Powder River’s Appalachian Trail Journey from Georgia to Maine 2008

Archive for Pennsylvania


Day 104
Location: PA Rt 225
Miles hiked today: 12.5
Miles from Springer: 1,143.8
Miles to Katahdin: 1,032.4
Elevation: 1,250′

Duncannon is yet another trail town that the trail goes right through, one of only a handful so far that is right on the trail. I had planned to make it there last night, and stay at the famous Doyle Hotel, which is an old, moldy, run down 1825 building which specializes in putting up hikers. It is more like a hostel than a hotel, since you share your room with other hikers, and the bathrooms are shared.

I got up and headed for town as early as I could, since I didn’t bring a breakfast to eat on the trail. It was about 3 miles off the mountain to get into town. There is a nice lookout called Hawk Rock, which is where I ran into Baltimore Jack. Baltimore Jack is one of those trail legends that everyone has heard of, because he has been hiking the trail every year for many years. I had actually just heard a story about a dead guy being found in one of the rooms of the Doyle, with his door locked. He was missing for several days before anybody thought to look for him, and Baltimore Jack supposedly was the one who broke the door down. I took the opportunity to ask him about it, and he only said “That was many years ago. You’ll be alright.” Well its good to know it’s safe now!

We started to hike down, and he told me I should go first because he had ripped a huge hole in the back of his shorts, and I probably didn’t want to have to look at that for 2 miles. I told him he was correct, and I went down first.

Duncannon is an economically depressed town, of which Pennsylvania has so many. It is quite the contrast from Boiling Springs, with its country club flavor, to come into Duncannon. There are few buildings without peeling paint, and the vehicles people drive are much older. It just has a lot more grit than most of the other trail towns so far. All of this makes it a perfect trail town, and perfectly suited to hikers. It’s almost as if the town itself is as dirty as the hikers are, until they just dissapear among the clapboard buildings and you don’t even see them. All of the people I met were really friendly, and the businesses love hikers.

My plan was just to do laundry, eat lots of food, get groceries and skip town. I ended up being more or less successful in doing that, although I didn’t get out of town until almost 5 pm. There is a lady named Trail Angel Mary who lives here, and has put her name and phone number in the guidebook in case hikers need any sort of help or a ride somewhere. She is famous for her generosity up and down the entire trail. I needed a ride to the supermarket, so I decided to drop by for a visit. To my surprise, she simply handed her car keys to me and gave me directions on how to get there! She said the only rule was that when I bring it back, I had to sign the roof of the car with a marker. Sure enough, the roof was covered with hiker names, many of whom I recognized. Inside the car, the ceiling was covered with summit pictures of hikers at Katahdin. It was a huge boat of a car, bigger than anything I have driven recently. Sweeeet!

Eventually I got out of town, after a final meal of a chuckwagon burger and hot wings. Everyone else seemed to be settling in for a zero in town, so I’m pretty sure I was the only one to leave tonight. There was a shelter about 11 miles out that I planned on making it to, but that was going to be a stretch because of the amount of daylight left.

Up on the ridge I hit the first batch of those famous PA rocks. Pennsylvania is probably the most feared state by hikers, because all you ever hear about is how brutal the rocks are. Well, they were right, and I hope that I don’t see continuous sections of these rocks for more than a mile at a time. It is very slow going over them, and you have to be very careful about where you are stepping.

As it was getting dark, I realized I wasn’t going to make it to the shelter without a little night hiking. I came to a road crossing, which had a footbridge and a parking lot on the far side. In the parking lot I noticed there were a few additional trails that shoot off, so I decided to investigate one of them. To my surprise I found it led to a beautifully manicured lawn, with a hiker shelter (it appeared) on one end and what looked like someone’s house on the other. Is this for hikers to use? There was no sign or anything to explain it, but after walking around the building I determined that it was a Lion’s club, and nobody was home. Surely they wouldn’t build a trail to the AT, and a shelter in a backyard without expecting hikers to use it? The point was academic anyways, since it was getting dark and I needed to stop. So that is how I ended up with a beautiful “stealth camp” on a nice lawn, with a view of the sunset and the valley below. I never saw anybody there, although I did set off the motion activated security lights in the front of the building when I was looking for a water spigot. I was lit up like a deer in headlights, with plenty of traffic going past the building. I decided not to look any further for water, and go to sleep.



