Dan and Hannah Hike in Amicalola State Park in Georgia

Ami map of AT in GA

To our northeast in South Carolina, punishing rains (15 to 20 inches) spawned by Hurricane Joaquin are swamping the Palmetto State (by  the way, palmetto means “little palm”).   In intermittent mist and showers here in northern Georgia, we have come to hike the Appalachian Trail (AT) this first week of October.

Ami D at Unity of North Atlanta

On Sundays when we travel, we look for a Unity Church to make a connection with locals and add some practical positiveness to our day.  This morning, Unity of North Atlanta (UNA) delivers.  The talk this morning focuses on successful relationships having two key components – acceptance and forgiveness.  UNA gives each newbie a rose.

Ami 1 D at Ami sign

Our hiking destination today is in Amicalola State Park some 60 miles to the northwest of Atlanta.  Not trusting our WAZE GPS alone, we pull out our Georgia road map as we drive north on I-575 to two-lane country roads towards the North Carolina border.

Ami 1AA D and H at Arch

Paying $5 admission, we head to the Visitor Center for some hiking suggestions.  Amicalola State Park is known far and wide by AT thru-hikers as the jumping off point for hiking the Appalachian Trail from its southern terminus at Springer Mountain to Mount Katahdin in Maine, 2180 miles away.  Though, it must be pointed out that AT hikers leaving Amicalola still have an 8.5 mile Approach Trail to hike before they actually start the AT at Springer Mountain.  Though Hannah and I won’t officially hike on the AT today, we are knocking on the door of completing our 14th of 14 AT states.

Ami Trail of Tears 2

Trails of Tears

Amicalola is a Cherokee Indian word for “tumbling waters.”  The Cherokee tribe controlled this area until 1832, when the Treaty of New Echota forced the Cherokee to leave and go further west into the Ozarks. This mass removal would later be known as the Trail of Tears.

Ami 2E raging creek


Learning from the young ranger that Amicalola has a 729 foot waterfall, the largest east of the Rockies, we are all in to hike the one mile trail to the top of the falls.  Appreciative of her guidance, I give the young ranger my Unity rose; what had been all business turns into a country smile moment for both of us.

Ami 2F H posing at creek

Winding through the forest paralleling the Amicalola Lodge Road past picnic areas and families playing touch football, the trail is level and easy going on this cloudy 65F afternoon.  Crossing over the road that takes drivers to the top of the falls, we pass the roaring creek engorged by the recent rains.

Ami 2CC trail angel

Trail angel offering assistance

After hiking just a few hundred yards, Hannah needs relief from the scraping of her ankles due to her new hiking boots.  At this point a young trail angel steps up to offer Hannah some surgical tape to secure her Band-Aids.  We learn that she is day hiking on her own while her husband fly fishes in the nearby creek.  She tells us later that they will have dinner together.  And this is where it gets so cute.  Dinner for them is a picnic here at the park.

Ami 3 D beneath falls

After one half mile of skirting the creek, we soon come to the first of two sets of wooden stairways that will take us to the top of the falls.  On this Sunday afternoon we are among many enjoying nature’s hydro-wonderland.  The video below captures our first look at this stunning falls.

Ami 3B H at falls

The stairway climb of first 175 steps and then 450 more has us mingling with families and couples.  In the presence of waterfalls I am mesmerized as I would travel hundreds of miles to be in their hydro-glory.  Along the staircases there are benches for the weary, but we step intently on these grated metal treads to the top, overlooking the valley here in north Georgia.

The Approach Trail to Springer Mountain

The Approach Trail to Springer Mountain

Once at the top, we take the Approach Trail to Mt. Springer just like AT thru-hikers would do.  The edges of the South Carolina storms sprinkle us with light rain, though the forest canopy keeps us mostly dry.  With the refreshing feel to the Georgia rain this fall day, we turn back after a mile to get a second chance at waterfall splendor.

Ami 3D staircases of falls

Approaching five o’clock, families and couples continue to climb the wooden stair cases as we descend. All is not rainbows and roses on the trail.  We do pass a mother with weary eyes holding the hand of her most unhappy preschool son who is sobbing that he doesn’t want to climb anymore; meanwhile his two year old sister is being carried by dad.  Lesson learned by Dan and Hannah.  We’ll wait til our grandsons Owen and Max are both school kids before we bring them here.

Ami 3C falls

Rather than returning tomorrow to Amicalola State Park to hike the 8.5 miles to Springer Mountain and the AT, we have learned of a back road off route 52 that will take us within a mile of Springer Mountain.  With confirming directions from the Visitor Center, we will attack the mountain from the backside manana.

Tonight we have what AT hikers do not have: a warm bed, a shared bottle of Cabernet, and a hot tub at our Best Western Mountain View Inn in East Ellijay, Georgia.  We will sleep well tonight.

Dan and Hannah Hike the Appalachian Trail at Elkwallow in the Shenandoah National Park

Days Inn, Luray, Virginia with the Shenandoah Mountains in the background

Days Inn, Luray, Virginia with the Shenandoah Mountains in the background

We, or let’s be honest, I have chosen poorly for tonight’s motel stay in Luray, Virginia.  I choked.  Having just hiked three hours in the Shenandoah National Park in late April, Hannah and I arrive just before 7P in this town famous for its caverns.  Pulling into the first motel that we see, a Days Inn, we inquire about a room.

It’s two double beds for $62 and with a minimalist continental breakfast: Raisin Bran or Fruit Loops, mini store-bought bagels, oatmeal in a pouch, OJ, and coffee. That’s not good.  It’s a classic deal breaker!  But I’m soft. Having driven from Richmond this morning, hiked, and then driven 90 minutes more, I am just ready to kick back with an evening glass of wine with Hannah rather check out more in-town motels.  I convince myself that the breakfast can’t actually be as bad as what the motel clerk said it was.

