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Trail Update #12 – Post Harper’s Ferry

Oh my goodness! The Trail Stooge has been the Slacking Stooge lately. So my last blog post was right before I left Harper’s Ferry. Awesome time there. It has been a while since then, so I’ll try to blog what has occurred over a few entries, that may not be chronologically ordered, due to my brain being overburdened with memories.

So as my colleague, Solitaire, has mentioned, I have been quite busy. My business has been primarily due to several visits as well as a health scare (not a major one, so no worries). And thank you Solitaire, your company was much appreciated. And yours as well Scuba Springsteen.

So, let’s start with one of the first major events that followed my departure from Harper’s Ferry. That event occurred soon after, and was the official half-way point. Right around the official half-way was what is called the “Half Gallon Challenge.” So it’s a nice little play on words – half gallon for half way. It’s honestly pretty disgusting, and I felt terrible after I was done, but it’s a necessary thing to do. Here I am displaying my trophy for completing the challenge. It’s a little ice cream stick. Pretty awesome trophy according to me:

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And here’s my buddy Wash struggling through the challenge. He did straight Vanilla – terrible choice. His got all melty and disgusting half way through. I went with the Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough – much better choice.

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One of the more brutal stretches I encountered was the cold nights. Like a fool, I sent my +20 sleeping bag home at Harper’s Ferry. And much to my chagrin, the temperature dropped drastically for three nights or so. One night, I heard it dropped into the high 40’s. Obviously, I could not sleep in those conditions. So for three nights straight, I rose early and began hiking. Early for a hiker was 2 am. So I was a very sleepy hiker, but it was better than being awake and freezing cold in my tent.

All I had was a silk sleeping bag liner. One night I attempted to McGyver a bunch of my random pieces of gear. I filled one trash bag with dead leaves to use as a blanket, and put the other over my feet. It succeeded somewhat at keeping me a little warm, but it definitely didn’t work well. I think I slept ‘til 1:50 that night – the latest I slept during that stretch. Here’s me in the early morning hours of one of those nights:

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The day following my last freezing cold night, my parents came to visit me in Boiling Springs, PA! It was a blast. I got good food and drink, and they got to hang out and meet some of my friends who I’ve been with along the trail. Patches (female Patches), Indy, and Hummingbird were all hanging out. Then Sunday morning, we hiked out of Boiling Springs for eight miles. Mom and Dad did great. The AT was nothing compared to the Camino! Here we are strolling around Pennsylvania. We heard tons of gunshots that day, as I did throughout all of PA. It was certainly an interesting trot through the state:

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And alas, badness had to come eventually to my travels. While my parents were visiting, I noticed a circular rash on my leg that eventually turned into a full-blown bullseye. Luckily, I caught it early and was able to get antibiotics into my system early. It was kind of a crazy two days as I scrambled around town with Dad to get to the ER (it was a Sunday), then get to the pharmacy, then get hiking! The day after I noticed the rash, I felt terrible. Achy, feverish, and generally miserable. Here’s the rash at it’s worst:

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Pretty crazy looking. And it was a major scare. But my mind got the best of me. Just a few days ago I called the hospital to get the results of my blood titer (to see if I had antibodies against the Lyme). And much to my surprise, I tested negative for any Lyme. So who knows what I felt that day when I felt terrible – it was all in my brain I believe. But the good news is, no Lyme, and no further issues. I have a clean bill of health.

So that is not all that has happened since I left Harper’s Ferry. My good friend Solitaire is going to write a post about his travels with me in the coming days. But before he does that, I want to leave you with this image. Keep it in your mind, and dream of it at night. It is me, pretending to ski jump off a mountain:

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Trail Update #13 – Solitaire’s Ugly Face

Solitaire!! Don’t make me come out there and give you a thrashing for not putting your hiking post up! You must share your experience with everyone (I shouldn’t be saying that after only having one post in about three weeks). Get on your horse Solitaire!

So as many of you probably don’t know, Solitaire is a person very close to me. And obviously, Solitaire is his trail name. I also had a few others come out to visit me. Namely The Googan, Scuba Springsteen, and Joe Don the Megaladon. The Googan’s trip has already been rehashed in a previous post (Matt is The Googan). Scuba Springsteen came out with Solitaire, and I will be posting about Joe Don the Megaladon’s trip in due time.

But for those of you who need a clue about who Solitaire really is, here’s a picture of him:

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Solitaire, this is your last warning! If you don’t post your update, I’ll continue to post amazingly weird pictures of you for all to see!

