Derecho’s effects were meant to be felt most strongly in the following afternoon, so I decided I would try to get a taxi to the post office and back to the trailhead the following morning, which meant I needed to get some resupply that night. There was a Save-A-Lot down the street from Gus and Ted’s, but it was quite a trek by the time I delivered the hot wings back to the room and fed Copper. In fact, after I walked the mile back there, it had closed, and so had the adjacent laundromat, so there was no possibility of washing clothes that night with real detergent. I took a different street back to the hotel, and managed to pass a Turkey Hill, a convenience store owned by Kroger and stocked with a small selection of Kroger brand foods. So I added some dinners and snacks and grabbed a gallon of green tea to eat with my hot wings and went home to wash my clothes with Softsoap in the bathtub. I never felt like eating dinner; the hot wings went untouched.
The next morning, I walked to the breakfast nook in a brooding cloud, and by the time I got my waffle and bagel and cereal made, it had started thundering. I took the food back to the room to give Copper some comfort from the thunder, but he seemed fine. After breakfast, I called the post office. They said they hadn’t gotten my package from Steph yet. I cursed a bit and went down to the lobby to drop another 80 bucks. The storm stopped within an hour and no more of Derecho’s cells came through that day, so the US Postal Service was entirely responsible for my taking a zero.
Since I was going to be in town another day, I made the most of it. In no particular order, I went to a neat cafe bakery deli and had a muffin and a reuben, to Dollar General for more stuff (including a replacement pair of headphones with an unnecessary microphone on the cord since mine had been fading in the right ear for a month), to a game store which was full of Magic cards and Warhammer sets and figurines but a poor selection of eurogames, to the library to check out A Feast For Crows for a day (since some chapters had gotten their names scrambled on my mp3 player), and to a $3 showing of the new Star Trek, where I missed the beginning and the speakers were all blown out. I learned that Waynesboro was actually a really neat old town with a lot of character and, if it weren’t for the price, I would have enjoyed my stay there. Then I ate my wings for supper and drank the tea.
The next morning after breakfast, I called the post office and confirmed my package had finally arrived. I went down to the library to return the book and then stopped in the cafe again for a smoothie to go. Then I went back to the hotel to call and wait for a cab. I had to wait for a couple of hours, until nearly 4pm when the PO was close to closing, but I made it in time, got my package, and then went on up to Pen-Mar Park again.
I gave them $30 for the 3 mile trip and left them my souvenir White’s Ferry Nalgene that I’d found in the Harper’s Ferry Hostel hiker box (since my old Nalgene that Steph had returned was infinitely better). Then, I had to get Copper through the park to the trail, but this time I asked the park caretaker, a different guy, and he said I could bring him right through the park if I wanted. Of course, I got another powerade, and a pure coconut milk too since a hiker was out there doing trail magic. I also got someone to take this picture just before I shaved and waxed the ‘stache:
Then, I crossed the Mason-Dixon Line yet again. It was an uninteresting 4.5 miles to the Deer Run Shelters, where I found, yet again, a fire and Paul with Bunyans, whom I joined in the right shelter. Also there were a southbound couple Shadow Wolf and Crazy Legs, who told stories of being woken at 3am by a drunk man firing his pistol beside the Quarry Run Shelters. (PATC’s Pennsylvania shelters tended to come in pairs.) We sat around the picnic table swapping stories until late, and Paul had an excellent tale of his dad taking an inexperienced friend to slaughter a turkey.
The next morning, after Shadow Wolf and Crazy Legs had already headed on south, the PATC maintainer for that section, who was labelled Junker, came up looking for them, indicating that their slow southbound crawl had involved unmentioned alleged activities which they found objectionable. He was also looking for a southbound Packman, different from the one I’d met before. But he was a talker once you got him started, just like Paul, so they talked for a solid hour before Junker–and I–finally left.
It was just 2.4 miles to Antietam Shelter and the adjacent Old Forge Park, in which I was initially grateful for a privy, and then for a huge trail magic buffet in the picnic area, certainly the best I’ve come upon so far. I arrived quite early, as it was just starting, but stayed there at least two hours consuming everything in sight with about twenty other hikers.