EW  Luray

Downtown Luray, Virginia (population 4860)

As expected, the breakfast is dismal.   Neither fueled for our hike on the Appalachian Trail in the Shenandoah National Park or energized for the 600+ miles of driving home after we hike, the breakfast does prove to be the source of another good life lesson.  Take the time to get three bids for our business. That said, this hardly qualifies as even a first world problem.

The Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park

The Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park

With temps in the low 40s, it’s pants, long sleeve tee-shirt, and sweatshirt weather for our morning hike.  Leaving Luray via Route 211, we immediately climb the switchbacks of the three lane highway to the mountain top Skyline Drive as the temperature continues to drop. We select Elkwallow as our point to access the AT. (By the way, the verb “wallow” means to roll about or lie in water, snow, mud, or dust. The noun “wallow” is an area where animals wallow.)

Appalachian Trail HIker

Appalachian Trail Hiker

Pulling into the parking lot at the Elkwallow Camp Store, we jump onto the AT ready to begin a hike with 900 feet of elevation gain towards Rattlesnake Point. We’ll hike parallel to Skyline Drive, though we often can’t see the road from the trail.

EW 1B  H on trailApproaching from the north, we meet a young woman hiking a section of the AT for the past three weeks.   As soon as she sees us, she asks if we know what the weather will be. Though it’s sunny and 43F now, she has been hiking in rain and cold temps, colder than what she has expected. Whether it’s the cold or her caution or us, she is not into much conversation.

EW 3A  H on trailWe do learn she is from New England but shares few details of her life. Though one detail she does is telling – her dad didn’t want her to hike the AT alone.   She reminds me that females can feel and be more vulnerable hiking alone on the AT.  I think to myself, what would my advice be if our daughters Robyn or Molly wanted to hike the AT on their own.  My first reaction is that I’d be all in, supporting their goal to complete this daunting challenge.

There have been few hiking related deaths on the AT among thousands, millions(?) who have hiked this trail.  A notorious one in 1996 when two young women were murdered spooks people who are inclined to be spooked.  If Robyn or Molly are so inclined to hike the Appalachian Trail, I am on board and will be  cheer lead from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine.  I’d love to meet up and hike with them from time to time, buy them a meal, and treat them to an overnight in a motel.

Shenandoah Valley to the west

Shenandoah Valley to the west

Once past Matthew Arms Campground, the trail levels out to ridgeline hiking; our core body temperatures warm with our steady pace. With no leaves on the trees, we see vistas to the valley below. The downside is that we have mostly brown trunks and brown branches as company in our hiking day.

As 10A approaches, we look for a turnaround point 90 minutes into our hike. We’ll straddle the Skyline Drive on our way back, though we are rarely close enough to hear the few cars that pass on this cool pre-season spring day.

EW 3 Trail north of Matthew ArmsThen another backpack toting hiker approaches. We learn his trail name is Early Light; we share with him that we, too, are early risers.  As another three week section hiker, he is hiking north from Roanoke, VA. He’s so happy to be within a day of getting off the trail at Harper’s Ferry, WV where he will get a bus to head back home to Massachusetts.  After weeks on the trail, he openly laments that he finds the hiking quite monotonous.  Rarely has he seen vistas and lakes to punctuate the sameness.  I’ve heard that thru-hikers call the AT the “green tunnel” once the leaves come out. When you hike, you could really be anywhere; it all looks the same. It’s no surprise that a beer and pizza are what he looks forward to.

EW 3E  white blaze of trailAs for me, sleeping in shelters with others, hiking in bad weather, and my balky knees after all day hiking are three of many reasons why I wouldn’t hike the entire AT.  Another reason is that hiking for 8 t0 10 hours a day would be tedious.  Early Light says he understands why kids have their iPods and their books on tape; he has not come around to those diversions.  Given his doubts, I wonder whether he’ll finish all 2180 miles of the AT in sections after finishing these 250 miles.

EW 3D  more of trailAfter three hours on the AT, we arrive back at the Elkwallow parking lot knowing we are staring at 600+ miles of driving home through the traffic-clogged Northeast. But I wouldn’t have missed the chance of three hours on the AT in Virginia just to get a jump on the long drive. These are golden moments.

Dan and Hannah Hike the Appalachian Trail in northern Maryland

A vow is a vow. Would Sir Lancelot go back on a vow?  Lady Lancelot?  Not even, Baby Lancelot would. If they wouldn’t, neither will we!

After having our spirits and feet shredded by the jagged rocks of the Appalachian Trail (AT) in eastern Pennsylvania near Wind Gap, we vow to never hike in the Keystone State again. So ditching our plans to hike the AT north of Harrisburg at Duncannon this late April morning, we drive south below Gettysburg, PA through the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland to the town of Smithsburg.

The blue blaze trail leads to the main trail, the Appalachian Trail

The blue blaze trail leads to the main trail, the Appalachian Trail

Only later do we learn that we have passed near the presidential retreat of Camp David.  Catoctin Mountain Park does not indicate the location of Camp David on park maps due to privacy and security concerns.   Arriving at Wolfsville Road, we return to a trailhead where we parked six months ago. At that time we hiked north on the AT; today we head south.

The white blaze of the Appalachian Trail in Maryland

The white blaze of the Appalachian Trail in Maryland

We need some mellow hiking today after yesterday’s jagged, spirit-breaking rocks, masquerading as a trail. Having previously hiked five times in Maryland, we pine for its mellow ridge line hiking with fewer rocks; it’s just the ticket to refresh our legs and renew our love of hiking.

