Day 29: mole people edition 

*my phone signal is too erratic to load pictures right now, and I need to conserve battery so will have to upload media later. You’re stuck with just my words for now*

I woke up bleary eyed to the sound of my alarm going off at 3am. I listened for activity from the others and heard silence. I rechecked my weather app, which said the rain wouldn’t start until 9am. I tried to be sneaky and reset my alarm for 5 (to catch the sunrise), but then I heard the hiss of Buzzcut’s sleeping pad. I called out to her that the rain was delayed, but both she and chrissy had already deflated their pads. I conceded the sleep and agreed to break camp. We got on the trail with our headlamps shining around 4am. I thought it would be harder and creepier to hike at night, but it just requires going slower (something I’m good at). 

Not long after starting, we reached a fire tower clearing, where I spotted the glowing eyes of some creature. Turns out they were rabbits that were very unhappy about our alien intrusion. They bounded in frantic circles to get away from us. Around 5am, we hit a little stream and decided to top off our water supply. I felt stressed out about catching the sun, but I tried not to be rigid about it. At least not openly. Not sure how successful I was at that. I finished filtering first and walked ahead of the others. The trail skirted a beaver pond and then ascended onto a ridge that led us to power lines where I had hoped to catch the sun. 
Today was more of a cloud rise than a sunrise. Oh well. The next several hours are a blur. I stopped on a giant flat rock around 7 for second breakfast (first breakfast was a probar eaten in the dark) and to give my ankle a break. It felt stiff and achy for the first few hours. Thankfully the trail was very forgiving for the first half of the day, with a several mile stretch that looked like this: (picture soon)
I had hoped to catch up with buzzcut for some quiet company because I felt lonely and sad this morning, but I didn’t see her until I got to the shelter. At one point, I could feel myself rushing, but it felt different than trying to catch up with my usual group. With them, it feels competitive. Today, I just wanted to be around someone in silence. Instead, I listened to music that made me cry and then eventually switched to music that makes me happy and/or wistful. 
The sky threatened to rain all morning, but the end result was a misty drizzle with the occasional burst of drops that never culminated in a steady rain. The temperature finally climbed high enough for me to take off my wool layer underneath my raincoat around 10. I’m trying to make this interesting, but to be honest it was a business mode kind of day once the excitement of walking in the dark wore off. Oh! With one exception. I had just crossed a road and entered a rocky section that was making me a little crazy when I saw a flash of red out of the corner of my eye. I chalked it up to a cardinal, but then I saw the bird land, and I realized it was a scarlet tanager. I stopped in my tracks (not hard to do given my pace at the moment) and watched it fly to a neighboring tree even closer to me. And then it was gone. 
I made it to the shelter around 11. My brain said it was too soon to stop for the day, but my stiff ankle said otherwise. Buzzcut was already in her long johns and had her sleeping bag set up on the bench in the shelter. I fixed myself a tuna wrap (Fritos instead of kale today. so different) and tried not to eat everything in my food bag. I had that bottomless cold, tired hunger the rest of the afternoon. I set up my pad and sleeping bag in the floor and pulled on my hot pink smart wool pants and my wuzzy socks. Chrissy arrived about an hour later. 

The rain never did get heavy, but it was steady enough and cold enough that i felt good about the choice to stay. People slowly started arriving as the day wore on and now there are 6 of us in this little shelter with a really nice porch and a well kept moldering privy (aka composting privy). Supposedly there are a lot of bears in the area so let’s hope we don’t have that kind of excitement tonight because there is a couple with a 3 month old baby in a giant hammock out front. Yes. A 3 month old. hiking from VA to MA. And no, I don’t know what they were thinking. 

The afternoon involved a lot of laughing, some pointed remarks to lost & found when he made a comment about “you ladies” always calling things cute. I dropped the f bomb on him and said he didn’t need to make it about gender. I also tried to map out the next few days to figure out food supply, which made me miss Halfway because he’s my planning buddy. Buzzcut and I will likely do similar mileage and resupply so maybe we can keep each other company until I get off trail next week. I’m heading to duck, nc for the weekend to celebrate my dads 60th birthday! I’m sad to see what it does in terms of getting behind people I enjoy, but I’m also excited to see family. My posts over the next few days might not include many pictures because in need to conserve battery. I will go back and add them when I have guaranteed juice. For now I’m going to go to sleep while it’s still light out to the sound of squeaking sleeping pads, birds chirping, and the fellow in the family hammock talking annoyingly loudly. 
Mile 1305.8 to mile 1318.4 (12.6)
Total miles: 315.2
Creature feature: just the tanager. And scads of teenagers backpacking in groups of about 10. 

Day 28: 

I slept horribly last night. It was surprisingly cold, and I had to get out of my tent at 1am to pee. I might have done it in the church parking lot out of sheer laziness. I tossed and turned until about 6am. Then I had another special breakfast oatmeal care of my steady while standing around the picnic table with two fellows named cujo and highlander (a Scottish guy who wears a kilt). So many food treats the last 2 days. My cousin sent a pear and an avocado, and my former partner sent the perfect apple. 
After breakfast, I went through my breakdown chores and came to terms with the weight of my food bag. Even after sharing a lot of my goodies with other people, I think it weighs like 10 pounds. I was afraid to put on my fully loaded pack, but it wasn’t as bad as I expected. Must be desensitized to the overload. 

Sadly Halfway has decided to stay another day. His shin is still in bad shape and he can barely put weight on his leg. Chrissy is moving on and jimmy is somewhere ahead of us. I heard a bunch of the others contemplating a night at the Mohican camping center. I hadn’t given it much thought (gasp), but I decided that 11 miles seemed like a conservative move for my still puffy ankle. Buzzcut and I were ready at nearly the same time. I had to take a few minutes to prep my feet, so she left before me. Can’t give short shrift to foot prep! I said goodbye to halfway before I left. I’m going to miss his goofy grin and our giggle fits. 