Now that my baseless threats are done with, I’ll move on to some other things that I have been slow on reporting. As you know, the first half of my trip only went through five states (Georgia, N. Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia). Most of it, roughly 500 miles, was through Virginia. It almost gets to the point where if feels like you’re not going anywhere in Virginia. It’s a somewhat tough section due to the psychological aspect of being in a single state for that long. A lot of people wind up slightly losing their minds during this stretch. But once you leave Harper’s Ferry, the states just absolutely fly by! Believe it or not, since leaving the half-way point, I have gone through Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, and I am about halfway through Massachusetts. Hitting all those milestones has made this portion of the trip a bit more easy from that standpoint. Here are some of my border crossing pictures (unfortunately, some borders aren’t signed):

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Crossing into New Jersey was a lot more invigorating than I had thought it would be. Because I was actually closer to home in PA, I thought crossing into NJ would just kind of be moot. But it was a great psychological boost for me. It was really neat to cross the Delaware and get back to NJ. Every milestone along the journey is a great one, but getting back home (although it was way up in north Jersey), was a great feeling. It was something special. Unfortunately, the picture didn’t capture the feeling I was having. Yes, this is the best picture I have of me crossing into NJ.

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But let me get back to my time in Pennsylvania first. So you need to understand a little bit about how much thru hikers hear about the dreaded rocks of Pennsylvania. I mean, literally, I’ve been hearing about these dang rocks since the Smokies. The Rocks of PA, Rocksylvania, etc, etc, etc. Everybody talked about these dang rocks. So I had this conception of crossing into PA from Maryland, and somehow the whole landscape would change. I’d go from nice smooth stuff, to rocks galore. Which obviously didn’t happen. It turns out, I actually enjoyed about 75% of PA – it was nice. However, the last 25% or so was absolutely dreadful. The rocks finally made themselves manifest. It was just walking on completely exposed, completely irregulary shaped rocks. It was absolutely terrible. I probably dropped my miles per hour to the lowest I’ve walked on the whole trail, somewhere around sub two miles per hour. It’s just horrible. You can’t go fast, and your feet hurt. But at least I finally figured out what all those people were talking about.

And, like the genius that I am, I decided to pull my longest day over all the dreadful rocks of PA. Yes I have pulled off a 34 mile day! Let me explain my reasons for doing so first, in an attempt to rationalize my somewhat masochistic actions. But first, here I am midday through my 34. There was this cool painting on the side of an rock after a nice climb:

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So, after leaving Solitaire and Scuba Springsteen, I was twenty or so miles behind a lot of my buddies – namely Indy, Hotshot, and Patches. So obviously, I wanted to catch them up. Unfortunately, my push to catch them up occurred right around where the rockiness began. So I began my day planning on doing about 20+ miles – a solid day. However, as I was texting my friends after leaving Solitaire and Scuba, I realized that they were actually a bit closer than I had originally thought, so I upped my plan to about 25 to 30 miles in order to close the gap a bit more. However, at about mile 28 or so, I was very low on water. I checked my guide book to see where my next source was – only a mile or so, all good, but about a half mile off the trail. Ok, fine, I’ll get my water, and then I’ll camp near the spring. That’s fine. I’m cool with a 29 or 30 mile day – that’s great.

So I trek straight downhill the half mile to the spring. As I approached, I saw the sign for the spring, but something was not right – and it was the sound. I heard no moving water. The spring had run dry, as well as my water bottle – brutal. So after a minute or two of staring at a dry spring, I walked the half mile back up to the trail. The next water source was a shelter, about four or five miles away. And I tell you, I think I would have walked ten more miles for some water at that point. This thirst is one of the most intense sensations I’ve felt on the trail. So I strapped my headlamp on (it was a bit after dark at that point), and began my five mile trek over the rocks to the shelter. Now, as you know, I obviously made it to the shelter and completed my 34 mile day. I drank about three liters once I got to the shelter. It was delicious water.

However, I need to tell you about what happened in the five miles from leaving the dry spring to indulging in the beautiful water of the shelter. Looking back at it now, it is hilarious. But I must say, I got the absolute biggest fright I have had in many years during my night hike to the shelter. I’ll try to explain a little about how I feel when I night hike. I’ve spoken to other hikers about this, and some feel the same way, so I don’t think it’s just my insane brain. I dislike night hiking immensely. And I’m talking about PM night hiking. I love hiking in the dark in the AM. For some reason, they have completely different feels to me. But anyway, talking about PM night hiking here. It is just a very bizarre experience. Honestly, I feel drugged while night hiking. Everything seems to swim in front of your eyes – there is only the single light source from your lamp that bounces around the trees – you are looking down at the path the whole time with no peripheral vision. And then of course, tack on the inherent fear of the dark and the night. With all those aspects, I have this sense of dread that sits in the back on my mind whenever I night hike.