Rocky stairway on the AT

Rocky stairway on the AT

From Wolfsville Road, we climb the switchbacks up a mountain with a different kind of rocks. Flatter and smoother, these rocks are positioned by trail makers that allow us easy access up the mountain. After a day of rain, the weather has cleared and the sun shines brightly on the hiker-friendly landscape of Maryland.

Hannah ridge line hiking in Maryland

Hannah ridge line hiking in Maryland

Once at the summit we begin our ridge trail hiking and soon spot a group of young hikers. Always looking to connect, we learn that they are from the Lancaster Bible College in Pennsylvania. As recent high school graduates, they are backpacking and camping and completing other non-classroom activities as part of a gap year of experiences before they begin their pursuit of their Bachelor of Science degrees in Bible Studies.

VCU Ram just north of the Commonwealth

VCU Ram just north of the Commonwealth

Logan, a senior intern, hikes along with us as he leaves the eighteen year-olds on their own for a while. For this experience, the students are outdoors for five days to learn about themselves in close quarters; that means they can’t avoid the issues that come up with each other on the trail.

MD gap yearI think of a gap year as a concept from Great Britain where students spend the year between high school and college traveling, working, volunteering, or completing an internship. It seems to me that such students would bring an earnestness and commitment to their academic studies after having a taste of the “real world.”

My top of the line colleague, Dr. Hair Koirala, in the Department of Education at Eastern Connecticut State University.

My esteemed colleague, Dr. Hair Koirala, in the Department of Education at Eastern Connecticut State University.

As a retired professor of education at Eastern Connecticut State University and the University of New England, I taught 18 to 22 year old undergrads as well as older, non-traditional students.  These older students were returning for teacher training after often having had another career. Almost always, they were fully invested in their studies after having this “gap” time between high school and their decision to seek teacher certification.

There are a few rocky stretches on the AT in Maryland

There are some rocky stretches on the AT in Maryland

The gap year reminds me of what Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) do when they complete an 18 month (for young women) and 24 month (for young men) mission, often after their first year of college.  With a specific purpose to bring the Word to others during their mission, they gain the added benefit of having time to reflect on their opportunities and how they can serve others.  I can only guess they also return more devoted to their studies after going on their mission.

Mellow ridge line hiking in Maryland

Mellow ridge line hiking in Maryland

Thirty-four students, interns, and chaperones are strung out over the trail here in northern Maryland, hiking in groups of six to seven. And just as you would expect, they are stereotypically delightful, upbeat, willing to engage, and make eye contact; they are excellent ambassadors of Christianity.

MD 3B H on less rockyIn a forest that is just about to blossom with new leaves in late April, our trail is ridge line so we have very little elevation gain as we hike. With no destination in mind, we plan to hike out 90 minutes and double back to complete three hours of hiking this afternoon. Our weary legs could use a break after the nasty, protruding rocks of the AT in Pennsylvania.  (We just can’t let it go!)

A few more rocks on the AT

A few more rocks on the AT

We do have rocky stretches, but they are just sections amid miles of flatter, softer packed dirt and rock terrain.  Today we have done a week’s worth of whining about yesterday’s rocky trail hiking; ergo we have used up our allotment of bellyaching and finally cease our grumbling.

MD 3A H on less rocky partWe run into “Little Buddy” (trail name), a twenty something out for a few days of backpacking with his father. They are agreeable sorts, in no hurry, and tell us of their surprise of getting to the Red Raven Shelter 12 miles back last night and seeing the shelter full of young hikers and tents everywhere filled with the Lancaster Bible students.

MD 3C ridge line trailFather/son bonding has many venues. Some do it on the trail. In two days, I’ll have the chance to do some of my own with our son Will on golf courses in the Richmond, VA area. I like my bonding on emerald fairways and greens that funnel my ball to the hole. Each to his own.

Will and Laurel toast picture

The future Mr. and Mrs. Rothermel

Descending the last mountain, I feel my left knee begin to ache from yesterday’s hike in the unforgiving rocks of Pennsylvania.  Tomorrow is a light day of canal path walking at Great Falls National Park near Washington, DC with the Family Rawding.

And then after, off to Richmond, Virginia for Will’s marriage to Laurel Ann Crane.

Dan and Hannah Hike the Appalachian Trail near Hot Springs, North Carolina

HS Map of North CarolinaToday is like a big par five.  We have one long drive from Richmond (RVA) before we hike.  Given that Virginia and North Carolina abut and given that RVA is in the center of Virginia, we still have more than 400 miles of driving to Asheville in far western North Carolina. Knowing what lies ahead, I sleep restlessly and wake Hannah early this mid-October Monday; soon we are on the road heading west on I-64 to I-81 south.

HS 1 Chick sign

Shortly after 9A, three hundred miles into the drive, we stop in the little border town of Abingdon, VA looking for a breakfast diner.  Though Denny’s or Cracker Barrel might provide a fine breakfast, we want an experience that we can’t find just anywhere and at a good price.  As we fill up for $2.92 per gallon (it’s $2.63 now), a delightful country woman explains in sweet detail how to get to Chick-N-Little at the other end of town.

Quite a breakfast for a VCU woman

Quite the breakfast for a VCU woman

Picture this: a diner with pictures from the 1960s (e.g., Dean Martin) on the wall with frames that you get at the Dollar Store.   Just men, maybe fifteen of them, are at tables and the counter in work jeans and old man khakis.  For $5.99 Hannah gets a veggie omelet, home fries, and biscuits and gravy!  Clearly the sky is not falling at Chick-N-Little.

Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine

Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine

As we drive on to Asheville, I think I am just so clever killing two hiking birds with one trail stone. Let me explain. For a good 150 miles, the Appalachian Trail (AT) straddles the North Carolina/ Tennessee border. Ergo, we have an opportunity to hike a trail that borders both states so we can bag states #12 (NC) and #13 (TN) in our quest to day-hike all 14 AT states.  Clearly, I am overly impressed with my delusional brilliance.

