Friday, July 4, 2014

A War-zone in St. Anthony's Wilderness

So far I have encountered many surprises along my journey, but nothing has surprised me more than the war-zone that Fal and I entered on Wednesday afternoon.  We began our ascent of Second Mountain by crossing a lovely stream, and a colorful meadow.  We met some hikers from New Hampshire as we climbed Second Mountain.  Clearly they had not done much backpacking before.  They looked as if they were carrying everything but the kitchen sink in their packs (the teakettle was really a surprise to see).  We overlapped a couple of times as we climbed the rocky mountain in the hot and humid conditions, exchanged stories, and left them with a postcard of Nathan and Bennett before wishing them luck on the rest of their journey.  They in turn gave us a donation for Hike4Hope!

We continued on our way and came to the ruins of Rausch gap.  We ate lunch on a steel bridge that crossed over a creek in St. Anthony's Wilderness.  While we were eating, we thought we heard some distant thunder, but decided that either the storm wasn't coming near us, or that we were just hearing things.  After eating, and changing our socks, we continued about half a mile to the Rausch gap shelter where we signed-in in the log book.  We were in a total dead zone.  There was no signal to be found and even the GPS tracker was having some issues.  At the shelter, we met "Overturn"  a section hiker about to finish up Pennsylvania.  We inquired about places to camp in the next 3-5 miles, and he told us of a nice grassy spot near the ruins of Yellow Springs, a coal mine that closed in 1859.  We thanked him and were on our way, tired from the heat and the morning climb, but grateful for the relatively flat trail that we had to walk on now.  As we walked, we began to hear what sounded like thunder, but it was too regular to be thunder... too rhythmic.  Still, what else could it be?  Sometimes when thunder echoes off of the mountains, it can sound different than what we're used to hearing back home... that must be it... As we walked, it grew louder and more frequent.  It was also sunny.  Fal and I said to each other, there's no way that that's thunder.  Then, I remembered that the Fort Indiantown Gap military base was at the base of the mountain.  It turns out that they were doing shelling exercises.

The peaceful atmosphere of St. Anthony's wilderness turned into what sounded like a war-zone!  It was a little unnerving to say the least.  We're not all that accustomed to hearing shells explode and then echo off the mountains.  It certainly made me pause to think about how blessed we are to live in a country where we live in relative peace.  I could not imagine listening to that day after day, night after night, constantly wondering if your home will be hit next; never feeling safe.  And yet, that is how far too many people live every day.  As I think about Independance day being today, I think about the sacrifices of so many so that I can live in a place where I can have an opinion, express my beliefs, work where I want to work, receive a quality education, walk a trail in the middle of nowhere... for fun... the list could go on and on; but none of it came free.  It was all bought a price.

The shelling stopped around 6pm, just after we reached the place that "Overturn" had told us about.  Two other young women were pitching their tents when we arrived.  We asked if it would be alright if we joined them.  We set up camp and then cooked our dinners.  We tried in vain to make a call or two or at least send a text to our loved ones, but it was no use.  The GPS unit, however was working, so we used it to send a message off to Dave and to my folks, that all was well.  The ladies we were camping with said that they had seen a couple of bear cubs about 2 miles from where we were camping, so all of us made sure to take extra precautions when hanging our bear bags that night.  We settled in and not long after we had gotten in our tents it began to rain.  Soon, thunder and lightning accompanied.  We were below the ridgeline and surrounded by younger trees, so all in all it was not a bad place to be camped in a storm.

We weathered the storm fine and stayed completely dry.  In the morning, we gathered our bear bags, began packing up camp, made breakfast, and then headed out.  We had about 7 or 8 miles to do, having made it further than anticipated on the 2nd.  We started out early and strong.  The footpath was still pretty even and so far there hadn't been too much change in elevation, so even with our 40lb packs, we were able to cruise along at a decent clip.  We reached the site of the old fire tower around 11 and then we began hearing the fighter jets.  After Wednesday's shelling, I guess we shouldn't have been surprised that there would be more exercises, and for whatever reason, the planes didn't seem to bother me as much as the shells.  We walked on, not able to talk much for lack of being able to hear over the planes.  The descent to Clarks Valley seemed to take forever!  Some of the trail had switchbacks built in, but much of it was steep and rocky.

We reached Fal's car around 1:30.  I decided to come off the trail for the night.  My feet were becoming more painful again and I had run out of dry socks.  Further, severe storms were going to be pummeling the ridgline where I was due to be camping.  Fal and I headed into Harrisburg for a late lunch and then drove back to Ambler together.  It's my hope that in taking 12 hours off from hiking and allowing my feet  to air out will enable me to continue on without having to come off again.

As I think about the war-zone type noise that disturbed the peaceful hike through St. Anthony's Wilderness, I think not only about our troops who fight to protect our freedoms, but also about the noise that we so often allow to eclipse the sounds that God has placed in the world for our enjoyment.  When was the last time you stopped to notice the chirping of a cricket, or a bird or a katydid?  When was the last time you listened to the rustling of the trees as they blow in the breeze, or the chipmunks and squirrels playing on the forest floor?  All of these things, things that we don't necessarily need to go far away to hear, are things that we tend to block out.  In the hustle and bustle of day to day life not only do we fail to hear these wonderful creations, but we don't miss them either.  How is it that the care-takers (stewards) of the earth, have become so out of touch with it?   I can't help but wonder, if it is so easy to tune out the sounds of God's creations, how easy is it for us to tune out God's voice?  One thing I've really been appreciating while on this journey is that I'm able to witness creation and recreation almost every moment of every day.  It's incredible to think of how intricately God has knit every creation together, and to be able to observe that creation as it happens is amazing!  Oh that we could shut out some of the noise that inhibits our being able to hear the sounds and see the sights of God's glory!