6/29: Clarks Ferry Shelter Campsite to Spring Campsite

  • Miles 1153.9-1167.0 (13.1 mi.)
  • Total Ascent: 2231’; descent: 2736’

How wonderful it is to have a cold, gushing spring beside our tent tonight. The water table has gotten so low that we passed multiple dry springs today and had to rely on a trail angel for our midday fill. 

In the forecast are three and a half days of rain, to start tomorrow around noon. It ought to be enough to restore some of the groundwater, but I don’t believe the front will extend north of us by much, so we may not benefit from the rain. The plants on the forest floor are equally eager, but the poison ivy I swore hadn’t penetrated Pennsylvania is knee-high everywhere and hugging the trail. Rachel has a few patches on her legs and knees, which are on a hydrocortisone-only diet. 

Because I can’t be trusted not to scratch, I’ve been wearing long pants and sleeves. It’s hot, but it’s better than being itchy. 

Key to hiking on hot days are distractions. I reached out to the maker of my leaky bladder, chatted up other hikers, and took the extra writing time for a one-day entry. Any reason to rest was, today, a good one. 

One hiker I met was six-year-old Maddie (and her mom, Jessica). Maddie’s pack was “pretty heavy” and “had all her things except her water,” she was proud to tell me. She’d extracted from her mother a promise to get McDonald’s after they returned to their car, parked at the next trailhead. She’s going to get a Happy Meal with apple slices and ice cream, she’d decided, with extra water. 

Jessica explained they’d gone, without carrying Maddie, 17 miles in three days (“Have you gone 17 miles?” Maddie interjected from behind blonde curls). Maddie had no problem crossing the boulder fields, a pre-hike concern of Jessica’s. 

The second interesting figure I met was Scoops, a University of Massachusetts philosophy undergrad currently sharing our campsite. He had only been hiking and camping “a couple” of times before flip-flop hiking the AT (Harper’s Ferry north to Katahdin and, hopefully next year, Harper’s to Springer). Scoops is one of those people for whom “I was just curious” justifies everything: it’s why he’s doing the trail, why he chose his major, and why he brought a bag of quinoa he’s going to learn won’t cook well on a camp stove.

Scoops offered this reasoning in a way that seemed totally genuine, though the answer itself felt shallow. It came across as both wise and naive, reckless and strategically sound in the long term. 

I don’t think Scoops was being obtuse. I think he’s making decisions like an idealistic student, perhaps from a background that allows him more opportunity to explore himself. 

My interaction with Scoops helped me appreciate my own gift of opportunity, but also the additional layers of reality I have come to see since school. It is possible to both be curious and to make choices in a critical, deliberative way. 

I’m not saying I’ve been perfect about either of those, but I do appreciate having that mirror. I appreciate even more so the example of Maddie and her mom, who, despite Maddie’s post-hike pouting, I bet enjoyed the hell out of their apples and ice cream.

By Bob

Bob is a newly married word herder who's gone looking for himself where anyone who knows him would: in the mountains and around the campfires of America's greatest trail.