“To be elated at success and disappointed at failure is to be the child of circumstances; how can such a one be called master of himself?” – Chinese Proverb
“Nothing gives one person so much advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances.” – Thomas Jefferson
After our incredible time together, Janet drove me back to the trailhead near Slatington. It was tough and emotional to say goodbye again, but I told her I loved her and would think about her every day until I see her again in Maine. She told me she loved me and would pray for me every day. We then hugged and kissed and I headed out over the bridge.
My sadness transitioned to bewilderment as I stared up at the climb out of Lehigh Gap that was ahead. The task was to climb 1000+ feet up the steep rockslide known as Blue Mountain, often going hand over hand. It was easily the most challenging rock scramble on the AT thus far, but it was also one of the most fun. I was glad the weather was clear, that I had long legs, and that my footing held on each precarious step.
From 1898-1980 the zinc mining industry took a heavy environmental toll on Palmerton, Blue Mountain, and the surrounding area. The New Jersey Zinc Company, our nation’s largest producer of zinc, left 33 million tons of slag (rocky waste) as a byproduct of their mining operations. The smelting operations also released heavy metals into the air and water, killing 2000 acres of vegetation on Blue Mountain and contaminating the Lehigh River and Aquashicola Creek. The Environmental Protection Agency added Palmerton to its National Priorities List in 1983 and since then there has been a concerted effort to grade and revegetate the land and clean the water and residences. As I climbed up and along Blue Mountain, I could tell it had taken a beating, but I was also impressed with the obvious effort underway to bring it back. Just to be on the safe side, I brought an extra bottle of Gatorade to avoid having to filter water from this area.
After summiting Blue Mountain, I continued along its mostly flat ridge for a few miles. At mile 1262.1, Little Gap Road, two former thru-hikers, Flapjack and Tunes, were under a canopy giving out Trail Magic! I was surprised to see a hiker named Black Bear sitting there. I shared a shelter with him a couple of months ago and know that he routinely does 20+ mile days. I’m going at a much more leisurely pace so it made no sense for us both to be in the same location. It turns out he got a severe back infection and had to get off the trail, rest and heal for two weeks and was now back at it. I also met Scarecrow, Hot Toddy, and Terodactyle. After having a cheese sandwich, some fruit and topping off my water from their water jugs, I thanked them and hiked on.
As I climbed out of Little Gap, a light rain began to fall. It made the rocks slippery but felt quite refreshing. I don’t like setting up or breaking down camp in the rain, but don’t mind hiking in it unless there is lightning.
A little later I passed a monument to Monmouth Air Flight 98. On October 24, 1971 a Beechcraft 99 crashed at this location, killing both pilots and two of the six passengers. The accident report concluded the pilot executed a nonprecision instrument approach in instrument flight conditions. The report also stated the pilots’ extensive on-duty time and resulting fatigue likely affected their judgement and decisions during the approach.
Late in the afternoon, the rain stopped but it was still overcast and dark in the woods. I stopped and relieved myself on a tree and then sat down to take a break and drink some water. About 20 minutes after resuming my hike, I saw Black Bear heading towards me. He said, “Fob, what are you doing?” “Hiking to Maine,” I answered. “Not in that direction,” he replied. “You’re going southbound!” I have read of hikers doing this before but never imagined doing it myself. Apparently during my last water break, I wasn’t paying close enough attention and headed out the wrong way. In a dark section of forest that all looks pretty similar, I just never realized my mistake. I thanked him for helping me out and mentally wrote “stupid” on my forehead before turning northbound and continuing my journey.
After this 40 minute mistake and a 10.2 mile day, I stealth camped near the intersection of the AT and the Delps Trail. I had only been away from my wife for six hours and was already missing her. I also thought about fatigue-induced errors and their consequences. My earlier error had cost me 40 minutes of time and unnecessarily hiking an extra 1.5 miles. The Monmouth Flight 98 pilots’ error, near the same spot as mine and for the same basic reason, had cost them their lives.
Today was characterized by 16.8 miles of hot weather, endless rocks, two little snakes, and one deer. I felt fatigued throughout the day and saw very few other hikers on the trail in either direction. At various points I felt like a zombie, mentally checked out and just mindlessly churning ahead like a sweaty robot stuck on autopilot. It was that rare day on the AT that was void of fun. Some days on the trail are just like that. A bright spot was some unattended Trail Magic at Wind Gap, featuring several bottles of water and a container full of dehydrated food.
As I took off my socks that evening and stretched out in my tent on my air mattress, I noticed my first ever visible bruise on the bottom of my foot. The relentless pounding of the rocks all week long had left me battered and a little bruised. I was ready to be out of Pennsylvania and in ten miles I would be.
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