Maryland to PA

Friday, July 9, 1999

I left at 5 AM. Today, I would continue my walk by starting at the I-70 footbridge, and continuing north toward PA. I would be hiking with my friend, Gerbiltap, who has also taken a liking to the AT. She will day-hike with me to the MD-PA border, where her husband will pick her up. I plan on staying the night alone at PennMar Park, and continue into PA the following day, before returning home myself. This hike would allow both Gerbiltap and myself to complete Maryland.
I arrived at the footbridge at 7:10AM. Gerbiltap was already waiting. We exchanged greetings and gathered our things. Gerbiltap would wear a fanny pack with a large container of water slung over her shoulder. I will wear my backpack but since this was only a 2-day, 1-night hike, it seemed very light to me.

We aimed north and started on the AT at around 7:30AM. It was a beautiful day. The high humidity that prevailed just days ago had thankfully alleviated. Although a cool breeze congregated with us in the parking area, it would not follow us into the woods.

The first part of the walk was an ascent. I was surprised as to the pace Gerbiltap set. I consider myself a fast walker but I had difficulty keeping up with her. I might have complained, but since we hoped to go over 18 miles today, I felt it best to just settle in, and maintain pace.

8:30 AM

We passed near a shelter area along the Trail. There were several tents pitched and a young girl was sitting outside of one of them. She was brushing her hair and smiled a friendly smile at us as we passed by. I would speak to her later this evening, and learn she is a thru-hiker, meaning she started in Georgia and was hiking to Maine.

It often happens that you meet someone in the woods, but you rarely overtake them. Yet, as we maintained our pace, we soon met two backpackers going the same way. They kindly stepped back to allow us passage and seemed surprised as to how fast we were walking. Had we not been wearing smiles, they may well have wondered if we were being pursued.

10:30 AM

We paused for our first official break along a power line opening. We ate a small snack and drank some water while looking over the map and guidebook. To my shock, we discovered that we had walked over 8 miles in three hours.

12 PM

We stopped for lunch before crossing a state highway. There was a small stream running just below the road and it seemed like a good place to stop. Gerbiltap put her bare feet into the stream to cool them and when she did, a small school of fish swam over to nibble on her toes. We enjoyed a nice break at this juncture and took the time to re-hydrate ourselves.

Leaving after lunch we began what would become the longest and hardest ascent of the day. The hill never seemed to end. We stopped often to catch our breath or lean against a tree. The Trail zigged and zagged up the mountain without regard to the way we were beginning to feel. We walked and climbed, and walked and climbed. There were no scenic overlooks or sparkling streams. No breathtaking views. No rare animal sightings. Only trees. Trees and a path that ran cantankerously upward. My pack that started out so light in the morning had now become heavy and cumbersome. I sweated so much that I feared I would be in violation of some drought ordinance back home.

1:30 PM

Eventually the path leveled off. Yet it had done its damage. My feet were sore and I was becoming very tired. The heat of the day was also draining us. Still, we pushed on. Soon, we overtook a slow moving group of young girls who were out for a day hike. They were from a local camp and seemed to be having a good time. We talked with the two girls at the tail’s end of the group for a bit, and then passed them. Not long afterward I told Gerbiltap that I needed a break. As we climbed on top of a huge rock, the girls passed us again. We talked with them some more and learned that we were very near our objective. I knew we were making good time but I was afraid to believe we had come so far so fast. The girls moved on, and left the Trail soon after passing us, for we did not see them again.

2:40 PM

We reached PennMar Park. I couldn’t believe it. We walked over 18 miles in about 8 hours. That included two small breaks and a lunch. I had never walked so fast through the woods with a pack, nor have I ever felt this drained after hiking. We filled up with water from the park fountain and then put our packs down. Gerbiltap and I walked on the Trail about 2/10 of a mile northward and came to the MD-PA line. Passing around the marker, we both completed the AT for the state of Maryland. We then returned to the park and rested.

PennMar Park is an interesting place. It was an old train station that evolved into a nice park. At one time the park was a popular gathering place for families, with amusement rides for the children. A big dance floor had attracted many courting couples but was now marked by a pavilion. After World War I, the park seemed to lose its attraction and it was eventually torn down. Later, some of the original wood was used to restore the park. It now offers a museum and picnic grounds. A large pavilion overlooks the old train track with a pleasant view of the valley floor beneath.

