Day 95 – Sunday, June 12: Bert’s Steakhouse (Palmerton, PA) to Smith Gap Road to the Hemlock Campgrounds and Cottages, 12.1 miles, 1,269.4 total AT miles.

I woke from the parking lot of Bert’s earlier than expected. I was full-on cowboy camping, sleeping soundly from my sleeping bag (and sleeping pad and inflatable). At 4:30am, employees starting arriving for work. I didn’t budge – it was nice outside. And I was thankful I wasn’t sweating in the tool shed.

I woke for good at 6:30 and started packing up. Savage and Champa also decided to camp outside – they were stiring as well. I walked inside – Get Weird was up and Black Santa was gone. How had I missed him?

I continued packing outside, going to the laundromat next door to use the bathroom. When I returned, Black Santa was eating breakfast – he woke up early and hiked to the DQ. The five of us, plus Tortilla, caught hitches at 7:30 and started hiking north.

We had been warned about today from locals – the rocks were pretty extreme and the climb was going to be tough. I texted McDoubles – he was already ahead and called the terrain “very technical”. I was excited.

The trail leaves Palmerton and heads straight up – we were boulder scrambling from the start.

At times, I had to climb straight up the rock face, grabbing at natural fingerholds to reach the top. And the wind! A cold front had moved in overnight bringing strong, sustained winds all day.

The view of the valley below was stunning.

We were hiking near land that was part of a huge Superfund site – up until the early 90’s, there was a large zinc smelting operation here and the land was still polluted. We continued hiking slowly on the rocky terrain, stopping for a quick break at 8:45.

After a few quick snacks, we started hiking north again. I joked about having a “snake-free” day before taking the lead. Not five minutes later, I ran into this:

I hiked on cautiously, never finding the snake. I would later find out that McDoubles left the note – excellent use of a time stamp, sir! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve run across warning notes that lack a time stamp – it really helps to know how recently the scary/dangerous event originally occurred.

Then it happened – at 8:58am (I know because I checked) I nearly stepped on a rattlesnake as it slithered across the trail. I screamed (again) before rushing past it. I then decided to give up the lead – I just don’t like running across snakes.

The trail was tough – Tortilla, Savage and Champa quickly took off and disappeared ahead. I decided to take my time – the morning’s rock scramble had already done a number on my feet. Black Santa and I hiked at the end, both of us in pain.

At 10:07, I ran into Champa and Savage – a large rattlesnake was completely blocking the trail. This guy was big! I snapped a few shots and patiently waited as it finally slithered into the tall grass alongside the trail.

And then at 10:09, not two minutes later, I crossed paths with another large rat snake. It was nearly off trail by the time I saw it. Three snakes before lunch is more than I can take.

At 11:30, Black Santa and I caught up with Get Weird. Her parents were arriving at Smith Gap at 2:00 – we really needed to get moving. But, again, the AT did not cooperate – Black Santa and I moved slower than ever.

For the most part, we were done with the larger boulders – we now hiked on smaller stones, basketball to baseball in size. I can’t think of anything more uncomfortable – even with the aid of trekking poles, repeatedly walking on stones this size kills.

We eventually caught up with Champa – Get Weird’s parents weren’t arriving until 3:00. Oh man! I was so happy to hear that – I didn’t want to push any harder than I already had been.

I slowly hiked on – it was 1:00 and I was four miles away from Smith Gap. I really took my time – it as nice to slow down and spend some time with myself. The painful rocks eventually gave way to smooth trail and I arrived at Smith Gap with five minutes to spare. McDoubles was there, snacking with the rest of the group – Tortilla had pressed on.

Get Weird’s mom arrived a few minutes later – all six of us piled into her Honda and we made the half hour trip to Hemlock Cottages. What a treat! Her stepdad was already grilling when we arrived. I jumped in the shower, washing my clothes as I bathed – I quickly hung them on a clothesline to dry shortly after.

We all started eating by 5:00 – the food was amazing! I ate more than I’d eaten in a long time. After we all stuffed ourselves, we watched movies before heading off to bed.

