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An Appalachian Trail Thru-Hike: Part 24 - Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania
I nodded saying "Uh huh, yeah, uh huh," not really paying attention until he said, "I used to hike 50 miles per day. I’d go 5 miles an hour."
Pizza and Stories
When we awoke the next day the rain had stopped, but it was cool and cloudy. We were not in the mood for hiking, but we didn't want to stay in Port Clinton either. We were getting restless, the way we had been when we left Pearisburg Virginia over a month before. We were feeling the urge to take to the roads for a while to get a change in scenery. We saw on our map an opportunity to take some roads from Port Clinton to Palmerton Pennsylvania. Near Palmerton we could pick the trail back up again. We figured we would be able to hit a restaurant and maybe even a motel along the way. The day was cool and overcast as we started down the road. We made good time. We had heard that there was a heavyweight boxing title bout between Larry Holmes and Gerry Cooney that was to be televised that evening and we thought that if we found a motel for the night we might be able to watch it. We found a restaurant right around lunch time in the town of New Ringgold. It was actually a bar that served food, and we ordered a large pizza there. The place was almost empty. There was a guy behind the bar and a customer at the bar. Other than those two we had the place to ourselves.
The bartender and his customer knew each other and they both looked us over. After a bit they asked us if we were hiking the trail. We told them yes. The bartender immediately launched into a bunch of stories about his adventures as a scoutmaster. We were used to hearing lots of stories from the people we met along the way, but his stories were so outrageous that I wrote down much of what he said in my journal:
"There were 72 kids in my troop," he said, "on campouts there’s supposed to be one adult for every five kids. Well, I used to take them all out by myself, and I never had any problems."
I nodded saying "Uh huh, yeah, uh huh," not really paying attention until he said, "I used to hike 50 miles per day. I’d go 5 miles an hour."
Neither Dave nor I could ignore that statement.
"Were you going downhill the whole day?" we asked.
"No," replied the beer-bellied bartender.
"Did you have a pack?"
"Sure," he said, "you can do that."
"Just double time it," added the guy at the bar.
There was no way to argue, so we just answered with an assortment of snorts, scoffs, and exclamations of disbelief.
While Dave and I reacted to the bartender's tales, Mark paid him no mind. While we let him get our goat, Mark just stayed serene and munched on his pizza. The one bit of intelligence that we got from the bartender and his friend was that there were no motels between there and Palmerton.
If you want to read this series from the beginning, click the link below:
- An Appalachian Trail Thru-hike: Part 1 - Deciding to...
Two teenagers hike the Appalachian Trail from end to end in 1982. This episode describes how they decided to hike the trail and their preparation for the trip.
I was free, with everything I needed strapped to my back. I was with my two buddies hiking through the woods and back roads of Pennsylvania.
We left the bar wondering what to do. We hadn't planned our road walk. We had just headed out hoping that things would break our way. We walked a while, but ended up catching a ride in the back of a blue pickup truck. The truck brought us to a spot about 6 miles outside of Palmerton. It was late afternoon when we were dropped off. We immediately started walking toward town, thinking we could get a motel room there. As I walked along with my two companions, I considered my situation. I was free, with everything I needed strapped to my back. I was with my two buddies hiking through the woods and back roads of Pennsylvania. A friendly local had just given us a ride in the back of his pickup, and we had lounged in the bed of the pickup watching the scenery go by for 10 to 15 miles with the wind whipping our hair past our faces and rippling our T-shirts. I thought about where I could have been otherwise. My school friends were back home sitting in classrooms counting the days, hours, minutes, and seconds until they heard the ringing of the final high school bell of their lives. I should have been completely happy, and I was, except for something that was nagging at me more and more as we went along. Deviations from the trail were a way we had found to break up the monotony. I didn't mind hiking road sometimes, The AT followed miles of roads along various sections, but too often our road walks led to getting rides that leap frogged us forward by a day’s worth of distance.
Dave and I had not set out to be perfect AT thru hikers. We were not "purists", but we did set out to accomplish something – we were trying to hike from Georgia to Maine and I thought that so far, other than a few stumbles here and there, we were doing a pretty good job of it. It seemed to me that we were straying too far from that purpose. Later on I told Dave and Mark that I didn't want to hitch rides anymore and they agreed. For the time being I pushed aside those thoughts and made the most of the present. We had a goal to find lodging in Palmerton, which was now within reach. At some point we came across someone along the road and we asked if there was a motel or hotel in Palmerton.