Gerbiltap’s husband soon came to pick her up. They had kindly offered to move my van to where I intended to walk the following day. I had originally hoped to hike to Caledonia State Park which is located 17 miles to the north in PA, but my legs and hip were aching from the days walk, and I feared that that might be pushing it. So, I asked them to move my van to Old Forge Road just 7 miles north. They agreed and soon parted to shuffle around the vehicles.

After fixing supper I ran into a Park employee. I asked where I could pitch my tent, and he told me that no camping is allowed in PennMar. The next camping area was about 5 miles northward and I really didn’t feel like going there. He seemed to appreciate my dilemma and told me to wait until after dark, then pitch my tent behind one of the pavilions, but warned me that camping in the park was punishable by a $500 fine. I asked if any one patrolled the park after dark, and he laughed as he told me only the snakes would be out.

Not long afterward, some thru-hikers wandered in. One of them was the girl we had seen early this morning. I spoke with her briefly. She was having a wonderful time and was getting along nicely. As the evening wore on, more thru-hikers came in. I talked with several. They were all in good spirits and seemed to know each other although most were hiking alone. I told them of the state workers warning, so we all stayed far from the park entrance. After dark they pitched their tents together near a pavilion. I moved to the other side of the park. I had wanted to spend a night out by myself but it looked like it wouldn’t be tonight.

I pitched my tent under brilliant moonlight. A strong wind was blowing and it looked like a storm was possible, yet no rain fell. The night proved rather pleasant. I could hear the thru-hikers talking and laughing long after dark.

Saturday, July 10, 1999

I woke up just after 6AM. It was a cloudy morning with rain clouds gathering. As I broke camp I saw a few hikers already setting off into the woods. I found a blister on a toe of my left foot and my right hip was hurting from the walk of yesterday. After gathering my things I set off by 7AM.

After about 2 miles of walking, I caught up with a thru-hiker. He was moving slowly with two walking poles. As we spoke a drizzle started to fall. He told me that he had torn the cartilage in his knee about 50 miles north of Georgia but refused to give up. He said that he lived on Ibuprofen and was having trouble on the hills. Yet, he said he felt he could make it all the way to Maine. I admired his determination. He had walked nearly 1,000 miles on a bad knee and would no doubt suffer a lifetime because of it. I decided against sharing with him of how I had found a blister on my toe.

The walk went well and soon the drizzle stopped. My hip started to feel better but my knee was now aching. Stepping over logs was really becoming painful. During a break, I downed some Ibuprofen.

At around 10AM, I came to the Old Forge Picnic grounds. Coming out of the woods, I met a thru-hiker, Wounded Knee. He was reclining on a picnic table. He said his knee was hurting him and he was hoping to get a ride to Caledonia State Park for some ice. I told him my van should be near by and I’d be happy to give him a lift. We walked just a few minutes north and where the Trail crossed Old Forge Road, we discovered my van. We climbed in and took off. While I drove, he told stories from the Trail. I was fascinated.

When we reached Caledonia, I left him off outside of the park. He thanked me and limped off. I pulled out onto the highway and with this deed, completed my hike for now. I had finished Maryland and had a small portion of Pennsylvania started. Though I was pretty stiff and sore I felt good and immediately began to think of when I might be able to return and pick up where I left off.

Tuesday, August 3, 1999

At 4:57am, I loaded my backpack into my van and headed east on the PA Turnpike. The skies were still dark but soon shafts of light began to break from the horizon as if marking my destination with paths of orange. It held every promise of a good day for hiking.

After exactly two hours of travel, I arrived at Caledonia State Park. My hiking companion, Gerbiltap, had agreed to meet me at 7am. She arrived just about ten minutes after I did and we set out immediately to move our vehicles. We first dropped off her car at an area known as Sandy Sod. It is the junction of several dirt roads inside the Michaux State Forest. The ride to this point went past a very scenic outlook and along the banks of a placid dam. Just driving through the densely wooded forest was enough to stir ones blood.

Leaving Gerbiltap’s car at Sandy Sod, we next drove my van to where the AT crosses Old Forge Road. I parked in the exact same place as where my van was found on July 10. I got out of my vehicle and looked at the same nameless trees that I had seen just over a month ago. Gerbiltap crossed the road and discovered a huge anthill. We would find many such mounds over the next few days.