After I finally managed to tear myself–and Copper!–away from this feast and social gathering, it was less than a mile to the next shelter, which was just so nice and interesting, Copper, the other food-coma’d hikers, and I couldn’t help but stop for another hour or so and peruse the logs and otherwise relax. Although the Tumbling Run Shelters were not the only paired shelters with a covered table between, they were certainly the only ones with a Snoring and Non-snoring side.
I didn’t investigate, but I also heard that the privy was spacious, clean, and filled with toilet paper. We walked on.
It was another 6 miles to the next shelter over easy ground, so we moved quick. I had to convince myself at one point not to go to the South Mountain Tavern just a mile off the true, but I expected if I did, I wouldn’t make it to my goal that day. I tuned into A Prairie Home Companion yet again that evening, but got a good bit of static and overlaid classical when I descended the hill to Rocky Mountain Shelters. It was getting late, so I went ahead and cooked dinner there, and moved on after Copper and I ate.
Three miles later, we entered New Caledonia State Park, at which point it was too late to visit the swimming pool for a shower. I passed the three guys who had come down to the previous shelter for water all sitting at a picnic table cooking supper, and a number of drive-in day-trippers doing the same with their kids. I came upon a rather interesting swing there:
Then, it was dark, but we still had a steep hill to climb out of the park, and another mile to go across multiple springs and streams to the Quarry Run Shelters. Both shelters were full or too full to be worth the effort when I arrived, so I just set up on the picnic table between the shelters. The three I’d seen in the park came in once I was in the sack and hung their hammocks behind the shelter.
The next morning I met Jeff for the first time. He said he couldn’t sleep because the guy in the shelter next to him was coughing all night, whereas I had no trouble sleeping with the incredible snorer under the picnic table (who snored even when face down!). We both enjoyed the book on the history and culture of outhouses left by the Innkeeper in the privy (who was competing with the maintainer of Tumbling Run, and winning in the flowers and landscape department, but losing in the privy department, having left us only one roll of Charmin). We were walking around each other at about the same pace all day (fast). I was ahead for the first 4 miles until I stopped for a snack, but caught up to him 3 miles later at Birch Run Shelter where we had lunch. I was amused to find that the log book there was so old, Cody Coyote appeared in it twice. Once, a couple of weeks before, and once way back in the fall when he was headed south.
Not much happened that day in terms of trail. We crossed a lot of gravel roads. Not long before Birch Run, we crossed the 2013 AT midpoint, which was hardly an interesting spot on the trail. It would be worthless to mark such a fleeting landmark. There was nothing at all to note between Birch Run and Tom’s Run Shelters, where I stopped for a long restful break and snack in the uphill shelter, told a few day hikers where the trail was, and accidentally left my hat behind as I went on. (I later passed a southbounder, who found it and mailed it home.)
Not half a mile past the shelter was a post with a mailbox and a sign in celebration of the halfway point. I signed the log there even though it wasn’t halfway yet for me. No point in taking a picture, though. Copper was getting bored, so we walked on.
It started pouring pretty soon after that, and it took until after the shower ended to notice that there had been nothing on my head to get in the way of pulling my hood up. We arrived at PA 233 not long after that, where the trail is on the road for about a third of a mile. On the side of the road, I found a flower in bloom, a variety I have often seen since, but this was the first one, so I took its picture.
Then, I was in Pine Grove Furnace State Park, ready for the Half-Gallon Challenge. Jeff had raced ahead to get there to see the AT museum before it closed at 4, but I didn’t much care and went slower. Copper and I took long enough that Jeff had already perused the museum and eaten his 1.5 quarts by the time I arrived. I went in the store to find the selection had already been thoroughly picked over, so bought a tub of chocolate peanut butter something-or-other. I didn’t bother buying the extra pint to make it a full half-gallon, figuring that since I’d been less than halfway, I could eat less than half a gallon.
It took me about 21m50s to finish the tub.
