Rocksylvania: Type-Two Fun

Rocksylvania Appalachian Trail

I am back from my Pennsylvania-aka-Rocksylvania adventure. Now I can say I’ve hiked about one-quarter of the Appalachian Trail. And now I get why this little piece of it is Where Boots Go to DIE. Where, I’d add, pretty much anything else below the waist is doomed—poles, knees, ankles, feet. And where the prevailing views are but a few square inches on the ground.

I have recently been introduced to the ‘Fun Scale,’ as a way to categorize one’s various adventures in life. Type One is a blast the whole time. Type Two sucks while you’re at it and is only fun when you’re done. Type Three is a never-again nightmare. 

To be accurate, there were spoonfuls of type-one fun folded into this predominantly type-two fun trek. Like tiny silk ribbons caught on a barbed-wire fence. As usual, I had romantic notions of sketching en plein air by a babbling brook in the amber glow of late afternoon. Really? I was lucky I could scrawl brief notations by headlamp before each nightly collapse. And star gazing, hmmm, after carrying 30 pounds from dawn to dusk? ROML (rolling-on-mud-laughing).

It so happened that a good friend of mine was eager to join me on this trek. She was brand-new to backpacking which upped the stakes for me: keeping her friendship was key.

Arriving bright and early at Lehigh Gap, we saluted our trusty shuttle service (my husband) and set off North. Skies were blue on Blue Mountain, with warm temps ahead—just what I ordered. Things were looking up. Steeply up. The first mile was a hand-over-hand crawl over exposed boulders. Being climbers, my friend and I were no strangers to rocks but hauling our beastly packs with three liters of water each was a whole different gig. It was a slow mile, ending with a surprise gift: a sojourn of songbirds in a budding, young meadow—an uncanny contrast to Palmerton’s former zinc smelting plant right down the hill.

In fact, Blue Mountain had been a moonscape of toxic wasteland until only a few years ago. In the early-to-mid 1900s the zinc industry boomed, unregulated, while it poisoned thousands of acres of land and watershed with heavy-metals. Blame the endless human hunger for building more and more stuff. At long last, with apparently herculean treatment and seeding efforts, healing is underway. And I am left more keenly aware of the cost of ‘progress’ as I type on my not-exactly-non-toxic laptop.

Our stroll through the greening hillside was brief. A pre-heinousness tease.                                                    

While planning this hike, I had honestly figured the PA rocks infamy was overblown. The map showed a mostly-flat ridge-walk and I’ve done hikes in the White Mountains. How hard could this be? Humble-Pie-hard, turns out. And dry. Babbling brook? Nope. Perhaps our suspicions were true, that this section was once an evil-twin Eagle Scout project whereby all those quartzite boulders in the woods were blasted into smaller shards then piled up strategically—and ONLY—on the blazed trail itself.

Gratefully, the adventure of human connection rose above the jagged-tooth trail itself. As the much-quoted phrase from Into the Wild goes, “Happiness is only real when shared.” I think the same goes for fun. I was less wary of others, traveling with a friend. More inclined to step out of my introverted shell and embrace the We, and open up to an always-colorful cast of characters, who for an equally colorful array of reasons chose to walk the same path. Or scramble. In full-length Amish cotton dresses, even. Who knew?

Between the commiserating and conferring on mileage, food, gear, and trail names, one thing became as clear as filtered water: hikers love helping hikers. When we first met the self-effacing fellow known as O.B. (Old Bastard), he made sure everyone knew there was a bear down the trail a ways so be sure to hang food properly. Right. Uh, thanks? As we lay in our respective abodes that first evening, we pondered the possibilities. Bear fortune cookie (my tent) or a bear burrito (her hammock)? We did hear a few branches snap but we and our high-hanging food survived the night.

Another plus for traveling with a buddy was the taking of turns and sharing of tasks. Lead, follow, switch, repeat. It was a natural rhythm which played into other activities. One spied a flower, the other knew its name. One found a high branch no bear would reach, the other hurled the cord over the branch to hang the bag. One boiled the water, the other prepared the meal. One had a handy pocket for the map, the other had the eyes to read it. We also took turns renaming the rocks (the Devil’s Jaw) and our feet (bloody stumps) in our attempts to embrace the suck.