At 8:20am, we turned north and entered the woods. A smile crossed my lips as I felt the Trail move once more beneath my feet. It was good to be walking again. It was good to feel the pressure of a pack on my back. Like the children of Israel crossing the Red Sea, I watched the forest seemingly part before my eyes to reveal this narrow, walking path that leads to adventure; and it was good.

9 AM, 68 degrees

We stopped for our first breather. We have been moving steadily uphill since beginning. We sipped some water and snacked on handfuls of gorp (a mixture of peanuts, raisins and M&M’s). The sky was a deep blue, broken only by puffy spots of white cotton balls known to most as clouds. A cool breeze was blowing leaving us almost chilled beneath the sweat we had labored to produce. It was indeed a splendid day for walking. We sat for about 10 minutes and then continued north.

11 AM,80 degrees

We left the Trail and walked 120 yards on a blue blazed section that led us to Chimney Rocks. This is a rock outcropping that affords a grand view of Green Ridge and Waynesboro Reservoir from an elevation of 1,940 feet. One of the rewards of climbing a hillside is to find a station on top of the mountain that allows such a view. Pleasant feelings are always felt as one stands in these aerial places. Here, the wind always blows. Yet it is a peculiar wind, for while it is barely strong enough to tussle the hair, its winnowing possesses the power to whip and stir at the moorings of the soul. One can not step away without feeling roused in new and strange ways.

We remained only about 15 minutes and then returned to the AT and continued our northward stroll.

12 PM 78 degrees

We found a few rocks that seem well fitted for sitting, so we sat. Lunch was eaten while we looked over the map. We estimated that we had walked about 7 miles. Since our initial ascent, the walk leveled out and had been rather easy. The reasonably level path had allowed for plenty of extra breath. Resultantly, no subject was safe from discussion. We investigated everything from Bigfoot and UFO’s to predestination of the saints and free will. Our feet made no complaint but listened while we spoke and continued their thankless job of walking.

4:30 PM 75 degrees

We arrived to Quarry Gap Shelters. This would be my home for the night. Quarry Gap provides two separate, open sleeping quarters, a picnic table, bench and stone fireplace. It is the nicest shelter I had seen in PA. The shelters were clean and the floors had been recently painted.

Gerbiltap rested for about half an hour and then continued northward alone. Sandy Sod and her car were about 1-½ miles up the trail. Before she left, I poured the remainder of my water into her container since there was a spring just 10 yards off the Trail and I could refill there. We bid each other Godspeed and she moved on.

The bench caught my attention. It resembled an old church pew but the end pieces were made of solid cement. Wooden slabs reached from one end to the other and provided both a seat and backrest. Upon closer examination I discovered that one of the end pieces was held to the ground by a small chain. I wondered if the person who anchored the bench really thought I would be tempted to dismantle it and carry the cement pieces out in my backpack.

I pitched my tent behind the shelter in an area that was free of rocks. I then walked down to the spring to fetch water. Because of the drought, water is at a greater premium in the woods. I found the spring nothing more than a puddle. I dropped my filter hose into the small pool and began to pump. Dark, murky water flowed up the hose, into the housing and disappeared down the filter. As I continued to pump, crystal clear water began to trickle from the filter and into the container while dirt, bacteria and stomach wrenching diseases were halted by my plastic and ceramic guardian.

Giardia is a nasty bacteria carried primarily by beaver and deer. The bacteria can survive in the feces of these animals and when the feces is washed into water the bacteria can survive in suspension. Humans can contract this by drinking infected water without boiling, filtering or chemically treating water with iodine. The symptoms of Giardia (Beaver Fever) are too course to mention before a mixed company of readers, so we must simply agree that it is an undesirable affliction that we would all do well to avoid.

I drew two liters of water from the spring. A short while later I examined the spring and found the water nearly gone. Before dark I returned to the spring once more and found it completely dried up. It was good I was at the camp alone as there wouldn’t be sufficient water for more than one person.

