Day #1: 9.5 miles, Day #2: 14 miles, Day #3: 17.5 miles
The reason this hike was “impromptu” is because, for over a year, my friend Renee and I had been busy planning and preparing our 30th year class reunion. This reunion was supposed to happen on this weekend (July 11th). We waited and pushed it to the wire, but lack of commitment by our classmates and anticipated poor attendance forced us to make a last-minute cancellation of the entire weekend. Since it’s not very often that we have an uninterrupted long weekend open, we made a very last-minute decision to turn lemons to lemonade, pack our bags and head out on our first AT section hike! It did not disappoint! We had a blast and I blogged every step of the 41 miles.
We quickly and mutually chose Maryland for our first jaunt. With little time to plan, I emailed several “locals” (whose email addresses I’d found on the AT Conservancy website) who offered shuttle services to the trailhead from Harper’s Ferry National Park. (you will need to pay $10 for an extended parking permit). We found someone willing to drive us from Harper’s Ferry, WVA to the Pen-Mar border, so that we wouldn’t have to do an out and back and could see that entire portion of the AT. A man by the name of Lee Baihly, owner of River & Trail Outfitters, Inc. in Knoxville, MD, responded and for $80, he dropped us off at the trailhead.
We started at 3:30 pm, with the intent of hiking 9-10 miles to the second shelter called “Ensign Cowell”. The trail consisted of mostly rocks and hills, making it near impossible to move faster than 2-2.5mph. It was tough…much tougher than I had visualized. Within the first five minutes of the hike, we came upon the “Mason-Dixon Line” (yep, there really is such a thing!) We hiked for what seemed like an eternity, even being warned by one of the first passers-by to look out for swarms of hornets up ahead. We never did come across any until we were almost to our campsite, when out of the blue, my husband was stung in the back of the knee; despite not having seen a swarm or a nest anywhere. That made the rest of the hike uncomfortable for him, but thankfully, the swelling was minimal. We ended up losing our daylight and had to resort to using our lighted hats and headlamps to complete this segment and arrive at our shelter/campsite. There was no “room at the inn” so to speak, so we pitched our tent, which is our preference anyways as sleeping communal does not sound appealing in the least and especially in the open and exposed to critters. This was a wise move because one of the hikers had his brand new wool socks destroyed by some kind of rodent. (They were stuffed inside his boots). This was also our first experience with using the “bear poles”, a sturdy metal post with hooks and a long, heavy pole used to hike your food bag up high and out of reach from the wildlife.
We lolligagged along a bit too long and ended up getting a very late start (10:30) and still needed to replenish our water, which took another half hour. With a 14 mile day ahead of us, we knew we didn’t have much time to waste. A few miles in, we happened upon this big guy laying across the trail, which of course, freaked me out and is why I always let Jamie lead or hikes. After about five miles, we stopped to have lunch and once again met up with Joe and Andrew. Joe was eating an MRE and ended up giving us one to try later on. We chatted with some other folks who were from Ohio also and then as we were about to head out again, we saw the Ohio people (2 young couples) looking at something on the trail’s edge. That “something” turned out to be a rattle snake! Jamie was able to get a fairly decent photo of it. I hate snakes, but I have to admit, this picture is pretty cool. It was the second snake of the day!
Campsite #2 ended up being the best! This backpacker’s camp was called “Dahlgren”. This was an official campsite complete with fire rings, flattened and segregated tent sites,picnic tables and free showers and bathrooms. We are told this is a very rare find on the AT. We got there just in time to secure a site before the rest of the hikers got there as some had to use the grassy areas to set up their tents. We got showers and headed up to this quaint little mid-1700’s Inn that was situated just at the top of the hill by the campground. They were fine allowing the hikers to dine as long as they were clean. We certainly did not expect to find such a great meal (for the mere cost of $90 with tip) on the AT! We had the best French onion soup, Jamie had steak and I had chicken Marsala and many glasses of awesome sweet tea. With our bellies full, we headed back to our site where we again, saw Joe and Andrew and met a young school teacher from Dayton named Molly, who was out on a solo, 30-day trek. She admitted that this was day #3 for her and it was starting to get a bit lonely, which I could only imagine.
We were a bit more successful at getting up earlier on day #3 and were out on the trail by 8:30. With wicked blisters and 18 miles ahead of us to get to Harper’s Ferry to our car, I knew it was going to be a tough day. I added a second pair of socks and padded up my toes with band-aids in hopes of not making the blisters worse than they were. We had already filled our water bladders with water from the pump at the campsite, so we were good to go. One of our stops was at a park where we met a young fellow names Skye, who was from Canada. He had started his hike with his brother, but he was several hundred miles ahead of him by this point, so he was now alone. Along with Skye, came along another young couple who had actually met while on the trail, who actually learned that they resided just an hour apart from one another. They are now a couple, finishing the thru-hike together. I was taken aback when she asked me if I “had any weed”! I didn’t embarrass myself by admitting that not only was this the first time I’d ever been approached about weed but that I’d also never tried it either! I guess anything goes out there! We decided to break out the MRE that Joe had given us and give it a shot. It was kind of gross. It had some kind of meat and pepper jack cheese, blueberry cobbler, a powdered chocolate drink, cheese spread and bread. I feel bad that our military in the field have to consume these on a regular basis because they are heavy and very salty! It was an experience and I can definitely say that I will not be eating those again if I can help it! Our next stop took us to the “Ed Garvey” shelter, where we ate a snack and took of our shoes for a spell. This was a nicer, two-story shelter with a back entry leading up to a second floor loft, bear boxes (instead of the poles), a nice big fire ring and an outhouse called a “privy”.
Our last trek took us to one of the highest points that we had seen since we started as well as a bridge that took us over I-70. This felt a bit odd considering we are supposed to be out in the middle of nowhere! The final three mile stretch was a welcome relief as we finally left the intense hills and rocky terrain to finish on a pea gravel bike trail with a river on one side and a canal on the other. We saw lots of people in rafts, kayaks, canoes and inner tubes enjoying the rapids on one side and green, murky water with passing trains above the canal, on the other side. By this point, I was limping pretty badly from my blisters, so I completed the last few miles in my flip-flops with my boots in tote.
This was a very fun weekend, full of adventure and loads of learning. We met some very friendly and interesting people along the way as well. Everyone out here has a unique story. This was a great spur-of-the-moment adventure…which generally end up being the best kind!