So of course, some guy in a hammock had to scare the life out of me. I was just trucking along the trail, head down, focusing on the rocks, and my footing, and the lighting. And next thing I know, I hear the frantic yelling of a man who sounds like he is dying of fear. It’s this dreadful series of inhalations and muted yells, as though he is coming to slowly realize that something terrible is happening to him – which in fact he was. I looked up to see this:

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Just kidding. I did not see Solitaire out there again. Solitaire is a weirdo, but he doesn’t scream in the middle of the woods for fun at night. What happened was this poor guy, hammocked up only about five feet off the trail, had been having a nightmare when I came by. His yells were one of the most terrifying things I’ve ever experienced. Obvsiouly, I had no idea what was going on. When I heard the yells, I could tell they were amazingly close to me, and when I looked up, all I could really see was something writhing around in a hammock about ten feet from me.

I now understand how people can go into shock from fear. I literally felt like I was in my own nightmare. I remember speaking to him, repeatedly saying “It’s ok, it’s ok, it’s ok.” But my words were choked, and I can’t recall doing anything but repeating those words with one hand outstretched to him, I think primarily in a defensive posture. Horrifying – absolutely horrifying – for both him and me. I got the chills from this poor guy’s yells that stayed with me for a while after leaving him.

Turns out, this poor guy has knee issues, and he takes some meds to help him sleep at night, and which obviously cause him to have some vivid dreams. Once he kind of completely woke up (it took him about five seconds – all the while yelling like a dying man), he was very nice and apologetic. It was just one of the most awkward departures I’ve ever had from anyone. He said sorry, we both regained our composure, and I turned to walk away. As I was leaving, he hilariously said, “Well, maybe I’ll see you tomorrow!” I never saw him again – not sure if that’s a good or bad thing. But anyway, that was by far the most terrifying experience I’ve had on the trail. Horrifying.

So sorry to go on such a long winded story about my most scared moment in years (it doesn’t sound all that scary when I type it up), but I had to share.

Next up, I’ll have a pretty awesome account of my hiking with Joe Don the Megaladon. I’ll also share his account of it that he wrote every night via Facebook. His account is amazing, so tune it.

The Esteemed Stooge, Sir Charles Guilons, signing off.

 

An account of Solitaire in Solitude

I apologize in advance for such a long entry…

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About a week before my tip to visit Sir Stooge I was pretty relaxed about everything. He gave me a great list of what I needed to bring, broken out into categories. I’ve never been “hiking” before so I had to scavenge around for all my supplies. The pack from my dad, the tent from a buddy, and underwear from Matt (I was positive his wouldn’t be stretched out, giving me nice support).

My plan was to get a good sleep Thursday night, wake up refreshed, go into work for a few hours, head back to philly, meet up with Scuba Springsteen (Steve Olson) then head to the trail.  Botched! So much for being relaxed. Thursday night I laid everything out on my bed ready to pack it all in the. Put about half my supplies in and it was full. I fit more stuff in my jansport. I started freaking out. Long story short I got about 2 hours of sleep.

Friday afternoon came, I grabbed my bag and me and Scuba were off! Meeting up with someone on the trail takes a bit of planning. What we had to do was drive past chris about 25 miles and park in the town of Port Clinton (more to come on this town). Here we met up with a woman who would taxi us back to where we were meeting the stooge. It was a very interesting ride to say the least.

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As we rounded the corner there was the stooge waiting in ski jump position (imagine hiking polls involved in this picture). Perfect form!We had a quick snack here and then set out on the trail!

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It wasn’t long before I was in shock. Id say it was probably about.. 2 – 3……..steps before I realized this was NOTHING like I expected! I have no idea why, but I pictured a trail? Obviously at different points the trail is wide, thin, rock and dirt but this was sure a shock, but an awesome one.

