Sunday, October 23, 2016

Dispatch from the Not Woods

I was sitting on a low stone wall along the two lanes of the winding Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park, VA. Cars crept by, kept in check by the 35 mph speed limit, gazing at the pile of filth slumped on the roadside partition. I was said pile of filth, quietly boiling some water with a hole-punched cat food can fueled by denatured alcohol, surrounded by burnt aluminum foil. That pile of filth sat patiently, letting the hours tick by. Something flickered by my pack resting on the ground. Ah, of course, it's a 10-inch baby rattlesnake that appeared to be inebriated. Baby rattlesnakes don't have venom, right? It barely had a rattle. My conclusion, obviously, was that now was the perfect time to touch a wild rattlesnake. I did. It was awesome. Then I was bored again, staring at the strip of pavement that travels sinuously atop Shenandoah National Park, criss-crossing the Appalachian Trail like two entwined rattlesnakes. I moved myself to a trailside perch tucked into the woods, where I found that I could scare the crap out of people when I announced my presence. Now the waiting game was quite amusing. My day of exercising extreme patience came on my 48th day, and 1,280 miles, since leaving Mt. Katahdin in Maine. My younger brother Mike picked me up soon after someone thought I was a bear, and I was whisked off of the trail to attend a cousin's wedding. One wedding weekend of overly successful partying concluded, and I just got home from another wedding in New York (HUGE shoutout to Jen & Jim and Scott & Courtney - CONGRATS!). Tomorrow I shall return to the trail and visit my inebriated rattlesnake friends and resume my job as migrating pile of filth!
My name is Burger King, and I approve this Nutella.
Since my last post, the miles have flown by. Every northbounder I met prior to Pennsylvania warned me of PA. All I heard was, "by golly PA is nothing but rocks #rocksylvania #bootkillingstate #itsucks." Personally, imma say that's hella overrated. While rocky, the boulders orient themselves on a delightfully horizontal plane, stretching for hundreds of miles on flat ridgelines, interspersed with fabulous sections of cruiser logging road. This terrain was in great difference to that of the Whites and southern Maine, where the boulder fields tended to be angled more vertically for several thousand feet of continuous climbing. PA was fun! Aside from it being rainy and foggy for four days, that is. I was, however, blessed with one bouldery, slabby descent in a dense fog and hard rain well into the night. The only thing more spicy than that was the highway crossing that followed. But, a few big days meant I got to enjoy brunch with family, who came to meet me on the trail!
The fam unites on a rocky, drippy section of trail in PA.
Pencil-vain-ya throwin down some wet rocks to slip and fall on. I only didn't fall on one day through the 200 plus mile state. More like Penns(FUN)ylvania.
After four days of fog and rain, Pennsylvania decided to reveal its inner beauty.
Seeing my family was a huge morale booster, and sent me cruising towards Duncannon and the historic Doyle Hotel, which has likely seen no changes in sheets/pillows/paint/toilets/anything in 100 years.
Sheets and quilt came pre-stained! My presence made this room cleaner. The single, naked bulb dangling form the ceiling made for excellent ambiance. The springs in the bed even offered a deep massaging, maybe-tetanus-filled night of sleep.
A fine sunset at the confluence of the Susquehannah and Juniata Rivers outside of Duncannon, PA.
While at the Doyle, I downloaded some music to my phone. The discovery of music and a seemingly inexhaustible supply of trailside gas stations and vending machines led to Jeff being transformed into a man flying through the woods giggling in a pop music and caffeine-fueled rage of happiness. The peak of my torrent of woodland ecstasy was when I heard it was going to rain all day the next day, starting at 4:00am. In a stroke of brilliance, I vowed to hike until it started raining. My foolproof plan hinged on what I thought was the inherent certainty of rain. I seem to always forget that I should never trust other hikers with the weather forecast. I had started hiking at 8:00am that day, and made my plans around noon. By 1:00am, I had traveled 43 miles and checked my phone to discover that no, in fact, it was likely not going to rain at all. Oh well. Sometimes my version of "fun ideas" concern me, but then again what a swell day of hiking.
Perks of night hiking? Being one foot from stepping on large rattlesnakes that are also hiking the AT. Sup dude?

What time is it? Check out that beard. Damn, so fine. No patches at all. Impressive.
On October 9th, I rolled into Harper's Ferry rather stoked to have reached the Appalachian Trail Conservancy headquarters and "psychological halfway point" of the trail. But Harper's Ferry really was a neat surprise. Quite frankly, I had not the slightest clue that it was a national park/historic town/tourist spot/major train hub. I was just waddling down the Potomac Canal Path when it was like, "oh, aaaiigghtt, where'd these two thousand peeps come from? Why are they looking at me like I am notably not sane? THERE ARE MILKSHAKES." One can imagine my understandable bewilderment at being dumped into a sea of 21st century suburbanites overrunning a 19th century town. Luckily, said town possessed not only a fake saloon, but a REAL cafe that sold milkshakes. Hats off to the Park Service for making sure the aspects of this park that are not to period contain frozen dairy desserts.
Burger King, the 176th SoBo of the season.
My resupply at Harper's wasn't going to last me to my pickup point in Shenandoah a few days later, so I supplemented my resupply with nutritious and wholesome foods.
Om nom nom.
I arrived at Shenandoah National Park fueled by a most scrumptious bag of "donettes" and a pint of ice cream I purchased that day. The first thing Shenandoah offered me was a brilliantly flat, not rocky, groomer section of trail that had SWITCHBACKS. Who knew switchbacks were still a thing? Super into it. So into it, in fact, that I took a selfie with a flat, boring, buttery-slice-of-heaven-on-earth trail.
The stoke is high.
Since I was in New Hampshire, I have felt like I have been experiencing the changing of the seasons every day. Each day I migrate a little farther south, and it seems like the first day of fall coincides with my daily journey. At this point, the anticipation of a mountainside lit up by autumnal colors is almost unbearable. And Virginia, my dear Virginia, has boosted my spirits by providing at least the mountainsides for such a dreamy fall day. After several hundred miles of glorified hills, it would appear that I have reached the loftier ridge-lines and summits of the southern Appalachians. These peaks are reminiscent of the mountains I left behind in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.

¡Bienvenidos a las montaƱas! Taken on my last morning before being picked up in Shenandoah National Park.

I managed to time my dinner on this night to perfectly coincide with my presence at a westward-facing vista and the setting of the sun. Excellent work, if you ask me. A great first night in the Shenandoah's!
I spent the much of this past week shopping, packing, and beginning to mail the next 40 days or so of maildrops that I will need to fuel me to the end of my trek. The trail feels like a blur when I think back to the first 48 days that I spent on it. But when I reflect on individual days, they are remembered as being filled with wholesome content. Every day I walk. Every day I camp. I wake up and know that I will walk 25 or 30 miles, at least 12 hours, until I decide to plop myself on the ground and do it again. But for nearly 1,300 miles, I have been able to feel the landscape change under my feet, just as the seasons are shifting around me. I'll head back to the trail ready for colder temperatures, but thrilled for brisk days and chilly nights, the kind of late fall days that electrify you and can only result in miles of smiles. Until then, cheers!

One of the first crisp fall days of hiking back in the White Mountains, NH.

Same day as the above photo, on one of the most brilliant evenings I've ever experienced.


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  2. May the second half of the AT continue being as reasonably uneventful as the first half! Kudos for foraging ahead to finish the entire AT even as we tried to lure you home with food, drink, a comfy bed, family and parties!