A Change of Plans

October 27, 2017 (Friday)

Zero day! What a wonderful tradition! During the past two weeks, Jay and I have often felt worn down, easily tired, without the energy we are accustomed to having. A day of rest is not only welcome, but very needed in order to stay healthy.

Last June we camped near a shelter full of eight Amish young people backpacking for a week in Shenandoah National Park. We enjoyed talking with them, and I have subsequently been corresponding with the leader of the group. Today she invited Jay and me to visit her family and home on Sunday! We are so excited! In order to accomplish this, we have decided to slack pack tomorrow (Saturday), coming back to the hotel tomorrow night, to the luxury of a hot shower. That way we will at least smell clean for our visit the following day, even if we only have hiker clothes to wear!

October 28, 2017 (Saturday)

The hotel owner provides a shuttle ride (for a fee) to Sherwood Road this morning. Our plan is to hike 13.5 miles back to Duncannon. We are on the edge of the Cumberland Valley, and our first landmark is a tunnel under PA Route 944.


The morning sky is a beautiful deep blue, with cloud wisps of mares tails across its zenith. The leaves on the ground are a mosaic of red, yellow, orange, purple, tan.

Eyes busy soaking in leaf color!

In the afternoon the wind picks up, bringing a layer of dense grey clouds to obscure the morning blue. As we pass the turn off to Cove Mountain Shelter, we meet four hikers in their twenties, searching for an elusive view of a river bend with a mountain rising from the middle of the watery curve. We can only tell them that we have not seen such a view in the last nine miles.

Two miles later we reach Hawk Rock, a very popular viewpoint for day hikers, crowded with people. A man and boy practice throwing a knife at a tree. A couple with a dog look at the view. Another small group is having a picnic. As we enjoy the scenery, the four young people we met earlier arrive, having never found their other view, but enjoying this one.

I ask a hiker, Beth, to take our picture. She talks with us for several minutes, very interested in our thru-hike adventure. She tells us that we are an inspiration. After 2,000 miles of hiking, I don’t really feel like a guiding light. We’re just hiking and having fun. However, perhaps our story will be a catalyst for Beth to make her own story.

View from Hawk Rock. Sun still shining, but clouds are gathering on the horizon.

We arrive in Duncannon just in time to eat a delicious bacon cheeseburger, then watch the last half of a Halloween parade through the main street of town. Back at the hotel, we watch the news, and hear a prediction for three inches of rain tomorrow! Yikes!

October 29, 2017 (Sunday)

Amanda, our Amish friend, arranged for a very nice Mennonite couple, Dave and Edna, to pick us up this morning in their van. Dave has thru-hiked the AT twice, and has a very impressive grasp of its geography.

Although Amanda’s family home is only 30 miles away, Dave tells us, “There’s no good way to get to Amanda’s house.” Before I can embarrass us all by offering the services of Google maps on my phone, Edna pulls out an atlas (paper!) with which to navigate.

We reach the home, and are greeted by the eight young hikers we had originally met in Virginia as well as Amanda’s parents and other siblings. There are about 20 people by the time we all crowd inside!

As we are seated, I suddenly realize that I am sitting on the male side of the room, with all the females an impossibly far distance away! What to do? … I start talking with the young boys sitting near me.

Then hymnals are brought out. “Since it is Sunday, we will have a hymn sing,” Amanda’s mother explains. I am delighted!

The first hymn is beautiful, with words about how if all the ocean were ink, it would run dry before it could finish describing the love of God. The second hymn tells the need of prayers from loved ones while on a journey – very appropriate, I think. I begin feeling at home, hymnal in hand, surrounded by people singing. In their hymnal, I notice an old beloved hymn, “This Is My Father’s World”, so I dare to request it. When we finish, Dave remarks, “That’s a good song for the AT!” After several more tunes, the hymn sing ends with a song in Pennsylvania Dutch. The chorus is about the love of God – Gottesliebe – that is the only part I understand!

After singing, lunch is served buffet style, and people begin mingling. The young people quiz Jay and me about our hike. In turn, they share a bit of their lives. Jay and I feel honored to be included in their Sunday!

After four hours of visiting, it’s time to leave. We climb into Dave and Edna’s van. Dave wants to take a different way back, so once again Edna pulls out the atlas. However, Edna falls asleep and we miss a turn. Suddenly, Dave exclaims, “Hey, this is where the Tuscarora Trail crosses Rt. 39! How can that be? I was on Rt. 850, following the AT!”

“Navigating by trails while he drives! That’s impressive!” Jay comments admiringly.

Edna wakes and gets us back on track. As we approach the hotel, Dave and Edna surprise us with an invitation to spend Monday and Tuesday nights at their home!! With the memory of cold wind last Thursday and all the rain that has fallen today, I am delighted to accept their incredibly generous offer, knowing we will have a warm place for our last nights on the trail! What a change in plans!