AT Days 16-19: Long rain hits AP

At this point in my hike, the weather had been very nice. Temperatures had ranged from highs in the 70s to lows in the 40s, and the few bouts of rain had been brief. That would change as I drove more AT miles in Pennsylvania. Here is the summary :

Day 16 – In my cabin at Blue Rocks Campground (0 miles)
Day 17 – Blue Rocks Campground to Allentown Trail Club Hut (15 miles)
Day 18 – Allentown Hiking Club Hut to Outerbridge Hut (18 miles)
Day 19 – Outerbridge Shelter to Hammock Site on Blue Mountain Ridge (8 miles)

In my last post, I noted the challenges I encountered in finding a place to take a day off. Ironically the one day delay worked in my favor as the rain started on the night of day 16 and was coming back steadily for the next day. sixty hours.

Hiking and rain

Many of you who aren’t frequent hikers may think hiking in the rain is awful. Personally, I don’t think that’s always the case. A light summer rain on a heavily wooded trail can actually breathe air and life into the surroundings.

From my point of view, there are three cases where hiking in the rain IS really awful:

  1. The rain is a torrential downpour
  2. The rain continues from night to morning, so you have to pack up everything that is wet
  3. There is enough total rainfall to turn the trail into puddles and streams

This particular rain wasn’t torrential, and I actually avoided #2 by taking shelter for the first 36 hours. But – my oh my – number 3 was a huge factor with this storm!

Coming out of the cabin

I spent day 16 resting my body, packing up my freshly laundered clothes, and writing a blog post. I would also have my first opportunity to put on headphones and play some music. I picked up Arcade Fire’s new album, WE, and was completely blown away! It was my most memorable moment (MMM) of day 16. There are many “ic” words to describe their great indie style: rhythmic, symphonic, apocalyptic. It’s a beautiful artistic album and it made my day!

When I emerged in steady rain on day 17, I rode the 15 miles with Shingo. The day was wet and very cold. Today’s MMM was putting on my warm gloves during lunch break at Eckville Shelter! Here are some pictures of the waterlogged trail we hiked all day:

Hike with a partner

I would spend most of those four days with Shingo, the retired backpacker from Japan that I had met a few days earlier. This would include two full days of hiking the trail together. At this point in our AT hikes, neither he nor I had hiked with a partner.

For those of you who aren’t keen on long-distance hikes, the dynamics of hiking with another person can be a bit tricky. For this to work well, the two should walk at a very close pace and have a similar routine for breaks. Shingo and I were completely compatible in that regard, and I enjoyed hiking with him. Since this synergy is hard to find, most ATers (even friends or couples trail running together!) will walk solo.

Shingo is incredibly quick and sure of himself. He probably weighs no more than 130 wet pounds and is carrying a homemade backpack that is slightly askew. (I find the homemade backpack thing amazing. It’s like trying to run the Boston Marathon in homemade shoes!). Anyway, he walks faster than me on most terrain. I never saw him breathless, tired, hot or thirsty the whole time we walked together. As of now, he’s about a day ahead of me on the AT.

Here he is in action with his yellow sun hat:

After the rainy day

I made a terrible mistake in judgment wearing my thermals and long pants on the trail on rainy day 17. This move meant I had no dry sleeping clothes for a cold night. I managed (thanks, puffy coat) – and the rain finally stopped at 5am that morning – allowing my tarp to dry completely!

Shingo had left early while I was having breakfast. We would hike solo from this point, both covering the 18 miles to Outerbridge Shelter. Honestly, I wasn’t sure that morning I would do 18 miles that day, but when the first four miles were on dry dirt roads (in fact, a lot of the “hike” in the PA is done on old roads), I really knew I would do this. Half an hour later, struggling through impossible rocky peaks with jagged edges, I thought “I can’t do this”. These five mile rocks were my 19 MMM day – they were so hard to climb!

In the end, I felt a real accomplishment watching the clear, starry night from my hammock.

Nearo via Palmerton

I decided to spend the morning in Palmerton having a big breakfast and then visiting the library to blog. For those wondering, can I write and publish a blog post with just my cellphone – but it’s tough. most The hardest part is uploading photos and posting them in a message with limited cell service. A library is therefore a much better option. It also gave me a fun flashback to my pre-trail life for a few moments, I used to do that keyboard and mouse thing everyday, didn’t I?

I accomplished almost everything I wanted in town:

  • Bert served a delicious hearty breakfast and I ate every bite, as well as four cups of coffee!
  • I spent two very productive hours at the library writing a blog post.

I had hoped for a beer or two because I left in the afternoon but I screwed up! I skipped an open pub for one closer to the trail but was surprised when it wasn’t open until 4pm. But maybe the trail gods intervened for my safety – because rejoining the trail I faced the toughest and rockiest climb yet.

The climb to Blue Mountain ridge was about a thousand feet downhill, with landslides on both sides. Especially at the top, the footwork on the angled rocks was very tricky – something that may have been hampered by two beers.

This guy is smiling because he made it to the top! The climb to the top was the midpoint of perhaps the most beautiful 8 mile stretch of the AT I’ve seen in Pennsylvania. On both sides of Palmerton, the trail hugged a wide open ridge with stunning views to the north and northwest. Both days the sky was crystal blue. A cool breeze blew as I gazed out over the vast valley.

For some reason, Foo Fighters’ “Monkey Wrench” was the song that was going on repeat in my head. On the surface, this angst song made no sense, but I think I figured out why it came up:

  • The guitar intro seemed to match the constant panning view to my left. I considered moving at high speed across the ridge towards this riff.
  • At the end of Dave Groehl’s rant, the line “I’ve always been caged but now I’m FREEEE….” kept ringing. I think I just felt such freedom on this ridge, on week three of a hike I had wanted to do my whole life. Joy crossed me!

At the top of the ridge, as I focused on more rocks, I waved a large animal behind some bushes about 20 feet away. He thundered down the descent sending rocks flying. I can only guess it was a bear, as it was large and didn’t look like a deer. When you scatter deer, their white tails visibly bounce up and down. If this is my only encounter with a bear on this hike, I’m Very satisfied with that!

I set up camp in a wild spot on the ridge, thinking I would be sleeping alone, but another hammock hiker named Straps joined me for another clear starry night in the woods. Luckily, it didn’t look like this scene from the previous two days:

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