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

Day 92 – Thursday, June 9: 501 Shelter to Port Clinton, PA (the Pavilion), 24.1 miles, 1,217.2 total AT miles.

I woke at 6:00 – it was fairly cold again with temps hovering in the low 50s. I didn’t want to leave my tent but had to – I’ve been finding myself on an early morning privy schedule. I returned to my tent and jumped right back into my sleeping bag – I slowly packed and tried my best to stay warm. I could hear Black Santa and Get Weird packing up as well.

I emerged from my tent at 7:00 to find Get Weird suited up and ready to go – Black Santa was in a similar state of ready as me. Get Weird hit the trail – Black Santa and myself left about 30 minutes behind.

Today called for a fairly level hike into Port Clinton, PA about 25 miles away. Black Santa and I both needed to get to the post office in town, preferably by 4:30 – I personally didn’t want to wait for it to open tomorrow morning.

After a long rock scramble out of camp, the AT finally leveled off and Black Santa and I started making good time.

After the scramble, the rocks got smaller, but remained an issue all day. Black Santa and I realized the best way to tackle the small rocks was to put our trekking poles away and move our feet as fast as we could – at times it felt more like dancing than hiking.

Champa texted and let me know that Savage, McDoubles and himself were about five miles ahead – I wanted to see if I could catch them by day’s end.

It was 9:30 when Black Santa and I stopped at our overlook for the day and had snacks. We both felt great and foresaw making the post office with time to spare – and that’s how it got started. What if we made a game of it? We called our hike today the Port Clinton Challenge – 25 miles before the post office closes at 4:30. And just to make it fun, we decided that we’d accomplish this feat without proper meals – we were only going to eat snacks all day. We had seven hours to cover the remaining 19 miles – Black Santa insisted I take the lead.

I paused only a handful of times over the next few hours – I had been hiking in forest dominated with ferns. It was stunningly beautiful and I had to stop to take a few pictures.

We stopped again, just after 10:00, to take a quic picture of an impromptu milestone marker – 1,200 miles hiked so far!

We stopped again at the Fort Dietrich-Snyder Monument (just a plaque on a rock – nothing special) and were pleased to find a cooler of trail magic – really good stuff, too. I snacked before moving on again.

I kept checking the time and my GPS app – we were consistently hiking just fast enough to make it into town on time. But I was starting to slow down. Those damn rocks were ripping at the soles of my feet. I said as much to Black Santa, insisting he retake the lead. He pressed on, still determined to complete the Port Clinton Challenge.

At 12:45, I officially threw in the towel – I found myself with 13 left to go and less than four hours to get there. I was a little disappointed, but hey, my ridiculous challenge propelled me to put up some fast miles on terrible terrain. I slowed to a manageable pace and kept hiking north.

At 2:00, I caught up with Shaggy at the Eagle’s Nest Shelter – he was finishing lunch. He relayed that Get Weird was maybe five minutes ahead – Black Santa left a whopping half hour ago. He was still trying to make it to the post office by 4:30.

Shaggy and I hiked together for a while. At around 3:00, I found a note from Champa in the center of the trail. It politely asked me to take a few pictures with my camera for him – he sent his heavy DSLR home a few weeks ago.

Since I was already sitting down to take some photos, I decided to make a break of it. I spread out just off-trail and snacked for the better part of an hour. I was horribly sore -my feet were killing me. It felt good to stretch and change socks.

It was my hope that a long break would propel me straight into town – I had just under eight miles left on the day. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case – those rocks were just too much for me. As I limped closer to town, my phone started pinging. Champa and Savage were the first to arrive.

At 4:15, I got a call from Black Santa. He made it to the post office with time to spare. I was jealous – I wanted nothing more than to get off this rocky trail. I still had four miles to go.

Both Get Weird and McDoubles cruised in before 6:00 – I finally made it at 6:30. I was very thirsty and definitely needed to visit a privy. I shuffled through town and made my way to a pavilion to camp for the night. Port Clinton allows hikers to sleep and cook in the pavilion rather than camp along the river.

As I approached the pavilion, I ran into Tortilla – he had just gotten back from dinner in the next town over and was starting to make camp. We were the only two folks there – nearly everyone else got into town early enough and decided to hitch into Hamburg, PA to visit either the Walmart or Cabella’s.

Black Santa was the first to arrive back at the pavilion – he had been shopping at Walmart and purchased some Rice Sides for me. I really appreciate him doing that – now I have enough dinners to make it to Delaware Water Gap.

After playing a few games of pool at the fire station, I returned to the pavilion and laid down to start writing.

* * *

I’m sore and tired. I can’t wait to fall asleep.

