Over three weeks have passed since I began my hike of the Appalachian Trail…300 miles and four states hiked with 30-40 pounds on my back. This hundred mile section brought constant undulations and widely varying terrain. Brutally enthralling with unrelenting miles of tens of thousands of unavoidable rocks, all pointed upwards, their sharp points like daggers from the Earth just tearing into a hiker’s exhausted feet, simultaneously dodging unavoidable poison ivy which apparently is native to this area; gray, cold, relentless days of rain; soaking, slopping shoes slipping and sliding over impossibly slick rocks and stomping through the deep mud and streams that cover the trail after a hard rain; agonizing shin pain with every step (oops…may have irritated that medial tibia a bit). I have experienced being dive-bombed by an angry, screeching hawk on a long bridge leading out of town with no escape. I have fallen and broken a trekking pole on the tractionless wet rocks that give Pennsylvania the nickname, “The Shoe Destroyer”. Wildlife has ranged from a timber rattlesnake a few feet away, a 5-foot long rat snake blocking the width of the trail, a mama turkey crossing the path with her 6 babies following her like little ducklings, deer gazing as I pass at a close distance, multiple daily bear sightings by fellow hikers and innumerable butterflies dancing in my path. Myriad breathtaking ridge line views on sunny 78 degree days that have found me gazing down into towns, countryside, and watching the homes, the traffic, the world exist below.
Limitless wild blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries line the trail and flowers as pretty as a painting can bring smiles when least expected. At times, the trail leads into a scene that looks like walking into a postcard. At others, I trustingly follow the white blazes through twisting, tangled trees that give the forest an eerie, haunted feel where a fairy tale evil witch might reside.
Friends have been made, hiker bonds have been formed, and I found part of what we call our trail family. We mostly hike alone but plan our evening stops at the same shelter, campsite, or town. We split the cost of rooms when we take zero mile days in towns. Earth and Columbo have been big parts of this hundred miles! From campfires to ghost stories, to lullabies and zero days painting the towns, it’s been a whirlwind of experiences, both on and off trail. Abundant laughter and goofy memories seem to be theme of this hundred miles.
Out here, pure joy is found in many things we take for granted back home: a cold bath in a mountain spring after a sweaty, humid hike; a bird singing a good morning tune and seeming to follow you down the trail with her sweet song; two hour naps under the clouds on a day when the body has no more to give; a ride into town from passersby who take pity on the bedraggled hikers trudging along the road; the taste of a hot, cheesy slice of pizza; finding oneself in a shelter surrounded by friends while the thunder booms and the rain pours from the sky; trail magic three days in a row ranging from coolers in the woods loaded with various goodies to stumbling upon fun people grilling hamburgers and hot dogs at random road stops.
All this experienced in less than a week. All this in only 100 miles of a trail in the woods. I can’t wait to see what the next hundred miles bring!!