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06-28-04. Half Way!

Dear family and friends,

I'm now in the small town of Mt. Holly Springs Pennsylvania, mile 1098.3 from Springer Mt. Georgia, about 10 miles south of Boiling Springs and maybe 30 miles south of Harrisburg. Internet access has been hard to come by recently. Finally hitch-hiked into this town today specifically to use the computer in the public library.

The hostel I stayed at when I last wrote on 6/18, Terrapin Station, was a blast from the past. Owner Mike is an old Dead head who attended over 130 Grateful Dead concerts. Terrapin Station is the name of a Dead album. He later thru-hiked the AT one year and the Pacific Crest Trail another year. May-July he opens his house as a hiker's hostel. The basement has been refinished with a bunk room, den, shower, and mud room. The den is filled with Buddha figures, vinyl records, posters, etc. Mike himself can (and does) talk for hours about great musicians of the 60s. The night I was there her was arguing passionately that Bob Dylan has had more influence on American music than any other person. Maybe he argues that every night.

Hiked for 4 days from there to Harper's Ferry. Most of the trail was fairly flat and easy, but the 3rd day I hiked the notorious Roller Coaster - 18 miles of rolling hills reputed to have an aggregate vertical of 5000 feet. An ominous sign at the start welcomes you to the Roller Coaster and says "see you at the Blackburn Trail Center - if you survive". Actually it was not that bad, but the last few miles to Blackburn seemed to take a long time. Blackburn Trail Center was a great place with a screened porch on three sides of a new log cabin and a free all-you-can-eat spaghetti dinner.

Arrived in Harper's Ferry WV on 6/22, headquarters of the Appalachian Trail Conference and the "psychological midpoint" of the Trail. Passed two other big milestones that day: the 1000 mile mark, and the end of the state of Virginia. Virginia was nice, but with 550 miles of trail there enough is enough! Much of Harper's Ferry is national park with restored historic buildings from the 1800s. It is located at the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers and has a European charm, with narrow hilly streets and old brick and stone buildings. Spent a few hours walking around, but would like to come back for a weekend sometime. Stayed at the Harper's Ferry Hostel which is located over the Potomac River in Maryland. So I actually walked in three states that day: Virginia, West Virginia, and Maryland. Felt like I was making progress.

The next couple of days through Maryland were varied and interesting. The trail passes through a series of state parks dedicated to Civil War battles, with many historical plaques and markers. I've never had great interest in the Civil War (or the War of Northern Aggression, if you are from the South), but these memorials were both intriguing and horrifying. The trail is reputed to be very easy in Maryland but it includes some very rocky sections I found tough. It's not the up that gets me down, its the rocks.

Hiked this section with several young couples and singles. Most completed college a year ago and spent a year working to save money. Another thru-hiked in 2000 and was back for a section hike. They are bright, lively, talkative, and delightful. It's a pleasure walking and camping with them.

Getting worried about my feet. After returning from my week at home the first week of June my feet felt great, 20 miles no problem. A week later they felt OK. Two weeks later they hurt like hell, especially on the rocks in Shenandoah Natl Park. Bought new shoes with stiffer soles in Harper's Ferry and spent 4 days trying to break them in but no luck. They felt fine in the store but on the trail the toe box was too small and narrow. Gave those away (fortunately bought on sale), been walking gingerly along in my old trail runners since. Soft ground is no problem but rocks cause shooting pains. Also developing numbness in the balls and toes, which other hikers have also experienced. Finally asked my good wife Karen to overnight my old Vasque leather boots to Boiling Springs. Heavy, clunky, and will stay wet for days, but with a heavy Vibrum sole and steel shank hopefully they will protect my feet. Will pick those up tomorrow.

Yesterday I reached Pine Grove Furnace State Park, the current midpoint of the A.T. I say "current" because the exact midpoint moves each year due to trail rerouting. Pine Grove Furnace is an old iron smelting operation with the huge stone blast furnace still visible. It is famous on the A.T. as the home of the "half gallon challenge": to buy a half gallon of ice cream at the camp store and eat it all as fast as possible. The record is 4 minutes, which scarcely seems possible. I decided long before reaching the park not to participate in this particular bit of insanity. The thought of 1/2 gallon of cream churning in my stomach did not appeal, and I contented my self with an ice cream cone and small sundae (the half quart wimp out?).

To celebrate our arrival at the half way point, about 8 of us had a barbecue down by the lake there. I asked a bystander to take our picture with my camera, seven 23 year olds and one 47 year old sitting around a picnic table smiling, hot dogs in hand. One of the 23 year olds, Jaberwock, bought his 1/2 gallon and took it to the barbecue. He is called Jaberwock because he memorizes poetry while walking, and Jaberwocky was his first poem. Jaberwock got through the first third of his 1/2 gallon easily, but it started getting ugly after that. Each spoonful was more difficult. He said he wasn't full and would have liked to eat a hot dog, but the thought of more ice cream was repulsive. He spent a lot of time looking at the ice cream with loathing before forcing one more spoonful down. His girlfriend and buddies were egging him on. After two hours he had eaten or drank all but about 12 oz., which he poured into a plastic cup and was contemplating glumly. The party broke up at that point so I don't know if he completed the challenge or not.

The trail later in PA is famous for its rocks, so I'm hoping my old boots help. Expect to reach the Delaware Water Gap and New Jersey in about 2 weeks. That's all for now.

Best wishes from the Appalachian Trail,