I get to pick up my bounce box tomorrow morning – I should have more than enough snacks and protein to get to Delaware Water Gap no problem.

I am done with Pennsylvania.

Breakfast: two almond/chocolate bars, one granola bar, dried cranberries, golden raisins

Snack: two LD oatmeal cream pie, 20 gram protein bar

Trail Magic: can of sparkling water, granola bar

Lunch (Snack): bag of beef jerky, back of gummy bears, trail mix

Dinner: Dot’s Pretzels – that’s it.

Day 91 – Wednesday, June 8: PA 72 to 501 Shelter, 12.8 miles, 1,193.1 total AT miles.

Note: The keyboard is working fine again – I don’t get it.

I woke at 5:00 – it as chilly, but I was warm in my sleeping bag. I wanted to keep sleeping, but I couldn’t – I needed to have another good day if I wanted to reach Port Clinton by Thursday. I silently started packing while the rest of the gang slept.

I made a rather long trek trying to find an appropriate spot to use the bathroom. When I returned, the sun was rising and everyone was awake. Champa was packed first and I enjoyed watching him try to catch a trout while I ate a quick breakfast.

I finished packing and was on the trail at 7:30. If today was anything like yesterday, I needed to get moving. My feet felt okay – still a little sore from yesterday’s hike, but definitely better than I expected.

I crossed an old iron bridge at Swatara Gap before crossing under I-81 and heading back up to another ridge.

The ascent was short, but tough. The rocks were terrible – I moved slowly, taking my time to avoid the smaller, more painful ones. As I hiked up and onto the ridge, I noticed the skies beginning to get darker. I knew rain was forecast for today, but didn’t know exactly when it was supposed to hit.

At 9:45, I found McDoubles sitting trail side. He was using his phone to shop for new shoes – his Brooks were competed trashed. I paused to check the weather on my phone, taking advantage of the good cell service the ridge provided. Uh oh – we were in big trouble. He looked up and asked when the rain was coming. I told him now, like RIGHT NOW.

We got moving in a hurry. I started hearing thunder rumble in the distance and stopped under a dense grove of trees to put on my rain jacket and pack cover. McDoubles passed and continued hiking north as the first rain drops started to fall. It didn’t take long before the storm was raging overhead – not a lot of lightning, but pretty heavy rains and very high winds.

I stayed put. The trees afforded decent coverage from the rain. And with temps hovering in the 50s, I wasn’t about to get wet in the cold. Again. So instead of hiking on to catch up with McDoubles, Savage and Champa, I stood under the trees and shivered. I tried meditating, but when that didn’t work, I resorted to eating snacks.

About 30 minutes later, the bulk of the storm passed and I started mentally readying myself to hike. Just as I was about to leave, I heard another hiker approaching. I crouched down to see who it was and was pleased to see Black Santa hiking towards me. He was drenched – he got caught on the ascent and, by the time he found cover, it was too late. He was soaked and cold.

The two of us began hiking quickly, trying to warm up. We kept laughing at our misfortune – it’s June and we got caught in another cold rain storm. When will summer be here for good?

At noon, we made it to the William Penn Shelter, only nine miles away from the overpass I slept under. Champa and McDoubles were eating lunch inside – Savage was standing in a single shaft of sunlight, trying to get warm.

Black Santa and I crawled inside and made a quick lunch. Everyone was wet (some worse than others), but we all were chilled to the bone. I started packing up to hike north again – Black Santa advised I wait a few minutes. He was on his phone and saw another storm approaching. Sure enough, five minutes later it hit. I crawled up into the loft to avoid the drafts that were blowing through the shelter.

It was nearly 2:00 by the time the front passed – there was no more rain on the radar. Just as I was about to leave, another wet hiker strolled into the shelter – it was Tortilla. I hadn’t seen him in quite a while – his parents were the ones that provided us with all that excellent trail magic before we hiked into Buena Vista, VA. We chatted briefly before I started hiking again.

Savage, McDoubles and Champa left first – Black Santa and I took up the rear. No matter how fast or hard I hiked, I just couldn’t get warm. And despite the fact that I had just eaten lunch, I was very hungry. We decided to hitch into Pine Grove, PA and get some hot food.

After unsuccessful attempts at PA 645, we started hiking north towards the 501 Shelter. I was a little disappointed, but figured if it’s meant to be, it would have happened. Black Santa quickly disappeared ahead – I, once again, slowed down due to the rocky path.

Because it had been raining so hard, I kept my phone and AT Guide hidden deep in my pack. I didn’t know far the next shelter was or if I might be missing any views or waypoints. Thankfully, I found Tortilla standing off trail in a small clearing. He was photographing the valley below. The storm brought clear skies and I paused to enjoy the view before hiking on.

