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Duncannon to Delaware Water Gap
Volume 40: Thur July 31, 2003
You last read about our wandering hero bumbling around Duncannon, Pennsylvania, with a beautiful girl named Amanda. The story continues....
Amanda and I were up pretty early in order to make the most of our day at Gettysburg. Amanda got up and promptly walked through a newly formed spider web that crossed our room at the Doyle Hotel—an industrious little spider that night.
We ate cereal and were off to Gettysburg before you knew it. Cops directed all of the freeway traffic off the highway a few miles short of the town for no apparent reason, and we found ourselves taking a detour through a construction zone. It was strange really, since usually I took detours to get around construction zones, not into them.
But we made it to town where our first stop was the library. The place is a maze and Amanda and I found ourselves staring at each other wondering how to get to the second floor, but eventually made it to the Internet area to check news, email, and more.
Then it was off to the battlefield. We stopped briefly at the visitors center, then walked around the area where Lincoln gave his famous Gettysburg Address and out towards Culp Hill.
Amanda, hot and sweaty on this humid day (much like the weather was like during the battle—having come the same week it took place 140 years ago), decided that we should tour the rest of the battlefield in the air-conditioned car after that little walk.
At Devils Den we had ourselves a photo shoot. There's a very famous picture taken there a couple of days after the battle ended of a dead Confederate soldier fallen in a grove of rocks. Today the dead guy is gone, but there's a sign at the place where the picture was taken so you can compare the view of today with the photo of yesteryear.
Amanda was horrified to learn that the picture was staged. The photographer dragged the dead Confederate dozens of yards to this location where it would have a better background than where the body was originally found.
After getting over her shock, Amanda and I, being the morbid people that we are, decided to 'recreate' the picture. We went back to the car to get 'props'—my trekking pole and a backpack.
We leaned my trekking pole against the rock to represent the rifle in the picture. (We'd have preferred to have used a rifle, but we didn't think to bring one and used my trekking pole to improvise.)
Then we put the backpack on the ground where it was in the picture. Amanda went first, laying her head on the daypack as I directed her to move her arms and legs like the dead guy in the photo. I took a couple of pictures, framing them exactly like the original.
Then we switched places and I laid down imitating the dead guy.
But our fun wasn't over yet. There was another statue in the area (can't remember who it was of) of an important looking artillery guy. You could tell he was artillery because he had one of those big Q-Tip looking thingys that slides down the cannon tube to pack the charge down.
So I did an imitation of this guy, which Amanda would take a picture of (with the statue in the picture as well). This one was a lot harder to get because this guy was still 'alive' and was tricky to imitate with precision, even with Amanda's directions. But with the digital camera, I could see what I was doing wrong and how to reposition myself for a better imitation of the guy.
Amanda decided that doing a dead guy imitation was easier, and she found a statue of a dead guy laying there on the ground. Then she imitated him while I took a picture.
Our fun done, we explored more of the battlefield (via car, of course) before calling it a day and driving off towards York. We heard rumors that Harley-Davidson gave great factory tours there, and we didn't want to miss it. Okay, *I* didn't want to miss it, although Amanda was willing to humor my impulsive side.
We found a nice motel there and called it a night.
The next morning we headed to the Harley-Davidson factory where we were herded into a theater to watch a short film about the company's history and the factory. Then we passed through security (much like you'd see at an airport—even pocket knives aren't allowed!) and onto the factory floor.
Yep, right onto the factory floor. It was great! You could reach out and touch the motorcycle parts (although they told you not to do that or they'd have to cut your fingers off and throw them to the chickens).
We watched them pounding out gas tanks, oil pans, and other parts I couldn't even begin to guess where they belonged. We walked by the assembly line where the parts were added one at a time and you could see the motorcycles coming together. We watched one employee 'ride' each finished machine for a mile or two to make sure it's all in working order.
Amanda was fascinated by the 'birth certificates' attached to the motorcycles that were in different colors for the different countries each of the bikes was destined. California (and Hawaii) had its own special color designation as well since they had special emission standards that other states felt weren't necessary to save the planet.
