A good story teller never leaves an ending untold, so here I give whomever may stumble upon my journals or readers patiently awaiting- an ending to a chapter in my life that would become a catalyst to the actual living of my life.
The second half of the trail came and went like a bird in the wind, and this once dream of mine became just that; a dream like an old storybook I was read when I was a little one only this time I held the tremendous honor of writing my own part. With nine more states remaining in the New England area- Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine, I seemed so far from my goal to others; however, I never felt I would experience reaching the halfway point, so one could only imagine the joy bubbling inside me. Confidence in myself and my dream began to grow with the passing of each border, and as I watched seasons begin and end in the forests around me, I became aware of seasons in me coming to a close as others blossomed.
The New England Appalachians were simply magnificent. I was consistently amazed as each state held a significant difference and a greater beauty than the next. The northern half of trail ran through forty miles of the smooth walking, rolling hills of Maryland first. Since this segment of the trail is so short hikers began “The Maryland Challenge”, which one would complete by hiking all 40.2 miles of Maryland’s share of the AT in just 24 hours. I, however, was still too busy celebrating reaching West Virginia, the midway state and home of the ATC, to worry too much of the seemingly exhausting challenge in the air. I completed it in a little over two days, watching as slackpackers jogged by and enjoying the blessing of a nice dirt trail and little to no challenging assents.
Upon completing Maryland, hikers come to yet another milestone at the southern border of Pennsylvania, the Mason Dixon line. As a Tennessee girl I was sad to see an end to the country style buffets and sweet tea in trail towns, but more so excited to experience the lifestyle of New England Americans (and I use this “lifestyle” word as loosely as possible). I had heard of dreadful Pennsylvania, or “Rocksylvania” as hikers called it, since beginning the trail in Georgia. I heard stories of rocks for endless miles and hot summer days with no shade; also thrown around were quirky comments such as “ Welcome to Pennsylvania, please take a complimentary rock”, which I would have supported completely had it not violated the thru hiker’s oath of Leave No Trace. Hiking through Pennsylvania was rather pleasant actually. The first sixty or so miles of the state through Caledonia State Park and Boiling Springs were a breeze with the trail ranging from a wide smooth trail with small hills surrounded by forest to a thin trail carving along the boundaries of fields of corn and wide open pastures of livestock. The northern part of the state did however live up to the stories, rocks and rocks of all different shapes, sizes, slickness, sharpness, roughness, and plenty of them. Without taking any credit away from Pennsylvania, the miles of rocks were dreadful but not near to the extent as I had been lead to believe. The views in Pennsylvania were marvelous, especially in Lehigh Gap where us thru hikers received our first and much longed for taste of rock climbing on the trail. It’s no absurd climbing stretch, just a few hand over foot steps up a steep rock pile, but it does lead to a grand view above Pennsylvania. At this gap is where I met a man named Stan who picked me up hitch hiking, and his family took me in for the weekend and delivered to me an abundance of trail magic. But people like him and a few others I met on the trail deserve more than half a paragraph’s thank you..so, more on the trail angels that supported me along the trail later. Pennsylvania is also home to the trail’s actual mid point which changes each year, and The Half Gallon Challenge where hikers celebrate reaching the halfway point by attempting to eat a half gallon of ice cream by one’s self. In my efforts to not end my day short due to a dairy overdose, I celebrated with just a quarter gallon of ice cream to myself. My efforts were in vain though as I still felt awful after so much cream in the hot sun. Excitement overwhelmed me as I reached the end of Pennsylvania and to my belief the trail of rocks as well.
Well, whatever you do, don’t listen when hikers tell you that the rocks will stop when you reach New Jersey. The rocks continue throughout pretty much the rest of the trail just varying in character..learn to love the rocks and wear knee braces. A bridge over the Delaware River welcomed me into New Jersey and the trail climbed up a hill overlooking the river. The surrounding environment made me feel as though I was in a fairytale scene with green puffy trees, distinct rays of sunshine, and clouds rising slowly below me in the river valley. It was a peaceful moment looking out and realizing I was one more state closer to achieving my goal. New Jersey continued to be enjoyable, but also was very tough on me. Summer was in full fledge as well as east coast humidity. The thick, hot air made it quite unpleasant to hike as each breath felt harder to breathe and no removal of clothing could cool me down enough to slow the flood of sweat in my face. The state transformed from a graceful fairytale to a buggy sweatbox that I couldn’t wait to complete. Many water sources I ran across in New Jersey were hardly flowing or very metallic tasting with an orange tint; I found myself carrying more water than usual because many sources were dry as well. The trail was still beautiful, the accents thick, and the rock structures of the shelters exquisite; it’s the little things.
It had been about four months since Springer Mountain after completing New Jersey, and I began to feel tired, physically and emotionally. I noticed how the surrounding hikers in my same general bubble were feeling similarly. Many hikers’ mileages slowed as the rocks, thick humidity, and puds (pointless ups and downs on trail) continued through the ninety miles of New York. Hiking through New York felt like I was hiking through a rainforest, a hot, humid, mosquito and tick ridden rainforest. Up until this point, if the mosquitos were bad one would simply hike faster to avoid being bit; through New York however, the mosquitos flew in swift swarms like giant clouds and feasted on even the quickest hikers. To avoid being bit by mosquitoes, the only solution I found was rain gear. Despite feeling like I was exercising in a sauna in a trash bag suit the rain gear did the trick while on the move. While making dinner and eating at camp the mosquitoes would land on my face and fingers, even landing on my spoon as I tried to take each bite. One can only imagine the insanity this caused me. These mosquitoes were no normal mosquitoes either; they were large enough to feel each bite and large enough to watch as the pests’ body filled with my blood. I felt as though I were in a clip from Steven King’s movie The Mist, and I struggled to continue joyfully through this section because of it. Now, not everyone will have this same experience in New York, it just depends the timing of your hike and when you will end up in New York, but if you are Northbound starting around March or April I’d suggest a bottle of bug spray. It will be worth the extra half pound, I promise. I did try a few natural non-deet bug spray brands as well, but I found they did little for the mosquitoes and ticks. Besides my exhaustion and hate for mosquitoes, this section was really magnificent. I watched the sun set over Greenwood Lake one night as beavers swam across the pink glasslike water, I saw the view from Beaver Mountain and picked blueberries during my decent, I sauntered through rolling hills with tall thin trees, and walked the bridge over the Hudson River, New York is a fine example of how “embracing the suck” allows thru hikers and people in general really, to see past the adversities in the way of something great.