I headed back towards the dear head inn and hung a left to follow the trail to the bridge that hugs the Delaware river. It was a loud and long road walk that felt both triumphant (BYE PA. won’t miss you.) and crusty because of the road noise. The bridge shook under me as I stopped to get this shot: 

The trail heads down to a local road that passes kittatinny point visitors center and then cuts underneath the highway over to worthington state forest. My feet were really unhappy with the asphalt walking and it was a relief to finally turn into the woods. The trail runs alongside dunnfield. Creek for a little while and the surface was soft and wide with a smattering of smooth rocks. Heaven for my feet. 

I ran into buzzcut about 20 minutes into the woods. Lo and behold, I have finally found someone with a relatively similar pace. AND that someone happens to be very enjoyable to talk to. We walked together for the rest of the day, talking on and off and getting slightly farther apart during the especially rocky sections where I slow down to molasses pace. Shortly after running into her, I did a cheesy thing and asked for a high 5 to celebrate finishing PA because I was alone at the state line on the bridge. Buzzcut obliged with a laugh and a smile. 

My ankle was doing pretty well until I stepped off of a log funny while trying to get off the trail for a bathroom break. I decided that I couldn’t give halfway a hard time for not taping his shin and then avoid taping my ankle, so I plopped down on a nice flat rock and taped the outside of my ankle. I think it helped. At the very least, it felt psychologically stabilizing. I caught up with buzzcut during her break and decided to join her even though i felt very aware of crowding her since she’s used to hiking alone (bc she’s slower than her current group, like me). We discussed the unfortunate events at the bar the other night, and I shared my experience of feeling comforted by Zach’s presence as another gay person. 

Shortly after our break, I heard a rustle off to my right and saw a large gray black snake. It moved a few feet into the brush and then raised up to wait. I took a picture but it’s so camouflaged that it just looks like a stick. A little while later, this guy was hanging out off to my left. Bigger and bolder than the first snake. 

The area around this pond was also a popular place for snakes. 

Buzzcut spotted one at the water’s edge while we tried to navigate the akimbo boulders around the pond. At one point we missed a blaze and ended up on a parallel trail that was much easier to navigate. Being relatively obedient thru hikers, we got back on the rocky mess and continued north. 

About an hour later, we pulled off into one of few shady flat spots covered in pine needles and ate lunch. Buzzcut pulled out a bag of salad and asked if I wanted to share it with her. SALAD. WITH KALE. she bought it at Walmart the day before and had intended to eat it last night. I nearly died with joy when i bit into my tuna wrap with kale, cranberries, and pecans (from the salad bag packet of notions). No Fritos required today. In an attempt to repay her, I offered up one of the dried figs that my mom and stepdad included in my resupply box. This is high currency to me, but it felt only fitting given the sheer joy of eating my wrap. 

Then the trail led us onto an exposed ridge with a great view of Pennsylvania to our left and New Jersey to our right. Very shortly, we dipped back down into scattered tree cover and dealt with increasingly rocky terrain. My pace slowed enough for buzzcut to pull out of sight, so we had some alone time until we got to the turn off for the Mohican outdoor center. Earlier in the afternoon, i had mentioned that I was trying to settle on the idea of 11 miles being good enough for today. In my mind, I should be increasing my mileage now and the weather was absolutely gorgeous today. Buzzcut expressed interest in maybe adding mile to her day to get to a campsite north of Mohican. when we got to the outdoor center we had snacks and conferred about where to stop for the day. I also got a bag of ice from the snack bar and took the opportunity to put my feet up for a few minutes. Chrissy happened to still be at the OC and was debating her own endpoint. She had her sights set on a tent site farther up the road, but I had no desire to get into camp after 6p yet again. Neither did buzzcut. So we decided to end our day a little to the north and chrissy would make her own plan. 

I filled up on water before we headed out. I must really be getting used to a heavy pack; the extra water weight didn’t feel as bad as I expected. The 3 of us left together. It felt strange to be in a group of hikers with no men. Non-male hikers are definitely the minority out here. I enjoyed the change in energy and the fact that there were no men around which we were expected to focus or humor or make bids for their attention. 

Chrissy pulled ahead on the climb almost immediately, and I felt annoyed with myself for not being able to keep up with her. I tried to get back into my body and my experience and let it go. It was only the second time all day that I’d traveled down judgment lane. The first being when I couldn’t keep up with buzzcut on the rockier sections. I let chrissy and buzzcut go ahead of me and stopped to make my commemorative pile of ferns. 

The 300 mile mark was actually a few miles before this point, but I totally spaced because I was preoccupied with trying to not hurt myself on rocks while also chiding myself for being so slow. Not long after I made my little sculpture, the trail hugged the side of the ridge and gave me this view: 

I got to the campsite around 530 and found chrissy and buzzcut surveying the area with their packs still on. Chrissy really wanted to push on but she also didn’t want to camp alone at a site that was so close to a road, so she stayed with us. It was a tight squeeze but we made it work. I was hoping for east/west views, but I’m glad we don’t have them because it’s really windy tonight.  Without the west facing tree cover, we would be in a wind tunnel. 

We set up our tents and made dinner. Hung our food on one bear line (and did it with more efficiency than trying to do it with the help of jimmy). We have a hair brained plan to wake up at 3 in the morning to pack up and hike out before the rain starts. That way we don’t have to pack wet tents and we especially don’t have to pack wet tents in the rain on the side of a partially exposed ridge. We will see how that works. For now I am going to go to sleep to the sound of the wind whipping through the trees and a whiporwhil that just decided to pick up the microphone. 

Mile 1293.6 to mile 1305.8 (12.2) 

Total miles: 302.6 

Creature feature: so many snakes! And a lizard and many caterpillars, one of whom tried to hitch a ride with me. 

