May 20, 2018
Destination: Eagles Nest Shelter Today's Miles: 32.60
Start Location: Rausch Gap Shelter Trip Miles: 1209.90
I think Pennsylvania might be trying to kill me. Today was a long day full of surprises.
Here’s how it went....
I got up at about 5:15. It was not raining - just dripping a little from wet trees. I went to get my food bag down and saw a tent behind the shelter. I later learned it was Ambassador, whom I had met at Peters Mountain Shelter. Folks started stirring in the shelter as we all quietly got ready. Hobbit and Bama Dog headed out first. I chatted a little with Itchy and Scratchy while I downed my two oatmeal packets and then headed on myself. I was on the trail by 6:30.
The morning hiking was nice. The forest floor was wet from all of the rain and some spots were more saturated than others, but there were no lakes of water. My socks and shoes were wet from the day before, but at least I wasn’t making them more wet. Rausch Gap was really pretty. The trail runs beside a creek that had a lively flow from all the rain. All around is a beautiful pine forest with cedars and other evergreens. There were some nice campsites by the creek - nice in drier weather anyway. When I woke up today I knew that I had options. There was a shelter called 511 Shelter that is right off of the PA 511 road that the trail crosses. It’s an enclosed shelter with a solar shower. That was 17 miles away. Or, there was the Eagles Nest 32 miles away. I had been thinking about trying to get a 30 mile day in at some point, just for kicks. I decided I would hike to 511 and see how I felt. That’s what I did.
The hiking was good. There were rocks, but they weren’t too bad. I crossed a bridge at Swatara state park and saw Hobbit there. I walked with him for a few minutes and we saw an old mineshaft in the side of the mountain. It was full of water. I hope the Goonies weren’t in there when it rained! We started a climb and I pulled ahead. Eventually I reached a stream crossing where a huge fallen tree was the bridge to get across. The water was so high it was almost to the top of the tree to where it could flow over. Fortunately, it was safe to pass.
I saw a few deer and a very wet rabbit. I ran into a lot of locals as I got close to 511, including a group of folks who asked me about the trail. One guy’s face almost fell off when I told him I’d walked from Georgia. He couldn’t wrap his mind around it. I think it’s interesting when people are on the Appalachian trail, actually walking on it, and don’t know that people hike it through.
As I climbed up the last hill to 511 it was getting hot, but I was feeling pretty good and it was only about 1:45. Nearing the road I saw a cooler. Usually when I find a cooler, all the drinks are already taken. This one was full! It had a nice trail magic sign signed by a guy named Chris and inside were water and Gatorade. I pounded down a blue Gatorade and climbed up to the parking lot at 511. As I did, I heard a voice: “did you get a drink?” The voice belonged to Chris, who was in the parking lot suiting up for a section hike to Port Clinton. We talked for a while and I thanked him profusely for the trail magic. Then, Chris said he recognized me from YouTube and asked if I knew Amanda Bess. I had no idea what he was talking about, but then I figured out that he was talking about thru hiker PeeWee, whom I had met in a Waynesboro and seen various places in the Shenandoahs. I had forgotten that she filmed me, Wallace, Whitewater, and Day Hiker at the Shenandoah lodge breakfast buffet. Chris has been watching her videos and recognized my face (more likely my hat). I will post a link to the video of her day 86 in my postscript comments. It’s all toilet humor, of course, since we hikers just really boil it down to the basics.
I was feeling great after the Gatorade and felt like it was a sign, so I pushed on. Today would be the day for my “dirty thirty,” I just didn’t realize exactly how dirty. As I climbed away from PA 511, the rocks became less rock piles and more rock teeth - sharp, jagged points sticking out of the ground. It was like the mountains were trying to chew us up a little. The Appalachian mountain range is something like almost 500 million years old, and so it stands to reason that all that are left are sharp teeth in the ground.... several people who were coming southbound asked me if there was more water in the trail. Water? Why no! What were these people talking about?
