MILES 1023-1094.5, approximately
Harpers Ferry, WV to the Halfway Point, PA
Today, I walked past the Halfway Point of the Appalachian Trail, a number that has grown marginally larger over the years, the trail having shifted due to new land acquisitions or flood, erosion, etc.
Miraculously, I hiked the first half of the trail with the same pair of boots I left Springer in, a pair of Salomon X-Ultra GTX Mids. I was so pleased and relieved to have picked up the new pair just a day earlier, as although the tread may have still been intact, the structural integrity of the boots was worn out. All the million muscles, tendons, and bones in my feet, knees and hips, could feel each and every rock and root, and it was just a few days prior that I remembered that 800, maybe 900 miles, is a much more appropiate mileage to swap out a shoe of such kind…not 1,066 miles, which was more like 1,166 if I included 100 pre-AT miles. In the past I’ve upgraded to new shoes as early as 500 miles and as long 1,200. I don’t know why I waited as long as I did. I suppose besides the structural integrity, they looked in good shape still, and I love the look of a well worn shoe.
The boots worked out well for the hike, especially during the colder, wetter weather. The waterproof membrane did eventually tear after approximately 600 miles, but I carry Rocky Mountain waterproof socks that were truely waterproof, and, not having sweaty feet to begin with, they breathed well. That said, with rising temperatures, I might swap out from a Gore-tex boot, and pick up a more breathable trail-running shoe. I’m gonna think on it.
With new boots on my feet, I’ve been cruising along under a blue sky and a temperature in the high 60’s. It’s about 4pm and I found myself a quiet place on the trail, the soft sound of a nearby creek trickling downhill. It’s a nice place to have myself a coffee, journal and boil water for a Backpacker’s Pantry Meal (the Katmandu Curry, which is my favorite and which I’ll stow in my pack and eat in a couple hours), as I intend to do a bit of night hiking tonight, another ten miles or so.
But before I catch a buzz to speed me up the hill, I figured I’d take the time to catch ya’ll up on all the cool people I’ve recently crossed paths with. From a trail angel, to an old hiking buddy to a section hiker, I’ve had quite the company the last couple of days.
Greg & Rhona, Pennsylvania/Maryland border: I met Greg 600 miles to the south, at the Vanderveter Shelter, when just after dark, and beside a roaring fire, he threw a plate of steak and potatoes into my arms. He was out hiking for a few nights with his…nephew, and his nephew’s wife. We shared a few stories, and Greg told me to call him when I got up near the Penmar State Park, which I am now very aware that Penmar stands for Pennsylvania-Maryland, just like Monida stands for Montana-Idaho. So, after crossing the Maryland border and arriving into Pennsylvania, Greg picked me up and I stayed at his beautiful home, just a short two miles from the AT. I took care of chores and priorities first: eating, showering and laundering, before running to the store for supplies. I picked up a watch, growing bothered by relying on my phone. I picked up a new portable power charger, realizing that indeed it was just a faulty cord so now I have two portable power chargers and plenty of juice to keep my electronics charged for days on end. I also picked up a cheap pair of sunglasses, mine having worn out. Then, back at the house, I put off writing in my journal and email to see if my sleeping pad could be patched and fixed (it’s still leaking sadly, but it’s now 10pm and I’m camped beside a new trickling creek on a bed of soft leaves…I’ll call Big Agnes in the morning, when I reach Boiling Springs, PA). Once that was finished, I hung out with Greg and his wife. Greg is a retired cop, and he’s kind, optimistic and almost bubbly, which you wouldn’t expect from someone who worked in such a field and in a city like Baltimore. His wife is a fitness instructor and PE teacher, kind and welcoming too. We had so much fun swapping stories over wine, and indulging our taste buds in what I believe was the best salmon I’ve ever eaten. It had a thick, sweet glaze, and it was BBQ’d to the perfect creaminess. Top that off with rice and a green salad. Oh how I wished for more time in a day…
Dylan, “Stiltz,” and a too-short picnic lunch beside the Washington Monument, Maryland: Dylan and his girlfriend were out for a few nights, hiking a short southbound section through Pennsylvania. Dylan thru-hiked the AT in 2010, but I met him in 2014, when I hiked New Zealand’s long path, called the Te Araroa. We met in the far north of the south island, and spent more than a month trekking with one another. We both returned to the US, with Dylan going on many climbing adventures, including a trip to Patagonia. He’s now enrolled in a graduate program in Ohio…which university and which program, that I am unsure because, when we happened to cross paths the other day, a Saturday, and most definitely the busiest day on the trail I’ve seen thus far, there was an enormous father-daughter group taking a hike to the Washington Monument. Dylan, Meg and I were swapping stories when the individuals from the group came up to ask us what we were doing. A set of questions were asked. We dutifully answered and just as soon as we tried to resume catching up, another individual poked his head over. Same questions, same answers. Very nice people, yes, but honestly, all I wished for was peace and quiet with my friends and after the umpteenth question, and growing a bit bothered, I literally turned sideways toward Dylan and Meg, and ignored the stares that made me feel like a zoo animal. Sometimes I think about telling people that I’m just out for the weekend…
“Kinga,” a section-hiker:
Kinga is the King in my book. What a cool guy that just generates endless laughter, be it his own or mine. Kinga has a thick Boston accent, and after some 40 years as a locomotive engineer, he’s retired, lives in NH and started hiking just a couple years back. He’s hiking from Harper’s Ferry, WV north to NH and then maybe more. I met him a couple nights back and we shared a few miles hiking together, then a shelter. I was impressed that he could keep a similar pace to me, but that changed when later I arrived at the shelter just seconds before nightfall, and he 90 minutes later via headlamp. I didn’t think I’d see him again after that night, but sure enough we’d run into one another again two afternoons later, after I stayed the night at Greg’s. What a chuckle I had with Kinga, his general demeanor being that he’s a jovial man that curses like a sailor and is “deaf and old,” as he says, which makes for the conversation to be quite entertaining in that neither he nor I truely knew what the other was saying, but enjoyed the company of one another. I was impressed that he has a Hyperlite Mountain Gear Pack, and he was impressed by me, trying to absorb any tip or technique during our short, but memorable time together.
Well, it’s now 11pm…way past hiker midnight, but my goal was a 30 mile day and to be utterly exhausted so that I have some chance to get a good night’s sleep on a leaking sleeping pad. Meanwhile, it’s a warmish night, but my fingers are chilled trying to type on this damn screen…
Time to fall asleep to the sound of the creek and a sky full of stars above.