Rockin’ Through Painsylvania

     At first you think to yourself… “This is not so bad.” But the rocks continue. Not just a rock surface, but rock edges sticking straight into the soles of the heavy boots and the tender bottoms of the feet. It is a relentless assault on some already overworked dogs. At the end of the day, the boots come off with a hiss and the stench that is coming from your trail damaged foot is overwelming. You gently peel away the socks which seem to be a part of you now. You gaze at the red feet, grotesquely deformed and textured with the stitch pattern of your socks. They are so tender that, as you walk, you carefully place you feet down on the ground like the pads of the lunar lander on the surface of the moon. You curse the geologic forces that upended the strata and created the “washboard of death” that is the Pennsylvanian Appalachian Trail. Oh yeah… PA is a rockin’ state!

     We walked on the slag as we got close to Windsor Furnace. We continued past an ridgetop telescope, over Pulpit Rock and through a rain storm at the Pinnacle. The woods were deep green and quite moist as we hiked closer to Hawk Mountain Sanctuary and Ecksville Hiker Hostel. We spent the night at the hostel, ate ice cream and played with the resident kitty. The next morning we were back on the rocks.

    After another day of rock hopping, it was clearly time for a beer! The Gambrinus Restaurant was conveniently on the Trail and host to , …yes, another AT Bash. This time Red Devil, St Thomas and the Real McCoy joined us as we quaffed Dab and ate bar food. We got hammered enough and all of us crashed in the backyard of the restaurant like a bunch of white trash. In the morning we hit the Trail before breakfast and the stifling heat of midday.

   Did I mention the rocks…? The edge of the ice sheet that once covered most of North America redecorated the region in a most dramatic fashion. Rock outcroppings, deep cuts, boulder fields and great chunks of stone larger than a truck that would move when you stepped on them all defined a landscape that was painful to the feet but interesting to walk through. The heat of the summer sun baked the stone as we walked. We crossed Bear Rocks, climbed over Bake Oven Nob and walked into Lehigh Gap in Palmerton, PA. The north side of the valley was completely barren of vegetation. The industrial effluents from factory next to the exposed mountainside had killed all the plants years before and they never grew back. It was a brutally hot scramble over the dusty rocks. Water was scarce and the campsite we chose from the DataBook* promised a spring. It wasn’t there. The Real McCoy went on a water run 2 miles from the camp!

     The next day, Mark and I blasted 21 miles through hot sun then a violent thunderstorm. The storm came in fast and soaked us in minutes. Mark wanted to sit down and rest a moment but I wanted to move on. As I continued walking, there was a brilliant flash and a great peal of thunder that seemed to be right where Mark was sitting. Apparently it was close… Mark came up behind me jogging, his eyes wide. He decided he would move on, too. Delaware Water Gap was in our sights.

* The Data Book is a pamphlet containing mileage and landmark listings for the entire Appalachian Trail. It is a lightweight guide that was an essential tool for navigating the Trail during our hike.

…continue the expedition, read: Out of the Gap and Into New States [link]