hiker. I wouldn’t see him again all day.

As I was getting ready to leave, Get Weird hiked in. She hammocked a few miles behind us last night and was up early – she needed to make big miles today to meet friends further up trail.

I finished breakfast and suited up, ready to go. I made a quick descent, passing two shelters along the way before deciding to take a break. It was getting hot and I was starting to sweat a lot. After consulting the AT Guide, I decided to press on, opting for a nice lunch at Chimney Rocks just a mile ahead.

Down south, I ran into views and vistas multiple times a day. As I’ve hiked north, the mountains have gotten smaller and the views more scarce. As such, I’ve starting making a point of taking side trails if doing so promises a good view.

In this case, it paid off -Chimney Rocks was great. I got a sweeping view of the adjacent range and was treated to a nice, cool breeze.

I lunched long enough for Savage and Champa to catch up before taking off again. Leaving Chimney Rocks, the AT gradually descends all the way to Caledonia State Park – I had nine miles to go.

Just as I was leaving, I got a message from Black Santa – he was three miles ahead and decided to take a detour into South Mountain, PA. Less than two miles off trail, there was a hiker-friendly tavern that offered a free shower to paying patrons. I decided to keep going towards Caledonia.

It was around 1:00 and trail was actually nice with few rocks and pleasant, ferny woods.

I leapfrogged with Savage and Champa all afternoon – hiking with both intermittently. As I neared the Rocky Mountain Shelter, the trail got rough once again. At times, I found myself scrambling over boulders and hopping from rock to rock.

I don’t handle rocks well – they tear at the bottoms of my feet. Imagine walking on baseballs, that’s about what it’s like at times.

By the time I finally got to Caledonia, I was exhausted. I hiked through the park and over to the concession stand – closed. This didn’t look good. I walked over to the ranger station – locked. Damn, no shower. But the bathrooms were unlocked so I washed up as best I could – I even thoroughly rinsed out my shirt and socks, hanging them on my pack to dry.

By this time it was 6:30 and, after talking it over with Champa, decided to take advantage of the location and camp somewhere near the stream that runs through the park. I’m glad I did – we found a great waterside campsite just a few minutes from the AT.

After setting up my tent (no rainfly tonight), I enjoyed watching Champa and Savage attempt to bathe in the creek. For such a hot day, the water was apparently frigid. Champa ended up falling in after a branch he was using to balance snapped off.

Black Santa hiked in as we were starting to make dinner. We briefly chatted about the trail ahead and went to our tents as the sun finally set.

* * *

Tomorrow’s gonna be a fun one. The terrain looks easy – I just hope there isn’t a lot of rocks.

I should hit the official AT Midpoint tomorrow at 1094.5 miles – Harper’s Ferry is only the ceremonial halfway point.

After that there’s the “Half Gallon Challenge” at an ice cream shop on the AT. Apparently you get a free wooden spoon if you polish off a half gallon of ice cream in one sitting. I’ve already puked once on the AT so I think I’ll pass – still, it should be fun to watch other hikers attempt it.

I hope to end my day at the Pine Grove Furnace State Park, home of the AT Museum.

I’ve made recent changes to my diet and the results are starting to show. I cut sugary snacks out, replacing them with dried fruits. I felt like I was relying on too many packaged snacks for quick boosts of energy throughout the day.

I also cut back on the amount of almonds I eat. Some days, I’d polish off about eight ounces – that’s a lot of saturated fat. I replaced the almonds with granola and cereal bars. I’m still getting the same amount of calories, but now I’m getting more dietary fiber instead of the saturated fat.

I feel better. It seems like I have more sustained energy throughout the day.

And while I’m talking about food, I’m afraid I’ll have to stop eating hot lunches. I usually feel heavy after eating them and, in this heat, I’ll often move slowly afterwards. I felt good today after having a healthy cod lunch at Chimney Rocks.

I feeling really good about reaching he halfway point. I’ve been thinking about it a lot – this journey’s a day away from being halfway over.

I’m beginning to miss friends and family back home – both in Atlanta and Seattle. And I’m beginning to realize that I’ll really miss the people I’ve been hiking with. I’ve made some really great friends out here.

Breakfast: 20 gram protein bar, apricots

Snack: one blueberry cereal bar, one Chocoate granola bar

Lunch: three tortillas with beef jerky, dried bluberries

Snack: beef jerky, 20 gram protein bar

Dinner: Mac and cheese with a can of buffalo chicken – it was awesome!

Day 83 – Tuesday, May 31: Annapolis Rocks to Stealth Camp (Pen Mar Road), 16.5 miles, 1,064.1 total AT miles.

I woke early and immediately checked my phone for cell service. It was 5:30 and the skies were just starting to brighten in the east. I had good (but weirdly intermittent) coverage and decided to spend the morning updating the site.

As I uploaded pictures and journals from within my tent, I watched as Juan, then McDoubles, broke camp and left. At 8:00, I stuck my head out of my tent and was surprised to see that Black Santa had already left. He had been talking about getting an early start one morning and I guess this was gonna be it. I continued updating the blog and responding to emails.

