Zero = Bush Day

Hamburg, Penn., zero mileage day, Wednesday April 30, 2014 — In bad weather motels and hostels attract hikers. Currently between Hamburg and Port Clinton I’ve identified five thru hikers and five section hikers – all ducking the storm. In hiking parlance, we’ve formed a bubble.

As luck would have it, at breakfast this morning I ran into a Lockheed Martin retireeI met during my Shenandoah hike in October. It was old home week.

Trips to Wallmart and Cabela’s took care of resupply. I needed a little food and to replace a polar fleece I’d sent home thinking that warmer weather was bound to encroach on the calendar. It’s still too cold at night to take chances.

A few of us followed up with lunch at the hiker favorite hotel in Port Clinton and a side stop at the Peanut store. That’s an 80-year-old candy store – the old fashioned kind that makes a lot of its own candy on site. Sure glad I ate a giant chicken pot pie for lunch before walking into that place.

With all the sugar I’m eating out here, I’m half expecting to be a diabetic by the time I’m done.

The weather today has been gross. Avoiding it has been a blessing.

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Indiana Jones and the Lost Shelter

Port Clinton, Penn., AT NOBO mile 1213.7, (14.8 mile slack pack) Tuesday April 29, 2014 — This morning we were greeted by leaden sky blacker than the local sequestered carbon known as Reading anthracite. That’s a shade of dark a well digger might recognize.

As our expedition breached the Port Clinton railroad tracks at the edge of dawn’s early light, the ominous sky grinned its anticipation of major mischief. Two hikers, Sisu and Pepsi Hiker, dared enter enchanted territory.

The trail keepers challenges were diabolically designed to keep the unworthy at bay. We were about to endure an ordeal.

The first escarpment is the definition of up. One thousand vertical feet in less than two miles, most of it in the first half mile. Coated with friction-free leaf litter, only the strongest could withstand this trail.

As our poles punched us skyward step by labored step, Mariah howled her ominous warning through the still barren tree tops, twisting and turning them with groans of icy agony. “Enter ye not here. Go no further!” they seemed to scream.

We pushed onward and upward through Mariah’s chilly breath, our backs glistening with the salty liquor of our agony. As we paused to catch our flying breath, the rhythm of our hearts seemed to beat like jungle drums warning of intruders.

We had been cautioned, but our quest was forward. There would be no turning back, no matter what. We hiked on, our senses straining for early warning.

Frigid tears of terror began tearing at our courage. There, on display in warning to all intruders, were two pair of jeans once lovingly worn by others who had passed this dark place.

What was their owners fate? How did they come to be here? Was there meaning for us? What could happen to us?

We pressed on, Pepsi Hiker and me, nerves raw and senses strained. By now, we were four miles in with only one way to go according to the white blazes.

Not even a drenched mile further we spied an orange work glove twisting by its wrist in a sapling. Another unambiguous sign. What had become of its twin? We could only hope.

Our quest was Eagles Nest Shelter now lost in the tangled and rock strewn wilderness before us. There we would find respite and a dry haven to eat lunch. At this point it might have been Oz or Mordor for all we knew.

Then our hearts sunk. There it was, just above eye level. There was no missing it. Someone’s bright green baseball hat, spiked on a limb as if on a Roman pike, symbolizing the fate of those who dared, hard rain crying from its brim.

“Where was the head it once crowned?” I worried.

“Turn back!” it seemed to say.

If I were still in the Army, I would have ordered, “Fix bayonets!” I’m not, so instead I searched for the next white blaze with rain stained glasses, the hood of my rain jacket cinched tightly to my face.

Along the way the trail keepers set rock traps. Lots of them. By now stumbling through them has become standard locomotion. I think little to nothing of them. They hardly count anymore.

Did he really say that about Pennsylvania rocks?

The wind howled, the rain whipped, and the rocks tripped, but Sisu and Pepsi Hiker pressed on against all odds.

