19 Days of Intermission Featuring Florence
On the list of displaced people from Florence, it is unlikely that Appalachian Trail thru-hiker might pop up. Yet, we are here. The trail, our home, is closed. We are displaced from it by way of destructive storm.
As of Sept. 13, most of the Appalachian Trail closed from Harpers Ferry, WV, south to Georgia. A few days prior, Shenandoah National Park closed in anticipation of bad weather caused by Florence, downgraded to a tropical depression since making landfall in North Carolina as a hurricane.
On Thursday morning, I had been back on trail for one full day after flying from Maine back to my starting point of Harpers Ferry, and was operating in the mind-set that once I got to Front Royal, VA, I would not be able to go any farther until Shenandoah reopened.
Front Royal is just over 50 miles from Harpers Ferry. That’s two-and-a-half days at a “normal” pace.
My plan, like many other southbound thru-hikers, was simple: Stall like crazy.
I walked just over eight miles for my first day back on trail since Aug. 28–my Mount Katahdin day, my first summit day. Between summiting Katahdin and starting SOBO from Harpers Ferry, I planned for a respite in Salt Lake City to visit with my boyfriend, Brandon. I didn’t think I’d be getting much of a break if I went straight to West Virginia after my summit day (irony).
So I took a break. And I dropped my phone, accidentally breaking it, on the way to Utah. While I was promised that a new, repaired phone would be waiting in Harpers for my return, it had not arrived. It was a Friday. Apple does not work weekends. I scrambled to find a place to stay and ended up taking over the spare room in the home of one Gary Hill–a 2008 thru-hiker who was the subject of National Geographic’s Appalachian Trail documentary. I even got a job–at the Cannonball Deli downtown, as a dishwasher who sometimes helps serve. The owner, Anwar Sayed, agreed to give me work on the spot.
After four days in town I was antsy. But, I was making friends and money. I was a regular at the local bar–the Barn–where Matt the bartender knows my order.
My phone comes. Then, a hurricane.
I hiked those eight miles south anyway. At the shelter that night, I met other hikers who had similar plans.
A couple called Trio as a group to include their pit bull-Labrador mix named Dory, set up camp under the David Lesser Memorial Shelter pavilion with no intention to move. For a few days prior they stayed on Stoneybrook Farm in Hillsboro, VA, then moved into the woods to await the reopening of Shenandoah.
Peanut Butter and Jelly, another couple, had a similar plan to mine: hike as few miles in the day as possible. The day I met them, they had gone under ten miles. They planned for three miles the following day to stay at the trail center where there were showers, electricity and bunks, all for free.
A man named Colorado planned on moving at a normal pace. Hopefully, he said, the hurricane will blow over quickly. If not, he’d hunker down in Front Royal.
But, there’s an old saying that I just made up: When you make plans thinking Florence will go south, it will go north instead and close the Appalachian Trail.
I left the shelter after a lengthy breakfast and coffee, a few chapters of my book, no less than four episodes of Jane the Virgin on Netflix, and a nap. I arrived at the Blackburn Trail Center three miles later to find Peanut Butter and Jelly looking like they had been slapped in the face.
“They closed the trail,” they said.
I was dumbfounded. They closed the woods? A national park I understood. But the whole trail? No way.
Cue me: 19 days of intermission later, sitting on the sofa of one Laurie Pottieger’s home after a day’s work at the Cannonball Deli.
Laurie, of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and longtime contact of my Grandpa Jack Dalton, agreed to take me in after I called, baffled, from the porch of the trail center. This evening we chatted over dinner and wine. Tomorrow, we both go to work.
I’m hoping the storm will come and go soon. I’m hoping the trail will reopen by Friday. But, I’m happy to know I have made a kind of home here in Harpers Ferry, WV.
I’ll be updating my driver’s license shortly.
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