The End of Our Epic Trek

November 1, 2017

With just 8.5 miles left of our AT thru-hike, the last day dawned to rainy gray drizzle.  Once again we loaded packs into Edna’s van for the ride to Green Mountain Store, yesterday’s stopping point.  There we ate breakfast with our hostess, enjoying cups of hot coffee and tea as well as delicious omelettes.  As I hugged Edna good-bye, I could scarcely believe our hike was coming to an end.  Our last two nights had been passed in comfort thanks to these wonderful friends.  Now it was time to finish our quest.

Cold sprinkles of precipitation chilled our faces and slid down our necks as we hiked under slate-colored clouds.  But the sunless day couldn’t dampen my feelings of anticipation.  After eight months, our goal was practically in sight!

Water drops beaded across the backs of sassafras leaves and shimmered slightly on flame-colored maples and oaks.  Their beauty reminded me to slow down and savor this last day.

I could scarcely contain my excitement as we reached the northern border of Pine Grove Furnace State Park.  Our last half mile of trail was a delight – flat, wide, graveled, skirting a very scenic lake.  Quite a civilized ending after the arduous hills, mountains, cliffs, and rocks we had traversed during our journey.

Dave and Edna surprised us once more by meeting us at the state park with a thermos of hot coffee.  Such a thoughtful treat on this cold day!  But even better than the coffee was the company as Edna walked that last half mile with us, then both our friends posed in front of the Appalachian Museum.  Jay and I had last seen that building on June 21 – four and a half months ago!   Four thousand fifty hikers registered their thru-hike attempt with the Appalachian Trail Conservancy this year.  Only a quarter of those hikers finished.  And here we were, taking the last steps in our 2,190 miles.  Emotions threatened to overwhelm.  We had done it!

Appalachian Trail Museum at Pine Grove Furnace State Park was a fitting end to our trek.


The Half-gallon Challenge

June 20, 2017

Hikers enter Pine Grove Furnace State Park just a few miles past the halfway point on the Appalachian Trail.  This beautiful setting is home to the Appalachian Trail Museum (a museum dedicated solely to hiking!), a self-guided historical trail (Pine Grove Iron Furnace built in 1764!), Fuller Lake (swimming and showers!), and incredible bird habitat (160 species of birds!).

But the one feature of the park that occupies the thoughts of many AT hikers is the Pine Grove Furnace General Store, home of the half-gallon challenge.  Here, time honored tradition compels scores of hikers to gladly pay $10 for the privilege of making themselves half sick from eating a half-gallon of ice cream.  If successful, the sugar-bloated hiker wins a tiny wooden spoon with the half-gallon challenge logo stamped upon it.

I must admit, Jay and I talked and dreamed of this indulgence for many miles.  On those hot, humid days, I was convinced I could demolish a half-gallon of ice cream with ease.  Fortunately for my blood sugar, the thunderstorm the previous day had broken the heat, and drowned my dreams of sweet indulgence.  By the time we arrived at Pine Grove Furnace General Store, the hiker burger held more attraction than two quarts of frozen confection.  (The hiker burger consists of a quarter pound beef topped with double cheese, egg, avocado, mushroom, grilled onion, tomato, and lettuce.  Yum!)

Another hiker, Dundee, had dreams made of sterner fiber.  Jay and I enjoyed watching him attack the half-gallon challenge.

Dundee chose vanilla for the first quart and a half.  He told us it was easier to eat ice cream without extra fillers such as nuts or fruit.  The first quart went down pretty fast, but his rate of consumption slowed during the next pint.  “This is beginning to affect my brain,” he told us.

“Oh boy,” we teased.  “The moment of truth has arrived.  We could ask you anything, and you’d reply.  You’re ready to reveal your deepest, darkest fear!”

“Ice cream,” Dundee mumbled.  “I’m scared of ice cream.  I can see it now, the torturer bringing me a pint.  I’d be moaning, ‘No, no!  I’ll tell all!  Just don’t make me eat that!’  Anything but this stuff!”  He dug out another reluctant spoonful and looked at it mournfully.

Dundee got to choose different flavors for the last pint.  By now, thoroughly sick of vanilla, he choose chocolate, topped with a dollop of moose tracks.  The first few spoonfuls were obviously delicious, then the tempo of ingestion slowed to a snail’s pace.  “Oh man,” Dundee whimpered, “chocolate was a mistake.”

“What’s wrong?” we asked.  “Don’t you like the taste?”

“Oh yeah, it’s good and all.  Just rich.  Way.  Too. Rich.”  Dundee grimly scooped another blob of the umber confection.

With a great deal of determination, the cup of chocolate was finally emptied.  Dundee threw it away, then waddled off to claim his tiny wooden spoon.  He returned to proudly show us his trophy, then collapsed into a chair as sugar took free rein over his body.

Another hiker, Blue Deer, arrived with ice cream on his mind.   He paid his $10, and brought the first quart and a half outside on the front porch.  “Hey, Dundee, I’ve got Neapolitan!  I won’t get sick of the vanilla taste this way,” Blue Deer gloated.

“Take my recommendation.  Eat the chocolate first,” Dundee groaned.

“I’ve hiked one thousand one hundred miles without your counsel.  What makes you think I need your advice now?” Blue Deer teased.

“Experience,” Dundee sighed as his head went down to the table.


 From beginning to end!  Half-gallon challenge!!