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Hi, I’m Rachel.

I’m a freelance writer, advocate, and podcast host! I hiked the Appalachian Trail in 2018 and it changed my life. Check out my Podcast, hire me, or read about my adventures!

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This is Trail Name Here.

This is a space where I share life stories, educate, and connect people. I’m glad you’re here to join me by listening to Podcast Here, reading my blog, or looking back at my journey on the AT.

Instagram: @TrailNameHere

Days 116 + 117

Days 116 + 117

Day 116: Mile 1140.6 | Stream Campsite

In the morning we had breakfast at the hotel. Because Boiling Springs’ outfitter didn’t have most of the stuff we needed (bug spray, bug net, fuel), we decided to stop at the nearby WalMart and then get a Lyft car back to Boiling Springs.

The Lyft Guy was nice. He told us about his time in the military and the crazy spiders he saw out in the Middle Eastern deserts. He said, even as scary as those spiders were, he was more afraid of ticks and Lyme disease. I was not surprised. Town people were constantly warning us about ticks. This far I had gotten 4 ticks embedded but none for more than a few hours, as far as I knew. I’d gotten many ticks in my lifetime. They were certainly a threat but I wasn’t going to let it stop me from hiking the way this guy had. It was food for thought, though.

He dropped us back on the trail in Boiling Springs and we headed out of town. The sun was really out this day. It was HOT. we walked slowly through open farm fields.

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We crossed 14 roads in 15 miles... welcome to Pennsylvania. So far I was really not a fan of the state. It seemed like there was no true ‘wilderness’ in this section. Just roaches, road crossings, and corn fields. I grew up across the street from corn fields, I could have just gone for a walk in my front yard for this experience! But lamenting gets you no where, only walking does.

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Miles tuckered out early. He hadn’t gotten much sleep at the hotel because he spent most of the night using the WiFi to back up the photos on his phone to an online drive. His phone was broken and he didn’t want to lose the photos if it stopped working. He stopped at the Darlington shelter. I pushed a few more miles further because I felt good. We planned to meet in Duncannon the next morning. I continued through the Golden hour and the farm fields.

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I set up my tent by a stream. We saw only one water source that day so I was thrilled to be able to camp by water. I sat and drank two liters by the quiet stream. A nice couple from Germany and their dog camped nearby. I laid in bed and read then fell asleep pretty early to the sound of the stream flowing and cicadas in the distance.

Day 117: Mile 1156.0 | Stealth Camp Near Clark’s Ferry Shelter

I got up early and hiked into town. It was slow going and hot. I passed a lot of day hikers on my way down the steep hill. I arrived at the road to begin a small road walk portion and looked around for grocery stores to resupply at. According to the guidebook the grocery store was 0.8 miles up the road from the trail but it said the road was dangerous to walk on. I decided to try to find a ride there. I considered grabbing a bite to eat at the Doyle hotel.

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As I was standing outside the rundown hotel waiting trying to decide if I was going in or not, I heard my name in the distance. I turned around to see Miles barreling down the street into town with Napoleon. Napoleon is a thru-hiker we met back in Pearisburg, VA at Angel’s Rest Hostel. He had completed the Triple Crown already and spent a lot of time on trails. He rarely, if ever, left with more than a couple hundred dollars in his pocket for thru-hikers. He didn’t drink water during the day while hiking. His backpack was small and light. He consistently hiked around 3mph (faster than many thru-hikes) Miles calls him a ‘TED Talk on wheels’. He walks and talks about his life and the lessons he’s learned and how life and society don’t have to be the way they are.

Miles had held onto Napoleon’s fast pace all the way into town, even though he was exhausted. He told me all these inspiring stories about how Napoleon went from buying fancy, expensive watches as status symbols to hiking hundreds of miles of trail with just $25 in his pocket when he left. The kindness of strangers and work-for-stay/food carrying him the rest of the way.

To me, Napoleon was sort of insane. I appreciated the stories and lessons he could tell but I couldn’t see myself taking those risks. To me he was a dehydrated, unprepared machine. He was incredible in a way. But he was also living on the edge of an abyss I didn’t really want to approach.

