This is my original Appalachian Trail journal from 2001 (Edited for grammar).
It includes additions that were written sixteen years later (in 2017). These are in italics.
Monday, July 16, 2001
Alec Kennedy Shelter to Carlisle, Pa.
Today’s Miles: 11.9
Trip Miles: 1101.1
Well, I finally ran out of mountain. The Blue Ridge mountain chain came to an end today, and I descended into the Cumberland Valley and Boiling Springs, PA.
Crossing the valley requires fourteen miles of walking through cornfields and across roads until the trail finds the mountains again.
I finally caught Leatherfeet and others in town. At an interstate overpass we got no less than fifty cars and trucks (especially trucks) to honk and wave at us! It was so much fun! I nearly died of smiling and laughing, and pumping my arm in the universal honk-your-horn motion for truckers. Tumbleweed and Happy Feet stumbled upon the scene and joined in action. I think we spent close to an hour doing it – by that time the truckers were probably on their radios talking about us.
At one point this afternoon a helicopter flew overhead as Leatherfeet and I were trekking through the fields, and we remarked to each other how the walk for a little while felt almost like a Vietnam scene. Here we were, myself and this kid from Georgia that regards me as “Yankee,” sweating through open fields carrying our provisions in the hot sun – two comrades sharing a common goal and interest. It could easily have been a scene from thirty years ago… I’m glad to live in relatively more peaceful times.
We stopped for a break at an old, overgrown graveyard that was slightly off the trail. It had graves that dated back to the Civil War. Leatherfeet was pulling stones out of the wall that surrounded it, half expecting to stumble on a war treasure of solid gold bars.
The turnpike passes through the area. There’s an exit with all the luxuries of a major highway stop, so I’m halfway through the valley and enjoying air conditioning tonight. Life is good.
Boiling Springs was a sleepy little bedroom community without a lot of options for eating and lodging. This was a shorter day as far as mileage is concerned, but I caught up with a solid crew of hikers (The Walking Wounded) and felt accomplished for resisting the urge to get sucked into “town.”
It was great to see Leatherfeet again, for the first time since he’d gotten ahead of me back in Virginia. Walking across the valley of cornfields with him, complete with an external-frame backpack and southern drawl, felt like a quintessential moment of the Appalachian Trail.
The way we had so much fun getting all the cars and trucks to beep at us had an element of magic to it. Something about it was just so funny after being in the monotony of the woods for so long.
Tumbleweed, an older gentleman, was taken with such laughter that it brought unrestrained tears to his face. It struck me as moment of catharsis for him to be transported from the doldrums of his past life, now at a random highway overpass in Pennsylvania, laughing his ass off in the sun.
Leatherfeet and I split a Super 8 near the trail, presumably ordering pizza and watching random shows on TV until we passed out. He had a craving for air-conditioning that he talked about all afternoon.
Tuesday, July 17, 2001
Carlisle, Pa to Duncannon, Pa.
Today’s Miles: 17.7
Trip Miles: 1118.8
Today I hiked through the rest of the valley, back into the mountains and finally the town of Duncannon! I’m so glad to be here. I was jumping up and down in the street at the end of the day, and Sugardaddy wanted to break my legs – he’d done twenty-six miles.
I’m staying at the infamous Doyle Hotel. It’s very old and frankly, a bit of a dump. Still, it has charm and character. Apparently they’re renovating the place – in other words – they changed the sheets! Maybe next year they’ll vacuum the floors… ha. I was told that’s the basic condition of the place by another hiker, and it’s true! Still, there’s a good bar and a jukebox downstairs, and this town is another major landmark for me. Life is good.
I hiked into town with Eggman and Sugardaddy. They embodied the phrase “Walking Wounded” at the end of the day – they did a big 26-mile day to get to town, stumbling through the last miles with me.
The Doyle Hotel is a classic stop on the Appalachian Trail, with turn-of-the-century architecture, hardwood floors, and rustic dilapidated “charm.” The hallways had shared bathrooms, and you’d be remiss to expect to find TV in the rooms (Or air-conditioning, for that matter).