At 4:00, I emerged from the woods and found Black Santa standing near a group of hikers. The 501 Shelter was just ahead – the hikers were standing by the road waiting for pizza. The 501 Shelter is so close to Pine Grove, the local pizza restaurant frequently makes deliveries. Just as we were considering hitching again (yes, I was still cold and hungrier than ever), the pizza delivery driver drove up. Black Santa asked if we could catch a ride with him into town. He said sure, but we had to leave now – he had other deliveries to make.

He dropped us off in downtown Pine Grove – we walked into the first restaurant we saw and sat down to eat. A hot meal was just what I needed. Warm and full, we exited the restaurant and started trying to hitch back to the trail head. We weren’t having much luck – finally a nice lady asked if we needed a ride.

It was 6:30 when we finally made it back to the 501 Shelter. Savage, McDoubles and Champa were miles ahead and making camp – I decided to stay behind with Black Santa. Even though we didn’t hike as far as I had hoped, staying warm was more important – it was supposed to get into the 40s tonight.

I entered the shelter and found Tortilla relaxing on a bunk – I heard a “Cool Dad” come from the corner. It was Get Weird. She had been here all afternoon and completely missed the storm.

I set off to find a place to pitch my tent – Black Santa and Get Weird followed. We found a cozy little campsite and I was in bed before dark.

* * *

I don’t think I’ll make it to Port Clinton by tomorrow, but I’m gonna try my best – it’s 24 miles away and the post office closes at 4:30. I have more than enough food to make it there so I’m not too concerned.

The wind is pretty ferocious – I can hear it ripping through the trees overhead. And it’s cold. I hope I sleep well.

Breakfast: two 20 gram protein bars, dried strawberries and apples.

Thunderstorm Snack: dried cherries, two LD Oatmeal Cream Pies, beef jerky

Lunch: Chicken flavored ramen with two tuna packets, dried mango, raisins

Dinner: Cheeseburger and fries

Day 90 – Tuesday, June 7- Table Rock to PA 72, 23.6 miles, 1,180.3 total AT miles.

Note – I’m still having problems with my keyboard. Apparently, charging it didn’t permanently fix my problems with the Shift Keys. I’m using the Caps Lock to capitalize words and no longer can use the colon. This stinks. 

I woke up at 6 to the sound of light rain hitting my rainfly – I’m really glad Black Santa checked the weather report before we decided to sleep under the stars.

I laid in my tent uploading my blog until 6-30 – I called out to Black Santa from within my tent. He was awake and just starting to pack. I quickly packed up, pulling out my breakfast and snacks for the day, before emerging from my tent.

It was damp, but the sun was starting to warm the rock overlook at Table Rock – Black Santa and I spread our damp rainflies out to start drying. We met two early morning section hikers as we snacked on breakfast on the rock ledge – they were just enough of a distraction to allow Savage, McDoubles and Champa time to catch up. Black Santa and I were surprised to see them this early – they left camp just before 6, hoping to catch up.

Black Santa wanted to get an early start and took off down the trail – I stayed behind with the rest of the group and enjoyed the rest of my breakfast. By 8, the four of us set off in pursuit of Black Santa.

My goal today was to get as close to Lickdale, PA as possible – Lickdale lies halfway between Duncannon and Port Clinton, reaching Lickdale would put me in a good position to pick up my bounce box in Port Clinton by early Thursday afternoon. I left camp and started hiking north, enjoying the relatively easy terrain Get Weird told me about yesterday.

McDoubles and Champa stopped at Peter’s Mtn Shelter a mile in to use the privy – Savage and I continued hiking. We were making good time, stopping at Kinter View at 10-30 to take in the vista – our only view of the day.

Champa caught up to us five minutes later and the three of us enjoyed a quick snack before pressing on. I hiked on in relative ease for the next two or three miles before starting to make a quick descent towards PA 325 and Clark’s Creek – our first water source of the day. I found Savage, McDoubles and Champa relaxing by the stream, enjoying a hot lunch. I opted to eat a cold one, thoroughly enjoying the variety of dried fruits sent to me in a  mail drop.

As I ate, Champa filled me in on all the snakes he saw near Clark’s Creek when he first approached. Lots of snakes. I finished up and walked over to a concrete embankment where he saw the snakes and, sure enough, there they were, sunning themselves on the rocks.

The entire embankment was hollow – Champa had discovered some sort of snake den. They occasionally popped their heads out of any number of holes and cracks in the concrete – it was very disconcerting and I got hiking quickly after snapping a few photos.

We left Clark’s Creek and made a short ascent back up to the ridge. I fell behind – the rocks were starting to get to me again. At first, it was simply annoying, but as I hiked on, it started to get genuinely painful.

