This is the tale of A Lo Hawk’s 132 day, 2200 mile traverse of the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine in 2008.
Chapter Ten (June 8th-16th)
Day 62: (VA) Ride to trail, 15 miles to Dick’s Dome Shelter
I pack up, check out and stop at the large, bright Martin Market for donuts and OJ. Luckily, I get a hitch at this hour from a guy headed to work. When I get to the trail it is already hot and humid so my pace is a crawl. The humidity at mid day is unbearable and I am so sleepy I lie down at an empty shelter and take a nap.
I am awaken by the arrival of JACKAROO and BRIARPATCH. They are a couple of good ole boys with deep southern accents. The three of us hike together in the afternoon and stay in unusual Dick’s Dome Shelter. We enjoy a happy hour drink from my bottle of Don Julio before dinner.
Warm night, bugs and bowels are my wake-up call. I am on the trail by dawn; I want to get the miles in early while it is cooler. After lunch I arrive at the dreaded “roller coaster” — a particularly difficult stretch of trail. I try to take it easy but I get overheated and worry about dehydration as my water supply dwindles. Just as I think I am at the brink of collapse, I reach an oasis called Bear’s Den Hostel.
This is a feast for the eyes as I climb the short side trail to a hilltop castle which had been donated and converted to a hiker hostel. It is currently being run by the sweet couple who greeted me at the door. They offer a $20 Hiker Special which includes: A bunk bed, shower, internet, a self baked frozen pizza using their large communal kitchen oven, and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. I wash my clothes while in the shower then take them out to the clothesline to dry. Other hikers arrive, we take turns in the kitchen cooking our pies then sit around and chat while a movie plays on the VCR.
Day 64: (WV) 20 miles from Bear’s Den to Harper’s Ferry
After packing, I buy soda pop for breakfast and leave Bear’s Den before anyone stirs. It is a warm morning but the terrain is gradually getting easier. In the afternoon a thunderstorm cools the stagnant air. I am pushing the pace to get to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy headquarters in Harper’s Ferry before they close. This is the psychological halfway point of the journey and every hiker registers at the ATC.
Harper’s Ferry has such historical significance the entire old town has been preserved as a national landmark. As the trail brings me within view I feel like I have been taken back in time. I see shops with small doorways, cobbled streets and a white steeple piercing the sky above the lazy river. As I walk up the main street I look into the shops and I envy the people sitting at cozy tables outside the pubs and cafes. I find my way to the ATC HQ just before closing but am told I will have to come back tomorrow.
I stride the broken sidewalk past tiny homes towards the newer part of town near the highway. I see a Comfort Inn and get a room. After a highly anticipated hot water sterilization, I call for delivery of a veggie stromboli from a local pizza place and watch game #3 of the NBA finals.
Day 65: (MD) 7 drunk miles from Harper’s Ferry to Ed Garvey Shelter
After checkout and breakfast, I find the library and use the computer. At the post office I pick up my mail which includes a new pair of shoes, yay! I try them out by getting back on the trail and I walk back towards old town, stopping at the famous Jefferson Rock to watch the river flow by. I arrive at the ATC HQ midmorning and get my picture taken for the registry (hiker #278). I meet more hikers and hang around until lunch.
I head down mainstreet past outfitters shops to an old cafe with a shaded veranda in the back. As I start my second beer, UPHILL and SKYSURFER show up. I find out they are both getting off the trail today when the train arrives in a few hours. We eat, drink, laugh and lounge the afternoon away. We make the fuzzy walk to the station and we takes sips of bourbon out of a bottle until it is time to say goodbye to my occasional travel companions.
I am quite drunk as I stagger across the Potomac River and lurch along the C&O canal path until the AT resumes. My head clears as I slowly climb until I reach the shelter and crash.
Much cooler, easy hiking in the morning. I see several civil war memorials such as the War Correspondents Arch. I stop for a free shower at Dahlgren Campground. The rest of the day is full of interesting sights such as the first Washington Monument at Boonesboro, MD, the I-70 footbridge and Annapolis Rocks. I drink anejo at camp while listening to MAESTRO play guitar and sing.
Day 67: (PA) 19 miles from Pogo campsite to Deer Lick Shelter
My first view of the day is at High Rock whose sloping ramp is supposedly a launch for hanggliders. Later on I take a break at immaculate Pen Mar County Park. There are nice views of green valleys and a barn sized pavilion with an ample wooden dance floor and stage. I meet a nice older gentleman at the first aid hut and buy two sods from him. Ten minutes later he reluctantly sells me two more from his private stock.
I enter PA and at state road 16 I hitch to Rouzenville for resupply at Wal-Mart and a superb AYCE steak buffet dinner at Blonde’s. After getting a ride back to the trail I let the meal digest with a short, easy walk to inviting Deer Lick Shelter.
Day 68: (PA) 18 or 19 miles from Deer Lick Shelter to camp in laurel bushes before Birch Run Shelter
I have a hard time getting started this morning and my pace is slow and plodding. Just before mid day I take a long break at popular Caledonia State Park which has a public swimming pool with showers, coin-op laundry, and an unsatisfactory food concession.
The next few shelters come in pairs and the trail is so well maintained not a loose rock or twig can be found on the treadway. I come around a bend and see many hikers milling around Quarry Gap shelter, considered the Taj Mahal of shelters on the AT.
The floor of one is painted red and the other is green. They are connected by a covered area with picnic tables and a firepit. The rock walkways are lined with colorful petunias. A hiker is trying to reduce her pack weight by giving away incredible homemade chocolate chip cookies from a large plastic bag.
This sensory overload gives me the energy to charge into a light rain through a spectacular tunnel of white mtn laurel. I spy a soft campsite a few yards off the trail in the fragrant bushes and I crash early and get a restful sleep.
A non-taxing walk to Pine Grove Furnace State Park. There is an old rustic store with a covered seating area of large wooden tables where gas pumps used to be. This is the site of the traditional half gallon ice cream challenge to mark completion of half of the Appalachian Trail.
I go inside and discover they have a limited supply of flavors so I pick the least hideous for the task: Vanilla Cherry Chip. The fact that I do not come close to finishing the challenge is the least interesting part of the experience. Along with a few other hikers I meet my first eccentric hiker groupie (pictured sitting behind me). Apparently she drives down from Philly on the weekends to stay at the hostel and talk to the hiker trash. She looks like she stepped out of an Eddie Bauer catalogue but I doubt her boots have touched a trail.
Day 70: (PA) Boiling Springs, over interstate to shelter?
A few minor bumps in the morning then the trail cuts through rolling fields of wheat on the way to Boiling Springs. As I enter this lovely town, there are stately homes with manicured lawns on lakeside property with swans floating on the calm water.
I stop at a cafe and leisurely eat good soup and sandwich on the patio while watching people go by. After lunch the flat valley walking is easy and I cross over a couple of turnpikes and interstates. A light refreshing shower passes overhead before I get to the shelter.