Tuesday, June 24 – Saturday, June 28 VA664, US522, Front Royal – Turners Gap US Alt 40 (Hagerstown (Mile 1037.0 since Springer Mountain and only 1148.3 miles to Katahdin)
With Shenandoah behind me, the first day out of Front Royal had something of an anticlimactic feel about it, yet it was nothing more nor less than a gorgeous walk through a mainly green tunnel, sparingly interspersed with the odd ray of sunshine. Indeed, after about three or four miles, I found myself in a meadow and found that rarest of things on the AT – a bench. I love to get that unexpected moment, so I took the opportunity to video my surroundings. While it is great looking around oneself on the trail, it is immeasurably better to do it sitting down.
No sooner had I sat there, unpacking my early lunch, than I was joined by a local guy with a small backpack. He uses the bench most days to eat his lunch and clearly wanted me to move, but I was having none of it and retained my squatter’s rights! He didn’t seem inclined to share it with me, so I let him eat standing up and bouncing about like a five year old in need of the toilet.
We spoke about the trail and he said that the only hiking he ever does is to come to this bench and eat his lunch. Eventually, I finished and packed away and, as I got up to move on, he homed in on HIS spot; it really was bizarre how possessive he became. Spooky.
I have become aware of how much this is becoming a rather lonely endeavor, so I was pleased to pitch up at Dick’s Dome Shelter after a 15 mile day, and meet up with a couple of new interesting characters I’d met briefly before, Daddy Long Legs and Rudy. Rudy is doing the trail in memory of his grandmother, who passed away after a long battle with Alzheimer’s Disease, while his old college buddy, DLL, is documenting his journey on film and in a journal. They have been burying a small piece of one of her dresses at various spots on the trail and plan to bury the last piece at Katahdin. Rudy opened up to me about her and I was struck once more how hiking with somebody, or talking in camp with a fellow hiker, tends to reveal more than one would normally expose in “regular” conversation. I was moved by his story and his obvious devotion to his grandmother.
It was an early night, however, and I found myself on my air bed , inside my tent at 5.55, intending to read for a couple of hours. The next thing I knew, it was 8pm and, after a desultory effort to read at that time, I passed out once more until the morning. Marvelous.
The next day was something of a test for all hikers at this point. If we were to make any real progress, it was going to be an 18 or 20 mile day, or it would only be an easy 9 or 10. The problem was the roller coaster, a dreadful section that contains endless ups and downs over rocky terrain and that come after a relatively benign beginning 9 or 10 miles. I decided to push on through, as the goal was the Bears Den Hostel, with the “hiker special” of $30 for a bunk, laundry, a shower, breakfast and, crucially, a pizza and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. By the time I entered the roller coaster, I had committed myself, so pushed on, with the thought of the Ben & Jerry’s uppermost in my mind. The fact that, with about three miles to go, I could have stopped at a shelter, with thunder threatening to ruin my day, shows that the ice cream was definitely having an impact.
I got to the hostel about five minutes before the heavens opened and enjoyed my hiker special with an additional relish that always comes when you are able to poke one in the eye of the weather. This was a rare victory on my part, I should point out.
The day had really taken it out of me, as it had others, and my ambition the next day was very limited, only intending to go about 11 miles to a shelter within about 9 or 10 miles of Harpers Ferry, the town traditionally regarded as halfway through the trail. However, when I got to the shelter, Daddy Long legs and Rudy were there and I decided to hike on a further 3 miles with them to Keys Gap, where I discovered that more food was to be had about 400 yards off the trail.
Food has become something of a cause for me, as the infamous hiker’s hunger seems to have permeated my every thought and I am taking huge advantage of every opportunity to stuff my face as full as possible in a frenzy of guilt-free eating.
The 3 miles went quickly, chatting with and learning more about Rudy so that, by the time we arrived, another 14 mile day was under the belt. Another burger was ferociously dispatched, along with several candies and sodas.
A real landmark had been passed earlier in the day, as we passed the 1000 mile point in our adventure, so I got my camera out to record what I believed to be “the moment.”
Feeling fairly pleased with myself, I then proceeded to pass a further two 1000 markers within the next 500 yards, so I really don’t know when I actually passed that mark. I posted all three markers, with me in the picture, on my Facebook page “My Appalachian Trial”, along with several other pictures I’ve taken over the trip. This seems to be an easier vehicle for photos than WordPress, so I’ve rather abandoned the photos and videos page on this site in favor of Facebook. Please “like” the page if you want to see more pics.
Having gorged myself again, camping seemed to be restricted to the side of a busy road, so the three of us set up within 20 feet of this blaring highway, only to all sleep like babies and remark upon the fact in the morning. Extraordinary.
I knew that yet another highlight was coming the following morning, as I was about to leave Virginia, after 550 miles in the state. As a consequence, I was ready to snap another border crossing, only to find that no such marker exists. I couldn’t believe it. The state had been part of my life for nearly two months but let me go without so much as a nod. You can see my confusion as I sat down for a quick farewell in this video.
Harpers Ferry was a place I’d been looking forward to for several days but, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy aside, I was terribly disappointed in this disjointed little tourist trap. The ATC was a neat little place, with the chance to get water, sodas and pictures recording our journey and checking in at the conservancy as a sort of record. I was number 856 to have passed through and I took a look in the book at the friends I’d met who were now ahead of me due to my cellulitis. It reinforced some of the loneliness of the trip but strengthened my determination to continue my quest.
After a BBQ lunch at Hannah’s in the old village, I headed out and settled at Ed Garvey Shelter, some 6 miles out of town. There is a walk along the towpath next to the Potomac that was absolutely sweltering, with a gentle incline for about three miles, or so it seemed. Several people had taken the day to spend time on the fast flowing river in boats and rubber rings. Indeed, I saw my old friend Billy Goat, who called to me from one such boat as I crossed the bridge. He must have recognized my slow, lumbering trudge!
I had another excellent sleep at the campsite I chose and woke this morning with another limited agenda, as I had to go into Hagerstown to attend to some business. This was a very easy hike of 11 miles through Maryland, with a lot of the terrain flat and wide, even though there were a couple of climbs that brought rocks into play. I’m sure the rocks are there to soften us up for the next state, Pennsylvania, often called Rocksylvania by hikers.
I passed through Gathland State Park, a wonderful little area full of Civil War history and I was lucky enough to run into a woman who seemed charmed by the British accent once more and allowed me to charge my rapidly depleting phone battery in her museum. I was drawn into the displays however and spent a happy hour learning about this area from the very informative lady and the part it had played in the Civil War.
Diane had been particularly eager to know where I was going to spend the night over the past few days and I soon discovered why. Having hitched a lift with a couple of young lads all the way into Hagerstown, I settled into my room, only to have a visitor at reception. Who could it be? As I walked down the hall, a couple of things fell in place and I soon discovered that it was my old mate, Ian Gilland, who was visiting New York with his partner and had driven nearly 250 miles that day, in collusion with Diane, to visit me. THAT is a friend. I was delighted and we quickly went out and devoured about 40 chicken wings, chocolate fudge cake, ice cream and a couple of Buds. Gilbo then returned me to my motel and headed back to New York. What a guy.
It is things like this that remind me how much I must mean to some people and I am extremely gratified to have made so many great friends over the years. Diane has now met quite a few of my old mates and discovered how special they are to me and I am to them. From time to time, when we have so much time on our hands, it is incredibly satisfying to think about those we have touched and those who have touched us.
Gilbo may not know it, but his visit meant more to me than he could ever have thought.
Here’s to the next 1000 miles!!