Monday, July 30, 2012

Pennsylvania: Come see our rock collection (June 26th - June 30th)

Leaving Hamburg, PA I took awhile since I was having a problem getting out of my comfy bed. I finally got out of town at around 10:30am, assuming I wouldn't catch the group that day.  Well I probably could have caught them if it wasn't for the two hour break I took on the Pinnacle - a rocky scramble that resulted in a gorgeous view.  The Pinnacle was a series of small cliffs - each hiker could scoop our their own little spot. I found a nice quiet nook, made some lunch and watched turkey vultures float over the PA valley below.  The trail after the Pinnacle goes through hunting lands (not currently hunting season, thank god) but the terrain was easy as the trail was simply one of the hunting roads.  I crossed Hawk Mtn. Rd., passed Eckville Shelter, got some water from a stream and found a place to set up camp around 6:30pm.  It was kind of early to call it a night (we usually hike to 7:30-8:30), but I just didn't feel like hiking anymore.  I built a little twiggy fire to help with the bugs, made dinner and called it a night.

I got going around 9am the next morning and hiked up to Dan's Pulpit.  There was a nice view that had a mailbox with a trail register in it.  I opened it up to check the news - and read a pretty horrifying story of two hikers a few weeks ago who found another hiker up there sick and passed out.  They had called in a rescue squad, which turned out to be a lot of out of shape guys who were going to take hours to climb up the mountain. One of the hikers ran down the mountain to meet them, quickly realized they were going to take awhile to get up it,  so ran back up the mountain and fashioned a gurney out of tree branches.  The two hikers carried the sick hiker down the mountain to meet the rescue squad. They met them about 2/3 way down where they administered an IV and oxygen.  The sick hiker's name is Coffee To Go, and I was happy to see he had recovered and returned to the trail and had signed this register only a few days before me.  I realized how important it is for us hikers to look out for each other.  Very few people actually understand what we're going through out here, and at this point in our hiking careers, very few people can actually do what we do (though you would think the rescue workers would have the capacity...)

I continued on to the Allentown Shelter to have lunch with Bullet who had caught up to me at Dan's Pulpit.  Bullet gets his name from the simple fact that he is one of the fastest hikers I have met.  We had a long lunch wasting time and chatting - then hiked another .4 together to a spring.  After he got his water he was off.  I took my time and eventually continued on my way.  The hike was pretty and uneventful, until I hit the Knife's Edge.  Just before I was about to climb the rock scramble I heard a holler from behind.  I had actually gotten ahead of Daystar, Pants and Gribley as they had decided to take a side trip into some town for a meal, which worked out perfectly as I no longer had to play catch up. Knife's Ede was basically a very skinny steep ridge line rock scramble that we had a lot of fun with.  We eventually made our way across the ridge line and down to Bake Oven Knob Shelter - which was a piece of crap with an even crappier water source. Informed by the register and the poor saps coming back up from it, the water was a 1/2 mile hike downhill to a stagnant pool.  Not wanting to bother with that, I opted to ration my two liters of water that night so it would get me the six miles to the next shelter tomorrow.  Pants and Gribley being out of water had no choice.  Daystar and I left them to go in search of a campsite,  as even being near the pathetic, buggy shelter made us sad.

We found a great spot a few miles down the trail.  Daystar wanted to build a fire on her own, so I sat back and relaxed while she built what I would call a five star fire.  The boys showed up and we had a great night around the fire eating and frankensteining my feet.  A blister on my heel had grown to the size of a small appendage.  I'm not prone to getting blisters, so I was just hoping it would go away. Instead, it was taking steroids and applying for it's own zip code.  No longer wishing to walk on it, I peeled off my sock to show everyone and get some advice.  It was greeted with a multitude of alarming gasps and swear words before it was determined it needed to be threaded.  Threading is when you pop the blister, drain it, then pull a needle and thread through it, leaving the thread in the blister overnight. The thread acts as a sort of support system for the dead skin on top to keep it from adhering to the slimy new skin below, allowing the new skin to dry and and harden without having an open wound on your foot.  So I laid by the fire, closed my eyes, pretended I had a different life for a moment as everyone else gathered round to watch Daystar operate.

