(continued from here)
As I re-entered the woods on my way to the Pinnacle, the only thing on my mind was big rattlesnakes that moved through leaves. The trail was covered with leaves that were moving. It could have been the wind or it could have been rattlesnakes. Or it could have been rattlesnakes breaking wind. Fuck you, hiker guy, for your well-meaning warnings.
The problem with keeping an eye out for anything while hiking the AT in Pennsylvania is that it is virtually impossible to do so without inflicting grievous bodily injury upon your person. This trail is a fucking rocky mess. It demands intense concentration from you, the hiker, at all times. You cannot withdraw your gaze from the path immediately preceding you even for a split second, because by doing so, you are inviting permanent disability upon your ankles and any other body part that embarks upon a collision course with the ground as a result. Therefore, while you're on the trail, you may not admire the scenery. You may not observe the serene verdancy of the surrounding foliage. You may not even turn around to check if that grunting growling sound that has been following you in close proximity for the past fifteen minutes is an harbinger of doom or merely a benevolent fellow-organism desirous of initiating contact with you with the benign intent of accompanying you in your adventures.
The end result is, on the trail, you turn into a quivering bundle of nerves. Anything your peripheral vision makes out to be an object of even a remotely reptilian nature, be it a twig or your own forearm, spooks you out. Finally, after being startled by a log for the twentieth fucking time, I realized that I needed to have a talk with myself.
"Listen up", I said. "No matter how many times you shit your pants at the sight of a log, if it has been written in the stars, the snakes will still get you. Look up, do you see any stars? No? It means you're safe. So get back to work, chickenshit". I even tried to shame myself by doing the chicken dance. It worked.
"Yes Sir", I said to myself and began to walk again, feeling less terror-stricken.
This feeling lasted until I reached the boulders. Again, those fucking boulders, as far as the eye could see. I thought I was done with the boulders but here they fucking were again. This time it was even worse because snakes in crevices had gone from being just an old wives tale to cold hard reality. Well, there was nothing to do but keep forging ahead. So I forged ahead.
For about twenty minutes or so, I never touched the ground, flying over the tops of boulders like a hovercraft. Finally, I stepped over the last boulder and was back on level ground. I saw a guy approach me on the trail from the opposite direction. He looked like a good old country boy in very unhiker-like clothes. In fact, he looked like he had just finished painting someone's house and having extramarital sex with the home-owner's wife. He accosted me from afar.
"Go Phillies", he cried out to me in a very cheery, fraternal manner.
I realized that I had my bright red Phillies cap on. So I replied with equal enthusiasm saying, "Yeah, Phillies" or something similar, although I might also have said "Yeahhohey". I think all that boulder jumping had caused me to displace my tongue.
On seeing me up-close, he stopped and gave me a curious look. I had seen that look before. In bars during Eagles games, me with my Eagles cap on and my Eagles jersey on, screaming E-A-G-L-E-S EAGLES with the rest of the bar crowd, with everybody giving me that same look, thinking, hello, what have we here, an ethnic looking guy cheering for our beloved sports team? Where's he from? He looks like somebody who should be following "soccer" and not football.
It was that very same look.
Still continuing to subject me to close scrutiny, the guy said, "So gonna be a good game today huh? Who are the Phillies playing, the.....", and trailed off. I got his drift. He was giving me a test. A test to prove I really was a Phillies fan. A test to prove I was authorized to wear official Philadelphia Phillies team apparel on my head. But I was ready for him. Bring it on, homie, I said to myself.
"I think they are playing the Marlins today", I said confidently.
"Yeah, yeah, the Marlins", he said pensively. "I wonder who's gonna start today. Probably the new guy, right, Pedro........". He trailed off again.
"Pedro Martinez? Yeah, probab.....", I said and then paused. Hold on. This was a trick question. I mulled it over for a bit.
"Nah, I said. "I don't think they'll start Pedro today", I said.
"And why's that?", asked the guy, feigning ignorance.
I took a deep breath.
