Day mileage: 30
AT total mileage: 1,252.6
Time: 9.5 hours
I missed dawn and the crest of the sun over the mountain ridge by just a few minutes, which was a bit disappointing. It's been a while since I checked to see what time the actual sunrise occurred, so finding out at 5:35 AM that the sun rose at 5:33 was disheartening. Camp got packed up quickly after I posted yesterday's blog, and after eating a strawberry Pop-Tart and a honey bun, Pneumo and I were on the trail around 6:30. Knowing there were five extra miles to make up for shortening yesterday's hike was a big reason behind being on the trail early. After a few minutes of rocky sections of terrain, the Trail took a sharp left onto what seemed to be an old dirt fire road. The number of rocks dropped significantly, and the relatively flat terrain made me wish we had kept hiking a bit further the night before. After four miles or so the trail steeply descended past the Eckville shelter, a four walked cabin of sorts, complete with another prized 'solar shower', and a flush toilet. This is where we had intended on spending the night, a fine place with such first world accommodations.
The steep climb out of Hawk Mountain Road where the shelter was located was a good 1,000' up onto the next ridgeline. Luckily it would be the only real steep climb of the day, and the rest of the 24 miles would be spent on more of these far too common rocky sections of trail. The top of the steep ascent landed us at Dan's Pulpit, a beautiful vista overlooking the valley below. We stopped to eat, having already hiked nearly 8 miles, and then set our sights on the Allentown Hiking Club shelter a few miles away as somewhere to stop for lunch. From the Pulpit, the trail got significantly more rocky, with boulders again becoming the size of SUVs. I described it as 'hiking through a junkyard over the top of crushed and stacked Cash for Clunkers'. Even with these larger rocks it is still common for them to teeter underneath as you step from one to the other, an exceptionally disheartening characteristic as you put all your faith in each step you take. The miles to the Allentown shelter were a bit slow, but we made it there around 11:30 and spent a fair bit of time relaxing. There was nobody else around, and after eating I laid out on the picnic table in the sunlight and napped for a half hour before heading on down the trail. With 17 miles left in the day at this point, it was going to be a full afternoon of hiking. I put my iPod on and headphones in, and hiked along listening to music just for a change of pace. I listen to music every night when I fall asleep, but very infrequently as I hike. Pneumo and I were again separated by our differences in pace, and I didn't end up seeing him again until our arrival at the shelter we agreed to meet at just before 2000hrs.
The afternoon included more tricky boulder fields, including one called Knife's Edge which was a steep climb and then traverse over large pointed rocks along a ridge. At that point in my long day my feet were exhausted, and the incessant beating from the rocks was wearing me down. Crossing over a dirt road I found myself in a parking lot full of cars, which was a bit confusing. Hiking on I discovered that the trail would pass by a popular day-hike view where a dozen high school kids had come to hang out. As much as I wanted to enjoy the view, I felt exceptionally out of place amongst this younger group of people in their freshly laundered clothes, soaked in cologne and perfume, staring at the smelly hiker who walked here from Georgia. I moved on pretty quickly, and was again thrown back into boulder fields. It becomes exceptionally difficult to follow the trail in these scenarios, as most of my time is spent staring at the ground to not misstep or break a leg, so keeping track of infrequent white blazes is challenging. I eventually made it out to a cliff area where I saw many hawks flying overhead, then the trail ducked back into the woods to a bit easier to follow terrain. A mile or so later I came across the Bake Oven Shelter, a horribly run down place that's probably up there with the oldest of structures on the trail. I refilled my water via a 1/3 mile downhill side trail, and headed on. A blog reader and GarageJournal member named Colin had been in touch about meeting up to say hi and congratulate me on making it this far, and we planned to meet about 2.5 miles from where I was at a road crossing. Luckily the trail between the shelter and the road wasn't overly challenging, and I made an on-time arrival even after stopping to snag some trail magic from a large and recently restocked Tupperware bin. Pop-Tarts, coffee cakes, bananas, bread, jelly, and a thousand other useful foods.
Emerging off the trail and turning towards some parked cars, I met Colin. A tall guy in a brightly colored cut-off shirt, it really made me excited to meet another reader who has been actively following along and commenting on the forums about my activity. Colin had been gracious enough to not only bring me my signature blue Gatorade (I think I need to reach out to the company and explain that I'm the reason behind their surge in East Coast sales), but also water, a few cold beers, and some burgers from McDonald's. I sat on the tailgate of his truck and we talked about life, the trail, his work, and a multitude of other things as I ate and drank these wonderful bits of trail magic he provided. After an hour of hanging out, we snapped a photo of us together, and I headed back onto the trail. With just under 5 miles to go and the time already around 1830hrs, I wanted to make sure I had some leeway before dark in case the trail got nasty. Colin, thanks again for everything. It was great to meet you and the snacks and drinks were unbelievably appreciated.
Luckily for me the rest of the miles weren't through horrible terrain, just the typical dirt path with a mix of Pennsylvania's signature smaller rocks. The most annoying part was the overgrown thorn bushes that were catching clothing and tearing at skin as I walked by. Frankly I've been under impressed with the trail maintenence by whichever hiking club manages this section of the Appalachian Trail. The final mile to the George Outerbridge was a steep descent, and I was certainly feeling the pain in my knees with every step, especially after 29 miles of hiking through vigorous rocks. I met Pneumo at the dilapidated shelter, equally as old as Bake Oven, and we agreed that tenting would be a better option. There were only two other hikers, as apparently most had headed into town to stay at a hostel called The Boroughs. Originally built as overflow jail cells, the city now lets hikers stay in the jail section for free. Had I known about this, I think it would have been a cool place to stay, however finding out an hour before dark didn't scream 'let's keep hiking' so we stayed put.
It's a clear night, so I'm tenting with no rain fly. Tomorrow we'll hike 27 miles or so, and I'll hopefully be meeting up with some cousins along the way. Sunday morning we'll cross the Delaware Water Gap and be out of Pennsylvania and into New Jersey. I'll never be more thankful to be out of a state... I hope my legs can last another 24 hours here.
Onward & upward in the morning.