It was 10:00 by the time I was finished – I really couldn’t believe it had gotten so late. I quickly broke camp and made my way back up to the AT. Annapolis Rocks is such a popular destination, the PATC staffs the campsite with a caretaker – this morning the caretaker was a former AT thru-hiker named Miss America. She offered me a cup of coffee and gave me some tips moving forward.

Another hiker approached and asked if I was Cood Dad – he had just left the cliffs and told me there were a few hikers down there looking to catch up to me. I grabbed my cup of coffee and made the short walk down to find Savage and Champa relaxing on the outcropping.

They ended up camping just a few miles back last night near the Washington Monument – they woke early to catch up. I told them I needed to hitch into Waynesboro for a quick resupply this afternoon and started hiking north at 11:00.

I hiked alone for next two hours, focusing on gaining ground – the road crossing I needed to hitch from lay 16 miles from Annapolis Rocks. The trail was still rocky and very overgrown – not a complaint at all, I enjoyed walking in the shade.

I paused to take a small break about five miles north of Annapolis Rocks when I found a large black snake slithering across the trail. I tried to get a picture, but it was too fast, quickly disappearing into the underbrush.

I heard another hiker approaching and turned to warn them about the snake (it ended up being a harmless rat snake) – to my surprise, it was Get Weird hiking up. She had been hiking with Champa for as long as I’ve known her and was now pushing hard to meet friends a few days ahead. As we chatted, another hiker walked over – it was Black Santa. I was confused – I thought he left early. He did leave early, but decided to have a long breakfast on the south end of Annapolis Rocks. He was as surprised to see me – he didn’t realize I took the morning off to work on the blog. The three of us departed, heading for Ensign Cowall Shelter for lunch.

We crossed a beautiful grassy field before making the rapid descent to the shelter.

It was 2:00 by the time we made it to the shelter. I cooked and ate quickly – Waynesboro was still nine miles away and I didn’t want to hitch in the dark.

The AT did not cooperate with my plans – the trail moving forward was very rocky.

Black Santa and I continued hiking north. We passed the Raven Rock Shelter at 4:00 noticing a note calling for a group of hikers to stop there. Neither of us recognized the trail names – we had definitely hiked into a new bubble of thru-hikers.

Rarely do I hike with others during the day. It’s not that I don’t want to – it’s more an issue of pacing than anything else. Today was different. Black Santa and I stayed neck and neck all the way to Pen Mar Park.

We talked about life after the trail in detail. He’s planning on moving to Austin when he gets done – I know I’ll be back in Seattle, but beyond that, I have no idea.

We made it to the park at 6:00. I knew McDoubles was somewhere ahead and Savage and Champa were behind. It was getting late and Black Santa and I decided we’d better hitch into town before it got too late. The road crossing was only a half mile ahead – on the way, I crossed a unique milestone – the Mason-Dixon line.

I was now in Pennsylvania, my seventh state. Pretty damn cool if you ask me. I couldn’t believe I had walked this far north. We made it to Pen Mar road and started thumbing it east. We quickly caught a hitch and were dropped off at the Walmart two miles away.

I bought way too much food. I also finally bought batteries for my headlamp (and a backup set), Velcro for my gaiters, and a sewing kit. On the way to check out, I saw the perfect answer to my long beard – a cheap set of hair clippers. I stopped a manager and asked, if I indeed bought these clippers, could I use an outlet so I could shave off my beard. He looked puzzled but agreed.

I paid for my resupply and walked outside to look for an outlet. I found Black Santa hanging out by the vending machines, cans scattered by his feet. And right there, in the Walmart parking lot, I slowly trimmed off my beard. It felt great – there was a lot of hair. I know a few people who will be disappointed to hear this, but I simply can’t care. Having a short beard in this heat feels awesome.

We quickly caught a hitch back to the trail head. McDoubles texted, relaying he had just gotten back from Walmart (how did I miss him?) and was now camped just a few miles away. But it was dark and I was not in the mood for another night hike just yet. Luckily, we found Savage and Champa at the crossing. Champa had knocked on a door and asked if he, and others, could set up tents in the backyard – the owner said no problem.

Pretty cool – I laid out my sleeping pad and started organizing my resupply. After a quick dinner, I decided that the night was so nice, I should just sleep under the stars. I pulled out my solar lamp and started typing.

* * *

I’m looking forward to tomorrow big time. I’ll be in Caledonia State Park and will get to take a shower. I really couldn’t be more excited – I smell terrible.

Demographically, I’m in a cool hiker bubble. I’ve recently been running across more hikers my own age. Hikers aged 30 to 40 make up a small percentage – most hikers are younger (early to mid 20s) or older (over 50).

I was asked about female hikers in an email I received – it’s hard to put a number on the percentage of women attempting a thru-hike. I asked the volunteer at the ATC office in Harper’s Ferry and he said women make up about 15 to 25 percent of thru-hikers.

Breakfast: coffee, 20 gram protein bar

Snack: 12 PB crackers, lots of raisins

Lunch: Stroganoff Pasta Side with two tuna packets

Snack: the rest of the raisins

Dinner: half pound of ham and half a loaf of French bread with mustard