"Because before they allow him to start a game, the Phillies will probably need Pedro to pitch a couple of bullpen innings first with an existing good lead. You know, just to get his confidence up before throwing him into the high pressure situation of a starter. Besides, Cole Hamels is due because his last start was five games ago. So no, I don't think Pedro's gonna start today. It's most likely gonna be Hamels"
I had nailed it. I could see it in his eyes. I had passed the legitimacy test. Wishing me a good hike, he waved goodbye and I continued on the trail.
The trail climbed some more along the side of the ridge, until I finally reached Hiker's Mound which my friend from Pulpit Rock had told me about. This is a large mound of rocks on the trail that has been created by hikers. Apparently every time you reach this point on the trail, it is customary for a hiker to add another rock to it. I wished to make my contribution to this structure but no matter how diligently I combed the area, I just could not find a single rock. Hikers before me had swept it clean. I decided to continue on to the Pinnacle and import a rock from there.
To get to the Pinnacle from Hiker's Mound, you need to follow the blue trail (Another blue trail?? Sure, why not.) This isn't really a trail at all and involves more bouncing along more boulders for another fifty feet till you reach the Pinnacle.
The Pinnacle is a bunch of large rocks resting upon the edge of the cliff, standing on top of which allows you to partake some excellent views of the surrounding countryside. Churches, farmhouses, distant hillocks and even a cemetery. Although it was a bit hazy, the view was as pretty as the reviews had made it out to be.
After spending a few minutes enjoying the view, battling the wind, enduring some egregiously sappy love talk from the couples canoodling on the rocks and spotting (what seemed to be) a freshly moulted snake skin on the ground, I decided to embark upon my return trip. I was gonna continue on the AT, which does a sharp hairpin turn at Hiker's mound, and then make a left onto the Furnace Creek Trail (The Blue Trail, yes, another blue trail) that would take me back to the reservoir and the parking lot.
I returned back to Hiker's Mound, added my own rock to it and after spending some time searching for white blazes, began the descent back. This section of the trail was quite broad and ideal for normal walking. On the way, I met a group of hikers who asked me, "Do you know how to get to the yellow trail?"
This time, to be more accurate, I replied, "Yes, it's over there", waving my hands vaguely over my head through an angle of 360 degrees. After conferring amongst themselves, the group chose an arc sector of 15 degrees out of my 360 and started walking in that direction.
The Furnace Creek Trail diverges from the AT at, what my Pulpit Rock friend had called, "The Helipad". The "Helipad" turned out to be a misnomer. It's not like I had expected a fully functional runway, air traffic control tower with a brewpub restaurant at its base with fifty different beers available on draft and pretty barmaids eager to pour you a long cold one, accompanying it with small talk, oh to heck with you, so what if I did?
Anyways, there was no such thing there. The "Helipad" turned out to be an unkempt grassy meadow that suddenly appeared in the middle of the forest. To show my displeasure at being bamboozled, I emptied my bladder right there in the center of the meadow where the "helicopters" would be landing.
The Furnace Creek Trail ran alongside a mountain spring called, I'm assuming, the Furnace Creek, because if not, it would have been a shitty choice of name for the trail. It was lined with gigantic rhododendron bushes and was in general, the perfect trail for a nice leisurely walk. At one point where the trail crossed over the creek, I filled my bottle with fresh spring water, having being informed by online reviewers that the water was perfectly potable and 99% hanta-virus-free. And so it was, and quite delicious too. I realized that it was the first time I had suckled from mother earth's untreated teat.
The trail led down to Hamburg Reservoir, a small artificial lake created by damming the Furnace Creek. A sign on the side of the lake said "No animals allowed in the lake", which was very impressive to me because for the past year and a half, I've been trying to teach the deer in my backyard how to read English, but they still have problems differentiating "dessert" from "desert". The wildlife in this area must have evolved from a different gene pool.
Finally, I walked down the reservoir road to the parking lot and my car. My stats according to my newly acquired pedometer were :
distance walked : 7.2 miles
calories consumed : 950
steps walked : 18,000
survival rate : 100%
All in all, I would call it a successful hike.