At long last the trail to the lost shelter turned up, its signpost downed in the mud. We planned a hasty assault and liberated the hovel with dispatch.

The loss of body heat during lunch was profound. We smacked down a couple of chocolate bars each and pressed on.

Just as we returned to the AT we smacked into Herr Yodel, a German section hiker I first met at the Iron Master’s Hostel in Pine Grove Furnace. He as planning a weather zero for tomorrow too, so expect him to turn up in this saga again at some point.

At this point we had found the lost shelter and the icy rain had chilled my imagination, but the Indiana Jones meme may continue. Stay tuned for further episodes.

BTW, all stray clothing mentioned in this story really existed as described. No names were changed to protect the innocent.

Hunkering down with warmest regards, Sisu

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Slacker Packer

Port Clinton, Penn, AT NOBO mile 1213.7, Monday April 28, 2014 — Big weather is moving in just as the Pennsylvania rocks are about to get seriously real. Time to adjust the plan.

First the forecast: Tuesday – rain, Wednesday – t-storms, rain ending Thursday.

Now the problem. Wednesday I expect to be hiking on an exposed ridge line in the middle of thunder storms with the equivalent of lightning rod in each hand. No place for a same person to be. The ridge is aptly. Named the knife edge.

Solution: First, get picked up by two section hiking women from northern Illinois who have a car. It helps that we’ve been staying at the same shelter for the past couple of nights. Go to a motel after 11 miles on the trail today and make a plan.

We plan to hike 14.8 miles south from Port Clinton to highway 183 where we left the trail today. The advantage of this approach is that we will be climbing up the Port Clinton rain-slickened rocks rather than sliding/falling down them. A couple of Ausie hikers we met in the lobby who had just negotiated the Port Clinton boulder field endorsed that plan.

Wednesday will be a weather zero with a return to normal north bound hiking Thursday. The rain will clear by mid morning.

That’s the plan. It’s a little outside the box, but it does pass the common sense test.

Today we passed by the site of a fort from the French and Indian War. We also met two girls who were taking a friend on her first camping trip. They seemed to be having fun.

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Trail Toast

501 Shelter, Penn., AT NOBO mile 1186.6, Sunday April 27, 2014 — This morning we were looking at an impressive pile of abandoned equipment we found at the shelter when we arrived last night.

None of it was hiker grade, but all the essentials were there in terms of clothing, wicked knife, now saw, bear line, pots, pans and even tooth paste.

“Wonder why this guy abandoned his stuff,” I mused.

“He was trail toast ” shot back one of the lady section hikers from Illinois.

If that’s so, there’s a lot of crumbs out here on the trail.

This is not the first abandoned equipment I’ve seen.

At various places I’ve found almost every kind of equipment imaginable from cast iron skillets to tents and backpacks. There’s been enough clothing to stock a huge consignment store.

Why is all this detritus scattered willy nilly?

How many stars are there in the sky? It’s complicated.

A funny place to start is Bill Bryson’s book, “A Walk in the Woods.”

Katz, Bryson’s foil, fool and neophyte acts out every stereotypical AT scenario from overpacking to throwing away his gear when he realizes that heavy equals hard. That’s a good part of the answer.

“A Walk in the Woods” is a movie currently in production starring Robert Redford as Bryson and Nick Nolte as Katz. Don’t miss it.

There are mentally ill folks out here too. They talk to themselves, claim to hear voices and all the rest. Then there are the druggies…

Mind you, these are distinct minorities, but they are here and have been known to abandon clothing and equipment helter skelter.

Hunters occasionally use shelters as places to store cooking gear so heavy that they know hikers won’t trundle off with it, so we’re dealing with all kinds.

When you meet someone on the trail, it’s fairly easy to size them up. If their story, gear, body weight and general appearance don’t add up, then it’s time to move on. That’s where the absence of a beard discounted my credibility a bit.