I stopped to put on my pack cover – it was 3-30, I had already hiked 15 miles on the day and could hear thunder in the distance. I hiked on, quickly catching up with the group at Yellow Springs for a quick snack. We checked the trail register and were surprised to find that Black Santa was over two hours ahead of us – he was flying today.

We set off again – I hiked towards the back with Champa for most of the afternoon. We started hearing lots of planes overhead – Being an ex-marine, Champa was able to identify them as A10 Warthogs. There must be an air force bed nearby – we could hear them dropping ordinance regularly as they made runs overhead. It was pretty cool, hiking while the birds sang overhead, only to have the serenity broken by the occasional distant explosion.

I fell quickly behind – my feet were really starting to ache. The small baseball-sized rocks were relentless today. At times, I was moving slower than two miles per hour. At 6, I passed the Rausch Gap Shelter and numerous adjacent campsites. I stopped at Stony Creek, an old coal mining settlement, before moving on.

The sun was starting to set as I began my final ascent of the day, a quick up and over Second Mountain. I stopped twice on the rocky terrain – I was looking forward to getting to camp.

I passed through a beautiful meadow at dusk – I knew the plan was to camp near PA 72. I was personally hoping to camp under the overpass – it just makes packing up in the morning so much easier.

For once, that last mile was actually the easiest – I really picked up the pace on the flat, level terrain. Good thing, too – I was beginning to wonder if all the big miles had permanently hurt my feet. As soon as the rocks disappeared, so did my foot pain. What a relief.

I passed several campsites as I approached PA 72 – I was very pleased to find the group making camp on the concrete ledge under the overpass. I quickly made my bed and started cooking dinner. After a delicious meal, I curled up. In my sleeping bag and started writing.

– – –

Today may have been rough on my feet, but everyone felt it. McDoubles has it the worst – he had to lance and bandage two huge blisters on his right foot.

I apparently hiked right by Black Santa’s tent before ascending Second Mountain – I wasn’t paying attention. McDoubles chatted with him for a few minutes – the rough terrain was getting to him too.

Tomorrow I hope to hike as close to Port Clinton as possible. The elevation profile looks easy, but who knows how rocky the trail will be.

I decided that, if there’s a Verizon store in Port Clinton, I’ll need to finally upgrade my iPhone – I don’t have enough memory to hold all these photos I’ve taken.

Breakfast – two 20 gram protein bars, one almond chocolate bar, coffee

Snack – two LD Oatmeal Creme Pies, dried cranberries, dried mango, buffalo jerky bar

Lunch – three Sandwich Thins with chicken jerky, almond chocolate bar, dried apples

Snack – two small granola bars, raisins

Dinner – This has been one of the best yet. I cooked one of the lamb bars with a can of chicken and added shrimp ramen. It was awesome.

Day 89 – Monday, June 6: Duncannon, PA (the Doyle Hotel) to Table Rock, 10.1 miles, 1,156.7 total AT miles.

I woke right at 6:00am, eager to get an early start. I exited my room and trotted down the hall to use the bathroom – the Doyle has only three bathrooms to service the 30-plus rooms spread out on the third and fourth floors. I was lucky – no one else was up yet. I took a long shower and used the bathroom, returning to my room to start packing at 6:30.

Black Santa knocked on my door at 7:30 – he was finished packing and watched as I finished as well. We headed downstairs and sat on the patio, waiting for Savage, McDoubles and Champa to return from their hotel room across town.

Get Weird came downstairs, pack in tow, and said farewell before hitting the trail – she had already resupplied and was ready to hike. Savage and the guys arrived right at 8:00 and the five of us walked over to the post office to pick up our mail drops.

It took a few minutes, but I soon exited the post office with four boxes of food – two of those boxes were a total surprise to me. I’ve got some pretty generous friends and family. I walked outside and began opening my packages – I couldn’t believe all the food folks sent. I had homemade chocolate/almond energy bars, fancy trail mix, lamb jerky, protein bars, candy, Dot’s Pretzels – there was so much food! I took what I needed to see me through four days of hiking and mailed the rest Port Clinton, PA – there’s very little I’ll need to purchase when I get there.

Savage, McDoubles and Champa decided to get a jump on the day and hiked out ahead of Black Santa and I – we had our hearts set on breakfast. We wandered back into town, stopping at Goodie’s (closed on Mondays) and a BBQ restaurant (also closed on Mondays) before settling on a gas station breakfast near the town park.

As we ate, I uploaded last night’s post and sent a few emails. It was a beautiful day – Black Santa stretched out on the picnic table while I chatted with family back home. It was just after 11:00 before we finally suited up to leave Duncannon.

