Day mileage: 26.5
AT total mileage: 1,131.6
Time: 9.5 hours
It was rather chilly this morning, so waking up wasn't high on anyone's list of things to do. Eventually the shelter, a newer one with space for 8 or so, came to life and the four of us occupying the bunks got ready for the day. The two other hikers were sectioning southbound, and we were joined by a northbound section hiker named Kentucky who had camped by the shelter that night as well. She had already hiked from Georgia to Harper's Ferry, and was now continuing on with the hopes of reaching Katahdin. It was another slow morning, and we didn't hit the trail until 8:30 or so. The plan for today was to hike a quick pace over 12 or so miles into Bouling Springs, PA where we would get lunch and head back on the trail. In that morning section we would have a few climbs and an area listed as the 'rock scramble' on the paper Appalachian Trail maps, something I wasn't really looking forward to.
The morning warmed up nicely, and despite a somewhat slower pace than I would have liked, the miles moved along. The rock scramble was a half-mile of 20+ foot tall boulders that required putting my trekking poles away in order to use my hands to climb up. At one point there was a 6' vertical ledge that offered no real assistance on ascending, making it quite fun with a backpack on. The half mile was a tough one, but once we were through, following arrows painted on the rocks hinting at the A.T.'s direction, we were left back on a dirt trail with manageable rocks. Being a Sunday, we passed by a few families of day hikers out enjoying the woods. The trail descended down out of the mountains into the valley below. This next section of trail would be exceptionally easy, as it was comprised of 17 miles of flat terrain crossing over many farmlands. We wound our way through pastures and newly planted crop fields before finding ourselves in the heart of the small Pennsylvania town of Boiling Springs. A community pool was alive with many residents and children occupying the baby blue water, and many others were strolling around the Children's Pond, a crystal-clear water pond fed by an actual spring from the nearby mountains. Kids rode bicycles while men fished, it was rather idyllic. Located in town was the mid-Atlantic office for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, where Pneumo and I dropped off our packs in order to wander around without lugging the extra weight. I made my way next door to an 'outfitter' to see if they had Platypus water bladders, as mine has broken a seal and is now leaking water. They apparently were more aimed at fly fishing, and the owner suggested asking the Conservancy for a list of locals who shuttle hikers for a fee. It was at this point that a guy about my age spoke up and offered a ride to the sporting goods store. Taking him up on his gracious offer, Pneumo and I squeezed into his tiny Scion and headed the few miles into Carslile, PA to find a new water reservoir. The gracious driver's name was Ben, a lifelong local, who used to intern for the Conservancy and now works with land trusts to maintain the regional lands and keep farms from being sold off and becoming warehouses and factories. The sporting goods store unfortunately didn't have what I needed (and were really no help at all) and as we left Ben took us on a quick detour through Carlslile, showing us town and eventually parallel parking in front of an old brick apartment building. He ran inside quickly and came back with a 1-liter Platypus bladder, handing it to me and insisting I use it until I can get mine repaired. I repeatedly thanked him, turning down his generous offer, but he insisted. We made our way back to Boiling Springs and I invited him to have lunch with us at a pizza place I'd read about before he went on his way. He agreed, and the three of us headed to lunch. Ordering with the intention of splitting the food we god a salad, chicken tenders, cheesy bacon fries, bread & olive oil, and a large meat lovers pizza. It was amazing. We sat for an hour talking and eating, then I realized what time it was. My original intention was to spend an hour in town, as we had 14.1 miles left to go in our hike before the day would be over. It wasn't until 1630hrs that we parted ways with Ben, who had volunteered to take two other hikers to Wal-Mart as we sat at lunch. Really a great guy, and I hope he follows through with his interest in hiking the Trail someday.
With 14 miles to go, I was interested in getting to the Darlington shelter as quickly as possible. There was no camping allowed in the valley, so it was basically required to get to the shelter. Luckily with the flat terrain I was able to carry my 'fast' pace of 3-3.5 mph in an effort to not spend much time night hiking. I decided after the fall on the 60 mile day that I'd like to spend as little time hiking at night as possible, especially with the rocks that Pennsylvania has presented us with. The quick paced hike brought me on a tour of newly planted fields, cow and horse pastures, power lines, and trucking distribution centers... quite the variety of scenery compared to mountain ridges and rolling hay fields of other states. At one point I came across a cooler of trail magic containing lemonade, Sprite, and a variety of beer. On a hot almost-summer day, I went for the North Carolina brewed pale ale. I crossed over a half dozen major roads, two highways, and many country back roads, all a reminder of how quickly life moves. It's strange to walk at a few miles an hour then be passed by someone going 20 times faster in their car. I kept hiking as the sun sank over the valley, and began my 700' climb out of the lowlands just after it had set. Donning my headlamp in order to clearly define the rocks in front of me, I pressed on the steep mile uphill and reached the shelter just after 2100hrs. Everyone was asleep, but I quietly set up my sleeping bag and ground pad and got into bed without disturbing anyone.
Tomorrow is a relatively easy day, I'll only be hiking 19 miles before being picked up by my great uncle along one of the state roads that crosses the trail. I'll get to spend some time with some family, which will be really enjoyable. I've realized that it has been 60 days since I've seen someone I actually have known since before the hike... when my dad and I parted ways at Springer Mountain. Pneumo and I will hike through Duncannon, PA between here and my rendezvous point, where we'll meet up with Jellybean and his dog Lucy for the first time in a few weeks. The weather's supposed to turn sour in a day or so, but I'm hoping to have a decent day in tomorrow's rocks.
Happy Monday :)