The next morning Lighthouse, Pace, Hungus and Jaybird caught up to us while we were eating breakfast.  Pace gave us the lowdown on their Jersey plans - Pace and Hungus are from Jersey and the trail runs close to their house.  They were planning on staying at home every night and slackpacking all of Jersey, and invited us as well.  I was a bit leery at first, as I hadn't yet slackpacked, but the opportunity to chill with some awesome friends at their home and grill out every night was too good to pass up.  First, we had to hike to Jersey.  We all packed up agreeing to stop at Leroy Smith Shelter that night, 21.5 miles away, which seemed very attainable at the time....

So Pace, Hungus and Jaybird took off while we were packing up and stayed ahead of us most of the day.  The rest of us eventually started hiking, heading toward the Lehigh River, where we had been warned the climb out was one of the toughest we've had in awhile.  We had also been warned the six mile exposed ridge walk following it was treacherous to do in the heat of the day, as there is nowhere to take shade.  It didn't look like we were going to have a choice.  After we crossed the river Daystar and I started our vertical ascent, the first part of our climb was actually really fun.  We broke down our poles and put them away as this mile was hand over head climbing.  We all hung out at the top for a bit, until we realized we weren't actually done, we still had a lot of rocks to get through and the day wasn't getting any cooler.  Little did I know this was to become one of my worst days on the trail.  One of the biggest issues with rock scrambles is, it is often hard to find the blazes. There is no trail, and it becomes a scavenger hunt to find the next blaze and figure out where to go.  This mountain became nothing but a pile of baseball to basketball size rocks, with relatively few to no blazes. I got to a point where, I for the life of me, could not find another blaze.  I scrambled up to the top to get a better view only to discover there was no trail up there.  At this point it was 1pm and almost 100 degrees, I had been exposed to the sun for over 3 hours and had just climbed up the wrong mountain.  Cursing myself, I slid back down the rock hell and desperately started searching for the trail.  I finally found a blaze leading left that was hidden on the back of a rock that I couldn't see from the angle I had originally approached (Gribley and Pants later shared the same misfortune I did). I was relieved to find the trail but devastated that I still had the six mile ridge to walk across.  I was dying for a tree and shade. 

To top it off, the heat was drying up all the springs.  I don't know what's going on out there people, but there is some droughtage happening over here.  From where I was, there wasn't water for another 15 miles.  All I wanted to do was guzzle all of my water but I knew I had to ration it so I continued on very miserable indeed.  Like ten times more miserable than the hike through the white out blizzard on Roan Mountain.  Cold I can deal with, but this heat was killing me.  I hiked on feeling a mental breakdown coming on.  This was the first time I really let the difficulty of the trail get to me.  We've all had our moments out here when we wonder how much more we can take, and I suppose this was my turn.  I finally got to a shady spot and sat down and cried and threw things at the trail.  I felt better after eating a bunch of wild blueberries and a few phone calls to friends.  Though I was starting to feel more like myself again, I opted to camp alone 11 miles short of our goal. Everyone else only made it another five miles from where I was before they succumbed to the heat and exhaustion as well.

The next morning I woke up at 5am to lightening and thunder.  I made a mad dash to put my tent away before the rain hit (wet tent = heavy tent) and was hiking by 5:30.  I was working with about 1 liter of water and I was pretty sure I wouldn't come by more till the shelter, 11 miles away.  I cruised, passing a dried up Metallic spring and stopping only to watch a porcupine climb a tree (was not aware they did that) and arrived at Delp Spring (also dry) at 8am.  Delp spring, minus the spring, was where everyone else had camped.  DS, Pants and Gribley had taken off early but everyone else was still there taking down camp.  Thirsty, I left them and headed to Leroy Smith Shelter, another six miles where I hoped there was water flowing.  The shelter was .2 off the trail, the water source even further. I know all these little .2 and .3's don't seem like much, but they add up.  To get water at Leroy I walked almost 1.5 miles round trip off the trail.  When you're already walking over 2,000 miles, it sucks adding 'non-trail' miles to your legs. 

