Appalachian Trail Solo Thru-Hike Odyssey- Chapter 6

Near Carlisle, Pennsylvania

I’d reached Wind Gap near Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania for 2 1/2 days’ rest, recuperation, and rendezvous at the Hampton Inn with my wife, whom I hadn’t seen (in person) for three months. It was going to be a nice mini-vacation from the goddawful knife-edge rocks of the previous week. I’d completed 1,281 miles and was one day’s hike shy of the New Jersey state line. Mount Katahdin in Maine was in figurative view.

Did you notice the past tense “was?”

In the past three months I’ve seen many thru-hikers younger than me have to quit the trail due to injury or illness (fractures, sprains, tendon tears, kidney stones, fatigue, etcetera). Others mysteriously disappeared, or resorted to “slackpacking” (using a vehicle to haul their gear). One man I hiked with and sheltered with, a friendly, self-deprecating guy named Faceplant, died in his tent.

A.T. halfway point south of Pine Grove Furnace, PA, where a lot happened all at once. The Scotch flask is courtesy my old school chum Tad, who drove clear from Pittsburgh to meet me, and helped re-charge my batteries.

I wasn’t immune to my own less-serious problems. Here’s a short laundry list: vasculitis (“Disney Rash”) in both legs. Mysterious calf ache. Hyperextension of knee. Scalping (twice) by low-hanging tree limbs. Four rock and root stumbles that laid me horizontal. Four ticks whose heads penetrated my flesh, precipitating a visit to Urgent Care in Waynesboro, Virginia. Allergic reactions to Permethrin insecticide to ward off ticks. Stingings by five hornets. Excessive weight loss, exacerbated by intense heat and 95 percent humidity. Broken backpack hip belt. A punch-drunk ex-boxer who wouldn’t leave me alone at Niday Shelter. A disturbed OCD woman and her hunchback son at Maupin Field Shelter. The Rollercoaster. Shelter journal entries that sounded like they were written by eight-year-olds. Meralgia paraesthetica.

Second scalping, Exhibit A. Bandanas have many uses, but they are mediocre bandages. I didn’t notice there was blood until I removed this in my tent.

In the end it was blood clotting of the gorge-ous varicose veins in my right leg, inherited from Dad, that did me in. St. Luke Hospital in Stroudsburg diagnosed my condition as “thrombophlebitis.” They put me on blood thinners and recommended I consult a vascular surgeon.

So it was either get off trail, or risk a pulmonary embolism near an isolated privy, alone, in northern Pennsylvania. Or even worse, New Jersey.

So I’m writing this post while Lynn chauffeurs me home…ahh, Home, Sweet Home…on Interstate 80. I’m slouched in the back seat with my leg elevated over the passenger seat backrest. The good news is that I did manage a couple all-you-can-eat hot breakfasts at the Hampton.

Despite its many rocks, the Pennsylvania A.T. is chock full of colorful and unique mushrooms, like this white and rose-colored, cottony ‘shroom

Ironically, the clots flaired up only days after a minor crisis. While struggling heavily before and after Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, I considered quitting. (See paragraph 4 for my reasons.) I was actually planning an airplane trip from Harrisburg to Cincinnati.

But near the halfway mark a chance meeting with a Maine hiker and ex-cop, ex-fireman named Bilbo changed my mind. Bilbo is a stroke survivor. Seven years ago he was on life support for 15 days. Now, his right arm is paralyzed and his brain is at partial capacity. But he’s committed to going all the way for brain trauma awareness…hiking solo…with no slackpacking.

After hearing Bilbo’s story, and watching him struggle to open his bag of freeze-dried rice just so he could eat…and while I later mused in front of campfire sparks while sucking in some choice C. indica (medical, of course)…I chose to soldier on.

Limenitis arthemis. Beautiful butterflies are found up and down the A.T.

And through a careful program of trail-town gluttony, I’d even managed to add some weight to my bony frame.

But my 63-year-old body had other ideas. The first clotting symptoms appeared at Ironmasters Mansion Hostel in Pine Grove Furnace, amazingly within hours of telling Lynn I’d decided to continue and would not be flying home. I’m convinced Flutie and the Trail Gods are vengeful creatures. (Let me explain: Flutie is a male wood thrush I encountered at Beech Gap in North Carolina. He tagged along with me off and on, periodically singing out to reassure me. Thoreau loved his music, but to me he sounds like an impertinent child learning to play a flute, and not succeeding.) Flutie is my guardian angel. Or, at least, I thought so until Ironmasters Mansion.

O, Flutie, why hast thou forsaken me?

But as Arnold Schwarzenegger once said in a movie he starred in: “I’ll be bock.” I’ve got, as they say, unfinished business to attend to. Whether it happens this year or next, it will happen. When it does, I hope you’ll join me again for the second half. The Appalachian Trail may sound like a Trail of Tears, but there are also amazing and beautiful things that happen there.

For the immediate future though, I’ll be playing with my dog Sheba, savoring Seattle’s Best coffee once again, pulling weeds, popping Eliquis pills, and reading some material that is written by people who are able to construct coherent sentences…like here on WordPress.

Ahhhh. As Bilbo says, “Life is good.”

Bilbo and hearty breakfast in Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania. We ended up hiking together for a week. I hope he survived the rock face north of Lehigh River.

34 thoughts on “Appalachian Trail Solo Thru-Hike Odyssey- Chapter 6

  1. Congratulations on coming so far on your hike! What an accomplishment!!!! I look forward to reading about the second half when you do it. In the meantime, there’s nothing better than being back home with family and critters who missed you 🙂 Wishing you a speedy recovery.

