AT Blog #5: Snakes / Disease / Elvis

So it has been an interesting run, to say the least, since my last blog. Details to come but let’s get you caught up first. I’m currently in New Jersey and it’s the 4th of July. 1,335 miles hiked and 7 states complete.

I last left you in Harpers Ferry, WV. West Virginia is not quite what I expect for some reason. Just a bit “backwards” there. I walk away from that state wondering how Mississippi gets last in everything.

Harpers Ferry, however, is a truly historical town and has an amazing downtown to match. Complete with a rock that Thomas Jefferson himself stood on top of… We completely ignore the “Do NOT Stand On” sign. Give us a break; you would have too for this kind of photo opp.

We also change up our crew a slight bit upon leaving Harpers Ferry. Skipper gets off the trail to pursue officer school (best of luck).

Simultaneously, we pick up our friend Mouse. She was awesome enough to drive us to Virginia Beach and decides she wants to give the trail life a shot. Unfortunately, short after we begin hiking, she mangles up her ankle pretty badly and has to bail. She still managed to get some good miles in though. Cowgirl and her border collie, Kelly, also join our group here. They are from Wyoming. In my opinion, Kelly deserves the title of most intelligent dog in the world. Of course you don’t believe me… Try this: The AT is marked by white blazes. Side trails are marked by blue blazes. Kelly usually leads the group and seems to be able to decipher the blazes by consistently leading us down the correct trail.

Maryland: we’re not there for long but the highlight seems to be meeting this kid named Pink Blaze Nazi. As we are trudging northbound, this kid is going southbound and stops to talk to us. He convinces us that he “lives” on the AT and works at a pizza place down the road. He tells us to wait at this road crossing for a few hours and he will return with pizza for all of us. I’m still scratching my head on why we trusted this kid. You guessed it right… he never shows up and our pizza dreams are crushed. A few days later, we find out from another hiker that he is a southbounder that constantly pulls pranks on northbounders… Touché Pink Blaze Nazi…

The half-gallon challenge also takes place here. The challenge is to consume an entire HALF-gallon of ice cream since your HALF way. Some people interpret the challenge as simply trying to finish the massive tub of gelato… Some view it as a race to obtain the fastest time. RockN’Roll and Strider tie at a phenomenal time of approximately 11 minutes. Cowgirl sets the fastest women’s time of the year at 18 minutes. You get to pick your flavor so I go for the peanut butter ice cream half gallon that has yet to be eliminated… Bad choice. After my valiant effort, peanut butter remains victorious.

Mason Dixon Line: this is priceless. So I constantly preach the glory of the South to the northern people I’m hiking with. Typically, my main point is that southern folks tend to be more welcoming. They, of course, disagree. So as we cross the Mason Dixon Line, we try to hitch a ride into town. The local northerners then proceed to give us their traditional greeting… Three cars pass us. First car: the driver flicks us off. Second car: drives by us with all windows down and yells “Queers!” Third car: slows down like they are going to give us a ride… then slams on the gas which billows black smoke in our face. I’ll never forget their laughter as they drove into their Pennsylvania sunset…

Pennsylvania: The low point… This has been the most difficult state for me so far. Not so much physically though; mostly mentally. I am convinced that PA’s evil spirits were definitely attempting to make me to quit.

The first thing Pennsylvania throws at me are rocks. PA is notorious for being extremely rocky… Understatement. To paint a picture; imagine a football field full of footballs all back to back and buried half way. Here’s the catch: the pointy end is facing the sky. Now just add some trees and turn the footballs into rocks… Welcome to 100 miles of the trail in Pennsylvania. You begin to develop a headache simply because you have to carefully plan every step for 15 miles each day. On the trail, they call Pennsylvania “where boots go to die.”

Next comes the critters that take a particular liking to these warm rocks… rattlesnakes. So your looking straight down at your feet trying to carefully plan each step on the rocks… then all the sudden there is a five foot rattler in your next step. So what better to do than miss your step, trip, and faceplant into rocks right beside what has now become a pissed off rattlesnake.

Then, on top of the rocks and rattlers, comes the nail in the coffin: I get sick… One night while I am sleeping, I start sweating. This was normal for a warm night under the stars. Until I realize that I am drenched from head to toe and freezing amidst the 86 degree temperature.

The next morning, I attempt to disregard it and press on the next day. Within a couple hours, I begin to notice I am hiking exponentially slower for some unknown reason. By the end of the day, I completely hit the wall. Catching up with the group is simply out of the question. I find myself camping alone and sick as hell. Then come what might be known as the icing on the cake. As I am attempting to fall asleep in a pool of sweat, someone is somewhere in the woods (not far from me) firing up a chainsaw under a full moon. Ready to quit yet? It gets better.

The morning after surviving a potential chainsaw massacre, I’m nothing short of delusional and dehydrated. To add to the blurry vision, I have no water. So I leave my camp and begin following my map to the nearest stream… 3 miles away… that turned out to not exist due to a mid-summer drought. At this point, I would have cried had it not been prevented by the dehydration. I press on another mile and stumble upon a muddy puddle. You can guess what happens at this juncture… It wasn’t pretty.