Gribley and Pants were hanging out in the shade of the shelter. Daystar had moved on, she had a package waiting at the PO in Delaware Water Gap and needed to be there by noon on Sat. before the PO closed, so she was hoping to make it there that night.  The rest of us were aiming for Kirkridge shelter, six miles short of DWG, making it a 20 mile day (25 for me).  But first - the water.  I trudged down the hill, found an awesome spring, and also a black bear to go with it.  He was treating the spring as if it was his own personal bathtub.  I cautiously started to back up when it occurred to me that this was the only water for the rest of the day unless I wanted to walk into the town of Wind Gap.  Even if I did decide to go into Wind Gap, I currently had no water and needed something to get me the six miles there.  Bear or no bear I need this freaking water.  Now with all my other bear encounters, the bear has either run away from me in fear, or as in the Shennies, basically ignored me.  This bear had registered my presence, and chose to ignore me.  Not wanting to be bathtub buddies I decided to try and chase the bear away.  This being the first time I had made the decision to attack a black bear holding nothing but a flimsy piece of fabric (my empty water bladder), I tried not to shit myself as I ran towards it yelling and flailing my arms. I successfully scared away the bear and any other creature who was thinking of using that spring.  Satisfied, I took my time getting water and washing my face before heading back up the hill.  Lighthouse had arrived while I was gone, and not wanting to be bothered with the climb down or the bear, took a liter from what I had gathered.  We had lunch and headed out.

By the time we got to Wind Gap, I still felt pretty confident with my water supply and decided to skip the pit stop everyone else was making at the motel down the road.  Pace, Hungus and Jaybird went there because they didn't get any water at Leroy and they heard the motel sold Dr. Pepper.  I continued on and started the climb out of Wind Gap by myself and what turned out to be the WORST nine miles of trail thus far.  Now the climb wasn't that bad, but the heat was.  I could have been in a Gatorade commercial, the beads of sweat all over my body were so thick.  I passed Headin Out and Taggin Along slumped on the side of the trail, wanting to go no further.  When I got to the top, I stopped to take a break and fix my water hose which seemed to have a kink in it. I opened my bladder to let some of the extra air out, and proceeded to successfully dump the entire water contents of my bladder inside my pack. 

There are no words to describe the utter agony that followed.  Total despair and heartbreak.  Why why why.  I quick took stock of any water I had left, maybe 1/4 liter.  I quickly put the cap on to protect the precious water and began trying to dry off my things.  Not only had I dumped out all my water, I had dumped it on all of my belongings soaking everything.  FML.  I mean I chased a fucking bear for this water.  After this was done, I assessed my situation.  I could go the mile back down the mountain and get water at Wind Gap, then reclimb it and continue on. Or I could just deal with it and continue on.  My elevation profile told me the next eight miles to the shelter were flat, but I had received a text from DS that it was the worst rocks we had seen, she had to stop twice and compose herself (she seemed to be having the kinda day I was having yesterday). She was right.  Deciding the theme of my day was 'thirsty', I chose to ration my 1/4 liter and try to do these eight miles quickly.  I managed to walk the opposite of quickly, as this was, by a landslide, the worst section of trail ever in the history of trails.  Though it was completely flat, the eight mile stretch consisted of nothing but sharp, tiny, pointy knife rocks.  There was no where to put your foot down without stepping on a jagged spike.  I could feel the bottom of my feet bruising only two miles in.  Not only was it painful, but it slowed you down, a lot.  We normally hike an average of 2.5-3 miles/hour.  I was lucky if I was going 1.5/hr.  But the worst part was that the trail was one big straight line.  When the trail bends out of sight, one can maintain some semblance of hope that it will get better around the curve.  But no, every time I looked up from the rocks, I could see my whole miserable rocky fucking future ahead of me for miles.  You'd look behind you and it was the same thing. I felt like I was in the twilight zone, was I even going anywhere??  I had made the decision to move ahead despite my lack of water thinking I could do these eight flat miles pretty quickly.  At this pace I would be out here for days.  Fighting the urge to sit down and cry again, I pushed on determined to get out of this rock hell if it took me all night.  Plus I had already used up my one allotted mental breakdown for this trip. 

