Friday, September 25, 2015

Day 82: The Gypsy Moth Problem

May 28: Heavyweight and Superman both beat me out of the shelter—a first for them! They seemed particularly motivated to get going early because both of them had family coming out to visit them in Duncannon. Superman’s parents from Maine, and Heavyweight’s mom from Virginia. Despite their extra motivation, though, they still only beat me out of the shelter by about 5 or 10 minutes.




Despite their head start, however, the cobwebs on the trail were horrendous! How could they have gotten through all of them so recently without disturbing them? Later, when I caught up with them again, they told me that the webs were spectacularly bad and they had no escaped unscathed. In fact, Superman drew a cartoon in the next shelter register of himself covered with cobwebs and the flies on the trail laughing at him. =)


The cobwebs seemed to be a growing problem the deeper we pushed into Pennsylvania and eventually we realized that they weren’t even spider webs. No, these were caterpillar webs, hanging vertically in lines from the trees overhead and there was a serious caterpillar infestation going on. A hiker could walk through the webs and five minutes later, a dozen new ones would be set across the trail.


They were created by gypsy moths, an invasive species and not at all native to North America. Apparently, they have few natural predators and have exploded into a big problem. I didn’t remember this being an issue during my 2003 hike, but it certainly was now! Later, I would learn that this year was a particularly bad year for them and even made the news… all over the area. During the next couple of weeks, we’d pass trees completely defoliated due to this destructive bug. It was a sad sight to see, trees stripped completely clean of their leaves looking like winter was in full swing.




I might be getting a little ahead of myself, but when you’d stop and listen to the sounds of nature, it would often sound like it was sprinkling. At first the sound puzzled me. What was it? It didn’t take long to figure it out, though: Gypsy moth poop. They were so many of them, so thick in the trees, their pooping sounded like the sound of the rain in the forest! I’d sometimes camp between shelters on the trail and normally I prefer to cowboy camp under the stars, but I couldn’t do that on this section of the trail. Even with no rain predicted, I would set up my tarp to protect me from gypsy moth poop that would fall during the night. In the morning, if there was a ripple in the tarp, the gypsy moth poop would collect into long lines of… well, gypsy moth poop!


Today, those webs were the first major indication we’d get of the massive gypsy moth problem we were walking right into. The defoliation and pooping issues we’d discover later. For now, we were being driven slowly insane by the webs they dropped down from the trees.


As for the trail itself, it wasn’t too bad. A few rocks on the trail, but they barely slowed me down at all. Pennsylvania, however, has a reputation for being very rocky and the rocks being very miserable, so much so that the state is often called Rocksylvania. So I wasn’t surprised to read in the next shelter register about people complaining about the rocks on the trail. I had a laugh out of that. These rocks weren’t really any worse than a lot of other places on the trail, but I knew people were complaining about them in the registers because they were the first rocks we’d seen in Pennsylvania and they probably thought they were supposed to complain about the rocks—everyone else did, after all.




Except I knew better. I’d hiked the trail before and knew that the infamous rocks of Pennsylvania were still ahead. If they thought these rocks were bad, they were going to be brought to their knees and crying in a few more days. It was kind of a strange dynamic on the trail—watching people complain about the rocks and knowing that in a few days, they’d likely be wishing they were back on these very rocks. They didn’t know they had started their complaints too early!


In the early afternoon, the trail headed down steeply and eventually dumped me out on the streets of Duncannon. Almost immediately, I passed several hikers heading south out of town. One of them stopped to talk with me warning that I should not stay at the Doyle hotel because the owner was a jerk. (He didn’t actually use the term ‘jerk’ but I wanted to keep this post family-friendly!) He railed on about the place for five minutes, complaining that the rooms were awful (and really, what did you expect for a room for yourself for a mere $25/night—the Taj Mahal?) and that Pat, one of the owners, didn’t know how to make a pot of coffee—because it’s a bar downstairs, his wife usually does it and nobody ever orders coffee at a bar.


He also told me that his first experience with Pat was walking in with a bag of dirty clothes, and Pat asked him if he was a hiker. “No, I like walking through town with a bag of dirty laundry!” I don’t know if he actually said this to Pat or was the thought that crossed his mind, but he seemed to suggest he actually said that, out loud. Which seemed like it was a rather rude thing to say to someone asking if you were a hiker. If that’s the attitude he took, I can’t say I blamed Pat for treating him so poorly. I didn’t like the guy either! (The hiker, that is. Pat I hadn’t met as of yet.)