Day 27: zero edition 

In light of my puffy, aching ankle, very full cood bag (thus heavier pack), and very cheap welcoming place to stay, I took a zero in Delaware water gap today. I feel kind of guilty and wimpy for taking three in a month when other people are just now taking their first day off. I know, I know: everyone’s body and tolerance is different. I can’t help myself, but I’m getting a little bit better at accepting my limits. Maybe? Hopefully. 
I didn’t do my usual routine of writing notes the same day, and I’m more interested in sharing hiking days than town days, so this will be a shortie. We left the decrepit pocono inn this morning in favor of tenting at the church hostel. Before relocating, we had breakfast at the Apple Pie Cafe. We walked in and saw a handful of hikers we met coming out of Lehigh gap. It strange but comforting to travel in this little rotating bubble of weirdos. As we were about to order, moss (owner of disco) sauntered in and joined us for breakfast. He’s a laid back guy, but he is pretty particular about his food. I love seeing other people be rigid. Makes me feel like less of a weirdo. I ordered the “vf sandwich” which was an egg and sausage served on raisin bread French toast with honey drizzled over it. Pretty sure I could have eaten two of them. 

After breakfast, I spent a fair amount of time avoiding organizing my mammoth food supply. I iced my ankle and loafed about. I bought stove fuel at the outfitter down the street. I went to the sycamore grill, which is near the outfitter for drinks with a collection of hikers and had two very fine glasses of ice water. I also had a great time talking to a solo female hiker named buzzcut at the restaurant. She’s in her fifties with salt and pepper buzzed hair and a confident, wise, take no shit air about her with a hearty laugh and a warm smile. 

Then I had a late dinner of homemade dehydrated adobo black beans and thin mints for dessert. Felt tired and lazy after dinner and shirked my writing and organizing duties in favor of a phone call. Overall, it was a great day. The atmosphere at church of the mountain is very relaxed and welcoming. In fact, the whole town seemed pretty welcoming. Now on to writing day 28 notes!

(Today’s headline picture is not the church of the mountain hostel. It’s the deer head inn. The church was hard to photograph and I forgot to try to get a better shot than the weird ones I took yesterday) 
Miles: 0 

Total miles: 290.4 
Creature feature: disco dog! and not much else that i paid attention to. 

Day 26: wtf edition 

It was warm last night. My legs stuck together when I laid down to go to sleep, and I was sweating every time I woke up in the night. Just a little taste of what’s to come with the consistent heat of summer around the corner. I could hear halfway stirring in my tent as I got out of bed to hobble my way toward a semi private spot for cat hole time. Pooping in the woods continues to be a strange experience. There’s something more interactive about covering it with dirt relative to the ease of pushing a lever to flush a toilet. 
After being one with the dirt, I wrestled with the clump of knots jimmy used to tie off our bear bags. Ate a quiet breakfast sitting on a log and standing every so often to give my tailbone a break. It continues to do well walking and poorly sitting. Chrissy emerged from her tent, and we sat in silence with our respective oatmeals. I had designs on getting to Delaware water gap in time to get my mail, so I didn’t dally after breakfast. Left camp around 730 and proceeded over the rocks at a snails pace with tender feet. 
About a mile into the day, I stepped down on a pointy rock with my right heel and felt a pain shoot up into the outside of my ankle. I felt so confused by the path of the pain. If I hit the rock with my heel, why did it hurt in my ankle?? I slowed my pace and became even more selective about my foot placement. I could feel my ankle and outside of my foot swelling in my shoe, but I didn’t stop to look at it. Best just to keep walking and not freak myself out. The pain subsided to a dull ache and I tried to focus on maintaining a normal gait so I didn’t strain something by overcompensating. Needless to say, my pace became even more glacial. I had no clue how I was going to make it through 11 more miles. 
Halfway passed me about an hour after the ankle incident. We groused about our ailments (his shin has not gotten better) and then he pulled ahead. I saw him again about 30 minutes later sitting on a log looking droopy. He got up to get water and I took his spot on the log to inspect my ankle. I checked for bruising and didn’t see any, which I took as a good sign. 
About 10 minutes later, we hit a section of the trail called wolf rocks. The owner of the hostel we stayed at in schuylkill haven had talked about this spot as if we might not escape with all of our limbs, but it turned out to be a nap compared to crossing knife edge. Here are a couple of pictures from the top. 

There was a bit of a scramble to get down from the ridge, but I was pleasantly surprised at how tame the section turned out. I had been worried about getting across it with a persnickety ankle. 

After wolf rocks, the trail was flat and sparsely populated with rocks. I felt so relieved to be able to walk without having to be hyper vigilant about where to put my foot every single step. There wasn’t much air moving at that point in the day and the tree cover grew sparser, but the ease of the terrain made up for the steaminess. Around 11, I ran into halfway geeking out over the maps at a trailhead near a road crossing. We ended up taking a long break at the kitteridge shelter. 

I got water at the spigot down a short trail that leads to a private retreat center and rinsed the salt crystals off my face. I decided to eat an early lunch there. It felt so good to sit in the shade, and it seemed wise to eat in comfort rather than standing in the middle of the trail in the sun. Two NOBO hikers cruised in at a fast clip and ate a snack as well. A fellow named penguin and another guy named a-pick. Penguin shared some wisdom about taking time for injuries to heal and his pop tart eating strategy. Deep thoughts we hikers have. 
After lunch, my calves and sad ankle felt very stiff from having been still for so long. I walked along feeling spaced out and tired and didn’t notice the giant black snake in front of me on the trail until it moved. Thankfully it was just a black racer (or possibly a rat snake? I still can’t tell the difference). It slithered across the trail and into the brush. I was too surprised to get a picture of it, not that snakes photograph very well because they are freakishly camouflaged. That woke me up a bit, and of course made all the curvy sticks look like snakes for a little while.
Halfway caught up with me about 20 minutes after I left him at the shelter. We started talking about past lives and past jobs, but his pace was too fast so I said if you want me to hear your story you’re going to have to slow down (which I honestly think he should have been doing anyway because of his shin, but he’s stubborn). So he slowed down and we walked together the rest of the way into Delaware water gap, which was nearly three hours. We covered each of our past jobs, counseling/therapy history (as clients), his burning man experiences and my banjo camp experiences and the deep friendships forged out of each,  and communication challenges he faces in his current relationship. It felt really great to have compatible company and to be distracted by the heat and drudgery of the rocky stretches. 