HS 5 HS town signFalling immediately in love with small town Hot Springs, NC, we learn that it’s named for a natural spring with 100+ degree mineral waters. The town itself is becoming a popular tourist destination for rafting and kayaking on the French Broad River as well as hiking, mountain biking, and backpacking.

HS 4 AT diamondThe AT itself goes right through the center of town on Bridge Street marked with AT diamonds in the sidewalk. To find a twofer trail (NC/TN), we enter the small library where Winnie tells us of a trailhead just north of town. But she says, The Welcome Center knows more about hiking in both states.  Babs at the Welcome Center lets us know that she doesn’t think the NC/TN border is close, but the folks down the street at the Bluff Mountain Outfitters will know more.  Whipping out a map, they tell us we are ten miles from the nearest NC/TN border.

French Broad River

French Broad River

Not having done the necessary research of the AT in NC and TN, I nod and smile and think, que sera sera.  It is what it is.  Tennessee is still in our sights and we will somehow hang that pelt on our wall in the coming days.

Hannah on the AT in North Carolina on a sun-dappled day

Hannah on the AT in North Carolina on a sun-dappled day

Now close to 130P, we choose to hike north crossing the French Broad River out of town. Our trail begins as a dirt road along the river by cabins for thru-hikers.  The weather is amazing, sunny near 70F degrees. (Two weeks later heavy snow falls.)

High above Hot Springs, NC on the French Broad River

High above Hot Springs, NC on the French Broad River

Once in the mountains of North Carolina, we are using the switchbacks to climb above the French Broad River.  With our sweatshirts tied around our waists, we are down to our tee shirts and shorts; we talk very little in such steep assents.

Hiking among the thick North Carolina rhododendrons, we are in leafy heaven.

A double white blaze means a turn in the trail.  One of the last we see.

A double white blaze means a turn in the trail. One of the last white blazes we see.

With Hannah in the lead, the trail seems obvious and well-traveled; though we no longer notice white blazes to guide us.  Just days ago on the AT in Pennsylvania, we had white blazes every 100 to 200 yards for guidance and reassurance.  But here after 15 minutes, Hannah turns to me with a “this is odd” expression and says, I haven’t seen a white blaze in quite a while.

Hannah on the trail of rhododendrons

Hannah on the trail of rhododendrons

Backtracking to the last white blaze we saw, we see no evidence that we have missed the correct trail, and now we are just pissed.  Really? You can’t mark the trail this close to town?  Bummed, our annoyance rising, we think, If you can’t mark the trail well enough, we are just not going to hike you anymoreSo there.  We know this is childish and petulant; so be it.  We are what we are.

Determined to carry a grudge and show the trail how really p.o.-ed we are, we turn to town and disparage the trail so it can hear us; we just don’t look at it as we harrumph our way out of the woods. We want no part of its empty apologies.

At the base of the 51 steps to south on the AT

At the base of the 51 steps to south on the AT in Hot Springs

Through town and to the south, the AT climbs 51 stone steps into the forest. As with the north side of town trail, this is a relentless climb on this warm day.  It is Carolina at its finest.  Down to our tee shirts, which are soon soaked with sweat, we are getting the work out we wanted when we awoke twelve hours ago in Richmond.

Fall coming to the mountains of North Carolina

Fall coming to the mountains of North Carolina

The trail is rocky as we have come to expect from the AT. Though the forecast has gone back and forth between rain and no rain, today is picture perfect.  We do see more white blazes, and are coming down off our high horses.

Back through town before 5P so Hannah can buy post cards at the Bluff Mountain Outfitters, we have notched AT State #12 in North Carolina.

Now Tennessee!  Nearly 1000 miles from our home in Maine, we are not going to miss this opportunity to hike in the Volunteer State when we are this close!  Come hell or high water or the rain that is predicted we will hike in Tennessee.

HS 9P AT trail sign


Dan and Hannah Hike the Appalachian Trail near Boiling Springs, PA


My second cousin Katie, a fulltime weather genius

My second cousin Katie rocking the weather in FLA

Off to Richmond, VA (RVA) to see our son Will and his fiancée Laurel, I have had rain on the brain for days.  I have two weather apps on my iPhone.  On our laptop, the weather channel icon has the position of honor on the tool bar.  I’m all over the weather.  Reasonably, one might suggest counseling.  For the last ten days, rain has been in and out of the forecast for our hiking adventure to Pennsylvania, Virginia, and points south.

Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine

Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine

After a day of hiking on the Appalachian Trail (AT) near Delaware Water Gap, PA (see blog for November 1, 2014), Hannah and I sack out at the Comfort Inn in Allentown, PA; the morning forecast is for a 70% chance of rain.  Make it 100%, it doesn’t matter!  We are hiking manana.  Be it with ponchos and/or umbrellas.  I’m serious; I’ll bring umbrellas on the trail even if I look like Mr. Mary Poppins.  Let me tell you, we haven’t driven the long way to RVA by way of I-81 to just drive the long way to RVA.  Fortunately, Hannah is game for hiking among the raindrops.

In the morning, thankfully the percentage chance of rain is down to 20%.  Rain has been pushed back to the afternoon.  Sweet.

Boiling Springs, PA

Boiling Springs, PA

It’s nearly a two hour drive on I-78 and I-81 from Allentown, PA to the AT town of Boiling Springs, PA.  A town of 3000+, Boiling Springs gets its name from its natural artesian wells.  Going right through town, the AT in Boiling Springs is just about the halfway point of the AT’s 2180 miles.