After about 5 minutes of his ranting, I told him thanks for the information and pushed on deeper into town. The next guy I ran into wasn’t a hiker at all, but someone coming out of his car and heading into a business. I’m not sure if he worked there or was just a customer, but he saw me walking into town and asked me if I’d like a bottle of ice cold water. Water isn’t very exciting to me—I had a bottle of it myself I picked up off the trail just that morning!—but given the hot temperatures, ice cold water sounded great and I took him up on the offer. He gave me a bottle out of a small ice chest in his car and wished me luck on the rest of my journey. What a nice guy! =) It felt like me it evened out the bad feelings the hiker I saw minutes earlier had generated.


I caught up with Heavyweight and Superman at a BBQ joint in town. They had already eaten lunch and I walked with them the rest of the way into town to the Doyle motel.


The Doyle is a beautiful, old structure but badly rundown (like most of Duncannon, for that matter). The town had probably seen its peak a hundred years earlier and now everything in town looked rundown, neglected and forgotten. It hadn’t changed much since my 2003 thru-hike!


I checked into the Doyle despite Jerk Hiker’s suggestion that I avoid the place. In fact, it kind of made me feel good to do it because I knew it would have pissed off the Jerk Hiker. =) He wasted five minutes of his life bitching and whining to me about how horrible the place was which just made me want to stay there even more! Pat, the owner, was working the bar on the first floor and he was nothing but polite and friendly when I talked with him.




A lot of hikers, I’d later hear, complained about how awful the rooms were. And I’ll admit, the rooms seem like they’re on the verge of being condemned. Tiny rooms, with a saggy mattress and nothing more than a simple fan to keep you cool on these insufferably warm days. The floor hadn’t looked swept and the sheets permanently stained with stuff I’m probably better off not knowing what it was. Restrooms were shared with a single restroom for the entire floor.


But here’s the thing: The rooms were $25/night! For a private room! When a room is that cheap, you know you aren’t paying for a quality stay! Show me anywhere else in town that you can get a private room for $25/night that’s a classier establishment. I dare you! It doesn’t exist! You get what you pay for and when it’s $25/night, you won’t get much!


So I was okay with it. Not that I love living in squalor, but I felt like I was getting exactly what I paid for: an experience. =) If the walls of that hotel could talk, they’d probably have some pretty wild stories to tell!


Once I was checked in, I walked over to the post office to pick up the bounce box with my laptop that I mailed to myself, then headed into Sorrento where Heavyweight and Superman waited for their families to arrive with a cold drink. I hadn’t eaten lunch yet and ordered food.


Eventually Superman’s parents arrived who I chatted with for a couple of minutes before they whisked Superman and Heavyweight away. I was on my own again!


I don’t have any good photos of the gypsy moths today, but I did get a nice photo of these millipedes hanging out with a spider! There were a heck of a lot of millipedes on the trail as well.


I went back to my room at the Doyle and caught up with emails and messages until later that evening when Loser arrived. Loser is a character I met during my 2003 thru-hike who I really enjoyed hiking with and when he learned I’d be hiking the trail a second time, told me to keep him informed of my progress through Pennsylvania (where he lives) so he could come out and visit me. He wanted his wife to hear me recite The Cremation of Sam McGee, and I wanted him to bring out the guitar he’d carry on the trail and entertain us with around the campfire at shelters.


The wife and his child were new to me—he didn’t have either of them when I met him in 2003 and I hadn’t seen him face-to-face since then. So they all came out to see me on the trail! We carried an ice chest of cold drinks to the second-floor patio of the Doyle and swapped war stories from our 2003 hike and I shared stories from my current hike while drinking Pepsi. (Alcoholic beverages weren’t allowed on the patio, which disappointed Loser.)


Don’t let the name Loser throw you off, either. He told me he got that name after losing his spork and his hiking partner his first day on the trail, so he was called Loser because he kept losing stuff—not because he’s an actual loser! After he picked up a fake sheriff badge in the Shenandoahs, I even started calling him Sheriff Loser as a sign of respect. =)


Anyhow, I had a good time catching up with Loser and meeting his family. I recited The Cremation of Sam McGee as I promised I would, and he played his guitar a bit with his wife singing along. We had a good time!


Then they left and I went back to working on my laptop. I might not be hiking, but I still had work to do!


The view looking down towards Duncannon from Hawks Rock.






The iconic Doyle motel. The building is now about a hundred years old! Although it’s showing its age, it’s still a magnificent structure! In its heyday, it might have been a grand place to stay.



Karolina said...

Wow, the singing is so beautiful!
Does she keep on looking for what the child is doing all the time?

Ryan said...

Yep, that kid just kept wanting to get into trouble! *nodding* =)