Pennsylvania Rocks

I woke up in Rausch Gap before the other two hammockers. I walked down to the (recently-restored) shelter and said hello to the one hiker who stayed there, and admired the spring, which came right out of the retaining wall and landed in a large metal tray inches from the shelter. I greeted the bees who had taken over the shelter and used the privy. I drank my breakfast and returned to camp, packing up and leaving before the other hammockers had even gotten up.
Rausch Gap, it turns out, was once a thriving coal mining and railroad parts repair community in the late nineteenth century. The mining was poor and the railroad moved operations elsewhere, so it wasn’t long before the community disappeared. The road still running through where it stood and an old cemetery is just about all that remains.
Things go very fast for me for the next few days. This morning, I was down to the road in just a few hours. I had to go through a meadow, over a road, beside a creek (where I stopped to collect water), under a road, over a pedestrian bridge, and under the highway (which towered above me on stilts). By the time I climbed halfway up the hill, it was sweltering out and time for my afternoon nap. I hung in my hammock for four hours or so, checking messages and getting forty winks. I weather a short afternoon storm, and then when it felt like it was starting to cool off, I packed up and headed on, hoping to get to 501 Shelter that night.

But the next section of trail was extraordinarily annoying. It was largely dominated by briars overgrowing the trail, reaching out and scratching my legs or trying to pull my headnet off my head, but every once in a while, the briars would go away and the trail would get more and more rocky until I had to cross a boulder field, and then it would go back to briars. This symphony of pain came to a climax as I neared the Penn Shelter crossing, when the rocks in the trail and the briars joined together in one soaring chorus, wherein I was forced to decide whether to use my poles to push back the plants or keep myself from tripping on the rocks. Scratches are painful, but a sprained ankle could take me off the trail, so the choice was pretty easy.
I stopped to make dinner and fetch more water in a campsite next to the William Penn Shelter sidetrail with one other hiker whom I have not since seen. Afterwards, it was getting dark faster than the hour called for, so I walked down to the shelter to see if the storm would pour on me or pass. I chatted with some old guys there for an hour, and then when it still had not stormed, I packed up and walked off into the night. I got to the top of the hill, felt a raindrop, smelled the air, and went back to the shelter.
It ended up raining for hours, so I pulled out my sleeping gear piece by piece and stayed there. I made up for the lost distance by getting up and out of the shelter by around 5am.
I arrived at the 501 Shelter by 8am, and the shower I got there was the highlight of my day. In addition, someone had left a watermelon there, and I borrowed a knife to cut it up and managed to eat half of it before I left. I left because there was a very pessimistic sobo there, complaining about how he had no money and everything sucked for him, and he had to keep hiking though he’d rather be working or some nonsense. I couldn’t help but mess with him for my own amusement or else his pointless pessimiism would have gotten me down. To top it all off, Hot Dog had decided to quit the trail at that very shelter just the previous evening, leaving Apple Butter to go on alone.
I hadn’t got more than a half-mile down the trail before I had to turn up a side road and locate the 501’s winter privy. I stirred up a swarm of flies, and it was probably nearing 10am before I got on the trail in earnest.
I met Abraham (Two Beers) and Two Ducks sitting at the Round Head lookout as soon as I left. I wasn’t feeling particularly excited about hiking, but when they came up behind me and passed me, I started chasing them. They moved so quickly over the rocks that I managed to cover 4 miles in about an hour just trying to keep up. Soon, my left arm (the one carrying the tree branch) was getting sore, so I decided to switch hands. As a result, I got way behind them, because I couldn’t hike that way. My left arm thought it wasn’t holding enough weight, and my right arm thought it had too much, and so I was off-balance and had to start picking carefully over the stones. Nonetheless, I caught them having a snack just before Hertline Campsite and stopped to do the same. When they set off at their pace again, I told them I wouldn’t be trying to chase them anymore.
In the Hertline Campsite, I found Earth Balance sitting at the picnic table next to a bag of giant roaster marshmallows. I had some and went on about a mile back up to the ridgetop. There I set up my hammock and took my afternoon nap.
I was awoken by another family coming up a side trail, including a woman who yelled at her kids as loudly and as often as the witch living at the campground in Duncannon did. I started to wonder if women who yell at their kids was just a standard fact of life in Pennsylvania. (The CDC doesn’t even place Pennsylvania in the top five states w.r.t. hypertension incidence, so perhaps it was just coincidence.) In any event, I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I got up and left. The trail from there was nine more miles of alternating rocks and briars with no good views to redeem it, and I arrived at Eagles Nest Shelter just as the sun was disappearing. The shelter was already full, so I collected water, cooked, set up my hammock in the woods, and ate (in that order). There were plenty of interesting people to talk to there, including Rolling R (another Bavarian), Army Ant (who always leaves at the crack of dawn and sometimes plays Reveille to the others around before he goes) and an Australian father/son team who loved to joke around.
The next day, I was maybe third to last leaving. It’s easy to sleep in when hammocking. I thought the liter of water I had left after breakfast would be plenty to get me the last 9 miles to Port Clinton, but I was sorely mistaken. I ran out 2 miles from town, and the last mile into town was miserable, as it was almost sheer vertical downhill. When I arrived, I wanted to jump in the Schuykill River first thing, but I had to get to the post office to get my giant box of new gear before it closed. As soon as I’d acquired it, I had the Australian father watch my stuff while I ran to the Peanut Shop to get some Gatorade and a Coke for them. No sooner was I walking back than I see him coming up for more drinks, telling me to take the Coke to his son who was now watching my stuff.
Shortly after I’d unpacked my shiny new Gregory Baltoro 75 and all the things that were shipped with it, the post office closed, and the postmaster, headed to lunch, offered to take us all into Hamburg.