After putting a decent charge on my phone, I headed out down the trail, passing all sorts of picnickers and swimmers and children enjoying the pond, and walked down a wide gravel path through a swampy area where the flies were awful. A couple sitting in folding chairs on the side of the trail while their kids played in the river gave me some anti-bug wipes, which they tucked into my backpack straps after I wiped myself down. I’m not sure they did any good, though. At the end of the trail, I let Copper off leash, and we turned and climb halfway up the hill before coming to a wide clearing with a fire pit. I started hanging my hammock here. Jeff came in a few minutes later and lent me a trekking pole to support the other side of my rainfly (since one of mine broke, remember). Even so, he had his tent up before I was done. Packman came in a bit later, happy to see that we had found a bag of stakes on the ground, since he needed a couple more for his tent. He was feeling pretty talkative and eager to share his whiskey. Even after we’d all gone to bed, he talked on, especially about the Civil War and Gettysburg, which he visits every year, and about how he ended running into town with a guy named Jim because the rangers had come to search a suspicious guy who was staying in the shelter with an air rifle and perhaps another weapon. When he finally tapered off, I fell asleep.
In the morning, after breakfast and a trip into the woods, I came back to find out that a tentative plan from the previous night about visiting Gettysburg had become more solid. We called up Freeman’s Shuttle Service, who said he could be to the gate at the bottom of the hill in 15 minutes. I was still 20 minutes from being packed (while Jeff and Packman were nearly ready to go), so I rushed to get everything together. What I should have done was just left everything set up like I had it. We made it to the road a few minutes before the van arrived and started walking down it hoping to shave some time off his trip. When he passed us and turned around to pick us up, Packman and I were surprised to find it was Junker. We all piled into the car and headed for Gettysburg.
When we were dropped off at the visitor’s center, it took us a couple of hours to find a place to hide our packs (behind the bathrooms at the bus stop), get water, eat food, prepare for walking all over the area, pose with Lincoln, and buy myself a hat. (Souvenir cap=$25)
It was noon and sweltering when we finally set out towards the battlefield.
Gettysburg has been carefully landscaped so that the battlefield looks much as it would have when the battles were taking place, accept that there are thousands of monuments littering the field, one for every union division and every major player in the battle. Most of the union monuments were placed in the 1880s, not long after the war, and are now as much a part of the history of the area as the battle itself.
Packman was our guide, since he had been there every year for a decade. First, we walked up to the Angle, the Confederacy’s high water mark, a low rock wall on Cemetery Ridge, where Pickett’s Charge was defended on the third day of battle. We walked slowly south along the ridge, because Jeff was so excited to be there he wanted to read every plaque and monument along the way. I reckoned we didn’t have enough time for that, yet Copper and I ended up sitting and waiting in the shade for the other two to catch up on several occasions. Eventually, we arrived at the largest monument in the park, the Pennsylvania monument, commemorating the Pennsylvania officers and divisions.
It happened to be the monument with a staircase and a commanding panoramic view from the balcony.
Then, we went further south to Little Round Top, the site of one of the deciding skirmishes of the battle. If the Grays had taken the hill on the 2nd Day, the Blues would have easily been outflanked and taken on the 3rd, but one man’s attention and foresight led him to drag several guns and a unit up the hill in the middle of the night just in time to turn away the Confederates who would have taken it.
Copper couldn’t climb up the rocks on the front of the hill the way we went, so I climbed up without him, and once I’d seen the view, I climbed back down to find him, but he had disappeared into a shady crevice somewhere. Have I mentioned just how hot and sunny this day was yet?
I led him out to the road and up the hill that way, but just before we would regain the hill, a division of Union tourists dismounted their bus and stormed the hill, blocking our passage. We waited for them to pass and found a different path to the summit, but could not see Jeff and Packman anywhere among the crowds. We fought our way through platoon after platoon of air-conditioning-blown tour groups who were aiming the cameras at everything in site and even taking shots at their friends (using, of course, the entire walkway to do so) while their commanding officers–smiling men with flags in their hands and official-looking badges on their lapels–shouted orders and useless trivia at them. By leaving Copper below in the safety of cover, I was able to surmount the New York monument for a better view of the battlefield, but Jeff and Packman were yet nowhere to be seen. The stairs on the fortress-like New York monument were one-person-wide, and so more and more tourists kept clambering up, not leaving a gap for anyone to descend, nearly filling us to capacity before someone shouted down for them to stop and let some of us down.
