Twig Adventures

AT Day 56: Halfway

Saturday Sept 18th, 2021, 0610-1800
Tag Run to Quarry Gap Shelters, SOBO AT mm 1105.6
24.5 miles
3570 gain, 2800 loss

I heard voices around midnight and thought I was in for another rave night. Some kids were carousing by the creek but went away after about 20 minutes. I breathed a big sigh of relief but was nervous about disruptions for awhile afterwards. It can be nerve wracking sleeping so close to civilization all the time. Anyone can show up at anytime on the AT, it seems like. I don’t worry about being seen so much as just being kept awake all night. Precisely because no one knows I’m there, they wouldn’t know to keep it down.

A quick walk in the morning brought me to Pine Grove Furnace State Park, where the AT Museum is located. It’s only open on the weekends, so I was lucky to be able to see it. The displays were pretty good and the volunteer on duty was a former thru-hiker. I hoped to go back to visit again when I had more time. I hung outside the general store for almost an hour, waiting for it to open. Several other SOBOs showed up: Lollipop, Pippi, and Honeydew. The store had limited stuff but plenty of ice cream. This was the point where hikers try to do the Half Gallon challenge…eating a half gallon of ice cream in one sitting to celebrate completing half the trail. No way was I about to attempt such a thing. No one did. But I would have eaten a pint if they had one. I settled for an ice cream sandwich instead.

I was excited about today because I was finally coming to the halfway point on the trail. There were actually several points marked because the length has changed many times over the years. Honeydew caught up to me just before the most elaborate marker, so we celebrated together. I became very emotional when I reached the halfway points on Te Araroa and the PCT. The CDT didn’t even have a marker…I’m not sure where the halfway point even was due to all the alternates and my flip-flopping around. For the AT, this accomplishment just felt like a relief. Only about 1,100 miles left to go…and the hardest parts were behind me. The first half took exactly 8 weeks, so I expected the second half to go even quicker.

The rest of the day went by fast. I hiked with Honeydew, enjoying his company. We passed a private cabin that could be rented. A group of guys were there for a few nights and offered us water, which was thoughtful. They joked that they needed to make room in the cooler for all their beer. I’m pretty sure if I hadn’t been with another guy that I would have been offered beer, too. Oh well. The trail went through some pretty forests, where I noted that the leaves were starting to change color and drop. The temperature this day was very pleasant, a lot cooler than previous days.

To cap off this special day, we arrived at the most beautiful shelter on the trail. It was a work of art and love, such that you would expect to find in the backyard of a poet. There were potted plants, decorative stone figurines, wall hangings, covered picnic tables, and a porch swing. Thick rhododendrons surrounded the area, giving it a secretive and protected feeling…a magical hideaway in the woods. The shelter itself was divided into 2 sleeping quarters, with a center picnic and cooking area, complete with a skylight. It was a most unique design. I used to look down on the AT shelters when compared to some of the huts I experienced in NZ, but this place would make even a kiwi hiker swoon.

The stream had been redirected nearby so that there was a little moat, which was dry, but also a spring box behind it. A few huge frogs lived there, which I had fun trying to catch after dinner. They were so big that they couldn’t fit between the rocks to hide properly. I also explored the larger area surrounding the shelter, which encompassed multiple clearings and several wooden tentpads. The compete complex felt like a kingdom straight out of Narnia.

We were the only ones when we arrived, but being a Saturday night, I didn’t expect this to last. Two hikers arrived at dusk and proceeded to set out 4 premium beers on the table. They then proclaimed that they were for us and walked away to set up their tent. We were dumbfounded. Ramble and Wilson came back later to explain that they were AT thru-hikers from the year before, out this time for just for a weekend getaway. They brought some treats hoping they would encounter some of this year’s class of thru-hikers. What a wonderful sentiment and surprise. After we’d earlier been craving some beers from the cabin, the trail had indeed provided. Magic all around.

Ramble and Wilson from Philly, our beer Trail Angels

We all toasted the day’s fortunes, then Honeydew marched off into the night to try to get to Harpers Ferry, some 60 miles away, by the next night. His girlfriend was coming to meet him and he wanted to do a version of the 4 state challenge. This was a 42 mile segment that involved 4 states…the borders of PA and VA, plus the length the trail passes through Maryland and West Virginia. To do this challenge, one must go past Harpers Ferry without stopping, which I didn’t plan to do. Nor did I wish to walk such a distance on the AT in one day, especially through this area…too many rocks. We wished him luck, then went to bed. The katydids were especially active in their creaking, so sleep came easily.

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