Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The "Rocksylvania" Blues

I am currently in Palmerton, PA, mile ~1250.  I love this town.  It's clean, friendly, and has a very Western feel.  We weren't planning to stop here, but an unfortunate event yesterday forced a stop in Palmerton.  But before I talk about the heavy stuff, here are some recent trip details:

I found the rocks in Pennsylvania.  There are definitely in the northern part of the state, and they are sharp and gigantic.  I figured that anything labeled on a maps as "Knife's Edge" is probably sharp, and it indeed was. But no stretch is continuously rocky for more than a few miles, so alternating boulder-hopping with smooth terrain has made it tolerable.  There isn't too much elevation change here, so that makes it easier as well.  My feet are doing great in "Rocksylvania".

Day Tripper and I saw our third bear this morning!  And I have seen two rattlesnakes in the past week.  Don't worry, they are very scared of people so I'm not worried about getting bitten.  I was worried about both a thru-hiker named Grolar Bear and Day Tripper getting bitten because they like to harass snakes.  Day Tripper even caught one and PICKED IT UP.  I was hysterical because I was so scared of it.  We got some pictures but they are not great because my hands were shaking as I took the pictures.

I also had the pleasure of seeing my very best friend since middle school, Erica.  She came to visit in Port Clinton and took us out to eat and to the grocery store.  It was amazing to see her and I was reminded that one of the benefits of hiking the AT is seeing old friends along the way. We also went to the Cabela's store in Harrisburg, which is the most ridiculous outdoor gear store I have ever been to.  In addition to being gigantic, they have taxidermy version of ever animal anyone would ever want to kill- bears, mountain lions, elephants, birds, etc etc.  There were even some animals I hadn't heard of- hundreds of them.  It was a bizarre experience to say the least.  I just needed bug spray...

And then we left Port Clinton and planned to hike to Delaware Water Gap, which is on the border between PA and New Jersey, before resupplying.  Yesterday afternoon as we crossed a road by a mountain restaurant Day Tripper suggested that we charge our cell phone in an outlet outside the closed restaurant.  It was random for him to suggest that, but he had a hunch that we needed to check the messages.  So it was there that Day Tripper found out that his beloved grandfather had a stroke earlier that morning.  He passed away last night and Day Tripper made the decision to end his hike and go back to Georgia to help out his family.

So now I'm hiking alone again.  After ~1000 miles with someone so closely, this is definitely the most difficult day of my trip thus far. I realized that somewhere along the way "my hike" turned into "our hike" even though I stubbornly refused to admit that for two months.  There is no doubt that I will be incredibly lonely in the coming weeks, even though I still have plenty of friends around me.  Don't worry, I'll be ok. Now I'm hiking north for both of us.  Even though it will be harder than before, my determination is greater than ever. 

Take home point?  It can all be over in an instant, so appreciate every day.  Also, never get a haircut that would be inappropriate to wear to a funeral.


Wednesday, June 23, 2010

The Mason-Dixon line followed by a 1/2 gallon-sized failure

Two more state lines down, and the halfway point has officially been crossed!!
I'm sitting at the Doyle Hotel in Duncannon, PA.  Officially in the north, but people are still friendly.  And it is HOT. 98 degrees outside right now but the tavern here is nicely air-conditioned.  For $14 per person, we couldn't resist staying the night.  When another hiker was being wishy-washy about staying, I said "what are you on, a death march or a vacation"? The truth is that it is somewhere in between.  Today it felt like a death march.  Anyway, here's the story of Maryland, southern Pennsylvania, and my failure to eat a half gallon of ice cream at once.

Maryland.  The AT through it is short and fairly easy.  Some hikers even attempt to complete the whole state in a day, about 40 miles.  Day Tripper had to go home for a few days, so I took it easy so he could catch up.  And in my 3-day traverse of Maryland, I began to miss Virginia.  Maryland had some good historical exhibits and some good wild fruit (mulberrys, raspberrys, apples, cherries, blueberries) but that was about it. No views, no interesting climbs, a few nice shelters but a few mediocre ones, and lots of road crossings.   Overall, I am totally indifferent about the state of Maryland.

Leaving Maryland and crossing into Pennsylvania I passed a major mile marker- the Mason Dixon line!!! It was just a post in the ground with "Mason-Dixon line" written on it with a black marker.  I heard that so many people have stolen the sign in the past that they stopped replacing it.  Now we're out of the land of sweet tea and soda, into the land of pop and Yankees.  Besides the fact that no one here in PA says y'all, the southern part of the Keystone state has been just like Maryland- a whole lot of boring.