The descent into Delaware water gap was long but beautiful. The trail takes you down the side of the mountain facing the river and winds through rhododendron thickets. It also crossed this stream that made me feel like we were in the jungle because of the light and the rhododendron. That’s chrissy filtering water. 

She ran out of water earlier in the afternoon and halfway and i happened to come along when she was worried about dehydration. I gave her some of my water to hold her over until the stream. Apparently someone she met at the hiker festival had just gone to the hospital for severe dehydration. 

When we got to town we dragged ass over to the church of the mountain hostel where we intended to stay for the night (and possibly 2 nights if we take a zero tomorrow to give our various ailments a rest). Its a donation based hostel that sits on a hill in downtown DWG. The hostel is in the basement of the church, which is ground level and not as dreary as it sounds. You’re also allowed to tent outside on the grounds. Halfway was exhausted and in pain. He took one look at the place and said where else can we stay. I didn’t want to spend money on a hotel. Having said that, the prospect of having my own space and laundry was pretty tempting, but I also wanted to be immersed in the hiker culture at the hostel. Halfway looked miserable when I said I wanted to stay at the hostel, so I caved and agreed to hotel it. We booked a double room at the pocono inn about a half mile away. 

Before leaving, I ran over to the post office and picked up my mail. The size of the stack of packages the portal worker brought out was comical. I got stuff from all of my parents, my former partner, my steady, my cousin and a letter from a good friend in California. So much love. So much food! Also, a bit of a tangent, but the gardens in dwg are impressive and in full bloom right now. Here are a few samples: 

A shuttle driver named kenny, who is often around at the hostel, gave us a ride to the hotel. As soon as I saw the outside, I knew we’d made a bad choice. It looked like an abandoned motel out of a horror movie. Due to flooding, half the rooms were under construction and the rooms in service were dingy. I would rather have slept in my tent and we were all in agreement that we would not be staying there a second night. 

We showered and put on laundry in the dungeon laundry room with machines from 1982. I got ice from the front desk and halfway and i iced our legs. Remember zach? Well he took his first zero in DWG so I got to see him! Sadly it involved a 20 minute walk of varying degrees of safety along the side of the road to a biker bar. Halfway stayed close to the hotel while chrissy and I ventured to the bar. I would never have bothered with that kind of outing (bar? loud. walk? ouch. timing? too late for me), but I knew it would be the only way to see Zach. It was quite the experience for multiple reasons. The place itself was forgettable but they had a fun menu that was displayed in hand type on index cards near the bar area. The crowd was tattooed and grizzled. I put on my blinders when I walked in and tried not to noticed how people were staring. Maybe it was my sweet outfit? Because my clothes were in the dryer when we left, I wore my camp shorts (blue nylon running shorts) and my raincoat with nothing underneath. 

Zach was beside himself with joy to see me (he was also a few drinks deep and hadn’t eaten enough that day). I sat next to him and another guy whose name I’m going to omit for reasons that will be obvious. Zach and I had a good time catching up. He told me about getting his trail name, which is French dip (he apparently went to down eating it with a spoon and grossed out everyone in camp). At some point, dude to my left, who was wasted beyond belief, said to Zach and me, “so you’re homosexual right” and I knew whatever was about to come out of his mouth could not be good. He proceeded to “try to get to know us” by saying in various incoherent ways that he was uncomfortable with gay people but really wanted to learn more and since there were two of us near him now he wanted to ask us about our relationship experience. Zach and I both bristled and, as diplomatically as possible, told him that our sexuality has no bearing on our relationship experience because we are whole people. Not merely “homosexuals.” Which is a word that no gay person of our generation would use because it’s clinical and othering. Dude bro got defensive and spoke over us. He got even more defensive when Zach tried to explain the concept of straight privilege to him. Then dude bro said he was offended and all this other BS that I don’t have the energy to get into. I couldn’t really believe any of it was happening and I finally said hey, I don’t want to educate you, you’re not listening, and I definitely don’t want to have to take care of your feelings in this conversation where you are treating me like a freak who makes you uncomfortable. So Zach and I left. We walked arm in arm down the road replaying the conversation and feeling horrified for ourselves and also confused as to what dude bro was even trying to say. 
Zach came back to the pocono inn to see how drab and ridiculous it was. We gave halfway a rendition of our experience at the bar. He was moderately supportive, but somewhat disengaged. Then chrissy came back and we told her the story. She went the route of trying to defend dude bro and his experience. I shut her down immediately. Then she downplayed our experience by questioning our feeling that dude bro was being homophobic. Needless to say it was not helpful. Zach and I had words about it over text after he left. Now I’m going to go to sleep and try not to kick chrissy in her sleep. 
Mile 1281.9 to mile 1293.6 (11.7) 

Total miles: 290.4
Creature feature: I saw two deer this morning right before the ankle incident. I also saw a black and white striped warbler in the rhododendron near dwg. Such a cute little guy. 

