7/18 (15.1) and 7/19 (23) An Ode to PA

July 24, 2013 at 10:03 pm

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The Keystone State is known for its natural beauty in the Poconos region.

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Smooth, scenic trails such as the one above draw tourists from all over the mid-Atlantic region to hike.  Of course, the AT barely touches the edge of these sweeping vistas and instead routes us directly across the Blue Mountain ridge, which is more like the disfigured, impoverished cousin of the Poconos.  Naturally, we didn’t take either of the above pictures ourselves, since thru hikers can’t even find images that pleasant on postcards along the Pennsylvania AT. 

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Lots of variety and surprises along the AT in PA.  Is that the trail or just a pile of slag?

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People mistake the nickname “Rocksylvania” for defamation, but it’s actually a point of pride.

For the past two days of heat wave, we have hiked almost forty miles through the worst part of the AT.  Every day, we wake up when the sun peaks over the edge of the earth and begins to burn a hole in our tent.  We eat in our tent because the combination of a very rainy late spring and an extremely hot dry summer have combined to create an entomological Island of Dr. Moreau.  As soon as we leave our tent, it begins.  The wave of gnats hits our faces and we start swatting them away, feeling thousands of tiny pinpricks on our hands from the impact of so many little bloodsucking bodies.  Then we wipe the cobwebs off our belongings outside, watch a few Brown Recluses and Black Widows skitter away from our bags, and warily put our shoes on.

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The poisonous snakes in PA really keep us on track by monopolizing the only views in the state. 

Yes, that’s the sound of a Timber Rattler.  It’s also the anthem of Pennsylvania.

Hiking entails more of a perilous stagger over the pointed, shifty boulder fields.  It’s a little bit like hiking through the 1980s film The Labyrinth.  The path is poorly blazed or not blazed at all and constantly leads us astray into other boulder fields that have been apparently deemed unworthy for the AT, the rocks shift under our feet and send us sprawling across their sharp siblings on a regular basis, and you never know when a snake is going to pop out of their crevices to protect its territory.  (So far no snake bites, but my leg did fall prey to a particularly territorial wasp.)  While we’re hiking, of course, the gnats become worse and strive to crawl into our noses, mouths, ears, and eyes for any reserve moisture.  Since we can’t breathe with gnats in our mouths, we wear bandanas over our faces and sunglasses on our eyes, which creates an interesting sauna effect with the 112 degree heat index.  Seeing is difficult with the gnats squirming under our eye protection, and its further impeded by the trail itself, which saw its last trail maintainer in Benton MacKaye’s time.

Keeping us stylish – Pennsylvania.

PA is an inviting host to so many venomous snakes and poisonous spiders, its no wonder that what grows best here is poison ivy, pricker bushes, and stinging nettle.  This makes the unmaintained areas of the trail extra exciting, since the brush that covers the trail not only conceals the rock maze your feet endure but also cuts, stings, and poisons your calves as you walk through it.  You lift your trekking pole to swat at the gnats and fall again, just in time to hear an angry Timber Rattler in front of you staking its claim in the middle of the trail.  What an experience.  We’re probably not going to make our original goal of PA in 12 days, but our focus has shifted anyways to our new goal of finishing Pennsylvania before we run out of sanity.