Half-Way, Half Gallon Challenge

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The morning after the four state challenge was rough. I got up in the a.m. to answer Nature’s call and to grab my food from my bear hang. Moving in and out of consciousness, I stayed in my hammock until about 2 p.m. I slowly packed up and made a lofty plan to hike a few miles to a road from which I could hitch a ride to Walmart.

The few miles to the road were easy but went very slowly. Every joint and muscle in my body felt stressed and depleted after my 44 mile hike the day before. Each step took more conscious coordination than I’ve used since I learned to walk. Approaching the road I wondered how my luck would fare trying to hitch in the North. I had been talking a lot of junk about the North and expected little. I fear that they could sense that.

It’s vulnerable to stick your thumb out looking/feeling pitiful, quietly asking and getting rejected a lift by each passing car.

After 20 minutes at the road with my thumb out I hit a low. It’s vulnerable to stick your thumb out looking/feeling pitiful, quietly asking and getting rejected a lift by each passing car. Everything seemed way more frantic than it needed to be because I was starving. I’d over withdrawn my bank account of calories the previous day and my mental and physical state showed it.

My hope rose as a red Pontiac slowed down on the shoulder. Just as they got close they sped off happily giving me the finger. I abruptly stopped trying to hitch and started walking. My hope that someone would scoop me died with the glimpse of a second middle finger (my first interaction with a person above the mason dixon line). I hung my head and started walking on a dangerously busy and fast road.       

After a mile a nice fellow in a Jeep picked me up and all was well. By the time I got to town I let it go and focused on food. Any ill will from earlier was washed away when a nice man with a goatee and a box of franzia (sunset blush) picked me up.

Rolling into town solo for the first time I was able to act very efficiently, which included the China buffet for an ungodly amount of food then a resupply at Walmart. I touched base with Rambo and Sambo who took two zeros in Hagerstown Maryland in a friends hotel. They were just a few miles away, the timing was perfect. They planned to hit the trail that night so we made plans to meet a few miles out of town. I missed a thunderstorm when I was eating dinner which felt a lot like stealing. Not only were me and all my things dry but I got to eat thousands of calories while it happened. Walmart is hated by most on the trail for the principles it stands for, but when it’s our only option we go hungrily. The funny thing is that it’s cheapest in town and has absolutely everything we could hope for.

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I walked to the edge of town and quickly hitched a ride with some hiker’s parents. This nice fellow brewed a homebrew before his hike to give as trail magic. I had one at the trailhead before pushing 3 miles to a shelter. His forethought in good hiker trail karma was dually noted and I was certain it was paying off for him as I happily downed the delicious beer.

His forethought in good hiker trail karma was dually noted and I was certain it was paying off for him as I happily downed the delicious beer.

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By this time the trail “bubbles” of people had been scattered and reformed. A lot of people stopped in Harpers Ferry and a surprisingly small amount of people “Four Stated”. I camped with some new friends; Odysseus (a cool friend of Jack Attack I heard about all the time ho was heading off to Oxford after hitting Katahdin), Fifty (a character from Chattanooga) and some new folks I had apparently just caught up to. Still no Thru Tang but that would change soon. Classic Bo Boys, they stayed in town an extra night so I camped without them.

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I slept late again the next day. I knew the Bo Boys were behind me and if I waited long enough they’d show. Around 10 a.m. they found me sewing my backpack in my hammock and we enjoyed a great session reacquainting. We left the shelter at noon and hiked 3 miles before taking a break at Old Forge State Park.

I expected it to take at least a week to fully recover, yet two days later I was still exhausted.

Lunch suddenly turned into much more. Rambo and I stopped hiking together before Shenandoah because he ran into his parents.  This break covered up a conflict we had hiking together. It wasn’t that we had a problem with one another, quite the opposite. Rambo and I got too distracted by playing catch and taking in the day, that in Virginia we would find ourselves still at camp at 2 p.m., despite the fact we got up at 8 a.m. We decided to relapse one last time, classic addict lingo, and take the rest of the day playing games at the park. The truth of the matter is that us three were burnt from the 4-state. I fear that I used up too much mental/physical drive. I expected it to take at least a week to fully recover, yet two days later I was still exhausted.

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At the end of the day Rockman and Ziplock showed up and my 4 state lead had vanished. Turns out the four state wasn’t a viable way to make up miles. It will certainly kill your average.

We hammocked around a river nearby and slept long and hard. We woke up later than everyone else around us and left camp last. I was officially hiking with the Bo Boys on NC time. All three of us were still hung over from the 4 state challenge but were never very committed to rush. I desperately wanted to catch up with Caboose, Snugs, and the rest of the Thru Tang, but not enough to not enjoy the next few days or weeks.

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An hour into hiking we got to Chimney Rocks, our first view in Pennsylvania. We took the side trail and met two other hikers a the top. These two guys were from Baltimore and where just out for the day. After talking for a little with Kenny and John, Kenny admitted to being the mandolin player for The Bridge. The Bridge is a fantastic band that has an eclectic mix of funk, bluegrass, and jam that pulls in and enchants anyone with functioning ears. It just so happened I saw them twice during my college years in Blacksburg, Virginia. It seems funny that random people in the woods could have been in the same room multiple times and might not know it. We talked to the guys a while. Kenny was even nice enough to share some trail magic. Right before leaving Kenny shot a NC Thru Tang family portrait that he decided to take an artistic slant to.