Pennsylvania  is famous for its rocks, but the rocks on the trail are much worse in the northern part of the state.  It hasn't been too bad so far. There have been few views and LOTS of road crossings.  Walking across the Cumberland Valley provided a sight I hadn't seen in a while- miles of corn fields, wheat fields, and cows.  Walking through tall grass across majestic fields sounds beautiful, but in reality it is terrifying because of the possibility of lyme disease.  Two guys I have been hiking closed to have been diagnosed with it this week, but the treatment if it's caught early is simple. One out of five hikers is said to contract lyme disease, so the more friends get it, the less likely my chances are.  Just kidding... 

In PA Bloody Nose and his girlfriend Emily joined me for the weekend. The brought bagels, M&Ms, and some awesome company.  Together we crossed the AT midpoint and Bloody Nose was able to travel the 1/4 mile of the trail that he skipped during his 2007 thru-hike.  Also, the duo got to witness my attempt at the famous half gallon challenge.

At the Pine Grove General store in PA there is a tradition for thru-hikers to attempt to eat a half gallon of ice cream as quickly as possible.  I had been thinking about the challenge since before starting my thru-hike, and I was pretty confident that I would have no problem finishing it.  I choose cookies and cream, by far my favorite flavor, and dove in with a flimsy plastic spoon in hand.  About 5 minutes into the half gallon, I already felt ill.  At minute 22 I slowed down and hit a wall.  I finished a little less than 3/4 of a gallon, which is failure. After an hour rest I walked away slightly disheartened about a few pounds heavier. I did vomit just a little bit of it up, but it wasn't full-blown spewing. And once we were back on the trail, I felt awesome and we were able to hike 15 more miles that day for a total of 23 miles.  Maybe I should eat ice cream everyday!!! Just fyi, the previous day a hiker had finished a half gallon in a little over 8 minutes.  An average time is somewhere between 30 minutes and an hour.

Just after finishing the challenge, I found out that Day Tripper had hurt his knee and was meeting me in Boiling Springs, PA.  I took my 7th zero day (day off) there at an amazing place called the Allenberry.  It's a resort and "playhouse" that I otherwise would not have been able to afford, but they have great hiker rates and a swimming pool, a jacuzzi, and a game room. Great place to spend the day recovering. And we watched the movie Major League, which led to...

haircuts.  Day Tripper and I just got haircuts in Duncannon.  My hair is very, very blonde and dry these days because I'm outside 24 hours a day, so I got a few inches of scraggly cut off.  Day Tripper opted for something a little more unique.  Are you familiar with Charlie Sheen's character in Major League? The "wild thing"? Google a picture of him if you're not.  Day Tripper got that haircut.  I will try to put pictures on facebook soon.

That's all I've got for now.  I'll let you know how the rocks in northern Pennsylvania treat me.   The temperature is supposed to continue to be 10 degrees above average, but every time it gets too hot I will close my eyes and think about a cool breeze on Katahdin.


Monday, June 14, 2010

It's Been Real, Virginia. See ya.

Once again, I have so much to say and so little time to write.  I'm in Harpers Ferry, the unofficial halfway point of the AT!  It was the halfway point at one time, but the trail is getting longer every year due to rerouting.  I have decided that for some future entries I am going to write everything by hand and let a friend type it for me because finding time to put all of my thoughts down in town is entirely too stressful and time consuming.  And right now I need to purchase some health insurance online because mine is about to expire and there is a decent chance I will need to go to the doctor in the next few months for a broken ankle, lyme disease, etc.

The Shenandoah National Park was MUCH easier than last time I attempted the entire hike.  We had decent weather, lots of delicious food at park waysides, and lots of great company. Also, the park is very well graded, meaning that the trail is not too steep through that area.  It did get monotonous after a while, and Day Tripper and I were incredibly disappointed to not see a single black bear in the park.  Friends of ours saw dozens of them!  I think that Day Tripper talks too much or something...

