It didn’t take long to start meeting more thru-hikers in PA, first up was Trailwalker, a high schooler who’d worked something out to hike the trail for school credit. (there’s a hustle if I ever saw one) We hung out with a father-daughter section hiker pair for a couple days leading up to the real halfway point and the associated half gallon of Ice cream waiting for each of us at Pine Grove Furnace. Half a gallon is maybe too much ice cream, but that didn’t stop me from having 3 burgers after ice cream and explaining my sword our section hiker friends, who had missed it up till then. I like carrying it loosely disguised as an umbrella, like magic that escapes the notice of anyone not watching for it.
Sputnik caught us the day after, a goofy gap year kid who was quite the cosmonaut in his neoprene cap, he’d done some work for the huts in the whites too. Soon after we ran into Sweet Blood, a british girl under constant torment of mosquitoes, I had met her briefly with Nemo before getting picked up by Rescue near Harper’s Ferry. Cruise Control and Sunshine caught us aoon after Sweet Blood, Cruise had landed some quick work as a bartender at a wedding we had seen being set up when we had passed through Pine Grove Furnace. I recall hearing that he scored that gig purely on merit that he was from Louisiana. Sunshine was ironically named, he was hella dour and looked like Micheal Cera, I killed some big wolf spiders in a shelter with my sword for him. Though his crocs were more fitted to the task I couldn’t pass up adding “killed large spiders with sword” to my lifetime list of accomplishments.
As I was nearing the end of NJ, I was caught by a thru-hiker of some note, Mammoth. He is even moreso a kindred spirit even among thru-hikers, but much farther in his journey than I. Having walked across the US twice, and the PCT continuously, and aiming to hit all 49 of the continental US states without breaking his footpath. He is far faster than me, but I did manage to stay with him for a couple days, learning what I could and swapping stories. I had heard about him in passing very early on in my hike, from Smokes I think. His departing from the shelter at noon, intent on making 30 miles before 8pm, put me in a long list of hikers recently behind him.
Meeting Mammoth solidified my long term trip plan to its current state, walk continuously coast to coast and complete the triple crown without breaking the footpath. Accepting a little bit of non-linearity, particularly when it facilitates something cool, like aqua-blazing and then returning to the beginning of the Shenandoah, or more recently catching a ride out to the Mackinac bridge crossing from the Adirondacks. These are the only exceptions I can think of sofar.
Coming into Waynesboro was sort of an event amongst the Fellowship, we split three ways. Nemo hitched in early because he had a rash that was making movement unpleasant. Rescue and Medicine Man stopped at the shelter just a few miles out to wait out the overnight storm. I decided to make it all the way into town for my first 30+ mile day, it was an interesting time. Leading out from the last shelter and moving quick it seemed I was in the eye of the storm, there was just a circle of clear blue sky above amidst a thunderous chorus, moving quickly I had an uneventful bear encounter just before stopping to put on my rain shell. I got to the road dry, found some ciders left as trail magic, (Thanks go to Yo-Yo and Tweet) and started to head towards town hoping for a hitch. Almost to town and taking some dime-sized hail and thunder, I was picked up by a man named Ben driving a hearse. We exchanged jokes about how horror-esque the situation was and he took me to town where he thought Nemo might’ve set up our tent. I wandered about yelling for them, but no luck. I went to the grocery store for some food and curled up beneath a bridge.
We all found each other the next morning, and we started make our aqua-blazing plans. The nights storm had brought in enough water that our outfitter wasn’t gonna let us launch for another four days. We had a good time in town, with people catching up and passing us by, and ended up with Rescue Nemo Smokes Keytar and Eddy in the boats, we had a few flips, much to atleast one person’s embarrassment. On the whole though it was a super chilled out lazy river trip, and just the right break for Nemo and I before said our goodbyes and caught a convenient ride from my Sister back to Waynesboro and started our push back to Harper’s Ferry. We did some big miles through the Shenandoah Hiker Highway, and made it back there in time for us to meet up with Rescue, take a night in DC and catch our bus to Boston to see Nemo’s sister graduate, and eat lotsa food at grad parties. This was where Nemo and I would actually part, He and Rescue dropped me off as close to the WV/VA border as they could and I got started on the 4-state challenge.
Walking the 4-state challenge, making it from VA through WV and MD into PA over the course of about 44 miles, in 24 hours is an interesting personal challenge and worth it for most thru-hikers. However, I have some recommendations for anyone considering attempting it. Start early, think before sunrise, not 6pm. Take care not to get turned around or lost, particularly at night when you might not notice until you hit a landmark you had passed hours earlier. Finally, 44 miles is a long way to travel in a day, even though you’ve made it over a 1000 miles aready if you are on the thru-hiking plan, take breaks, drink water, and remember to set up shelter before collapsing at the end, it might rain overnight.