I passed a few campsites I pretended not to see, a dry spring, climbed up Wolf Rocks to register the view for a second and was finally out of the rocks!  I hiked the last smooth mile to Kirkridge shelter ready to end my 25 mile day.  I had tried to ration my water by taking small sips every 20 min., but now I was out.  When I saw the sign for the shelter I was so happy someone could have just given me a million bucks.  I dropped my pack, ignored everyone there and ran up to the spigot.  This shelter is right next to one of the ATC caretakers house so there is a spigot that pumps out clean water.  I shoved my face under it immediately.  After I had drank about a pound of water I finally started to look around.  Assuming DS pushed ahead to DWG, and with everyone else behind me, I didn't expect to see my friends, but I also did not expect to see 25-30 Mennonites.  God must really hate me today.  Now I have nothing against Mennonites, but when you've just been through 25 miles of hell and you just want to lay down and relax, but there are 30 people with their stuff literally everywhere (they may as well have sent out invitations to the bears and mice to come eat their shit), well you might get a bit perturbed.  Large groups are not suppose to commandeer shelters.  This would not do.  I filled up my water, adorned my headlamp, and even though it was already 9pm, hiked back out to the AT in search of a campsite with less people.

I only had to go another 1/4 mile before I came upon a grassy clearing with a great view, and ta-da! - Daystar.  The rocks had done a number on her as well and she decided to stop short of DWG and sprint down there in the morning to get to the PO.  The large gathering of adolescent Mennonites had also scared off two other hikers, Domiono and Froth.  Everyone was about to go to bed and I went about setting up my tent.  I was too exhausted to be bothered with dinner.  As I blew up my still wet sleeping pad I reflected on my long day - starting at 530am with a lightening storm, chased a bear away from the only spring, climbed up a mountain only to dump all my water from that spring into my pack, hike through rock hell only to be greeted by 30 Mennonites at the end.  Well screw that day.  I started to drift off and heard Pace, Hungus and Jaybird hit camp around 945pm.  Gribley, Pants and Lighthouse gave into the rocks and camped a few miles back.  I put that day behind me, got excited for Delaware Water Gap (there was a pie store there), leaving the horrible state of PA, crossing into Jersey and getting picked up for four days of slackpacking and sleeping at the Hungus Hidaway!!!!  Peace out Pennsylvania.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Lefty Throw Stress Releiver (June 21st - 25th)

So last we spoke I was trying to recover from the heat and hangover that is the Doyle Hotel in Duncannon, PA. After our siesta, it really didn't feel any cooler. Peach and Overdrive took off for the next shelter at around 3pm. I chugged two liters of water to prepare for the dry stretch, filled up 4 liters and started hiking around 3:30.  I still hadn't heard from Daystar, Pants and this point it seemed I had lost them to the Doyle. I left Onespeed and pushed on to Table Rock, which had an ok view, and stayed to make dinner, trying to ignore the gnats swarming everywhere. I officially no longer felt interested in hiking, and even though I was sitting on a giant rock cliff, I started to ponder how I might defy the laws of physics and pound my aluminum stakes into the rock and set up my tent. As I was about to give in and just cowboy camp (cowboy camping is when you sleep on the ground with no shelter, it's nice to do on clear nights to watch the stars, or when you are too lazy to set up your tent), Onespeed appeared and convinced me to go with him to the next shelter, which was only a mile away.

Just when we arrived at Peters Mountain Shelter, Peach and Overdrive were leaving, hoping to get a few more miles in. Onespeed and I were home even though we only made it 12 miles that day:( Daystar had texted me that they made it five miles to the first shelter finally and were not moving. Lighthouse also texted me that he had gone one mile and was turning back because it was too hot, making his total millage for the day -1. Seemed no one was getting very far today.... Onespeed and I had the really nice double decker shelter to ourselves, and while I normally tent, we decided to sleep in the shelter since no one else was there. A couple of southbound section hikers arrived later that night but that was it.

The next morning Onespeed took off before me as he wanted to try and do a 30 that day - I had my heart set on a spring only 18 miles away so I took my time.  My hike was really quiet, as there were not a lot of people on the trail.  After the Shennies and Civil War land, it was so nice to finally be back to a peaceful, tourist free woods.  I spent most of the day alone - had lunch at a spring where I met and chatted up the ridge runner for that section (ridge runners are assigned sections of trail that they hike back and forth) and had another small break at Rattling Run with Peach, Overdrive and Moonwalker before pushing past them to Rausch Gap.  The gnats and flies were so unbearable.  I lost all dignity and sported my bug headnet twice. It's a black mesh netting that makes me look like I'm an old lady mourning the loss of her husband, but it was worth it.  You either look like a weirdo with a bug helmet on, or spend your entire hike flailing your arms around trying to get bugs out of your orifices.

