7/3-7/4: Pine Grove, Pennsylvania, to Heartline Campsite to Unnamed Spring

  • 7/3: Miles 1196.1-1201.7 (5.7 mi.)
  • Total ascent: 787′; descent 1027′
  • 7/4: Miles 1201.7-1213.6 (11.9 mi.)
  • Total ascent: 1194′; descent 1033′

Fireworks, gunfire, or thunder: It’s the hit new AT game, best played on a cool, grey 4th of July like today. Episodes are as frequent and indistinguishable in rural Pennsylvania as they are in rural Missouri.

Although Rachel and I haven’t yet been rained on, we haven’t seen any fireworks, either. (For what it’s worth, we also haven’t seen any shooters).

I thought often today about my family and friends, who I expect are making the same ruckus some 1,000 miles west of here. I was glad to have texted them this morning, before it became clear it would be a no-service-no-landmarks sort of day. The only point of note was a marker for a lookout point (with no view) from the French and Indian War.

Today’s terrain seemed almost computer-generated. Fern after fern and rock after rock unfolded on pancake-flat terrain, as if they were being re-simulated with unchanging parameters. Only the occasional hiker or road crossing broke the surrealism.

Yesterday was more eventful, at least in trail terms: We shuttled back to the 501 Trailhead with an amicable U-Mass philosophy student named Scoops, who’d taken a zero with us in Pine Grove. Scoops let us go first, though we leapfrogged throughout the day and briefly sheltered from the rain together.

The rain let up in the early afternoon, just in time for us to reach a large ledge where a powerline once stood. If the view had had a river, it might have clinched the best overlook in Pennsylvania.

That night, we stayed at a lovely manmade waterfall, streaming down from an old reservoir, which hikers and locals both seemed to think was hidden from the other. Neither seemed to mind the company, despite the surprise.

Although we had three neighbors, we camped on a small peninsula that looked like it had been transplanted from Tennessee. Some of our neighbors jumped in the water, but we did not: We didn’t know the depth or features beneath the surface of the water, and the 3rd of July is never a good day to need medical attention.

We left our personal peninsula late but with a plan: Although we could have made it to Port Clinton, a “town” with a general store, we doubted it would be open on the 4th of July. And even if it were, we’d heard that the locals didn’t much appreciate hikers staying at the town’s purpose-built pavilion.

So, we took our time, and we’ll hike into Port Clinton tomorrow. From there, we’ll catch a free shuttle to the largest Cabela’s in the world, in nearby Hamburg, Pennsylvania. We have a short shopping list of gas, shoe glue, a Gore-Tex patch, and insoles for Rachel, all of which we ought to be able to pick up at the promised 250,000-square foot retail space.

Crucially, Hamburg also has a Taco Bell. Our goal is to eat there twice in our four-hour window between shuttle cycles.

I can’t help but recognize how American this adventure has been: a journey through National Parks; farm fields; Taco Bells; an outdoor store the size of a mall; and, of course, raucous and random explosions.

Is there anywhere else in the world I could experience this? I doubt it — and I don’t doubt lightly these days.

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.