Tag Archives: Appalachian Trail

Lying Liar-Pants

Dear Readers, It is with much dismay that we must publicly chastise our fellow Appalachian Trail hikers. For over two months, we’ve been warned that we would hate Pennsylvania. The Rocky State. The State of Twisted Ankles and Wobbly Knees. The Viewless State. The State of Inhospitable Ill Repute. The Endless Nightmare.

You guys are lying liar-pants’.

Pennsylvania – is a rock-star, weaving her way through charming towns and over soothing vistas. The end of each day we were greeted with a sweet reward in towns or fields or woods. The days went quickly… we finished hiking through PA earlier this week. We miss her already. This is our love-letter-list to the mis-understood gem of the AT:

Delaware Water Gap – Our first day in PA we were greeted by a church that offers a free hostel and shower right in downtown.20130926-140924.jpg

Wind Gap’s Beer Stein bar – The first town in awhile where they understood and watched out for our vegan dietary restrictions. They had plentiful grub. Charming Staff. And of course the beer and whiskey we needed to toast our victory of 900 miles. They let us camp in the back grassy field. And when we awoke the next morning, they opened their kitchen and fridge walk-in and let us cook whatever we wanted FOR FREE. 20130926-141137.jpg

The cop hostel – We night-hiked past timber rattle snakes and tic-infested fields to arrive at the charming town of Palmerton where you can sleep in the basement of town hall and shower for free if you check in with the local police station. Which we did. and enjoyed immensely.

The salty inn-keeper at the B&B who gave us a huge discount and let us tent for free behind the bar 20130915-182938.jpg

Hawk Mountain’s Mike – a friend-of-a-friend whom we’d never met, picked us up and generously hosted us for two nights in his charming and rustic country abode. Einstein the cat reigned supreme and we had our best zero days yet. Swimming in ponds, reading, cooking, showering, singing around the bonefire and best of all, meeting many of Mike’s local friends who were super lovely and smart and fun. 20130915-183056.jpg

The 501 shelter – beautifully maintained by two AT hiker alumni. They had shelter kittens who snuggled up under Harpo’s neck and kept her warm on the 35 degree night. 20130926-210445.jpg

1000 mile marker – a huge milestone for us which we achieved on Harpo’s dad’s birthday. A great day for everyone.


Easy terrain – despite some rocks – there were amazing days of flat terrain, breath-taking field walks, pleasant night-hiking, fire roads. We pulled our biggest miles ever out in PA – achieving several 25-mile days. And our first marathon day of over 27 miles. 20130925-095322.jpg

Half-way point! -Another emotional day for us. So awesome. 20130925-094624.jpg

Intentional night hiking into Boiling Springs. A fabulous day of mostly flat terrain where we were able to hike easily, sometime just by the light of the full harvest moon. We got into town at 9:30pm and the local bar was closing but sold us a six-pack. We could legally camp for free just outside of town by the railroad tracks which soothed us all into our best slumber in weeks. The next morning we checked in at the regional ATC office and loved visiting the cute café down the street for fancy coffee drinks. The town was beautiful and charming. 20130925-095755.jpg

Pretty state and federal parks – often with grocery supplies and potable water and other amenities right on trail – so we were able to gain back some of our urban pot-bellies eating so many oreos and potato chips.

WEIRD BUGS DUDE! What is up with your totally weird collection of bugs? Groucho got some outstanding pictures. 20130926-205723.jpg

The trail weaves right by or through many charming, historic towns in PA, including Duncannon, home of the notoriously run-down Doyle Hotel. $40 got us a room for 3, replete with cobwebs. The spot also has a bar/restaurant. The proprietors are DELIGHTFUL. And the PO in this town rocked. So nice. 20130926-210420.jpg


Generosity Killed the Cynic

20130828-180550.jpgGenerosity on the trail comes in many forms… day hikers spontaneously offering us snacks, strangers providing us rides to town, and the anonymous angels who leave beers in streams with a note that says “Enjoy.” It is humbling to find ourselves surrounded by these gestures each day.

Today we tip out hats to the several friends and family members who have generously sent us mail. We know it woulda been hella easier to send us an email and we so appreciate your time, thoughtfulness and generosity. They often feel like answered prayers on difficult days.

Thank you Michelle L, Kate C, Lynn R, Tania K, Steve U, Kate R, the Golden Archer, and the folks at Velocity for sending us packages, letters or postcards. You guys are the bomb.

And ever/always a shout out to Sandy and Gerry for sending us the essential weekly mail drops that provide our food along the way… The added articles and homemade snacks are always warmly appreciated.

False Summits

A Hard Day's Night
We climbed and climbed, seeming never to reach the top. The previous night having slept near the summit of White Cap, we knew we had a day of significant ups and downs, but weren’t really prepared for the straight scramble up Chairback mountain. We moved slowly shrouded in clouds, the dew was heavy laden on the trees keeping the rocks and roots pervading the trail wet and dangerous – it never really rained, but the humidity was high enough to keep us soaked all day. We were certainly glad when, after a 12 hour/15 mile day we climbed our last 250 feet (straight up, of course) and were welcomed by a fire outside the lean to set by some lovely Canadian section hikers.

The Economics of the Appalachian Trail: Part 1

Happy Tom & Ms. Sara

Tom was a systems engineer escaping preparations for his daughter’s wedding with a 6 day section hike in the 100 Mile Wilderness.

We started early discussing why we decided to hike the Appalachian Trail. Even before we left Seattle people began asking us; why hike? why the AT? and why now?

Our initial reasons centered around what we considered an ‘authentic’ American experience – one that exists outside the commercial superculture defined in America by consumerism, overconsumption, mediated isolation, overwork, and the crumbs offered us by late Capitalism.