Today’s shelter is a huge room with bunks and chairs around the perimeter. It features a door and giant hexagonal skylight. You can order pizza. Is there more to life? Not out here!

The walking today was very pleasant. Southern PA truly is a hikers joy. However the rock puddles are becoming larger and more frequent.

Within a couple of days I’ll be hiking hell on earth, I am told by nearly everyone I meet.

Some of the trail photos illustrate a few of today’s selected delights.

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Chasing Winter’s Tail

Rausch Gap Shelter, Penn., AT NOBO mile 1172.1, Saturday April 26, 2014 — The theme for next week is precipitation beginning Tuesday. There is a small probability of a sleet or snow mix. Will this winter ever give up?

Today I walked through a small cluster of Rhododendrons that I thought didn’t grow this far north. The buds have yet to form. When I last saw them in Virginia, the buds were more than an inch long. Spring has a lot of work to do.

I’ll be okay if it snows, but I’m no longer carrying serious winter gear – no base layer, fleece or mittens. I still have a light down jacket and a sleeping bag. I was considering switching in about 10 days from a sleeping bag to a quilt and ridding myself of the jacket, gloves, hat, etc. I’ll continue to reevaluate that thought.

Tomorrow is another deli day as we pass through Lickdale,PA, a truck stop haven. Tomorrow’s destination is the 501 Shelter, one of those tricked out shelters with ambiance to spare. I’ll take some pics.

Walked over some excellent stone work throughout the day built by the Susquehanna Trail Club. This stuff was built over years and years – it’s hard labor. Today’s photo is of a raised trail bed with parallel drains. It’s in an area where the water springs from the ground everywhere.

The Rausch Shelter is the most uniquely designed one yet. Someone was very creative. Best of all, the water is 10 feet away! I’m with three section hikers, two ladies from norther Illinois and one from upstate New York who was also at last night’s shelter.

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Pancakes!

Peters Mountain Shelter, Penn., AT NOBO mile 1154.1, Friday April 25, 2014 — It’s 4:30 pm and I’m still obsessing about my breakfast pancakes.

It’s like this. The Doyle doesn’t serve breakfast so guests are directed across the street to Goodies Diner which serves breakfast and lunch opening at 6 am. That’s perfect hiker time for anyone wanting an early start.

I was warned about the pancakes. In fact several folks at the Doyle’s bar recommended that I order just one.

Me noshing on a singleton pancake, what an embarrassment. After all, on my mother’s side I come from solid lumberjack stock. What would Paul Bunyan think?

So I saunter into Goodies with a chip on my shoulder, somewhat like an gunslinger on the make in the old west. “I’d like the blueberry pancakes and make it a double,” I dared the waitress.

While the griddle was doing its work, I slurped excellent coffee and made small talk with the other customers sitting at the counter. I barely noticed their knowing looks. Everybody was hanging around to watch the show too!

Bring ’em on, I was thinking. This hiker is HUNGRY. Never mind that less that 12 hours earlier a giant cheeseburger with large fries planted themselves in my gut, not unassisted by me.

I was talking to the fellow next to me when clanking china cued me that breakfast was served.

To my surprise there were no pancakes. Instead my plate was dwarfed by two monster truck tires camouflaged to resemble blueberry pancakes!

They were huge. Think large Sicilian pizzas. I’d need a pitchfork to eat them. Everyone parked at the counter just smiled.

But you see, they don’t call me Sisu for nothin’. It took an hour, but I ate the whole thing. By then all the customers were gone and late for work. Nobody was there to applaud.

Today was a smart day’s hike. The second shelter was only 11 miles down the trail. The next one was an additional 19 miles further. I could stop there or tent somewhere in the middle. Since wet tents are unappealing, I’m watching it rain from a nice dry perch.

More and more genuine Pennsylvania rocks are showing up starting with 10 miles worth yesterday. It’s hard to plan my week not knowing the average number of miles I’ll be able to hike. I’m hoping I can hold off resupply until Palmerton.