He looked us over and said we could try a place in the center of town. He gave us some directions and wished us well. We set off again with an extra spring in our step. Following the directions took us from the outskirts of Palmerstown along a busy main street that progressively became more and more rundown as we walked. We kept looking for the usual features that we hoped to see when we came into a town – general stores, restaurants, and motel signs. Instead, after hiking a ways into the town, we saw boarded-up buildings, shabby storefronts that didn't sell anything we were interested in, and a lot of places that looks like brownstone flats with people hanging out in the doorways and sitting on some of the stoops. There was no friendliness of the type we encountered in trail towns. People either ignored us or gave us strange looks. Finally we came to a large brownstone with a sign that said "Hotel" above the entrance. Outside there were four or five people hanging around. They didn't seem to be doing anything. They weren’t talking with each other, they weren’t reading newspapers or books, they weren’t eating or drinking anything, they were just sitting on the steps or standing on the sidewalk staring at the street and anything that passed by. The three of us stopped in front of the entrance and held and impromptu conference while the people standing and sitting outside tried to make heads or tails of us. For a moment the people outside the "Hotel" and the three of us regarded each other. Their clothes were shabby. Their expressions were vacant, but starting to transform from the stares directed at nothing in particular to looks of curiosity directed toward us. They all looked like they might be staying there but not like they lived there. They looked like transients who had not gotten many breaks in life. We, of course, looked pretty shabby ourselves. Our expressions must have been confused and wary. We were dirty, sweaty, and our clothes and backpacks caused us to stand out like a sore thumb. It occurred to me later that the guy that gave us directions to the hotel might have thought we were transients too. As the people hanging around outside of the “Hotel” turned to each other trying to figure out who we were, we looked at each other trying to decide what to do.
One of us finally spoke, "I don't think this is the place."
"Yeah," another of us agreed, "I don't think that guy knew the kind of place we were looking for."
"Right," the last of us to speak said, "let's just go back to the highway. We'll find something else further on."
With that we turned on our heels and started back down the street the way we had come. Our trip to Palmerton had been a bust, and we were glad to be getting out of there.
With every footstep we took away from Palmerton I felt more relieved. Far from being down about not finding what we were looking for, we all seem to be in a buoyant mood when we returned to the highway and started heading toward the trail again. We started making jokes about what the people we saw in Palmerton must've thought of us.
Finding the Trail Again
As we hiked along the road, many cars passed us, and we could see many faces staring at us through the windows. Kids especially, tended to have funny expressions on their faces. Often they stared at us open mouth, and wide-eyed.
Suddenly Mark spoke up, imitating a child's voice. "Daddy,” he said, "who are those men? Are they being punished?”
"Then he switched to a fatherly voice, "No honey, they're just hikers."
All three of us cracked up. We thought it was the most hilarious thing Mark had ever said.
Our maps and guidebooks indicated that we could join the trail again at the top of a small ski mountain just outside of town called Little Gap Ski Area. From Palmerstown we hiked along a road that led us up to the ski lodge situated at the top of the mountain. At the top we ran across a sign that said hikers were welcome. From that we deduced that the AT was close by. It was getting dark by that time and we were tired. We found a grassy, flat spot next to one of the buildings of the resort. We laid out our sleeping bags there and went to sleep.
The next morning we only had to hike a few hundred yards along the top of the ridge past the ski run clearings and chairlifts until we found AT trail markers. Once on the trail, we started running across other hikers. In fact, for the entire day we passed other hikers every 15 minutes or so. Most were day hikers. Many of them were friendly and curious about us. They wanted to know how far we had hiked and where we were going. When we told them, they had a lot of questions about our trip. We ended up spending a lot of time talking throughout the day. By the end of the day we had traveled 16 miles to a highway at Wind Gap where we finally found a motel. It was a called the Gateway Motel. The three of us split a room there for $24.
The next day was overcast. We walked along a road that went through Wind Gap. We went about 2 miles before it started to rain. It was a hard rain right from the start and we were not looking forward to hiking through it, when suddenly we saw another motel. This one was called the Melody Motel. We didn't even have to consult with each other. We just headed for the parking lot and the lobby beyond that. This motel was a little nicer – we split the room, this time for $33. It turned out to be a good thing however, because the rain didn't let up at all during the whole day. We waited it out in luxury, watching old black-and-white Abbott and Costello movies on the TV.
I began questioning whether we were on the correct roads. I started to complain that I didn't think we were going in the right direction.
