Day 76: 6.4 miles
Delaware Water Gap to Kirkland Shelter
At last, it was time to return to the trail. Our resupply box and tent pole had FINALLY arrived at the post office and two of our tramily members were due to arrive around lunch time.
We got our post office business taken care of and then walked down to the pizzeria to wait on our friends, the Hope Hikers (Toots and Paw Paw). When they arrived (YAY!!!) they had another hiker with them. Rabbit is a hiker from South Korea, and will soon be the third hiker from his country to “Triple Crown,” or hike the AT, PCT, and CDT. We all spent some time catching up on recent adventures. We hadn’t seen the Hope Hikers since Levi took on the boulder with his forehead.
A whole pizza, giant sandwich, and gyro later, we were back on the trail. We’ll, all except Rabbit. He was taking a zero day and would catch up later. It was a scorcher and Levi and Kristen hadn’t used their trail legs in three days. We had a very rocky climb out for the valley and stopped frequently for water. We had hoped to go a bit farther, but the Kirkland shelter was nice and had a water pump easily accessible so we chose to spend the night.
Day 77: 19.7 miles
Kirkland Shelter to Tentsite
We successfully hit the trail before 8 am. Rocksylvania is real, folks. We started out going over a section called Wolf Rocks, but the rocks didn’t end there. They just didn’t have cool names.
Snake rocks might’ve been appropriate for the remainder of the day. Or maybe drought rocks. We had been lucky during most of the proceeding trail with water access, but now with the heat wave we had to carry water since streams and springs had dried up.
We took a break around two. While everyone was off getting water, Levi watched a real live animal planet episode back at the shelter. A rat snake flushed a toad out of a bush, but mid-pursuit the toad just froze and the snake lost track due to poor vision. Nature is pretty cool, eh?
We hiked along a ridgeline for the rest of the day. The tentsite had good water access and Rabbit caught us by dinnertime.
Day 78: 17.5 miles
Tentsite to Bake Oven Knob Shelter
We hiked on ridgeline to the infamous Lehigh Gap–a precipitous and rocky descent into Palmerton, Pa. The rocks were hot to the touch after baking all morning, and we kept a sharp eye out for snakes (which we later learned was unnecessary, phew!).
We stopped for lunch at a local pub, while chores were run at the nearby post office and gas station. We enjoyed Yuengling and perogies, and were happy to get back on trail.
Our hike was pretty uneventful for the rest of the day. Around 5, we were a few miles out from a shelter and Kristen suddenly needed access to a privy. There’s a 2 mi/hr pace, a 3 mi/hr pace, and a Kristen-really-needs-the-privy pace. She set off with dust at her heels towards the shelter.
An overwhelming majority of shelters have privys nearby, and we assumed our destination shelter would as well. She arrived to the shelter, found the side trail, and sprinted down it. About 100 yards down, the grass was overgrown, massive spiderwebs cris-crossed the trail, and it became apparent that no one had come this way in a while. The side trail was for springs, NOT a privy. She hiked back up the hill to the shelter where the rest of the group was arriving, muttered a few profanities, and set off to a secluded spot to dig a cathole. (Which is not very easy to do in Rocksylvania)
We filled up at the spring, then ended up finding a tent site nearby and settled in for the night.
Day 79: 26.5 miles
Bake Oven Knob Shelter to Windsor Furnace shelter
We made fast work of the miles in the morning, trying to maximize our time hiking before the heat could really set in. In honor of Paw Paw’s birthday, we threw out the crazy idea of hiking 31 miles for his 31st birthday. At our morning pace, it would be possible.
After lunch, we made a stop at Eckville shelter. This shelter is slightly off-trail and maintained by a caretaker. It had a shower and a flushing toilet. We ran into Good Time Gumby, who we had seen back at the beach.
It was valiant effort, but we only made it 26.1 miles to a shelter. However, it was a monumental day for a few other reasons: it was our first night hike and Toots and Paw Paw saw their first rattlesnake. The shelter was very nice, and we enjoyed some Mountain House Meal Apple Crisp for Paw Paw’s birthday.
Day 80: 20 miles
Windsor Furnace shelter to Rock N Sole Hostel
After our epic day prior, we slept in a bit and got a slow start. There were plenty of rocks to make our day interesting, and late morning rain made the going slow.
Luckily, we were able to make it to our road rendezvous point by 5, and were picked up by the owners of the Rock ‘n Sole Hostel. The Rock ‘n Sole Hostel is a cute and cozy out-building and comes complete with an outdoor shower, privy, and many warm comforts of home. Dinner on the front porch consisted of burgers, potatoes, mixed veggies and an ice cream and warm cookie dessert. Levi went out for a resupply at a very well-stocked Dollar General while Kristen drank tea and chilled.
Day 81: 13.4 miles
Rock N Sole Hostel to William Penn Shelter
Breakfast consisted of coffee, fruit, OJ, egg casserole, coffee cake, and warm bagels. After taking in as many calories as was offered to us, we packed up and got back on the trail. The day was pretty easy, but the trail was flooded and still rocky. We stopped at the 501 shelter for lunch and to watch videos we had been talking up during the morning. While there, the caretaker of the shelter stopped by and said hi. He was very kind and handed out Gatorade to each of us.
