When our friend Chuck Wood (trail name- Woodchuck- Class of 1985) came to visit us last weekend, we informed him he could not hang out with us all the next day – we had a job to do. In the morning, Todd and I had to perform a shelter inspection. Todd is the Shelter Chair for the Blue Mountain Eagle Climbing Club here in PA and we like to inspect the 5 shelters we are responsible for along the Appalachian Trail during the month of November. That way, Todd can make a list of supplies the club can budget in for 2107’s repairs.
“I haven’t been on a bike for 20 years,” Chuck said, “but I’d like to give it a try.”
The cross mountain top road leading off of PA Rt 183 rolls a bit after an initial climb, but nothing severe. “I probably should wear a helmet,” he said and we agreed. I figured it would be slow going but it was worth Chuck’s company.
We rolled along the mountain top, Chuck finding his cycling legs (they say you never forget how to ride a bike once you learn and I guess it is true). The road brought back memories of our thru-hikes, all three of us, for back when we came through, the trail was on this dirt road instead of in forest.
On our thru-hikes, we traveled 9 miles from Rt 183 to Ney’s Shelter, which is long gone (we dismantled it years ago) and has been replaced with Eagle’s Nest Shelter. When I thru-hiked back in 1979, my partner, JoAnn and I were sitting alongside the road when a PA Game Commission truck sped by, splashing mud and water on us and our lunch. “YO!” we yelled and the young worker in the passenger seat felt so badly that he made the his companion, the driver, back up a far distance so he could apologize. Months later, I finished the AT and moved to the Hawk Mountain area and one day while walking near the game commission food and cover office, I met the young man who apologized. His nickname was Hoppy. He remembered me and we became fast friends, and to this day, he is one of my best.
All three of us, me, Todd and Chuck, were in our own heads, with our own personal memories as we biked along, but then it occurred to Todd, that the last time all three of us were here together was about 20 years ago. We had just finished the log work on Eagle’s Nest Shelter (Todd was in charge of orchestrating that job as he and I attended log building school in Minnesota and built our own Scandinavian scribed fit log home). The shelter was put together at the hiking club’s arboretum in Bernville and then the Reservists from Indian-town Gap flew the whole shooting match INTACT across the valley, across I-78, as the shelter hung suspended from a cable. Traffic was even stopped on the interstate as it crossed in the event that the cable would snap and the log shelter smash into the cars. It was a big deal. Such a big deal that the photos appeared in National Geographic hard cover book entitled, “Mountain Adventure.” Both Chuck and Todd are pictured in the book.
Suddenly, we smelled smoke and came upon the smoldering remains of a prescribed burn, orchestrated by the PA Game Commission a week earlier. As we watched the smoke billow out of the forest duff, we witnessed the wind picking up and more smoke and even open flames erupting. I called the first one on my mind, Hoppy, whom I met on this very road 35 years ago. Even though Hop has long retired with the game commission, he would know what to do- call 911 and report it. We did and rode on, all agreeing, “That was interesting.”
Chuck, Todd and I stashed our bikes off to the side of the road and walked back the trail to the Eagle’s Nest shelter. When we approached the shelter, Chuck remembered how the helicopter blew every leaf off of the deciduous trees in the whole area, as it hovered in place, and the shelter was positioned directly over its foundation. Our children were babies then and now they are adults. Todd had dark curly hair back then and Chuck had all his teeth. Time marched on but the shelter remains solid and sturdy. The logs darkened over the years but the extremely tight scribed fit did not allow a tiny crack to open up. Eagle’s Nest had served the AT hikers well these 20 years.
Chuck sat in the sunshine with the bike helmet on top of his blaze orange hat, making him look comical. He signed the register while Todd gave the shelter a once over. We walked through the woods to our stashed bikes and rode the mostly downward ridge top road back to the truck, sunshine warming us on this November day. Chuck couldn’t wipe the smile off his face. He was on a bike again, feeling like a kid. What a gift to circle and cycle back, as we remembered fond memories of our thru-hikes and “bringing in” Eagle’s Nest Shelter.