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The first half of Pennsylvania was flat and comfortable. Pennsylvania had the worst reputation of any for its rocky trail but it wasn’t until the second half. The next day we hit the official halfway point on the trail. Harpers ferry was a fun “halfway” but this is the real deal point where you pass over into a self proclaimed “mostly done.” The funny thing about the trail is that it gets rerouted and reconstructed every year so the middle changes. There is a large ceremonial sign but that was miles off center. What we had to enjoy was a piece of printer paper laminated and duct-taped to a wooden stake. Rambo and I played catch over the middle for good measure then pushed on to the real milestone of the day.

We’d been speculating for weeks about what flavor we wanted, confidence levels, and a range of variables but like everything on the trail, speculation was futile

Halfway day means Half Gallon Challenge. The half gallon challenge was simple and sweet. A hiker was to eat a half gallon of ice cream in under an hour. We’d been speculating for weeks about what flavor we wanted, confidence levels, and a range of variables but like everything on the trail, speculation was futile. We arrived at the ice cream shoppe where the challenge is traditionally attempted, only to find four small ice cream cartons giving the 3 of us few options. We grabbed what was there and got hamburgers as well for good measure.

Excited and starving we set up, hit the clock, and began. Slowly but with authority I dug in. It was important to keep a pace that kept you at arms reach from Brain freeze. I pridefully boast that I pulled into the lead early and never looked back. At the 22 minute mark I Iicked that last bit of cookies and cream out of the container and set my spoon down. Not wasting a moment I finished my burger and thought about getting more. Sambo finished a few minutes later and Rambo before the 30 minute mark. Challenge easily completed.

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Moments after we finished we noticed that these cartons of ice cream, supposedly regulation, were not a full 64 ounces. Feeling cheated we move to get more only to find the store closed. Our challenge would remain asterisked like most other thru hikers. As a dairy bloat set in I still felt comfortable with a feeling of accomplishment. We’d had enough dairy for a palm full of kidney stones so perhaps the rest should be left.

We stumbled out of Pine Grove Furnace State Park and found Zip Rock (Ziplock and Rockman). There was a great site a few miles from the dairy binge with Fifty and a great group of three who were nice enough to help document our half gallon challenge. Huffle Puff, from New York, and Dandelion from Texas met on the trail early and hiked together as partners in crime. With them was a beautiful white four legged friend named Zodiac. Zodiac, a husky hound mix, stands tall with a deep barrel chest set on top of skinny hips. It was great to hike with a good group as apposed to the ghost town of a trail I found in Northern Virginia. It started to rain soon after we got to camp so we huddled under Rambo’s Deep South Mountaineering tarp and watch small frogs jump around the forest with conviction and unknown purpose.

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Rockman and Ziplock met up with a friend soon after and fell behind a bit. Their consistent 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. hiking proved effective at closing the gap with our 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Procrastination pays off (if you want your friends to catch you).

One field was covered in a cloud of enchanting insects that shimmered constantly like a disco ball. Rambo and I stopped and watched them until it got too dark to hike without headlamps.

A night later Rambo, Sambo, and I were walking on the edge of Boiling Springs, Pennsylvania. We were running towards a break in the forest and the sunset. Walking in the woods all the time is a dream but trees sure get in the way of sunsets and views. Right when the sun disappeared we hit acres of open farmland with the trail splitting the expansive view. The sky was painted better than Monet could dream and our view for the next minutes would seem hard to top. Twenty minutes later with light fading, fire flies came out one at a time. Walking through the farms gave us an open look for hundreds of feet and soon the fireflies would encompass all of it. A few more minutes and one field was covered in a cloud of enchanting insects that shimmered constantly like a disco ball. Rambo and I stopped and watched them until it got too dark to hike without headlamps. We might have stayed longer but the mosquitoes didn’t catch the magical tone the same as we did (or more likely they did, but it took the form of a meal opportunity of two hikers stopping).

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Less than a half mile outside of Boiling Springs the town allowed the use of a port-a-potty and a mowed out area called a Backpacker Campsite. It seemed nice enough but we heard from some South Bounders that the train keeps you up. Never paying much attention to South bound reports (because they are so consistently over exaggerated) we decided to stay. Rambo and I found two hammock hangs very close to each other in the only section of open forest. Wondering how loud a train could be we made dinner and waited. Around 10:45 we heard a faint whistle in the distance. Rambo and I chuckled calling it soothing and nothing to worry about. A few minutes later it was closer and a few after that 15 feet from the feet of my hammock. It was very loud. So loud I could barley hear Rambo laughing at the top of his lungs ten feet from me. The train rolled away after over a minute of screaming it’s high pitch industrial tune of heavy steel on heavy steel. Rambo and I discussed the predicament but it was way too late to do anything about it. We optimistically (and foolishly) decided that might be the last train and went to sleep. How man trains could by the tiny town of Boiling Springs over night?

Six.

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