* * *

I can’t believe Get Weird’s parents did this for us – we’ve got our own cabin and a stocked fridge. And with the promise of breakfast tomorrow, I’m more than pleased.

They actually have the cabin for two days – so far, Black Santa and I are the only ones heading out tomorrow. He needs to pick up packages and I’d like to take it easy before hitting New Jersey on Tuesday – everyone else is zeroing here tomorrow.

I’m probably going to get a room next week – I just feel it coming.

I scrubbed my feet today, trimmed my toenails, and shaved the calluses off my heels. They still hurt – I’m just gonna have to hike at the pace they dictate. The good news is that my trek in PA will end at Delaware Water Gap on Tuesday. And supposedly, as I cross into New Jersey, the trail gets a lot easier.

I’m starting to get nervous about this trip ending – it’s been on my mind for a few days now. After we crush New England, we get to tackle the Greens and the Whites before hitting Maine. I know summiting Katahin is many weeks away, but I found myself worrying about it.

I guess I’m worried about missing out on days like today. The wind, the climbing, the snakes – I had a blast today. Even with my sore feet, I hiked with a smile all day long.

I don’t say this enough, but I’m still having the time of my life.

Breakfast: one 20 gram protein bar, 16 oz Mountain Dew

Snack: bag of beef jerky, dried cranberries, six PB crackers

Dinner: three grilled chicken thighs, one bratwurst, pasta salad, chips and spinach artichoke dip, peanut M&Ms, Coca-cola

Day 94 – Saturday, June 11: Stealth Camp to Burt’s Steakhouse (Palmerton, PA), 24.8 miles, 1,257.3 total AT miles.

I woke up before my wrist watch alarm went off (I actually had just accidentally turned it on a few days ago and didn’t know how to switch it off). I was nearly packed and ready to go at 6:00am. I exited my tent and waved at Champa – he was in a similar state of ready. I called out to Black Santa and Savage – they groggily started packing up as well.

Shaggy was awake but not moving – he purchased new shoes from the Cabela’s in Hamburg (outside of Port Clinton) and was having a tough time breaking them in. Tortilla also was packing up as well – he was heading for the shelter just shy of Palmerton.

Black Santa and I took the lead – it was a beautiful morning.

We made it up a short, but rocky, ascent – eventually spilling out on a boulder crossing. We made the shaky, and increasing painful, hop from rock to rock to a view at Dan’s Pulpit. We were only two and a half miles from camp when we were treated to an early morning sunrise.

Champa, then Savage and Get Weird, made their way to the outlook. Black Santa and I filled up our side pockets with snacks and hit the trail. I was very aware I needed to hike another 20-plus miles before day’s end.

We continued hiking north through the wooded boulder field. We were hiking slowly – it quickly became a “choose your own AT day” as the trail was difficult to follow amongst all the boulders.

I was in the lead, rock-hopping with only one earbud in (I usually only listen to music with one earbud in so I can still hear what’s going on around me). I had just landed on a wide boulder when I heard that unmistakeable rattle off to my left. I screamed and turned – on the next boulder over a huge rattlesnake was coiled and looking right at us.

Champa came running up (without his pack on) to investigate – he said he knew I had run across a snake after hearing me scream. Savage and Get Weird hiked up and the five of us stood, observing this monster snake.

Champa walked back for his pack, leaving a note near Dan’s Pulpit warning northbound hikers of the upcoming rattlesnakes. Black Santa and I hiked north. The boulder field ended and Black Santa and I started making good time on the easy terrain.

It was nearly 11:00am – I had hiked nearly nine miles on the day. Black Santa was in the lead. I had been hiking alone for only a few minutes when I caught up to him – he was staring at a tree. He pointed up as I approached. A huge rat snake was climbing the tree – it was nearly eight feet up the trunk of an oak.

We quickly hiked on – eager to get to the PA 309 road crossing. Champa discovered a hidden gem in the AT Guide while snacking at Dan’s Pulpit – just a few miles ahead and a hundred yards off trail lay the Blue Mountain Resort and Restaurant. We hiked in at 11:45 eager for them to open at noon.