One of the truly great things about the Appalachian Trail is the inclusiveness of the experience. Basically anyone can participate – young and old, rich and poor, working class or bourgeois. And after even 10 days in a wilderness the grime and sweat make it difficult to discern someone’s income, age or regionality. Furthermore, the quality of experience is not dictated by age, class or expensive equipment – Grandma Gatewood hiked the trail three times starting in 1957 with an army blanket, homemade shoulder bag and a pair of Keds.

Gatewood was a farmer’s wife from Ohio, not an expedition leader, and certainly not part of a ‘cultural elite’ to whom America now offers it’s most rarefied experiences. Nor was she a freakish reality show TV contestant – a Hollywood manufactured caricature of herself, a human desiccated by the pursuit of fame and fortune at the expense of dignity. Rather, Gatewood represents a genuine American narrative – someone who wanted to see the country around her, to meet people and explore the world, to see the small towns that define true American culture, and be immersed in a transcendental experience (even without defining it as such). Her story is our story – an American story.

We’ve already seen many types of people on the trail – recent graduates, retirees, veterans, lovers, idealists, cynics, Americans and foreigners. The diversity is surprising and in some ways stunning. From the German with the newest camera and fancy ultralight backpack, to a fresh smelling and well groomed older Southern gentleman wearing a twisted bandanna and an external frame pack, all are bound by their willingness to participate in a singular experience.

We all have our own questions and problems, and our own reasons for undertaking this arduous journey. Yet something beyond the material binds us and provides the substance of the experience. Every spectacular view has already been photographed, and words have already been written describing the difficulty and scenic beauty of this particular experience – the value of the experience is not the product, which in some ways defies commodification.

The Appalachian Trail appealed to us as a genuine experience – a chance to experience a sincere Americana unadulterated by advertising culture and as individual as the people who hike it.

Biblical Plagues and an Angel Named Michael

We are just about to leave the delightful town of Monson and get back on the trail. Our last leg rendered us nine days out without phone service, wireless, texts, meetings, netflix and email chains. Although it has felt surprisingly lonely and/or isolating being without these threads to our friends and family and community/work lives, it also has been pretty liberating.
I’ve listened to my thoughts a lot.
They often weave toward gratitude for these things I am missing and a desire to share them.

On balance, our journey through the 100 mile wilderness felt rigorous, exhausting, inspiring, fun. The second day was by far the worst. The day after our Katahdin summit, it was also the day we entered the “Wilderness”. First thing in the morning we took an accidental “blue blazed” side trail for an extra two miles – and realized it, but were like “oh well it meets up with the AT soon” and then when it did meet up with the AT, we took a left instead of a right, and after another mile we ended up back where we had started that day. Literally back at the campground we had slept the night before. *EXPLETIVE* That mistake added 3 miles to our 13.5 mile day. 16.5 miles was more rigorous than we had hoped for the beginning of the journey.
We stupidly blew off food all day – we were too anxious to get where we wanted to be that night. At the last store before the 100 mile wilderness we had 2 cans of Pabst Blue Ribbon for dinner. PRIORITIES. We entered the 100 mile wilderness at 5pm and were IMMEDIATELY SWARMED by mosquitoes – not unlike a Biblical plague. There were 30-40 landing all over our necks and faces and hands and ankles. We had put on 70% DEET to virtually no effect, so had to put on windbreakers, long wind pants, silicon mittens and head nets in the 85 degree heat and hike the final 3.5 miles to our campground.
When we arrived at Hurd Brook Lean-to we were, as they say, unhappy. We set up and finally made dinner. Every time we raised the head nets to eat we were swarmed and getting bites on our faces. We also noticed some toilet paper strewn around our site, the last one available since we rolled in so late. We christened it the Poo Site. We finally attempted to hang the bear bag which weighed too much with 10 days of food, and the branch broke on Nko’s head.
It was a laugh or cry situation, so I cried.
We went to sleep around 9pm and honestly the next days were so much better. We now believe this was our biblical test.

We’ve seen some lovely views and SO MANY TREES… unbelievable numbers of trees. And most of all have met really generous and kind people.
The two little small towns that cap the 100 mile wilderness (Millinocket and Monson) are great – old historic buildings, charm, open and public spaces, small businesses, but the best part really is that the people are rad. So kind. They make eye contact with strangers, ask how things are and maintain that eye contact. Are unpretentious and open and warm to everyone.
When we finally were leaving the 100 mile wilderness, we hiked 10 miles before noon and were on Maine highway 15 trying to hitch a ride into town. About 20 cars passed us up, so we started walking. After about a mile in the blinding heat we stopped in the shade and put on sunscreen. We were bummed about the blazing heat and semi trucks blazing by.
I looked up the drive where we were stopped and there was a white van. The guy in the driver’s seat waved, then held a cold Budweiser out window. He offered us two beers and a ride into town. at that moment he was literally an angel… weirdly his name was Michael. Michael my guardian angel. Salt of the earth. He was so nice and chatty. A Vietnam vet who said he was hard of hearing because of riding his Harley the last 36 years (his longest term relationship he joked) and also his years with Nascar.
Monson holds 600 souls and a handful of buildings that must be around 150 years old. The town was founded in 1822 – and there’s zero new development. The hostel is in a huge old house and has a restaurant and bar, and is right on the lake with free kayaks to borrow and a warm lake to swim in. There’s a historical society across the street and sweet old church steeples framed by American flags running down the one main street.
Today we begin leg two of the hike – approximately six days to Stratton where we’ll quickly stop in to get a mail drop with new snacks!