Front Royal, VA – Duncannon, PA

May 22 – I went to sleep way too late last night which caused me to feel less rested than I wanted to be after a hostel stay. I decided I would go for a second nights stay but would slackpack 21 miles during the day so I could stay on the schedule I had planned for myself. It was a really enjoyable way to spend my last full day in Virginia, I took it slow and had many breaks throughout the day. Saw Hercules for the first time since Hot Springs and caught up for a while. When I was nearing the end of my day I saw my first bear, but only as he was running away into the brush. Hopefully sleep better tonight and be ready for a long one into West Virginia tomorrow!May 23 – Man WHAT a day. At seven thirty sharp Mike, the owner of the Terrapin Station, was ready to bring me to the trail where I was dropped off yesterday but this time I was headed north again. It was hard to leave such an awesome hostel but the trail is where I needed to be, I’m so close to so many major milestones. After a mile I entered the Sky Meadow State Park for a brief stretch. It was a beautiful area, named well as the terrain consisted of large grassy meadows giving me a welcome break from the green tunnel. As I was heading down to Ashby Gap, I got word of trail magic from some day hikers coming from the other way, so naturally my pace quickened and when I arrived it was a better meal than I ever could have imagined. Bacon, hash browns, beans, a hot dog, and a burger had me plenty energized to tackle the upcoming section of the trail known as the roller coaster, 13.5 miles of tightly packed ascents and descents. I’ve heard from some it’s not that bad but also from some that it’s insane so going in I had no idea what to expect. It ended up being not too difficult but it sure was rocky. I had reason to push onward though, and soon enough I was rewarded by rocks on the ground spelling out 1000. To think I’ve walked so far is unimaginable, but somehow I’ve done it thanks to nothing but hard work and perseverance. There’s been so many times I felt like giving up momentarily but reaching these mile markers make you forgot about all the bad that’s happened and fill you with such an amazing feeling of accomplishment, especially now being in the quadruple digits. I walked in with a new sense of pride and power in my step. Six miles later I arrived at an even better achievement, the VA/WVA border. 560 miles in a month and a day, what a long state it’s been. It’s weird to think that I’ll be walking further and further away from home now, for so long I was just focused on making it to and then through VA. More than anything though I’m so excited for what’s yet to come, the green tunnel of Virginia was really starting to get old but as soon as I crossed the border the terrain once again changed almost instantly. The forest thinned out and I didn’t feel quite as suffocated as I sometimes did when walking through Virginia. From here I had five easy miles to get to the Blackburn Trail Center where I planned to camp for the night. It was getting late but still I pushed on hoping to make it before dark. I made it by about 8 and even though most everyone had gone to sleep I was still blessed with an amazing dinner thanks to the caretakers and treated with amazing hospitality. All the bunks are full so I’m sleeping on the porch once again just as I did at Standing Bear Farm some 800 miles back. So excited for Harpers Ferry tomorrow and every other place this trail takes me. Nothing is stopping me now. 
May 24 – This has been such an amazing few days it’s unreal. I started off not really in the mood to hike today and this feeling was only greatened by the seemingly never ending rocks that covered the trail. If this is what Pennsylvania is like then I’m in for a rough 200 miles. After a couple hours I came across a sign telling me I was less than two miles from the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Visitor Center, where they would take my picture and put it in this years scrapbook. It was such a welcoming place and the people working there were so friendly. I have so much respect and gratitude for all the people who put their time into this trail, they are the reason that so many people are able to have their life changed by this experience.

