After we folded the rafts up and put the paddles away, the time came to put on our backpacks and start walking north again. Lindsay and I chose Harper’s Ferry as a convenient meet-up point with my parents after the Aqua Blaze so Hunter could go home for a three-week vacation. After three very busy days spent packing up from the aqua-blaze, meeting up with family in Harper’s and doing necessary preparations to continue on by foot, all of a sudden Lindsay and I were alone on the trail again. Because Harper’s Ferry also worked conveniently for the rest of our hiking crew to meet with friends or family for a visit or hike, it meant that everyone left north from Harper’s on a different day. For the first time since Georgia, Lindsay and I hiked purely on our own; without the dog and without other friends all we could do was talk to each other!
We tend to get along quite well, most of the time, so having some quieter days with each other worked out well. Not having Hunter to take care of or other hikers to talk to still changed the dynamics of our hike, making it less about the people we were with and more about the task at hand. We tackled each day like the previous, still putting one foot in front of the other which seemed to feel more and more like work as the days went on and less like the fun pastime of hiking we set out to participate in. Some would lovingly describe the terrain of this section as flat and easy but I had a much more negative view of it and saw much of Maryland and Southern Pennsylvania as repetitious and boring, only further souring the taste in my mouth for the mid-Atlantic states. The negative feelings only compounded with the impending doom of the infamous Pennsylvania Rocks, which have possibly the worst reputation on the AT of anything we have encountered. Regardless of who, when or where, the only talk on the trail amongst thru-hikers seemed to be about when the rocks would start and how bad they were – something that really made you look forward to the next 200 miles! The next post will actually go further into the downtrodden phenomenon that seemingly every thru-hiker in our immediate area went through after leaving Harper’s Ferry, which we dubbed “The Halfway Hangover”.
Even though some of this section seemed tedious and frustrating we still had our share of positive, once in a lifetime experiences as I sit here looking back in retrospect. One of those came when we took the opportunity to have our first slack-pack day (walking on the trail without a backpack) and spend two days with a friend-of-a-friend and fellow Norwich University Alum in Waynesboro, PA. We spent two nights sleeping in a bed, taking a shower after hiking, eating possibly the best chocolate chip cookies ever and even had clean clothes for when we went back to the trail. Then again, the day they picked us up it had rained so much that we had walked through a quarter mile of knee-high water on the Appalachian Trail, so I suppose our clothes weren’t that dirty!
It seems that positive experiences on the trail tend to revolve around either food or drink, and this section had two truly iconic AT experiences. The first that we came to is known as the “Half-Gallon Challenge” and it is the task of eating a half-gallon of ice cream in a half hour at halfway. Not only had we both had heard about this in the books we read prior to starting the AT, but our guidebooks made mentions of where to do it and of course everyone on the trail within 100 miles north or south of halfway talked about the Half-Gallon Challenge when they weren’t talking about the impending rocks. Well, being true to our names, “The Fat Kids”, I started the stopwatch and the task at hand with 1.5qts of Hershey’s Moosetracks. The common (and boring) strategy is to go with a plain flavor like chocolate or vanilla but I figured if I was going to eat a tub of ice cream then it might as well be something tasty!
A lot of people ate the 1.5qts tub and called it a success, but that is like hiking the AT from Springer Mountain and then calling it “good enough” at the Vermont/Massachusetts border. In the spirit of AT tradition and good-ole’ fashioned stick-to-it-ness I proudly walked into the ice cream store after 19 minutes with my credit card in one hand and empty carton in the other to complete my challenge with a pint of Salted Pretzel Carmel ice cream. At 27 minutes and 4,000 calories later I put down my spoon and completed my challenge, one fat and happy hiker that was ready to go take a nap! Lindsay was boring and ate just a pint – she claimed she had a tummy ache.
A few days after the half gallon challenge we made it down the trail to Duncannon, PA. We are still telling ourselves that our second Pennsylvania cultural experience was also a positive one, and considering that we didn’t get fleas or bed bugs afterwards I suppose it was. What happened you ask? The Doyle Hotel is what happened. The Doyle is everything that an AT icon should be and for that, I love it. The draught beers cost only $2.50 for a pint and a room cost $32.50 for the two of us. They made the food on site from scratch and the bartenders owned the place and would kick your butt out if you were causing a problem. The pool table cost a quarter and a thru-hiker would often have a beer purchased for them by a passing traveler who stopped at the watering hole. Granted, the sheets might not be washed every time the room is used, the showers made you feel dirtier than you were before you used them and the exposed wiring made you check out an emergency exit on the way up the stairs, it still wasn’t that bad! All of those pesky details aside, there is a reason that hikers stop there by the dozens and the Doyle is in pretty much every memoir of an AT hike. The people are real, the beer is cheap and apparently when you drink too much Yuengling and end up sleeping in the sheets instead of in your sleeping bag you don’t get any diseases!