Day mileage: 26.3
AT total mileage: 1,278.0
Time: 10 hours
Sleeping without a rain cover is a double edged sword... On the one hand, there's plenty of ventilation for my smelly socks hanging in the headroom of my tent and the stars are visible throughout the night, while on the other hand the sun comes blaring through into my eyes at 5:33 AM. It was at precisely that time that I rolled over and finished writing yesterday's blog, posting the final copy and beginning the daily debate of whether or not to start packing up and starting my hike. With many miles to make today, and the opportunity to see my cousin later in the day, it was important to get a timely start. Packing my tent up and filling my backpack in a way that's become almost automatic in execution, I ate two packages of Pop-Tarts, and waited for Pneumo to be ready to go. We were on the trail at 7:12, long before the hiker we shared the campsite with had even woken up for the day.
Descending the last half mile down the mountain, walking on a bridge over the Lehigh River a few miles east of Palmerton, PA, we crossed the four lane state road and disappeared back into the woods. I knew that we would have a steep climb back up the other side of the gap, eventually reaching the summit of Blue Mountain. What I was unaware of was how vastly different this climb would be from every single other ascent I've made thus far on the Appalachian Trail. Think about that- at this point I was 1,253 miles into the trail, and was experiencing something for the first time... To me, that's a pretty interesting little piece of information. Instead of switchbacks or any kind of typical 'steep' trail, the white blazes of the A.T. began being painted on boulders. You may be picturing the photos of boulders I've posted before, but this was a totally different experience. I stopped early on to collapse my trekking poles and store them for the duration of the 1,000' climb. Hand over hand climbing was absolutely required throughout, and there were points where boulders were either completely loose or wobbly, facts only to be discovered after throwing a hand out to them to catch the weight of my body as I attempted to ascend the side of Blue Mountain. The climb itself would take up 1.3 miles of trail distance, nearly all of which was this kind of steep ascents. There's not much else I can say about the climb, other than to urge you to check out the abundance of photos I'm posting below just to let pictures speak their many thousands of words.
Summiting the mountain, the trail followed along the side of the ridgeline through many miles of tall, wet, and unmaintained grass. Pneumo and I stopped frequently to pull ticks off our legs and shake the abundance of accumulated dew off our shoes. Needless to say, in the humidity and direct sunlight of the early morning, I was not a happy hiker. Our speed was obviously limited due to the hand over hand climbing we had to do, and the combination of these things had frustrated me. Regardless, we hiked on, constantly looking down over the town of Palmerton and the aged industrial complex along the railroad tracks in the valley below us. There was one building that really drew me in, located in the industrial area along the tracks, it was the kind of building that looked as if a swift wind would topple it over. In my time walking along staring at it, I envisioned bringing a chop-top hot rod or older Ford F100 pick-up there to photograph the cars in a kind of aged and period-correct scene. Crossing over a large clearing of power lines we climbed another 200 feet of rocks, not nearly as bad as the early morning ascent, before leveling off atop a ridge. With 16.7 miles between the shelter we tented near and the next northbound shelter, there were many miles to go before we would reach a source of water. The downside to hiking these ridges in the warm summer months is that the springs are drying up more often than not. We would hike all 16.7 miles before coming across another spring, but a local hiker named Soul Flute is aware of this leaves trail magic of gallons of water alongside the trail on a daily basis. By noon we had only hiked 12 miles, a fact that again frustrated me with the slow progress of the day. We stopped at a makeshift campsite for lunch, and I checked my watch to mentally calculate how long it would take me to hike the 11 remaining miles to where I would meet my cousin later in the day. Consuming enough calories to get me through the afternoon without stopping to eat again, Pneumo and I both donned our headphones and hiked on while listening to our respective audiobooks. I'm currently listening to Orson Welles' novel 1984.
Due to my hiking speed being a bit faster than Pneumo's, I made it to the next shelter a bit before he did. Signing the shelter log I spoke with a few hikers there about the water situation, and they informed me that the 2nd spring downhill from the shelter had 'just enough' flow to get water from. Trekking another half mile downhill on this side trail, I was able to fill my water bottles. This was the last marked water source for over 15 miles of trail headed north, so I chugged a liter of water and filled up my bottles with 2 more liters. Pneumo met up with me to do the same refill, and I headed on towards the crossing of PA 33 where I'd meet my cousin and her kids. By this point it was 1435 as I left the shelter, having said I'd meet them at 1600hrs, and I had 4.6 miles left to hike. Crossing my fingers for relatively tame terrain, I put my audiobook back on and hiked past a few other thru-hikers on the trail. A quick pace and moderately kind terrain allowed me to keep true to my word on when I'd be at our rendezvous point.
Arriving at the road crossing a few minutes later than scheduled, I was greeted by Tracy and the youngest two of her four kids, Kelly and Karly. Hugging them all, while simultaneously apologizing for any terrible odors I may have been emitting, we crossed the busy road over to a parking lot where their car was. Quick side note- to all the drivers in the Wind Gap, PA area that obviously read this blog, if you see a hiker and young kid crossing the road... slow down. Man, I seriously thought I was going to get hit by this crazy woman who probably accelerated once she saw me in the street. Regardless. The four of us were able to sit in the shade of a trail sign board, and I was presented with a large pepperoni pizza and cold drinks that they brought for me. What a delight to see these guys, talk about the trail, what they're up to in life, and enjoy some hot food. It wasn't long after that Pneumo arrived and was given a pizza of his own- talk about a happy hiker. We hung out as a group for an hour and a half before Pneumo and I had to begin pushing on towards our final destination for the evening. As most gaps go, we'd begin our trek with full stomachs of delicious food and drinks by climbing a steep 700' section of trail back up to another ridge. Hugging the girls and thanking them endlessly for taking the time out of their busy lives to come visit me, we parted ways and I turned back towards the Appalachian Trail.
I felt morbidly obese hiking up this next section. My stomach had quite the food-baby, and I was slow to make it to the top of the ridge. From there it was pretty level, and we cruised along as I started to feel more normal with my stride. At one point as we were undoubtedly alone in the woods, I began belting out lyrics to Bob Marley, "cause every little thing, is gonna be alright" at the top of my lungs.... can't tell you why, but I think I was missing Fenway Park. (This is Red Sox player Shane Victorino's walk-up song during home games) Well, as fate should happen, a few hundred feet later we came across a family of four out for a weekend hike who had heard my amazing singing. I apologized profusely for the pain their ears must have endured, but was cut off by their leashed pitbull lunging at me with a bark and teeth exposed. Needless to say I stopped apologizing and got out of the dogs way while the owners called out to four-legged 'Sugar' for her bad behavior. 'Sugar' my ass.
Pneumo and I were both having some soreness on our feet, and ended our day at just over 25 trail miles instead of our planned 27. No need to stress ourselves when we're well within range of where we'll be ending our day tomorrow night. We picked a nice little campsite immediately off the trail, and set up our tents around 1930hrs, getting in them immediately and talking between them as we prepared for bed. He managed to have the desire to cool dinner even after consuming his entire large pizza, while I'll ride the feeling of a full stomach out until tomorrow morning. Sending some photos off to family, I cruised the Internet for a while and began the fun new task of shopping for a new laptop for when I return to the 'real world'. Banking on a good night of sleep, tomorrow should have an easy ridge walk of 13 miles or so before dropping us down into the Delaware Water Gap and across the Delaware river into New Jersey. We sure are making progress.
Bedtime for me. Hope you all are having a great weekend!