I saw the above sign from the Trail but didn't go over to read it. Jim did.
He came back even faster than he went out!
You just never know what you'll see along the Appalachian Trail. And that's
one of the great things about it.
It's just a blast to get up every morning and follow the white blazes to
who-knows-where? Every day has surprises along the Trail, mostly pleasant. I
like never knowing exactly what treasures lie ahead.
Today's fairly short section of Trail was a delightful surprise to both Jim
and me. Most of it was fairly flat and across the Cumberland Valley. I'd heard that
it was hot and boring, primarily through pastures and fields. I thought I'd
rather be back in the mountains.
To combat the heat we got up at 5 AM and hit the Trail by 6:15 in Boiling
Springs. I wasn't sure how I'd combat the "boring" part. Or the traffic
annoyance: there were seventeen roads involved in these 16.6 miles -
either on a road or crossing a road. Two were biggies: the
Pennsylvania Turnpike and I-81.
Sounds grim, right?
Well, believe it or not, we totally enjoyed today's run. Jim ended up doing
even more miles than I did on some of the same trails and it was his best
experience running on the AT yet.
Our outside thermometer read a cool 55 degrees when we got up. Heavenly! We
haven't had temps that low since we left the Shenandoahs over a week ago. It was
sunny but breezy and we never really got hot, even by 11 AM.
Jim first did an out-and-back (total of four miles) south on the AT, the way
I came into Boiling Springs yesterday. He enjoyed running along the lake, over
the trout creek, and into the fields. When he got to South Mountain, he turned
around, headed back to Boiling Springs, and got more fluids from the truck
before setting his sights on catching me.
Meanwhile, I headed north on the Trail through town for about a quarter mile, then
turned onto a lovely grass trail that skirted around several fields wet with the
morning dew. The day's treasures started manifesting themselves immediately.
First, I've never seen so many rabbits as I saw on this path! There must have
been three dozen in less than a mile. They sat in the middle of the Trail until
I was about twenty feet away, then scurried off into the grass and weeds. I saw
others throughout the morning each time I was on a grassy trail near a field,
but not as many as in this first mile. Must've been breakfast time or something!
I supplemented my own breakfast by indulging in many of the fresh raspberries
Mother Nature supplied along the way. Another lovely surprise. They were
especially prolific in the third and fourth miles. I've eaten some each day for
the past week but I've never seen so many berry bushes in one section. I
figured Jim would catch up to me long before he did because I was spending so much time
gathering berries! (I mean, do you know how much they cost to buy??)
The disadvantage of being out so early was that I was the web-catcher. I didn't
need the trekking pole to run so I held it out in front of me part of the time
to catch the spider webs. After a few minutes I noticed several gossamer threads
streaming from the pole, glistening in the sun. Cool! They were so pretty to
see, and hey, better there than in my face.
For the first twelve miles I was repeatedly in and out of woods and fields.
The terrain was undulating, not completely flat. There was considerably more
shade than advertised, the pastures and fields weren't hot yet, the trails were
mostly smooth and virtually rock-free, and I was having the best run I've had in
two whole months on the AT.
The only climbs were near the end of this section when I went up about 900
feet to the summit of Blue Mountain, ran down to a gap, then climbed up Little
Mountain. The first climb was long but gradual, as was the final descent to PA
850. I ended up running through rolling farmland again.
I just loved the peaceful rural landscape. No cookie-cutter subdivisions in sight,
just large fields with corn, wheat, or soybeans planted in them (badly in need
of moisture) and scattered farm houses and barns. Some farms had pastures with
cows or horses but I had to side-step cow patties in only one of them. On the
Trail itself were rabbits, deer, even a black cat from one of the farms.
I'm a product of rural America, southern Ohio to be specific. The hilly, treed farm with a large creek
where I spent my first ten years left a life-long impression on my mind and
soul. It explains why I love to be in the woods all day, and why I enjoyed this
rich farming valley so much today. I'm at home here, not in a city. And I'm in
my second childhood for sure!
Jim enjoyed the farms today just as much as I did. He grew up in Illinois
and reminisced about time spent on his grandparents' farm when he was growing
up. The woods, the farms - they just get in your blood.
There were several old stacked stone fences in the woods sections, long
abandoned. I'm used to seeing them in Virginia but didn't realize they were
commonly used in Pennsylvania, too.