And then we were herded back out where Amanda and I used the restrooms and said adios to Harley Davidson. If you're ever near York, the factory tour is well worth the time—even if you aren't into motorcycles. And the price is free, so you can't go wrong!
Next on our places to visit was the quaint little town of Intercourse. How could anyone within a hundred mile radius NOT visit a town called Intercourse? =) In any case, we suspected a letterbox was in the area, so we had to investigate.
As we drove through Bird In Hand (really, I'm not making up these town names!) it was quite obvious we were in Pennsylvania Dutch country. Amish kids were driving horse-drawn carriages around the streets and strange outfits were the norm.
Intercourse was much the same—a very cute (if touristy) town. It was rather small, though, and it didn't take long to see the sights. Amanda and I bought ourselves some freshly made soft pretzels. Found a letterbox. Visited a couple of the shops. Then we were on our way again.....
This time, to Easton. We knew that the fine folks that make Crayola products were based there, and we wanted to see the factory.
This time, Amanda and I would be disappointed. The 'factory' tour consisted of one room where one guy showed you how crayons and markers were made, but it certainly wasn't their main production facility (that we'd learn later was really a half-dozen miles away). This was a factory set up for tourists—and kids in particular.
Amanda and I found ourselves pushing our way through kids to play with the 'hands on' exhibits where I painted my nails with a nice, green-colored melted crayon wax using nothing more than a cotton swab. (We were supposed to be painting paper eggs.) I thought it made me look dashing. Amanda said it made me look stupid. *shrug* =)
Then we checked out the canal museum in the upper floors—which turned out to be far more interesting than I would have expected. It still didn't make up for what I thought were exorbitant admission charges where we couldn't even see the real factory, but it was a nice surprise.
That done, we started driving back towards Hersey, Pennsylvanis, where Amanda and I heard that the streets were lined with Hersey Kisses and the roads were made of chocolate.
Turns out—those rumors were true! We drove down Chocolate Avenue admiring the street lamps shaped as large Hersey kisses. The town was simply adorable.
The Hershey factory was plainly visible with two tall smoke stacks reaching high in the sky with 'Hershey' written down the side. It reminded me of scenes from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
However the 'factory tour' signs led us to a place where they told you about the factory, its products, and how they're made. The factory itself, we sadly learned, would be off limits. Ironically, the Harley-Davidson tour was the best for that reason—even though we were both more interested in crayons and chocolate.
That said, Hershey spent some big bucks for their little factory tour. It's like a ride at Disneyland. Stand in line, jump on these little moving carts as they go by (think the Haunted House at Disneyland if you've ever been there), and sit and watch as they explain how chocolate is made.
I'm not actually sure if any of the equipment on this ride are really making anything or not. We clearly weren't in the main factory, but much of the equipment did look very legit even down to the chocolate smell permeating the air.
After the ride was over, they handed out small Hershey bars to us and herded us into their candy shop where we could spend large amounts of money on candy.
Instead of doing that, we went out to Red Robin to blow our money on greasy food before wandering over the the movie theater where we watched Legally Blonde 2. (A nice, irrelevant movie after such a hard-hitting day.)
Then we headed back towards Duncannon where we found a motel room for the night.
The next day I'd be back on the trail, slackpacking. Amanda dropped me off where we had finished our hike four days earlier. She went off to letterbox while I tromped through eight miles of Pennsylvania landscape.
A few hours later we met up again and headed back to Duncannon where we'd spend one last night at the Doyle Hotel.
As it turns out, we'd have company. Shortly after getting our room, there was a knock at our door and a voice asking if we had any floor room.
The voice belonged to Hmmm, a south-bounder foiled at her attempts to get a room because the hotel was already full. So we let her in where she made herself at home on the carpet and we made introductions.
Later that evening, Amanda and I headed downstairs to the patio where I would make us spaghetti and garlic bread for dinner (with my MacGyver stove, of course).
Amanda wasn't especially impressed with my spaghetti, but she was in awe of my garlic bread. "It's a miracle!" as she stuffed the bread into her mouth. I'm not sure what she was expecting, but it definitely surpassed her expectations.
Then we wandered back to our room where we chatted with Hmmm the rest of the night before going to sleep.