After that, we hiked 4 more miles to the 1000 mile marker. We had queued up a playlist and timed everything to culminate at the 1000 mile mark, but it turns out the marker was placed 0.2 miles later at the shelter. Oh well.
The shelter we stayed at was a cool, two-story shelter with room for 8. We chowed down on dinner while watching more videos and passed out at sundown.
Day 82: 18 miles
William Penn Shelter to Yellow Spring tentsite.
The beginning of the day was eventful as Kristen fell down stairs of shelter. After we determined that she was okay, we moved on to walking flooded trails and wet rocks. Hiking was extremely dreary and chilly, so we stopped under an overpass for a break. We walked a bit farther and crossed 1890s bridge where we ran into Allen and Nancy setting up for a Trail Magic lunch. If we hadn’t taken that break at the overpass, we would have missed them. As we sat, Allen and Nancy brought us homemade ham sandwiches, potato salad, watermelon, chips, and local chocolate milk/Gatorade.
As we started to hike on, we ran into lots of overgrown trail. We did frequent tick checks.
We then walked through a section of trail flooded by a burst beaver dam. The water was disgusting, but was so widespread that we had no choice but to walk straight through the gunky water. We then stopped at a shelter with a spring in order to wash out our footwear, and take a privy and snack break. Kristen had what appeared to be blisters on the tops of her toes. Luckily this went away by the next morning.
We ended the day by hiking four miles to a buggy tentsite.
Day 83: 20.1 miles
Yellow Spring Tentsite to Clarks Ferry Shelter
Levi got to start the day off right chowing down on his breakfast a few feet from a spook-free deer. The day was full of wildlife as we saw two rat snakes, one of which was on trail.
The weather got humid early, and Kristen was struggling and kicking rocks. We took a break at Mt. Peter’s shelter to get water and found out that water was a loooong way down. 300 steps down.
We had nice views of the Susquehanna river from both sides of the ridge we were walking.
We pulled up to Clarks Ferry Shelter and proceeded to make a large fire to keep bugs away. It worked on things that fly, but not so much on things that crawl – Paw Paw and Toots found a few fishing spiders on their side of the lean-to and decided to set their tent up on the inside.
Day 84: 15.6 miles
Clarks Ferry Shelter to Darlington Shelter
We got up and hiked four miles to town. We crossed a bridge into Duncannon (the rails were home to a million spiders) and were a little worried by the strip club and gun smith right as we entered town. As we made our way further into town, things got nicer. We stopped by the post office and took advantage of the great hiker box by filling our snack bags with granola bars.
We stopped at a breakfast place called Goodies for an early lunch, and then the historic Doyle for beer. Kristen resupplied at a gas station and met a local named Steve who offered to take us to his pool/ a real grocery store. She politely declined.
We stopped early at a shelter for much needed privy use (disruptive town food) and water fill. We then hiked some uneventful miles down to a stream, then across fields. We went up and over a hill, and the rocks began getting slightly better. We marched up a long hill to the shelter, just as the sun was beginning to set. There, we met a section hiker and his adorable black lab, Liberty.
As it got dark we made dinner and then headed to our tent. As we were laying down, we got text from Toots about a snake in the privy. (To clarify, the snake was not emerging from the toilet itself, but lurking down from a rafter.) Just what you want to think about as you’re laying down to go to sleep.
Day 85: 19.5 miles
Darlington Shelter to stealth site near Whiskey Spring Road.
Today’s terrain was the easiest we have seen so far. We hiked 3mi/hr downhill and then across fields, roads, and along streams. We stopped at the Hiker place for water and to use the portapotty. Kristen got to spend a few minutes exploring a cool old graveyard with graves dating back to the early 1800s.
We continued on into the town of Boiling Springs. For lunch, we went to a local pizzeria and ate most of 2 large pizzas. To digest, we stopped at bench by shallow pond and sat in the shade for a spell. Finally, we got up the inertia to hike 4 miles uphill to the shelter. In order to save ourselves a few miles the following day, we decided to press on to a tent site. We ate leftover pizza for dinner and hit the hay.
Day 86: 23.9 miles
Stealth site to Birch Run Shelter
We hiked a pretty easy (though hot and humid)14 miles into Pine Grove Furnace State Park. The trail wasn’t too challenging, but we did run into a couple slithery fauna. Toots and Paw Paw saw a rattle snake just off trail in the leaves and Kristen walked over what she thought was a root, but was actually a rat snake.
As we entered the state park, we saw a lakeside beach and filled up on water at the rest area. Next, we went to the general store–the home of the half gallon ice cream challenge. The store was supposed to close after labor day, but was in fact open with limited hours. After much consideration of flavor choice, Levi and Kristen both did the half gallon challenge. (Levi ate 1.5 quarts of vanilla/chocolate and .5 of Moose Tracks; Kristen had 1.5 quarts of black cherry and .5 of chocolate). At the general store, we met Snicker Bear, another hiker who did the challenge and would be completing her thru-hike in Harper’s Ferry. She was nursing an infected shoulder wound, a broken toe, and a full belly of ice cream–but there’s not much that can stop a hiker when they’re so close to the finish line.