I made it to my destination at 4:30 and contemplated pushing on. But the spring was so pretty and I figured I could have a relaxing night reading and wait for everyone to catch up. Out here we have to force ourselves sometimes to stop and enjoy the woods. We have a long way to hike so we often feel like we should always be hiking.  Peach, Overdrive and Moonwalker arrived shortly after and decided the same thing.  We all retired to our tents early to escape the bugs, and the next morning I woke up to the sound of Daystar chatting with Overdrive. Apparently everyone was all over the place - Pants succumbed to the bugs last night and set up his tent about six miles back.  Daystar plopped down at Yellow Spring and Gribley decided to push on to Cold Spring just a few miles behind me.  Daystar had gotten up early and hiked past a sleeping Gribley this morning to catch up.  We were just finishing our breakfast when Gribley showed up.  We all set our sights on the 501 shelter, an enclosed bunkroom with a solar shower (translation: hose with cold water). It was also near a road, which is usually unfortunate, but there was a pizza place nearby that would deliver:)  Gribley took off before us and Daystar and I spent the 18 mile day hiking together.

It was a nice hike except for a five mile section that was rocky, ugly and overgrown with stinging nettle. We emerged from this stretch a bit crabby, and took refuge at William Penn shelter, which unfortunately was in the process of being overtaken by a family with a whiny baby.  I chatted for a bit and answered the usual 'yes I walked here from Georgia' questions, but not being in the mood to hang out with a baby in the woods, quickly started making moves towards the trail.  The guy tried telling me I probably had another 7-8 miles to 501.  I politely informed him it was actually only 4, but he seemed not to want to believe me.   NEVER trust a day hiker/weekend warrior when it comes to distance estimates.  They think everything is so much farther than it is because it takes them forever to get there - "I must have gone at least five miles" but in reality you just walk slow and you only went two. Thru-hikers know how fast they walk and can always tell how many miles they've gone by simply looking at their watch.

Daystar and I did the 4 miles in a quick hour and a half and arrived to a pizza party at 501.  Peach, Overdrive, Squatch, Basil and Bucket had already ordered their pizza while Float, Gribley and I contemplated the menu.  Daystar went outside to cook her own less awesome food in an effort to save money. I had a really fun night hanging out with Squatch, he is a documentary film maker doing a movie on the AT. He does the trail in chunks, going wherever the action is and is currently hiking south. He spent a lot of time filming everyones conversations, and he unfortunately overheard me explaining to Peach the 'lefty throw stress reliever.'  I was immediately forced into a demonstration for the film.  Lefty throw:  whenever you are frustrated it always feels good to throw something violently downward left handed, be sure to make some sort of noise as well. If you are left handed I suppose it would be a righty throw.  If you're ambidextrous you don't get to play because you can function properly with both hands you bastard.  I give credit to Cheesewater and Towlie for first introducing me to lefty throw, it always makes me feel better and I will be sure to thank them in my Oscar acceptance speech.

After a night of swapping hiker stories and several rounds of lefty throw, everyone finally picked a bunk and went to bed.  Gribley was getting up at the crack of dawn to do 25 miles to Hamburg by 4pm to meet his dad, who would be hiking with him for a few days.  Daystar and I had less ambitious plans to do only 15 to the next shelter.  Osprey sent me a brand new pack to the P.O. in Hamburg, my zipper broke on my hipbelt so they just offered to replace the whole thing:) Since the next day was Sunday I was in no hurry to get to Hamburg as the P.O. wouldn't be open.  Plus we had heard rumors in the trail registers of a hiker feed taking place at a road crossing in 10 miles.........