Cumberland Valley

Day 103
Location: Cove Mountain Shelter, PA
Miles hiked today: 21.6
Miles from Springer: 1,128.9
Miles to Katahdin: 1,045.1
Elevation: 1,120′

I woke up this morning with a train rolling through my tent. Well, it was close at any rate, 30 yards away. I packed up and headed for town, just across the river. I forded the creek just like the British, however as I wasn’t wearing any white breeches I guess I’ll never know if the story was true. I headed for the gas station to get some real whole milk for my cereal.

Boiling Springs is a pleasant little town, but is quite an oddity as a trail town. It doesn’t seem to like hikers or want them there. It has a very country club flavor to it, almost no shops and three places to eat. The tavern is very upscale, and has been known to refuse to seat hikers at tables The people are friendly enough, but there is just something under the surface that you can’t quite put a finger on. The Appalachian Trail regional headquarters is there, but as far as hikers are concerned that means there is a porch and a place to fill up on water. I was told later that the trail was only routed through the town in 1990, and maybe they never really embraced it. To me, the most telling thing about the town is the outfitter. There is a fisherman’s outfitter right next door to the AT headquarters, but they carry almost zero items that would be useful to a hiker. They carry rods, reels, lures, waders, etc. It’s certainly their store, and they can stock whatever they want to. However, they would stand to make a lot of money off of hikers if they just carried some basic useful items. There are no outfitters between Harper’s Ferry and Port Clinton, a distance of almost 200 miles. They would have a monopoly on any hikers that needed a new pack, shirt, socks, boots, etc. with only minimum effort on their part. The fact that they don’t means either that they don’t realize this, or they don’t want the hikers in their store. My guess is they are smart enough to know that they could make money off the hikers. From the vibe of the town, it seems that they just don’t want the hikers in their store.

So after breakfast I kicked the dust off my shoes of that town and headed up the trail. Boiling Springs sits on the edge of the Cumberland Valley, which extends south to become the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. The trail goes across this valley, to pick up the mountain ridges on the other side and head for the town of Duncannon. In order to do that, it crosses 10 miles of flat, sweltering farmland. It is actually shaded for most of the way, which makes it just a nice, flat walk. Probably the easiest 10 miles on the whole trail! Near the far end is a place called Scott Farm, which is an ATC work center. It is headquarters for all the trail maintenence crews, who can stay there before and after their trail building trips. It is a pretty nice setup. It’s not for hikers to use, but we have a picnic table there and a water spigot, as you don’t want to drink water from any other source in the valley. I stopped for lunch there before pushing on, but was caught by a massive thunderstorm shortly after leaving.

During the storm I made up my mind I would cut my day short and just make it to the first shelter, but then the rain stopped. I was able to dry out a little bit, so I decided to press on. Of course, it started raining just before I got to the second shelter. I have not slept in a shelter since Pearisburg,VA, and it was very nice to be under a roof as the rain was now coming down. There were a few hikers there, Jack, Jamie and Cordoroy. Not too crowded, but enough people for conversation. There was a warning about a porcupine in the area, so we had to be careful with our food. Tomorrow, on to Duncannon and off the edge of another map!


Yellow Breeches Creek

Day 102
Location: Yellow Breeches Creek (Boiling Springs, PA)
Miles hiked today: 10.5
Miles from Springer: 1109
Miles to Katahdin: 1066
Elevation: 500′

My friend Jan who had put me up in Gettysburg, took me up to the post office in Boiling Springs in the morning, because I otherwise would not have made it in time. On the way to the trailhead, I saw Mogo pass us on the road, on her way to surprise me in Boiling Springs! Having the jump on her surprise visit, I sent her a cryptic text message alluding that I might know what she was up to..

She had brought me some wonderful chocolate chip cookies, which were made fresh this morning. Don’t I feel special! It was great to see her, especially as I had no idea when our next opportunity to hang out would be.

