As a youthful parent, I had the goal for our family to visit all 50 states. To that end, we once drove from Maine to Florida to nick a little slice of northeastern Louisiana to pick up the Cajun State as well as Mississippi and Alabama. To nab our 49th state, over six days we drove 4500 miles in a GMC Van on the very rough and rocky Alaska Highway (two flat tires!). You might say we were driven. Hawaii awaits.
Of late Hannah and I are on another mission of numbers. Though we have no interest in being thru-hikers of the Appalachian Trail (AT) from Georgia to Maine, we do want to day-hike in each of the fourteen states of the AT. Ten down, four to go: Keystone (PA), Tarheel (NC), Volunteer (TN), and Peach (GA).
Today we are bagging #11 – Pennsylvania – the childhood homes of my mother Jean (Ben Avon) and father Dan (Sunbury).
Heading south to spend the 31st birthday weekend with our son Will and his fiancée Laurel in Richmond, VA, Hannah and I leave York, ME in the early morning dark of mid-October for the New Jersey/Pennsylvania border some 350 miles away.
Delaware Water Gap, PA is a little AT town of 700 people. This gap in the Kittatinny Mountains is part of the Appalachian Mountain Range.
Just over the Jersey border, we drive into the State of Pennsylvania Welcome Center for directions to the AT trailhead. A mere mile away, the AT to Mount Minsi begins with convenient trailhead parking.
In Pennsylvania, the AT is known for its boot-shredding rocks. Sharp, angular, and omnipresent. After thru-hikers on the AT from Georgia have traveled 1055 miles, the rocky terrain of the Land of Brotherly Love is their overland prize. Undeterred and strong of boot, we head south on the AT today.
And not a minute later, we hear a little professor-type ask us if we’d like our picture taken. He introduces himself as Joe Ciaccio who walks this trail every day and welcomes hikers to the AT. He offers us a tutorial on the white blazes of the trail (white indicating the main trail). He recommends the two outlooks overlooking the Delaware Water Gap.
He points out a harmless looking white snakeroot. (Click on these links for more information and images.) That’s the same plant that killed Abraham Lincoln’s mother (She drank the milk of a cow that had eaten the white snakeroot.) We agree not to mess with it. Ready to hit the trail, I reach for his hand. He in turn gives me knuckles, the hiker handshake.
On this 64F degree afternoon, the AT starts out on as a fire road. With Hannah in the lead, our pace is purposeful and upbeat since we have been in the car for six hours; the forecasted rain is holding off until manana. Soon the trail weaves back into the forest with a promise of high perch outlooks above the Delaware River, which separates New Jersey from Pennsylvania.
From the trailhead at an elevation of 400 feet we are climbing two miles towards 1460 foot Mount Minsi. On the trail, some people like to check out the flora (trees, plants, and the like) while others seek out the fauna (bugs and animals of all sizes). Hannah and I look for upright fauna with opposable thumbs (other hikers).
To make those connections I wear my Maine sweatshirt; beneath is my ever present VCU (Virginia Commonwealth University) basketball tee shirt. Today we first meet a couple married for the second time who just seem so damn happy to have met each other and got it right this time.
A young couple offers to take our picture and candid is what we get. Later a woman who actually went to VCU warns us of white caterpillars that burn the skin when touched. I learn later that the White Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar is a nasty little fellow. It’s all a moot point. Who picks up caterpillars anyway? I guess kids would be the answer to that question.
At the Lookout Rock we offer to take the picture of a young couple in love. They decline for they, and the cliche holds, only have eyes for each other. The October leaves here in the Mid-Atlantic are beginning to turn. The AT takes us through a forest of rhododendrons; lush, they give the trail a Garden of Eden feel.
A video from high above the Delaware River.
At Council Rock, we meet a local, who climbs the trail for peace and quiet. Our 1000 foot ascent on this narrow rocky trail through the Pennsylvania forest never seems perilous as we are rarely cliffside. Once atop Mount Minsi we return to the easy going fire road with its side trails that overlook the Delaware River Valley.
We amble down this ridge trail fire road knowing how fortunate we are to have our health and the wherewithal to enjoy the outdoors. The Minsi Mountain part of the AT is a wonderful combination of a steady climb and mellow ridge hiking.
On our return, we meet a young woman with the trail name T-Bone. Irony all the way as she is a vegan. Having left Katahdin in mid-July with her boyfriend, she was slowed by his injury; eventually he had to leave the trail. With a pack weighing a mere 15 pounds when most packs are 30-40 pounds and some over 50, she’s taken three months to go 800 miles; it’s not likely she’ll make it to Springer Mountain, the southern terminus of the AT, before the snow flies.
Our descent is satisfying and, as you would expect of descents, all downhill.
After three plus hours of hiking, we drive to the Comfort Inn in Allentown, PA, some 70 miles away. Showered, we toast the hiking day with a glass of Shiraz to celebrate our 11th Appalachian Trail state.
North Carolina, Tennessee, and Georgia – we are coming after you.