The hiker that arrived late in camp last night introduced himself as Valley Forge from Pittsburgh. He was a software manager for a company that designed financial software and when his company was bought out, he was downsized out of a job. He said it seemed like a perfect time to hike the A.T. so he is walking the section between Harpers Ferry and Mount Katahdin.
While I might have been feeling a little bit depressed yesterday, my mood today was the complete opposite. Even though it was drizzling as I walked in the clouds, the trail along the ridge line was as smooth and flat as a pancake and the ridge was covered with the most amazing stand of blooming mountain laurel that I have ever seen. How could anyone not have a smile on their face under these conditions? It was a pleasure to walk through this dazzling display.
Around 10:45 am I arrived at a spot on the trail that I was never confident that I would see, the halfway point! I was so happy to see that sign. On one hand, it was amazing to think that I had actually completed one half of the A.T. On the other hand, I was thinking that after all that walking I had ONLY completed half of the A.T. Still, I was glad to be at that spot.
At the half way sign I met another hiker named Fancy Pants. She was doing what she described as a 1,000 km section hike. Although it wasn’t a halfway mark for her, she seemed genuinely excited for me and took my picture next to the sign. Fancy Pants was a rather large woman who told me that she didn’t walk too fast or too far, but I told her that I would see her down the trail.
Because of the extraordinary trail conditions, I was able to achieve my first 12 by 12 since I started the hike. I was flying down the trail and reached the 12 mile mark for the day about ten minutes before noon. WOOT! I was glad that I was able to accomplish that because I was rushing to get to Pine Grove Furnace State Park to visit the Appalachian Trail Museum before it closed at 4:00 pm.
Shortly after noon, I arrived at Toms Run Shelter which had a nice covered picnic table to allow me to get out of the rain, so I decided to stop for lunch. Several minutes later, Fancy Pants arrived and asked if she could join me. In addition to the A.T. Museum, Pine Grove Furnace S. P. also has a concession store that is the home of the half gallon challenge where you celebrate the half way point by eating a half gallon of ice cream in under 60 minutes. Fancy Pants and I were discussing our pre-challenge lunch eating strategy when she asked me how many liters are in a half gallon. That question, along with her 1,000 km section hike comment, led me to believe she was European, but she spoke perfect mid-western English. When I told her it was slightly less than two liters I thought her eyes would pop out.
After lunch, I raced down the trail, reached the state park around 2:45, and headed straight for the museum. The free A.T. Museum, while small, contains information and an awesome collection of artifacts that belonged to the founding fathers of the trail, Benton MacKaye and Myron Avery, and the early legends of thru-hiking, Earl V Shaffer (the first thru-hiker), Gene Espy (the second), and, of course, Grandma Gatewood. It was very enjoyable and educational to browse through the displays.
When I returned to the concession store, the whole gang was there preparing for the half gallon challenge including Fancy Pants, Many Names, and Valley Forge. Since the temperature was in the 50’s, I wasn’t feeling up to it and elected instead to go for the half bushel of french fries challenge along with a Philly cheesesteak wrap and an ice cream sandwich. This is when I found out that Fancy Pants was from Denmark and she set up a Skype session with her family at home of the entire challenge. It was hysterically funny.
At 5:00 pm it was check in time at the Ironmaster’s Mansion Hostel, so we all headed up the hill to get registered. Pine Grove Furnace S. P. is built around the remains of an American Revolution era iron making operation and the Ironmaster’s Mansion Hostel is the centerpiece. Built in 1815, the mansion was beautifully renovated in 2011. It even has a secret cellar that was part of the Underground Railroad. For $35 you get a bunk in the dormitory style bunk room, shower, dinner, breakfast, and use of the laundry facility.
The guy running the hostel is a hoot. He claimed to be an ordained minister, a writer with several books available on Amazon, a cruise ship singer, and an Elvis impersonator (he played his CD to prove it). He also had a wickedly sarcastic sense of humor that kept us in stitches. After the all you could eat pizza dinner (it had only been a couple of hours since my half bushel of french fries challenge, so I limited myself to one whole pizza) it was time for a nice night’s sleep.