We visited Yellow Breeches Creek, which runs right through the town of Boiling Springs. It got its name during the Revolutionary War, when British Red Coats forded the creek wearing their red coats and white breeches. (pants) After crossing, they realized that the creek had turned their breeches yellow. The Americans apparently found this amusing, and the name stuck.

At the end of the day I still had six miles to go, and it was almost dark. I have been having some headlamp issues, and even though we had bought a new battery for my current one, once out at the trail I learned that it was the wrong size. So I set off as it was getting dark, armed with a little keychain LED. It worked ok, but the moon came out anyway so I didn’t need it all the time.

I reached Yellow Breeches Creek around midnight (I started six miles back from town) and set up camp on the bank of the creek. There is a railroad track 20 yards away, which turned out to be interesting. Even though a train came through about every hour and kept waking me up, it was a really cool sensation to be camped so close to the tracks. Every time a train came, in my groggy state I felt as if the train were headed right through my tent.


The Half Gallon Challenge

The "half way" marker

The "half way" marker

Day 101
Location: Hunter’s Run Road, PA (PA34)
Miles hiked today: 20.9
Miles from Springer: 1,096.5
Miles to Katahdin: 1,077.5
Elevation: 670

Today I passed the halfway mark for the entire trail! The actual location of the halfway point is only theoretical, as nobody is quite sure of the exact mileage of the entire AT at any given time. However, for this year, the official mileage is 2,175 miles, therefore the halfway mark would be at 1,087.5 miles. I passed it today just after Toms Run Shelter.

Somebody has built a marker to mark halfway, which of course is in the wrong spot because the mileage is always changing. But no matter where the halfway mark may be, you can count on celebrating it by eating a half gallon of ice cream in one sitting!

At Pine Grove Furnace State Park, it is tradition for hikers to eat a half gallon of ice cream because we are now half way to Maine. So of course, being a hiker, I did. I chose the flavor Peanut Butter Cup, partly because there were only two choices, and I didn’t want to wait for the ice cream truck. I was timed, but I was more concerned with not puking than breaking records, so I took my time. I clocked in at 50 minutes. Immediately after finishing my half gallon, I was still hungry, so I ordered a cheeseburger. No kidding!

A friend of mine who lives in Gettysburg had told me to call when I got in the area, so I found myself hooked up with a place to stay, shower, do laundry and a free dinner at the Dobbin House, which is my favorite restaurant anywhere! I would say that between the ice cream, the french onion soup and the prime rib, the food has been pretty good to me today. Did I mention that Pennsylvania has been very good to me? It was also nice to actually go into Gettysburg, which is something I hadn’t planned on doing during my hike. I would have liked to see the new visitor’s center, but it was far past closing time. Oh well, there will be plenty of time to see it in the fall when I take groups there.

Even though it is pretty cool to think that I have made it half way on the trail, it is more of a reminder of how much is ahead at this point than it is a celebration of how far I’ve come. I have a lot fewer weeks to finish the trail than I have used to get this far, so I will be trying to pick up my pace considerably. I am still doing fine, but just need to keep one eye on the miles or I will not make it. It is really something to look at the map and see that I’ve walked here from Georgia!


Lincoln Highway


Day 100
Location: Milesburn Cabin, PA
Miles hiked today: 18.4
Miles from Springer: 1,075.6
Miles to Katahdin: 1,098.4
Elevation: 1,635′

The shelter I stayed at last night was only a tenth of a mile from a ballpark and a small village that had all sorts of activity going on during the evening. I’m pretty sure there was a little league game on, and I could hear lawn mowers, cars and a church bell.

I was surprised in the morning to come to the edge of the park and see hundreds of young people dressed up in 19th century period clothing. They were milling about everywhere, wearing bonnets and straw hats and there were even hand carts. It turns out they were from a Mormon church that was sending all their young people on a “pioneer trek” for 3 days to simulate what their Morman ancestors who migrated west went through. They will sleep under the stars, eat corn meal, and be organized into “families,” with two older kids playing ma and pa, and the younger kids in the role of children. They will carry all their things in replica hand carts, though it is not clear who in each “family” has to pull the cart. Only in Pennsylvania, I guess!

