The first rule of rash club…….

One of the things I love most about Willow is this;

Sophie: Hey Willow, remember just 2 weeks ago when we were super suffering up a mountain a we said we needed to take a relaxing beach holiday, well do you want to hike an AT section next week instead?

Willow: Sure do!

And that is how ridiculous adventures are born!

Cut to 2 weeks later and we are standing in Caledonia State Park with a white blaze to guide us forward. We are back!

Day 1

Caledonia State Park to Quarry Gap shelters

2 miles

Most of today was spent in the car driving straight across the exceedingly boring state of Pennsylvania. We knew we had just a jaunt of a hike to our first shelter so we dilly dallied a lot, didn’t get started until gone 5pm and hiked straight up to the first shelter. I think I forget to say that we are backing tracking to the section we missed last year due to flooding in the area, we are in southern Pennsylvania which is weird because it’s the first time we have miles to the north of us that we have already completed. Pennsylvania gets a bad rep for being extremely rocky, but so far so good, the trail was well maintained and apart from the pack the weight of a toddler I felt pretty free. Definitely in the green green tunnel though.

The shelter was beautiful, it’s close to real life so it has a custodian who has made a little garden and it has the most delightful swing, couldn’t be happier, so far this is the correct amount of suffering!

Day 2

Quarry Gap shelters to Pine Grove Furnace state park.

18 miles

Up and out on the trail early this morning. I’m really happy with my choice if pop tart flavour, crisp apple and I also really like that a happy day can be as simple as a good pop tart flavour.

There is very little to remark on during our hike today, everything is very enclosed in green, there are no sweeping views or mountains to summit but the biodiversity is incredible. Butterflies are our trail guides today making me feel like a really dirty and sweaty Disney Princess.

Weirdly today we passed the official halfway marker, it’s weird because I have already hiked way more than half the trail in terms of mileage but because we have gone backwards we have never actually passed the equator of the trail.

The afternoon was a beautiful forested hike, a huge amount of work had taken place to clear the overpowering pines out to make room for more species to thrive, but the air felt oxygen rich and so noisy with birds, bugs and one giant rattle snake which we didn’t stick around to get a picture of, I recommend googling a picture if you are desperate to see one, it’s much safer!

We also passed through what turned out to be a nightmare but started really cool. An invasive plant had clearly gone rogue and had taken over literally everything, it was bright lime green with a triangular shaped leaf, and at first I was just in awe at how powerful it was, but as we entered the forest that feeling became very oppressive, it was so dense and everything was suffering and suffocating, as it closed in around us we realised the plant had sharp barbs that were ripping our clothes and then our skin. It was nearly impossible to see where the trail went and just had to press on. My skin was on fire with what was to be my first rash of this trek, not happy with whatever this plant was!

Just as we hit a rocky section a juvenile copper head snake shot out in front of me, I let out my very distinct snake scream and stood up on a rock to get out of its way. Willow nearly gave me an actual heart attack when she fell off the rock trying to get a better look at the snake, I didn’t even ask her if she was ok before grabbing her and yanking her off the ground, it was not the time to wallow on the ground with a deadly snake just feet away!

We ended our day further than we had planned. We are trying to up our daily mileage on this trip, we are both very comfortable with 12-15 mile days, individually we have done 18 mile days but not in succession. We were also spurred on by the lure of cheeseburgers at the state park which is just the most luxurious way to end your day and they did not disappoint.

Lastly, and I think it was possibly a trail first for willow, she had her first trail tantrum, like throw your trekking poles down and refuse to move tantrum, it was amazing! I’ve had so many if these it’s old hat for me but level headed willow was furious about having to walk 0.3 of a mile off trail to our campsite for the night, I wanted to laugh really baldy but didn’t want to rile her up even more. Made my day actually!

Day 3

Pine Grove Furnace State Park to Alec Kennedy Shelter

18 miles

We had a goal today, to get to a grocery store that’s right off the trail for lunch so we were up and out asap this morning. We stopped for a quick snack break and thanked our lucky stars for such a great weather. I’ve realised that number one on my list of grumpy Sophie makers is rain, actually more specifically wet, I hate wet and so the blue sky, even though we have hardly seen it though the trees has been such a trail blessing.

The trail was mostly unremarkable, this seems to be a bit of a pattern, there are still no views and the only way I can describe my surroundings is green, like the greenest of greens, “can you BE any greener” said Chandler.

We got to the store around midday and took a luxurious lunch break, we ate things, we drank loads of fruit flavoured things and we had a small nap on a bench, yep we made hiking great again!

The absolute best part of our day today was by far the toughest, right at the end of the day we encounter a rock maze, literally boulders the size of houses stacked up and around with the trail winding right through, hard on my legs but good for my brain!

Well it’s been a while since we had to share our trail with some Trail Bros, but just as we were about to hunker down in the shelter for the night 4 Bros turned up and we quickly relocated to our tent. They weren’t terrible but we left them and their massive bongs to it.

Day 4

Alec Kennedy Shelter to Darlington Shelter

19 miles

To avoid bro time this morning we were up and out before 6am, we were packed up and gone within 30 mins which is a record for us. We hiked a mile or so in the dusky light before stopping to eat breakfast poptarts and watch the sun rise through the trees.

Another great food stop 4 miles in, the trail went straight through the town of Boiling Springs so it would have beeen rude not to buy a second breakfast, for the economy and all that!

Today’s miles were weirdly flat, we were crossing the longest valley floor of the AT, the Cumberland Valley. We walked over 16 miles of farmlands, pastures, roads (booooooo hamburger meat feet) corn fields (booooooo they hurt when you have to walk really close to them, scratched my arms and face all up, cue second rash)

We stopped to rest our poor feet nubbins in a cold cold stream and I could have stayed there forever, but we had to push on before the heat of the afternoon scorched us in the open fields.

The miles were not stunning, we didn’t round each bend and gasp with wonder but it was extremely interesting, we were in civilization but felt really unseen, no-one batted an eyelid when they saw two filthy girl hobos hobbling through a farmer’s field with huge backpacks. We walked through an old cemetery, over boardwalks and crossed huge 6 lane highways.

When our final 3 miles of the day came around we were ready for a change in elevation, the day had pounded our feet into stumps so the uphill was a relief. Hard on the heart and legs I did some cry laughing but at very long last we were rewarded with a very mediocre view!

Our camp spot for the night was glorious, flat, no rocks, loads of space, the trail Bros caught is up but they are so reckless we are happy for them to be bear food for us, I’m pretty sure I can out run a high as a kite bro!

Day 5

Darlington Shelter to Duncannon

13 miles

Last trail day, up and out again around 6am, I hate getting out of my comfy tent, but not having to hike in the midday sun is worth it. We’ve been trialing hiking a mile or so before breakfast and I think I like it.

We had some pretty shit miles ahead of us, a big rocky section, which was basically like walking on knives, a sharp downhill where I decided with the rising length of NHS waiting lists I’d better sign up for a double knee replacement now so that in 10 years time when I regret this madness im at the top and then a 3 mile road walk. This picture pretty much sums up the non hilarity of the day. I wore my bandana like a Bedouin camel herder because the nats and mosquitos were practicing their harmonies directly in my ear hole!

Willow: we have a terrible hobby, I know let’s park our car, pay someone a lot of money to drive us far away from the car and try and walk back to the car over a mountain range carrying all of our belongings on our backs.

Sophie: friends who suffer together stay together! Rash club for life!

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