Daystar and I were the last to leave 501, we hiked slow and took lots of breaks, deciding to casually enjoy the day.  At the second overlook we were starting to wonder where Pants was, as he would have normally caught up to us by now.  We turned on our phones to find that Daystar had received a text that he had been bitten by a rattlesnake and was off the trail. Only after we freak out and leave him (and Gribley) a frantic message, do I get a text from him saying he was kidding. Seconds later he appeared with a shit-eating grin on his face. Not amused, we decided as his punishment he would have to be our slave for the day. The two of us, plus our new slave, made our way down to PA 183 where the trail magic was suppose to take place.  And take place it was.  We stumbled into a parking lot complete with a giant tent and grill set up.  Two former thru-hikers were grilling B/L/D all day for passing hikers.  Peach, Overdrive, Bucket, Basil, Headin' Out and Taggin' Along were all there and didn't look like they were leaving anytime soon.  We slid off our shoes and cracked open a beer and commenced our four hour break  The three of us plus Float finally peeled ourselves away from the roadside grill to hike another six miles to a random campsite just before the shelter.

The next morning we awoke to thunder, but managed to pack up our tents before the rain hit and cruised the nine miles to Hamburg in the storm. With Pants and Float behind us, Daystar and I blew through Port Clinton hoping to hitch a ride to Hamburg from PA 61 - not realizing it was a major highway. Highways are hard to hitch from since cars are typically moving to fast to stop. That coupled with the fact that we had to stand on the wrong side of the road since there was no where else to stand on the other side, was going to make this a hard hitch. We stood there for about 10 min. before a nice guy who worked for the railroad stopped.  Another truck pulled over just as we were getting in the car - it was Pants who had hitched a ride from Port Clinton. We all got dropped off at the Microtel though I was the only one getting a room. Pants and Daystar just wanted to resupply and do laundry and hike out. I hadn't had a room to myself once yet on this trip and took this opportunity to get my own space. It was pricey but worth the quiet night and amazing sleep, plus I got to watch Transformers. Hiking would be so much easier if I were a robot.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

To Doyle or not to Doyle (June 16th - 21st)

So after a quick breeze through Maryland, I had finally caught up with Daystar, Be-Bop, Gribley and Pants.  We had a late night at Quarry Gap Shelter, and the entire next day was consumed with thoughts of the half gallon challenge.  Daystar, Be-Bop and I got a decently early start, cruised to Birch Run Shelter for lunch with the Ape Team, took the obligatory photo at the official AT midpoint (ya!), and practically sprinted the remainder of our 18 mile day to Pine Grove Furnace State Park.  It is there thru-hikers are expected to stop, purchase a half gallon of ice cream and consume it in one sitting to celebrate the AT halfway point.  We waited for Pants and Gribley, and once we had all chosen our flavors (chocolate for me:), we put "Eye of the Tiger" on repeat and dove in.  We all finished, but I can confidently say we were all a bit miserable during the last few quadrants of our tubs, not to mention really sick of "Eye of the Tiger."  We laid around the front of the store until about 9pm trying to digest the obscene amount of dairy and waited for immediate onset diabetes to kick in.  We finally pulled ourselves together to wander a mile around Fuller Lake and set up camp for Be-Bop's last night on the trail.  Her month with us was over and she was off to NYC to work at a summer camp for kids, then heading to Peru in the fall for a semester abroad.  I am bummed I didn't get to spend more time with her, she's such an awesome person with a good head on her shoulders and a really bright future ahead of her.

The next morning Daystar and Be-Bop took off early to hike the 6 miles to the road where Be-Bop was to be picked up.  I spent my morning watching Gribley and Pants completely explode their packs, as they had decided to switch packs for the day.  I finally left them to their mess and started my hike to Tagg Run where I had lunch and called my dad to leave a message for Dads Day.  It was nice not having to send a card since he also lives in the woods and I had no idea where he was.  After a long lunch, I took off to catch up with everyone and ran into Gribley and Pants propped up in the trees.  Peach and Overdrive showed up a bit later and after another long break we decided to tackle the rock maze.  Now I hate it when the trail simply becomes a pile of rocks, but maneuvering up over and around large boulders is kinda fun and a nice change of pace.  I only got lost once (at the same spot where everyone else seemed to get lost as well).  We all gathered at Whisky Spring Rd. after and collectively decided to go to Alec Kennedy Shelter, then hit the town of Boiling Springs in the morning.  Pants, Gribley, Daystar and I all camped at Little Dogwood Run with White Wolf right before the shelter as there was a good water source there.  The next morning we woke to a cloudy rain. I managed to get my stuff packed up before the rain really hit and took off before everyone else.

