I want to begin this post with a comment to anyone who happens to live in the state of Pennsylvania: I’m sorry. I speak only of what I experienced on the trail in the state, but based on what I’ve seen, I’m sorry.
Also, if you didn’t get it, this is not a real petition. I feel like I need to mention that to avoid some sort of lawsuit.
Okay, so let’s get into it. Prepare for this majorly negative post. I promise that I’m not a severely pessimistic person, I’m just depicting it as I see it. To prove this, I’m going to start out with some really positive things I have to say about Pennsylvania. They all happened on the very first day.
So Spirit and I crossed into Pennsylvania from New Jersey sometime in the morning. The trail goes through the town of Delaware Water Gap right by the border. It’s a neat little town with a gear store, bakery, pizza place and a church that runs a donation based hostel.
We went to the hostel first and were met by several other southbounders. Crispy and Tank, Hazmat and Redwood, Field Trip and his beautiful dog Penny. I saw Field Trip walking up the hill to the hostel and sort of recognised him. What gave it away however was his shirt. A Hostel California, Bishop shirt. It’s my favorite hostel in my favorite town on the PCT. It turns out Field Trip and I were even there around the same time! It’s crazy how small the world is sometimes.
It was Spirit’s birthday and fittingly enough the church was throwing a potluck dinner, a thing they do for hikers every Thursday evening. We got very lucky and were there for the last one of the season. People from the community brought all kinds of food. Salads, pizza, roasted vegetables, pies, cookies, lemonade and homemade ice cream! A hiker’s dream to put it lightly. The only thing they ask is that hikers share stories with them, which seems like a good deal to me.
So we ate to our hearts contents, or rather our stomachs. Oh and Sun Chaser had caught up to us, so that was another positive thing. Thursday night also meant free admission to the Deer Head Inn, the oldest continuously running jazz club in the country. So naturally we went there. Thursdays are apparently where it’s at in DWG. Listening to improv jazz, drinking wine, pretending like we belong, it was a fitting end to a great day. That is however where the good things end (not actually, I’ll do my best to sprinkle some resemblance of positivity in there).
Leaving DWG the next day, it was raining. Here starts the 1000 reasons why Pennsylvania is the objectively worst state on the Appalachian Trail. Number 1: Rain. Now, I know it rains in other states too, but stay with me. It will all come together and make sense in the end.
Yeah, it was raining. The trail right out of DWG is up a steep mountain. Because of the rain and the rocks being insanely slick (reason number 2: Rocks. Pennsylvania has more jagged rocks than the rest of the world combined. Now that’s just an assumption, but I’m quite sure it’s accurate) I decided to stop for the night at a shelter about 4 miles in, as the rain did not motivate me to keep walking. Sun Chaser and Field Trip were there as well.
Reason number 3: My sleeping pad started deflating on me. To the point where I would wake three times a night to inflate it. Ok, I guess I can’t blame Pennsylvania for this one. Especially since I cut it in half and ironed it shut myself. If that seems silly, it’s because it is. It might not have been a fault of the state, it just happened to to occur at the worst time.
Sun Chaser and I did our first 30 mile day sorta unintentionally. Spirit had already gotten that achievement and we were eager to not let her beat us. So around sunset, we decided to hike another 4 miles to get that big mile day under the belt. At 9:45pm (very late when thru hiking) we made it to a campsite and set up in the dark.
The next morning we were capital T Tired. Sun Chaser and I had our minds set on a McDonald’s and Walmart in the town Hamburg. It was food more than anything that kept us going. When we got to the road into town, no one would pick us up, so we ended up walking 1.2 miles into town.
We did town things like eat, resupply and charge various devices. We heard from Spirit, who was mentioning a BBQ that a trail angel was throwing in the evening. With new motivation found, we made our way back to the trail, where the TA said he would pick us up. Long story short, he never did. Thereof reason number 4: People who get your hopes up only to let you down. Again, not a fault of Pennsylvania as much as of a single person. But all of these things piled up sure doesn’t do the state any favours.
One thing I really enjoyed about PA was the early morning fog. At that time a day when the air is still cool and sweat doesn’t drench me as soon as I get moving. Another one is the very mild grade. Except for a few notable climbs, it’s fairly flat.