  2. As we were told at Kiski, just walk it off squirrel. Sorry to hear about the blood clots but I’m glad you’re on your way home safe and sound.

  3. Many congrats Pete, that was a splendid hike and I’m sure it’s been full of magnificent experiences! I’m glad you are now safe and headed home! Hope you recover quickly from the circulatory problems and that you enjoy your time at home to the fullest. There’s plenty of time to celebrate this hike, and later, figure out just when you can return to the trail.

  4. Peter! What a terrific adventure you have begun. I say that because I am sure that you will finish your jaunt in the country one day. Glad you made a smart decision to retire for the summer from further perambulation. You have done well, 63-year-old body permitting. I can now add you to my personal acquaintances (while not actually meeting in person) who have, against incredible obstacles, taken on a challenge that was self-imposed. There is no way that you have not gained knowledge, occasional wisdom, and spiritual resilience. My only regret for you is that you have returned to the world of the contemporary silliness that drove you to the woods three months ago. But hey, it can’t be worse than three ticks living off your vital fluids. Perspective is always good! Welcome home.

    • Well put, Phil. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, no lie. The last three months were a mix of pain, joy, doubt, and resilience. Till I return, it’s good to be home. My wife met me at the Wind Gap trailhead during a driving rainstorm. Uh…literally.

      “Come in” she said,
      “I’ll give ya
      Shelter from the storm”

  5. Congratulations! Good to see you are safe. I am envious of your long trails. We don’t have many walks like that here in Australia. There are some long walks like the Bibblbum in Western Australia (~1000km) and a 250 km walk from Sydney to Newcastle, but only a very few are supported with huts and the like. I am also very envious of your majestic landscapes! Not that Australia is not beautiful but we don’t have the big mountains! (On the other hand, there are plenty of things I am not envious of! 🙂

      • Because some things about my home country are nicer than the US! Like magpies and koalas and the lack of large carnivorous mammals! Having the 10 most venomous snakes in the world? That one I could do without!! 🙂 Seriously I have loved the States the 3 times I have visited! Lovely people!

      • Totally get it Robyn. No reprimand intended. But you can’t have Nicole and Keith back just yet! They are an outstanding pair of ambassadors.

      • Yeah, I figured Robyn, as a polite Australian, was referring to nature and not politics, culture, etc. (despite the fact she might be justified if she did). You can criticize your own football team, but its bad form to criticize the other fellow’s team.

      • Robyn…although you were probably only half-serious…I LOVE the fact that America has large carnivorous mammals like grizzly bears, wolves, and cougars within its borders (though it’s a constant struggle to keep them here). They’re beautiful creatures and make the ecosystem here much more exciting and exotic!

  6. I was just searching on “backpacking” and found this post, which interestingly has you hiking right through one of our favorite outdoor playgrounds – Michaux State Forest (we live in Carlisle, which gives us easy access to both Michaux and Tuscarora). My son and I love backpacking and hiking in that area. Lots of beautiful side trails and scenic variety. I’m going to have to go back now and read some of your other material!

      • Things get a bit rough soon after the Susquehanna River. I haven’t done much up that way, but Peter’s Mountain I recall being a lot of rocks and Pennsylvania’s #2 State Flower (Poison Ivy)!

      • Scott, you hit the nail on the head about Peter’s Mtn. I did that hot climb after unwisely stuffing myself with a banana split in Duncannon. I think I set a record with profanities after hitting those rocks, and poison ivy (which I’m highly allergic to) crowding the trail at every step.

  7. I may not know you, but man, I am so damn proud of you. You’ve done some amazing shit. Good luck on your recovery and I look forward to your future blog posts for the second half of this journey.

  8. Omoo, You are a true soldier and one that will LIVE to hike (the rest :)) another day. Congratulations on the 1200 plus mile AT hike, the lives touch and touched by. Your first-things-first nature will have you safely back and surrounded by your loved ones so soon. I am sorry for your challenges but applaud your courage to come OFF the trail. For us, it has been an adventure by extension and I want to thank you for bringing us along. I’d do it all over again (shamefully, from my recliner)!! Look forward to catching up with you soon – until then, rest well and sending you a wish for great strength and wellness!

  9. Oh my! What an adventure! I guess you’d call what we are doing glamming compared to you! Bob and I are on a trip out West with Bill and a friend of his. We headed out 7/26. We were in Door County, WI, then continued on to ND, Glacier National Park and now we are in Coeur d’Alene, ID. Then heading to Seattle/Tacoma, the Pacific Coast, the Red Woods and then we are high tailing it to Frankfort , Mi for our annual Labor Day camping with 3 other families. It is always enjoyable reading your post. Glad you are ok. Thank goodness for Lynn, coming to your aid! Take Care, your old friend , Cindy (Wise) Reiche

    • Hi Cindy…thanks so much for your lovely note. Actually, your trips sound far more exotic and exciting than mine. I actually was planning a hike in Glacier this summer, until this thru-hike stunt gained traction. I think we both where shaped by those wonderful family vacations at Crystal Lake and Oscoda. Fond memories that I take with me wherever I hike or camp. All the best to you, Bill, and your families, and keep in touch!

  10. Again, proud of your accomplishments. Also you know how to get your story across that keeps my interest. Great stuff Pete. Our health is #1 (I don’t have to tell you that) so get healthy and strong and sit in a state of mind that few can relate too.. Welcome home.

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