Day mileage: 20
AT total mileage: 1,151.6
Time: 6.5 hours
Like a kid on Christmas morning, I was enthusiastically awake pretty early, ready to get my day started. There's an excitement about knowing I'd be seeing family that made me want to fly through my 20 miles in no time at all. Unfortunately despite this desire, it still takes putting one foot in front of the other for a few hours for me to get anywhere, so I packed up my stuff at the shelter and began my hike. Starting downhill from the shelter I noticed some stiffness in my knees that eventually loosened up, and Pneumo and I descended down into another valley on the other side of the ridge we had climbed late last night. We'd hike 11 or so miles into Duncannon from where we camped, have lunch with Jellybean (who has consistently been a day or so ahead of me since mile 700, so it'll be good to see him) and then I'd push on to meet up great uncle and aunt at the crossing of the Appalachian Trail and PA 225 later in the afternoon.
As we descended into the valley there was a mile or so spent hiking across poorly mowed fields, socks getting soaked from the morning dew still present on the vegetation. We climbed back up a ridge on the other side of the valley and entered into what the paper guide book called a 'very rocky section' for the next 5 miles. These rocks are obnoxious. It's nearly impossible to step in between, on, or around them without an ankle bending one way or another. Maintaining a good speed isn't likely to happen, and their protruding nature is guaranteed to put pressure on all the sore spots of your feet. I hate rocks like this. Regardless, the miles kept passing by as the heat of the day crept up on us. We came to the end of the ridgeline to a rocky vista overlooking town and the Susquehanna river, and began the rocky descent into Duncannon. Meeting with Jellybean at the laundromat, we caught up on his crazy back-to-back-to-back 30 mile days, some 10 in a row, and got updated on his potential Lyme disease after he discovered a tick and concentric circles around the bite area. He's felt rather weak and took a few zero days in town to seek medical attention. We made our way over to the Doyle Hotel, a hugely hiker friendly institution that's a famous stop for hikers. Built in the late 1800s by the Anheuser Busch company, it was sold off and became a hotel in the mid 1900s. It's now owned by a couple named Pat & Vicki who operate the hotel/hostel as well as the bar/restaurant downstairs. Great food at a great price, served and cooked by two conversationalists who are professionals at talking about the Appalachian Trail. Vicki and I became fast friends, and I was able to get a photo with her before leaving. She even made a jab at me that I 'must not be a real thru-hiker' because I didn't finish every square inch of food on my plate. I'm sure this would be a fun place to hang out a little longer at.
I had 9 miles to hike in order to meet up with my family, which included a 1,000' steep climb out of the riverbed. The Appalachian Trail follows along Main Street of Duncannon for a while, and I was able to see what I can only believe used to be a gorgeous town where many beautiful houses now rest in a serious state of disrepair. It was a three mile pavement trek to the reentry point of the Trail into the woods, which included a half mile hike over the river alongside US 22/322. While crossing, trekking poles in hand and bag on my back, I got interrupted from my day dreaming by a trucker headed in the opposite direction who repeatedly honked the horn of his 18-wheeler and gave me a huge grin and thumbs up as he went by. Putting the biggest smile on my face, I trekked on. The most interesting part about this whole section was that it included a notable 'first' for my hike - I was now officially walking by areas that I've driven to. I've crossed this river before while driving to see the family. I distinctly remember this feeling from cycling across the country in 2007, reaching the point where home was close enough nearby that I knew the roads. It's a very cool feeling. The climb off the river bed wasn't horrible despite the afternoon heat, but I wasn't expecting the intense rocks that followed afterwords. It amazes me that the guide warned about rocks this morning, but there was no mention of the section at the top of the ridge I was on that afternoon. This in my opinion was by far the largest, longest, and worst section of rocks the trail has crossed yet. I called my family to let them know I'd be a bit later than I anticipated due to the terrain being more difficult than I was hoping for. I continued on, and when it was safe to do so I opened my throttle a bit to make it to the designated rendezvous point by 1630, the time I had told them I'd be there. This meant covering 4 miles in an hour, but I didn't want to be late so I made it work. As I hiked out of the woods and across the pedestrian foot bridge at the top of Peter's Mountain, I was greeted by signs, cameras, and cheering from my great aunt, uncle, cousin, and her twin two year old daughters who had come to see me. The smile on my face was indelible.
Despite the homeless odor I undoubtedly emitted, hugs were given to all. It's strange to think that I have actually hugged anyone in 60 days. We took many photos, and my uncle Rich handed me a cold Yuengling which absolutely hit the spot in the heat of the day. We piled into their two cars and headed off the 5 or so miles to their house where I'm spending the night. Despite the normal desire to shower and feel human again, I happily sat by the pool drinking my signature blue Gatorade, and watching the twins swim with their grandmother and mom while we all talked and I answered questions about the trail. I eventually got over my laziness and went upstairs to shower before coming back down to assist with dinner by shucking corn. Who ever thought there would be a thrill with shucking corn?! Doing 'normal' summer activities really filled a void. We had hotdogs, hamburgers, baked beans, corn, and salad for dinner, and sat outside enjoying the warmth of the evening catching up on family and the like. Before Kim and her girls left we were able to take a few family photos in the front yard together, some of which are absolutely adorable. Her clan of three parted ways after many hugs, and Rich and Ruth and I settled down, cleaning up the dinner dishes before sitting around the kitchen table and talking for a few more hours. It's amazing to be with family, people that know you and that can pick up where you left off, fill you in on the family, and just feel more... in tune... than hikers on the trail. I'll be spending the night on a real bed, and I seriously debated using my sleeping bag. In the morning we'll have breakfast together and they'll drop me off at the parking lot they picked me up from. I'll hike a few extra miles to meet Pneumo and Jellybean at the shelter we decided on, and from there my life will return to the woods for a while.
Seeing family is moreso a blessing than a curse, It feels so good to be in the presence of people you love and care about, and it makes it so much harder to get back into the trail knowing there's 1,000+ miles left to go. Regardless, tomorrow I'll hike on, with many photos to keep me smiling and the knowledge that I'll see even more family as I make my way up the northeast section of the States. I can't thank Rich, Ruth, Kim, and her girls enough for their excitement and hospitality, it means the world to me.
Onward and upward. Enjoy the photos :)