Finishing our Marathon Week Challenge was such a relief, and Beverly and Jo couldn’t have picked a better time to visit us. We ended our day, hopped into the car, and headed to a motel in nearby Reading. The shower, as always, was glorious. We finished off the evening with a big buffet and beers before quickly falling asleep.
The next day, we lazily spent in the hotel happy to not be counting the miles. Our feet, bellies, and hearts were happy to finally take a zero day with family after the crazy week we had just finished. As usual, town time came to an end quickly, and the next day we made our way back to the trail.
But we had one more gift from our trail angels: a day of slackpacking. BigFoot and I completed 15 miles in record time, stopping half way through for a fried chicken picnic with Beverly and Jo. If only all days were this relaxing…
After 15 miles, we arrived at Eckville Shelter. This is one of the more unique shelters on the trail. It’s actually a converted garden shed to the adjacent house complete with caretaker, shower, flush toilets, and popsicles. We said our goodbyes to Beverly and Jo and grabbed bunks for the night. Soon, familiar hikers began to arrive, congratulating us on our previous week’s achievement. We did our evening chores and headed to sleep, ready to get back to the grind in the morning.
We awoke to a light rain which thankfully ended by 7, and we began hiking. Today was the day to start the seriously intense rocky sections of Pennsylvania we had read about. Although we had encountered some rocky sections before, the trail in northern PA is absolutely infamous for its relentless rocks. Joy. When I read about this section, I didn’t think much of it. Rocky? We can deal with that, right? I mean, the terrain is much flatter compared to most of the trail. Can’t be too bad?
Wrong, wrong, wrong. Ugh, this section could not have been over soon enough, and it was a sssllloooowwww go. Our view included nothing but our feet, rocks, and the very occasional patch of dirt. For miles and miles, the trail was 50 – 100% covered in rocks. Sigh.
Our first 7.4 miles in the rocky section took about 3 and a half hours to complete. After keeping a steady 3 mph pace for a week beforehand, this new pace was just plain frustrating. A few miles later, we were sucked into checking out a nearby bar and restaurant at a road crossing to lift our spirits.
After eating a proper meal and probably too much Yuengling, we resumed our hike for the day. The guide indicated we could cross “Knife Edge” and “Bear Rocks.” Woohoo! Thankfully, we carefully made it over the sections with minimal falling before the rain started which would have made crossing absolutely lethal. We finished our hike and arrived at the shelter before getting entirely soaked, set up our tent very quickly, and went to bed early. Typically, PA is notorious for hot weather and dry springs. Well, not this year. Every spring and stream was gushing with water, and we dealt with soggy days as a trade off. I guess I’d rather be wet than concerned about whether my next water source will be dry.
The next morning, we welcomed the sun and began a little later than usual allowing our equipment to dry. It took about 3 hours to complete 6.8 miles, carefully maneuvering the rocks dreaming of dirt. After a long lunch, we took off again with a steep climb ahead after Lehigh River.
And thank God it wasn’t raining. Although the sun was bearing down on us, rain would have made this section impassable. The climb included maneuvering rocks stacked on rocks as well as carefully ascending rock faces nervously clinging to tiny nooks and crannies. It was much different than any climb we had seen this far and could have been fun – without a pack.
After the ascend, we finally saw dirt again… well for maybe one out of the remaining 8 miles. At least the walk was lined with countless ripe blackberries!!
We arrived at camp with a few other familiar hikers. We were very happy to be done, but not thrilled about the .4 miles down to a spring for water. A steep .4 downhill. Sigh. Once we finished that chore, we made dinner and rested our tired, aching feet. Morning came and we broke down camp. We decided to make a stop in Wind Gap for resupply and lunch 10.6 miles away. Wind Gap even boasted free camping at a bar called Beer Stein. Excited, we took off, but it was another slow go. When there are that many rocks, finding a rhythm is just impossible. We came into Wind Gap around 1 slightly frustrated and ready for lunch. We grabbed some fast food and called Beer Stein to confirm their camping. Unfortunately, they no longer allow tenting out back changing our plan for the evening. Well, at least we’d save money on beers!!
After a couple hours, we left town and headed back to the AT. The rocks were once again relentless making our pace pretty pathetic. After 4 hours, we still hadn’t gotten to the designated campsite, but I was checked out for the day. We suddenly saw a spot with enough dirt to pitch a tent and snagged the opportunity. No surprise on this day that it was infested with mosquitos. We made dinner very quickly and climbed into our home sweet Kelty to escape the bugs. We fell asleep knowing that Delaware Water Gap (DWG) just south of the PA / NJ line was about 10 miles away and that the rocks would end soon.
