Stop and Smell the White Blazes

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Rambo and I woke up for the final time around 6:40 a.m. The train woke us up a few times but was so ridiculously loud that we couldn’t get upset. At wits end we packed up and walked into Boiling Springs.

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Boiling Spings is absolutely precious. The trail took us by a spring fed pond in the middle of town that was filled with ducks, Geese, and the associated baby “lings” in tow. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy had a large office in town so we stopped to plug in our phones and get a breakfast recommendation. The breakfast place was small and the folks inside were dressed/smelled a little better than the three of us, though I didn’t let that stop me from enjoying a fat stack of Chocolate chip Pancakes with thick cut bacon. Within an hour and a half we were gone but even quick visits to small towns packed with character seem unforgettable.

I discussed the idea of pushing big to get to Duncannon and gaining some time on our friends but it didn’t fit our “stop and smell the white blazes” vibe.

Hiking out of town was flat and fast. The day was a bit drizzly but this part of Pennsylvania is as easy as the trail gets. We would go over small mountain clusters, drop off them, and walk flat for a few miles in the direction of the next small peak. I had been enjoying the woods immensely, but the change of pace and the real life scene of a state I’d never been to was my main reason for hiking. I discussed the idea of pushing big to get to Duncannon and gaining some time on our friends but it didn’t fit our “stop and smell the white blazes” vibe. A lot of hikers try to run through easier sections but the opportunity to walk relaxed with my head up is something to be savored in the moment. Rambo, Sambo and I stopped at Darlington shelter, where Rockman and Ziplock were staying. We were just over 10 miles outside of the next town and our next resupply. We managed to walk through Boiling Springs semi-quickly but I’d always planned on stopping for the night in this next town.

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Duncannon is one most fabled and heralded trail towns. The ten miles to town got rockier and rockier as we moved further North in the state. Regardless of the fact we were in a town the day before we still pushed for taking small and infrequent breaks to milk the most time in town as possible.

We crossed the Junita River to find ourselves in a sizable town on the West bank of the Susquehanna River. The trail hopped on the sidewalk and took us through the heart of town. Our second destination (first being the ABC store) was the Doyle, the inn with the most character of any on the trail.

Our second destination (first being the ABC store) was the Doyle, the inn with the most character of any on the trail.

The Doyle was originally erected in 1770 but burned down in the early 1800s. It was replaced by the brick building that stands today. In 1880 it was purchased by Adolphus Busch, of Anheuser-Busch. After Adolphus’ death it fell in the hands of the Budweiser company that sold it off in 1920 during prohibition. Over the 1900s it bounced around to a number of owners until it hit Jim “Doc” Doyle in 1944. Doc was an immigrant fresh off winning the Irish lottery ($444,444.44 in pocket). The Doyle namesake would persist past the sale of the hotel in the 90s. Over hundreds of years the Inn has seen a number of famous guests including Charles Dickens.

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As interesting as the history of the place is, it’s not the ghost of Dickens that brings hikers in. The Doyle is famous for a no frills stay with a bar on the first level.

It’s no 5 star hotel but it’s filled with character and characters.

When we arrived there was already a half dozen hikers enjoying the bar. I got a room with Sambo, Rambo, and John (a friend that just caught us after he had to drop his dog in Chicago). We went up 3 flights of stairs to find a hallway of dorm rooms that didn’t seem to be renovated since Doc Doyle got the place in 1944. I turned the key to find a small room with two full beds and not much else. We opened the windows for some air but were quickly warned that if it rained everything in the room would get wet.

Different stains painted the floor, ceiling, and all the walls. I loved it. It was even dingier then described.

We dropped our stuff and rushed over to the local Lutheran Church that was hosting a free dinner for hikers (referred to as a Hiker Feed). Walking through the small town was delightful. These towns know exactly who we are and embrace us with open arms. A few minutes walk brought us to a delectable lasagna feast among angelic locals.

Churches are hands down the greatest source of kindness and magic on the trail. Its one of the reasons why there is so much more trail magic in the South (I guess about 10X more churches per capita). The funny thing is that a lot of thru-hikers are agnostic, atheist, or apathetic. All it takes is a plate of warm food to get any heathen to walk into a church, pray as a group, and spend time in a setting many fight to avoid.

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These towns know exactly who we are and embrace us with open arms. A few minutes walk brought us to a delectable lasagna feast among angelic locals.

