After a long break in Baltimore, we started the second half of our epic adventure. In just three days we crossed the thin band of Maryland and the Mason and Dixon line. Pennsylvania was our next challenge. The rumor along the trail is that Pennsylvania is full of rocks and consequently a real foot grinder.
As it turns out, the rumor is true. Some parts of the trail are literally just a field of rocks sprinkled with awkward looking white blazed posts. It’s not the image that comes to mind when picturing the A.T. but it represents the challenge of the hike better than anything else. That challenge is managing impact. Doing what it takes to keep the long grind from injuring physically, or mentally anguishing. Turns out, what makes someone good at thru hiking is not what I expected when we started our trip.
Shortly after we made it to PA, we crossed through Cumberland Valley. The trail passed through flat farmland sown in corn, vetch, cereal; lying fallow; or sometimes with grass that came up to our chest. When we finally got back to the woods and were climbing to elevation, we found a fellow hiker plopped down at a scenic vista. He was an older man, probably in his 60’s, with still a large belly and heavy pack to tote around. Yet, here he was over 1,000 miles from Springer mountain. He felt the need to apologize and defend his break. In my mind I was adamantly denying his apology. He was doing a good job of managing the impact. Sometimes a good hiker looks like a fat man on his ass.
We have hit a stride ourselves, and are confidently knocking out miles. We use the guide less frequently, knowing that the terrain is still mostly flat, and that a town will be there when we need it. We are striving to master the art of the casual 20 mile day.
The weather has been atrocious this past week. Hot and humid. Bugs constantly in our eyes and ears. The flat miles under the burning sun can be a kind of torture, and the forest with its bugs and stagnant air provides little relief.
When we began to wonder why we were doing this to ourselves, we knew it was time take care of ourselves. Here, it means retreating to an air conditioned motel room for a night of rest and a much-needed shower. Walking the A.T. is an epic vacation, and we have to work to make sure it doesn’t feel like a job.