While the others were mainly interested in Cabela’s, which is where he dropped us, I left and went straight down the hill Red Robin for an enormous salad and a couple of shakes. Then I went to the Verizon Store who agreed to charge my phone while I shopped (the offer to go to town was so sudden I’d not thought to grab my charging cable), and then Dollar Tree and then Wal-Mart for resupply. Then I got some cash for the Weavers at the Wa-Wa ATM, failed to hitch a ride at the stoplight, and walked the two miles back to Port Clinton along the highway.
I had worn my new pack to town to carry the groceries back in, and I noticed once I filled it up, the lower back brace started to slide up my back, letting the straps sink onto my shoulders, thus rapidly causing my back to ache. I assumed it just needed some adjustment, so when I returned to the porch of the Post Office, I started filling it with all my stuff and putting my old trekking poles, my Gettysburg souvenir hat, my old pack, and a number of other sundries in the box to ship back home while the rain dumped buckets into the street in front of the porch. I got it in the mail just a half-hour before the office closed, and watched my box get loaded on to the truck and driven off. I finished packing my new pack and started walking back towards the pavilion where hikers can overnight for free in Port Clinton, hoping to wait out another storm front about to come through. The pack was having the same problem, and my back was in pieces by the time I got there. I readily found the problem: the rivet supporting the frame’s only stay (a long metal bar in the center of the pack) was broken and allowing the stay to slide freely down and thus fail to stay anything. I discussed it with some of the other hikers there (which included Bottle Cap and Fun Size, though I didn’t get any introductions at the time), and they said Gregory would be more than happy to replace a thru-hiker’s pack, though the process might take several days, but there was little and less about how to get a temporary repair in place so that I could pick up Copper by the 29th. I decided to set off in search of a hardware store. On a whim, I stopped and chatted with some residents sitting in an open garage, which soon enough got me a car ride back to the pavilion to get the pack, and access to a garage filled with spare parts, and help with doing the repair (a bolt, nut, and lock washer in the hole we removed the broken rivet from), and ending with a ride to the Firehouse Club. My trail angel’s name was Luke McLaughlin, and he appears to be in the model train repair business.
I spent the evening in the private club of the Port Clinton Volunteer Fire Department, which is the more hiker-friendly of the two bars in town. You have to buzz in with a button beside the locked door and sign in as a guest of one of the members to stay. It was full of locals, but a number of hikers took up a station in the corner. Unfortunately, I can’t remember their names (despite making them repeat them several times), but I remember that one was a girl with an unusual accent doing a southbound section who had an ambulance tattooed on her arm. She was an EMT and a volunteer fire-fighter herself, and convinced them to let her see their fire trucks. Another sobo was ordering pitcher after pitcher, and I got to finish the old one when the new one came. I had three glasses of beer and a slice of bacon pizza for five dollars.
Actually, everyone who went there was surprised at how cheap everything was in that bar. I doubt I’ll see prices like that again anywhere.
When 10pm rolled around and the rain was still abated, I decided to roll on out of town. I climbed the hill out of town and did six miles in the fog to Windsor Furnace, the site of a reservoir and the former site of an iron smelting furnace, but the present site of a shelter. Despite being damp and frustrated (having frequently almost lost the trail among boulder fields in the foggy dark), I still had to hang my hammock because the tiny shelter was (surprisingly) full to overflowing. But I couldn’t see where the campsites were through the fog! I found a random nook off the side of a dirt road at the top of a hill and set up there. I got to sleep as soon as I could. In the morning, I managed to find three better places to camp within fifty feet of places I’d been looking in the fog. I’d slept late enough that not a soul was around when I came back down to the shelter. After using the privy (which was two sitters away from overflowing), I decided I kind of liked having the shelter to myself, and laid back to read the copy of Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere I’d found in the 501 Shelter. After an hour or so of reading, an older lady thru-hiker came up to the shelter with her four-year-old nephew, whom she was taking a few days off the trail to introduce to the wonder of hiking. I packed up while we chatted and left them there around 11am.
The trail that day was much more interesting than, though just as difficult as, the average Pennsylvania trail. I went over Pulpit Rock almost as soon as I started, which was a nice, if narrow, view, and then just a couple of miles later, I reached the Pinnacle, which is probably the best view in Pennsylvania. It’s a shelf with a view over Eckville that is almost 500 feet long. Some teenagers were up there climbing around and said there was even a long but narrow cave running underneath and through the formation. I sat there on the overlook eating snacks for almost an hour before I got back on the trail.
Though it was all ever so slightly downhill, the next 5 miles were the typical Pennsylvania sort of boring/annoying trail. Lots of rocks and lots of grabby briars. Soon, I came out onto Hawk Mountain Road, and I would have just crossed it if another hiker weren’t just walking up it from the right. She informed me that the Eckville Shelter was just down the hill, and sported clean water, a toilet, and a solar shower. I turned and went down the hill.
As I sat and ate lunch, and watched Mick, the caretaker in whose backyard the shelter stood, run around and take care of things while being exceedingly grumpy, the clouds in the sky got darker and thicker. It looked like it would be a pretty nasty storm. Soon, I decided that even though I had only walked 9 miles at an exceedingly slow pace, I would just spend the night there and leave early in the morning. I laid on the top bunk and read Neverwhere and essentially ignored all the little kids chattering and the other hikers arriving until everyone was in bed. I didn’t finish the book, but I came close.
My alarm woke me at 3:30am the next morning, so I got up and went to the bathroom, then started moving all my things outside piece by piece and quietly so that I could make breakfast and pack up without disturbing other hikers. I was back on the trail just after dawn, and the first birds sang my departure. I wandered through some mud and over some streams before climbing back up to the ridge. I didn’t stop until I reached Allentown Shelter, where a group of four friends doing a short section were hanging out. We took each other’s pictures.