We slept in a bit before breaking down camp, but finally continued down the rocky trail. The 10 miles took nearly 5 hours, but we eventually arrived at DWG mid afternoon. The trail takes you right into town, and we made our way to The Church of the Mountain Hostel. The church hostel provided bunks and showers and even a shelter out back for overflow. After showers, we made our way into town to get some food. Sycamore Grill got us with their $.45 wing advertisement and $3 Yuengling pints. We happily bellied up to the bar for the evening.
The next morning, Powers and Mantis joined us for breakfast at a local diner before heading back to the trail. The guys even let us sample their scrapple, a confusing PA meat product.
Well, back at it as always. The four of us set out for another day. Leaving town, we had about a mile and a half road walk across the Delaware River and on that bridge something magical happened – we exited Pennsylvania. Though the rocks hadn’t completely ended, we could tell the amounts were dwindling and couldn’t have been happier. Within an hour of being in NJ, we saw our third bear of the trip though it quickly ran off upon seeing us. That afternoon, we came across the Mohican Outdoor Center and took advantage of their Wi-Fi and couches for a couple hours. After making dinner, we set out for the final two miles to finish the day. Before reaching camp, we were happy to climb to the top of a manned firetower but not before seeing our second bear for the day, this one much bigger and much less afraid of us. We made it to our campsite for the evening, actually hung our bear bag, pitched the tent and headed to sleep. At some point during the night, BigFoot woke me up. “Do you hear that?” Big, heavy footsteps were clomping around the tent. It stopped. A big sniff was next, then the footsteps started once more. We both lay frozen in our sleeping bags deciding on what to do about this potentially massive bear interested in our food bags dangling from a nearby tree. Fortunately, the sounds of a bear climbing the tree never happened, and the footsteps disappeared. Had the bear started climbing the tree, we probably would’ve made an attempt to scare it away and save our food. But, we were quite happy we didn’t have to leave the tent.
The next morning, as often happens when we sleep in our tent, we got a later start than we preferred. But somehow, we got rewarded for it. Not a half mile later, we stumbled upon some trail magic! Three lovely ladies from the NJ Hiking Club brought burgers, hotdogs, corn on the cob, sodas, and beer complete with EZ up and chairs. Seriously, chairs are such a gift when you usually sit on rocks, logs, and wooden picnic benches all the time.
With our bellies full, we continued on our way on this gray, drizzly day. The day was mostly uneventful, but we were happy to cross a highway with a nearby deli and grabbed bagels and coffee to fuel the final three miles to camp. After a brief stop at another firetower, we made it to the shelter for the evening with a handful of hiker friends.
The next day was pretty standard on the AT. One highlight was around noon, we arrived at High Point State Park. We stopped at the visitor center for lunch and were gifted sodas from the staff!
During lunch, a sprinkle began outside, and we left as soon as it had stopped. It seemed like the clouds were right on our tail through the rest of the hike. We were luckier than a few of our friends to end the day dry at the Murray property. This farm includes a shelter, water pump, and shower for hikers free of charge.
After a good night’s rest, we were happy to awake to sunshine, and the news of my sister’s engagement put me in great spirits. Down the trail we walked knowing the small town of Unionville was nearby. Town food was just too tempting and at the last minute, we decided to try to hitch in. As luck would have it, the last car we saw on the road before we would re-enter the woods pulled over and took us to Annabelle’s Pizza where we filled up on pie.
After a satisfying lunch, we went back to the trail and continued walking on this pretty day. At about 4, we passed our friend Toes on the New Jersey Boardwalk who informed us of a garden center coming up that had a good selection of ice cream. Sold!
Upon reaching the center, we grabbed cones and coffee. That extra large scoop of Maine Blueberry will be remembered for miles…
We were about to head out when Hardwear and White Wolf arrived. If I haven’t mentioned them before, this “odd couple” are definitely two of my favorite hiking companions. Both 50+, White Wolf, a southern gentleman from Atlanta, and Hardware (Hahdweh) an ex alcoholic boxer from Boston, make quite a team. Anyway, the two approached and told us of their plan to go to a nearby church hostel. Yes, that sounds fantastic. Another hiker, Mantis, was right behind and the five of us got shuttled from our ice cream haven to the hostel. Pizza, ice cream, and a hostel in one day?? So much yes!!!!
another fine entry in your journey!