This day was a SCORCHER. The heat index was around 105 and we had passed more than one person who told us it was too hot to be hiking. After eating our ice cream, Levi hung out at the general store while Kristen, Toots, and Paw Paw went to the AT museum. There was lots of cool information and artifacts about trail construction, some of the earliest hikers, and trail components.
Finally, we got back on the trail. Clouds lurked in distance, but the wind was welcome. There were some sprinkles, but we never needed rain gear. It was the perfect amount of rain. We hit the old halfway point, then Dead Woman Hollow Rd (halfway according to AWOL guide), and then official halfway marker.
Paw Paw’s parents met us on trail and hiked with us to a parking lot. They all left for a hotel, while we went on to Birch Run Shelter.
Day 87: 14.7 miles
Birch Run Shelter to Rocky Mtn. Rd
This was a quick and rainy day, with some surprise rocks at the tail end. Luckily we were able to get picked up by Kristen’s high school friend, Leah
Stefanski Hanson (she just got married). At her house, we got our first shower in a week and quickly began a load of laundry. We had also sent four boxes to her house, and had fun opening the resupply box, box of snacks from Aunt Dana, Kristen’s new shoes, and a new water purifier. Her cat, Pickles, really loved all of the new boxes! Leah’s husband came home a few hours later with two large pizzas and we chowed down happily. A few episodes of Parks and Rec later, we were ready for bed.
Day 88: 22.9 miles
Rocky Mtn. Rd to Ensign Cowall Shelter
We ate an awesome breakfast of leftover Panera pastries (from the wedding) and fruit. We reluctantly got packed up and and got back on the trail around 9:30. By about 10:30, Kristen’s shoes weren’t looking so new anymore. It was rainy and muddy for most of the day.
In the afternoon, we crossed the Mason-Dixon line and began the Maryland section of the trail. We met up with Toots and Paw Paw (and Paw Paw’s mom, Crazy Mountain Mama) for a bit, as they cruised through while Slack Packing. An hour or so later, we had to crossed crazily flowing stream. There weren’t supposed to be any serious water crossings in MD, but the rocks to hike across were completely submerged due to the amount of rain. We made it to shelter just before dark. To our surprise, the shelter was crowded with two groups of section hikers. We slept next to a guy named Stewart who had warned us he “snored” and usually slept in his tent. Thank goodness for ear plugs is all we’ll say on that matter.
Day 89: 28.1 miles
Ensign Cowall Shelter to Canal Towpath (Hostelling International-Harper’s Ferry)
Anyone who knows Kristen well knows she does not like to get up and out of bed in the morning. This morning was particularly difficult, and Levi almost had to break his wedding vows and deflate Kristen’s sleeping pad. Around 7 am we had put on wet socks and shoes, packed damp packs, and draped ourselves in our ponchos. It was going to be a long day.
The rain didn’t stop. At all. We trudged up and down stairs-turned-waterfalls, through ponds, and over never-ending partially cobbled paths. It was exhausting and unrelenting. Our final descent was actually rather dangerous (sorry Moms and Dads) due to the wet rocks and early loss of daylight due to cloud cover. We got out our flashlights and made it down the mountain without incident. After a short flat stretch we road-hiked to a hostel for a hot shower, warm bed, and access to pizza.
Day 90: 3.7 miles
Canal Towpath to ATC (Appalachian Trail Conservancy) Head Quarters
At the hostel we had a nice breakfast and did our laundry. We headed out around 10 am and had a smooth flat walk into town. The Potomac River was running WILD. The river was muddy and extremely high. It came about 6 ft. from the trail! We hit the bridge to cross and were in awe of the large tree parts floating downstream. Our walk through historic Harper’s Ferry was beautiful–hopefully we can come back here some day to appreciate it fully.
When we finally made it to the ATC HQ, we spent some time talking to the folks working here about our travels and the impending rain. We learned that the bridge would be closing around 4pm due to the flooding, and we texted Paw Paw and Toots who were behind us. Hurricane Florence is going to be pretty serious business.
About half an hour after we arrived, Kristen’s grandparents (Pappy Fries and Pat) walked up the ATC! After such a rough few days of hiking, it was so comforting to be greeted by family. They had been following our journey on their AAA maps and knew quite a lot about milestones on the trail and AT culture. We got our official picture taken for the register, bought some postcards, explored the headquarters, and headed off to lunch. We had delicious fare at Almost Heaven, then drove to the hotel. Pappy and Pat surprised us with a cooler of beer and some beignets from Cracker Barrel. We took a nap, then hung out in the hotel room for awhile showing off our gear. Pat even gave the sleeping pad a try! We had dinner at a diner and went to sleep shortly afterwards.