Most of all, the first-floor bar served as a major gathering place for hikers, with Yuengling Lager on tap and a jukebox with solid selections. The place is so iconic to a particular brand of hiker (Others hikers made a point of steering well-clear of “The Doyle”) that it had been picked in later years as a choice location for off-season AT hiker gatherings.
At 20 years old I wasn’t exactly welcome in the bar, but I ordered a pizza “to go” that I took to my room. The room was so hot that I got a terrible night’s sleep, and in retrospect I must have been significantly dehydrated too.
Wednesday, July 18, 2001
Today’s Miles: 1.2
Trip Miles: 1120
Left town with little sleep and dehydrated on a hot day after a long night at the Doyle. The climb was miserable. A belly full of way too much Stromboli made matters worse, feeling sick.
Halfway up the mountain, I actually thought “screw this” and turned around and went back to town. This time I got a real motel room, with air conditioning. Downed a quart of Gatorade, and passed out. Life is good.
I felt awful. I had to “visit the woods” multiple times going up Peters Mountain, and felt far from ready to tackle the next section.
Thursday, July 19, 2001
Duncannon, PA to Peter’s Mountain Shelter
Today’s Miles: 10.1
Trip Miles: 1130.1
Hiked out of town for real this time. Set up my tent for a midday nap, slept, then continued later. Enjoyed the evening with Sugardaddy, Some Dork, Panzer, and Eggman, and went to bed. Life is good.
I lingered and had a late start – only making ten miles – but at least I was out of town. Once again I had a hard time struggling up the hill, this time to the extent that I set up my tent and took a nap after only a few miles. I remember feeling drained and depressed, wrestling again with the notion of getting off the trail.
It was encouraging to be in the company of Eggman and Sugardaddy that night, as they hadn’t gained distance on me and needed to take a rest day in town too.
Friday, July 20, 2001
Peter’s Mountain Shelter to Rausch Gap Shelter
Today’s Miles: 17.5
Trip Miles: 1147.6
The huge stromboli came out the other end of me today, and man, it wasn’t pretty – the process sidelined me for over an hour.
After that the rest of the day went quite well, cruising along at a great pace despite a million and a half blown-down logs strewn across the trail. Are the downed trees left in place to keep away the ATV’s?
In any event, it’s another enjoyable evening here with the same group. The side trail to this shelter was surprisingly flat, and especially pretty too. Life is good.
Rausch Gap Shelter, and other shelters in the ensuing miles were significant landmarks to me, as I’d planned to stay at these places on my disastrous first backpacking trip… but never got to do so. There’s also a photo of the shelter in Walking the Appalachian Trail, the first book I ever read about the Trail.
I think it was mostly an uneventful day in solitude, as the famed “Pennsylvania Rocks” presented themselves.
Saturday, July 21, 2001
Rausch Gap Shelter to 501 Shelter
Today’s Miles: 17.5
Trip Miles: 1165.1
The spring at the shelter filled up overnight – it was dry last night.
All of the hiking for most of the day was typical Pennsylvania ridge-walking, with the exception of the more scenic areas and a road crossing in the morning, through some fields and swamp-like areas.
This shelter tonight is the lap of luxury – it’s on the property of a caretaker’s house, has four walls, a skylight, and we got to order pizza! We caught Happy Feet and Tumbleweed, which is nice too. I’m looking forward to walking on “home turf” tomorrow – a part of the trail that I’ve already done last summer! Life is good.
Sunday, July 22, 2001
501 Shelter to Eagle’s Nest Shelter
Today’s Miles: 15
Trip Miles: 1180.1
I’ve stayed at this shelter twice before. I’m almost home.
I went through the Hertlein Campsite today. It’s a special place to me, as it’s the farthest south I’d ever been on the Appalachian Trail. I had lunch there and wandered around for a while.
And now I’m here. I know the terrain. It’s incredible. The last time I slept here was last September. That night I met the southbounders Apollo and Man on the Moon, wondering what it was like to be them, planning my own thru hike. Now I am the thru-hiker! It’s been a long way home. Life is good.