While stuffing ourselves with “Feed” our other friends getting into town that day started filing in. Solitude filled a plate and sat down next to us. I hadn’t known him for long but I already liked him. He seemed the most dedicated to a fantastic trip and was inviting and open to whatever came his way. I just met MacGyver the night before but liked him a lot immediately. Some names on the trail prove to be more popular like Sherpa, Frodo, Barefoot, and MacGyver. I can tell you that this MacGyver deserved to wear the name as much as Richard Dean Anderson. Rockman and Ziplock met us after checking in to the room across the hall form us in the Doyle.

The Lasagna was something special. A well placed salad bar gave everyone an opportunity to have a week’s serving of vegetables. The hikers stuffed their face while getting to know the sweet locals. After a delightful meal our trail angels of the week asked us to pin where we were from on a map they had up.  Seeing an opportunity to embarrass a friend, I asked if we should pin where we were born. Rockman glared at me knowing I was trying to expose his African roots (he wasn’t ashamed, he just didn’t want the spotlight). The kind souls gave me the answer I wanted so I quickly pointed out where Rockman was from. All the folks of the church were so excited they could put a pin on another continent and asked Rocky question after question as his snow like complexion turned increasingly red and rosy. I sat back with a large helping of dessert, smiling ear to ear.

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After dinner we did our regular town dance. Laundry, showers, flip laundry, etc. The lucky part is that Duncannon is small and has bars everywhere. Rambo and I had a beer at the Doyle then bounced to a small italian bar across the way to meet MacGyver.

We spent the rest of our night with MacGyver and some locals learning about his hike and life. MacGyver is a youthful grandfather in his 50’s who is ready to pursue new challenges and adventures. MacGyver was obviously intelligent with an understanding glare and confidence that drives you to seek his wisdom. He started a month earlier than we did and took time off periodically. He had the pleasure of seeing a lot of thru-hikers that started before us and to now hike with a totally new group. It was good he’d found new friends because out of over 30 people he met in the beginning, he was the only one that didn’t quit. He shared his formula and planning that insured we would reach Katahdin on time. Starting in April makes for better weather but we do have an ultimate date by which we have to hit Maine, no exceptions. Baxter State Park closes the Northern Terminus mid October so we had to pay attention. Letting your average dip can affect your milage like a rock in your shoe, and it was starting to get too late to take a lot of zeros. MacGyver marked on his guide the daily average at that point (a manageable 12 miles a day) giving himself deadlines. Taking a moment he then softly commanded that we never fall behind him. Form now on he was our backstop.

He then softly commanded that we never fall behind him. Form now on he was our backstop.

The next morning our band of hikers stuffed our faces at the diner across the street. They had a eating challenge that consistent of a half dozen pancakes, each 16 inches in diameter. They didn’t look that bad until I picked one up. Each was about a pound. Solitaire gave it his hardest but 3 and a half proved enough. He of course bagged the last few for trail snacks. I couldn’t think of a better thing to eat on a mountain.

Sambo finally got his phone charged so he was playing games non stop. We’re the same age but he stuck to his phone as someone on the tween side of the spectrum is prone to do. You can see him fit in wonderfully with his peer in the foreground.

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Next we resupplied at the local Mutzabaugh’s Meat Market. The family store was filled with Mennonite candies, dried fruit, and complex grains that can spice up dinner. Where you would expect to see a small deli counter was a wall of cold cuts and large slabs of meat. The prices were fair and the service unparalleled. They had a policy to pick up and drop off hikers from town a few miles away. Not a large distance but during a hot summer, the last thing we needed to do was walk more miles on a dangerous road. With all of our town duties handled, the Bo Boys and I began our moves back into the woods.

Duncannon has over a mile of trail to walk as it winds through town and into warm neighborhoods. Halfway through the barrio we saw Solitude hiking South. Walking with a big grin, he said he met some locals that were having a barbecue and invited him to camp in his lawn. Without missing a (b)eat he said yes and was walking to get beer for his second night in town. It might seem crazy to stay at a complete stranger’s house but its something that I think should be part of every hikers trip.

He met some locals that were having a barbecue and invited him to camp in his lawn. Without missing a (b)eat he said yes and was walking to get beer for his second night in town.

A few hours into the woods the NC train stalled. We decided to stop early because of water availability. Clarks Ferry was a nice quiet stopping place.

By this time the days were long, hot and humid. Pennsylvania is at a considerably lower elevation than the first 1000 miles of the trail which makes for hotter days and nights. I found solace in my banana hammock, often sweating until I swayed myself to sleep.

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