We sat and ate a nice lunch. Tortilla, after originally saying he’d pass, decided to join us for lunch (how can you not stop when it’s so close, he said). After paying our tabs, we exited the restaurant. McDoubles was hiking in to eat – his feet were killing him. He said he’d order to go and catch us further up trail.

Note: This is the second time I’ve failed to pick up Tortilla’s tab – I still owe him a meal.

I’m thankful I had a filling hot lunch – it was 1:00 and I had covered 12 miles on the day. I still had 13 to go and decided to pick up the pace. The AT, however, had other plans. I hit a few extended boulder scrambles before being treated to a view at the Knife’s Edge.

I passed the Bake Oven Knob Shelter at 3:30 and continued hobbling across a series of boulder scrambles. My feet were really starting to hurt. I felt like I was getting the same type of impact blisters I got entering Virginia before buying trail runners. Thankfully, a group of Boy Scouts provided some much needed trail magic.

I got a call from Champa – Savage and himself had just arrived in Palmerton. It was 6:00pm – Bert’s Steakhouse closed at 8:00. They had already grabbed a spot in the tool shed and were taking showers. I had four rocky miles ahead and really started booking it. I caught up with Get Weird and the two of us hiked down to the Palmerton trail head. Black Santa was waiting and the three of us quickly hitched onto town.

Bert’s was closed – the manager let us in to pay for our spaces in the bunk. I grabbed a towel and headed around back. The tool shed was hot – a instantly resolved to sleep on the pavement outside.

I was surprised to find Tortilla there – he pushed the extra few miles into town to take advantage of the showers as well. And I got a text from McDoubles – he had decided to camp a few miles shy of town. I told him about our plans to head to the cabin tomorrow – he said he’d be there. I have no doubts.

I took a quick shower (it was surprisingly nice) and settled down to write.

* * *

My feet are killing me – the calluses under my toes and front pads are swollen and painful to the touch. I still don’t have any blisters.

Thankfully, I’ve got a short day tomorrow. The plan is to hike 12 miles up trail and get picked up by Get Weird’s parents – we’re going to a cabin just off trail for the night. Even if I weren’t going to the cabin with the rest of the gang, I’d be hiking a short day tomorrow to give my feet a rest.

I suppose I should tell a little more about Champa and Get Weird seeing as how they’ve been hiking with us for a while now. They’ve been hiking together for months. Champa’s from Florida and Get Weird from Ohio. I’ve been crossing paths with them since North Carolina – it’s been a pleasure getting to know them better.

Breakfast: two 20 gram protein bars, dried cranberries

Snack: Emerald tropical mix trail mix, dried apricots

Lunch: Small salad, 8 chicken wings

Trail Magic: orange

Dinner: Chicken Rice Side with can of chicken spiked with instant mashed potatoes.

Day 93 – Friday, June 10: The Pavilion (Port Clinton, PA) to Stealth Camp, 15.0 miles, 1,232.5 total AT miles.

I woke early as the sun was just starting to rise – the roof of The Pavilion is inhabited with sparrows. I laid on the wooden floor and watched as the sparrows darted in and out amongst the rafters, screaming loudly as dawn broke. I finally sat up at around 6:30 and found Champa’s sleeping bag unoccupied. Get Weird was also starting to stir – Black Santa was up as soon as I called his name.

I looked to the other end of The Pavilion – I was surprised to find at least ten other hikers (whom I didn’t know or didn’t know well) still sleeping. Get Weird got word from Champa that the diner up the street was worth the short walk. At 7:30, the three of us set off for the diner – we were immediately stopped by a local and offered a ride up the hill.

We entered the busy diner and found Champa and Savage finishing breakfast – I sat in an adjacent booth with Black Santa and Get Weird and ordered breakfast. It was good – just different. I tried a local “delicacy” that I’m not quite sold on yet.