We woke up late the next morning before I packed up my pack and we headed out. Amanda would be leaving that day, so slackpacking wasn't an option.
Due to the incredible lack of eatery places, we lowered our sights and went to Hardees for lunch. Then Amanda dropped me off at the trailhead and drove off into the proverbial sunset.
I made good time to Rausch Gap Shelter where I'd spend the night. This area once had been mined for coal, and the shelter's foundation had actually been from an old building dating back to those days. It was a nice shelter, though, with a spring conveniently right in front. Even a trough was placed under it to catch the water—something I'd never seen on the trail anywhere else.
Only one other person stayed there that night—Crash—who was section hiking towards Duncannon. I dazzled him with my MacGuyver stove and Waldies (those are what my camp shoes are) before calling it a night and going to sleep.
The next day I continued on, anxious to start putting up high mileage days once again, pushing on 23.4 miles to Herlein Campsite. The trail began to show some of the rocks Pennsylvania is famous for among thru-hikers. In fact, thru-hikers lovingly call the state Rocksylvania. But it wasn't THAT bad. At least I didn't think so.
I camped between shelters having pushed myself onward until nearly sunset.
The next day—July 14th—was my birthday, and I celebrated by hiking another 24.2 miles through Port Clinton. Just as you enter the city you cross the railroad yard where signs along the trail warn drivers to drive slowly because they are in a wildlife sanctuary. I kid you not. I even took a picture of the sign. It reads, in full:
Speed limit - 10
Yeah, that's always the first place I think of to build a railroad—in a wildlife sanctuary. And building a road through it is fine as well, but only as long as people drive slowly. *rolling eyes*
Then I stopped at the outfitters where I bought a soda and snacks on the remarkably hot day. I wandered down another block where I stopped at the hotel because it had the only pay phone in town. It was the strangest looking payphone I'd ever seen that LOOKED like a normal home phone, but had a long list of directions on how to use it and even a display panel for how much more money it requires to continue a call.
After figuring out the phone and making a couple of calls, I walked across the street to the Peanut Shop where they had wall-to-wall candies to make anyone happy. I hadn't seen so much chocolate since, well, the Hershey factory tour.
I bought another soda and more snacks that I munched on outside before walking back to the motel to make a couple more phone calls, but was foiled by a locked door.
As it turned out, I would learn, the hotel was closed on Mondays. But a maintenance worker came in briefly and unlocked the door during which time I 'sneaked' in before. But now the door was locked, and the only public pay phone in town was on the other side of it. What kind of two-bit hotel closes on Mondays?
I sadly left town without finishing my calls and camped at the Windsor Furnace Shelter.
The next day continued with the quickly worsening rock situation. The weather was still hot, but the trail was shaded providing some relief.
The trail mostly followed old logging roads at this point—very nice because they're mostly rock free, flat, and level. Although then I reached a part that looked surprisingly recent. I could still see the track marks from a bulldozer ground into the trail. The smell of ripped up dirt permeated the air. Trees on both sides of the road had been knocked over. And, most ominously, the sound of heavy machinery working in the distance.
Several dump trucks passed by, diesel fumes belching into the air as I hugged the side of the road hoping they wouldn't hit me. It was very exciting. And strange. It gave new meaning to the term 'trail maintenance'. I can imagine it now:
"Have we got everything? Shovel—check. Brush trimmers—check. Broom—check. Bulldozer—wait a minute, where's our bulldozer?! I can't maintain this National Scenic Trail without a bulldozer!"
Anyhow, the trail eventually came out on Hawk Mtn Road where the Eckville Shelter was located and was where I stopped for lunch—and a great stop it was. A caretaker lives next door. Hot showers were only the beginning. The fridge was stocked with all sorts of drinks, snacks, and even ice cream (in the freezer part, of course) provided free of charge (although donations are accepted). Inside the shelter were games, books, and magazines for whoever wanted to make use of them.
I dallied quite awhile here—much longer than I planned to, but continued on to the Allentown Hiking Club Shelter.
