Kyle and I thought it would be fun to review our experience and share with you some of the highs and lows.
Best/Worst Shelter: Best shelter is hard, there were some really nice shelters along the trail. Almost all of the shelters in Maryland had sealed floors, what a luxury! But one of the nicest shelters was the Lost Pond shelter in Vermont. It is clean, new, well designed with a table, two levels, and a huge overhang. It is also on an amazing pond that would be great for swimming. The only draw back is the fee and the crappy water source. Worst shelter on the trail has to go to almost all the ones in Pennsylvania. They were terrifying. They were small, dark, filled with mice and dirty. Many of them had a metal mesh across the bottom to keep out critters, but clearly some giant rodent had chewed through the mesh and was living under the shelter because all the mesh we saw had holes in it. Big holes. Basketball sized holes.
Best/Worst Campsite: The best campsite we stayed at, by far, was East Flagstaff Lake. It has a privy and waterfront property. Just down from the tent sites was an amazing rocky beach. The tent sites weren’t that flat, there wasn’t a bubbling spring, but for some reason that lake captured our imaginations and we will never be able to forget it. The worst campsite was an unnamed one right before Harpers Ferry (it’s in the guide-book). First off, it’s one of those campsites that is in the guide-book but can only hold maybe three tents? Too bad for anyone who shows up late. But the reason this campsite sucked was because it smelled like a privy. We have no idea why. There wasn’t a privy there or anywhere nearby. You don’t sleep very well when you feel like you’re sleeping in a privy.
Best/Worst Nights Sleep: Our best night sleep was at the Carlo Col Shelter right over the border in ME. Who knows why we slept great this night, we had to find a weird spot to squeeze our tent in amongst rocks and roots because all the tent spots were platforms. But sleep like babies we did. We cozied ourselves away after a very long hard day and didn’t budge until the next morning when we woke, surprised at how hard we had slept.
Worst Day of Hiking: It’s too hard to think of a best day of hiking, there were more good ones than bad ones. As a result the really bad days stand out strongly in our minds. Bad day number one, Roan Mt. Highlands. If you have watched the videos in our post Winter is Coming? then you understand. At first it was fun but we quickly realized it wasn’t letting up for ten more miles. Miserable. Second worst day, hiking off the Saddle Back Range in very similar weather to Roan Mt. only this time the terrain was all slippery rock. Goody. Last worst day, the day we went over the Chairback Range in ME. It poured on us all day and when we arrived at the shelter it was full. I was very rude to a bunch of nice weekenders who were trying to give us steak because I was so pissed that they were taking up shelter spots.
Best/Worst Hostel: Best Hostel is a two-way tie between Woods Hole Hostel in Virginia and the Green Mountain House in Vermont. Both were amazing in very different ways. Worst hostel: Uncle Johnny’s in Irwin, TN. It was dirty, the employees were unnerving and disrespectful and it was overpriced. Yuck.
Best/Worst Trail Town: Hot Springs wins for best trail town. It was small, everything was within walking distance, and there were lots of places to stay, eat, and resupply. Duncannon was the worst trail town. Jackie and Pat were awesome and eating at the Doyle was an experience but we refused to stay there because it was terrifying and there is no easy place to resupply. We ended up out on strip club row trying to hitch out to the Star Dust Motel… terrifying. If I was doing it again I would stay in Boiling Springs at the Allenberry and skip Duncannon all together.
Best/Worst State: Best state is, again, a hard because it could go to any number of states: New Hampshire and Maine for their gorgeous views, Vermont for its refreshing weather, the whole south for its amazing trail and nice vistas. So basically it’s a draw on best state. Worst state, Pennsylvania, hands down. You go out and hike all 220 miles and tell me you love rocks.
Best/Worst Meal Included with a Stay: The best meal is a hard one because many of the hostels we stayed at fed us massive amounts of delicious home-cooked food but the breakfast at Roan Mt. B&B, well it took things to a whole new level. The owner wakes up at 3:00 to start cooking practically gourmet food for thirty hungry thru-hikers. Amazing. The worst meal is also easy. When we were in Buena Vista we decided to stay at the Budget Inn because there was a “continental breakfast” included. Kyle and I can always get down on a continental breakfast so we decided it made the slightly higher price worth it. So breakfast time rolls around and we skip into the common area to find: plastic wrapped hostess delicacies. We were a little upset at what people were advertising as “continental breakfasts” so to punish the hotel owner we took and ate all of them. Take that.
