The Halfway on the AT – Getting There

January 16, 2020 § Leave a comment

This is a very misleading title, because I am no where near halfway covered in AT mileage. Let’s be clear. I have only done the following:

  • NJ 72
  • NY 81
  • CT 51
  • Most of Vermont 100+
  • 16 miles in PA
  • 10 miles in MD
  • 20-30 miles in VA

That is it. I haven’t even walked a quarter of the AT, even if I note that I have done Jersey twice! So, when I title this “The Halfway” it is simply because our band of knuckleheads got together again for a weekend of fun in the woods, and we targeted Michaux State Forest, and more specifically Pine Grove Furnace which is where the AT Museum is located, and also the official halfway marker on the AT.

This is the latest in the Fall this band of trail geniuses has backpacked in a long time, and the expectations from the start were we would hit some real winter weather once again, but alas, kind Mother Nature dealt us a blow to that plan and sent us SW winds and a storm to boot. The forward predictions were all over the map where each passing day brought the onset of rain closer and closer to our projected on-trail departure.

The plan, if you can call it that, was to park at Pine Grove Furnace State Park and hike in a ways until we spotted a decent camp site with water and a fire ring. We all had tents, and tarps and the idea was to get camp set up early, put up the tarps, hunt for firewood, and then settle in for some solid sitting around the camp fire story telling, beer drinking (Of course we all packed in 6-10 cans), Bourbon or Scotch swilling (Can’t forget that either), and eventually some food making, before finishing off the night with all of the same. That was the plan at least.

In the lead-up days, Andy and I traded texts to work out things like “What will eat?” and “What will we drink?” and “How will we get there?”. The answer to the first was that I would bring one of my “Hello Fresh” packages which we could eat the first night, and I thought since cold and wet were in our futures, I thought something comforting and hot the next night, so I sent Andy a recipe for a chicken stew with dumplings that I found on a backpacking site. I figured since the Hello Fresh meal was soft tacos, and we would share those, we could do both the stew, and tacos one night, and second night we could wrap peppers and onions with some sausage in heavy duty foil and simply cook that over some hot coals, and that could handle us on Saturday. When it came to breakfast, Andy suggested bacon and eggs, to which I added, get some flour tortillas and cheese, and we can make breakfast burritos. I would add some leftover snacks from my recent evening hosting Mag Jongg, and we had food covered.

With food out of the way, the next item on the list was drinks. I had a bottle of Oban, so I didn’t need scotch, and I picked up a “Craft your own Six Pack” at Wegmans which I filled with NJ Craft beer in cans. In addition I stopped by a local shop and got a four pack of 16oz Rake Breaker, also of New Jersey origins, as a pack topper if I still had room. Andy would pick something up.

The last thing to work out was how will we get there. I bartered my truck away more than a year ago, and that left me with the Volvo, more than enough room, but Andy offered to secure the Infinity SUV for a more comfortable and larger driving experience. Since he was driving I let him pick the meet-up location, which could have been his house, but he suggested a place called “The Shoppes at Old Bridge” on the corner of Route 9 and Texas Road in the not-so-rural-anymore town of Old Bridge. Once we had the arrival meet-up time in Bendersville PA, I worked out the driving time to there, and then the time it would take me to get to our meet-up and we agreed 6:05 would be our time.

I was very well prepared this time around, and had all my stuff packed and ready to go with enough time to get a decent nights sleep, and I set my alarm for 4:50 am, so I could easily load the car, grab everything, get there early and even have time to dash into the Starbucks nearby for some morning Joe.

Everything went according to plan, I was out the door, I closed the garage, I had everything, and I had no issues getting to the Starbucks, getting coffee, as well as a Via set of Pikes Place packets. Back in the car, I got a text from Andy looking for an ETA, which meant he was there, and I was only 3 minutes away. I replied, and soon I pulled in next to him, observing that he picked a spot to park that was not up against the edge of the lot, but no bother, it would work, I quickly transferred everything to the back of his vehicle, locked my car, and situated myself into the front passenger seat. Andy showed me where to plug my phone in, he had an octopus set of lightening iPhone cords, and then he plugged in our destination into the Waze app, pressed the “Start” button, and Waze instructed him to proceed to Texas Road. Now, I don’t know about you, but even in an empty parking lot, I tend to proceed forward across the opposite space, and then proceed along the lane of travel. Sure the lot is empty, but that is what I would do. Andy, unfortunately, did not, and cut his wheel left and pressed the accelerator. I parked my car two cars away, and that wasn’t the issue.

Oops

See, Andy was parked where the white car is in the lower right, and none of those other vehicles were there, and it was 6:05 in the am, and it was dark excepting for the light being thrown upon us by that lamp pole. Well, he wasn’t going very fast, but you don’t have to be to cause damage, and Andy dragged that Infinity about 30 inches along that concrete base before coming to a stop amidst a groan of “Oh Shit!”. Now, hindsight is a great thing, and in hindsight, I would have said, “Cut the wheel all the way to the left before you back up.” but I didn’t say, that, and Andy simply put the vehicle into reverse, and backed off the base, scraping the metal in the other direction for those same 30 inches. Damage done, we exited upon the pavement to assess the damage. “I am a dead man.” uttered in true Andy low voiced quiet delivery. To help him feel a wee bit better, I told him “Technically Andy, you aren’t a dead man until you get home Sunday night, so let’s go.” And off we went.