We went into the Doyle Hotel, planning to get lunch at the bar. The Doyle is a trail icon. It’s been around for a very long time, offering cheap rooms to hikers walking through. From what I’ve heard the place is run down and dingy. It’s dirty and not up to code at all and their excuse is that it’s a historical landmark so they’re ‘exempt’ from those codes. As soon as we stepped foot in the door the woman behind the bar (an older woman with rotting teeth who sounded a bit drunk) yelled, “In the room on the right!” “What?” We responded unsure what was in the room on the right. “Your backpacks! Jesus!” She huffed. We realized she wanted us to put our packs down in the room on the right. We put our packs down and went to wash our hands.

When we came out of the bathrooms she said, “That’ll be a $500 deposit.” And laughed. We stood frozen and confused. “For your packs! A safety deposit... it’s a joke!” She said. We looked at each other, and back at her. Her sarcasm went right over our heads and we felt unwelcome. Miles told the lady that we were just going to leave. We turned and went back into the room where our packs were. We picked them up and left, back out into the sun. We started walking in the direction we though the grocery store was. When we got up to the convenience store nearby Napoleon told us we’d need a ride and resupplying at the convenience store would be too expensive. Another guy there, Comfortably Numb, was also looking for a ride to the store.

The guide book listed a trail angel called ‘Trail Angel Mary’. I called her and she agreed to pick us up in front of the Doyle in 10 minutes. When she arrived in her beat up conversion van all of us piled in. As we were getting into the car, one of the owners of the Doyle (who had asked us earlier if he could help us ((in a ‘hey kids get off my lawn’ kind of way)) when we were sitting outside waiting) struck up a conversation with Mary. They complained about hikers going to the free church hostel that just opened up the street taking away business from the Doyle. How ‘hiker-trash’ (which is a term we jokingly use to describe our sometimes desperate and dirty ways of getting what we need, but not a term used nicely by towns people) would be anywhere that used the word ‘free’. They complained about us, while we were right there in the back seat!

I appreciated the ride to the store but not the patronizing. Don’t be a trail angel if you don’t want to help, it’s not an obligation. Don’t keep a hotel that isn’t attracting customers if you want to have a real business. I was annoyed and I didn’t understand why we were sitting in the back of this van for fifteen minutes listening to two of the towns foremost thru-hiker helpers complain about hikers.

The town was clearly struggling both financially and physically. A lot of houses were vacant. Store fronts were vacant. Even the national bank chain had up and left. After their little chat, Mary brought us up to Mutzy’s, the local grocer. We asked if we owed her any money for the ride. She gave us her Mutzy rewards card and said if we used that for all of our purchases then we owed her nothing. We gathered our food quickly and checked out. Outside the store, we waited for Mary, who said she’d be back in half an hour. We charged our phones on the outdoor outlets and ate some fruit we’d gotten.

Eventually, Mary came back around and drove us back down to the main road where the trail was. She told us the pretzel place was great and we should support their local businesses. We decided to stop in. We liked meeting local people and supporting the local food especially. Inside the shop was practically empty. There was one table, a massage chair, and a large, open kitchen. It seemed like a weird place. I felt a bit awkward. The owner heated up a soft pretzel for me and when she asked if it was for here or to go, I panicked and said, “for here.” Not realizing we would have to sit and talk to her while I ate it. She started out by trying to tell us about the next part of the trail we’d be walking, although she’d never hiked it herself. Then proceeded to tell us about the town. How she’d seen it go from a thriving factory town to essential ruin. There were few jobs left in town and most people who lived in Duncannon commuted.

There was nothing left here and the town couldn’t keep going this way. It looked like another Pennsylvania town to me. The only places in this state that seemed to be thriving were highway exits, farms, and big cities. The suburbs, small towns, and rural places seemed to all be struggling financially and being vacated by its former residents. Walking across the country really affords you views of America and its people that you might not have ever seen otherwise.

We thanked her for the pretzel and headed back out into the sun. We stayed along the road that the trail followed. Still without lunch, we were hungry. Miles wanted Subway which was up the road from the trail along the highway. Along the highway we walked... passing billboards and interesting establishments:

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(A 24 Hour ‘Massage’ place across from a Jesus billboard next to a strip club((see behind the HHR billboard...))

We crossed the road like that video game Frogger we played as a kid:

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(THAT WAS TERRIFYING)

And finally got our sandwiches. I don’t know if I mentioned it... but back in the Shenandoahs, my dirty water bladder sprung a few pinhole leaks. As we approached Harper’s Ferry it got worse. I ordered a new one and picked it up in Harper’s Ferry. The new one started leaking within two days. Upset, I called the manufacturer. They told me that it was a user error and couldn’t possibly be a defect. I threw it away out of anger and because I couldn’t really use it. Since then I had been using a Disani 1 liter water bottle because it was relatively flexible. That bottle cracked the night before Duncannon when I was camping at the creek. At the convenience store next to Subway I got a new water bottle. The Poland Springs ones were the cheapest so I just got that. (Side note: I felt VERY guilty after buying this. Please don’t support Stolen Springs. If you don’t know what I’m referring to, please visit this post).