This was a nice shelter, although I did notice a few strange things about it. For instance, the picnic table was chained to a nearby stump. It's not exactly the kind of thing people steal (especially when the nearest road is miles away). And the privy, I noticed, had a doorstop. Now I don't know about you, but what I do in a privy is a PRIVATE matter, and I looked at that doorstop for the longest time trying to figure out—why?
The privy also boasted of a toilet handle strategically placed above and to the left of the privy seat. It was a nice touch, but I was disappointed to learn that it wasn't rigged to make a SWISH!!! sound when used.
And also—to my absolute delight—I found the next four chapters to the latest Harry Potter book! I immediately set down to start reading them and found it was nearing sunset by the time I finished. I had been planning to hike further that day, but alas, Harry Potter foiled me and I spent the night at the shelter.
It was the first time I'd have an entire shelter area to myself. I've been alone in a shelter a couple of times, but there had been tenters just outside or whatever the case may be. But for the first time, I've have the entire area that makes up the shelter completely to myself. It was a nice change, and probably not one I'd enjoy again for a long while.
I slept well, woke up early, and hit the trail. And the trail hit back. Hard. I ran into those infamous rocks that finally made me lose my patience as you could hear me mumbling not-so-nice things about the guy that routed the trail through them.
Along the way I saw a clever sign pointing to the left saying that the Bear Rocks were that way, and I looked up the blue-blazed trail up those horrible boulders and had to wonder—WHY would they think I'd want to see MORE rocks? I'd had enough of them, thank you very much!
The trail climbed over Oven Bake Knob, and I had high hopes that a knob with such an innocent sounding name would be rock free, but alas, it was not. The boulder hopping and scrambling continued in earnest.
One person noted in the register that all of the trail in Pennsylvania seemed to be over old logging roads or rocks and to build a trail, "all you need is a bucket of white paint and a sense of humor." It was funny because it was disturbingly close to the truth.
The rocks weren't hard per se, but extremely frustrating because I couldn't hike at my usual quick pace. My speed crawled to a, well, crawl. I felt like it would take the whole day to do five miles, an agonizing pace for a thru-hiker.
And at last the rocks let up a bit as the trail climbed up a ridge and life became good. The trail was flat with nothing bigger than small rocks that required no hopping or scrambling. The trees receded and incredible views came out. Wild blueberries grew everywhere.
Have you ever wondered how the blueberry got its name? Neither had I, but I theorized that perhaps a Dr. Blueberry first discovered and named them. The other thru-hikers didn't think it was a good theory. *shrug* =)
My guidebook, I was amused to see, noted that the Pennsylvania Turnpike crosses the AT at this point—800 feet below the trail deep in a tunnel.
Warnings were also posted in this area saying not to drink any water except at the shelters because the area suffers from zinc contamination, but not to worry, it's safe to hike through. But kids shouldn't play in the area on a regular basis. Okay, then....
Unable to resist, I put down my pack and spent a half hour picking blueberries—possibly with zinc contamination, but who cared at that point? I'd have picked more, but those things are small, and it's a lot of work to pick a measurable amount!
I put the berries into an available Ziplock bag for later consumption and continued down to the George W. Outerbridge Shelter where I could rest and fill up with nice, cold spring water. I also learned from the register that few thru-hikers made it through that section of trail without picking blueberries. The temptation was too much for us all.
I napped for a bit in the shade of the shelter, then I pulled out my cookset. I had a cup and a half of blueberries, and I planned to make a blueberry pie out them. =)
I mixed, stirred, and clattered away. Homer watched me with a mix of curiosity and disbelief, incredulous that I'd even dare to make a blueberry pie. (He also stopped to pick blueberries, but ate them as he picked them and didn't have any left.)
An hour later, I was eating away at an improvised blueberry pie, proud of my concoction. And it was delicious, zinc contaminated or not.
I cleaned up my cooking mess, packed up my pack, and continued down the trail to my destination for the night: Palmerton, Pennsylvania.
How could I not stop there for the night? The town boasts of the 'Jailhouse Hostel', the basement of the old police station. It's the borough hall now, and the city allows hikers to spend the night at no charge. There's even showers available there. If you arrive after 4:30, you have to check in at the nearby police station. The whole setup sounded like too much fun to miss!
