New Jersey - 8/17/2001
Cartwheel descending in Rocksylvania

A new day, and a new state: New Jersey!

That's 6 states down, only 8 to go!

We appreciate the generosity of Juan Espinoza who hosted us in his house. He was a business school classmate of Francis'.

We're now in Vernon, New Jersey, in St. Thomas' Episcopal Church.

It's amazing the generosity: they have a hiker box full of food donations, shower, laundry, internet connection, and a carpeted floor to sleep on.

Although the weather is still hot and humid, it's not absurdly oppressive. Even better: thunderstorms will hit over the next 3-4 days which will cool things down a bit and help add some water to the dry springs.

We assume another heat wave or two will hit us before we say good-bye to summer and welcome the beginning of fall.

We should be in DC, our next major stop, in about 10 days. We'll be out of New Jersey in about 3 days. Next state: Pennsylvania!

Pallmerton, PA - 8/22 @ 1pm
Cris and Lara: Our first big trail magic experience

Seven states down, seven more to go!

Indeed, we've walked over 900 miles so far and this week we should hit the 1,000 mile mark!

We're no longer running into Northbounders, so the trail is deserted. Although this has some obvious benefits, the downside is that we now miss out on the tips that they would give us on the terrain to come. Also, socializing with Northbounders was almost always rewarding and fun.

We felt bad for the last few Northbounders we passed because we know that they will probably never make it to Kathadin by early Oct. They, of course, are in denial of all this, so they press on in a futile attempt to beat the odds.

One of the big benefits of going Southbound (like us) is that there is no deadline. Certainly the South gets snow and winters are rough, but the terrain is passable with standard backpacking gear (unlike the Northeast). Nevertheless, we intend to finish before Oct 15 because even Georgia gets cold in Oct.

Thank God the weather cooled off a little bit, although tomorrow is supposed to be hot and humid at over 90 degrees. The weather has helped us regain our stride and refresh ourselves at night. It's still warm and humid, but it's not oppressive and debilitating.

Ben and Zachary enjoying our GoLite packs. They're clearly future AT thru-hikers!

Before, it was extremely hot even at night, so our bodies could not cool down. The best we could do is grab some stream water with our pot and dunk it over our heads. While it was refreshing, about 15 minutes later we would be sweating and overheating again. At night, we couldn't sleep because we were sweating profusely and being attacked by mosquitoes at the same time.

Our number one concern now is no longer the heat, but the lack of water. Most of the springs are dry, so there are long stretches without water from PA to VA (Virginia).

Yesterday, for example, we walked over 20 miles and there was not one drop of water available.

Fortunately, Pastor Karen of the Presbyterian Church (which let us shower at their church) warned us about the waterless stretch.

Therefore, right before the dry zone began we stopped at a mobile home at Wind Gap, PA and asked a lady to fill up our water bottles. Not only did she fill them up, but she came back with a liter of raspberry-flavored seltzer water, four organic peaches, and a stick of Bubble Yum ("to help ward off the dehydration")!

Folks, this is what is called Trail Magic! It's whenever you experience a random act of kindness from a complete stranger. Whenever someone goes beyond the call of duty and displays extreme generosity. It's one of the most amazing experiences in the trail and it happens so often, it's incredible.
Cartwheel enjoying an all-you-can eat feast in Lancaster, PA with the Joneses!

That lady, for instance, was obviously not wealthy. She was going to visit her mom who had a stroke and could not walk. The lady had cancer (and still had not told her mom) and is undergoing chemotherapy. Clearly, she was not in the best of situations, yet she graciously gave to us.

Many people are cynical about humans. They say we're self-interested and selfish creatures. However, if an alien landed on this planet, and the only thing it did was hike the Appalachian Trail, it would conclude that humans are one of the most generous and selfless species in the Solar System.

We came to the trail to learn about Mother Nature, but we're learning more about Human Nature.

A snake attacks Lisa

So there we were walking along at 8:30 at night. We still hadn't turned on our Photon flashlights, because we prefer to let our eyes adjust to the darkness and hike as much as possible without artificial aid; this also saves battery life.

Suddenly, Lisa (who was walking in front) hears a THUMP on the ground by her feet and HISSSSSSSSS.

Her heart skips several beats, and she eyes the dark below. She sees the vague shape of snake, the darkness hiding its features.

Lisa nervously said, "It's a snake! But I think something is wrong with it. It's not really moving away."

Most snakes we encounter quickly get out of way, but this one was steadfastly holding itself there. We weren't sure why, until we turned on our Photon flashlights.....

The creature was coiled, its head rearing back like a Cobra, in the defensive position, ready to strike!

We observed it from five feet away, and it bobbed its head around to show its displeasure.

With no sticks around, Francis grabbed a rock and cautiously walked around it. The trail wasn't very wide and we didn't want to step too deeply in the nearby vegetation for fear that the snake's pals were loitering there.