As I hiked the rocks got worse. Thank you mountains for the free foot massage, but let’s not get carried away with too much of a good thing. Then I started descending and, as I got lower, things got muddier. The mud was thick and slippery. And then came the real fun. The trail started to become a river. All of the creeks and springs of the mountain were full beyond the brim. They had to flow somewhere, and the trail was the path of least resistance. I picked my way through it by trying to hop on rocks at first. I did that for a while, often plunging my feet into pools that left them soaked anew. I then ran into two young guys who asked about the water situation. I told them it had gotten pretty wet and it was very muddy, but it would improve for them soon as they were hiking south. Their response was “great, because it’s bad for miles up ahead and the water was up to our calves at times!” Awesome....
Sure enough, after I passed them, the trail rivers turned into trail lakes that were connected by trail rivers. There was nothing to do but just trudge through it. They were also right in that the depth varied. Sometimes it was even with my toes, but mostly it was over my shoes and up to my ankles, with one or two calf-deep sections. I slogged on. I was a little worried at the combination of this much water and 30+ miles, but my feet felt like they were holding up. I’d be lying if I said they felt great. They felt waterlogged and pruny!
At one point during the slog fest I did see another scarlet tanager. I had only seen one other in the shenandoahs. I took a picture, but it kind of just looks like a large red speck because my zoom isn’t great. There were points in the hiking where I couldn’t tell if I was walking in a creek or on the trail, so I would just shuffle on and look for blazes.
At this juncture, I felt like I might not ever have dry feet again. Or maybe like my feet would rot off. Just when I thought things couldn’t get more “interesting,” I came to the last road crossing before the trail made the final push to Eagles Nest Shelter. I was tired and as I came into the meadow right before the road, I looked up and a raccoon was walking towards me.
It is not unusual to surprise wildlife on the trail, but this was different. The raccoon made eye contact with me, and kept coming. It was walking funny and seemed a little off. I started to back up, and then it took a hard right turn into a clump of weeds and stopped. I wondered if it had a nest there, but it was a small raccoon and looked young itself. I fumbled for my phone because I wanted to shoot a video of it. As I did so, I heard it screeching and noticed it was running at me again, this time faster. I stopped the video and dashed to the side, raising my poles and yelling at it. It didn’t care. It was a ZOMBIE RACCOON! it turned with me and started again walking at me. It then kind of turned and fell sideways a bit, and then it got up and turned around and zombie walked off slowly, screaming. I’m pretty sure it had rabies given how it was like a disoriented honey badger. Fortunately, I couldn’t move fast enough to zombify Hungry Cat! I spent my entire childhood with my friend’s mom constantly warning us about rabid raccoons. “Carry a stick when you walk the dog, in case of rabid raccoons!” I always thought it was such a joke. After all this time, she was right! I did get a photo of the savage zombie beast staggering away. The video was just the sound of it screaming as I had to do a little run-dance to get away. Pennsylvania, are you trying to kill me? I think you are.... I hiked on wondering what could possible happen next. More lakes, more rocks, more mud, of course!
I finally got to the shelter at about 7:15pm, exhausted. Fortunately there was a shelter spot for me. Cody Coyote was there, as were two flip floppers, Shake and Bake, and Froggy. After getting my sleep kit setup since it was getting dark fast, I sat at the picnic table to make dinner. As I did, mice danced all around me and kept running across my feet, to the point where I finally pulled my feet up and off the ground. As I finished my meal, a mouse was literally eating next to me, just looking at me. They really could have cared less that I was there!
Today, I’m just grateful to be alive and in one piece. I’m grateful to have had such an interesting day and experienced such unique things. I wonder what tomorrow will bring.... Tomorrow I will go into Port Clinton and Hamburg.
#1 - I have been meaning to post my video of the mother mouse in the shenandoahs shelter moving her babies. It’s very short and I finally posted it in my videos. Here’s a link here as well: https://youtu.be/YK3dO6126nI
#2 - if you want to see the PeeWee episode with me and the gang, here you go: https://youtu.be/wjdMrzX3Ye4
#3 - Beaker, thanks for the rec! I was already past rock and sole but keep em coming. If you know of any good places in NJ let me know. I’m trying to limit my time off trail, so when I do stay somewhere it’s nice if it is an interesting place versus a Budget Inn!