7/5-7/6: Unnamed Spring to Pocahontas Spring to Unnamed Creek

  • 7/5: Miles 1215.5-1223.1 (9.5 mi.)
  • Total ascent: 1903′; descent 2041′
  • 7/6: Miles 1223.1-1235.5 (12.4 mi)
  • Total ascent: 1772′ descent: 2421′

Since yesterday evening, I’ve been fangirling about meeting Ann Neumann, author of “The Good Death” and a nonfiction editor at Guernica, on the AT.

Ann, who goes by “Poison Ivy” on the trail, is accompanying her niece for a few days in Pennsylvania. (The niece, trail name is “Wood Nymph,” is a solo teenager hiking from Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, to Mt. Katahdin, Maine, which is also pretty impressive).

I met Poison Ivy offhandedly, while collecting water at a spring near a small site on the ridgeline. She and Wood Nymph had set up camp just after a booger of a climb out of Port Clinton, Pennsylvania. They’d left a package of berries in the spring runoff to cool down, which struck me as both a great and terrible idea out in the woods.

To my embarrassment, I’d asked Poison Ivy if there were any other sites nearby before introducing myself. We were all tired after the hill, and the site simply wasn’t big enough to accommodate three tents (though Poison Ivy and her niece had offered to try).

It wasn’t until Poison Ivy asked what I did — a writer looking for his way, I told her — that I realized who I’d stumbled on. With humility, she volunteered some advice: Write what you want, and don’t look back at your past works. She encouraged me to get in touch afterward if I wanted someone to read my work, a generous invitation given the time investment.

We leapfrogged Poison Ivy and Wood Nymph throughout the day today, though they chose to stay a few miles behind us. They are surprisingly strong hikers for being LASHers (long-ass section hikers, if I haven’t defined that before); I am sure we will see them ahead.

We have a creekside site, my favorite kind, tonight. We did laundry under the threat of thunder while talking to two Texans, a retired couple with the grace in discomfort only older hikers have.

They’d attempted a northbound hike of AT in 2020 but bowed out north of the Smokies: Covid had shut down too many essential resources in a sparse area.

This year, The heavily stubbled husband, like Wood Nymph, is hiking from Harper’s Ferry to Katahdin. His wife, who implied her health was poor, said she just wanted to hike until she wasn’t enjoying herself any longer.

I respected that, and told her so. It is easy to become stubborn, and all of the hardest parts of the hike, save for the Smokies, are still ahead.

We had the sort of conversation that seems increasingly hard to have outside of the AT: just four people, feet in the creek, with no names, no ages, no job titles, and nowhere else to be.

We don’t we talk to one another like that anymore? Why must time must be fractured into ever-more tiny pieces, each “too important” to spend sitting on a creek bank with strangers on a summer day?

That sounds to me like the joy and the work ahead of us right now: on the trail; in my and Rachel’s wider life; and as a people.

P.S. — We encountered our first Aldi on the trail in Hamburg, a find compared to the Cabela’s. At Aldi, we paid just $50 for a three-day resupply, including an immediate refuel of Pop-Tarts and Powerade. We couldn’t find socks, much less boot insoles at Cabela’s, which is a hunting/fishing store first, a camping store second, and a backpacking store not at all. But if we hadn’t gone, then we may never have met Poison Ivy or the wise Texans!

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.