Week 11: Days 75-77; Rocksylvania to Bear Country

Day 75

I left the shelter last this morning, causing me to walk alone for the duration. The good news is we have a civilized place to stay at the end of our day! The rain let up as I set off down the trail, which made things more comfortable but left the rocks slippery and mosquitoes hungry. It’s a quick downhill descent into Palmerton, PA. The climb out of town, however, is not so quick. This climb marks the beginning of the Palmerton Zinc Pile Superfund Site on Blue Mountain. The climb is a steep rocky scramble and is listed as #6 on the top 10 hardest parts of the AT. Below is the view looking northbound on the trail, and yes it’s straight up.

Honestly, I didn’t find it to be overly challenging but rather quite a bit of fun. The top yields a spectacular view of the area below.

The zinc industry has all but destroyed this area. The mountain has been ransacked for its resources, and the runoff has poisoned the water below making it dangerous to drink. The municipal water supply has since been remedied, but hikers cannot drink water within a 10-mile radius of this area unless it’s a dire emergency. The area was devoid of any vegetation until recent efforts by the superfund and the community began the revitalization process. It’s encouraging to see the progress they have made, but the area will probably never fully recover. The trail follows a ridge line overlooking the city and the large now decrepit zinc factory below.

Our group met for lunch at a road crossing where Boo had setup a little trail magic for us and treated us to sodas and snacks. The ultimate magic, though, is his taking our packs and us slack-packing the remaining 10 miles. The miles went quickly, and we rejoined Boo at Wind Gap. The eight of us piled into his car, and we headed towards the condo we will stay at for the next few days. We rotated through the shower and ordered eight pizzas from Dominoes.

Today we walked 21.3 miles to total 1,071/2199.7.

Day 76

We woke at 6 a.m. in hopes to tackle a 25-mile day. Once we had our slack-packs packed, we jumped in the car and hit Dunkin’ Donuts for breakfast. I think this is actually my first experience eating at this chain. I wasn’t terribly impressed but managed to slam three donuts before the rest of the group finished ordering. Piling back in the car, we finally moved toward the trail. With nine in the car, it ended up being two sharing the front passenger seat, four in the backseat, and then me and Tiger Lilly in the hatchback with everyone’s gear–as we are the two that fit in the space easiest.

The sad part of trailheads at roads is they are in valleys, and that means a climb up to the ridge line regardless of which direction you choose. The nice part is our incredibly light packs allowed us to essentially run up and down the trail. The higher speeds can actually get you hurt relatively easily because your brain isn’t used to processing hazards at such a quick pace. The temperature is warm enough for snakes to enjoy, but I thankfully didn’t see any. We stopped for lunch at Kiskridge Shelter where I saw Chilidog had signed the log book only a day earlier! My hopes of catching him while slacking this week are growing.

In typical Pennsylvania fashion, the hike was devoid of views. An hour or so after lunch, I caught up to Minisaurous and Rampage who had been snacking and chatting with Boo who had parked the car and hiked south to meet us. Boo and I continued hiking north back to his vehicle. When we arrived, I got texts from the group saying they wanted to end the day, so I let them know we were only a mile from the state line and we could finish there.

Lucky for us there was a wonderful little ice cream/soda fountain in Delaware Water Gap just before the bridge to cross the state line. We stopped for root beer floats and hot dogs. They made their sodas the old fashioned fountain way with seltzer and syrups, and they were delicious!

After our snack, we crossed the bridge over the Delaware River into New Jersey saying a very happy goodbye to Pennsylvania hoping to never hike there again. The bridge bounced as traffic careened by.

We took a commemorative group photo when we reached the visitors’ center on the other side. To help put faces to names, I’ll list them for you below.

Front row: Zebra
Middle row left to right: Minisaurous, Rampage, Tiger Lilly, Captain Ahab, Tortoise
Back row left to right: Prophet (me) and Bean Wolf

After returning to the condo, we changed and headed to the pool for a bit. The water was cold but felt good on hot days like today. We split for supper, and I dropped most off at the brewery while Minisaurous, Tortoise, Tiger Lilly, and I went to Walmart for supplies for meals. It was by far the most sketch Walmart I’ve ever set foot in. The aisles were ransacked, and there was an impressive amount of already-eaten food and drinks left hidden among the products. Funny enough there was someone at the door posted checking carts and bags for shoplifters. I let them know they were losing way more money in the back of the store in eaten products than walking out the front door.

Today we walked 16.8 miles, making my new total 1087.8/2199.7.

Day 77

While at the condo, many were sharing beds or sleeping on the floor. I pitched my tent on the covered patio in the backyard because of the nice weather and the peace and quiet it brings. Last night around 3 a.m., I woke to the sound of crinkling plastic. It took me a minute or two to wake up and realize what was going on, but it was apparent something was digging through our backpacks sitting on the back porch next to my tent. I grabbed my light, again fully expecting to face down a bear as they are common in this development, but instead was face to face with an adorable raccoon trying to work his way into Bean Wolf’s pack where he’d left a tortilla/peanut butter sandwich. I got out of my tent and yelled at the raccoon who didn’t seem to mind my presence in the least. I took away the bag and then put them all inside. He was clearly unimpressed with my thwarting of his evening snack, as he continued to come back to keep looking for other opportunities. Finding one, he moved into the neighbors after 15 minutes.

Starting where we left off yesterday, we hiked as a group into New Jersey. About a half-mile in, I finally saw my first bear! He wasn’t very photogenic and hid quickly, but what I did get of him is this shot standing on a downed tree.

The rain and fog today hampered many of the views we expected to get but made some of the others all the more beautiful. I’m bummed about a Fire Tower we passed today as they have spectacular 360-degree views, but it’s not worth climbing in this fog. Sunfish Pond was a saving grace and looked great in foggy weather. The water is crystal clear and smooth as glass.

Rattlesnake swamp, despite the unfortunate name and being a swamp, also is picturesque. I saw no rattlesnakes, but it’s definitely not snake-free.

We rejoined Boo at Crater Lake and again smushed into his car. This time Minisaurous joined us in the trunk of the car, which does in fact hold three hikers if they are willing to squish. It’s a long, pothole-riddled drive back to the condo, and each bump sent new meanings of pain into our tailbones and cramped bodies.

Arriving back st the condo, we cleaned up and started laundry. Tonight we cooked a bigger group meal, which consisted of a huge fruit and nut salad that had over 20 different ingredients, pork Alfredo pasta, and garlic bread. It was a great meal to get us ready for a zero tomorrow.

Today we hiked 18.6 miles, making my new total 1106.4/2199.7.

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