The wind was voracious along the ridgeline to the west of the shelter all night. At times it seemed as if a hurricane was making landfall on Jacks Mountain. It was tough to get much sleep and pale sunlight soon returned through the naked birch forest. It was cold and flurries drifted through the air. Gray, cold clouds sped over the mountain. Despite the weather and my aches, we all had something to look forward too- a pizza shop in Three Springs known as Pizza Star 2.
I felt stiff and rigid. It seemed to be tougher to move around. The mileage was catching up to me. I dayhike a lot, and tackle some tough trails and bushwhacks. I do not backpack nearly as much and I wasn’t conditioned for multiple twenty plus mile days. I knew I could finish the trail, but it would be on its terms.
Today the trail began to change, with more roadwalking as it left Jacks Mountain, crossed a valley, and followed Blacklog Mountain. We were getting closer to Cowans Gap.
The trail left the shelter and followed a game commission road, it then left the road and followed a rocky ridgeline to Hoopers Gap. A descent along a grade followed into this glen that harbored a small stream. Flurries continued to drift down. I climbed out the glen along another grade, and at the top, the trail followed the rocky streambed. The trail reached a grassy game commission road, and then a gravel game commission road, which it followed down to SR 2022 and Three Springs.
The descent along the gravel road was long and pick-up trucks with hunters would occasionally drive by. There were some views to the south, with shafts of sunlight barely piercing the clouds. From where I was I could see Blacklog Mountain. It was hard to believe I would be there later in the day, all by walking.
I reached the road and turned towards Three Springs, a small, tidy town. I passed people’s houses and I’d wonder who they were, or what they did. Being on the trail sometimes makes you think strange things. Take “Welcome” mats, for example. Everyone has one, but do they really mean it? If I just knocked on someone’s door, would I be welcomed, or treated with suspicion and skepticism? We might like to think we live open and welcoming lives, but in reality it is for a select few. Our lives are in a cocoon, they are insulated. And the beauty of the trail is it can strip that away.
I entered Three Springs and even began to sing to myself in anticipation of pizza. Google reviews gave the place high marks. But it could’ve been ketchup on cardboard and I’d probably eat it. I’d hum, “Pizza Star 2, Pizza Star 2, me and you and Pizza Star 2…” When that became boring, I moved up a number. “Pizza Star 3, Pizza Star 3, you and me and Pizza Star 3…” I couldn’t find a rhyme for Pizza Star 1.
I met Kevin and Amanda at the restaurant and ordered, our packs on the floor. I went into the bathroom to wash. It was odd to have running water and soap. I washed my face and head. My eyes stung from the sweat and salt of almost three days on the trail. The waitress was friendly and seemed happy to have hikers, she said she sees them every once in a while. The food was very good and my “medium” stromboli was the size of a small canoe. I took half of it with me, armored in tin foil. I would end up carrying part of it with me for almost 30 miles. We finished eating, put on our packs and said goodbye. The roadwalk across the valley was before us.
The walk across the valley to Meadow Gap was about five miles. It was a fairly pleasant roadwalk over hills and along farms. A stream gurgled along the road. Near the end was a peeling, abandoned farmhouse with fine woodwork and several faded red barns along fields. A monstrous, warted tree, with a gaping hole torn in its trunk, stood guard. Some cedars provided the only green. The memories and years were draining from this place. It belonged in an Andrew Wyeth painting.
I crossed scenic Aughwhick Creek and was soon back in the game lands. A long switchback took the trail into the woods and slowly up the mountain. I then noticed two dogs in the woods, one came up to me. The other was a bushy dog that kind of looked like Lassie. I thought they were lost, although they didn’t seem too concerned. A man in an orange hat soon followed and I said hello. I continued along the trail.
As I walked I heard something behind me. It was the Lassie dog. It followed me intently. The man and the other dog were no where to be seen. I tried to get the dog to turn around, but it wasn’t interested. It continued to follow me, almost obediently. I let it sniff me and I pet it a little. I happened to stand aside, and the Lassie dog bolted past me and ran up the trail, disappearing in the woods. I never saw it again. I guess the Lassie dog just wanted to get by and I was holding it up.
I reached the ridge of Blacklog Mountain and the trail followed a rock-free grade for several miles. It was a nice change. The trail kept off the ridge, staying on the eastern flank of the mountain. Along the way I said hello to two men working on a hunting stand, drinking Keystone Light. I half-hoped they would offer me a beer.
The trail became increasingly more rocky as it ascended to the top of the ridge. I was feeling sore and slow. It was getting darker as the trail passed talus slopes and a side trail to a view. It was too dark to see much of anything. Next was a wonderful trail through a pine forest to a trail register and another side trail to Monument Rock, a ten foot pillar at a vista. It was too dark for me to see it. Amanda and Kevin signed the register. It began to snow in earnest as a squall moved through the area. I worked my way into a glen with a small stream, my headlamp tunneling through the darkness. It was a beautiful place. Talus slopes rose all around, massive ledges towered through the trees, boulders littered the bottom of the mountain. I soon saw the headlamps of Kevin and Amanda.
The snow was falling more heavily and it coated the ground. I set up my tent and gnawed on a piece of cold stromboli. The forest glistened white as a steady breeze blew through the forest. There wasn’t much point in hanging out. I crawled into my sleeping bag, rubbing my feet. My left shoulder ached. My hip bones were red. My body needed rest and I was slowly reaching my limit. We had hiked over 21 miles. We now had three consecutive days hiking over 21 miles. I saw lights in the valley below. I was a little jealous of those warm houses with beds, appliances, electricity and warm water. But I was also content to be where I was, experiencing this trail and all it had to offer. I would not get many opportunities like this. I slowly drifted off to sleep. It was about 7 pm.
Tomorrow, the trail would bring me to its end.