October 26, 2017
Seven miles from our campsite, the town of Duncannon, PA, awaits us with the promise of hot meals, luxurious showers, and a needed day of rest. It has been six days since my last shower, and 13 days since our last full zero – a day with no hiking. To say that I am anticipating this stop is putting it mildly!
We hike predominantly downhill, towards the Susquehanna River. At the bottom of our final steep slope, the AT crosses railroad tracks. A sign warns hikers to cross quickly, as the railroad is an active one. “Do not walk along the length of the rails” the sign cautions. Jay and I read the sign, then pause, perplexed. There is a very long train sitting on the rails right in front of us. If we go around it, we will be ‘walking the length of the rails’. If we cross quickly, we will have to climb over the coupling between two box cars. Which choice is least dangerous? We choose to climb.
Two rivers meet at Duncannon, the Susquehanna and the Juniata. The Susquehanna River is crossed by Clarks Ferry Bridge, 2,088 ft of highway with a pedestrian walk attached to one side. This was a pre-colonial ford used by Native Americans, then a ferry route in the late 1700’s, morphing to a dam with a mule-drawn canal route, then a very long covered bridge, and finally the modern bridge of today. Quite a lot of history! Afterwards, the bridge crossing the Juniata River gives us 650 more feet of airy pavement before depositing us on dry land, with streets leading into Duncannon.
Our first focus is a hot meal, so we head for the Doyle Hotel. This is an iconic landmark of the Appalachian Trail, known for excellent food at reasonable prices, gracious hosts (Pat and Vickey Kelly), a rather ramshackle exterior, and a clean and welcoming inside. The Doyle has been in operation (under various names and owners) since the 1770s. Pat and Vickey Kelly have put in a lot of work to turn the hotel and restaurant into a family and hiker friendly place, with truly excellent food.
We enjoy the quiet atmosphere while chatting with our hostess, Vickey.
“How has business been?” Jay asks. “Did you have a good summer?”
“No!” comes the explosive answer. “Unfortunately, a local church with a new pastor decided to give everything away to hikers this summer. They were providing free meals, camping, food resupply, shuttles – everything! It hurt a lot of businesses in town.”
We sympathize, and the talk turns to other things; stories of famous hikers, lists of hikers from foreign countries, compliments of the delicious food. Later, Jay and I talk about Vickey’s frustration. It does seem too bad that one man’s vision of a mission became other people’s financial hardship.
After our delightful meal, we wander the streets for a while, checking out resupply opportunities in the convenience stores. Obviously, these stores cater to hikers, for their supplies are extensive and varied. Then it is time to call a shuttle to our hotel choice for the night, the Red Carpet Inn, located about three miles out of town. We settle in to a clean, large room, full of the luxuries coveted by thru-hikers – hot showers, cold sodas, clean sheets, warm room.
We have 45 miles left of our hike. Tomorrow will be a zero day, then four more days of hiking!