Lisa walked behind Francis while shinning the eerie blue light on the snake's menacing posture. We inched by it and safely strode on, albeit with hearts that were beating a tad bit quicker than before.

Neither of us wanted to encounter any more snakes, so we called it a night about half a mile down the trail. Unfortunately, Lisa only slept about 3 hours that night because the thoughts of snakes crawling around her kept her quite alert.

Visiting Amish land

Today we are in the middle of one of the largest populations of Amish people, and I'm typing on a computer. I feel somewhat sacrilegious given that the Amish don't use electricity.

Although we may dress in GoLite's quick-drying ripstop nylon clothes and eat energy packed high tech XTerra bars, we share more in common with the Amish than we do with "regular" people.

Neither of us have phones or electricity; moreover, we both hand wash all our clothes and let them air dry. Neither of us read newspapers, watch TV, or have any idea what's going on in the world.

Incredibly, our way of life is arguably simpler than the "Simple People's" life.  Let's compare the Amish with us thru-hikers:

  • They have several articles of clothing. We have one outfit that we wear all the time.
  • They have refrigeration and propane stoves. We don't (although, we do use Esbit tablets and a few stakes or rocks to prop up our pot).
  • They take horse drawn carriages to get around. We walk over 20 miles a day.
  • They have plumbing. We drink from streams and dig holes.
  • They have a roof over their heads and four walls. We have a tarp.
  • They sleep in a bed with a nice quilt. We sleep on dried leaves or dirt, but also with a nice quilt!
  • Everything they own and need to survive is in their house. Everything we own and need to survive is on our back.

In conclusion, we've taken the simple Amish way of life to an extreme and found the pleasure of its simplicity. Some may feel it is austere, but we can identify with the Amish more than ever. We admire and respect their way of life.

Mega trail magic

A funny thing happened to us on the way to Duncannon, PA.

Lisa commented the other day that while we have received some amazing trail magic, we have not been so lucky to experience mega trail magic.

We'd heard tales of strangers offering hikers a place to stay in their homes, feeding them, letting them take showers and do laundry. Indeed, three hikers asked for water at one house, and the owner replied, "Sure! And how many hamburgers would you like?"

Next thing you know, they were each eating three hamburgers and the owner let them shower and sleep in his garage. It was incredible trail magic, and Lisa wondered why we don't have such good fortune.

As always, the AT surprised us and fulfilled her wishes.

We were walking along in Rocksylvannia when we spotted a family of four heading toward us on the trail. They gave us a friendly hello, and of course we reciprocated.

Kris (dad), Lara (mom), Ben (their son), and Zachary (Ben's cousin) began to ask about our AT experience. Before we knew it, these generous souls invited us to their home so we could sleep in a real bed, have some food, and relax!

Here we were, dirty and smelly, and these total strangers were opening their homes to us. It was truly a magical moment and we feel so blessed to have met them.

We told Kris that Andy Jones (a classmate of Francis) had already offered to shack us up for a couple of nights, so Kris quickly said that he would happily drive us into town to Andy's house. We gratefully accepted his company and his ride.

Before we knew it, we met up with Andy and Kara (his wife) to have a fantastic dinner at a Dutch family style restaurant.

Ben is a fascinating and intelligent boy who was tremendously curious about the trail. Francis gave him many tips and learned about snakes which Ben enjoys observing.

All in all, it was amazing trail magic and we're grateful for the good fortune we've had on the trail.

Less light, more sleep

Lisa's best fortune has been the sun's schedule.

When we're backpacking we tend to rise right before dawn and hike until we have to turn on our flashlights.

This can make for long days in the peak daylight hours. For example, in late June we were in Maine waking up at 4AM and hiking until 9PM many days. This allowed us to hike over 20 miles a day even over this rigorous terrain. But it also left us feeling exhausted because we weren't getting eight hours of sleep.

However, as our journey progresses to the South and summer turns to fall, we find that the daylight is rapidly fading.

Indeed, the sun now rises at 6AM and sets at 8PM. Comparing that to Maine, we now have three hours less to hike and three hours more to sleep.

This has some obvious benefits because now we feel well rested (unless the last thing we see before the lights go out is a snake).

From a miles per day perspective, however, it makes it more difficult to cover substantial ground. Losing three hours of hiking translates to about 6 miles less terrain per day.

On the other hand, the terrain here is easier than Maine, so we still managed to hike over 20 miles a day. In fact, just yesterday we hiked 27 miles.

But the flat land will end soon and the days will continue to get shorter. This will compound the challenge of hiking 25 miles a day.

We refuse to hike at night, so as we always say, "We'll just do the best we can."

Update: Monday, August 27th

We've past the 1,000 mile mark, and by the end of today we should sleep right on the halfway point of the entire trail!

A call to the editor: Tuesday, August 28th. 7:30 PM EST

I just got a call from Francis, and they've officially reached the halfway point! Today is also the 2 month anniversary of the hike's incept.

They expect to enter Washington DC in 2 days, and hope to complete the AT in 40-50 days.

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