Sometimes the heat just can’t be beat! Unfortunately, we learned that lesson the hard way last week when we both came down with heat exhaustion and ended up in the ER in Newton, NJ. But I’m getting ahead of myself! Rest assured - we are both doing fine now, but allow me to take you back in time, back to Bethel, PA, where we last left you…
501 Shelter to Port Clinton, PA (22 miles)
After a great night at the 501 Shelter, where we hung out with many fellow hikers and a humongous watermelon, we headed out early. Having received a restaurant recommendation, we thought we would add a few extra miles to our day and get to Port Clinton for the evening. A long, hot day later, we arrived, but we weren’t able to find the restful evening we’d hoped for. The food was pretty awful, and we were treated in a way that made us feel uncomfortable (a.k.a. "hiker-unfriendly"). Eager to leave that establishment behind, and in order to get fuel for our stove, we had to walk 2+ miles on the highway to an enormous shopping center. This was a major culture shock for us – not to mention, once we got to the shopping center, the parking lots themselves added another half-mile or so of pavement-walking. At the end of a long and hard day, we were not in good spirits. By the time we made it back to the park where we set up camp, it was already time for bed. “Tomorrow is a new day,” we kept telling ourselves.
Port Clinton, PA to Eckville Shelter (16 miles)
A new day indeed! A climb out of Port Clinton took us past some incredible views of Pennsylvania farmland from above - The Pinnacle and The Pulpit, to name two. Then onto Eckville Shelter, where we were glad to arrive early in the day to a cold shower and a relaxing afternoon. Like the 501 Shelter, Eckville is just off the trail, with a caretaker and running water – a welcome set-up for hot afternoons.
Eckville Shelter to Bake Oven Knob Shelter (17 miles)
Today we hit some of those famous Pennsylvania rocks we had heard so much about. Boulder-hopping and balancing along the rocky "Knife's Edge" ridge-line made our hiking a bit slower, but more rewarding. As long as you watch your step (and if you're fortunate enough not to be on the exposed rock in the heat of the day), this kind of walking can actually be fun. We camped at a quiet campsite, a few yards away from Bake Oven Knob Shelter, where some guys had taken over and were setting off fireworks (less quiet).
Bake Oven Knob Shelter to Palmerton, PA (7.7 miles)
A short morning of hiking led us to Palmerton, PA, a wonderful trail town, featuring the so-called "Jailhouse Hostel." It's not actually a jailhouse but the town's old municipal building, where they let hikers sleep in the basement bunk-room, free of charge! It was a hot day in town, but we were able to get some great food and enough ice cream to keep us cool on a 95-degree day (Claude's Creamery - you are well loved).
Palmerton, PA to Leroy A. Smith Shelter (16 miles)
If you look at an elevation map of the Appalachian Trail, you might notice that north of Palmerton, PA the incline gets CRAZY for a good 2 miles. Commonly referred to as one of the hardest climbs on the AT, the trail leads you straight up a bald rock-face, where a zinc-smelting operation in the area left heavy metal residues, making it devoid of vegetation. The EPA closed the plant a few decades ago, and declared the mountain a Superfund site. Up we went over the "SuperFUN" site, as Zack likes to call it. And indeed, we actually did find it pretty fun, despite all the negative hype. We got out early, and were at the top of it by 6:15am, well before the heat of the day and in time for the sunrise over Palmerton. The rest of the day was flat and easy, and we made it to camp before 1:00pm, just in time for a nap!
Leroy A. Smith Shelter to Delaware Water Gap, PA (21 miles)
Today was our 7-year anniversary! Yay! To celebrate, we decided to get to Delaware Water Gap earlier than expected by tacking a few extra miles onto our hiking day. It was a long, hot day at the end of the 230 miles in Pennsylvania, which we ultimately decided we had thoroughly enjoyed. (Despite the frequent complaints about the state's rocks and heat, we had generally mild weather and we thought the rocks weren't as bad as they were made out to be. I had originally planned to include here a poem about my feelings on Pennsylvania - perhaps entitled "Pennsylvania Rocks!"- but decided against it.) We pulled into DWG by 3:00 where we checked into the Presbyterian Church of the Mountain Hostel for another night of incredible hospitality (the church opens its doors daily to smelly hikers). Yummy treats in a mail drop from our parents and an enormous banana split at the old-fashioned ice cream emporium in town rounded out the day.
