Sunday Sept 19th, 2021, 0900-1915 Quarry Gap Shelters to Raven Rock Shelter, SOBO AT mm 1132
4275 gain, 4100 loss
It was too lovely at the shelter to leave early. So I sat around watching the sunrise and listening to the birdsong. I rocked on the porch swing, then stretched and rolled on a tent platform. Ramble and Wilson came over from the tent area to have breakfast, sharing some english muffins with us. Someone mused that a caretaker must come by everyday to oversee the place and I countered, isn’t it obvious? It’s maintained by fairies. They live in the little castle figurine in the garden, coming out when the hikers go away. They employee all the little stone frogs and turtles as their helpers. The place was clearly magical. Perhaps even a figment of my imagination.
Back on trail, I immediately started encountering heaps of day hikers, reminding me that it was a Sunday. There were more people than I’d seen all week combined. The trail went through Caledonia State Park, where there were already several BBQs going strong. The smell drove me crazy from hunger, so I walked fast to get away. At least I got to enjoy some really easy walking on crushed gravel paths through there.
The trail went back into the hills, winding through boulders and rocks. Here there were heaps of backpackers, including a few scout groups. One guy warned me about all the rocks coming up. Little did he know, this was my tenth day walking through PA, 230 miles total… I’d seen some rocks already. The nice thing about the rocks in southern PA is they often have space in between that’s covered in duff. So if the feet can be landed just right, and one has smallish feet, the substrate is enjoyably soft. There’s still some punishment to the feet when the rocks are inevitable. It’s a bit of a balance.
The trail went up and down a lot through the afternoon, but most inclines were well graded. The hills seemed a bit more like mountains, with a few view points along the way. I stopped for lunch at Old Forge park where there was a water spigot and picnic tables. More importantly, there were no BBQs to torture my senses. Late in the afternoon, I stopped to dip in a stream where the minnows took nips at the dead skin on my feet. I let them go to work for a bit and soon had over 20. People pay money for this novelty pedicure in the cities, but out here the fish work for free.
I came to the PenMar border and park right around 5 pm, just in time to catch a food truck and a band wrapping things up. I got 2 hotdogs, a pulled pork sandwich, and a Mt Dew for $11 and sat down to enjoy the view west to the valley and a far ridgeline. I had been planning to make my dinner in this park but this was even better. Stellar was going to order pizza but instead had a bunch of sandwiches. Oh, and in case the name PenMar doesn’t ring a bell, this is the Pennsylvania and Maryland border. It’s also the Mason Dixon line…I was officially in the south.
As a brief summary of my time in PA, the trail was pretty good to me. There were the rocks of course, but that was about it as far as challenges were concerned. The weather was decent (no hurricanes), I didn’t starve, the shelters were awesome, and the walking was rather flat and easy. Yet still, I was glad to be moving on.
We had considered stealth camping in the park but it was way too busy on a nice Sunday evening. Further south, the trail climbed steeply along a rocky hillside to a series of ledges…High Rock. Here there was a parking lot, filled with hot rod cars blasting music. Men were drinking beer and and peeing in front of me as I came from the woods, completely uncaring or oblivious. The rocks were covered head to toe in the most vulgar graffiti I’ve ever seen…it felt like a gritty NYC sub station from the 80s.
I was actually ashamed for the few kids that were running around in plain sight of such obscenities. The view west into to the valley was grand. The view into the more disgraceful parts of humanity, not so much. It was geographically a perfect place to watch the sunset, which was just about to occur, but I turned around to head back to the trail as quickly as I could. The light was fading and I wanted to put as much distance between me and that place as I could.
A shelter was a mere 2 miles away. I reached it just as darkness fell. Given such a close proximity to the ugliness of the parking area, it was a pleasant surprise to find a beautiful shelter, brand new and free of graffiti. I met a SOBO hiker named Birdfeed there, as well as 3 section hikers. I opted to sleep in the shelter just because it was so nice, with an upstairs loft and clean presence. One section hiker, George, was sleeping down below and self-identified as a snorer. But I figured I could deal with it using ear plugs. I had arrived late and didn’t feel like searching for a tentsite in the dark. As we sat around chatting at the picnic table, one of the other section hikers gave me some of his extra food, including a fancy dehydrated meal packet. I just might be able to walk the rest of the trail without stopping for resupply if I keep meeting such nice people.