Nina Baxley: AT Thru-Hiker

Trail Versus Town
The Appalachian Trail stretches from Maine to Georgia
The Appalachian Trail

September 28, 2000

Well, those early northbounders were sort of right. Making it through Maine and New Hampshire, however, doesn't guarantee that the rest of the trail will seem easy. After all, uphills are still uphills; even though I'm in the best shape of my life, uphills are still HARD. And the rocks weren't easy. Most of the rocks on the AT in Pennsylvania are smaller and sharper than those in Maine and New Hampshire. And they're loose, so they often move when you step on them.

While the trail didn't scare me the way the Whites did in inclement weather, Pennsylvania has required me to slow down and use a great deal of patience and concentration. Add to that the fact that rattlesnakes and copperheads live among these rocks, and you get an idea of how careful a hiker needs to be when hiking this section of the AT.

Still, I've averaged 15 or so miles a day in Pennsylvania. And the trail isn't ALL rocks; parts of it are quite smooth, and the terrain is mostly flat. All in all, it's made for some really pleasant hiking. I had heard so many stories of the rocks, but few people talk about how truly beautiful this state is, with its primarily deciduous forests, its green hills, and its lovely views, which consist mostly of farmland and small villages.

Many leaves have already fallen; in places, the Appalachian Trail is covered with a lush carpet of golden leaves, so much that the actual trail is hard to see. The dark gray rocks seem to rise up from the leaves like hundreds of small, bleak islands emerging from a golden sea. I often walk with a sense of awe at the magic of the changing season. I feel so lucky to be on the AT at this time of year.

The people in Pennsylvania have been awesome, too. The Birchman family of Auburn, PA, took all five of us into their home and slackpacked us 23.7 miles from Port Clinton to 501 shelter. When my camera broke, Mrs. Birchman offered to mail it to the company for me for repair. Right now, we're staying with Citrus, a '99 thru-hiker who has opened his apartment to all five of us.

It's been a fun "town stay" so far. Towns are a big part of trail life for thru-hikers. We're somewhat dependent on towns, since we need them to resupply. Usually, I stay at either a hostel or a motel. If I'm lucky, as I've been in Pennsylvania, I'll meet someone who offers to let me stay with them!

Making the transition from trail to town is always a little challenging. On the trail, everything moves so slowly; hiking at 2 miles per hour, I tend to take in everything at a leisurely rate. I'll spend an hour watching hawks from a rocky outcrop, or I'll notice the smallest flowers along the trail. I can move slowly enough out here to see these things and think about them. This is one of the greatest pleasures of life on the Appalachian Trail.

In town, everything speeds up. I often feel like I'm moving in slow motion in town; cars are whizzing by, and there are so many NOISES—cars and motorcycles rumbling, people talking, music playing, doors slamming. And then I have so much to do in town: find a laundromat; wash clothes; get to the post office if I need to pick up a maildrop; put together a "bounce box" of supplies I don't need and mail it to the next town; call my mom; call my grandmother; call my sister; find a place to stay; find an outfitter if I need to get any new gear; etc. It can be overwhelming. I'm usually tired, not rested, after a town stay and ready to get back on the trail where I can relax!

Life on the trail is relaxing to me. Yes, it's difficult and even boring in some ways: Hiking 12-18 miles a day isn't easy. Sometimes I wish I had a little hovercraft, like George Jetson, to carry me along the trail—especially on the uphills! At the same time, my toughest decisions each day are generally like this: Which flavor of Lipton's should I eat for dinner? Should I have lunch at this overlook, or at the next shelter? Should I sleep in the shelter or set up my tent? Hmmm . . . do I want a Power Bar right now, or a Snickers? Decisions, decisions!

It's a good life. And now I'm tired, or I would write more. Onward to bed, then Georgia!

Check out Nina's gear list and pack weight.
See the trail dispatch archive for previous weeks.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


Sign up to Away's Travel Insider

Preview newsletter »