Delaware Water Gap, PA (0 miles)
The heat was picking up, and we were grateful to be spending most of our day indoors and not on the trial. We had a great lunch at the Apple Bakery and a leisurely afternoon of eating and sitting in air conditioning (when possible). Topped the day off with another enormous sundae at the ice cream emporium.
Delaware Water Gap, PA to Mohican Outdoor Center (10.5 miles)
One hundred days on the trail today! Or...one hundred days since we started our journey, which includes the days we have taken full "zero" days. We celebrated by crossing the Delaware River and entering New Jersey! In what would begin a series of unfortunate events, I was feeling a bit nauseous, but I chocked it up to all the dairy (see: ice cream emporium) that we'd had in DWG. We took it slow on our 10-mile day, which was increasingly hot, but incredibly beautiful. We walked by the glacially-formed Sunfish Pond and enjoyed the Jersey ridge-walking. We arrived at the Mohican Outdoor Center in time for lunch, where we were able to rest in the shade and wait out the heat of the day before heading back to our campsite. I still felt a bit funny at the end of the day, but was able to eat and drink normally, so I figured with a night of good sleep, I'd be as good as new...little did I know what awaited us on Day 101!
Mohican Outdoor Center to Rattlesnake Mountain (10 miles)
Thinking we could outsmart the heat that was expected to reach its peak today, we woke up at 4:00am and left the Outdoor Center by 5:00. We had sweat all through the night, as the heat hadn't let up, and we were sweating within our first few steps on the trail. We caught an amazing sunrise from the top of a fire tower looking over the valleys below, and we pressed on, making good time, and thinking ourselves very wise for getting up early. Around 9:00, Zack asked if we could take a break because he wasn't feeling very well. We ate a small, salty snack, drank water and pushed on. At 10:00 we stopped again. This time, Z was spent. Recognizing the signs of heat exhaustion, we found a shady spot on the trail and tried to rest. I don't want to go into too much ugly detail, but I'll say that once the vomiting started, we knew it was time to call 911. Since we were in the woods, a good six miles from the nearest paved road, it took a few more hours of trying to keep Z cool, resting and hydrating before the first ranger showed up, followed by a very friendly EMT and his helpers. They surrounded Z with ice packs to bring his body temp down, and in time, he was able to gain enough strength to walk out the mile to where the ATV waited, ready to escort him to an ambulance. Once we boarded the ambulance, we were taken to Newton Hospital, where he was hooked up to an IV, and got some color back into his cheeks. It was then that I started to feel funny, and my feelings of nausea from the last 48 hours - which I must have suppressed in the adrenaline rush of making sure Zack was going to be OK - came back with a vengeance. I thought I'd ask the nurse about it, and in the middle of my questions, it was my turn to vomit...not a lovely story, I know, but looking back, the timing could not have been better. I was already in the ER, the safest place I could be, so I signed in, and then it was my turn to get an IV. My first time in an emergency room, and my first time in a hospital bed! What a day.
Since our misadventures on Day 101, we have been hanging out in Branchville, NJ resting and trying to get some food and water back into our systems. I had one more bout with the nausea after leaving the hospital, but Zack has been solid as a rock since. Three full "zero" days here (Days 102-104), where we have been joined by Zack's "Uncle Danny," who drove us around and helped us find unlikely sources of air conditioning (why not spend an afternoon at ShopRite?) and kept us great company. Now that the oppressive heat wave has broken, we are excited about getting back on the trail tomorrow and easing ourselves back into the swing of things.
We are so grateful to the wonderful people who have helped us out (including MaryAnn, who gave us a ride to the library today to keep us from going stir-crazy), and we're glad to have made it 1,300 miles without too many hitches. We were due for one, I guess!
Less drama next time, we promise.
Love and happy trails,
Lara (and Zack)
PS - Check out our new pictures on our Flickr photostream by clicking on the thumbnails above.