The AT goes right through the heart of downtown Duncannon – it was very cool to realize I was passing homes that sat right on the AT.

We crossed the Juniata River, hoping to catch Savage, McDoubles and Champa at a gas station just off trail. Black Santa and I turned to meet them, but stopped short at the Riviera – I couldn’t resist going in. I was told by a local, who was saddened by our gas station breakfast, that the Riviera had the best chicken wings in town.

Black Santa and I walked in – it was dark and smoky. Only one other patron was seated at the bar. We sat and ordered lunch, playing a game of pool as we waited.

Note: We both noticed how much our pool skills have improved since starting the AT – this was the third time since Pearisburg Black Santa and I were able to play a few games.

The local’s advice paid off – I ate some of the best wings I’ve had in a long time. We left at 1:00, completely stuffed and ready to start hiking north.

We crossed the beautiful Susquehanna River and immediately entered the woods.

After a powerful little ascent, I found myself on small ridge and hiked north. I caught up to Black Santa fairly quickly – we set off for Clark’s Ferry Shelter just a few miles up trail. I was warned about stretches of trail with little or no water – this was one of them. I found everyone snacking at the shelter – I collected four liters of water and joined them.

I had a few camping options ahead and all but one required me to carry the maximum amount of water I could in order to be feasible. The next reliable water source was 14 miles ahead – there was a shelter eight miles up trail, but I didn’t want to make the .3 mile off-trail trek to collect water from there.

At 3:30, I suited up (man, my pack was heavy – I was now carrying an extra nine pounds) and started hiking north. I was at the end of the line. I put on my headphones and tried to start cranking out miles. I got lucky – while the trail was rocky, it wasn’t nearly as bad as I experienced heading in to Duncannon. I found my hiking rhythm and started making decent time.

I passed under a few power lines that afforded beautiful views of the river and valley below.

About an hour later, I found Savage, McDoubles and Champa setting up camp on a small vista that faces due east. They found an excellent spot and should have a great sunrise view tomorrow morning. I decided to press on – I was feeling good and wanted to put a few more miles in before stopping for the night. I cruised along the ridge, thankful I still hadn’t run into rocky terrain.

At 6:00, I received a message from Black Santa – he had stopped at Table Rock and suggested we camp there for the night. It was only a mile away from the next shelter meaning I could safely use most of my water without worrying about being dry tomorrow morning. I cruised in 15 minutes later and started making camp.

The view from Table Rock was great – I ate dinner on the precipice and considered sleeping under the stars. The sun was starting to set and Black Santa checked his phone. Bad news – it looked like rain might be moving in overnight. Being cautious, I instantly set up my tent and moved everything inside before finally laying down to write.

* * *

It’s 9:30 and a first little wave of showers just moved through – I sure hope Savage, McDoubles and Champa decided to set up their tents as well.

I feel refreshed – taking that zero at the Doyle was exactly what I needed. My feet are doing fine – still a little sore from last week’s hiking, but doing better than I expected.

I haven’t mentioned Blue Wolf in a while. He’s almost done healing and the poison ivy that pockmarked his face is starting to clear up.

I need to take some pics of my new gear – specifically my pack and tent. It’s been nearly three weeks since I got the new Osprey and it fits great – I really like my pack. I set up my tent quickly (and kind of in the bushes) tonight and will include a picture of this beast as soon as I pitch it in an open space.

The weather is supposed to chilly at night the next few days – highs in the 70s, lows in the 50s. I’m glad I had my Patagonia base layer sent back to me – I never, ever should have sent it home.

Tomorrow looks easy enough – I got a text from Get Weird. She’s seven miles ahead and said the terrain is a breeze. Hopefully it will stay that way moving forward – I’d like to put up some big miles tomorrow.

And to all my family and friends that sent me food – you’re the best and I love you all. I’ve been receiving a bunch of encouragement lately and appreciate it all – you have no idea. This thing is both physically and mentally tougher than I expected. I’m not sure I could do it without the support I’ve received from folks back home in Seattle and Atlanta (and Minot, ND and Vero Beach, FL).

Breakfast: sausage biscuit, Starbucks iced coffee

Lunch: Riviera – dozen lemon-pepper wings with small order of chicken fingers

Snack: Dot’s Pretzels, lamb jerky

Dinner: Buffalo Chicken Rice Side with can of chicken, beef jerky

Day 88 – Sunday, June 5: Duncannon, PA (the Doyle Hotel), Zero Day, 1,146.6 total AT miles.

I woke up late – it was 9:00 by the time I opened my eyes. I slept really well and was very hungry, but I continued dozing. I finally got my self together and made my way across the street to eat breakfast.