Day 25: cracked edition 

I stayed up too late last night writing notes for the day (late as in hiker 3am, which translates to about 1145), but I woke up before my alarm. Again. Why. I felt happy about my choice to tent in the yard. It cut down on the camaraderie a bit, but I liked the privacy and the millipede barrier. To my surprise, people were already up and milling about in the garage when I went down to grab my food bag. I considered secluding myself longer and eating at the picnic table out back where I boiled water for my breakfast, but I decided to walk down to the driveway. FOMO wins again. I stood around eating my breakfast (with a banana!) while accidentally crunching on various millipedes underfoot. 
We were packed and ready to go by 8 in an attempt to get a jump on the heat of the day. It’s forecasted to be almost 90 today. John drove us back to the trail, while I turned green in the back seat because his tendency to accelerate through the windy curves in the road. down the twisty road back. We were on our way into the rock garden by 815. Ran into lost & found and an another older gentleman named tai chi. He had a kind, soft energy, which was quite the contrast to lost & found’s bumpy, brash energy. 
Sweat dripped down my face wIthin minutes of leaving the trailhead. The rocks were incessant spines digging into my feet with every other step. About a mile into the morning, I ran into halfway sitting on a log wincing because his shinsplints flared up. He could barely lift his leg without cringing. He told me to keep walking, so I left him to his misery, but worried about him not having a way to call anyone if he needed to stop early for the day. 
I know there were trees around me and birds somewhere out there, but I felt like I was in a brown and gray tunnel for over half the day because the rocks made it. nearly impossible to look up. They also make it hard to get any momentum because my steps end up erratically short or long to try to avoid the pointiest options. I thought music would lighten my mood, but today it didn’t help. I turned it off after only about an hour. Tai chi and I walked near each other for a few minutes. He asked me where home is, which I like so much more than “where are you from?” I replied “that’s a good question. I don’t know, but I live in Brooklyn.” This whole idea of home is hard for me because we moved around when I was growing up and my parents are divorced and they’ve also moved around a bit. There’s no childhood home and not even really a childhood place to consider home. As cheesy and obvious as it sounds, the woods might be home. And for now they actually are. 
Anyway, I sweated and cursed my way through the morning. I actually love hot weather; it’s the rocks that made me curse. For about 12 minutes, I felt really strong and like my feet are starting to adjust to all the pounding and my body didn’t really lag in the heat while everyone around me seemed to be wilting. Then I tripped. I wanted to punch something because it hurt, and I went back to feeling slow and vulnerable to the elements. 
Around 1030, I caught up to halfway sitting on a rock. My feet were throbbing and it was a big rock, so I joined him for his break. The rock was surprisingly cool against my skin. I forget how cool they are when they’re not in the sun. A few minutes later, chrissy came walking down the path. I scooted over and shared the rock with her. It was hard to get started after such a long break. 

A similar congregating happened around 1145 when I came upon halfway sitting on a smaller rock. I perched on a nearby rock and rested my feet. About 3 minutes later, chrissy pulled up and took a different spot. Then lost & found arrived and sat in the brush. Mind you, this happened at a spot when the trail was rather narrow so we probably looked ridiculous. Halfway took a lot of breaks today because of his shin, which was enjoyable for me because it meant a bit of company until he pulled ahead because he’s faster than me even with a bum knee. As we all resumed our slog, we came across this little guy: 

I couldn’t find much to appreciate about the trail itself today. About 5 miles in, there was a blue cooler sitting off the trail about 30 yards. I found out later from hippo that the cooler had yeungling beer in it. That fool drank one even though it was like 85 degrees outside. I don’t know that I’ve described hippo. He’s an ambiguously 70 German man who is a stroke survivor. He’s walking the trail for as long as he can until he has to go home in mid august. He has a good sense of humor and smiles a lot, although I think some of the smiling is a cover up for not knowing what people are saying. I asked him last night at dinner if he caught what I said (when I saw the vacant smile) and he said no not at all. He doesn’t appear to be moving quickly and he stumbles a lot (his shins are covered in cuts), but he makes it happen. 
When the trail dropped us down into wind gap, pa, I saw hippo standing at the roadside trying to hitch a ride. I hope it worked out better than his last ride with the drunk guys and he got what he needed. We half heartedly attempted to hitch into wind gap, but it didn’t work so we walked the whole .8 miles. That might not sound far, but as I’ve said before, road walking is so much harder on your body than trail walking. I fell really far behind the group, but could have cared less because I just couldn’t go any faster without bruising my feet. I stopped with halfway at the post office. There happened to be a working spigot out front, which I noted as a backup plan for filling our water since the campsite tonight doesn’t have a water source. Major hassle because it involves carrying so much water weight. 

Halfway and I hobbled over to cafe on broadway, which is a small hiker friendly cafe with a diner-ish lunch counter feeling and really good food. I ordered a beautiful spinach salad, French fries and a berry smoothie for a fruit fix. My brain wanted a cheeseburger, but that seemed unwise given the major climb out of wind gap. The fries were so good. The owner and whom I assume is her daughter were talkative and so accommodating. I asked if we could fill our water vessels in the bathroom and they offered to fill it in the kitchen. Then the owner said one of them could drive us to the trail when we were ready. It really does feel like magic when people offer to do things like that. After lunch, Chrissy had to take care of post office things (pickup and mailing stuff home). Halfway and I worked on our respective blogs. I would share his, but he prefers to keep it on the private side. I reached my maximum sitting time and got antsy to leave. It’s not that exciting to relax in town when you can’t sit comfortably and your feet feel like mincemeat so standing isn’t much of an option. I also knew we had 4 miles to walk, and I didn’t want to get to camp really late. I finally went outside and laid down on the pavement of the accessible ramp on the side of cafe. Desperate times. Chrissy was finally done around 4. We piled into the owners very clean car and she ran us up the road. 