The trail begins across

The trail begins across Yellow Beeches Creek

Once in town, we are directed to the far end of the Children’s Lake, home to ducks, swans, and geese, for trailhead parking.  As we ready for the hike, a few drops fall; the Universe wants our attention.   Dan and Hannah don’t be fools. Pack your ponchos. I’m only going to say this once.  All ears, we pack our ponchos with our water bottles and Nature Valley crunchy Oats ‘n Honey granola bars (a personal favorite).

The trail to the soybean and corn fields

The trail to the soybean and corn fields

Starting at a modest elevation of 500 feet, we have four miles of trail to the Alex Kennedy Shelter.  At our highest point we will climb to the 1060 foot Center Point Knob.  Crossing the bridge over the Yellow Beeches Creek, we cross a railroad and hike for the next two miles through soy bean and corn fields.  How great is it that Old MacDonald lets us e-i-e-i-o through his fields.

Bisecting the Indian corn fields and soy bean fields

Bisecting the Indian corn and soy bean fields

And then light rain starts to fall. Not enough to take our ponchos out but enough to get our attention.  In the lead, Hannah turns and says, Did we pack both ponchos?  A quick check shows that we did not.  Bummer.  What to do?

The AT crosses the Pennsylvania country side

The AT crosses the Pennsylvania country side (Double white blazes mean a turn in the trail)

Hike on and hope it doesn’t rain?  Blame? (always a “go to” strategy in times of stress).  We choose door number three.  Just turn the hell around and go back the half mile we’ve come, get the other poncho, and start again. It is what it is.  Perhaps something new and cool will happen because of this development.  On the plus side, we will get in an extra mile of hiking today.

BS 5A h crossing field

Going back the half mile to get the poncho is like having a generator in New England.  Hear me out.  Today it may not rain and thus we have no need for the ponchos; likewise we may never lose power and ever need a generator.  But not having to think of the possibilities of rain or losing power settles the soul and allows us to be in the moment.

The white blazes guide us on the AT

The white blazes guide us on the AT

As you can imagine, the fields are reasonably level and take us through the country side similar to what we might have seen 150 years ago during the Civil War.  Just 25 miles, as the soldiers march, north of Gettysburg, Boiling Springs was a stop along the Underground Railroad in the 1800s.

You can't keep a good VCU Ram down

You can’t keep a good VCU Ram down

We think back to our chance meeting with T-Bone (her trail name), the thru-hiker we met yesterday. By a fairly direct route, we drove the 145 miles from Delaware Water Gap, PA to Boiling Springs in about three hours; on the other hand she has 173 miles of trails to Boiling Springs that might take her 10 to 12 days. God bless you, Henry Ford!

Atop Center Point Knob

Atop Center Point Knob

With the fields behind us, our early afternoon hike during mid-October takes us into the forest. Climbing 500 feet to the top of Center Point Knob, I take smaller steps as my breathing increases. Under overcast skies, but no longer even any sprinkles, I go from Maine sweatshirt to VCU basketball tee shirt.

Once at the top, we descend the mountain heading north on the AT.  As with most of the AT that we know and love, we have rocks and roots aplenty.  Even so, we do not have the sharp, angular, jagged rocks of eastern Pennsylvania attacking our hiking boots as they did yesterday at the Delaware Water Gap.

Arriving at the Alex Kennedy Shelter after four miles of hiking, we know the rain is acoming.  Of that there is no doubt.

Enjoy the shelter video.

A quick bite of apples and granola bars and we are heading back to Boiling Springs to beat the rain.  Over nine miles of hiking (including the bonus mile of backtracking), we complete our outdoor adventure in three hours.  We now face a choice of how to get to Richmond on this Friday of Columbus Day Weekend.

BS 9D H on trail

We can be idiots and drive directly from Boiling Springs to the Beltway around Washington, DC, and then on through the hell that is I-95 from DC to Richmond during the evening commute.

Or we can add 100 miles to our drive by heading southwest on I-81 and then come in to Richmond from the west on route 64.

We like to think we aren’t stupid; we take option two.  With five hours of driving ahead of us, we stow our packs quickly as, wouldn’t you know it at this very moment (cue B.J. Thomas) the rain drops keep falling on our heads.

By the way, check out this shelter outhouse on the Appalachian Trail



Dan and Hannah Hike the Appalachian Trail near Delaware Water Gap, PA

US Map of states

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.

Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine

Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine

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).

AT near the Delaware Water Gap

AT near the Delaware Water Gap

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.

DWG 1 town sign

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.

Pennsylvania rocks, in many ways

Pennsylvania rocks, in many ways

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.

Joe and Hannah

Joe and Hannah

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.

DWG 2 H and D at start of trail

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.

Fire Trail begins our hike on the AT

Fire Trail begins our hike on the AT

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.

VCU Ram out for some exercise

VCU Ram out for some exercise

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).

White blaze of the Appalachian Trail

White blaze of the Appalachian Trail

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.

Atop Mount Minsi

Atop Mount Minsi

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.

Up on the ridge fire road

Up on the ridge fire road

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.

Liberal weenie tree hugger

Liberal weenie tree hugger

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.

We say good-bye to the Delaware River

We say good-bye to the Delaware River

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.







Dan and Hannah Hike to the Ed Garvey Shelter on the Appalachian Trail in Maryland

MD map

If you love to hike, come to Maryland.

From Frederick, Maryland, which is just 45 miles northwest of Washington, DC, Hannah and I drive west on Route 340 to exit 17, following signs to Gathland State Park.  Driving the winding country roads of the Maryland countryside the first week of November, we have hit bucolic pay dirt.  Together Hannah and I will hike in mid-60s weather, ready for any unexpected adventure that comes our way.  Freedom  of the open road is a cliché, but it’s what I was hoping to purchase when I retired.  I get that and more today.