And then it was on another mile or so to the road crossing where stood Blue Mountain Summit Restaurant and Inn. This is where Harry had agreed to bring Copper, so I called him and told him to come on and then went inside to have myself a beer and a tuna steak burger.
Copper arrived not too much later, and Harry said he’d pulled some 40-odd ticks off him over the course of the week, but he seemed to be doing a lot better. I talked to Renea on the phone and she informed me that there was another guy named Bob who did trail magic and angelry and also happened to have a number of goldens. I called him to see about getting Copper another week off while I finished up the nasty rocks in Pennsylvania. He was fine with it, perhaps thrilled about it. I told him I’d meet him in Palmerton the following morning around 10, thinking I could get up at 3:30 again. After several more hours hanging around the restaurant and blogging, I finally gathered up Copper and led him back to the trailhead. Of course he pooped on the way, in the middle of the Inn’s parking lot.
We had some notoriously nasty terrain in the next section, including the infamous Knife Edge:

After that was Bake Oven Knob, the descent of which was far more annoying than it should have been based on its name. I had to manually carry Copper over three lips on Knife Edge and yet another coming down Bake Oven Knob. Then it was yet another mile over more rocks to Bake Oven Knob Shelter, which was a tiny hole of a shelter which I had to share with Chainsaw, Raven and Rolling R. But I was tired enough not to care. A distant roll of thunder brought Copper into the shelter as well, but there was plenty of room.
The next morning, we all got up early because the weather seemed at least somewhat nice, but it was nowhere near the 3:30am I would have had to get up at to make it to Palmerton by 10am. After the others left the shelter, I called Bob to tell him to meet me at Lehigh Furnace Gap/Ashfield Road instead, just about 4 miles away. It took just a couple of quick hours for Copper and me to get there. There was trail magic sitting in the woods nearby, and I was getting an orange when Bob walked into the woods to find me. We chatted for a while and I ate my orange. I gave him some instructions and put Copper in his truck. He said I owed him nothing for this service. I was stopped for only an hour, and then I was on my way to Palmerton again. I stopped a mile away from the road to eat lunch at George Outerbridge Shelter to avoid some sprinkling rain, as well as finish reading Neverwhere.
I arrived at the Palmerton road crossing in the early afternoon, and by looking somewhat lost, managed to snag a ride to the police station in town, where they do check ins for the Jail House Hostel, a free bunk room in the basement of the borough house. Rolling R had already checked in when I arrived, and the Florida Flip-Floppers had been there since the previous day. After a shower (best water pressure on the trail), I laid down on a bottom bunk to read. I left Neverwhere on the bookshelf and took another called My Visit To Hell, a modern Inferno cover/parody/fanfic. When Smokes and Smiley Virgin rolled in, I joined Rolling R for lunch at Bert’s Steakhouse across the street. Then, I managed to spend the rest of the day reading and writing. I’ll stop there, since that’s also how the month of June ended.

3 thoughts on “Pennsylvania Rocks

  1. Karen

    Those rocks look menacing but Copper looks great after his nice long rest. Bob certainly took care of him and is truly a trail angel! There are still such good people in the world. Harry also did a great job of caring for Copper and thank goodness for the removal of ticks! Hope your hike is less painful now that you have two hiking poles again and your new pack is fixed. Take care of yourself and continue these informative posts. I love hearing about your adventures and what the trail is like in the different states.

  2. Brenda

    Again, great to read the continuing saga of your hike….glad Copper is improving! Wishing you continued good travels and wonderful experiences.

  3. Karen

    Marci called tonight and asked about you and Copper. She asked where you were in your journey. When I told her, she said, “That seems fast!” Gail also called and asked about you and Copper. Lots of folks are sending good thoughts your way!


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