Who did we find in the parking lot?? Trail angel don, dropping off a fellow named plant who also happened to stay at millipede manor last night. How do these things happen? Sadly we were all too full to humor don very much. I took a peach because apparently I just want fruit. The sun was also blazing in the parking lot, so we bid don a pretty quick farewell. But before we left he told us a story about finding shoes in one of the shelters and wearing those shoes today for the first time. Then along comes plant (a hiker), whose shoes are falling apart because of the gnarly rocks. Turns out don’s new shoes fit plant perfectly so they swapped. Don was very happy with his “customized”‘duct taped solomons trail runners, which he dubbed his driving shoes. 
And then we walked up a very large hill. I think Wind Gap should be renamed Winded Gap. Good thing I washed my face at the restaurant. I was drenched by the time I got to the top. Then came rocks with very few resting zones. I felt exhausted and cranky about the time. With about two miles to go a stick caught on my right shoe and the other end of it dug into my leg. I lost my balance and nearly went tumbling face first into a pile of sharp rocks. I somehow caught myself, but my phone went flying out of my shoulder pocket. I wrenched my torso in such a way that now my chest is sore. My body feels a bit like the hunger games arena. One malady stops and another one starts (or, if I’m extra lucky, two things happen at once!). I’m being hyperbolic, but I did say to myself out loud “great, another thing to get over.” As for my phone, the screen has a single crack in it now. No clue how to get that fixed under the insurance without being phone less so it will have to wait until it gets worse. 
The last 2 miles were dreadful. I had zero energy and my nerves were shot between the near fall and the relentless digging of rocks into my soles. I got to camp around 630, just behind chrissy. The site is a little short on decent tent spots, but we made it work. I think everyone was pretty torched. 

Jimmy was the only one who cooked dinner. I couldn’t bring myself to do it, partially because I had no appetite and the idea of heating water seemed preposterous. Instead, I ate a bobo bar topped with peanut butter and a jelly packet. Highly recommend the combo. I forced down some other snacks because I doubted that the bobo “sandwich” was enough. It’s so hard to tell when to stop eating when you don’t feel like starting in the first place. Now I’m laying in my tent listening to the occasional air craft fly over, the wind picking up in the trees (making it a decent sleeping temperature), and the squeak of halfway’s sleeping pad. Tomorrow: the end of Pennsylvania! as we walk into Delaware water gap. And mail day! 
Mile 1270.0 to mile 1281.9 (11.9) 
Total miles: 278.7 
Creature feature: the only thing that stood out today was that little toad hanging onto a rock. 

Day 24: rock climbing edition 

I woke up around 5am this morning. No alarm. Just old fashioned anxiety. Every time I rolled over in the night, I could feel myself checking for pain. As I changed into my hiking shorts, I didn’t notice any twinges, which is already a big difference from when I originally broke my tailbone last January. It’s going to be hot today, so I went to for timeliness over etiquette in terms of making noise in camp. Sound carries really well and all of our gear is noisy, so there’s no way to silently move around. Even the leaves are crunchy and give away each movement. I walked down the little hill next to our site to get our food bags and felt hopeful at the lack of sharp pain. Just a dull ache. I put my breakfast together standing up and attempted to bend over as little as possible. This is one of the movements that still bothers me at times even a year later. You’d be amazed at how many camping tasks involve bending over. 
Halfway emerged from his tent around 530. We had a silent breakfast together, and then we packed up as the rest of the group emerged. I had to walk back up the hill to the spring to fill all of my water vessels for the 17 mile carry we had planned for the day. I took little steps and focused on landing gently. A few twinges. After getting water, and a few new mosquito bites, I headed back down to camp and told myself to stop looking for pain. This is so cheesy, but I said “you’re okay” all the way down the hill along with “it’s just a bruise.” I did this in an attempt to stop myself from unconsciously tightening all the muscles in my lower back and my glutes. 

Halfway and I left camp at 725. My fear of injury returned as soon as I put on my bag. The bag sits at the very top of my tailbone, and I knew immediately that it wasn’t going to work at that height. I tightened my shoulder straps To lift the bag off my waist as much as I could. Then I took my stress ball self down the hill to cross the bridge over the Lehigh river. 

Halfway and I gaped at the mountain that we were about to climb looming over us. The elevation gain for Lehigh gap is something crazy in a small amount of distance. I’m not good at remembering or caring about those numbers. But I can say that the for first third of the climb, I felt like my Achilles’ tendons might snap in half because my feet were hitting the ground at such a steep angle. 

Once we got past this point, the terrain went from scrabbley tree covered path to exposed rock. That’s when things got interesting. The actual climb was that difficult, but the sheer height made it feel treacherous. A misstep or losing your balance could really end badly. I was worried that having to lean over and take large boulder hoping steps would send shooting pain through my tailbone, but it never happened. After several pain free maneuvers, I forgot to be anxious about it, and focused on the task at hand. Halfway caught a picture of me near the top of the scramble:

On the other side of the point, we had to scramble over rocks that looked as if they’d been shaken from a bag in the sky. Plenty of opportunities for twisted ankles and bruised feet, but I made it out unscathed with the exception of a small goose egg from hitting my shin against a boulder. 

After the intense climb and the transition across the point (I don’t know what else to call it because it wasn’t the summit), the trail led us through a gradual rocky climb. As I went up the rocky ascent, I cried from the relief of not being in pain and the adrenaline of scaling the gap. The trail eventually transitioned to a bucolic walk along the side of the mountain with views overlooking dismal factories. When I got to the quasi meadow walk I let myself cry a bit and then I laid down in the middle of the trail to take a break. I also laid down on a giant slab of rock a little while later to catch a few more minutes off of my feet. 

Then we were led through several exposed rocky sections, some of which sounded as if we were walking across broken plates. A German fellow I met a few days ago named hippo passed me during the noisy section and said “it’s a nice trail, yah?” But I couldn’t tell if he was serious. I followed him until he led us astray down the power line road which ran parallel to the trail. We realized the mistake pretty quickly, and backtracked. Oh the sadness of backtracking on a supposed 17 mile day. 

