With only 15.4 miles from the shelter to the Ironmasters Mansion at Pine Grove Furnace State Park, I didn’t need to get started especially early. But with a shower and laundry waiting for me there, that was the enticement I needed to get moving at least somewhat early; why wait when there’s comfort waiting?
The trees were clearly beginning to change to their fall colors. In another couple of weeks, all the views will be a wonderful cornucopia of colors.
It was noticeably warmer last night and this morning, which was a nice change of pace from the last several days. Unfortunately, that warmth also came with lots of humidity. The sun hid behind the clouds for most of the day, only making a few token appearances, and I didn’t even make it up the first (short) uphill without starting to sweat.
The morning took me past two short "rock mazes". This time, they seemed far less impressive and intimidating than they were when I went through them during my AT thru-hike, probably because once you go through the Whites in New Hampshire, all the other challenges on the AT pale in comparison.
At a creek just prior to a road, I passed the rudest dog owner I’ve ever met on the trail. Most dog owners on the trail have their dog clearly under control: a leash is best, but I don’t have a problem when the dog is clearly following their owner or sitting with them. This woman’s large husky, though, was neither. It ran up to me, and the best she could offer was, “he’s friendly”. She took exception to my standard response, “I can’t tell that. Call him back,” and seemed offended that I suggested the dog should be leashed after she called it back twice and it was still following me. I didn’t want to get into an argument with her since she also had her young daughter with her, so I dropped the issue and hiked on. I hope she doesn’t learn the hard way, though, that she needs to have better control over her dog to prevent unfortunate incidents from happening.
Later in the day, I met a few hikers, including “Happy Feet”, who is hiking south, and “Beast Mode”, who has been hiking north from Springer Mountain in Georgia since August 5th. He’s certainly been making great time — just over half the trail in fifty days — but it’s still late in the season, and he’ll have to flip up to Katahdin soon; when he gets to New Jersey, was his thought.
About nine miles out from the park, I passed PA 34. Last time I was here, I stopped at a deli a bit down the road for lunch. I was tempted to go there this time as well, especially since looking at maps, I found a "shortcut" (via roadwalk) that would get me back to the AT without having backtrack. Knowing I had more food than I’d need, though, I decided to skip stopping there, and instead took a break on the downhill towards the park. Fortunately, I’d also firmly decided not to try the Half-Gallon Challenge this time, so I also wasn’t tempted to take advantage of the relatively easy trail (though, actually, a bit more rocky and uneven than I’d remembered it being when leaving the park in 2016) to make for an 11 mile stretch to the park without taking a break.
On the way in, I passed an intersection that had been overzealously blazed. Hopefully, no one's made a wrong turn there.
Once the trail entered Pine Grove Furnace State Park, it became a mixed-use biker and hiker path, and I flew down the trail, passing a creek and the park’s lake and swimming area, on my way to the hostel in the Ironmasters Mansion, the former living quarters of the ironmaster for the Pine Grove Iron Works.
On the way, I stopped at the park’s store, the home of the “Half Gallon Challenge”, and got a soda and an ice cream sandwich. I wanted ice cream, but I knew better than to even attempt to eat half a gallon of ice cream; my prior attempt in 2016 failed, and I wasn’t yet nearly hungry enough to attempt it this hike. A display claimed that the timed record for this year was a minute and 13 seconds, which seems absurd. (The store clerk suggested that that hiker had waited until the ice cream had largely melted — which I think hardly qualifies as “eating ice cream” — but did use a spoon, rather than straight-up drinking it.)
After a bit of leapfrogging, Cinderfella arrived at the store shortly after I did, and he was hungry enough to attempt the challenge. He’d arrived just in time, too; the store closed a few minutes after he started on his ice cream. I sat with him for moral support for a while, but I was starting to get cold sitting there in wet clothes, and so after he finished his first quart and a half and started on his last pint — “this was dumb” he said, as he started to dig in — I took my leave and went to the mansion to get a shower.
At the mansion, the innkeeper was not around, so I left my registration form on the counter, helped myself to a set of bed linens and towels, claimed a bed in the bunk room, and got a shower. I was probably the first person all day to attempt to use the hot water; I had to let it run for several minutes before I got any heat. Once the hot water started, though, it was fantastic, and I enjoyed a nice, long shower.
Cinderfella was ultimately successful in eating half a gallon of ice cream, but because the store was closed, was unable to claim his wooden victory spoon. A fast hiker, he decided to stick around until the store re-opened tomorrow (at 11 am!) in order to claim his prize.
Around 4:30, the innkeeper arrived. Another hiker and I’d arranged for dinner tonight, which the innkeeper prepared, and then ate with us. The other hiker was “Scout”, who was on the tenth year of his roughly twenty-year plan to hike the Appalachian Trail, about 100 miles at a time.
Later on in the evening, I chatted with the very bubbly “Monarch” and her friend (who doesn’t yet have a trail name), who are hiking a section of the AT in the area, and helped them with planning a few hikes over the next couple of days.