Sunday, June 25, 2006

On the Appalachian Trail

I've been vacationing on the Appalachian Trail. In early and mid-May I hiked 210 miles of eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey, continuing the trek that has now covered 1,340 miles from the trailhead in north Georgia. It was 12 days of pain, but that is what a lot of the AT is about. The offsets are the joy of overcoming the difficult trail and the fun of meeting quite a few equally crazy and often interesting people. Of course, in eastern Pennsylvania one will often meet a timber rattlesnake like the one above.

I stepped on the rock that the snake is "looking at", heard him begin rattling loudly, and stepped back when I looked down and saw him coiling defensively. Once out of range I took his picture. Just another day on the AT...I met another rattler four hours later.

Actually, the most surprising aspect of this 14 day hike was the difficulty of the trail. There is no doubt in my mind why AT hikers call Pennsylvania "Rocksylvania". The eastern Pennsylvania trail is 150 miles of high ridge walking, and the ridges are primarily broken rock that is very difficult to walk on - you need to watch your footfall on almost every step. The rocks where this snake was hiding were routine large broken rocks, smoothed and often re-broken by eons of hot and cold weather. Needless to say, your boots take a real beating in Rocksylvania!

Geologists say that the Appalachians were once higher than the Himalayas, but they are the oldest mountains in the world and have been worn down. It's clear that many rocks have broken off the tops and fallen down into the valleys and onto the mountainsides, just to aggravate the hikers. So there are quite a few places that look something like the picture above. It's great to not have to walk across Bake Oven Knob again!

The AT is truly a national treasure, a wilderness trail over 2,150 miles long. Hiking the trail gives a person new understanding of how big the world really is, of how much uninhabited space there is in the eastern U.S. (an amazingly large amount!), and how many really nice and special people can be found on the trail and in the towns along the way. If you have some determination, some strength, some courage, and about 5-6 months of time to walk, you can hike the entire trail. So think about giving it a try, whether you are male or female and 20 or 75 years old - you might very well be able to do it!

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