 I hung out in the hiker lounge for a little and then went on my way to downtown Harpers Ferry where I was on a mission to find the greasiest burger and fry combo I could find. This is definitely the coolest town we’ve gone through so far, it’s so historic and walking through it almost feels like walking through England. I ate lunch at a small inn that reminded me of some of the places I ate in Ireland. Rather than a burger I settled for a pulled pork sandwich and a big bucket of fries, definitely a good choice. As I was heading out, a red truck pulled over and the gentleman. Driving it gave me a drink and a huge sticky bun. The trail magic has been on point lately! Soon enough I crossed the Potomac River, which also marked the WVA/MD border. Nice to have such a short state after being in VA for so long! The first stretch in Maryland paralleled the Potomac River on the C&O towpath, a trail similar to the Virginia Creeper Trail that goes all the way to D.C. Flattest three miles of the trail so far and I was loving it. There were many confusing parts because it was hardly blazed, and at one point there were even a few blue blazes, but once I made it to the end I had a very rocky climb up to the Edward Garvey Shelter, where there are weekend hikers galore. I haven’t seen this many people at a shelter since my first night at Hawk Mountain, many many miles ago.  
May 25 – I woke up this morning feeling pretty drained after the long days I’ve been pulling recently. I decided to listen to my body and take it easy for the day, with my destination being the Dahlgreen Campground ten miles from the shelter I had slept at. The miles went by slowly as I made my way down the trail. After an hour or two I came to the Gaithland State Park, a historical park dedicated to some event in the civil war. The trail is passing through some pretty major battlefields through Maryland and I’m sure Pennsylvania will be much of the same. I made a chicken teriyaki meal at the park even though it was only ten and procrastinated for a while until the swarms of gnats forced me to keep moving. The terrain since we left Virginia has been extremely flat compared to where I’ve come from but the rocks are getting worse and worse every day. They cause you to have to really concentrate on every single step and after a while this becomes very frustrating as it slows you down quite a bit. PA is going to be a tough state, it’s way rockier than this and I’m sure that will be very difficult on my feet. It’s unavoidable and I’ll have to get used to it quick, I’ll be crossing the state line tomorrow. 

After climbing up a rocky mess of trail for a few miles I made it to another one of these BS views we’ve been having lately. The mountains are so small that the views couldn’t possibly compare to the southern Appalachians. I guess it’s the catch 22 of flatter terrain.

The trail down the mountain was even more difficult. The rocks were pointy and it was near impossible to find anywhere flat to step. I found myself cursing underneath my breath and counting the minutes until I made it to the campground where I hoped to regain my sanity. I expected to find a large public facility full of Memorial Day partiers but instead was very pleasantly surprised to find a secluded campground with a legit restroom and showers. Hercules and Jig were already set up when I arrived and after a while Still Bill came from the rear which was awesome because I though he was ahead of me. Definitely one of the coolest people I’ve met on the trail so far and I’m glad we’ve been keeping up with each other since Hot Springs. Ended up hitching a ride to town for some sausages to cook over the fire and it was a perfect way to celebrate the holiday. Lots of other thru hikers showed up including a woman named Mama bear with her three children ages 4,5, and 7. Hopefully I’ll be feeling more rested tomorrow. Me, Hercules, and Still Bill are set on making PA which means a 24 mile day. Here I come Mason Dixon Line.
May 26 – The forest is changing. Rhododendrons no longer create tunnels for me to walk through, many of the flowers have gone out of season, the trees are growing much more spread out and rocks have truly shown what a pain they can be. I’m not walking through the mid Atlantic, where civilization will always be near and mountains won’t get much higher than 2000 feet. Compared to the Southern Appalachians, these are foothills. My day started off extremely flat today, it was probably one of the easiest sections on the trail so far. I took a side trip to the first Washington monument which was much bigger than it looked in pictures and gave me a view into Pennsylvania from the top. I was determined to cross the state line today, and that meant pulling a 25 which I thought was doable thanks to my Nero yesterday. I felt well rested as I hiked and because of what great time I was making I could afford another side trip to Annapolis Rocks, which is supposed to be the best view in Maryland but was not very impressive at all. Still a great place for a snack break to keep me going at a good rate. I ate lunch at a shelter 15 miles into my day and met some flip floppers who were just starting their hike from Harpers Ferry. Flip floppers are hikers who start in the middle of the trail and hike to either springer or katahdin, then go back to the middle and hike the second half. They had the newborn excitement that I remember myself and everyone else having at the beginning of this adventure, still not worn down by the brutal realities of hiking the Appalachian Trail. They asked me all sorts of questions about my gear and what I’ve learned, making me feel like a master on the subject when I’m not at all. The only reason I’ve succeeded on this hike is through sheer determination and probably more than a little luck. From the shelter I had ten more miles to the PA border and I intended to knock it out quick. These intentions were soon denied by the insane Boulder fields that I had to get through. There was no trail at all, just white blazes on the trees with mounds of rocks in between them, which made navigation a bit tricky. As difficult as it was, it was also very interesting as this is the first time I’ve seen anything like it. For multiple miles I scrambled over the rocks until my path was once again partially clear and the woods began to have an extremely northern feel. Mountain laurel flourished and a few pines dotted the gnarly forests around me. It felt so good to be seeing something new after the green tunnel of Virginia for nearly 600 miles. The trail opened up at Pen Mar Park, and a sign indicated the Mason Dixon Line as well as the MD/PA border. 6 states down, 8 to go and the Souther Appalachians are officially behind me. Into the unknown from here on out.
May 27 – My first day in Pennsylvania was Rocky to say the least. PA is known as the rockiest state on the AT, dubbed “Rockslyvania” by thru hikers. At no point throughout my day was there a piece of trail free of them. It range from small pointy rocks stabbing into my feet at every step to giant boulders which I had to climb up or down. Despite this the forest is absolutely beautiful. Mountain Laurel is everywhere and pine trees are becoming abundant as well, even at the low elevation. Prior to this we would only see pines at around 6000 feet. The grade of the trail remains rather flat which makes for quick miles when the rocks are at a minimum. 7 miles into the day a break that was intended to be quick turned into a near two hour stop at a shelter where I met two more flip floppers just getting started on the trail. One of them went to get water when he yelled for his buddy to bring his knife. Me and the other guy quickly ran down to see what the problem was only to find it was just a rat snake, the first of many they will see on the trail. It really gives me confidence that I know what I’m doing seeing all these people just starting their hikes. I guess I’ve learned a thing or two these past few months.

