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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
PA WE LOVE YOU AND THE BEAUTIFUL, SALT-OF-THE-EARTH PEOPLE WHO INHABIT YOU. WE’LL BE BACK.
Generosity 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.
“And I know that the hand of God is the promise of my own,
And I know that the spirit of God is the brother of my own,
And that all the men ever born are also my brothers, and the
women my sisters and lovers,
And that a kelson of the creation is love
And limitless are leaves stiff or drooping in the fields,”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.