I was really looking forward to crossing Route 30 for several reasons. First and foremost, there is an italian restaurant a quarter of a mile off trail, which turned out to be one of the best places I’ve eaten at yet. Each slice of pizza had so many toppings on it that when I folded it to eat it, it was the size of a burrito. They had great ice cream and were dirt cheap! Also, they served “grinders,” which I had only just heard about a couple days before, which is simply the name they use in the north for sub sandwiches.

At Route 30 is another park called Caledonia State Park. It originally was the home of Thaddeus Stevens, a prominent senator and abolitionist before and during the Civil War. He had long been outspoken against slavery, and was well known in the south. He had built an ironworks on his land, but to his misfortune, this road happened to be the route Lee’s army took to Gettysburg. Jubal Early’s troops burned the whole place to the ground on June 26, 1863.

Route 30 goes east to west, between Chambersburg and Gettysburg. It is called Lincoln Highway. The mountain ridge I am walking is still called South Mountain, also called the Blue Ridge down in Virginia. Lee had used these mountains to screen his march north in 1863, and it was only once that he realized that the Union army was near did he decide to consolidate his forces in Gettysburg. A good portion of Lee’s 75,000 men would have passed right through this spot, and he also used it as a retreat route after being defeated at Gettysburg.

There is also a huge public swimming pool and showers in the park, which of course were much welcome. I am really liking Pennsylvania! After being delayed for much of the day by all the food, history and comforts of Caledonia, I pushed on. I was hoping to make it another ten miles, but only made around seven or so before I ran into some of my friends who had set up camp at a campsite. A hiker named Thor had been carrying 12 ears of corn, and we stayed up late cooking the corn on the coals of the fire, and eating them with butter and spices. It was a wonderful way to end another really great day.


Mason Dixon Line

Day 99
Location: Antietam Shelter, PA
Miles hiked today: 16.9
Miles from Springer: 1,057.2
Miles to Katahdin: 1,116.8
Elevation: 890′

I am out of Dixie! It is quite a momentous occasion to cross the Mason Dixon Line on the trail, as it marks the passage of many things. In addition to the pure accomplishment of finishing all the southern states and being almost half way to Katahdin, the line also means that I am now in the land of faster talking, warmer blooded and more numourous people. It also means no more sweet tea, biscuits and gravy, fried okra, fried pickles, tossed cornbread, fried green tomatoes, Sonic Burger and a dozen other things I depend on for sustenance. However, I am now in the land of the deli, grinder sandwiches, better pizza, better bagels and awesome Italian food. I thought surely it meant I wouldn’t have to see another Confederate flag on a pickup truck, however at the first highway I crossed, I saw one, and the plate on the back was a Pennsylvania plate. Ah, I thought. At least I haven’t totally left the south behind. That man must be a southern sympathizer!

Before the border is a lookout called High Rock, which is unlike any other spot on the AT so far, in that it is covered in graffitti. It is a nice mountaintop lookout, to which they have paved a road and a parking lot. That is probably the first problem. It is also an unnatural concrete platform, which they have poured over the top of whatever rocks started out there. No wonder people don’t feel compelled to preserve it.

Right at the border is a park called Penn-Mar park, which is yet another beautiful park that I have come across since leaving Harper’s Ferry, – at least one per day. There is always water and nice bathrooms at these parks, and sometimes food or soda. I’m really liking this north thing already!

For being the Mason Dixon line, it is kind of sad that they don’t have a sign. There is the post from a sign, that presumably got stolen. On the side of the post, someone has written with a pen that it marks the Mason Dixon line and the PA border, so I got a picture of that and it will have to do.

I ended the day at Antietam shelter, which is named so because it sits on the east fork of Antietam Creek, which eventually flows to Sharpsburg, MD where the battle of Antietam was fought. It was one of the nicer shelter sites lately, and it was great to get there with plenty of time to set up, eat and enjoy the evening.