I ate my supper and cleaned up the camp. Leftover food is an open invitation for nocturnal visitors and this being my first night alone in the wild, I wished to remain just that: alone. After supper I sat back and listened to the perfect silence of the forest. A few birds sang here and there and a woodpecker could be heard just outside of camp. As I waited for approaching darkness, I read the shelter register book. The most interesting entry was from a trio who had hiked north from Caledonia State Park on their way to Pine Grove Furnace State Park where they had placed a car. When they reached Quarry Gap Shelters, one of the hikers realized he left the keys to the waiting car back in their vehicle at Caledonia State Park. While the two hikers remained at the shelter, the unwitting one made the return trip back to Caledonia and his keys.

At about 8:30pm, I crawled into the tent borrowed from my friend, Week Knees, and zipped the flap shut. I listened to the night sounds for just a short time and then fell asleep. I recall nothing more until around 3:30am. That’s when I heard it.

There are many sounds that would frighten me at nighttime. For example, a growl could easily induce fear. Or a grunt might cause me concern. Even a bark heard in the dead of night would cause me alarm. But nothing sends chills up and down ones spine or shatters a peaceful night like a scream. A hair raising, blood curdling, in-human scream. Yes, that tops my list when it comes to sounds I’d rather not hear while alone at night.

The scream I heard came from just north of me, about 100 yards near the ridge above. I lay frozen in my bag, paralyzed with fear. My heart pounded so hard that I was afraid whatever it was out would hear and come to investigate. Although I knew so little about the creature, its way of introducing itself to me seemed to suggest that distance would be the best thing we could share tonight.

The second scream told me that whatever it was, it was moving closer but was still on top of the ridge. I listened breathlessly for the sounds of crashing underbrush, padded feet, snarls or other audible signs that would surely precede my demise. But the only sound I could hear was stillness. The dead silence of the woods was unnerving. Was all the forest worried with or for me?

The very fact that “it” was screaming caused me to wonder. One would think that a beast on the prowl would stalk in silence. Why then would it move through the forest screaming? I could arrive only at two seemingly logical reasons: 1) it has some sadistic interest and delights in scaring its meal to near death before devouring the grief-stricken prey. Or 2) it was screaming because it had just come across something in the woods even more frightful and menacing then itself; and in that case, my reason to worry had just doubled. Neither reason brought much in the way of console.

When it screamed the third time I nearly joined in. My only relief came in realizing that it was still on top of the ridge but was moving away. I lay there straining to hear any sound that might warn me of its return. I considered getting up and building a campfire. But the only thing I had to burn was my backpack and thankfully, that seemed unreasonable to me at the time.

I lay motionless for about half an hour. Eventually, I relaxed a bit and to my later surprise, fell back to sleep. When my eyes opened, daylight was seeping through the trees. With the light of day a wave of encouragement ran across me and I climbed out of the tent with great relief. I had made it. I had endured my first night alone in the woods. Every extremity was accounted for and I seemed no more worse for the wear.

Wednesday, August 4, 1999

I crawled from my bag at around 6:30am. Breakfast was two cherry Pop Tarts and a cup of coffee. I packed my tent, mattress and sleeping bag and then checked the spring. Over night a bit of water seeped back into the depression but it wasn’t enough to try and filter. So, I walked about 3/10 of a mile south to an old, abandoned hunting camp along the Trail where a stream flowed by. The boot prints in the sand told me that others were using the water. I gave the area a quick, obligatory check for skeletal remains that might suggest an unsavory supply but finding none plunged my intake hose into the water and began to pump. I filled my two containers and returned to the shelter. Gathering my pack, I set off northward.

At around 8:20am, I arrived at Sandy Sod. Gerbiltap and her daughter, Chantelle, had just arrived. They had already parked a car at the Pine Grove Furnace State Park and were returning to wait for me. Our timing couldn’t have been better. We immediately continued our northward trek.

About 2 ½ miles later, we crossed Middle Ridge Road. It is a dirt service road used by forest workers. There on the road, we discovered bear tracks. You could make out the toes of the bear but it didn’t appear to be too big. The bear was south bound which only reinforced our desire to continue north.

11 AM, 78 degrees

We took our first break near Birch Shelters. We found the spring just off the trail and filtered water to refill our containers. We had a bite to eat and then set out again. Gerbiltap and Chantelle generally walked ahead of me. They chattered with each other constantly and I could tell they really were enjoying their visit together. Chantelle proved to be a great hiker. She kept a good pace and seemed as tireless as Gerbiltap.

