There’s not much done on the Appalachian Trail that’s done in small measure. Even marking the halfway point isn’t simply a matter of taking the length of the trail, dividing by two and putting a small marker by the trail. It's done in multiple places and by following various traditions.
A few days ago I passed through Harpers Ferry, known as the psychological halfway point. I crossed the official halfway point yesterday.
Today would bring me to two more halfway points and more ways to celebrate the milestone.
|Date||Tuesday, July 4, 2017|
|Weather||Sunny and warm, with a high temperature near 80|
|Trail Conditions||A little bit of everything: smooth and rocky, flat and steep |
Though we were awake early, we took our time preparing to leave. The campsite at Tom's Run Shelter was spread out, so it took extra time to get water and walk to the privy.
Mostly, though, the extra time we spent this morning was visiting with Boomer, Jason and RedEye.
I’m glad I keep running into them. They are fun people to be around.
As the hiker expression goes, “Maine isn’t going to walk to me,” so just past 8 a.m. I decided it was time to leave camp. Stick was ahead of me by a couple minutes.
The first of today’s halfway points was a short distance from the shelter. It was an elaborately-made sign that looked nice, but had the wrong mileage. It was correct when the sign was first erected, but the length of the trail changes every year.
After passing the real spot yesterday, seeing this one seemed a bit anticlimactic, despite its festive styling. The flags were a nice touch, especially for today, Independence Day.
I was the only person here, so that was another reason why I didn’t spend time celebrating.
Before long, I was passed by RedEye, Jason and Boomer. I hated them for their youth.
After about 3.5 miles the trail reached Pennsylvania Highway 233, then followed the road for a short distance before turning at the entrance of Pine Grove Furnace State Park.
The road took me past Ironmasters Mansion, a large, stone and brick building built in 1829 by Peter Ege. His father, Michael Ege, had built Pine Grove Furnace, an ironworks near here.
Today the mansion operates as a hiker hostel and wedding venue. If that doesn't strike you as an odd combination, it's likely because you've never stayed in a typical hiker hostel.
A little bit farther down the road was a general store. It’s not really considered a halfway point of the trail, but the proprietors take advantage of the proximity just the same.
Several years ago they invented a gimmick to capture more hiker money. It’s been successful enough to become a tradition. The idea is to commemorate the achievement of reaching this far by eating a half gallon of ice cream in one sitting.
This challenge isn’t like other gluttony challenges, such as the one in Texas that requires the participant to eat a 72 oz. steak dinner. In those, if you complete the challenge in a set amount of time you get the food for free.
There’s no free ice cream here. And though it’s called the half gallon challenge, the ice cream sold here isn’t in a half-gallon container. Hikers who want to take the challenge must buy two containers that equal a half gallon. If they manage to consume all of the ice cream they get a tiny wooden spoon imprinted with the words “MEMBER OF HALF GAL. CHALLENGE.”
Making myself sick in exchange for a two-cent wooden spoon was a tradition I was willing to skip, but Stick chose to do it. I sat with Jason, RedEye and Boomer on the store’s porch and watched him.
A family wandered up while he was digging into his solidly-frozen ice cream. They gave Stick the perfect audience for him to share some of his many stories of the trail and his life at home. He has a complete library of stories catalogued and indexed in his brain, ready to deliver to anyone at any time.
Perhaps they were mostly interested in the spectacle of a hiker gorging on ice cream, but the family seemed willing to listen to several stories as he ate.
The other four of us had confidence in Stick’s ability to finish the ice cream, but had we thought of it, we might have taken wagers on whether or not he would get sick. That would have been, however, a bet we would lose. He showed no signs of discomfort.
During this time I ate a breakfast wrap, which was soon followed by two scoops of chocolate mint ice cream, which was soon followed by a cheeseburger. I was full, but not overly stuffed.
After Stick successfully completed the “challenge” and claimed his wooden spoon, he followed up with a cheeseburger and a large order of fries.
He didn’t quite finish all of the fries, but it was an admirable effort. I’m sure if a tiny wooden fork had been offered as a prize he would have finished them.
RedEye and Boomer left to hitch a ride into town to buy some beer and fireworks, while Jason stayed behind with Maple. They figured three people and a dog would not be an easy hitch.
Stick and I decided to head off to the Appalachian Trail Museum, which was also located in the state park and adjacent to the trail.
The museum opened in 2010 in an old mill, which had been little used in several preceding years.
It was small, but had several artifacts and information about many notable hikers and supporters of the trail. The exhibits included a trail shelter that was built by Earl Shaffer, who is credited by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy as the first person to complete a successful thru-hike. The shelter was originally located on Peters Mountain in Pennsylvania. When it was replaced by a new one, the old shelter was dis-assembled and brought to the museum.
Also in the museum was a sign that once stood at the top of Mt. Katahdin in Maine. I stared and studied it, while thinking about the possibility of touching the current version of the sign in about three months.
After leaving the museum, the trail took us past Pine Grove Furnace, a smelting works built around 1770. Iron ore was smelted in the furnace and then cast to produce wagon wheel parts, kettles and stoves. Later in the 19th century locomotive parts were produced here.
Iron production continued with several upgrades to the site until it was closed in 1895. The state bought the land in 1913 and turned it into a state park in 1931.
We next entered a wide open area where many people were setting up for picnics, throwing frisbees and balls, and enjoying their day off.
At the end of the picnic ground the trail made a right turn and took us past a small lake with a beach. There were hundreds more people here, celebrating the holiday.
The trail then led us up a road that was blocked to car traffic, but open to bicyclists. Several people were walking and riding.
The trail began to climb as it left the road. Along this section I noticed something I had read about. It seems that someone had painted over a few white blazes on the trail with blue paint, perhaps as a cruel prank to make hikers think they were off the main trail. The paint was the wrong color of blue and the paint job was poor, however, so I doubt any seasoned hiker would be confused.
The blue paint was more an annoyance for its stupidity than disturbing for any kind of inconvenience or harm to hikers. Nevertheless, I was glad we didn’t have to walk far before the normal white blazes reappeared.
As the trail continued to climb it became more rocky. AT hikers often talk about Pennsylvania being a state full of rocks, and though that hasn’t been especially true so far, this was an early sampling of what we’re likely to find later.
It may have been because of all the food we consumed earlier today, but as we hiked on into the afternoon Stick and I both began to get more tired than usual.
When we stopped for a snack we decided to stretch out in the shade and take a little nap. Stick has been doing this regularly lately. I don’t fall asleep so easily, but I tried today without luck.
Back on the trail, we went along a long section that was mostly flat and easy, with two road crossings and a train tracks crossing.
The second road crossing was Pennsylvania Highway 34. It was 6:30 when we crossed it, and now we were getting anxious to find a campsite. The Guthooks app said there was space for a tent about seven tenths of a mile up a small hill. We were hoping the site had room for more than that, and when we got there we discovered there was plenty of room for both our tents.
It had been another event-filled but tiring day. I tried to take care of my camp chores quickly so that I could get to bed soon.
As I did the night before last, I laid on top of my quilt to cool down while listening to distant sounds of fireworks.
The celebration continued well into the night, but I had no more celebrating left in me.
Super highways coast to coast just easy to get anywhere
On the trans continental overload; just slide behind the wheel
How does it feel when there's no destination that's too far
And somewhere on the way you might find out who you are?
Living in America,
Eye to eye, station to station
Living in America,
Hand to hand across the nation
Living in America,
From “Living in America” by Dan Hartman and Charlie Midnight
Got to have a celebration!