The trail came out at Lehigh Gap where a major freeway zoomed a mile into Palmerton. It was only a mile off the trail, but the freeway had no shoulder to walk on. Instead of risking my life walking into town, I stuck out my thumb and hitched.
It only took a couple of minutes before someone offered a ride. He dropped me off downtown next to the police station where I found the nearby hostel and got myself checked in.
These wonderful people not only let us stay in the basement of the old police station for free, but they also gave us a 'welcome package' including shampoo, toothbrush, toothpaste, a granola bar, a postcard (with a stamp, even!), a calling card, and a map of town. I loved this town already.
I went down into the basement, through a room that looked like it once served as an interrogation room, and into the bunk house. I claimed a bed, grabbed a change of clothes, and headed back up to the shower for a little cleaning up.
Then it was off to the laundromat, which I had some trouble finding because it was disguised as a plant store. Rather than read the signs, I was just peeking into windows, but the laundromat had a freaking greenhouse in the window blocking the machines from view behind them.
My guidebook said the laundromat has a sign that reads: "Hikers cannot sit with just a towel around them," a photo op if I've ever seen one. So I went in with high expectations, but alas, the sign was no longer there. I was disappointed.
I've never seen a hiker sitting around with just a towel on while doing their laundry, but it's not uncommon to see a group of grubby-looking people clustered in a laundromat wearing rain clothes on an otherwise beautiful, clear, warm day. Of course, they are hikers who are washing all of their other clothes and only have rain gear left to wear.
But at last I found the place and proceeded to wash and dry my clothes. Then I headed to Tony's Pizza where I ordered a pizza for myself before finally heading back to the hostel.
The next morning I headed down to the grocery store where I resupplied my food supply. As the checker was ringing up my purchases, she told me that hikers can get a free apple. I was agog. A free apple? I wanted to kiss the checker to show my appreciation. Damascus might claim to be the friendliest town on the trail, but my vote goes to Palmerton.
I packed up my newly acquired food and walked out to the edge of town to hitch for a ride back to the trail.
A young guy named Carl picked me up who, as it turned out, had been drinking at the local bar the night before with several other thru-hikers. He was hoping to see The Twins again, a couple of cute, identical twin girls thru-hiking the trail, before they got back on the trail.
Carl dropped me off at the trailhead and headed back to town—probably in search of those elusive twins. A pink blazer if there ever was one.
The trail started straight up a boulder field, rather fun to scramble up despite the slow progress. The views were spectacular.
Then the trail leveled out following a gravel road along the top of the ridge through the Dead Forest. That's what I call it at least, because if you've ever seen pictures of the blast zone from Mount St. Helens, this area looked a lot like that. Thousands of dead logs laying there, decaying, without a sign of life. I definitely wouldn't be drinking water from this majestically hypnotic and desolate ridge....
The trail eventually left that desolate wasteland behind into a vibrant forest teeming with mosquitoes where I spent the night at the Leroy Smith Shelter.
The next day I'd hike another 20 scenic miles to Delaware Water Gap and the end of Pennsylvania. The Delaware Water Gap is simply spectacular—the area has dramatic cliffs jutting out from the Delaware River that separated Pennsylvania from New Jersey.
Speaking of which, my first view of New Jersey was a traffic jam on Interstate 80. I hoped this wasn't an omen, although it seemed grossly appropriate for the stereotypes I've heard of the state where two-headed fish would outnumber people two to one—at least if there were any ponds left for them to breed in.
But I digress.... The trail went into Delaware Water Gap—the town—where I immediately went to the hiker hostel at the Church of the Mountain. They allow thru-hikers only to stay there—at no charge—where hikers can take showers and sleep, which sounded good to me.
I claimed my bunk space then headed out to the local gas station mini mart where I bought more snacks. There wasn't a grocery store in town, so the mini mart was my sole source for snack foods. Then I headed down to Doughboy's Pizza where I spent the evening eating dinner and talking it up with other thru-hikers.
And that's where I'll end this adventure, with our bumbling hero overlooking the New Jersey countryside, ready to tackle another state he knew nothing about.
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