Hertlein Campsite is the fateful place where we “lost” our friend Dave on my first hike on the Appalachian Trail. In my original journal entry I only wrote that I “wandered around,” there for a while, but what I was really doing was retracing some our steps from that hike.
It wasn’t until today that I discovered that Mike and I were technically “off” the Appalachian Trail on that day, waiting about 30 yards down a blue-blazed side trail. When he arrived, Dave didn’t see us and continued to the 501 Shelter, effectively separating our group. Decision-making took on a snowball effect from there, and my first backpacking trip was basically a disaster.
It was almost an eerie sensation to be back at the place where we were separated, now in the shoes of a seasoned backpacker.
Eagles Nest Shelter was the first place I’d ever spent a night in shelter, also on a “practice” trip, so once again I had the feeling of accomplishment that came with arriving at an old haunt – now as the thru-hiker I’d hoped to be.
This would be my final night on the trail before going home to rest. Tomorrow I would reach the town of Port Clinton, PA, the first in a string of relatively equidistant access points from the Trail to my home town of Allentown, Pennsylvania.
I did it. I got dropped off in Georgia and walked home.
Monday, July 23, 2001
Eagle’s Nest Shelter to Allentown, PA
Today’s Miles: 8.4
Trip Miles: 1188.5
I hiked into Port Clinton. In town I looked for a pay phone to call home and be picked up, but to no avail. A past thru-hiker named Nean offered me a ride closer to the highway to call. He was already driving Happy Feet and Tumbleweed to a cobbler. I accepted. So excited to be going home – I left my hiking stick in his car. DOAH! Maybe I’ll see it again, but maybe not. Oh well. It had come with me from Georgia.
Well, I’m at home! It’s very, uh… very weird to be here. My step dad said I nearly made him sick from my stench in the car. My mother grimaced at the sight of the fuzzy growth on my chin. I ate, and ate, and ate. I got to see all my pictures. It’s funny – the trail already seems to be like some sort of far off fantasy land, almost as if I’d never been there at all, and imaginary friends there too…
Nean was a trail angel who showed up exactly at the right place at the right time, as trail angels so often do. Port Clinton is by most rights a ghost town, with very little in the way of services. It was proving to be impossible to hunt down a public telephone, and he saved the day. He probably would have taken me all the way to Allentown, but I was fixated on getting in touch with family ASAP.
Unfortunately I left my hiking stick in his vehicle. It was the stick that was given to me at Goose Creek Cabins in Georgia from a hopeful thru-hiker that was getting off the trail. “Take this stick to Maine,” he’d said to me.
Now that I was getting off the trail for a matter of days, it was unlikely that I’d ever see the stick again … or would I?
To this day (And presumably forever) my step-dad will never let me live down how badly I smelled. He says he legitimately almost vomited from the stench, and he’s not the type to be especially sensitive to such things.
Tuesday, July 24, 2001
Today’s Miles: 0
Trip Miles: 1188.5
At home, visited friends. Listened to music, including that “new” Bruce Springsteen CD. Ran some errands.
Wednesday, July 25, 2001
Today’s Miles: 0
Trip Miles: 1188.5
At home. Saw more friends. Slept much. My brother visited.
Thursday, July 26, 2001
Today’s Miles: 0
Trip Miles: 1188.5
At home. Lounged around. Ate food. Had dinner with my dad and brother.
Friday, July 27, 2001
Today’s Miles: 0
Trip Miles: 1188.5
At home. I need to get out of here. Insanity.
Saturday, July 28, 2001
Today’s Miles: 0
Trip Miles: 1188.5
At home. More final errands. They took my picture at the local outfitter.
Sunday, July 29, 2001
Allentown, PA to Windsor Furnace Shelter
Today’s Miles: 6.1
Trip Miles: 1194.6
Back on the trail at last. Got dropped off in the late afternoon, and did a short hike to this familiar shelter. I haven’t seen a soul. I’m all alone here tonight. Am I the last northbound thru-hiker or something? Life is good.
I was at home for way too long. I was still naive but not wholly unaware that taking so many zero days could be detrimental to the likelihood of having a successful thru-hike.
