a slow (unseasonably warm) march along the a.t.

Think the Amish go to church every Sunday?


They don't go to church at all, but they do meet for worship at a different farm within the community every other week.  And, on those Sundays, we impatient motor vehicle operators get a stern lesson in slowing the hell down.

Normally, this is "ok" by me and I often don't get stuck behind any buggies until I'm on the way home from my morning run and gassed enough to barely notice.

This past Sunday, however, the "man" had decreed the clocks be thrust forward an hour and my way less smart than everyone else's too-smart-for-their-own-good-smartphones phone got confused, maybe even frightened, and failed to sound the alarm that was supposed to get me on my feet at 5:30 AM, er, 4:30 AM, um...sometime well before I actually managed to rouse myself.

I'd frittered away 2 potentially glorious hours of trail running on a day that my sister had graciously offered to watch the kids while Lindsay attended another round of nursing clinicals.  Two hours is a good many miles and the warm sun and ridiculously mild temperatures that met me at the door seemed a cruel heckle to my oversleeping.
And that was before the endless parade of buggies.

The combination of my late start and the slow progress seemed a bad omen and I considered bagging my plan to put in 20 miles on the Appalachian Trail and head home for a day of play and (gulp) yardwork.

The sun shining on Blue Mountain convinced me otherwise.

I pulled into the lot along the northbound lane of Route 501 just southeast of Pine Grove, cut the motor and laced up my shoes.  I glanced at the GPS, ignored the headlamp I'd originally expected to need to start the day and made quick note of my revised 8:50 (7:50?) start time.

I had hoped to hit the trailhead at 7.


Heading east, I was immediately greeted by the arch-severing rock that gives the Pennsylvania sections of the AT such a bad reputation.  I was at least partly relieved to be doing this stretch in full daylight and considered that some compensation for my being behind schedule.

About 2 miles into the trip, I came upon the first real vista and soaked in the expansive view of the Lebanon Valley a few hundred feet below.

The full beauty of the day didn't just begin to sink in, it filled me immediately and left me feeling foolish for my earlier melancholy.

Head back on straight, I returned to my eastward march and soon came upon Shower Steps, another impressive overlook that demanded I stop for a moment.  This vista provides a great view of my "home" ridgeline, the site of Eagle Rock and the perch from which I spend most Sunday mornings looking in this very direction.

I'd remembered to throw my little Joby tripod in my pack and pulled it out to snap a few running photos before continuing on my way.

I cruised along for a couple more miles before the climbing temperatures had me wanting to shed my windshirt and, while I was at it, catch my breath.  I took advantage of the opportunity to shoot a quick video review of the jacket (see my earlier post) from the high point of Shikellamy Lookout and also shed the hat and gloves that were no longer needed.

The footing had mellowed out quite a bit after Shower Steps (though it's all relative) and I made good time as the trail stuck mostly to the top of the ridge before meandering downward into Shuberts Gap, the site of some sweet designated camping spots that I immediately decided I'd be returning to in the coming months with my hiking buddies.

After a short, moderately steep climb out of the gap, I came across a gas line (I'm assuming) and paused to note the seemingly endless drop down to the valley below (Brian, I think we've found the place for our hill repeat-athon).

The next few miles were a total blast.  The trail was technical but not nearly as relentless as a few miles before and it wound around a couple of small ponds and slowly, almost imperceptibly, to the pass at which Route 183 bisects the AT.

Just before reaching the intersection, I saw a sign in a tree that seemed fitting in weather that seemed exceptionally April-ish for early March.

Feeling certain I was making good time, I'd held off on peeking at the GPS even as I crossed 183 and knew I'd gone close to 10 miles.  Another mile further along, the singletrack changed over to road with newly spread stones.  Seemed like as good a time as any to check my progress and it was good I did.

First, I realized that I hadn't restarted the GPS after I'd stopped to photograph the spring sign.  Second, and more importantly, I found I'd been out on the trail for 2.5 hours and really did need to spin around and begin the trudge home.

What I didn't take proper note of for another mile or two was how damn hungry and thirsty I was.  I'd been drinking as I went but, as evidenced by the photo below, I'd barely put a dent in the water that I was carrying.  One of these days, I'm going to find a way to drink appropriately during long runs.  One of these days.  Today, it just meant that I had plenty of fluids to wash down my Honey Stinger Waffles, trail mix, GU Chomps, Snickers and granola bar lunch.


Minutes later, after recrossing that power line and ignoring its wordless invitation to repeat, repeat, repeat, I tumbled back down into Shuberts Gap and noticed a trail registry box that I'd failed to notice on my first passage.  There was no logbook in the registry, only the following note:

With the sun climbing higher and the temperatures rising, both of which may have set said rattlers a roaming, this note was an interesting reminder to watch my step.  It was also food for thought regarding that plan to return with friends for a night of camping.  For the record, I didn't see a single snake.

The return trip was mostly a matter of putting one foot in front of the other.  I'd stuck pretty easily to 12-minute miles throughout the day and now made up my mind to hold that pace until the end of the day.  I'd shorted the mileage by failing to restart the GPS near 183, but not by more than a mile and I felt pretty sure that the Garmin was giving a fair reading on the day's pace.

I paused for a short time again at Shower Steps as it was just too good a view to pass up and it gave me a chance to rest before the brutal footing of the last three return miles.  I tried, but there was no denying that I was tired.  A small group of backpackers arrived at the overlook and we chatted for a short while about our collective day out on the trail.  As much as I love a solitary trail, I'm often disappointed by how few hikers and backpackers that I see out on the trail, so I was really pleased to find them out there.

I'd just as soon stayed there for another hour soaking up the sun, but I knew it was best that I get back on my feet and crank out the last few miles.

I did a bit of hiking over the worst of the terrain but slogged through most of what remained at what sort of resembled running.  Long story short, my 12-minute pace didn't hold.  Guess what?  I couldn't care less.

I didn't make it to church or even any local farms, but it was still a day of worship in my book.


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