Ridge Road to Alec Kennedy Shelter
Whispering Pine Camp to Aching Soles Camp
AT miles: 27.4
Total miles: 1128.6
Elevation change: 3655ft gain, 4718ft loss
The dreaded, and not totally unexpected, hangover from overexerting myself yesterday reared its ugly head today. In fact, the ferocious little monster was waiting for me when I woke up. Even so, I still managed to make a great day out of it, hiking far and enjoying the ride the whole way, mostly. I must give credit to the great state of Pennsylvania. The terrain provided easy walking, rejuvenating forest, and plenty of water to splash over myself. Combined with the fine mix of sunshine and clouds, all these factors actually amounted to one of my favorite days on the AT, despite the lack of a single viewpoint. It was a vibe thing, and PA was vibing today.
Oof. I was proud owner of a baby headache when I woke up this morning. I had tried hard to rehydrate after reaching camp last night, but there was only so much I could do before falling asleep. The body can only absorb so much water at a time, and the salt-bomb mashed potatoes probably didn’t help either. Nope, I had kind of seen this coming, but I wasn’t happy about it. I scooched out of my tent and pissed Gatorade. At least I was peeing. I drank some of what little water I had left and stared at the bright sunshine caught in the pine tops high above. It was such a beautiful day already. I longed to feel alive enough to enjoy it.
I started hiking before eating anything. All my body craved was water, and my skin began to itch and sweat in the warm morning air as I packed up. It was two miles to the next source. Breakfast could wait until then. Even though I felt like a pile of doo doo, the beauty of the morning brought me to a standstill more than once, each one my new favorite moment of the day. The high pine with shooting beams of filtered sunshine, then the open, savanna-like flats of some other pine, were novel environments. And they were fabulous. Even with my mouth dry and my skin crawling, I had to appreciate the majesty.
The sun was already burning hot through an empty sky. I could practically see the vapor rising from my arms as I shriveled like a raisin. I finished off my water, at least hoping to maintain this level of dehydration, rather than slip further down the treacherous path. Fortunately, the trail was flat as could be, and I was at the gushing Birch Run before accruing much more debt.
As gravity filtered my water while I sat on the shelter porch, feeling the tingling chill of spalshed water evaporate from my clothing, I decided that I wanted to live there, or a place like it. Perhaps it was my delirious, creek-chilled brain speaking, but Birch Run was the nicest shelter I’d seen on the trail. It had everything one could desire. A porch, bench, water, privy, open space, beautiful trees, and a smoldering log in the fire pit. And perfect sunny weather. I imagine it benefits from bright sunshine everyday, rain or shine.
Not yet rejuvenated, but on the road to recovery, I left that small slice of paradise behind in search of another. The easy walking and beautiful forest continued for some sweet miles. I splashed more stream on myself at the next chance I got, and then was surprised to find a signpost marking the actual AT halfway point. It seemed that I had celebrated early last night. I didn’t think too hard about it, or that it was really only my quarter way point, considering all the coming ECT miles. Besides, I wasn’t sure how I felt about it, and I had plenty more walking to do regardless.
The rest of the morning was spent wandering downhill through Michaux State Forest on supremely easy trail. I met Grambo, a great-grandmother with the best trail name ever, and dunked my shirt in Toms Run. Then the wide, flat trail turned to mud for a little bit before I reached yet another sign marking the AT midpoint. This sign was the larger original, and though it was no longer in precisely the right spot, if felt like the realer of the two.
Baby flowers lined the trail, and tiny gnats buzzed my face for the last miles to Pine Grove Furnace State Park. The trail dodged between some quaint cabins, then across a road. Feeling much improved, and finally hungry after a morning of dedicated hydrating, I posted under a shaded pavilion, filled my bottles from a spigot, and ate.
Although the temperature remained in the 70s, a sky-full of clouds rolled in on the breeze. I welcomed the change and relished my new found energy, from the food, from my improved hydration, from the breeze. I made great time during a pleasant stroll through the sprawling park of lawns and picnic benches, then along the rushing creek beyond its boundaries. A few spits of rain splashed my neck, but that was the extent of the precipitation.
Slightly more challenging trail followed, but it was still easy cruising by AT standards. Somehow this day had been easy the whole way, and you didn’t hear me complaining about it. With my own self-inflicted challenges, I was grateful for the respite.
Classic Appalachian deep leaf forest brought me to one road, then another, and another. Always there was a new road, always the sound of another engine. Eventually, a burning in my heels forced me to make an excuse to take a break. I filtered some water unnecessarily and let my feet breathe. Considering what I had asked of them since leaving DC, and putting them in a new model of shoe to do it, I wasn’t surprised to feel them protesting a little. My feet were champions and deserved a rest.
The flame of new callus formation was doused, though not gone when I turned up a vicious little climb to the top of a bouldery ridge. The trail builders clearly had some fun with this section, seeking out engaging scrambles rather than the most efficient route. Sure enough, it was a fun section, a nice change of pace.
After that excitement, my legs and feet lost all steam. Even my third lemon Luna bar of the day couldn’t give me a boost. Fortunately, it was just a couple miles to camp at Alec Kennedy Shelter, and I thumped in on my worn stumps. Stealth and two other hikers were settled in for the evening, and I rested on the bench outside, thankful for the excuse to sit for a little while as we chatted about our days. Both of us were feeling the accumulated miles. Both of us were surprised by how tough the easiest of all days had ended.
I wandered over to the slanted tenting sites and made home for the evening. Spooning potatoes and looking at the day ahead. It seemed to be even easier than today as the trail traversed the mighty and flat Cumberland Valley. And with only 30 miles to Duncannon, it sure was tempting to think about doing it in one shot. Pick up some chips and a few Clif bars in Boiling Springs tomorrow and go for it? I couldn’t think a worthy reward for the effort. Still, I couldn’t rule it out. I decided to drink a bunch of water and sleep on it. My feet would need to be consulted in the morning anyway.