Days 111 + 112
Day 111: Mile 1084.0 | Caledonia State Park
I was out of camp by 8am, early for me as of late. I left before Miles and cruised down the rocky trail. We had woken up in his tent that morning and he told me he felt like he wasn’t hiking his own hike anymore. That maybe we needed to split up. I immediately freaked out, which I knew I shouldn’t have done. I couldn’t imagine not seeing him at camp or being alone again. I knew it would be good for me, but suddenly all of my anxiety was coming back that I’d thought I’d gotten over. He was right: we were compromising for each other, we should be hiking our own hikes, we should be individuals. But it was hard for me. We decided to just walk separately that day and we’d meet up later.
I made it down to Caledonia State Park, 3 miles into my day. Since I didn’t get to charge my phone at the South Mountain ‘Hotel’ like I had planned I stopped by one of the state park’s public restrooms to charge up. I plugged my phone in inside and sat on a picnic table outside, eating. A man approached me, middle aged, I immediately felt threatened because I was alone. There were cars around. I didn’t feel as safe as I would have in the woods.
He asked if I was thru-hiking and I told him I was. He introduced himself by trail name, Cook Doctor, and asked if I wanted some trail magic. I asked what he meant. He explained that the signs I’d seen earlier on the trail were put out by him and his coworkers who come out every year from Indiana to make dinner and breakfast for hikers for a week. They had a cabin up the road that they had rented where we could tent for free. It was a nice offer, I told him, but I had only hiked 3 miles that day and I kind of felt like I needed to get a move on after the week I had had. I looked at the dark, threatening sky. He remarked, “Ya know, it looks like rain...” I took that into account. I told him I’d consider going but that I’m hiking with a partner and I would have to wait for him. He said he didn’t mind waiting.
I pulled my Spot (Satellite Messenger) out of my pack and immediately sent my coordinates to my family just in case. But he seemed harmless. I started a timer on my watch, a trick I'd learned in self defense class, to see how long he was willing to wait with me for my partner (who for all he knew was fictional). We had a conversation about how my hike was going and he tried to delve deeper into my guilt surrounding only hiking 3 miles this day. He admitted that he was a psychologist and practicing therapist in Indianapolis. He also explained to me that he was taking the crew up to Pine Grove Furnace (near the official halfway point further up the trail) to get ice cream and drop off some packs for some slackpackers. He welcomed us to join their adventures but he said we could hang at the cabin if we wanted to get some rest instead.
Miles finally arrived about 25 minutes later. I felt much safer with him around. Just knowing someone else I knew was there and knew where I was felt better. It also made me feel better that Cook Doctor had passed all my tests. He waited longer than 10 minutes for my partner, answered any questions I asked, and gave me the address of the cabin location before we got there. I wasn't being kidnapped. I got my phone from the bathroom and we walked with Cook Doctor over to the cabin. We put our packs under a tarp in the backyard just as it started to rain. Inside he let us plug in our phones and I sat and ate some Cheetos. About an hour later we left in their SUV to go to Pine Grove Furnace.
After a 45 minute drive, during which Cook Doctor played Classic Country DJ, we arrived. In the pouring rain we all carried the slackpackers packs to the porch in front of the camp store. Pine Grove Furnace is home of the Half Gallon Challenge in which hikers are challenged to eat a half gallon of ice cream in under an hour to celebrate reaching the halfway point. I had seen it in videos online and had looked forward to it for a long time but I knew we wouldn’t be passing by when the camp store was open the next day so now was my chance.
It was cold and rainy and I honestly didn’t feel like spending $15 to give myself a stomach ache for two days. In theory the challenge sounded fun and very Hiker Trash (a term we use to describe ridiculous and sometimes disgusting things us hikers do) but in reality I knew I’d be sick. I opted for a three scoop cone of chocolate chip cookie dough instead.
Miles and I also got burgers and a hot cup of coffee. We were exhausted and staying awake for trail magic would be difficult. We ate with Cook Doctor and his crew: Goose (his son), Vandal, JuJu, and Jay. After lunch and ice cream the crew and us hikers piled back into the car. Cook Doctor told us he had one last surprise for us.We rode back toward Caledonia but at the intersection to the park we went a different direction. He took us to Mister Ed’s, a former elephant museum and now candy shop.
Pennsylvania is an interesting place, my friends....
We looked around at all the elephants, the big buckets of candy, and the crazy garden the had outside:
There were photo ops:
(From Left to Right: Jay, Goose, Cook Doctor, Vandal, and JuJu)
Cook Doctor shared some peanuts with us and then we all headed back to the cabin at Celdonia. When we got back, I took a nap and blogged. The rain came down hard outside all day. Slowly throughout the afternoon more hikers showed up. We offered to help with dinner but they let us relax instead. Around 7 we all gathered around the table and we had tacos! I made myself a taco salad. For dessert there was pudding. It was a VERY filling dinner. We realized as we talked after dinner that this was the first time there were more women hikers in the room than men! That doesn’t happen often out here.
At the end of the evening the crew went around and tried to help anyone who needed anything: Poison Ivy remedies, bug bite cream, leg and food massaging, food stuffs, anything they could to help us. At the time, my right leg was almost covered in open wounds from bug bites scratched open in my sleep and poison ivy. My left leg wasn’t in much better shape. Cook Doctor had me go wash my leg in the tub. Once it was clean, he took a paper towel, wetted it with alcohol, and rubbed it over all of my open cuts. It stung and burned but it passed quickly. Then he gave me a tube of cortisone to put on every wound. My leg finally stopped itching!
Miles and I slept in his tent in the back yard that night. The yard was close to a road so it was a noisy night, but for the free food and avoiding the rain it was worth it.
Day 113: Mile 1104.6 | Stealth Camp just outside of Pine Grove Furnace State Park
I woke up around 7am and went inside to join everyone for breakfast. Meats, eggs, and potatoes were passed around the communal table. Miles slept through breakfast. The rain had mostly subsided in the morning. After breakfast, us lady hikers (Miles was the only boy hiker!) sat around the table and talked with Vandal about anything and everything that was bothering us on and off trail. She listened and helped us talk about our problems. It was like one big group therapy session. Thankfully, Vandal was a licensed therapist. It was good to get it all out and to know that other women hikers were lamenting some of the same things that I was.
We all went outside to pack up after our little session. We took a group photo of all of us women:
We packed slowly and eventually headed out. The ‘menacing climb’ that the trail angels had warned us about turned out to be surprisingly easy for us.
We cruised toward Pine Grove Furnace State Park and the halfway point. Fueled by home cooked food and 50% of trail completion we made good time. We got to the ‘official halfway point’ (there are 3 marked...) in the evening just before dusk. Someone left trail magic there!
After the halfway point, we walked through Pine Grove Furnace State Park as the sun set. We walked out of the park in the dark and arrived at the edge of the park around 9:30pm. We set up camp just past the edge of the park and shared Miles’ tent.
We had FINALLY made it halfway. But there was so much ‘halfway’ hype that it didn’t even feel real anymore. We’d gotten excited about halfway when we crossed from Virginia in to West Virginia and the hype didn’t stop until today. It had been 5 days of ‘halfway’. It made it feel like a never ending journey. I got homesick and overwhelmed. It was tired in more than just a physical way. But I’d made it halfway now and there’s nothing that could stop me from here.