There were a lot of people out today. Probably at least a dozen hikers. I finally met buzzcut, whom halfway knows and has been hoping to run into. She seemed to be loosely hiking with two other gentlemen named cujo and JD. Here they all are at a lunch break (along with a tired and sore halfway) later in the day. 

There was a tedious mile long section of rock hopping after the power lines. Then we popped out into a gravel parking lot near a road crossing. I saw halfway laying on the ground and made a bee line for the patch of gravel next to him. 

It felt surprisingly cool and the texture of the rocks was almost like acupressure. Two of the hikers next to me lit cigarettes, which was the final motivator to get moving. Halfway and I started off again. The remainder of the group was about a mile behind us. Angel was apparently not doing well with the heat and was starting to make plans to get off trail until the temperatures break later in the week. 

The next section is a bit of a blur. It was rocky, and I had to continually let hikers go in front of me because I was being even choosier about my foot placement than usual. I was trying to avoid long jarring steps for the benefit of both my tailbone and my aching feet. Halfway and I had an in depth confab during our lunch break at a shady campsite alongside the trail. He felt sore and skeptical about making it 9.5 more miles to the intended shelter. We decided to call John stempa, who appears in AWOLs trail guide as someone who will let you sleep at his house, shower, and shuttle you to/from the trail and into kunkletown. This shaved 3.5 miles off of our intended 17 miles and still left room for me to get to Delaware water gap in time for my mail pickup Saturday morning. Chrissy and company were to call as well on their own timeline because they got picked up by trail angel don and taken out to lunch. I felt sad about missing the magic, but I enjoyed myquiet  time with Halfway and myself, and I know a social lunch with diner food would have been a total energy drain. 
With our destination decided, halfway and I set out to cover 5.8 more miles. There was definitely a different determination in my step with the prospect of a shower, electricity, and water I wouldn’t have to filter. I sped up to the point where I had to remind myself that 6 miles is still 3 hours of walking, and I needed to pace myself. The next 2.5 hours all run together. There were a few forgiving sections, and some unfortunately rocky sections. I took a tumble at one point when my heel caught some shit kicker rock at just the right angle. Banged my knee, but no damage done and I had a good laugh about it because Halfway had fallen in nearly the same spot. I know that because I was close enough to hear the clatter and the cursing. 

John picked us up at smith mountain gap road. He started talking the second we were within earshot, and I’m pretty sure he didn’t stop for more than a minute the whole time he was around. He brought his giant chocolate Doberman along for the ride, which of course made me happy. As did this little guy who hangs out at the kunkletown pub where halfway, hippo, and I had dinner with John. 

Hippo arrived about an hour after we did, unplanned and in a mysterious fashion. Two of john’s neighbors saw hippo walking along the roadside and offered to give him a ride to John’s house, but they were going the wrong way and wouldn’t listen to hippo. He thinks they might have been drunk. 

At any rate, I got a good shower (complete with towel), a burger at the pub, ice cream AND BANANAS at the general store across the street and a few backup bars to help make my food last until Saturday. Chrissy and company were done around 645 and John left our dinner to go get them from the trail. Halfway, hippo and I left to wind down rather than stay for the other half of the group to eat. The garage where we had the option to sleep was littered with millipedes. There was also a wolf spider on the wall when we first got there. So I’m writing this from the comfort of my tent, which is set up in john’s backyard. I can hear what I think is a great horned owls low hoot in the distance and the patter of bugs skittering across the surface of my tent. I’m relieved that my tailbone seems okay enough to continue, and I’m really excited to be out of PA soon! 
Mile 1257.1 to mile 1270.0 (12.9) 

Total miles: 266.8
Creature feature: I nearly put my trekking pole down on a snake today. It had tan stripes, but it wasn’t a rattler. It reared up and slithered away after I made a sharp inhale after nearly touching it. I also saw a scarlet tanager! Which I’ve been hiking to see for like two weeks. They’re incredible. So vibrant with intense red bodies and black wings. Halfway saw a timber rattler, but I sadly have not seen a rattlesnake yet. 

Day 23: meltdown edition 

I woke up about two minutes before my alarm and lay in my sleeping bag until it went off at 520. Given our prime power line spot and the dearth of visible sunrises so far, I felt determined to make it happen today. I unzipped my tent, put on my shoes, and stiffly walked up the hill past the clusters of lady slippers. It was a windy morning, but the temperature was reasonable, so I stood in comfort with my puffy coat and caught the pinkest part of the event. Angel joined me eventually, and we watched it together until a little past 6. He told me about seeing the sunrise in the grand canyon when his oldest daughter turned 16. I feel bad that I didn’t stay to talk more, but I felt so groggy, and I was starting to get cold. 

I went back down the hill and laid in my tent considering whether to go back to sleep because we had a shorter day of 10.9 miles on the docket. I heard halfway stirring in his tent, and I know that I’m a terrible napper, so I decided to just get up. Made myself breakfast and put in extra cinnamon. So good. I felt whiny and tired this morning, and I grumbled inside my head the entire time I broke down camp. Jimmy and angel left first with me about 10 minutes behind. I didn’t see them until I got to tonight’s shelter. 

The trail got rocky immediately after leaving the camp. I tried to admire what I could, and I went as slowly as I needed to in order to take short flat steps. No sense in rushing and ending up with my foot jammed between rocks or stepping on a pointy edge and breaking my foot. 

Not long after the rocks started, the trail led me up to what’s called knifes edge, which involved crossing a ridge made up of rocks sitting at crazy angles. There were very few flat surfaces to be found. I definitely had to scramble and use my hands. I made it through unscathed and was on my way down the last spine when I heard a guy yelling behind me. Something about “hell of a way to start” He sounded belligerent. Turns out his trail name is Mad Tom and he yells a lot. He and his partner are finishing their AT section hike with PA. 