It’s TGIF. With luck the rain will retard the party animals. If not, they’ll be arriving late. This is a double decker shelter and I’ve staked out a corner upstairs that I hope will be away from any action.

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The Doyle’s Brand Promise

Duncannon, Penn., Doyle Hotel, AT NOBO mile 1143.1, Thursday April 24, 2014 — The Doyle has been one of the iconic AT destinations for a very long time.

Priced for a hiker’s budget, this vintage 1905 hotel welcomes hikers with a smile and open arms. The owners, Vickey and Pat Kelly, led the initiative to make Duncannon an official AT “Trail Town.” They truly are hiker-friendly folks.

The Doyle features everything a discriminating guest could expect from an unrenovated and threadbare late Victorian era working class hotel building.

One Doyle fitness exclusive is the absence of elevators which helps maintain hikers’ leg strength, a critical characteristic that often diminishes while they languish in hamburger-stuffed towns.

Ambiance exudes throughout the hotel. Reminiscent of nature, critters found along the trail are conveniently located in guest rooms and throughout the building. The antiquarian shared baths and room appointments would be impressive to the 18th century experts on “Antiques roadshow.”

The bar and kitchen are to be commended for their hiker fare. Army surveys for years have shown that soldiers value temperature and volume above all else. The Doyle’s menu scores a hundred percent on both. It’s selection of craft brews is excellent.

Karma rated the Doyle cheeseburger “best on the trail.” She makes a valid point. By the time she reached the Doyle, she knew her cheeseburgers.

The Doyle may not have earned any Michelin stars, and there is no expectation that it ever will. But, I’ll have to award it at least one asterisk for brand consistency. It promises nothing but delivers so much more in its unique way. It is a hiker-friendly place indeed, and best of all, a friendly home away from home.

Today’s trek chugged through the farmlands of Pennsylvania’s fertile Cumberland Valley complete with curious cows. The view of Duncannon along the Susquehanna River was magnificent.

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Mourning bells on Madison Avenue.

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Boiling Springs, Penn., AT NOBO mile 1117.5, Wednesday April 23, 2014 — The mourning bells are ringing on Madison Avenue because I died today.

Really?

As members of the original Pepsi generation, advertisers promised Boomers we were never going age. We weren’t supposed to trust anyone over 30.  Our uniform was going to be Levis, mop tops, and sandals!  We were forever young and the most coveted demographic of all time.

Given the degree of indoctrination we endured, I don’t know if this was a shared Boomer experience, but I felt a little strange when I woke up the morning of my thirtieth birthday and nothing changed. I didn’t look or feel any less trustworthy. Same thing when I reached a few other magic milestones that society commemorates with sacrificial candles.

This morning yet another of my life’s supposedly defining markers slipped by. Yup, another birthday.

This time something is different. I really am dead.

Dead, you say?  Like a doornail?  How could that be?

It’s actually a metaphor. As someone who worked in the marketing and PR world for many years, it’s like this: I know that I might as well be dead. 

Here’s the logic.

In some circles, being in a coveted consumer demographic is high status. Everybody wants to talk to YOU. They know that ME is the most important word in the English (advertising) language. 

Oh yes, you’d better be talkin’ to me!

If that’s the case, it’s over for moi. I’m not in anybody’s coveted demographic anymore. 

I’m tuned in, but Madison Ave. dropped me out.  Studies say that most of my brand preferences have been locked in – like NRA paranoia – for decades.  They think I’ve stopped thinking, because I can’t.

Ha!

It’s ironic.  By the time you reach a certain age, overnight the ad industry writes you off – you’re  a non-entity completely unworthy of ad service. In short, you don’t count in the ratings.

Nielsen, I know you don’t love me anymore.  It’s okay. You can have your box back.

As boomers, mainstream advertising no longer covets our eyeballs and ears. Our music has faded from the soundtracks of hit TV shows, and from the commercials that pay for them.  