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The first day we only planned on walking a few miles. Stooges friend who was a little ahead of him told him that there was a sweet campsite not to far away. We got there checked out the campsite then decided we should head to the spring to fill up our bottles. It was only about 1.5 miles away from camp, so we all went to go check it out. About 2 miles in we realized it wasn’t looking so good. The blue blaze kind of ended… we thought maybe it dried out? After a bit more hiking we eventually we found it, Sir Stooge is a navigating machine! To fill the bottles we made some weird leaf waterfall/funnel it was really cool and just such a change from putting your cup against your fridge and having water coming out.

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When we got back to camp we decided to set up our tents before it got dark. While Stooge and Scuba set theirs up in about 2 min flat (Scuba hiked the AT last year and Stooge obviously has a ton of experience now) I was struggling to make mine look anything like a tent. In disappointment I took of sprinting into the woods. They found me about an hour later sitting against a tree. They asked me why I was crying to which I explained it was just water from the trees falling perfectly under my eyes. Stooge looked at me and said… Come back to camp and we will help you, you do not belong in solitude.

We got back to camp and collected a bunch of fire wood. We took turns getting the fire started while the other 2 ate some rice, peanut butter, protein bars, fruit and in Scubas case an entire box of nutty bars. I must say we created a raging fire!, So much that we burned through all the firewood way to quickly and ended up having to use flashlights to see but hey it was awesome while it lasted and kept the bugs away. We all hung out and talked for a while and before we knew it I was pretty late. We decided to turn in for the night.

Like I said these two are pretty experienced. I had a little bit of a weird night in my tent. I fell asleep instantly but I woke up to what I thought was my entire tent collapsed on me and I could barely move! After a minute of struggling and rolling all over the place I realized it was just the sleeping sack I went to bed in.. my tent was fine. I took a breath and shut my eyes. This is the point when I heard little animals running around and then voices. For some reason I thought there were witches outside the tent saying “Were going to get you paul!”. The pollen will get ya!

Morning came with rain. We packed our tents, had a light breakfast of some nuts, and the rest of the food our mom sent with me. At first I was a little bummed it was raining but it was actually awesome. Im glad I got to experience the conditions that Sir Stooge goes through while hes out there.

It was a great day of hiking. We made a few stops to snack and eat lunch throughout the day. One of the stops we actually got a chance to see a shelter. We hung out, all signed the book and got off our feet for a little bit.

We eventually made it to Port Clinton (where we parked ). Port Clinton is a very very small town, Their claim to fame is the barber shops $8 haircuts. We all jumped in the car and headed just up the road to Hamburg. Hamburg is a bigger town so we thought we could grab some food and get our hotel there so we could walk to the bars at night. We got some awesome food at arbys but were unlucky with the hotels. For some reason they were all booked so we found ourselves back in Port Clinton at the towns ALL IN ONE bar/restaurant/hotel. At night we all headed back to Hamburg to a bar. We crushed a ton of food, drank some beers, and played foosball and pool.

The next day was Sunday and Scuba and my last day with the Stooge. We decided we didn’t want to leave just yet so what we did was hike about 5 miles in with him knowing we would have to hike the 5 back to the car. Right when we got on the trail there was some trail magic! A bunch of sodas and a little note from the past AT Hiker. This was by far the hardest few miles I did. We basically walked up and down incredibly steep mountains. I was more tired in these few miles then I was the day before. The terrain was awesome and when we would hit the top of a mountain we sat and just looked out into the sky. We even saw a few hawks flying over us at one stop.

When we hit the end of mile 5 we all just sat down for a while and talked. I could tell none of us wanted the weekend to end.  It really sucked having to give him a hug and say bye but I knew I would make it out to see him again before he finished up and do this all over again.

When me and scuba made it back into town we stopped at the local fire house for a beer, pizza and conversation with the locals. Yes, Port Clinton has an oddly nice firehouse. Sir stooge said that there is only one firefighter and he just carries around a bottle of water ready for the day he needs to pore it on some flames. While there we actually had the chance to meet 2 other hikers that knew chris so that was really cool to hear.

Chris, thanks for an amazing weekend. I can honestly say I will never forget it and we both had such a good time hiking with you.

Just a few thoughts before solitaire signs off. I have no idea how chris does this every day. It was one of the hardest things ive ever done. The hiking, climbing, weather, sleeping and time it took to hike a single mile was something I was never expecting.

That being said, the trail was amazing! We hiked incredible rocky spots, muddy spots, overgrown spots, and steep spots.  We had a few amazing views, great talks, hilarious jokes and a ton of time to think and I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way

Episode 2 of the adventures of solitaire and Stooge have now already happened. I will post a blog about my trip to Maine soon!

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