I decided we could walk down to the bottom of the hill and look up from the road, figuring Copper at least was unmistakable, but I could not see them and they did not see us. At least there was a stream at the bottom of the hill so Copper could get a nice long drink. There was precious little water about and later he would be drinking from puddles.
I figured we could do the tour a lot faster on our own, planning it ourselves and not having to wait for Packman’s interpretation. We walked down another road to Devil’s Den, a rock maze that had been taken by the Confederates on Day 2, and stopped there for a snack while a tour group cleared away. From there, we went past the wheat field (the most hotly contested stretch of ground in the area, having changed hands a dozen times in a day), past the peach orchard until we came to a horse trail, which turned west across a field, between a farmhouse and a huge stable/barn, and into the woods along Seminary Ridge. We followed it all the way to the Virginia Monument, a monument to the soldiers of the Virginia Army, and to Robert E. Lee (mounted atop the monument), who did issue all the strategic orders for this battle.
From there, we walked out to the Point of Woods, from where began Pickett’s Charge, to read the infoboard describing the moment when Lee met the few soldiers still alive to retreat after the failed charge (including one who’d taken a bullet straight through the head and gone on to a long and happy life), and told them “This was all my fault. I thought we were invincible.” From there, we followed a mown-down path through the field which found and passed through all the gaps in the fences (the path of Pickett’s Charge) out to the road, hung a left, stopped for Copper to swallow an entire puddle, read some signs about Eisenhower training the cavalry on the first tanks, and landed in Pickett’s Buffet, an all-you-can-eat for $11.95 that lies directly adjacent to the historic battlefield. Which is important, because the most commonly fought battle in Gettysburg is part the ongoing tourist-versus-their-own-hunger war–something they have in common with hikers.
I had already gone through three plates and dessert by the time Jeff and Packman arrived. They only agreed to let them in if they could get done eating by 6pm, twenty minutes later, when they were expecting a busload to fill every remaining seat in the restaurant. Jeff took that as a challenge and slammed through multiple plates in record time. Packman went a little slower and talked to me all the while. They had lost me on the hill by climbing down among the rocks to polish off a bottle of whiskey Packman had carried along, and then taken much the same route I had to the buffet (substituting a lookout tower in the southwest corner for the horse trail). Jeff was feeling a little nauseous after his eating sprint, and no wonder,we thought: he’d only brought a liter of water, plus what they had drank from the stream, the day had surely been in the nineties, plus all the alcohol…he was almost certainly dehydrated when he went in to tackle four pounds of food in twenty minutes.
While Packman went to walk through the National Cemetery, Jeff laid out on a bench to fight the nausea. We saw the spot where Lincoln delivered the famous Address, and I got pictures of the monument, which included the text of the letter inviting Lincoln to speak.
I believe it said somewhere that Lincoln’s speech followed a bombastic 3-hour keynote by the governor which put the audience to sleep, and Lincoln, who had just sat down to write his speech when he got to town the day before, took their stunned silence as disappointment at his words. Clearly, he wasn’t an experienced performer: that kind of silence before the applause starts is something many professionals seek but never achieve.
Then, we returned to the bus station to pack up and call up Junker again (whereupon I discovered my never-used headphones had fallen apart in my pocket, breaking right in the useless microphone; don’t buy Duracell headphones!). Jeff went in the bathroom and used his finger to achieve sweet relief. I borrowed $1.25 for the vending machine (which cost $2.50) and for the effort it decided not to rip me off (by vending 2 Coke Zeros), one of which I offered to Jeff to settle his stomach (and to pay him back for all the quarters he gave me) but he didn’t want it. Junker brought a different van for the return trip, one which was missing one of the second row seats, and so I rode on the floor all the way back. All the way back was much longer than the way down, since he chose to take a different route and nearly got lost. It was dark as we drove back down the road to the same spot we’d been picked up, but we stopped halfway down so all of us (even Junker and Copper) could collect some water from a pipe that dumped it right down beside the road. Then, Junker left us there, and we put on our headlamps and climbed back up to the same campsite we’d stayed in (though someone else had pitched a tent in Packman’s spot already) and I hung my hammock in the same place I had before and in nearly the same way. (It was much faster the second time, but again, the day would have been a lot easier if I’d just left everything there to begin with.)