I immediately regretted my long break as it started to downpour soon after I got back on the trail. I hoped it would be a quick shower, but it only got harder as time went on, with thunder and lightning being added to the mix. When it rains like this, it’s near impossible to keep your belongings dry and when I finally reached another shelter I found my entire pack to be completely soaked. I quickly got out of my wet clothes and hung them to dry with every intention of staying the night here even though it was only 3. The sun began to come out and I was itching to get back on the trail seeing as I’d only done 15 so far so I quickly packed up my wet gear and headed on into what became an extremely rugged Boulder field. Surprisingly I hiked nimbly through it and quickly came out on the other side at Caledonia State Park, where the trail was extremely flat and well maintained as it always is in the parks. After one last steep and Rocky climb I made it to quarry gap shelter, which I think has taken my vote for best shelter on the trail. It’s got two separate sleeping areas with a covered patio in between, a stream flowing right through the years, tent pads,benches, and a separate covered picnic table. Got my hammock hung from the rafters so I can stay under cover while still sleeping in cover, planning to wake up early tomorrow but that usually doesn’t happen so we’ll see where the day takes me.

May 28, 29, 30 – I really have no excuse for not writing an entry these past few days. Pure laziness for the most part, I will definitely get better about that. Since my last entry I’ve gone through the town of boiling Springs, the Cumberland Valley which is the flattest 15 miles of the AT through nothing but farmland, gotten completely soaked, caught up with Gadget(now known as Peter Pan) and Dosu, and am now staying at the famous Doyle hotel, known as an extremely shitty and  cheap hotel making it all the more appealing to AT thru hikers. Will head out tomorrow and make my way to Port Clinton. I had been so excited for this hotel stay but now I’m just ready to be back on the trail!

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2 thoughts on “Front Royal, VA – Duncannon, PA

  1. Keep up your spirits ,
    Keep enjoying your adventure. It’s yours and yours alone. You have come so far, and grown so much in your journey. Don’t rush it.

    Love u . Mom

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  2. PJ,damn shame we did not catch up,it was something different which is usually mostly appealing.I can understand the need/desire to keep rolling.In all of my contact with PA.its been foggy,rainy,cold,windy,snowy,a few of afore mentioned together so not a pleasant memory weatherwise at all.Toss in the fact that Im not on foot which I understand from your post and your Pop that its murder on the feet.Any way Roll on ,watch for Bear and the occasional cat,meet everybody,make a friend or two,be safe and rest well.We can catch up when you get back,have a dinner on me and you can share one or two of your trail things that you will never forget if you wanna!  LATER,LB

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