Our generation’s stars have been reduced to playing grumpy and eccentric grandparents on the new TV shows.  Even the E-D ads target younger men.  To know that all you have to do is look at the age of the women who play the wives.

In the modern American consumer economy, when nobody wants to sell you anything, what’s left for you? You might as well be dead.  As far as the sales department is concerned, you are.

Big deal.  Life’s interesting.  I can personally attest that the mirror lies like a dog.  My hair isn’t gray, it’s only color-challenged. I mean, I’m glad to still have some.  But hey, I hear the Fountain of Youth is somewhere over the horizon, but that’s not why I’m walkin’.  (Or is it?)

“They” think the bell is tolling for me. They are soooo wrong!

Being retired is like perpetual vacation from school.  There’s a lot of time to fill, and there are a million things to do. If you didn’t notice, our generation has accomplished a lot and we still have talent. Most of us aren’t willing to go quietly into the great good night either.

Guess what Mad Men?  There are better roles in daily life than playing manipulated consumers whose primary benefit to society is buying stuff.  Boomers are born activists.  Remember the 60’s.  I know.  If you can remember the 60s, you weren’t really there.

Buckle your seat belt.  As more of us retire with too much time on our hands, it could get interesting, so let’s get ready to rock and roll.

Enough rant.  There’s something more important to say on this, my first birthday without my mother.

“Thanks for the birthday mom. Without you, I wouldn’t have had the opportunity to become uninteresting to advertisers.  I’ll always love you for that alone.”

Underground Railroad

Aside from getting my glasses repaired, one of yesterday’s highlights was staying at the Pine Grove Furnace Iron Master’s Hostel. The mostly restored 1820’s house is huge even by today’s standards. The Iron Master was one of the original one percent.

Whatever else be was or did, his house was a stop on the Underground Railroad. The basement actually has three chambers. The normal one is walled off in such a way that you wouldn’t suspect there was more to it.

The entrance to the secret chambers is through a closet floor. The low ceiling suggests a WWII Stalag 17 escape tunnel. The second chamber is entered through a small square opening I tried to capture with my iPhone camera.

One can only imagine the hope, fear, and resolve that passed through those rooms.

What ever else be was, the Iron Master did the right thing.

The iron works lasted until 1894 when it Bessemer process rendered it uneconomical to operate.

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Logistics (The boring stuff.)

Pine Grove Furnace, Iron Master’s Inn and hostel, AT NOBO mile 1097.9, Monday April 21, 2014 — Today we hiked a NERO or near zero miles. Just 3.3 miles by my count.

Armies and hikers run on their stomachs and by the grace of repair parts. My glasses needed repair, my laundry was beginning to ripen, not to mention me, and the old feed bag was on a quarter tank.

I could wait two days for Boiling Springs and pay a lot for a motel or stop today at a much cheaper hostel. The Super Walmart store would be the same one in either case. No contest. The hostel won.

Today I passed the old official halfway point and took a selfie. It’s also the northern boundary of my trail club’s area of responsibility. I’ll miss my PATC colleagues.

A shuttle which took me to Wallmart and back. All missions accomplished. I plugged in my electronics on the general store porch to charge while I ensconced myself at a nearby picnic table to wait for the hostel to open at 5 pm.

The store is the home of the “Half Gallon Challenge.” Hikers bulldoze their way through a half gallon of ice cream in 30 minutes. I was saved again by being off season.

Just then a SOBO named Groceries hobbled up to my picnic table. Seems she twisted her ankle in some fashion. We spent the afternoon talking until Yodel, a German hiker I met in passing a couple of days earlier, hiked in to join us.

Groceries’ ankle is now “knee deep” in ice and my trusty compression sock. We’re hoping she’s better in the morning.

Rain tomorrow afternoon is the weatherman’s bet. It’ll be a race to the shelter to beat the rain. Common sense prevailing, of course.

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