I then walk the 4 miles back to camp. This is right around the time my 102 degree body temp really starts kicking in. I pack up camp in a haze and begin hiking to the closest road on the map. I have to stop every quarter mile or so to take a small nap out of sheer exhaustion. I finally arrive at a road, sit on the shoulder, prop up against the guard rail, half-heartedly stick a thumb out and begin hitching for a doctor. Someone eventually stops on the concern of my roadside death. They take me to the hospital and I have blood tests run… The verdict? I have Lyme disease.

These little, bastard deer ticks are carriers of Lyme disease; particularly in the Northeastern United States. They diabolically disguise themselves as a tiny black freckle on your skin. This makes them extremely hard to spot, especially when you’re in the woods and don’t have access to a full-length mirror. The horrifying fact is that Lyme disease is a serious problem in this region. It is estimated that 1 in 5 of the thru hikers that make it this far will contract Lyme disease.

Next is the medication for Lyme… Doxycycline. I hitch back to the trail from the front door of the hospital so I can catch up with my group. They are waiting for me at a road crossing and we set up camp. The next day I’m hiking at a pace comparable to a snail and appear to be the color of a walking ghost. A lady hiking southbound sees me and decides to strike up a friendly conversation.

Her: “Get Lymes?”

Me: “Yeah”

Her: “They put you on Doxy?”

Me: “Yeah”

Her: “Oh man… You’ll be shitin’ your brains out for a month.”

Well I made it through Pennsylvania… Good riddance.

However… on a lighter note, there was one shining star of a moment in PA. I’m passed out on the side of the highway hitching to the doctor, and I find myself in one of the most legendary hitches of all time… the guy is an Elvis impersonator. Complete with big chops and the glorious locks of hair to pull of “The King.” He shows me his card, his CD, his rhinestone suit, and (oh yes) his full sized billboard advertisement on the side of the highway. I would like to think that we was rushing the kid with Lyme Disease to the hospital but I am pretty sure we took the scenic detour to show me his magnificent mug shot sitting atop the highway.

So far so good in New Jersey…

Misc:

– Saw an albino deer… If that’s possible; I can’t imagine anything else that large pigment-less creature could have been.

– Note to self: never follow Boo Boo while hiking. I’ve attempted this experiment twice now and he has managed to get both of us lost both times.

– I fell backwards off a four foot wall into a creek. Flat onto my back and tore open my elbow. Glad I could start off everyone else’s day right by giving them their morning laugh.

– Another note to self: don’t cowboy camp. The past two times I have, there was a 0% chance of rain and sure enough, it didn’t rain! Yeah right, it tuned from a clear night into a downpour both nights. There I am, just getting soaked under the stars. So now my group has banned me from cowboy camping because I’m “bad luck.”

– I hike with a guy named Bulldog for a few days. Bulldog is not what you would call your average hiker. He is attempting to be the first ever, unassisted, completely blind thru hiker of the Appalachian Trail. There is a lot to learn and admire from a guy like Bulldog.

– One evening, we stumble upon an awesome campsite that sits beside a big pond featuring a rope swing. So we are enjoying this rare amenity by having a competition to see who can swing the furthest when some “weekenders” walk by. We encourage them to come enjoy the rope swing and their leader (whom seems to be self-appointed) insists that they could not because they are “backpacking” (in an overly snobby accent). We eat this up… We begin to act like we are amazed that they are going to be out in the wilderness for an entire weekend and wish them luck on their dangerous 30 mile expedition… We opted to never tell them that we had walked 1,200 miles to arrive there.

– We decide to attend a church-sponsored pool party in Port Clinton, PA. We figure it will be a great way to get a “free shower.” Upon arrival, we get some fairly nasty glances from the parents. It turns out that 5 bearded men, standing in the middle of a hundred kids, scrubbing their armpits, at a pool party might appear to be child molesters… Think I’ll steer clear of any more pool parties for a while…

– I come across a bachelor party in the middle of the woods one night as I am about to stop and set up camp. They ask me if I know where any girls are… I think back to Pink Blaze Nazi and tell them that I will be back in 3 hours with at least 10 girls. Too easy.

– One day while hitching a ride into town; one of my trekking poles defies gravity, flies out of the back of the truck, and instantly gets demolished by an 18 wheeler. Thanks again for everything Pennsylvania.

– It gets better… I wake up one morning with what seems to be the sensation of a trickle of water draining from my ear (from the molester pool party the previous night). Then, all the sudden, the water seems to retreat back up into my ear… I contemplate this for a moment before realizing that this isn’t good… I freak out, jump up, and start hitting my ear. Sure enough, the culprit falls to the ground… an Earwig. For those unfamiliar with Earwigs: they are about two inches long, have big tweezer-like pinchers, and use those pinchers to chomp away at the inner ear, which gives their victim Vertigo… Like Lyme Disease wasn’t enough.

That should do er’ for now. I know it might sound miserable out here by the tone of this particular blog, but it’s far from it. You can’t take that stuff too seriously. You begin to realize that it’s all part of the roller coaster and that the lower lows make the highs higher. I’m starting to think that mindset might be the key to success… we will see.

T-FUNK!

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