Eventually Andy settled into the task at hand, and we knocked out the distance and soon arrived in Bendersville, PA. Bendersville you ask? Yes. If you thought it might it might be a Trump town, you would be correct. It’s a rural town at the crossroads of two rural roads that you wouldn’t be driving down unless you were lost. Trump country signs abounded on barns, pickups, in front yards, you name it. We met for breakfast at The Elkhorn Inn, a place that looks to have been around since the days of carriages, and on the community board just inside the front door was the “Lock Her Up” notice tacked to the board. In the very back were some old grizzled looking locals, two of whom were adorned in racist MAGA hats that had the appearances of not having left their heads since the 2016 purchase. There wasn’t anywhere else in town to eat, and as long as we kept our voices down, or politically silent, we should be okay.

And we were. Simple country breakfasts, heaping serving size, and plenty of coffee for all around. Andy looked at me when he heard “Cash Only”, because all he had was his debit card, which should be enough, but when you are in Trump country, you are in conspiracy theory country, and anti-deep state country, and the kind of country that would return to the gold standard country, and they all feel like using debit and credit was a way for the government to track you, and so it was cash only. I told Andy I had enough cash, I usually don’t because I am a debit card junkie as well, to cover him, but he insisted on walking up the street to the bank to get some ATM cash.

Remember what I already said about Trump and conspiracy theory country? Do you think a town that is steeped in suspicion of its own government, is going to let a local bank install an ATM? Ha!!! Andy was back in less than five minutes. “What kind of a town is this? The bank doesn’t even have an ATM machine? What the fuck?!?”.

Here is another exhibit submitted as evidence to just how twilighty zonish the area we were in was. None of our mobile devices registered LTE, with service bars hovering around 1 bar. When we gathered in the parking lot, there wasn’t anything overtly said about who will follow who. Andy and I got into his vehicle (oh, after everyone got a look at the damage, and remarked just how much of a walking dead man he in fact was), as others dispersed to theirs, and I had Pine Grove Furnace State Park in my maps already, and directions depressed, and I gave Andy the “Right Turn then left” and we were off. It wasn’t long before we were approaching a split in the road, when I wondered “Where the fuck is everyone? Shouldn’t they be behind us?”

I was damn sure we were going the right way, but remember what I said about the service, because now, there was no service. Zero, Zilch, Nada, NFW. Not too much later we entered Michaux State Forest, and the roadway narrowed to barely two vehicle cutout against the mountain, as the road climbed, and land over the guard-rail fell away beneath us. It was the last weekend of Deer season, so running across hunters was not out of the question, though we shouldn’t see any on the AT as it is off limits to hunting. Andy and I found the parking lot, and of course we were the first ones there, and still no service bars, so we couldn’t call or text or anything, but wait. In the mean time, there was a brick and mortar bathroom, and thought the signs on the main doors said “Closed till Spring” there was a single door to a single co-gender winter bathroom that was heated, and I took care of some business.

I realize that I haven’t mentioned anything yet about who was on this adventure. When we chose the date, it appeared we would have a decent turnout, as most people replied that this weekend in question was available on their calendars. However, as is always the case, life and circumstances, change as the seconds erode off the clock, and once it began to appear like the weather was not going to be our friend, we immediately lost those that will only go if the weather is nice. Then work got in the way and we lost Walt. Weather took away Jim Kirby and Tom Carchia, and maybe some others as well. We had Ed for one night, but he would be replaced by Ali, so who we had was myself, Andy, Larry, Greg, Ed, Ali, and Kevin.

When I emerged from the bathroom, the others finally arrived. Apparently, Andy and I pulled out before everyone was in fact ready, and no one had Pine Grove Furnace on their phone map, and they had trouble getting a bearing even, though they did in fact get a bearing, it was just a bearing in the wrong direction until they truly got a bearing and realized their error. A little more attention to details, and we would have all been better off, but here we were, and it was already raining. Fortunately there was a pavilion where we could stage our final decisions concerning packing, and together with the warm bathroom, we could change comfortably into our hiking clothes.

What decisions did we have to make. Remember there was a plan, and that plan included tents, so first decision was with only six of us actually requiring a place to sleep at night, just how many tents did we need to bring. I had my two person, so Andy left his supposedly two, but is really one person tent in his car. Larry packed one, and Greg the other. How many tarps did we need, I grabbed two from my garage, and the two I grabbed were not backpacking lightweight tarps, no, these were the kinds of tarps you gathered leaves into before you haul them out to the curb in the fall. The problem, we would later learn, is that you shouldn’t actually bring tarps that were in fact used that way, because, well, holes. I strapped one to my bag, and feeling we would need both, I had a tote bag in which I stuffed the other, and simply decided to carry that in. Kevin had a brand spanky new tarp (Yay Kevin!!), and that then left us with the age old question “Do we have enough beer?”.

It was about this time that I realized, that thought I had managed to plan and execute well getting out of my house on time with all my shit, I did not execute so well, when I transferred said shit to Andy’s soon-to-be-damaged vehicle. No, I transferred everything except the build-your-own-craft-beer six pack, so that left me with only 4 16 oz Rake Breakers, so I started stuffing Andy’s beer into my pack. He had brought a twelve-pack of something, and a six-pack of something else, and I stuffed as much as I felt I wanted to carry, and sealed up my bag, and we threw the all the leftovers into the cars, locked them and then stared each other down as we made ready to venture out into the wet.

Looking back, it was only a drizzle and who could be annoyed at a simple drizzle. It wasn’t even all that cold, which had it been, then we might have had snow, and we all would have loved that. However, it was drizzle, and into the drizzle we departed for what we expected would be another long weekend in the woods with friends, fire, and beer.

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