2 PM, 80 degrees

We met a large group of hikers who were resting on the south bank of Tom’s Run Creek. They were a mixed group of young men. Some seemed to be seasoned hikers while others appeared to be city boys, totally out of their element. With disdain, I watched two of the young men kick at a toad they found by the creek.

We stopped on the north side of the creek and filtered water again. One of the more friendly hikers from the group said they were out for just a few more days, and then they would be traveling to the Laurel Highlands Hiking Trail, which runs from Johnstown, Pa to Ohiopyle, Pa.

After our break we wished the group good luck and continued north again. My original plans were to stay at Tom’s Run Shelter for the night but it was much too early to stop for the day. Gerbiltap had planned on hiking to Pine Grove Iron Furnace Park and stay at the hostile there. Since I wanted to keep going, this seemed like a good plan.

3:35 PM 80 degrees

We reached Pine Grove Iron Furnace State Park. We were all surprised and well pleased as to the great time we made. Gerbiltap and Chantelle had hiked about 15 miles. I went about 17. Our feet hurt a bit, but otherwise we felt fine.

We got in Chantelle’s car and drove back to Sandy Sod. Chantelle then drove home while Gerbiltap and me drove back to my van. We then took my van to PA 94 which is north of Pine Grove Iron Furnace State Park and Gerbiltap drove us back to the hostile. On the way back to the hostile, we decided to stop for supper at a Burger King. Okay, it wasn’t exactly roughing it, but I thought it gracious of us to inject some capital into the local economy.

Returning to Iron Furnace State Park, we checked into the Iron Master’s Mansion Appalachian Youth Hostile. The hostile is a beautiful mansion built in 1829. Nicki, the hostess, gave us a tour of the huge facility. It has a laundry room, kitchen, living room and even a hot tub. We were also shown an old trap door in the wall where runaway slaves used to hide. Nicki pointed out that the mansion is close to the Mason-Dixon Line and was used to hide slaves heading north. Looking at the small crawl space I was moved to imagine how many frightened slaves stood where I stood clambering to crawl inside the damp, musty hole to elude capture and preserve their freedom. Suddenly, my northward trek seemed so insignificant in comparison.

As we wandered about the old mansion, we met a thru-hiker, Firefly. He was a young, thin man who was pleasant and upbeat. He was doing his laundry at the hostile but wasn’t going to spend the night there. Instead, he was going to “stealth-camp” somewhere in the park. That meant he would wait until past dark and find a place to sleep in an area not necessarily designated for camping. He said that thru-hikers commonly did this whenever they found themselves between shelters. He described how he would simply throw down his sleeping bag and sleep wherever he could. He had become so accustomed to this that he no longer carried a tent.
I showered and went to the men’s dorm around 9:30PM. I was the only one there. Gerbiltap stayed up and talked with Firefly. She told me the next day that she had played the piano in the large family room for him while they talked. I slept so soundly, that I never heard it. Sometime during the night another man came into the dorm and took up a bunk near my feet. I assume he was a hiker. I heard him snoring but since it sounded nothing like a scream, I cared very little.

Thursday, August 5, 1999

I awoke around 6:40AM. I found Gerbiltap out on the back porch. She had been up since around 6AM and was enjoying the quiet morning. We had a bite to eat, filled our water containers and were off by 7:20AM.

The first part of the walk led through the park. We stopped to examine the furnace that was used in the Civil War to make cannonballs. As we passed by a pavilion, we saw two hikers sleeping on a picnic table. I wondered if one of them was Firefly.

There is a small lake in the park where swimming is allowed. A mist was rising from the lake and was a terrific sight in the morning sun. We soon passed two bicyclists who also seemed to be enjoying the cool, quiet morning.

We followed the AT out of the state park by a long, gradual ascent. The path then leveled out and again became a pleasant walk. We passed a southbound hiker but did not stop to speak with him. We also passed a turtle but, again, did not stop to prattle.
We walked the 10 miles to my waiting van and arrived around 11:30AM. I was thinking of going on to Boiling Springs, which is another 8 miles. However, the map showed the terrain to be rather difficult and we would have to spend time moving my vehicle. So, I decided to end my walk and save the un-traversed portion for later. I drove Gerbiltap back to her car at the hostile. We toasted our hike with a snack from the near-by snack shop and unceremoniously ended the walk. I did not drive a single mile before finding myself looking out at the trees moving silently by my window and wanting again to be among them.



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