After we ate, we went back out to play ‘Frogger’ one last time. Together, we crossed the bridge next to the highway traffic and climbed out of Duncannon.

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At the top of the climb, which was rocky and difficult but not that hard, I had a real breakdown. All day I'd been anxious. I was trying to hike my own hike and let Miles hike his. I was trying to keep going at a time when I didn't want to. Miles tried to be supportive during my mental breakdown. We stopped and sat at this beautiful view on a rocky ledge. I cried and cried and cried. I had realized that I didn't want to be out here anymore. I was tired all the time. My body hurt. I had to physically blow up my bed every night instead of just laying down and it didn't even feel that comfortable. I HATED camping. Honestly I just hated the effort of setting up and and tearing down camp.

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I was sick of the bugs and how BADLY I smelled. I was sick of my feet feeling like someone had taken a rubber mallet and tenderized them for a skillet. I never wanted to see rain again. I didn't want to keep going. I wanted my cats, my bed, my shower, my clean running water. I wanted all those things I realized I was SO PRIVILEGED to have at home. I wanted to go home. I was always homesick on this trip, why not just solve that? I was so TIRED. Beyond physical I-need-to-go-to-bed tired. I was mentally exhausted.

It was hard to take on this MONUMENTAL 2190 mile task. This 15 times Mt. Everest amount of climbing. This Six-plus month journey. It was more than hard to live outside your comfort zone for a continuous six-plus months and to actually grow and learn during that time. It was hard. It was exhausting. It was worth it. But I was losing motivation and sight of the end.

He wanted to be out here. And he wanted to be with someone who wanted to be out here. I wanted so badly to want to be out here. But I was so tired of forcing myself to want to be out here and to endure everything. I kept going because me and my parents and my generous extended family had put so much money and faith into my expedition. Because I had declared I was going to achieve something and I didn't want to be a quitter. Because I was stubborn. Because of Miles, a relationship I didn't want to lose. I kept going for hundreds of external reasons, but at that point no internal ones. And that was bad. I needed to be doing this for myself and I needed to TRULY and BADLY want this. The whole experience not just the summit and the 2,000 miler patch. He told me I needed to figure this out. No one could do it for me. And he was right. I dried my tears and we kept walking.

We arrived at some tent sites near the first shelter. A guy called Bean was also camping there. He had just started that day. He said he was sitting on a bus on the way to Harper’s Ferry where he was going to start and he felt restless. He realized he could just start walking that day. He got off the bus and hitched to the trail. He had previously hitched across the entire country. He got most of his gear at an Army Surplus Store. His story was pretty amazing. He talked freely to Miles for a while and I made dinner.

I went to go get water after dinner. I realized when I got to the spring that the thread on the Poland Spring bottle wasn't compatible with my filter... I was (excuse my language) FUCKED. I had no way to get the number one thing I needed: water. I went back up to camp without water. Miles lent me his bottle and filter. He told me we'd figure it out in the morning.

That night I didn't sleep well. I stayed up with racing thoughts. Trying to dig deep into myself to motivate some kind of want for this life. Some kind of want for any life. At this point I was depressed. I felt my depression coming back. Even out here, where I had once been convinced that I would be happiest, my depression invaded my life. And my anxiety chased my depression around my head like a cat chasing a mouse.

I had run away from home, debt, relationships, mental illness, and life. Not dealing with them before I left forced me to deal with them on the trail. I laid awake thinking, not dreaming. I pulled out my journal. In the first few pages were lists from before the trail. To-Do lists, gear lists, packing lists, etc. On the fifth page was another kind of list. One inspired by Zach Davis' Appalachian Trials. Zach, better known as Badger on trail suggests that before every thru-hike you make 3 lists: I am thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail because…, When I successfully thru-hike the Appalachian Trail I will…, If I give up on the Appalachian Trail I will…

I looked at my lists. After, I laid restlessly in bed.

Days 118 + 119

Days 118 + 119

Days 113 + 114

Days 113 + 114