AT: Middle Pennsylvania
Dunchannon, PA to Port Clinton, PA (July 1st — 4th)
After an easy 11 miles into Dunchannon and a night in air-conditioning at the church hostel, I woke up with good energy for the coming day. The past week has been hot, humid and relentlessly sunny, and the next few days would follow that trend. 90 and sunshine is typical of the East Coast summer, but hiking through it continuously has been a challenge. Pennsylvania has lacked reliable water sources, so it is not uncommon to carry water for half a day or more at one time. Carrying multiple liters makes my pack much heavier, and negotiating the notoriously rocky terrain that much harder. What is lost by less elevation change is definitely made up for with jagged tread underfoot.
Food, Food and Hiker Hunger
Burning upwards of 7000 calories a day brings forth another challenge: “hiker hunger.” Hiker hunger is the term used to describe the insatiable appetite brought on by extreme and consistent excercise. Needless to say, it is hard to go more than an hour without thinking about food, and a lot of my afternoon thoughts revolve around the meal I’ll be preparing at camp.
Being a vegan and having a passion for cooking, I have taken a liking to preparing slightly more gourmet meals than your average backpacker. Boxed pasta dinners and honey buns may provide quick and light calories, but with a little extra effort (and willingness to carry the weight) I’ve found you can prepare reasonably nutritious and satisfying food in the backcountry. The key for me is fresh produce and a wide variety of spices. A sweet potato, green pepper or a couple cloves of garlic can make a world of difference when eating your fourth straight night of rice and beans. Camp cooking has become one of my biggest trail hobbies, a relaxing evening activity. Many fellow hikers have been encouraging me to record recipes and write a backpacking cookbook… food for thought… pun intended.
A Trail Reunion
For weeks I have been thinking about two past hiking partners from the early days of Southern Virginia, Orphan Andy and Pitbull. (have to love trail names) I had not seen them since I stayed behind to work at Woods Hole Hostel, and presumed they were still many miles ahead, perhaps out of reach. Just before I closed my eyes for the night at the Dunchannon church hostel, the door opened and in came a thunderstorm drenched Orphan Andy. What a surprise! Apparently he had gotten off trail for a wedding, which allowed me to make up the missing ground. After a short exchange of stories, we passed out and set out for the same campsite at Yellow Springs the following morning. While we talked, we pondered where Pitbull may be along the trail, probably far ahead.
Later on the next day, I was enjoying a mid-morning snack creekside when I heard someone exclaim, “Double Wide!” Sure enough, it was Pitbull. What a coincidence. The odds of crossing paths with two people you haven’t seen in over 500 miles is slim, not to mention in the span of 24 hours! As we walked, she asked about Orphan Andy, who I excitedly told her was no more than one hour ahead. The look on his face when we hiked past his lunch spot later that afternoon was of pure astonishment.
Needless to say, the three of us have been hiking together for the past two days, eagerly sharing our experiences since we were last together in Virginia. It has been a welcomed change to hike with others, especially ones that I knew from the beginning.
North of Dunchannon, we spent a night atop Round Head, with a beautiful campsite facing west over the nearby towns of Hamburg and Port Clinton. Looking out over the fading evening sky, fireworks danced the horizon, making me excited for the Fourth of July. Coincidentally, all three of us had run out of food, so we decided to hike into Port Clinton the following day for a hot meal, Wal-Mart run and the potential of fireworks!
Burgers and bottomless fries at Red Robin really hit the spot after another hot and strenuous 22 mile slog across the rocky mountains of Pennsylvania. Having hiked primarily alone since April, conversation and companionship has been a welcome change to my experience. It was nice to feel like a part of society again, and share a meal with other human beings at an actual restaurant! The night concluded with some pool at the local bar (tonic and lime aplenty) and lighting off fireworks on the shore of the Schuykill River. A perfect way to celebrate our nation's Independence Day, and the freedom of walking the Appalachian Trail! Next stop, Delaware Water Gap.
“You’ve been walking your whole life, just keep doing it,” -2016 thru-hiker