Halfway caught up to me not long after mad tom passed me. We had a laugh over tom’s yelling and then halfway was off. After another hour of boulders and shit kickers, the trail transitioned into a moderately flat wide lane.

 I was surprised to get such relief because everyone we speak to keeps saying how horrible the rocks are. It’s true, they’re painful and SO tedious, but not as constant as people make it sound. These could be famous last words. 
Thruhiker salesman (from rock n sole hostel) passed me around 10. We have the same gaiters, which I find Hilarious because they’re paint splatters circa trapper keeper designs from 1989. I hit the bake oven knob shelter around 11 and saw Halfway hanging out. We stocked up on water and wilted in the shade of the very old leaning shelter. 

I decided to walk another hour before eating lunch. Today was the hottest day on trail so far, and I could definitely feel the extra effort. For lunch I had a tuna, frito wrap with cheese, honey, and hot sauce from Wendy’s (care of my dad). Strange but good. After I ate, I took the time to wrap my little toes in KT tape. The sloshing around on rocks makes my feet rub in a different way and I could feel the beginnings of some unfortunate pinching. 

The afternoon was hot and dry with very little shade. I wore my ridiculous dollar general boonie hat and put on sunscreen like a responsible pasty person. I’ve had trouble paying attention to anything beyond four feet in front of me the last few days, especially in the afternoons. Somehow chrissy and I ended up walking together for another couple of hours today. We didn’t talk much. She was also tired and being harangued by gnats. I had taken a benadryl after lunch in the hopes that it might allay the weird puffiness in my index finger. It’s possible that had something to do with the extra wobbling for the last 2 miles. I had to really concentrate on what I was doing. I also ate another snack and drank more water. Sometimes I feel like my body is a baby, and I don’t know what it wants so I just keep trying stuff until something works. The last two miles into c’s of were dismal in terms of energy level and mood, but we the ferns helped a little bit: 

Chrissy and I finally rolled into camp (aka hobble because our feet are sore and we’ve been walking for 8 hours) around 415. Jimmy motions for me to be quiet as I come down the hill to the shelter. I thought mah e he had an animal to show me. As it turns out, there was a non hiker sleeping in the shelter with a knife on his belt. He had been non responsive when they tried to rouse him. They think he was drunk or high or something, but they were all up in arms about getting into town and away from the “vagrant.” An older gentleman named lost & found was very put out by the thought of having to move on after having hiked all day. He went so far as to call the police department, which felt like an overreaction to me. The man was asleep. Sure he had a knife, and I wasn’t about to stay in the shelter with him (or in the area alone), but I don’t understand why the next move is to call the cops. 

The guys had already tried calling hotels and hostel options, of which there were very few and they had no luck. I voted to camp nearby and that’s eventually what we did. Jimmy and angel walked down the trail to see about a campsite that someone said might exist. Halfway, chrissy and I filtered water in preparation for camping and for the looong water carry we have tomorrow. We are going through a dead zone for water sources because of zinc smelting and heavy metal pollution. 

Halfway finished filtering first and I asked chrissy to stay with me until I was done just in case mystery guy decided to stumble down the hill. After I finished, I noticed a text from jimmy saying they couldn’t find a site. I tried calling, straight to voicemail. We weren’t sure whether to wait or walk down hill (a big decision when you’re talking about all the weight we carry). Walking seemed like the wiser option because waiting involved a mosquito army, so we slowly made our way down the trail keeping our eyes peeled for campsites. It seemed like we’d gone too far, but I caught a hint of woodsmoke in the air. Then chrissy yelled out Jimmy’s name and he responded from down the trail. We walked down to the sight of halfways tent already pitched and a fire going. 

At that point chrissy and I were both pretty frayed. We set up our tents, and I prepped my stuff to boil water. As I sat down on a log to turn on my stove, the log moved and I went tumbling backwards. My tailbone landed right on the corner of a rock behind me. I immmeditely jumped up and started freaking out about having reinjured myself. Mind you, my version of freaking out involves standing there silently taking deep breaths and pulling on my hair. I walked around gingerly and tried to assess the damage. I didn’t feel any sharp pains, but there was an intense throbbing that felt reminiscent of my original break, which scared me. I don’t think anyone around me knew what to do so they were all silent. For like a half an hour while I put dinner together (because I still had to eat even though I felt too anxious to give two shits about food). I stood around numbly eating my tasteless Mac and cheese and unsuccessfully trying not to cry. I texted my mother and my steady, but that just made me want to cry more, so I walked away from camp and leaned against a tree with my back to everyone. I stood there spoooning noodles into my mouth while tears ran down my face and thoughts of having to quit ran through my head. The group started talking about planning stuff, which of course is like moth to a flame for me, so I walked back over to join the conversation. Halfway asked me how I was and I said I don’t know. He asked about the damage and I said I don’t know. Hopefully my tone wasn’t mean, but I couldn’t pretend to be okay. 

After I finished eating, which I did standing because I was too freaked out that sitting might hurt, we hung bear bags. I crawled into my tent to write and get off of my feet. We are supposed to tackle Lehigh gap tomorrow, which is notoriously difficult and has to be done with extra water weight. I’m going to try to reserve my freak out until I get evidence that says I’ve really hurt myself. I’m writing this to the sound of road noise, chrissy laughing because jimmy texted us from his tent, and halfway squeaking around on his sleeping pad. Fingers crossed that I will just be sore and not out of commission. 

**REAL TIME UPDATE: my tailbone survived a full day of hiking (including the infamous Lehigh gap). I’m back to not really being able to sit down, which is an issue for taking breaks, but, knock on wood, I can keep hiking. 

Mile 1246.0 to mile 1257.1 (11.1) 

Total miles: 253.9 

Creature feature: I honestly can’t remember much of anything right now. I finally saw the bird that I’ve been hearing with a call similar to “pretty girl” but I couldn’t catch the colors because of the angle.