The 4 miles into Boiling Springs was easy, and I immediately fell in love with this little town right when I entered it.  The trail ran right next to Children's Lake, and even though it was raining, I took time to watch the swans and ducks splash around.  The lake was lined with charming brownstones and green grassy parks and an excessive amount of benches.  The trail brings you right up to the ATC mid-Atlantic regional office.  I dropped my pack and ran across the street to retrieve my new boots at the PO.  Merrell replaces their boots for free for AT thru-hikers (most gear companies are extremely accommodating to AT hikers and will send us new gear on the trail to keep us happy. I have also been sent new poles and a new pack).   We all wandered over to Cafe 101 to grab breakfast and 2nd breakfast as we sat there for 3 hours and each ordered multiple meals.  It was one of the best meals I've had on the trail and by far the best coffee.  Peach and Overdrive walked in and informed us that they were staying at the Allenberry resort up the hill which had a hiker rate of $40 for a double.  The 5 of us (Gribley, Daystar, Pants, White Wolf and I) decided we must also stay despite our plan to hike another 15 miles to Darlington Shelter.......The resort wouldn't let us check in until 3pm, so we all went back to the ATC office (ATC offices are popular places for hikers to hang out in towns as they don't mind a bunch of smelly homeless people sitting around).  I found a game of Mind Trap in the office and we wasted away the afternoon stumping each other with really stupid riddles.  These are the moments that I love that I have nothing else to do:)

As 2:30 rolled around we decided to make our way up the hill.  We passed Oak, Kneif, Blue Skies and Johnny Rocket who had just checked in and were headed to the grocery store.  As we weren't even planning on staying in this town we were good on food.  The Allenberry would be a much more fun place to stay if it hadn't been a Monday.  They have a dinner theater there, and feeling I haven't done nearly enough dinner theater on this trip, I was excited to purchase tickets to "Nunsense" (sorta hoping it would star Whoopie).  They don't do dinner theater on Monday:( A bit bummed, Daystar and I spent the evening trying to relax, leaving the boys to their own devices (which apparently involved an altercation with a boy scout leader over a ping pong table...?)

The next morning after our excellent breakfast buffet we all headed out for our 25 mile hike to Duncannon.  Duncannon was a town we had been looking forward to for awhile, as it was the home to the legendary Doyle Hotel.  The Doyle used to be a fancy schmancy hotel that apparently presidents stayed at (hmmm).  Unfortunately the town and with it, the Doyle, have hit hard times and never quite recovered, and the now once glamorous hotel is nothing short of a shithole populated with hikers who can acquire rooms for $25.  The trail runs straight through Duncannon and it has become tradition for hikers to stay there, despite the horrifying rumors.  My dad told me to avoid room 22, as it had a horror movie amount of spiders living in it.  I had also been advised not to open any closets or drawers.  With these two tidbits of advice in mind, we were anxious to see what surprises our rooms would hold.

But first we had to walk through the Cumberland Valley - 18 miles of flat cow fields. It went by pretty fast, but got a bit boring after awhile. Daystar and I stopped to have lunch at a barn that had a picnic table next to it to wait for the boys, when a trail angel arrived and offered to slackpack us to the Doyle (slackpacking is when someone drops your pack for you at your location, so all you need to carry is water and food for the day). Everyone else had slackpacked at some point expect for me, and I didn't yet feel comfortable parting with my things...some people consider slackpacking cheating, and while I wouldn't go that far, I definitely didn't think it was necessary for the flat 15 miles we had ahead of us.  I also simply like having everything I need with me at all times.  These are my things, and they are so conveniently attached to my back...this point was proven when I reached Cove Mountain Shelter just four miles short of Duncannon.  It felt like my toes were broken and it dawned on me that I just hiked 21 miles in brand spankin' new boots.  My feet were killing me, and being that I hadn't just given all my belongings to a stranger, I decided to go to the shelter for the night to rest my feet and hike into Duncannon in the morning.  I waited for the slackpackers to catch up (not gonna lie, somewhat satisfied that I had stayed ahead of them despite their weightlessness).  When Pants, DS and Gribley arrived, I informed them I would be going no further.  They all looked a bit exhausted, but determined to go on, as they had no gear.  Pants actually contemplated sleeping on the ground without a tent or sleeping bag, but we convinced him he had to go and pick up his shit from the lady.

