October 19, 2017
There can be a sense of mischievous power in the opportunity to wake up a friend. This morning, we rose early as usual, getting on the trail at 7:30 a.m. An hour later, we passed a hammock and tarp strung between two trees, with gear neatly stored nearby.
“Hey, isn’t that Gator’s hammock?” I asked. At the sound of my voice, convulsive movements set the hammock swinging, bulges rippling across the surface.
“Maybe it’s a chrysalis,” Jay teased. Then, as a foot and ankle appeared, “Lookout, something is emerging!”
A couple more spasmodic lurches set Gator free. The three of us were delighted to see each other, and immediately began talking like old friends, topics ranging from the state of the trail to favorite books.
We first met Gator, an 18 year old southbound thru-hiker, in the 100 Mile Wilderness in Maine. We were impressed by his obvious youth, mixed with an amazing air of competence, and a hiking pace at opposite ends of the spectrum from ours. We rise early, hike slowly and steadily all day, and stop as evening falls. Gator rises late, hikes and runs along the trail at an incredible rate, and stops whenever the whim hits him. Thus, in the last 1,000 miles, our paths have crossed unpredictably, but always happily.
After a good twenty minutes of lighthearted conversation, Jay and I tore ourselves away, continuing down the trail as Gator began his morning routines. “See you when you pass us!” I called as we left.
It’s been seven days since we crossed into Pennsylvania, and I am just beginning to get a feel for this state’s infamous rocks. The AT follows the tops of many ridges, with a mixture of flat, level path and crazy rocks which show little semblance to a trail. White blazes upon rocks and trees are sometimes the only reassurance that we are, indeed, still on track. More protruding rock jumbles are graced with names … Bake Oven Knob, Bear Rocks, the Knife Edge, Dan’s Pulpit, the Pinnacle.
Some of the trail looks as if a dump truck spilled a pile of boulders down the mountainside, causing me to slowly step up, walk across, step down, step around, step up, step down, etc. Today, I took my courage in hand and began to step from pointy top to pointy top, hopping, leaping, balancing. It took a bit of nerve, a good bit of inner core muscles, and incredible focus to negotiate a spill of boulders in this fashion. I couldn’t keep up my momentum for more than 20 yards or so, but for those few seconds, I felt like Super Woman, flying through the forest!
We continued hiking, enjoying a warm autumn day with blue sky above and insects humming in the forest understory. I was about to try my new Super Woman powers again when suddenly a sharp electric shock ripped across my ankle. “Aaah!” I cried out, looking down to see a yellow jacket stinging me through my sock! “Oh, oh, OUCH!” I screamed, flailing wildly at the ferocious insect. Fearful that one insect meant a whole hive, Jay and I ran for a few yards, leaving the menacing hum behind.
When we stopped to take stock, my ankle throbbed with savage pain spreading quickly through my foot and up my leg. Jay handed me a Benadryl tablet while I sniffled and moaned. That stupid ankle hurt the rest of the day, feeling as if it was covered with burn blisters. Fortunately, the Benadryl stopped the spread of pain, and that evening in the tent, I was pleased to see no swelling at all! Hurray for modern medicine!
In the late afternoon, we came to a side trail to The Pinnacle, a set of rocks with a panoramic view. Most side trails off the AT are marked with blue blazes and small signs. The side trail to The Pinnacle is also marked with a cairn. But not just a cairn. More like a mountain of a cairn, reaching at least 20 feet high, engulfing the trunks of a couple of nearby trees. The amount of time and energy needed to build such a monument boggled my mind! Later, a local hiker told us a school used to be responsible for trail maintenance there, and the school children started a tradition that it was good luck to put a rock on the cairn. What fun, turning work into play!
We walked down the short trail, and suddenly found ourselves upon the edge of the world! I was reminded of McAfee Knob in Virginia. The ledge simply summoned one to its brink, the better to absorb the view! Of course, knowing my relationship with heights, I have to admit – I scooted to the edge on my rear! But however one gets there, The Pinnacle put the crown of fun on a very pleasurable day of hiking!