One of the goals of my hike was to raise money for my friend Abby, to help pay for travel to doctors in Cleveland, Ohio. When I told her mom, Lauren, about my plan she seemed surprised and a little confused. She didn't really know what the Appalachian Trail was or what it all entailed. As I hiked on she began to realize what it was all about, and it turns out she has family up north near the trail that could maybe help me out!
First up was Abby's cousin Angie in Massachusetts. She works for Gould Farm, mainly with the dairy cows. I got to stay the weekend in Angie, Amanda, and Nathan's home, use the farm's sauna, eat wonderful farm food, and get a glimpse of what farm life would be like. Thanks to Angie, Evan, and Rev. Liz for shuttling me around town too.
Then when I got near Rutland, Vermont where Abby has many aunts and uncles, I got to stay at Abby's aunt Nancy's home. I hiked over Mt. Killington & Pico the next day and then got picked up by aunt Julie! Julie wanted me to come back for church on Sunday to talk about my hike, so a few days later I expected to get picked up again near the New Hampshire border.
To my surprise, it was Abby and Lauren who arrived to pick me up!
Sunday morning I spoke about my hike in front of Julie's church, and they all gathered up a big donation for Abby. So now I was way past my original goal of one dollar per mile, so I'm now counting Kooper's miles too! I spent the rest of the day hanging out with Abby's family, and rode back to the trail Sunday night.
Instead of hiking into the thunderstorm at night, we decided it would be best if I stayed in a hotel or hostel near the trail. The only thing available near Hanover, NH (that would allow dogs) was the Norwich Inn. By far the nicest accommodations I've had yet. The dog room even had dog pillows and dog paintings on the walls.
Sadly, this is probably the last life-line I'll have until I get to the end (just one month away!). These last miles through the White Mountains and Maine are the toughest yet (terrain, weather, logistics), but I think all my experiences have me prepared and all the encouragement and love I have recieved have me motivated!
The first was an REI whose shoulder strap was ripping at the top. I sent it
home and got a Gregory, whose shoulder strap is ripping at the bottom,
forming a massive hole in the side. I get a loaner on Monday... if I can
last that long.
A few weeks ago I called Merrell customer service (which was immediately answered by a real person) to ask if there was a way to thicken up the bottom of my shoes (it was starting to feel as if there was nothing between my foot and the rocks). She said no, but that she can send thru-hikers one new pair for free. Now that's customer service!
My shoes actually held up really well after over 1400 miles. Hardly any tearing or holes. In fact, another hiker was happy to take them when I got my new ones! They may end up on Katahdin after all.
I had been warned about the rocky stretch of the AT in Pennsylvania before the hike. The rocks themselves are nothing new; I have complained about walking over patches of rock since I started. The thing about PA's rocks is that they never take a break.
From about Duncannon, PA to High Point, NJ is a ridge line consisting of nothing but rubble. There is the occasional dirt road, but for most of the 200 miles you are carefully navigating rocky terrain. It's like playing Tetris with your feet. You constantly rotate your feet to fit in the spaces between the rocks as they come at you. Sometimes there is no space, forcing you to step on the sharp edges or steep angles. Averaging 2mph for the day is a challenge, even though you are not scaling any mountains. There are also huge boulder fields where you hop from rock to rock, hoping you don't slip off over the side (I actually enjoy the boulder fields). At the end of the day your feet hate you.
PA (and NJ) does try it's best to make up for the rocks, heat, and lack of water. Trail-angels are everywhere (especially the Billville crew) offering food, water, rides, and encouragement to help you get through this tough section. There are also many towns and places to get tap water. I think I got stream/spring water only once, and only ate a few meals out of my pack.
I saw many hikers skip huge sections of the trail here or even the entire state. It may not be the best part of the trail, but it is worth hiking through at least some of it. There are actually some good views to be found.
When I passed High Point in New Jersey, we finally got off this ridgeline. I don't expect the rocks to go away but hopefully they won't be quite as bad.