A Note on PA
I hiked into Pennsylvania utterly confused about lay before me. I had heard there would be rocks. I had heard it was miserable. And there would be little water. But no one seemed to know the details … or have the slightest idea about when things would become truly unpleasant.
For those of you considering a thru hike, here’s some information to help clarify any confusion about Pennsylvania. And for those wishing to hike a section of the AT, my advice to you is this: Avoid this state! I have not encountered one hiker who has enjoyed the state.
The first portion of PA is relatively calm … and misleading — mind-numbing flat terrain, crisscrossing farmlands and skirting by freshly renovated shelters. However, due to the many road crossings, some areas feel less secure than other parts of the trail. A ridge runner (person working for the ATC) strongly advised me to never stay at the Antietam shelter because it’s easy access from the road and the site of shady activities and strange people hanging about (porn has been found there on several occasions).
The Quarry Gap Shelter is the nicest I’ve seen on the entire trail. It’s actually two shelters side by side that are so well-maintained that there’s even potted flower plants hanging in them.
Carry a cup or another object that can be used for dipping in order to get water. There were a number of water sources that seemed like glorified puddles, and were difficult to acquire water (but PA had also been going through a drought at the time, so this might not be the norm).
If you’re looking to take a day off from the trail, I highly recommend staying in the town of Boiling Springs at the Allenberry Inn & Playhouse rather than in Duncannon (town is very rundown). The Allenberry is a collision of two worlds: A resort complete with a theater that performs daily, multiple dining halls piping in tunes from various operas, and the home of a popular fly-fishing camp. And for whatever reason, the owners have taken pity on thru hikers, offering us a special rate of $40 a room (holds up to four people). And so there I was — dirty, faded clothing — dining with well-to-do elderly couples and receiving looks of disgust from the theater staff wandering about in costume.
The dreaded, legendary rocks of PA didn’t appear until I was just north of Duncannon … and they never disappeared. The problem wasn’t that there were endless boulder fields, but rather the relentless rocks blended into the dirt path that were impossible to avoid … slowly wearing down your feet until they felt like hamburger meat.
Only two spots on the PA section caused me to think, “Hmm, one ill-placed step could be the last step I take on the trail!” The portion known as the Knife Edge was a serious of rock slabs jutting out at a precarious angle with a sharp drop off below. The other set of treacherous rocks was the climb out of Lehigh Gap (check out the video from “The Creation Story” entry below).
If you only take away one piece of information from this entry, remember this: You must go to the Village Farmer in the Delaware Water Gap. Everything I’d been craving over the past months crammed into one fantastic bakery. The sweetest, juiciest peaches you’ve ever tasted. Table after table adorned with homemade pies, stacks of cookies, pans of homemade bread and boxes of various baked goods. Shelves glistening with delicate pastries. A cooler bursting with homemade ice cream. Yes, I admit when I first entered, my eyes filled with tears of happiness at what lay before me.
If you’ve already hiked in the state, please feel free to add suggestions/tips to my PA list. Although I, along with others, complain about the state, you should not be afraid to tackle it. Armed with a large bottle of pain meds, anti-itch cream (for the poison ivy), and shoes with good ankle support, I firmly believe anyone can conquer the rocks of Pennsylvania.