Leroy Smith Shelter to Totts Gap
Trailhead Birthday Camp to Rocksylvania Finale Camp
AT miles: 15.8
Total miles: 1300.8
Elevation change: 2608ft gain, 2093ft loss
With just over four miles of trail left in the great state of Pennsylvania after a half day of hiking today, it is natural to look back and stamp a final, oversimplified opinion on the entirely of the past week+. Obviously, Rocksylvania wasn’t all great or all terrible. It was a mixture of the two, mostly of the stuff in between those extremes. Trying to sum it all up, I remember the brutal rocks, heat, dehydration, viewless stretches, and lack of burritos. I also remember the gorgeous state parks, the majesty of Michaux, Cumberland’s charm, the easy miles, and visits from loved ones. Dare I call Pennsylvania my favorite state of the AT so far, risking the disgruntlement of those that have hiked before me and the ire of the ones yet to come? Of course, much of my experience was circumstantial, as is everyone else’s. Later nobos, then sobos, will find hotter temps and fewer water sources. Those changes alone could really transform PA into more of a trying grind. But hey, that’s their hike, and this is mine. Pennsylvania has been great, and I’m looking forward to leaving the rocks behind. There aren’t any rocks in New England, right?
Besides being gently hassled by the police in the night for camping where we shouldn’t have been, I slept great. The 3am visit from the loudest talker in the world went smoothly and ended without drama. He checked ID’s and left us alone. Everyone likes AT hikers. Plus he probably googled my name and decided that he didn’t want to get put on blast by a famous (lol) blogger for giving us grief.
We didn’t exactly spring into action when the real morning rolled around. SpiceRack, Natalie, and I move from bed to chairs, and I was handed a bowl of granola and oat yogurt. Tango shuffled around some piles of leaves and alternated sunbathing with collecting ear scratches. Some day hikers came and went as we collaborated on a playlist and did some light stretching. I finished off my birthday cake while the others dusted off the solar panels and lounged on the roof deck.
Eventually, it was time to start making moves towards the trail, Taylor Swift’s 1989 providing the pump up beats. I resupplied from the enormous bins of bars and trail food, including some classic leftovers from our CDT resupply boxes, exchanged some gear for lighter stuff, freshly braided my hair, and pulled on crusty hiking clothes. The others packed up the van, getting it road worthy for the drive ahead. After a SpiceRack special, the legendary peanut butter and cucumber sandwich, we all said goodbye, and I hefted my pack and turned back to the trail. It was hard to walk away, but the 24hr birthday visit had been wonderful, and it was worth several minutes of longing. Then the sweat started to flow, and I was right back in it, hiking the AT.
Actually, before I could even make it back to the trail, I got a little dizzy when I stopped to talk with a trail maintainer. The heat, my full belly, the steep trail, and the shocking reintroduction to strenuous exertion was temporarily too much for my cardiovascular system to handle. The guy was nice enough to sit with me while I regained my composure, and we shared some good conversation about the trail in the area. After 20 minutes we each went our separate ways, me thinking that 32 is a lot harder than 31.
My rested feet absorbed the jabbing rocks without complaint as I sped through the forest, trying to extract every last mile from the afternoon. In four miles, I was back down off the ridge, walking under the roaring highway at Wind Gap. Then, it was straight back up to the next iteration of the same ridge. This ascent was brutally steep and hot, but I kept my head this time, reaching the flatter forest on top with full balance and dripping sweat.
After gobbling down the gooey goodness of Spice’s rustic reese’s and glugging some water, I continued the focused rock skipping of the flat trail. A ceiling of cirrus clouds had moved in, so the afternoon was pleasantly cool, and I admired the freshly green bushes below the still-bare oak and beech. Their time would come, and soon. Tiny buds glowed in the sunlight whenever it poked through a hole in the clouds.
My shuffling stride was effective at moving me along the thin strip of submerged boulders with relative speed, and I felt good about my body’s capable strength. The short break had worked wonders for my recovery, mostly on my feet, but my legs definitely felt extra powerful today. Birthday cake powa.
The smell of the first evening campfire wafted to my nostrils as I filtered water for the night at a pooling spring. The weekend campers were getting cozy, just as I was psyching myself up for the evening push. I was jealous of their leisure. The traverse of Wolf Rocks, a notorious fin of jumbled boulders, was nothing more than a great view of some interesting clouds, then super smooth dirt sped me along to another road. I crossed that, then was back into the rocks. It dawned on me that PA might stay rocky until the bitter end.
I chatted with three dudes camping at the best campsite of the entire state, then pushed through the rising discomfort of my resurrected blisters as the sun descended below the distant horizon. Artificial lights shimmered in the valley below, later joined by the stars overhead as I wrestled my tent stakes into the rocky ground. The finished product wouldn’t hold up to a buzz-killing breeze, but I liked my chances more than my alternatives.
I lay down on a new, way less comfortable sleeping pad, under a new, way less warm quilt, thinking about a new, way less notorious state. The highway tracing the border roared with clarity through the tranquil night air. I spooned my beans (beans again!) and crunched a few Oreos. My AT experience was taking on a different character now, with the warming weather and SpiceRack’s arrival. Exactly how our logistical dance would play out was still very much TBD, but I felt excited for the change. A new year, a new hike, new gear, new menu. The only things that weren’t smelling fresh were my socks. A reminder of the good ol’ days. The scent of 31.