The next day started off cloudy and cool, but the rain was over. The little town of Delaware Water Gap was in striking distance. Delaware Water Gap was a trail town with a hostel. It was the point where hikers on the AT crossed from Pennsylvania into New Jersey via a bridge over the Delaware River. The conversation of the morning was whether to link back up the trail and hiked in or to take to roads to get there. I started to get that nagging feeling that I had felt a couple days earlier. I had no problem with hiking roads I told Dave and Mark, but I insisted that we not resort to hitching a ride. We all agreed and we started to wind our way along the back roads toward Delaware Water Gap.
The sky cleared as the day progressed, and it started getting hot. We had plotted the day’s route along the roads based on what we could see on our topographic maps that were designed to show the trail. The roads were shown by their route numbers on the maps, but the route numbers weren't always posted along the actual road. Often we just had a road name to go by which was not shown on the topo map. After a while I started to feel like I had been in the same situation before. We were going to get off track, I thought, then end up still on the road with darkness closing in. Maybe we would find a spot to pitch our tent or maybe the practicality of hitching a ride would supersede our intentions not to. It was hot on the road and after a while I started getting irritable. I began questioning whether we were on the correct roads. I started to complain that I didn't think we were going in the right direction. Dave and Mark thought we were okay, but after a while I finally insisted that we ask someone for directions. I went up to someone's house and knocked on the door so I could ask the best way to get to Delaware Water Gap. A woman came to the door and told me the way to go. It was the way we were already going. That was a bit of a relief to me, but it didn't do much to quench my grouchiness. I was fed up with uncertainty and I wanted to stick to the trail more than we had been doing lately.
Later in the afternoon we came to route 611 which paralleled the river into Delaware Water Gap . We found the hostel which was run by the Presbyterian Church of the Mountain, and we stayed there for the night. The two thru hikers from New Jersey that we had met in Port Clinton were there as well, along with some bicyclists, one of whom had thru hiked the Appalachian Trail in 1979.
Inside the diner a space was set aside for a ping-pong table.
Hamburgers and Ping Pong
Across the street from the hostel was a diner where we got some hamburgers. Inside the diner a space was set aside for a ping-pong table. When Dave and I were there, there weren't too many people at the diner and the ping-pong table wasn't being used. Both of us had ping-pong tables in our basements growing up and we used to have tournaments with each other, Dave's brother, and other kids from the neighborhood. Dave and I were pretty good at ping-pong. We started playing and we got some good volleys going back and forth. As we were playing, I noticed out of the corner of my eye that the proprietor of the establishment started sweeping the floor. I could see that he was taking an interest in our game. He kept casting sidelong glances toward the table as we played. He was a big guy who wore loose white pants and a T-shirt. After Dave and I had finished few games he casually asked if one of us wanted to play him. I shrugged and said that I would. He then proceeded to beat me several times in a row. We found out that his name was Sam, and he was a very good player. When we left the diner to go back to the hostel he remained undefeated.
Our pattern so far on the trip had been to stay at hostels in trail towns for two nights so we could have a day of rest, but Dave and I were getting restless. We were about to leave Pennsylvania behind and cross into New Jersey. Our home state of New York was getting closer and we had visits with relatives coming up. Within a few days we would be meeting with an aunt, uncle, and cousins of mine, to be followed directly with a visit with Dave's parents, grandmother, and uncle. The prospects of those visits and the idea of soon being able to hike on New York state soil had us chomping at the bit. We were ready to go. Mark had other plans. He told us he was going to stay in Delaware Water Gap a while until he received some money that someone was mailing to him. He said he might meet us down the trail a bit at Culver's Gap New Jersey or in Unionville New York. He had encouraged us to go to Hershey without him with an off chance that we would meet back up in Duncannon. Our paths had indeed crossed again in Duncannon and it had meant that we spent another week or so hiking together. Now he was telling us to go on ahead again. This time it didn't seem likely that we would reconnect.
It was Mark who had told us that everyone had to follow their own style when hiking the trail. I had begun thinking that Dave and I were starting to follow Mark style too much, but looking back now I think Mark had the same perspective in reverse. Our trip had to end in mid-August so we could be ready to start college for the fall semester. Mark didn't have that time constraint. He was a free spirit. He varied his pace as his mood dictated. He liked to kick back for a long time when he reached a destination such as Damascus Virginia, Duncannon Pennsylvania, or Delaware Water Gap. Sticking with Dave and I was getting in his way of doing that. Mark had been a good hiking companion over two months, but now he decided to hang back while we moved on ahead.
We left the Delaware Water Gap that morning after I went across the street to take one more crack at playing Sam the diner proprietor at ping-pong. Finally, I beat him on our third game of the morning. With my ping-pong playing pride somewhat patched up, I was able to shoulder my pack and leave town.