Long-Distance Walking, USA
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Off-Trail Days 2006: Exit Rocksylvania!

Extracts from my pen-and-paper journals on the Appalachian Trail, 2006. I was back to do the second half after stress fractures two years earlier, having sworn to myself that I would take it slowly and not get caught up in “The Herd”.

Well, I tried…

MAY 15, 2006

I am in the [Windsor Furnace] shelter tonight and glad of it; a sprinkle of rain is still spattering off the tree canopy and the roof, but I’m glad I’m not outside like David in his hammock. He’s a 53-year-old from New Orleans who wears a lot of black, has a shaved head and small grey goatee, and wears a black hood when it’s cold or the gnats are gathering, the whole effect like a Tolkienesque character or someone from dark Southern myth. 

He’s doing his first ever hike and it’s a big ‘un: Harper’s Ferry > Maine. He joked that his trail name shoud be ‘Scaredy Cat’ since so many people react on meeting him on the Trail by apologising for scaring him out of his daydream. 

Also sticking to his own name is Mark, from Texas, bedded down on the other side of the shelter. He started from Springer in February and yes, he said he was doing calisthenics in his bag to keep warm.

We all had a good talk about Hank Williams before it got dark. All three of us sworn to serve the Hillbilly Master till our dying days…

Dawn, Windsor Furnace Shelter

A cold, long night again last night. Chronic and I slept on picnic tables in the otherwise-empty [Port Clinton] pavilion, each wrapped up in everything our wardrobes had to offer. A breeze cut through the structure all night — no walls on the thing — and it was raining out, plus the traffic whizzed by on the highway all night. I woke several times and had weird, long and splendidly erotic dreams. Probably due to Chronic waxing lustily about gals…

Had a good breakfast (coffee, juice and a “Slammer”: two hot cakes, eggs, suasages, bacon) in a restaurant up the road called 3C’s, apaprently voted “Best Breakfast on the Trail”… My attention was snared by an old, thin gentleman facing me from an adjoining booth, with a squeaky, high voice that was at first humourous, then endearing. And his cap proclaimed that he was a “D-Day Survivor: Omaha Beach”.

He’d done it [the Trail] back in ’71. He didn’t take long to get started on D-Day. What a life. Of 189 of Company C, only 70 survived D-Day. Later on he lost half of his stomach and another time caught some shrapnel in the nose; he lost a lot of friends and served also in France and North Africa and later Korea and Panama.

Had a high opinon of Australian soldiers. Occasionally he’d wipe a tear from his right eye, and all the while he’d keep looking at the rain falling outside and recommending that I camp somewhere or stay in town…

I thought about him as I walked out of town, up into the hills of fog and stone…

Dark, wet woods

Someone was camped in a tent near the ridge-top with a weird little fence of string demarcating some sort of “yard”… I took my time and enjoyed the wet, misty forest, I found a camo-pattern hunting cap dangling form a tree, I sat against a tree at Pocohontas Spring and ate a sickly-sweet Clark Bar in the rain…

A the spring

I was napping here when David arrived and began stringing up his hammock in front of the shelter. Mark came later. This afternoon I saw a woodchuck and a deer, vireos sing from the woods and a mother Eastern Phoebe made repeated dashes to her nest here in the shelter above Mark’s bed.

Mark is trying to convince us to join him in renting a car at Palmerton for a flying visit to Damascus, VA and “Trail Days”. I missed it last time — Hiker Trash Central apparently but would surely be fun. But I don’t know. I never know…

MAY 16, 2006

Almost dark. Mark has a fire going in front of the [Allentown] shelter, David and I are sitting mute on the steps while this guy “Rudy” raves on in his harsh, strident Yonkers accent about what Heaven will be like. Rabbits will shit jellybeans of different colours and you will eat the appropriate colour in order to absorb the great knowledge contained within. Or something. He’s okay when he keeps things simple, but theology seems beyond his talents…

A good day today. I was last to leave the shelter and had an enjoyable climb up to the ridge. The weather was dull and there was sporadic rain. I stopped at Pulpit Rock and the Pinnacle, wonderful views of the farmland below…

Pulpit Rock

When dumb-ass meets spraycan

Ecstasy on The Pinnacle 

Someone’s been tidying up

Objective hazards 

The Trail evened out and was a wide smooth dirt road for a good long stretch before Eckville. There was a river, there was a raptor of some kind perched in a tree beside it… I composed a couple of songs before I hit a surfaced road and swung right down to Eckville Shelter. Nice place, a hut behind the house where the caretaker, Mick, lives…

Lunch stop

A middle-aged woman was sleeping inside. Unfortunately she woke and emerged after lunch to harass me with her near-hysterical, speed-crazed banter. Mick turned up — a big man with a big beard. He said Trail Days “used to be a good time”. Commented that it’s fun if you like to drink…

The climb up here began in rain. Appalling rocks littered the ridge for much of the seven miles here. Now Rudy is talking about “spirit ponies”. It’s dark and I need to escape…

MAY 17, 2006

Sitting here on the rocks near the fire pit with David. Empty shelter again [George W. Outerbridge]. Mark is down the bottom somewhere organising the car pick-up. It’s all systems go now. He left an hour before us this morning to race here and down to the road to meet the person delivering the car. 

He was really keen to do this. We will make the short journey down in the morning. Then a day’s drive will take us to Damascus, VA. 

It’ll be good to have a rest from all these rocks. When I get back on, it’ll be short days again. I can’t believe how quickly I’ve compromised to fit in with others. Still, the trip will add a little dash of spice to the adventure…

I had another poor night’s sleep. I was comfortable, and warm enough, but I just couldn’t fully turn off my mind. The usual trouble.

Rudy’s distinctive New York cop-show bark started early, but he’s okay. I sense he’s lonely and worried about his wife, who has cancer. He left first, after repeated warnings to be careful of the rocks near Bake Oven ad to pack extra water as the spring at the shelter there would be dry…

I was last out again but soon caught David on a nice long stretch of flat dirt road. He was loping slowly along and singing loudly:

“Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz…”

..and I crept up and surprised him…

David in song

Anyway, I like him, he’s an individual, a loner. And I dig his accent. We split after crossing PA 309 but I found him again reclining on some massive chunks of rock on the ridge, with another of those great views below.

He talked about his disdain for the strip-mall culture creeping across America; I said I was happy to see how much of that iconic PA farmland remained intact…

David on the rocks

Saw David again at the rathole 1937 shelter at Bake Oven Know. Close enough to the road that the local rednecks, who’d also vandalised some of the rocks earlier and dumped their garbage everwhere, had left their mark also on the shelter.

However the spring that Rudy had warned us about was an absolute gusher…

Typical eastern PA trail

Best not to dawdle

Oh, the filthy irony

Negotiated a heap more jagged slabs of boulder — actually easier and more fun than the little chunks that protrude from most of the Trail around here. Saw my first snake, a black rat snake that went up a tree.

My left ankle is a bit sore — have to watch it. Rocks, everywhere rocks. PA is good but will be good to move beyond…

The rocks go ever onward

Next post: Off-Trail adventure in Damascus, Virginia.

~ And that’s all the Goat wrote

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