The next day, we got up to meet the pair of Army dudes out doing a section on furlough and sharing a tent. They made coffee on the fire and Packman used their fire to get his own coffee warm. I had no need for coffee, but I sat around and drank my breakfast until I was awake. So Jeff was, as usual, the first one packed and out of camp.
As it has so many days on this trip, the rain threatened all day. But there were no springs for the first six miles. We moved without stopping, completely zoned out until we reached a spring. Copper could use a drink, so we walked down to it, then I stopped at the top for a snack. Packman came up behind me chasing another guy, and I told him that the shelter was probably within a mile. He walked down to the bottom of the hill and shouted back that the shelter (James Fry/Tagg Run) was right there. I packed up and went down there, and the guy Packman was talking to was already heading on, trying to beat the storm to Boiling Springs. Copper and I went up the side trail to the shelter, and I smelled some smoke, and thought perhaps Paul with Bunyans might be there. He was, and so was Jeff. Jeff left almost immediately, and I didn’t stay long, managing to keep Paul from telling too many stories.
We walked over a whole bunch of roads and train tracks in the next 3.5 miles, and I decided on a whim to take a left on a road in the drizzling rain. It took us to the Deer Run Campground, where I bought a scoop of cherry ice cream, so sweet-and-sour twizzlers, an ibc root beer, and a family size carton of Nutter Butter Wafers (which I packed out with me). Then I went to the bathhouse and got a free shower. Well worth the detour.
The next bit of trail was crossing a few creeks on bridges then climbing a hill to enter a rock maze. The trail wound through the rock maze in a sometimes completely pointless fashion, as if this were the only interesting feature in Pennsylvania and we needed to see every side of it. Copper couldn’t climb over one ledge, and so I tried to lead him down an alternate route than ran underneath the boulders, but he gave up too easily and ended up trying to climb down the entire boulder field and getting himself even more confused. I dropped my pack and went back to the beginning and led him through the right way.
It was four miles from Alec Kennedy Shelter to Boiling Springs, and Packman was already at the shelter with a fire going when I arrived. We figured Jeff had pushed on to town, but by the time I got done cooking the storm was rolling in. I had to rapidly gather up all my clothes I had drying around the fire and get them in the shelter. Another guy came in just a few minutes before it started, and we decided to spend the night there, the three of us, and go into town first thing in the morning.
It was only a mile or so to the top of the last hill before the Cumberland Valley, and I ran the whole way, whooped when I saw the “Welcome to the Cumberland” sign, and kept running right down the hill and into the cornfield. It was blazing hot out but we moved through the fields quickly. Upon arriving at the edge of the town, I hung a right into the backpacker’s campground and hung my hammock and tied up Copper with some water. Then, though the children splashing in the town pool was an attractive sound, I headed straight for the historical Boiling Springs Tavern (est. 1832) and ate two dinners, and drank a beer, a wine, and a Pimm’s Cup (ish). All while sitting at a 150-year-old bar (which was quite solid and clean despite lifetimes in which patrons could carve in graffiti.
Then, to the cafe for some fancy coffee, the grocery store for some resupply, the pizza and subs place, and back to camp, where Packman and a new friend of his were noisily chatting away an evening of alcohol. Despite being inches from the tracks with trains rolling through all night, less than a mile from some sort of rave party with noisy drums, and Packman and friend wanting to chat all night, I managed to sleep a good night’s sleep. And that was the night of June 20th. Which means I am still two weeks behind. As usual. Oh well, more as soon as I can, I guess.