Gathland St Park arch

Today we’ll hike south toward Weverton Cliffs (near Harper’s Ferry, WV) on the Appalachian Trail (AT) where we hiked just a year ago.  Driving up the Gapland Road from Burkittsville, we come upon a 40 foot stone arch dedicated to the war correspondents of the Civil War in truly the middle of nowhere.  And Nowhere, Maryland is just where we want to be today.  No traffic nor list of things to do.

AT in MD

With no one in sight, we cross the road and find a welcome path to the AT.  Today we are in for unexpected treat – ridge hiking.  We’ll have a mostly level terrain across mountain tops, where the trail is wide enough for Hannah and me to maintain a rockin’ pace as we walk side by side.

Today on the trail I introduce the topic of how to share our riches.  What is truly being generous?   Giving what you have?  Tithing?  Giving til it hurts?   What do we really need anyway?  Are we letting prudence get in the way of our giving?  Is our faith greater than our fear?

AT trail in MD 2

Without a conscious, frontal lobe focus on the giving-away-money part of our life, we just don’t seem to make it happen as much as we’d like.  Here’s a thought: Let’s pick a dollar amount to give each month and the last day of every month see how we’ve done.  If we haven’t reached our giving goal, we don’t leave the room until we find a home for the balance of the month’s giving.  Let’s talk about being generous the next time we meet.

Side by side on dried brown leaves we walk through the Maryland countryside on this sun-dappled fall day.  From time to time, branches with green leaves from a recent storm block our path, but they are easy to circumvent and return to the trail.  We hear geese squawking south this November day and feel few rocks beneath the dried leaves.  In seventy minutes we arrive at the turn to the Ed Garvey Shelter after 3.7 miles of ridge line hiking.  By the way, Ed Garvey was a thru-hiker (hiked from Georgia to Maine in one calendar year) and a former president of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club.

Ed Garvey Shelter

Ed Garvey Shelter

The shelter is a two story building of wooden floors with a loft above that is reached by a back entrance.  Climbing the stairs to the loft we find a pristine room; the broom hints at why.  At the picnic table out front we lunch on our Subway subs, scanning the valley below through a thicket of saplings.  The raised privy lies to our south while benches on three sides in front of us face the campfire.  Each shelter has a log for hikers to record impressions of their hike.

AT trail in MD 3

The latest entry is October 29th from a couple hiking during the snowstorm just a few days ago.

The firewood we collected was damp (even with flammable toothpaste) however we discovered skin-on-skin is a wonderful way to stay warm.   – LaChelle and Tim

 From October 4th

I was here 4 months ago.  It was naked hiking day (editor’s note – hiking sans clothes on June 21st) and hot.  How I miss the trail.  – Yinz

Hannah at the Ed Garvey shelter

Hannah at the back entrance of the Ed Garvey shelter

Hannah adds to the log.

Dan and Hannah from York, ME – ½ day hike to and from Gathland State Park.  What a beauty-full spot and shelter.  Thank you Potomac Appalachian Trail Club.  And here’s to Ed. Garvey.   2-Ply (Hannah)* and Jersey (Dan)   [Our trail names.]


AT trail in MD 3

Today is hiking at its best: Hannah, warm temperatures, and ridge hiking on a trail wide enough to walk and talk side by side.  We are blessed with this Maryland hiking escape.

As always when hiking, know thyself, thy limits, and the conditions.  Be prepared.

*Hannah’s trail name is between you and her.  Email her.

Dan and Hannah Hike to Pinwheel Vista on the Appalachian Trail in New Jersey

Max at ten days

Max at ten days

Maxwell Archer Rawding has arrived!

Hannah and I are bee-lining it from Maine through JERSEY to Virginia to see Owen Daniel’s little brother Max, who is five days old today.  As grandparents, we now have more time, energy, and moolah to really enjoy our grandkids than we had when we were parents ourselves.

Owen and Max with Omi and Boppa

Owen and Max with Omi and Boppa

Why just the other day at an elementary school Spring Fling of carnival rides and petting zoos, we saw cotton candy for sale.  With their Omi and Boppa (our grandparent nicknames), Owen and Max are going to enjoy the good life at the end of a cotton candy swirl.

Goshen Plaza Diner, New York

Goshen Plaza Diner, New York

With 550 miles of driving through the maw of the monster (traffic in the Northeast) ahead, we find a hike along the way to break up our trip to the Commonwealth of Virginia.  Having grown up in nearby Fair Lawn, JERSEY, I am coming home to love a state I couldn’t wait to leave when I was 18!

Leaving home in York at 520A, we travel 250 miles on Interstates to the Goshen Plaza Diner in New York for our pre-hike breakfast; it’s just 15 miles from our trailhead at Wawayanda (pronounced by the locals as Way-Way-On-da) State Park.  Wawayanda is Lenape for “winding waters.”

Good times at the Goshen Plaza Diner

Hannah knows breakfast!  Good times at the Goshen Plaza Diner

The Goshen Plaza Diner is a classic New York diner with booths, shiny metal interiors with mirrors everywhere, and veteran waitresses.  At 10A we easily score a booth and Susan, with seven years of experience and diamond ear studs, warmly welcomes us.  Though I love pancakes when eating out, I find that I am still hungry an hour later; that just won’t do when hiking.  So it’s two eggs over easy, home fries, and rye toast for me while Hannah spices up her breakfast with four strips of crispy bacon.  Susan is cheery and engaging in a JERSEY sort of way, which is a good thing.  In fact, a very good thing.

