Sunday, April 22, 2012

Duncannon, town of contrasts

Good news - bad news. First impressions count. My first experience with Duncannon, PA was the idyllic view from Hawk Rock, shown above - the Susquehanna River flowing serenely in the background on this Saturday morning, April 14th.  Good thing, too, because when I got into town coming Northbound the sights and the sensations were not pleasant. It was ugly, as the photo at right attests. It was noisy, dirty and deteriorating. The trail markings were so poor, especially at the right turn under US 11/15 (there are no double blazes, in fact no blazes at all, on either side of that turn), that a hiker without a map or guidebook would have a hard time figuring out where to go.

But once you reach the Doyle Hotel ...

And turn onto High Street ...

... the small town charm kicks in big time!

 Just before the NoBo hiker reaches the Doyle, s/he passes the not-to-be-missed town mural. Unfortunately, the mural is facing north. I missed it completely. Thank goodness that I hike the trail both ways!

My gosh! That's me! LOL

It gets kinda ugly again once you cross the city limits on the north end. There's a narrow, dark railroad underpass and then a crossing of the Juniata River on an aging, deteriorating bridge. My turn-around point today was the west end of the much nicer Clarks Ferry Bridge. And then I got to walk the town a second time. No change in overall impressions this time, but I came away very happy to have visited Duncannon PA.

Now to the bigger picture: the remainder of today's hike (Today being Saturday, April 14th) was consumed by 'Rocksylvania' in the form of Cove Mountain. Frankly, the rocks (at least here) seem overrated. Yes, they are a constant presence. But my definition of a rocky trail is one where you have no options but to put your foot on uneven rock. There were maybe five times in the five miles along the ridge of Cove Mountain where I had to do that. The rest of the time, by *seriously* concentrating on my footsteps (not being distracted by scenery or anything else), I could keep up a steady full-speed cadence, always finding a smooth, comfortable place to land my feet without breaking stride. In fact, I found that I walked faster here than I would have on trail with no rocks, because of my singular focus on the process of putting one foot in front of the other.

Cove Mountain Shelter is a bit of a downhill detour, but an interesting place to visit. It is built like an old barn, and seems to have been built using actual old hand-hewn barn timbers, jointed with wooden pegs - the whole nine yards. This shelter and the Darlington Shelter have recently been invaded by porcupines, who are literally eating the floor away. Seems they crave the salt from perspiration and/or grease drippings from careless eaters over the years.

Finally, my hike began and ended with another kind of contrast - it was out of the woods again -- a pleasant hayfield walk to and from the rural AT parking lot on PA 850.

At the parking lot I met and chatted with a hard working maintainer from the Mountain Club of Maryland. He was happy to get my report of trail conditions; and I was happy to hear that the extensive (hundreds of acres) hay fields here on either side of the highway are publicly owned and leased back to the local farmers for a few hundred dollars a year with the requirement that they keep them mowed - hay harvesting about 3 times a year.

The AT is a patchwork of thousands of such parcels, each with its own peculiar history and issues. As hikers passing quickly through, probably never to return, it's easy for us to forget all the behind-the-scenes politicking, negotiating, and just plain hard work that goes into this remarkable experience called the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. I've happiily shelled out my money to become a life member of the ATC - it's the least I can do as a way of giving back - a woefully inadequate "thank you" for the many months of life-enhancing experiences I've had on the trail. And I'm nowhere near done.


Here's the map of today's hike, with link to more photos (click the title):

AT Day 94 - Duncannon, PA at EveryTrail
EveryTrail - Find the best Hiking in Pennsylvania

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