I started hiking around 5:30am the next morning after a horrible nights sleep.  I decided to sleep in the shelter, which I never do, but thought I could save time in the morning not having to take down a tent.  Some section hiker came in late with his dog, Doug, and all night long he was telling Doug to "stop it Doug" "come here Doug" "no Doug" - who the hell names their dog Dough anyway.  I got into Duncannon after a rocky descent around 7am.  I was surprised at how run down the town was.  I spotted a building that could only be the Doyle and headed towards it.  Daystar had texted me their room number and instructions on how to enter the building through the back, as the front door to the bar/registration didn't open until 11am.  My first thought upon entering room 31 was "Well, if I wanted to die of a crack overdoes, this is where I would come."  The window treatments were two stained sheets tacked to the windows. The two full beds had no bedding but only some more questionable sheets.  If you were lonely, no need to worry as there were any number of roach species you could spoon with.  We didn't go in the closet.  The whole thing was a shitty sort of wonderful.  It was really too bad as the building truly had a lot of charm, it just needed some love, and an exterminator.  I rallied the troops out of bed and across the street for breakfast at Goodies.  The inside of Goodies was painted in all camouflage and had pictures of deer hanging everywhere, interesting decor for a pancake joint. 

The 4 of us decided that we should boost the towns economy by staying here and drinking all day, as this town had AT LEAST THREE different bars to choose from (which is a lot for most of the towns we hike through).  At this point Pants correctly pointed out that our camping trip has turned into a homeless crawl across the country as we hop from one town to the next.  In the south the towns were much fewer and far between, but up north they are everywhere.  This is something we have accepted and embraced, but we are getting pretty excited for New England, the Whites and the wilderness farther north.  As soon as the bar at the Doyle opened at 11am we planted our butts in barstools.  It ended up being a great day shootin the shit with Vicky and Pat - the crazy owners, and all the hikers wandering in and out all day.  White Wolf made it in later in the day and decided to stay, as did Peach and Overdrive, Bucket and Basil, and many more.  We did manage to squeeze in a few errands like resupply, before the night hit and we were too intoxicated to do anything.  The last hiker to roll into town that night was Onespeed, who received a standing ovation upon walking into the bar for no real reason other than 'hey! another hiker!'  I managed to pull myself away from the bar at a reasonable time, as the desire to not wake up hungover in our room, which could be from the set of the Hangover, trumped my desire to have one more drink.  The next day was also suppose to be one of the hottest days of the year, and I had no interest in hiking it hungover.  I crawled on top of my sheets in the non-air conditioned roach room, assumed the fetal position and waited for it to be over.

My trailmates were not as smart as I.  I was up and out of the room and across the street at breakfast with Onespeed, Peach and Overdrive before they even emerged from their comas (I do believe the 'occasional' all day drinking events that occurred in my previous life better prepared me for my Duncannon bar crawl - missing my Chino peeps and Sunday Fundays like woah!).  I ordered two blueberry pancakes the size of small children, brought one back to the room for the zombies and decided to get this miserably hot day going before it got hotter.  Taking off at around 9:45am, I started my long walk through the rest of Duncannon.  I mean the ENTIRE rest of Duncannon.  I cursed this stupid town as I walked past abandoned house after abandoned house, four strip clubs and a freeway until I was finally led back into the woods.  Just as the temp was reaching 342 degrees I was presented with what could only have been Mount Everest (even though my elevation profile indicated it was a small hill).  I was completely soaked with sweat by the time I reached Clarks Ferry Shelter at noon, only five miles out of Duncannon.  Insert sad face. 

Onespeed was already there setting up his bug net for his four hour nap. Peach and Overdrive arrived shortly after and we all agreed it was too hot to hike and that a four hour siesta was next on our to-do list.  We would hike in the evening when it was cooler and we were less hungover (in theory).  While casually glancing at my book I noted that this was the last place to get water for 13 miles.  This day was awful (little did I know at this point that mother nature had no intention of turning the heat down for weeks and this was only the beginning of my death by dehydration.  Too hot=dried up springs=sad and thirsty hiker).  I decided to close my eyes and deal with it when I woke up.  Recovering from Doyle-itis was going to take some time.