I had conflicting emotions about being at home. On one hand I felt great about making it so far, but on the other I felt guilty about being off the trail when I still had so much more of it to hike. Everything there was the same as though I’d never left, and my life on the trail almost immediately took on the character of a far-off fantasy land, separate of the “real world.”
It was bizarre to see all my pictures. I used a disposable film camera, so I had no idea how all my pictures up to this point would come out (Unlike now in the digital age where you can review them immediately). Seeing my pictures printed out in such a way brought a closure to my hike, as opposed the living, breathing experience that it was.
In many ways Allentown was like an evil beast that still wanted to keep me. My mom had a lot fears about me being out there on my own, and gently tried to talk me out of getting back on the trail, even up to the minute that I left. My father, step-dad, and siblings seemed neutral on the subject.
My high school friends were deep in their own discoveries with college life. They provided some degree of encouragement, but the bulk of it came from the trail culture itself, from which I was wholly separated in Allentown.
Still, it was great to see those that were important to me, and bask in laziness with all the comforts of home. On the surface it may have seemed as though I was in danger of getting off the trail for good, but in my mind there was never any question that I would return.
My first day back on the trail was a short six miles over familiar terrain. I didn’t see a soul on the that evening and stayed alone at the shelter. It felt as though I was returning to a different Appalachian Trail, with all my friends far ahead now.
Monday, July 30, 2001
Windsor Furnace Shelter to Eckville Shelter
Today’s Miles: 9.1
Trip Miles: 1203.7
Slept in very late at the shelter. I guess I didn’t get as much rest at home as I thought. Still hardly saw a soul on the climb up to Pulpit Rock (another familiar place), and on top – who was up there but none other than Randy! Randy from all the way back at Goose Creek. I thought he was off the trail. Apparently not! He updated me on more people still behind as well. He goes by “Freebird” now. Awesome.
Further on at The Pinnacle, looking back toward Allentown, I met Rabbit Hutch. I then caught Skipper down at this shelter. Grasshopper came rolling in later too. Things are all good once again.
It didn’t take long to get unaccustomed to sleeping outdoors, and I slept awfully late because of it. Eventually I got going and began the walk up to Pulpit Rock from Windsor Furnace Shelter, a hike that I’d done more than any other on the Appalachian Trail.
It was mildly tempting to skip these sections near home, as I’d done most of them in the past or would have easy access to come back to them as day hikes in the future. From home I could have easily skipped about 40 miles ahead to Little Gap without truly “skipping” anything at all, but I stubbornly wanted to see everything through the eyes of a thru-hiker.
I was still a little depressed and mostly disoriented from being at home for so long when I stepped up to Pulpit Rock, so imagine my surprise to see Freebird there! Freebird was my friend Randy from way back in Goose Creek Cabins in Georgia, where I was holed up for a week with open sores all over my feet. Freebird was there when I took up the trail name of Duct Tape.
In the ensuing miles I passed the old haunt of The Pinnacle overlook before arriving at Eckville Shelter for the night. Grasshopper (My old friend from the early miles), was there at Eckville too, and it was so good to reunite with these familiar faces. Because of the notebook registers in the shelters, news on the trail only travels in one direction – behind you. It’s easy to keep tabs on who is ahead, but you’re basically left blind to who is behind you.
Sometimes fast hikers would overtake me, and I’d ask them for news of people I’d left behind. Freebird and Grasshopper were often among my queries, and nobody ever had any news of them, so I assumed they’d gotten off the trail and headed home long ago.
Eckville is a unique shelter, as it sits on a paved road next to a private home. The house was occupied by a local trail maintainer and former thru-hiker. On my previous hikes I’d never stopped here – it had the air of private property and a “thru-hikers only” vibe in my mind.
It was great to discover that the caretaker made an effort to get a Polaroid picture head-shot of every thru-hiker that spent the night, so here again was a tangible record of faces of the Trail, similar to the photos found in Harpers Ferry and at Rusty’s. Once again I felt immortalized through such record-keeping. Such an actualization in this setting combined with the reunion of friends had my spirits soaring once again. I was back on the trail and Allentown was a million miles away.