Pennsylvania happens to have 2 significant milestones. The first one being the 1000 mile mark for southbounders. Reaching that point was very exciting, especially considering how surprisingly long it took to get there. Just shy of 70 days to be precise. The second one is the halfway point.
Spirit, Sun Chaser and I got to Duncannon. A small, run down town where we as hikers felt welcomed. There’s a church that lets hikers sleep in the basement for free. There’s also the Doyle, an old hotel that, although long past its prime, still has a bit of charm. Other services include a laundromat, a couple of restaurants and a grocery store. Everything necessary for a town stop. Which was fortunate since we ended up taking a zero the following day.
The forecast was telling us heavy rain was due. So we bunkered up in the basement and waited it out. Except it didn’t come down nearly as bad as expected. We spent the day doing essentially nothing except eating.
When we left the next day it was cold (reason number 5) and rainy, which is mainly how I remember Pennsylvania. The cold and rainy days are rarely eventful. It’s too miserable to stop and enjoy anything, so it’s mainly frustrated walking and a lack of pictures (which is why I have so few pictures of PA).
The following day we made it to Pine Grove Furnace Park. Home of the halfway point (sort of) and the half gallon challenge, which, as the name suggests, entails eating a half gallon of ice cream. It was bone-chillingly cold when we arrived though, so neither of us attempted it. We did however spend some time in the warm AT museum. Sun Chaser and I also had dinner at the little restaurant. There was only outdoor seating so we stood inside, hogging the warmth of the restaurant grill.
We stopped in at a shelter a little further along the trail and bunkered down. Finally getting a little dry and warm. It was so comfortable that Sun Chaser and I stayed until noon the following day. Getting out of a dry shelter when it’s cold and raining is just not on the list of things I enjoy doing. Also a mouse chewed a hole in the mesh of my backpack because I left some M&Ms there. Can’t really blame them, they’re so good.
We passed the actual halfway point. Here’s an outtake from my journal: “Soon we passed the halfway point. It felt surprisingly unremarkable. But then again, so had all of Pennsylvania.” I was clearly not too happy after a week of rain.
Spirit was a little behind or ahead, I forget which. Sun Chaser and I made it to Waynesboro, PA (not the well known Virginian one, we’ll get there eventually). My shoes had started giving up (reason number 6, although, again not a fault of the state), with a hole at front where my toes poked out and a huge lump under my feet. I couldn’t really blame them since I had gotten almost 900 miles out of them at that point. Anyway I had a new pair of shoes sent to me in town.
We had just started hearing about an approaching hurricane and didn’t know what to do, so Sun Chaser and I got a motel room and ordered pizza. Spirit had not yet made it into town.
The following day was our last in Pennsylvania. THANK HEAVEN. I was so ready to leave that state. We had heard of a flooded bridge on the Maryland/ West Virginia border, so we couldn’t do the Maryland challenge (all of 40 miles of Maryland in one go) like we had intended. Or so we thought.
Thanks for coming to my TED talk on why we should reroute the AT around Pennsylvania.
I NOBO’d in 17, and PA was by far my most challenging state. The rocks, Dear Lord, the rocks. I woke up every morning feeling like someone had took a hammer to the bottom of my feet! It was the only state I was actively happy to have in my rearview. I found some of the days walking through farmland (ex. Cumberland Valley) very peaceful and a nice change of scenery. Were they just mud swamps when you passed through?
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Yes! That’s awesome. Did you enjoy the NOBO experience? PA was just challenging in so many ways. But I agree, the farmland was a pleasant change. They were fine, only real mud was Vermont, Mass and parts of Maine!
Oh man, it was the best! Currently writing a book about how the AT changed my life. I started with zero backpacking experience, so starting near the major NOBO bubble put my mind at ease early on. It was good to know people were around, just in case.
Were you able to maintain some trail families heading SOBO or did the company get sparse in the south?
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That’s amazing! Would love to read it. I can imagine! I have friends who went NOBO and they sure enjoyed it. SOBO was more people than I expected. It’s a shorter starting window, so it still gets bunched up at times. I actually had my biggest trail fam by far in NC,TN and GA.
Nick as always it’s a special day getting to read
one of your updates.
Upwards and onwards
Best wishes for the remainder of the trail.
Thank you! I’ve finished the trail, I’m just mightily backed up in the posting!