200 Miles: Hair. Hostels. Fellow Flip Floppers.
2016 Flip Flop: SNP to ME/SNP to GA
“Her hair is like the curling mist
That shades the mountain-side at e’en.”
- Robert Burns
I stopped packing a comb on my weeklong or longer canoe trips years ago. My short hair doesn’t tangle and a comb is one less thing to carry. Or lose. But a six-month trip is another matter.
Either my hair stylist (and I use that job title in the loosest possible sense when it comes to my coif) cut my hair in such a way that my natural curls have been set free, or my hair has continued to become curlier over time, but wow—not using a comb these past 200 miles has unleashed the mane. That or I’m justifying my hiker-trash lifestyle and just think I’m rocking the comb less look. Regardless, it’s been fun eschewing conventionally pretenses.
I left the mountain ridges of Shenandoah a few miles after passing my 100 mile mark and 10 days on the trail. On a drizzly afternoon, my 200th mile was reached eight days later within a section of flat wonted soil a few miles shy of the Maryland/Pennsylvania border and the infamous Mason-Dixon Line.
This is the week that I met my first NOBO Flip-Flopper and fellow Appalachian Trials Blogger, “Nera” at the Sam Moore Shelter halfway through the “roller-coaster.” The roller-coaster is the PATC’s idea of a practical joke. Thirteen hills over 13.5 miles and you ascend and descend each and every one of them. No summit, knob or peak is left unblazed. Neither is every stream you cross between each gap. I passed a still stump-smoldering five-acre burn on the second hill that firefighters had just extinguished and later learned that many parts of the AT, besides Shenandoah National Park, have been on fire during this exceptionally dry spring. But by the time I reached Buzzard Hill in late afternoon, I was no longer amused. But was it scenic and rewarding just to be on the trail? You betcha!
The ATC Flip Flop Festival had occurred the weekend prior and within a few more days, I started sharing shelters with other aspirational Flip Floppers hiking in the same direction and adopting a similar agenda. Compared to the mass exodus beginning in Georgia, the number of Flip Floppers starting their thru-hike from Harper’s Ferry during the Kickoff was trifling, I heard less than 35. I know a couple of passing NOBOs expressed concern about hitting the Flip Flop “bubble,” but at least for this year, I didn’t see any immediate competition for space or resources as I merged into this group. When I checked in to get my photo taken and hiker number assigned at the ATC World Headquarters a week after the Kickoff, I was only #78.
After days of being passed by fleeting NOBOs and still a smattering of SOBO Flip Floppers, Nera is the first other solo woman I’ve met headed my way. We spent a 15.4 mile day hiking together out of Harper’s Ferry. Not sure if it was the terrain, the fine conversations or the pleasant weather, but this was both my longest and fastest day to date. We knocked off 10 miles by noon and arrived at the Rocky Run Shelter in lower Maryland by 3:30 p.m. And, oh yes, one state completely done! (Ok, so at only four miles, West Virginia holds the distinction as having the fewest miles for a state on the trail, but still. Check!)
Compared to Shenandoah, the terrain feels different here. At lower elevations, there are aggressive vines reaching up as high as the trees, more green than I’ve seen in months, masses of trilliums and clumps of bloodwort. I passed the first of many outstanding shelters: The Jim and Molly Denton Shelter north of Front Royal boasts a deck, Adirondack-style bench and a solar shower.
To date, I have only spent two nights in my tent. All others have been spent at shelters or hostels. Since Shenandoah, I’ve stayed at the Mountain Home Cabbin in Front Royal, Bear’s Den three miles from the Sam Moore Shelter and where I took my first “Nero” (small mileage, but not no mileage which would be a zero) day and the Teahorse in Harper’s Ferry. All were cheery respites offering comfortable accommodations, and in some cases, unique histories, showers, breakfast and that all important opportunity to recharge devices.
I look forward to meeting more Flip-Floppers and trail family over next 100 miles, maybe one day even keeping pace with the NOBOs, continue to visit local hotels and hostels and see how this personal grooming style evolves.
Oh, who am I kidding? After 200 miles, instead of Robert Burns, the better poet more likely quoted should be:
“Her hair is like wet weed.”
– Maurice Hewlett
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