9G Wawayanda Park sign

After breakfast in New York we cross into JERSEY and turn right to enter the near empty parking lot on this mid-May Thursday (no one is collecting the $10 admission fee for out-of-state vehicles).  Changing into hiking boots, we find the blue blaze trail (side trail) is immediately in front of us, just three tenths of a mile from the white blazes (signifying the main trail) of the 2,180 mile Appalachian Trail (AT).  I wasn’t much of a hiker as kid but growing up in JERSEY meant baseball, basketball, and tennis all the time with the guys in the neighborhood.

AT map 2

Setting foot on the Pinwheel Vista trail, we make JERSEY #10 of 14 states that we’ve hiked on the Appalachian Trail.   (Going from south to north, it’s Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine.  I think of the 62 miles of the AT in JERSEY as an easy going, mellow part of the trail.  BTW, JERSEY guys can be easy going, mellow themselves.

Easy-going Jersey guy

Easy-going Jersey guy

The nine-mile round trip Pinwheel Vista hike through the rolling mountains of JERSEY has its trees that are not fully leafed out.   But today’s spring green is a most pleasing-to-the-eye forest color.

White blazes of the Appalachian Trail

White blazes of the Appalachian Trail

Setting out at 1120A, we are shooting for a rockin’ three miles per hour pace to complete the nine mile hike in around three hours.  What’s the hurry sister and brother, you may be thinking.  We have an evening motel reservation in Newark, Delaware, which means we’ll be traveling the length of JERSEY during the afternoon commuter rush hour when we finish the hike.

Hannah by the puncheons through the boggy part of the trail

Hannah by the puncheons through the boggy part of the trail

With drizzle and a thundershower in the forecast, we find the well-marked trail moist but not too sloppy and messy.  And then voila, we see a hiker with a huge pack and I greet him with Are you a thru-hiker (meaning he’s hiking the AT from Georgia to Maine in one calendar year).  His trail name is Captain Cook; he’s, in fact, is a section hiker hiking a part of the AT; in his case he is going from Pennsylvania to Vermont this time.  Still looking for a trail name myself and with no nautical experience, I find his trail name doesn’t bring me any closer to finding one for myself.


The red spotted newt on the trail.  “He” is an intermediate terrestrial version, as “he” started in the water and the adult form returns to the water.  This stage is called an “eft”.  (Thank you Patty P for this information.)

The red spotted newt on the trail. “He” is an intermediate terrestrial version, as “he” started in the water and the adult form returns to the water. This stage is called an “eft”. (Thank you Patty P for this information.)

An hour into our hike, we spot an athletic looking hiker with a back pack who acknowledges he’s a thru-hiker, having left Springer Mountain in Georgia on his way to Mount Katahdin in Maine.  His trail name is Sloth, which he says, when we ask, is an inside joke.  Way inside for this lean and fit college student (University of North Carolina) is no sloth; since late February, he and his buddy have completed 1350 of 2179 miles of the trail.  Maybe irony in a trail name is the way for me to go?  Dancing Dan?  I think not.

9 D on trail above stream VCU

Soon his buddy Rameses (trail name) comes by.  Rameses is the animal mascot of UNC.  Just as athletic, Rameses says this is one helluva way to spend a spring semester and he doesn’t have to pay tuition.  Like the Mormons on missions and the British with their gap year, these young men have stepped away from their university studies to take an unconventional path.  Maybe a college nickname as a trail name might work for me?   Sun Devil Dan?  Nah.

Cable secures this bridge during high water

Cable secures this bridge during high water

Feeling a time crunch to find Pinwheel Vista, we know the geography of JERSEY is not our friend today.  We have some 220 miles to our motel in Newark, Delaware (pronounced New-Ark) going through the belly of the beast of JERSEY traffic.  We have been had for dinner by the Garden State Parkway and the New Jersey Turnpike before.  We keep up a good pace on the trail and are looking for the blue blaze side trail to Pinwheel Vista.

9F river on trail

Approaching the 90 minute mark of the hike and still seeing no blue blaze marking to Pinwheel Vista, we find ourselves heading down the other side of the mountain!  That is not a good thing!  We are supposed to be at a vista.  And then we meet Stephanie and Heather, college girls from JERSEY, who are hiking up the mountain from the opposite direction.  When we ask if they have seen any blue blazes to Pinwheel Vista, they shake their heads no.

Blue blaze trail to Pinwheel Vista

Blue blaze trail to Pinwheel Vista

Retracing our steps, they help us find, in literally 100 feet, the massive pile of rocks indicating the Pinwheel Vista turn-off; its blue blaze hidden behind the leaves of a newly greening small tree.  We had walked right by it!  In 100 yards we are looking over the valley to the Pochuck Mountains on this quite humid and threatening-to-rain day.

Dan and Hannah at Pinwheel Vista

Dan and Hannah at Pinwheel Vista

A quick look and then it’s time to turn for the trailhead.  With a purposeful, steady pace, we cruise through the forest.  I’m so fortunate to be married to someone so athletically fit who can cruise (and likes to!) along the trails in the mountains, over the streams, and through the woods.  (You can sing that last sentence to the tune of Jingle Bells.)

Meeting the two college girls from JERSEY who went to college at William Paterson University (where I spent a summer in 1969), I just may have my AT trail name: Jersey!

Enjoy this one minute video heading for the trailhead at Wawayanda State Park.


Rawding boys

Leaving Wawayanda State Park by 320P, we are no match for late afternoon JERSEY commuter traffic.  What is normally a three hour trip to Delaware takes us five hours.  Some days you get the bear, and some days the bear gets you.  So sayeth Davy Crockett.

Molly with her sons, Owen and Max

Molly with their sons, Owen and Max

No matter, for tomorrow we will see our six day old grandson Max and his what’s-happening two year old big brother Owen.

