The Mush

May 16, 2018

Destination: Darlington Shelter Today's Miles: 26.30

Start Location: James Fry Shelter Trip Miles: 1137

Walking through wet fields outside of Boiling Springs, PA
At 4:30 AM I woke up to a chorus of snoring. There was a deep sleep apnea-esque snore, and a little squeaky lady snore, and then kind of a Justin Timberlake pitched snore.

You know - when he hits those high notes where he closes his eyes and puts one hand to an ear and it’s a little nasally. They came together in a strange kind of chorus, kind of like if you had a tuba, a piccolo, and a kazoo each play in a different key, but somehow it still worked. I felt like after each wave of snoring a cymbal crash would be a good addition. I had planned on getting up at 5, so I tried to go back to sleep, but couldn’t. At ten till, I went ahead and got up, trying to get myself and my gear together as quietly as possible. I was on the trail by 6am!

It was raining lightly. I wore the usual damp shorts and t shirt from yesterday. I liked being on the trail super early! I had a big goal today, which was to make it to Darlington shelter if possible. This would be tough though because I would pass through trail town Boiling Springs and I needed to go to the post office there. Of course, I also wanted to eat there. I made good time despite the rain and ran into a couple heading southbound named Coach  and Flip. They have hiked most of the AT previously and are currently trying to finish up a few remaining stretches in their retirement. They are both retired PE teachers! They told me the rocks get worse after Port Clinton, so I decided that when I got to Boiling Springs I would bounce my shoes to Port Clinton. 

On the way into Boiling Springs there was a great section where the trail passed in between giant boulders, weaving in and around them like a giant rock maze. It was really fun and I was glad for the easy to follow blazes that lead me through the twisty path. Walking into Boiling Springs was nice too. The trail crosses a few footbridges into a park with an old iron furnace, leftover from its iron industry days. I wanted to take a picture of this, but the moisture was making my phone touchscreen act up so I did not. It was pretty cool looking and made of stone. A local guy chatted me up in the park, and this would be a theme in Boiling Springs - super friendly locals! The trail crossed a road and then took me along a lake (Children’s Lake) right into town by the local ATC office and the post office. I took care of my business at the post office and went to a cafe down the street that a few hikers had recommended - Cafe 101.

I was feeling good! Despite the rain, I’d gotten 12 miles in by about 10:30 and I had time to eat a relax for a while. Cafe 101 was really awesome and I ate a lot of food! I started with huevos rancheros and coffee, then had stuffed French toast, and then an amazing churro sundae where the churros were made fresh. All incredible! I spent some time there just eating, drinking coffee, charging my phone and relaxing. Four or five locals came by to chat and to ask me about or wish me luck with my hike. Boiling Springs really left me with a fantastic impression! I felt disgusting and I was wet and dirty, but no one gave me the suspicious man stink eye!

Happy Feet had said she was also going to try to make Darlington Shelter, but I hadn’t seen her yet when I left Boiling Springs. I walked on and the trail really flattened out. I had known it would from the elevation profile in my AWOL guide, but I was mistaken thinking this part of the trail would be easy. Normally I think it would be, but we had so much rain that most of the stretch was just a giant mush pot of mud and overgrown pasture weeds. The mud and puddles made for very slippery and slow going. The overgrown weeds leaned over the trail, laden with water. So, as I sloshed and slipped through the mud, I plowed through weeds that then dumped water all over my legs and feet. My shoes and feet went from wet to saturated with water. Squish squash, squish squash! I would waddle along and every third step I would invent a new dance move that would put the moonwalk to shame. Trekking poles flailing and my legs jiving like Elvis, I walked along as best I could.

I never thought of PA as farmland. I always think of the industrial, Allentownish, factory working, Springsteen-blasting PA, but today all I saw was farmland. It was beautiful, despite the tough walking conditions. I smelled cows and earth. I watched bluebirds dart about in slim thickets of trees between pastures. I watched the rain fall lightly on a bird roosting on a phone wire overhead, his feathers fluffed to stay warm. I walked, and got wetter and wetter.

At one point when I only had 7 miles left, I had to stop. I sat down by a road and did a quick tick check. I was convinced that with all that grass brushing my legs I would have a million ticks, especially with my bug spray getting washed off with the rain on the weeds. No ticks though! I took off my shoes because I was starting to get hot spots in my arches from the sloshing. What I saw weren’t feet - they looked like misshapen brains. My feet had pruned up so badly it was pretty gross. No blisters though! I decided to sit there a bit and used my buff to towel off my feet. It was lightly raining, so this effort was only so effective. I sat for about 15 minutes deciding whether to change to my dry pair of socks. Usually I only wear my wet socks when it is raining, so I always have an emergency dry pair. I didn’t need them for warmth at night anymore, though, so I decided to do it. I would kick the wet sock can down the road. I took big pieces of moleskin and put those on my arches, and then put my dry socks on. It was heaven! And then I jammed them into my sopping wet shoes .... I didn’t use Leuko tape because I was trying to get moving quickly and it can take a little time to unwind off my roll. Plus, I only had 7 miles left. 

I hiked on and my feet felt better. I continued to slosh and push through weeds and the trail got so narrow and overgrown that I basically was looking at the thin strip of mud through a curtain of weeds. I plowed through it, accepting it’s generous gift of weed water into my shoes. At one point I made it to a boardwalk that went along a river and the trail got wider. I looked up and saw Kiki, the ridge runner who had given us pizza trail magic at Dahlgren campground. He and another guy were running at top speed on the trail. Running! I was sliding all over and these guys were just blazing along. He stopped to say hi and they continued on. Motivated, I picked up my pace, or tried to.

On the final climb to the shelter I crossed a creek and stopped to try and rinse mud out of my socks and sock liners. When I got to the shelter it was about 6:30/6:45. Fortunately there was still space! There was another NOBO there, Cody Coyote was there, and a section hiker and her dad, Echo and Hobbit. Hobbit has thru hiked multiple times and is doing another. I was beat! I got setup on the shelter floor and made my dinner. As I was eating, Happy Feet showed up around 8. Once again the kid proves she can crank out the miles! 

I fell asleep almost immediately when I laid down. It was a good day. I was grateful for the confidence to just be ok hiking wet, for the good people and good food of Boiling Springs, and for the sense to change my socks out to get to camp in one piece without blisters. Will this rain ever leave? Pennsylvania - the rainy state!

Side note - the privy at the Darlington Shelter was actually called the Taj Mahal. Check out my photos of it and you decide....

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