We had a short break in the park to visit with Bound, a friend from Camp Alta Mons who finished her thru-hike last year.  Then we left the park and entered an area of Virginia that is nicknamed "The Roller Coaster" because it has so many pointless ups-and-downs.  That, added to 95 degree weather and high humidity, was very difficult.  I may have broken down into uncontrollable weeping (which is a symptom of the famous "Virginia Blues" that everyone gets in the 500+ mile stretch of Virginia).  That 18-mile day was the first time on the trail when I thought "why am I doing this?", and I'm sure there will be more of those days to come in Pennsylvania, a state that is notoriously difficult because of sharp rocks.

I was thru-hiker #325 to visit the Appalachian Trail Conservancy headquarters in Harpers Ferry,  VA.  More than half of the people who started the trail this year are estimated to have left, and another half of us will not summit Katahdin.  Those are scary statistics, but things are going better than I thought at this point.   Nevertheless, it is slightly disheartening to notice the numbers thinning.  Day Tripper and I have been spending nights only in shelters, whereas at the beginning of the thru-hike shelters were packed.  The Appalachian Trail never promised anything but blood, toil, sweat, and tears, and that is what we are experiencing.  But hopefully the view from Katahdin will be worth it.


Mail Drops Part 2

I am currently in Harper's Ferry, the unofficial halfway point of the trail! Hard to believe that I have made it 1,000 miles. Thanks again for all of your notes of encouragement through both the mail and the internet- it really helps to know that so many people are pulling for me.  For those who are interested here is a list of the remaining maildrops for the trail. Including the estimated date of arrival is important because some post offices will send things back if you don't include it.

1) Erin Tainer
c/o General Delivery
Port Clinton, PA 19549
ATTN: Please hold for AT hiker ETA 6/20/10

2) Erin Tainer

c/o General Delivery
Hanover, NH 03755
ATTN: Please hold for AT hiker ETA 7/20/10

3) Erin Tainer

c/o General Delivery
Monson, ME 04464
ATTN: Please hold for AT hiker ETA 9/1/10


Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Waynesboro: Friendliest Town on the Trail

Damascus is technically the friendliest town on the trail, but Waynesboro sure has felt like it. People here are so nice.  We got to town this afternoon so Day Tripper could pick up a package.  After dominating the AYCE Chinese buffet (the waitress starting glaring at us after the first hour be were there), the highlight of the day was a free swim at the local YMCA.  Day Tripper used to coach swimming so I also had a free lesson.  And chlorine is very effective at cleaning clothes- my shorts haven't been this clean since the beginning of the trail!

Daleville to Waynesboro (mile 853) flew by.  Most of it has been familiar territory because I hiked large portions of this section in college.  We have been swimming a lot lately, and our humid, hot days have turned into endless quests for swimming holes.  We also jumped off the James River Foot Bridge, a 30-ft plunge into the James River.  It was the perfect temperature for a relaxing swim before a 3000 ft climb.

Day Tripper, Pistol (a new friend) and I had the pleasure of being taken into Lexington, VA. The director of the Outing Club/an old friend, James, let us stay in the Outing Club house.  We ate dinner at Don Tequilas, had coffee at Lex coffee, and had a nice guided tour of campus by me. A great visit for sure.  And I just realized that I talk about towns a lot, but we don't actually spend that much time in towns.  They are just blog-worthy that everyday trail life.  If I wrote about everyday trail life it would be the following:

We woke up, packed, ate, walked, ate, walked, went to the bathroom, walked, ate, read, slept.  Multiple by ~120 days. Throw in a few wildlife sightings and overlooks that are starting to look the same and you'd have a thru-hike. An added bonus is that the trail is also a tour of the towns and culture along the Appalachian corridor.

One complaint is that the humidity has brought the bugs out in full force.  I am covered with mosquito bites, which isn't the worst part.  The worst is the pestering.  Having no relief from gnats flying around your face all day and no-see-ums gnawing on your legs at night is slow and steady torture.  And also cause for crying and mild cursing (I think that was only the second time that the trail made me cry).

Tonight we're staying at the Lutheran church hostel and tomorrow we're entering the Shenandoah National Park.  I saw at least 4 bears in the SNP in 2007, so I'm stoked for some black bear sightings this week.  We're also going to pump out some big miles (three 20+ mile days in a row planned for later this week) just because we can.  The plan to see an old friend halfway through the park and the rumors of a milkshake at a restaurant in the park have me lacing up my boots.  Actually my trail runners have a really modern cable clasp system instead of laces so my shoes never come untied, but regardless- stay tuned!