Black Santa pulled out his AT Guide and started mapping out the day ahead. He made it to the post office yesterday and would be ready to leave town after breakfast – I’d be ready to go too, as soon as the post office opened at 8:30. Black Santa broke the bad news – the post office actually opened at 12:30. I must have overlooked this fact when I mailed my bounce box from Duncannon.

I paid for breakfast and made the short walk back to The Pavilion. Other hikers were starting to wake as it was nearing 8:30. Damn! I really hoped to get an early start out of town. My feet felt okay – better than I assumed they would feel, but still pretty rough. I didn’t need to hitch into Hamburg to visit the Walmart or anything – I had all the food I needed waiting for me in the post office.

So I did what came most naturally – I unfolded my sleeping pad and spread out my sleeping bag. As I started to doze off, Savage, Black Santa, McDoubles and Champa bid a quick farewell – they were heading out at 9:30am and hiking north for a campsite 15 miles up trail.

I fell asleep. I woke up an hour and a half later – Get Weird had just gotten back from Walmart and was starting to organize her food bag . I fell back asleep. She woke me up at 11:45 – I had just enough time to pack up and hike into town before the post office opened. I felt great – I caught up on my sleep and was ready to start hiking. We made it to the post office at 12:30. After I repackaged a quick bounce box and sent it to Delaware Water Gap, Get Weird and I left Port Clinton and started hiking north.

We crossed under the highway (laughing at some on-trail advertising) and made the quick, but rocky ascent, up to the ridge line. I hiked hard – the weather was great (temps in the mid 70s and a nice breeze).

I followed the ridge, hiking strong for the next two hours. After passing Windsor Furnace Shelter, I was given a nice view of the valley below from Pulpit Rock – Get Weird had already hiked ahead. It was 4:00pm and, after a quick snack, I started hiking to meet the rest of the gang eight miles ahead.

Leaving Pulpit Rock, I ran across an eager day hiker who took a unnatural fascination with me and my hike. It was only slightly uncomfortable – I thankfully made it to The Pinnacle two miles up trail and lost my admirer in the weekend crowd. After hiking quickly along a small boulder field, I snapped a few pictures before booking it to camp.

It was nearing 6:00pm and I stil had six miles to hike before reaching camp. Even after my long morning sleeping in The Pavilion, I noticed my feet were, once again, starting to hurt.  Thankfully, the trail got surprisingly easy – I followed an old road bed for the next five miles.

After cruising down the wide, rockless trail, I soon found myself in camp. Get Weird was hanging her hammock and the rest of the gang was making dinner and relaxing in natural rock chairs around the fire ring. I quickly pitched my tent and ate dinner as the sun was setting.
I had a good time joking around with Black Santa, Champa and Tortilla (he decided to push past the shelter as well) before officially retiring to my tent to start writing.

* * *

No cell coverage in the gap, so I’ll have to upload this tomorrow.

Speaking of tomorrow, the plan is to hike 25 miles into Palmerton, PA. Bert’s Steakhouse has an outdoor shower and puts hikers up in the tool shed behind the restaurant. I know how this sounds – I don’t care. I hadn’t had a shower in nearly a week and am actually looking forward to bathing in the alley behind a restaurant.

And on Sunday, Get Weird’s parents are visiting her from Ohio – they’re renting a cabin or campite near the AT and are willing to put up with a gang of stinky hikers – so it looks like I might get showers two days in a row. 

Speaking of that, I’ve never smelled worse. I remember being taken aback by my odor when I first started this hike. The humidity has exacerbated the problem.

Hikers have been talking about two things lately – how much the rocks stink and how bad they stink. Go figure.

I’m looking forward to getting an early start tomorrow. Palmerton, PA is 25 miles away. The elevation profile calls for level terrain – we’ll see if that’s rocks and boulders or more flat terrain like today.

Breakfast: 20 gram protein bar, dried apricots

Snack: two almond/chocolate bars, the rest of my Dot’s Pretzels

Lunch: bag of teriyaki beef jerky, two oatmeal cream pies, dried cranberries

Dinner: shrimp ramen with two tuna packets