Dan and Hannah Hike Annapolis Rocks on the Appalachian Trail in Maryland

With the dreaded DC traffic coming to town, it’s another 530A morning leaving the Kyker B and B in mid-May.  Taking to the Washington Beltway west out of the city, we find traffic flowing quite nicely and in 20 minutes we are heading northwest on I-270 to Rockville, MD where we will strike breakfast gold within the hour.  Heading in the opposite direction, slogging commuter traffic rumbles and stumbles to DC.  Life is good heading out of town.

Mountain View Diner

Mountain View Diner

At in MD MVD interior

Again, I’ve found a non-franchise diner online prior to our hike.  Today it’s the Mountain View Diner on Route 40 in Rockville.  Funky, bright, gleaming fifties, the Mountain View has $7, $8, and $9 breakfasts, but we find the hike-nourishing $2.99 special of two eggs, home fries, and toast bursting at the edge of the plate.  We hit pay dirt.

$2.99 Special

$2.99 Special

From the Mountain View Diner, we tool up and down the hills of route 40 for 15 minutes while school buses pass us in the opposite direction.  Only 70 minutes from the Washington Metro area, we spot a parking area for 8 to 10 cars on our right for the Appalachian Trail.

Appalachian Trailhead off route 40 Maryland

Appalachian Trailhead off route 40 Maryland

Time is the gift retirement gives us day in and day out.  Things we want to do don’t have to be squeezed in or postponed til the weekend.

Hannah leads the way

Hannah leads the way

A hundred yards from the well-marked main trail, we begin hiking along a path where a chain-linked fence separates us from the traffic of I-70 some one hundred feet below and soon has us deep in the forest. 

AT in MD trail Han

Heading north on the Appalachian Trail in a heavy fog, the assent warms us both, especially Hannah wearing a gray sweater.  She soon looks for a place to leave behind along the trail.

Hannah's Sweater of Gray

Hannah’s Sweater of Gray

Hanging her sweater trailside, Hannah is convinced her sweater will be there when we return.  I couldn’t agree more.  We didn’t even think there will be a 90% chance it will be there.  We are all in.  100% that it will be there upon our return.  My goodness, we are among the community of hikers!  The temperatures are into the 70s.  Far too warm for a sweater!  In our certainty, Hannah hangs her sweater and we hike on.

Angled log to divert running rain water into the forest rather than to let erode the trail

Angled log to divert running rain water into the forest rather than  let erode the trail

Hiking the AT in Maryland is a classic walk in the park as the canopied trees make it the proverbial “green tunnel.”  Hiking three miles per hour while talking is very doable on such level terrain.  Hannah calls our path a “red carpet” as the trail is sweetly laid out in front of us.  The trees on this ridge hike hide the views of the valley below.  At last 2.2 miles from the trailhead, we take a 300 yard side blue blaze trail to the Annapolis Rocks.

Looking west from Annapolis Rocks

Looking west from Annapolis Rocks

In another easy mile we take the short blue blaze trail to Black Rock.

Hannah surveying the Maryland countryside from Black Rock

Hannah surveying the Maryland countryside from Black Rock

After nearly two hours of ridge line hiking we take a break after what we estimate is five and a half miles of hiking from the trailhead.

The turn around point

The turn around point in paradise

As we reverse course, we know that this is the time in our hike when we might see northbound thru-hikers (those hiking 2180 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine).

White blaze that guides our way on the AT

White blaze that guides our way                  on the AT

Within a half a mile we see Smooth and Gimpy.  Smooth’s trail name comes from his smooth sailing along the trail to Mount Katahdin.  Enough said why Gimpy is Gimpy when we see a black ace bandage around his left knee.

Smooth had left Georgia in March so he is making a good progress to get to Mt. Katahdin in another two to three months.  When we ask him what surprised him about the hike, he says it was the five feet of snow in the Smokies.  Currently seated on a rock, Smooth says that his second pair of shoes is giving him trouble, not a good sign with someone who still has 1100+ miles to go.

Heading for home

Heading for home

Within minutes, we slow to talk to a young woman by the trail name of Mayonnaise.  She left in early February so it’s been slow going for her.  In nearly three and half months of hiking, she’s just about halfway to Mount Katahdin; it will be late summer for this recent college grade (a fellow UNH Wildcat) before she’ll be on our mountain in Maine.  It was the weather that surprised her.  Out of 30 days hiking in North Carolina, it snowed 26 of them.  Her AT hiking advice is the importance getting a new pair of shoes every 500 miles.  The outsides may look fine, but the interiors can be a mess.

Thru-hikers are just tough and made from a heartier stock than I.  It takes real women and real men to brave the weather and the PUDs (pointless ups and downs of mountain climbing) to keep believing day after day that they’ll make it to Maine.

Mayonnaise is sunshine.  She is one of those people who gives us energy with her smile and mutual interest.  Rarely do we find someone wondering about our story.   After talking with her (and she seemed in no hurry), we feel energized by her hopeful and happy nature and our participation in the conversation.  After nearly three hours of hiking, we feel renewed and ready to finish our four hours of hiking and talking.

With a mile to go til the trailhead we begin looking for Hannah’s sweater.  No matter how racist it sounds, many trees do look alike.  Her sweater would be on our right now, down the uphill we passed three hours ago.  Our certainty falters as we hear I-70 in the near distance.  As we get to the trail parallel to the highway, there is no gray sweater to be seen.  Hannah retraces her steps back up the hill for a good half mile or more.

She sadly returns with no sweater.

So what could have happened?  Perhaps, a “helpful” ranger took it on to some shelter for a hiker to claim in?  We’d like to think someone needed it more than Hannah.  No one would steal it.  Stuff just happens.

None of this overshadows the five star breakfast at the Mountain View Diner or that hiking the AT in Maryland is about as good as it gets.