We also passed an old, unkempt cemetery surrounded by a rusty fence just
before the turnpike. I took a few photos of the abandoned plot full of weeds and
bright orange tiger lilies but didn't go inside the fencing. Jim took the time to
get up close and inspect the old
headstones from the 1800s. We're both fascinated by old cemeteries and wonder
about the history of the people who died there.
I called Jim just before reaching the PA turnpike at 6.8 miles. I thought
that's where he wanted to turn around. He was just a few minutes behind so I
waited for him. He decided to keep going to I-81 before he turned around and
headed back to Boiling Springs, for a total of about 22 miles. He was having
lots of fun and felt good, a confidence-booster for Vermont.
Other treasures presented themselves to me after Jim turned around:
the lazy, shallow, clear creek
(Conodoguin)I followed for a mile that I thought was a river because it was so wide; the long wooden walkway over a boggy
area near the creek (photo above); the two rusted iron "sculptures" on Blue Mountain
(abandoned carcass of a car and discarded farm machinery); the large "bench" made of
many flat rocks overlooking the Cumberland Valley, high up on Blue Mountain; and
the newly-renovated Darlington shelter on top of the mountain.
Since I was ahead of schedule today time-wise, and there was only one shelter
on this section, I broke my rule of "don't go back to shelters I can't see" and
visited this one. No one was there so I read the Trail register at my leisure
and wrote my own comments about how much I had enjoyed the Valley.
I learned that "Knees" and "Apple Pie" did an ultra yesterday - 37½ miles!
Apple Pie, the gal from Holland, had plenty of rest at Boiling Springs before
Knees arrived after Jim and I left yesterday. They decided to push on another
fourteen miles to this shelter, ending up there at midnight. They got lost in
one of the fields after dark but apparently had a great time night-hiking. They
even saw some fireworks after dark.
I've read and heard other accounts of night-hiking this year on the AT. Warren and Terry Doyle did it
several times in Virginia to avoid the heat, especially when they had a stomach
virus and couldn't keep food down. Gypsy Lulu told me yesterday she's done some
night hiking with her group.
I love being in the woods at night during 100-milers but I have no desire to
night-hike the AT. It would totally mess up our daily routines
and sleep cycles. I'm not a night person by nature. My vision is even worse at
night than it is during the day. You can imagine how much more trouble I'd have
with rocks I couldn't fully see in the dark!
But the main reason I don't want to hike the AT after dark is that I'd
miss too much. I love all the visual cues and delights. I love the views,
the rock formations, the trees, the flowers. I might see eyes staring back at me
in the light of a flashlight but I wouldn't see the raccoon or deer or rabbit
or bear they belong to. I wouldn't meet other hikers. And I couldn't take photos!
No, I'll get my fill of night-hiking in thirteen days at Vermont, and that
OOPS - WRONG ROAD!
When Jim caught up to me this morning I told him it was a good thing I quit
in Boiling Springs yesterday instead of a road four miles north where we'd
originally planned to rendezvous. I couldn't tell which one it was, there were
I've rarely seen the name of roads identified on signs at Trail crossings;
that would be handy for hikers to know, I'd think. I guess most hikers carry
their maps and don't much care since most of them aren't crewed.
However, I almost didn't stop at the right spot this afternoon. At about the
right time I finished at a paved road that I thought was PA 850. I called Jim to
let him know I was finished; he said he'd be there in about an hour. There were
four coolers and bags of Trail Magic on the trail at this spot, so I got some
crackers, spread out my jacket, and sat against a large bale of hay near the
road to wait for Jim.
After half an hour only one or two vehicles had passed. I could sorta hear
more traffic over the next hill. Was I waiting at the wrong place? I walked up
the road a bit to a house and asked the man in the yard if this was PA 850. Nope
- over the next hill.
I got my pack, ran over the hill, and waited at the correct spot (a little
ATC parking area) until Jim came. Coulda been a real problem if there hadn't
been cell service and I'd stayed where I was.
We had a nice, relaxing afternoon in the camper and got ready to go home in
the morning to take care of some things there. I'll get that journal entry
written from Day 62 that I haven't done yet (very long run, very short evening).
I can also use the rest. I just did a 137-mile week following a 157-mile
week. Both of my knees
have been sore for several days and I'm concerned about them for the rest of
the Adventure Run as well as Vermont 100.