Most Memorable Day: Our most memorable day would have to be the day we hiked twenty miles starting on the south side of Mt. Moosilauke, over Mt. Kinsman and finished at Kinsman Pond Shelter. An extremely hard day but when we got to the top of Kinsman we looked back and in the rosy light of a setting sun (it was eight o’clock at this point) we could see Moosilauke. When we got to the shelter that night we were completely pumped up and excited about what we had accomplished.
Most Miserable Experience On Trail: The day of the killer migraine. Our last day in New Jersey was a twenty-three mile day. Kyle got a migraine at mile ten and proceeded to hike with the worst headache of his life for thirteen miles. Miserable for him because his head was splitting in two and for me because I was worried out of my mind. It was even hard to get a hitch into town when we got to the end of our day, I stood out on the road while Kyle stood in the shade of a tree and tried not to throw up.
Favorite Thru-hikers We Met: We met a lot of wonderful people on the trail, our hiking buddies Stink Bug and Honey Bun. There was Doc, Monk, Mellow Johnny, Pippin, the Invisible Man, Jacko, Squatch, Yeti, Hand-me-down, Kokopeli, Double D… the list goes on. But one man stands out in our mind: Sparky. We met Sparky at the shelter outside of Waynesboro and continued to see him on and off for a few weeks. Kyle and I often laughed at the fact that the people we connected with the most were usually over the age of fifty and Sparky is the perfect example of that. Here was a man who hated groups and partying as much as we did, he had the same priorities we did and for us he was an inspiration. A year earlier he had attempted a thru-hike only two months after serious heart surgery. He got off the trail in Atkins because of weird heart palpitations and returned a year later to complete the trail. He may be seventy years old but he could hike the same distances we could and he was still as sassy as ever. One night at a hostel he was telling us his philosophies on aging, stating that aging is a choice. To back up his statement he whispered and pointed to an older guy who had fallen asleep sitting up while reading a magazine, “Now he’s old”. We all snickered together. We were heartbroken to hear that Sparky had gotten off the trail in Pennsylvania somewhere. Damn you Pennsylvania!
Best Water Source: This might seem like a weird category but we drank a lot of yucky water on the trail. All the water in Jersey was orange (and yes a lot of jokes were made about fake tanning and the Jersey Shore). We had to drink out of warm ponds, stagnant puddles and one time a stream that flowed under a freeway and clearly had run off flowing into it. One of the problems with the trail is that when you need water you need it. If we were skeptical we would filter and treat our water with AquaMira but when we found an amazing clear bubbling cold spring, we were thankful. So, our best water source? The spring located at the Liberty Spring campsite half way up the climb to Franconia Ridge. At first we were grumbling about having to add weight to our packs during a steep climb but then we tasted the water… Water has never been so delicious, I had to keep myself from drinking it all, it was the most refreshing liquid I’ve ever had.
Most Breathtaking View: When we were hiking through New Hampshire I thought for sure one of those views was going to take the cake. The views from Franconia Ridge were incredible, looking back at the Whites from the Wildcat Range was beautiful but in the end New Hampshire was blown away by the views from Katahdin. You could see forever, so many lakes and other mountain ranges, not to mention the other ridges that surround the peak itself. Maybe it was because it was our last day but I felt like I was living in some kind of a waking dream.
Favorite Piece of Gear: The tiny towel by far. Few pieces of gear made it from one end of the trail to the other without alteration. This towel was indispensable, we wiped our tent out with it, dried ourselves off, cleaned with it, whipped each other with it… the list goes on.
Favorite On Trail Meal: One night Kyle and I had splurged (weight-wise, not money-wise) and carried out twenty fresh white corn tortillas, rice and beans, and fresh green beans. When I say fresh I mean a woman in the grocery store approached us and asked if we wanted fresh veggies and then ran home, picked them, and brought them back to us. We steamed them and ate our beans and rice with tortilla spoons. It was delish.
Best Trail Magic: Well, the amazing trail angel who drove forty-five minutes to get Kyle his second round of antibiotics is very high on the list. But I feel like that falls into its own category. In terms of trail magic that involved food and the element of surprise I think the Fourth of July takes the cake. Here we are, forcing ourselves to keep hiking in the heat of New Jersey. We practically got off at Culver Lake and stayed in a hotel but we decided to keep hiking. We made it up to Sunrise Mt. and thought we would just stay there. We were selfishly disappointed that there wasn’t any trail magic and were just about to make dinner when a random day hiker mentioned that there was someone in the parking lot cooking burgers for thru-hikers. Needless to say we sprinted down the trail to the parking lot to find Tree-Hugger surrounded by food, so much food. We were so pumped. We gorged ourselves and watched the fireworks from the 360-degree views on top of Sunrise Mt.