I joined Get Weird and a few other hikers in a booth. As I was ordering, Black Santa walked in. The booth was full so I stood and grabbed a small table with him. We ate quickly and made our way back to the hotel.

I went upstairs to update my website as I waited for the office to open so I could book a second night. At 12:30, I walked downstairs and entered the restaurant (that also doubles as the office apparently). I shot a game of pool with two hikers I’d been seeing infrequently before returning to my room to write.

I instantly felt exhausted – I’m very glad I decided to take a zero. I’d been walking around town in my camp shoes – I took them off and checked my feet. The only thing wrong is a tiny blister under my middle toe. My feet aren’t bruised and I noticed that I’m getting some pretty tough calluses on my heel and under the front of my foot.

I fell asleep for about an hour. When I woke I instantly went downstairs to the restaurant and ordered lunch – it was genuinely good. While sleeping at the Doyle might not be for everybody, the kitchen puts out some very good food.

I shot another game of pool with Black Santa and Get Weird in attendance – I made the best two consecutive shots of my life and walked out. I took most of my lunch to go and headed back upstairs. I fell instantly fell asleep.

I awoke from my second nap at around 6:00 – I had probably just slept for about three hours. I walked back downstairs and found the restaurant to be closed. I hadn’t planned on eating anywhere else.

Black Santa, Get Weird and I ended up eating at an Italian restaurant a few blocks away – I snacked on some wings having already decided to just cook when I got back to my room.

We left at 8:00 and I immediately went back upstairs for the last time. I organized my food bag while I cooked a Pasta Side – I’m looking forward to getting my mail drops from the post office tomorrow morning. If I’m missing anything, I can buy it on my way out of town tomorrow.

I chatted on the phone before finally deciding to pull out my keyboard and write.

* * *

I’m looking forward to getting back on the trail. Despite the supposed rough terrain ahead, I’m actually excited to start hiking again.

I’m really glad I took a zero – I don’t think I’ve ever been this tired after accomplishing a whole day of nothing in my life.

I’ll be in Port Clinton, PA in about four days – that’s where I’m planning on sending my bounce box.

I recommend staying at the Doyle.

Breakfast: Goodies – across the street. Chipped beef (never had it before – it tasted like pastrami that was cooked in a cream suace) served over toast, home fries. I ate half – it was a heavy dish

Lunch: The Doyle – Fried buffalo chicken sandwich with bacon and lettuce, home fries, lots of ketchup, two Pepsis

Snack: a handful of garlic parm wings

Dinner: Sorrentos – Shells and cheese pasta side with a can of chicken.

I really liked all three restaurants I ate at today.

Day 87 – Saturday, June 4: Stealth Camp to Duncannon, PA (the Doyle Hotel), 9.9 miles, 1,146.6 total AT miles.

Having slept in my new Big Agnes Copperspur 2 without the rainfly, the first thing I saw when I woke at 8:00am was Black Santa’s face staring down at me. He was packed and ready to hike, but wanted to wait for me to get ready. I was tired, but my feet felt better. When I went to sleep last night, they were pretty destroyed. Moisture from hiking in mud all night had soaked through my boots and socks, making my toes look like shriveled, red raisins. I taped an open blister on one of my toes before packing up.

We only had ten miles to go before reaching Duncannon. I looked at the AT Guide before leaving and became concerned. For the first time, the guide actually told me that six of the next ten miles would be “very rocky” – I figured if the AT Guide was telling me to watch out for rocks, it was gonna be bad.

Black Santa’s feet were faring slightly better and he took the lead. I crossed PA 850 and entered a nice field before making a steep, rocky ascent that would put me on a ridge for the rest of the morning.

The ascent, maybe 500 feet in total, was brutal. Again, every step shot pain through my feet – I don’t do rocks well. I slowly hiked along the ridge, hopping between rocks, trying to land on level surfaces.

I kept checking my GPS app to see my progress – I was hiking at just under two miles and hour. Pretty slow indeed. I passed only two other hikers, both were sitting down with boots off, rubbing their feet.

I passed Cove Mountain Shelter without stopping and soon found myself at Hawk Rock, a popular destination for day hikers. Black Santa was snacking on the precipice having arrived only ten minutes ahead of me. The view was nice – I paused to eat some snacks as well. It was almost noon and I’d only covered eight miles on the day.

We chatted with an ATC volunteer who had lots of questions for us. I politely cut the conversation short. We still had a rocky descent to navigate and it looked like rain was moving in. As we were making our slow descent, we ran into two young day hikers who had found a dog on the trail. No one had cell service so we couldn’t call the phone number on the ID tag. I offered to take the dog into town and (hopefully) find the owner.