After a second full day’s work, when our stumps could go no longer, we stopped and carefully set up a pride-worthy stealth site. I was feeling rather badass until O.B. strolled by, happy as ever to help, with intel about an established camping area some 10 yards further, according to a his app. Groan. Too late, too beat, not moving. Of course there was an app. But where is the adventure in that? Welllll… clearly it was with us that evening, in the form of a creeping, crinkling, nocturnal groundswell as vast civilizations of millipedes were displaced by a giant nylon trapezoid (mine) and forced to take refuge in the nooks and crannies of a backpack (hers) hanging on a tree.

Happy to check the hell out of Millipede Lodge, we kicked off day three with O.B. at the fire ring for breakfast. We sat on a log, listening to his banter on the woes and wonders of humanity and the best things in his life—his daughter with whom he had recently reconciled, and a certain French Toast Sausage Egg Sandwich available at the next town, where we would be bidding him and all the rocks adieu. We still had another 16 miles to go.

On went the odyssey through the Devil’s Jaw. And to make sure we didn’t miss inspecting each and every fang, someone ordered up rain.

Of course no A.T. adventure is complete without a little thunderstorm and shelter sleep. Sleep? Here I was, my feet still pulsing in outrage, serenaded by snoring and small chewing animals. I actually chose this. How many people in the world get to choose their shelter? Or have a safe home base? Let alone a fun scale. It is a privilege to have a heavy pack and have high-tech, ultra-light goals. There was much to ponder while not-sleeping, and a little more snacking on that humble pie.

Day four was a blessedly-painless, short hike down to town, resplendent with sunshine and flowers. Vistas unfolded of the Delaware Water Gap and the road leading home. The type-two fun of this trek was—or is—fun indeed, now that I can comfortably peruse through pictures of it. Much was gained beyond the logging of miles. A few more rock-solid nuggets of know-how, a deepening of friendship, and an up-close awareness of my comfort zone and how empowering it feels to stretch out of its bounds.

 

There is a viscerally-connective human experience on the trail known as Trail Magic—random acts of kindness on or nearby the trail, often by strangers referred to as Trail Angels. Because they are. Because, for example, in the midst of a dry and difficult ridge-walk, a 12-pack of bottled water left anonymously by a trailhead is the bomb. And the only thing better than receiving Trail Magic is giving it. Like insisting O.B. join us at the end of our section for pizza and beer. And sending him off with that French Toast Sausage Egg Sandwich to go.

 

More to come around the bend…

 

Other photos from this adventure can be viewed on the Climbing Tree Studio Facebook page. Enjoy!

11 Responses to “Rocksylvania: Type-Two Fun

  • Peter Southam
    7 months ago

    I could almost feel I was there with you — without all the hard work! 💚 (Dad)

  • Dave Southam
    7 months ago

    Sounds like an incredible experience! I keep lolling about O.B. and ROML! Glad you guys made it back in one piece. Congratulations on completing 1/4 if the A.T.!!! 👍👍👍

  • OddPainter
    7 months ago

    OddPainter here, thanks for treating my pop, O.B. to that french toast egg sandwich! Left me craving some for about a week ;). The trail is a magical place so congrats on the 1/4 way through!

    • Hi OddPainter! The pleasure was all mine. Your pop was fun to hike with and what I liked best about him was how much he talked about you. Glowingly. Keep on painting!

    • OddPainter, the trip simply would not have been so special without the company of your pop. He has logged some amazing miles, and only a few of them on the trail. You have been the happiest part by far. Tell him Hot Sauce sends fond regards and wishes for a speedy recovery.

  • What an adventure! I’m so honored to have been part of your journey, Karen. The rocks have completely faded from memory (stumps no longer bloody), but the joys of our communion those four days sparkle brighter every day. Onward to the Shenandoah!!

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