Monday, June 11, 2018

PA Mason Dixon Trail - Map 1: Gifford Pinchot State Park to Western Terminus

See this box turtle?  She represents the speed at which Kim and I completed the 200-mile long Mason Dixon Trail from Chadds Ford, PA to Whiskey Spring, PA. It only took us four years, which is about how long a box turtle takes to patrol its entire territory of a few acres - slowly. We finished our last section hike on Saturday, June 9, 2018, starting at Gifford Pinchot State Park to walk 18 miles into the Appalachian Mountains to reach the terminus with the white-blazed AT at Whiskey Springs. This turtle, which I accidentally poked with my hiking pole in high brush somewhere along the massively overgrown PA Gamelands segments of the MDT, was our spirit animal. Steady on...

Eastern Box Turtle.

The trail has veered far from the actual Mason Dixon Line northwest towards the mountains and quite a ways from the Pennsylvania-Maryland border. Today we started at Gifford Pinchot State Park at the end of the Beaver Creek Trail/Mason Dixon Trail on Squire Gratz Road. With some road walking along a busy highway, we were looking forward to getting into the woods but, whether as a prank or as a relocation, the blue blazes leading from the road to the State Gamelands trail were spray-painted black. We roamed around a bit trying to find the trail entrance from the road. It was frustrating and getting humid. We learned later that massive thunderstorms erupted to the south and east of us but we were already soaked in sweat and wet underbrush by then. We checked the MDT webpage for trail updates but nowhere did we find this confusing loss of trail. So we just started walking up the road some more and voila - found a blue blaze.

There are several SGL sections to get the hiker off-road, but we opted to skip the densely overgrown SGL 242.

It has been a very wet, rainy May and June, so I think that no matter how hard a trail crew might work to keep these wilder sections open, they quickly grow over. It was a real struggle in ankle deep mud, prickly briers, climbing over blow-downs, avoiding poison ivy, and pushing through shoulder-high grass. We'd sprayed ourselves heavily in tick repellent earlier but that did little to deter biting midges and mosquitoes. At one point we decided to do a walk-around of SGL 242 as we'd had it with bushwacking through jungle-like conditions and making such slow progress. We were worried about arriving at the car in the dark. We may have added a mile to our hike, but walking pleasantly cool and shady gravel roads through the state gamelands was just what we needed to recharge.

Squawroot, Conopholis americana.

The bulk of this section is road-walking, however, and it can be quite dangerous on narrow, curvy lanes without shoulders. Kim draped my pack with a blaze orange vest while she wore a bright orange PennState cap and orange shirt, knowing that our biggest challenge today was being seen by drivers. It kind of makes me mad that we don't have arrangements with landowners that are so common in the U.K., Scotland, and Ireland that provide for walker's right's of way across farm and pasture land. We spent the rest of our day hopping off and on roads which put a real kink in our pace.

Looking into the South Mountain hills. 

We found plenty of roadside attractions like donkey puppies. They all came scurrying from their shady run-out to say hi and get their noses petted. We saw some beautiful horses, too. A Haflinger pranced down a farm lane to greet us. A beautiful and very large black Shire with white socks galloped happily as we waved to him from the road.

Mini-Donkeys! Donkey Puppies! Wee Donks!

The day got more humid as we hiked uphill towards the mountain. Our water was running low so we spotted a small township park with a set of pavilions. Surely there would be a water spigot...

I asked a nice lady in the first pavilion if she knew where we could get water and she invited to the party! We both were so happy! Yay! Party! I had an ice-cold soda and some pretzels. Kim eyed the tray of cupcakes with anticipation. We learned a lot about the graduate as the family played a "Did You Know?" game after the gifts had been opened. My favorite was "What was Cory's favorite childhood toy?" and the answer - coming from everyone - "Anything John Deere!" These folks were wonderful trail angels. (There is a water spigot between the two pavilions - and nice bathrooms.)

Crashing a graduation party!

Refreshed, we continued the road walk ever upwards to the mountain ahead. It's been four years since we started this hike and now we were in the final two miles. Plodding onward.

Looking towards South Mountain.

Whiskey Spring Road - the last bit ( for those who start from Chadds Ford!)

Up and up we went. The midges got thicker. The mosquitoes were biting. We waved our caps around our faces and leaned into the uphill. We were now in the Appalachians and the storied Appalachian Trail would soon intersect our path and with it, the end of the Mason Dixon.

Whiskey Spring!


We reached my car and the intersection of the AT with Whiskey Spring Road. We asked a young couple to take our picture then Kim immediately went down to the spring to soak her feet. I did some stretches and peeled off a soft back brace which had soaked up about ten gallons of sweat.  I ate a handful of hiker's candy (Ibuprofen) and drank a full quart of water with some energy drink powder added. For giggles, I spread out all the section maps in the set. You can get a set by joining the Mason Dixon Trail Club. Looking down at all the places we've been brought back so many memories.

All 200 miles, ten maps.

So what's happened in four years? I earned my doctorate. Kim's kids went off to college. My grand- daughter entered middle school. Kim hiked in Arizona and Maine. I hiked in Spain, Colorado, and the U.K. I learned a ton about Mason and Dixon, the surveyors, and the landscapes through which they traveled to make "The Line." We've both connected to our local trail communities (York County, PA, and Cecil County, MD). So what happens next? Hmm. We've got our eyes on The Quad Crown!


Mason Dixon Trail System -


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