We descended and made a huge error – we missed a white blaze and ended up following an approach trail down to a parking lot. Realizing our mistake, we backtracked (straight uphill) and found the AT. It wasn’t our fault – the AT was poorly marked. Before we pressed on, I hauled some large branches out of the woods and built a makeshift blockade so other hikers wouldn’t make the same mistake we did.

At 1:30, we arrived in Duncannon. Black Santa called the dog’s owner who thanked us profusely, promising to meet us in town at the Doyle. I enjoyed walking the dog – she was a loveable coonhound.

It was 2:00pm by the time I finally met up with the dog’s owner. Apparently, my new friend was a rescue – I’m really glad Black Santa and I made sure she found her owner.

After saying goodbye to the coonhound, I checked in to the Doyle Hotel. The property itself is amazing – a four-story hotel built at the turn of the century. Sure, it’s seen better days, but I’ve wanted to stay here for years.


After checking in, we gathered our laundry and made our way to the laundromat. After throwing our clothes in the wash, we crossed the street and ordered two pizzas to go. Black Santa stayed at the pizza parlor and I walked back to the laundromat, falling asleep in a chair after I threw our laundry in the dryer. Black Santa woke me up and we took our clean clothes and pizza back to the Doyle.

It was 4:00pm and Get Weird arrived, also grabbing a room. I went upstairs and promptly fell asleep again – I was completely exhausted. I woke again at 8:00pm and checked my phone. Savage, McDoubles and Champa had just checked in to a (real) hotel the next town over and were making their way to the Doyle to hang out.

I walked downstairs and shot a game of pool as I waited for them to arrive. By this time, the restaurant was full of hikers. It was really cool getting to meet new people and hang out – I didn’t go back upstairs until 11:00pm.

I turned the fan on and sat down to start writing.

* * *

I’m still very tired – I can’t wait to zero here tomorrow. My body needs it.

My plan is head out on Monday morning after stopping at the post office – I’ve got a few packages waiting on me.

I met a southbound section hiker in Boiling Springs. She warned me about the rocky terrain leaving Duncannon – I should probably count on slower, low-mileage days until I leave Pennsylvania.

Because I have so many opportunities to hitch into town moving forward, I’m going to set up a “bounce box” on Monday. Instead of carrying all the food folks have sent me, I’ll ship what I don’t immediately need to a post office a few days up trail – I want my pack to be as light as possible as I navigate the rocky terrain ahead.

I’m really happy to be here – I’ve read about the Doyle for years and it’s lived up to its reputation. This place is the perfect kind of dive – I love it.

Port Clinton, PA is four days ahead – I should arrive there Thursday afternoon.

And I just found out there’s supposed to be bad weather moving in tomorrow – I hope it doesn’t stick around when I leave Monday morning.

Breakfast: nothing – too exhausted to eat

Snack: 20 gram protein bar, two granola bars, the last of my beef jerky

Lunch: four slices of sausage and banana pepper pizza

Dinner: the other half of the pizza

Day 86 – Friday, June 3: Pine Grove Furnace State Park to Stealth Camp, 35.0 miles, 1,136.7 total AT miles.

Note: All my keyboard needed was a charge – the shift keys are working again. Also, I’m uploading this from my room at the Doyle Hotel – thank God for zero days.

I woke at 6:00 and made a quick jog over to the bathrooms before packing up. When I returned, Black Santa was awake and starting to pack. I quickly broke camp and chatted with other hikers who decided to stay at Pine Grove as well.

Get Weird’s bosses were already up over at the REI camp and were starting to make breakfast. I sat and waited my turn. Breakfast was totally amazing – a seemingly never ending supply of pancakes and bacon. I left camp at 8:00 and got moving quickly.

Boiling Springs, PA lay 20 miles to the north. I knew I’d have no problem making it there by late afternoon – I just needed to make sure I was there by 4:30. Black Santa confirmed that my tent had arrived – all we needed to do was pick it up from the post office.

As we hiked from the campsite to the trail head, we came across a huge snapping turtle digging a hole in the grass (presumably to lay eggs).

The first ten miles looked easy enough – I didn’t see any major elevation gains until I would hit the road crossing for Mt Holly Springs, PA. Black Santa took the lead and I quickly followed.

I hiked alone for the first two hours, making six miles by 10:30, when I caught up with McDoubles collecting water from a stream. He was surprised to see me – he tented with Savage and Champa just a few miles north of Pine Grove. They must have still been behind me – I don’t know how I missed their camp.

PA contains perhaps the first section of the trail I’ve hiked that routinely passes through private property. It’s kind of weird. I’ll be hiking along, enjoying the peace and serenity of nature, and then, oh look, an auto repair shop.

I crossed PA 94 at noon having covered ten miles on the day. Savage and Champa were still behind and McDoubles and Black Santa were in the lead. The next six miles looked challenging and I paused to eat a quick cold lunch.

I resume hiking at 12:30 and was hit with a series of pretty steep (but thankfully short) ascents. As I navigated a boulder maze at the top of the first little ascent, I ran into Black Santa – we decided to keep hiking together in order to reach the post office and grab my new tent.

As I completed this difficult little stretch, I started noticing rocks covered in different kinds of moss and lichens – they looked almost fake, as if someone had painted them. Regardless, they were cool enough to warrant a pic.

Note: I’ve noticed my pictures have recently looked blurry. It’s the humidity causing condensation on everything, including my camera lens, the iPhone screen and lens – even my glasses are constantly fogged up. I’ve tried wiping them with a camp towel and the moisture still remains. I need to buy some sort of a defogger as soon as I get to a proper town.

The descent into Boiling Springs was easy – Black Santa and McDoubles hiked in just ahead of me and the three of us made our way to the post office. I was excited – Black Santa went inside and returned with my new tent. After packing and shipping his old tent home, we walked next door to the tavern and ate dinner. As we ate, other hikers started pouring in. First Get Weird, then Savage and Champa.

It was 7:30 and all six of us wanted to hike out of town in order to get as close to Duncannon, PA (and my zero at the Doyle Hotel) as possible. Duncannon lay 25 miles up trail, but the first half of that stretch promised to be as easy as it gets – we’d be hiking through pastures for 13 miles.

And that’s how it started – if we’d be hiking through easy terrain, we might as well hike into Duncannon that night (or by the next morning). And everyone was on board. Another night hike loomed imminent. We all left at 8:00pm excited of the hiking that lay ahead.

Savage, McDoubles and Champa led the way – Black Santa, Get Weird and I took up the rear. We crossed several pastures and through active farmland, hiking alongside fields of corn, wheat and beans.

The three of us hiked into the night, stopping on some railroad tracks at 10:00pm to have a snack – we’d already covered seven miles since leaving Boiling Springs. As we were packing up, Champa called me – Savage, McDoubles and himself had just run into a huge problem. 

They were crossing a field using a fence stile and found themselves in a pasture full of “aggressive” cows. They ended up bypassing that small part of the AT because they didn’t feel comfortable crossing the field. Aggressive cows? Come on, Champa, I thought.

Sure enough, when we made it to the field two miles ahead and crossed the stile, I started seeing beady eyes shine back from my head lamp. I slowly and quietly started hiking by, but the first cow I came across stood and started walking right at me. I froze and yelled – it didn’t matter, the cow kept coming forward. We all backed up and immediately hopped back over the stile. There was no way I was crossing that field.

I followed Champa’s sage advice and bushwhacked alongside the property line, rejoining the AT a few hundred yards ahead. This is the first time I missed a part of the AT, but I’m not at all bothered because I saw AT signs posted along the way – I guess this bypass is more frequently used than I thought.

It was nearing midnight by this point and I decided to pause and take a picture. This is what night hiking looks like:

An hour later, Black Santa, Get Weird and I entered a stone tunnel that runs under PA 944 and found Savage, McDoubles and Champa eating snacks as they lay in their sleeping bags. They were exhausted and decided to take advantage of the natural shelter. After excitedly telling them we’d see them in Duncannon, the three of us set off into the night.

At this point the AT departed from the farmland and headed back into the mountains. As I started ascending that first little mountain, I became very aware as to how bad my feet actually hurt. Every little rock I stepped on shot pain throughout my entire foot. But I was only 12 miles away from Duncannon – I kept going, just at an exceedingly slow pace.

At 1:30am, we made to the Darlington Shelter. Get Weird was done for the night – she peeled off trail, wishing Black Santa and I good luck as we continued hiking in the dark. We didn’t get far – the trail was terribly rocky and we started looking for a place to camp as soon as we descended from the shelter.

We actually found a nice, level spot right off the AT. By 2:30am, I was in my brand new tent and falling fast asleep. I was disappointed I didn’t make it to Duncannon, but still pleased I had put up big miles on the day.

Breakfast: two blueberry/banana pancakes with blueberry syrup, three strips of bacon, coffee

Snack: two 20 gram Powerbar protein bars, one blueberry cereal bar

Lunch: two tortillas with beef jerky, apricots, dried blueberries, two granola bars

Dinner: grilled chicken sandwich with roasted red peppers and Swiss cheese, grilled veggies

Night Hike Snack: two granola bars, one blueberry cereal bar