Day 73: Back in the Groove

A Pleasant Walk

Siri’s route back to the trail this morning took us down Pleasant Walk Road, which I took as a good omen. Northstar was shocked and a little bit jealous. Siri usually routes her on streets like Pot Hole Trail, End of the World Drive, or Devil’s Cliff End. What can I say? Maps like me.

Hiking My Own Hike

I had a great time with Dan, but after I few miles of walking by myself this morning a feeling of overwhelming happiness rolled over me. Walking alone is my gig.

I start when I want (early), set my own pace (fast in the mornings, slower in the afternoon), rest when I’m tired (but never before or during a climb), stop whenever something interests me (flowers mostly), and quit when I decide I’m done. I talk to myself, Gus, or the video recorder frequently, which would be annoying if I had a hiking partner.

I’ve come to love my rhythms of boondocking at trailheads, hiking out early from the van while Northstar snoozes, carrying a light pack with just my lunch and my survival gear, not worrying about resupply or finding shuttles into town, sleeping warm and dry (or air conditioned), writing on my laptop instead of on my phone, and hanging out with Northstar all evening.

I don’t think I could do the tramily thing now. Our two-person tramily is all I want when camping, and my one-person/one-dog tramily is all I want on the trail. Thinking back on the few times I’ve had daily hiking companions, I found myself either hurrying to keep up or lagging so others could catch up.

Life is good.

Trail Schizophrenia

Both the trail and the weather were bipolar today. The forecast called for clouds but no rain. So, of course, it was rainy with patches of blue sky when I set out. Then the serious clouds rolled in and it stopped raining. Followed by puffy clouds and bright sun with a pleasant breeze. And more clouds and some rain. This continued all day.

The trail did the same thing. I think I walked on the very best groomed and designed trail today. And possibly the worst. Dan’s friend had warned him that the trail in Maryland was brutally rocky, but we had nothing but perfect walking conditions. I was busy rhapsodizing about the perfect trail on a video and walked right into a mile of pointy boulder hopping. And then right back out.

Utility Corridors

Speaking of contradictions, has anyone else noticed that the “disturbed” utility corridors have some of the best, most unusual flora and fauna? I see the most deer in them, and not coincidentally, the most berries. They also have some of the best views, aside from the power lines, that is.

I often meet hikers stopped on the edge of a utility clearing enjoying the sun, the flowers, and the view. I wonder if anyone has ever done an ecological study of the biodiversity in manmade clearings in forests compared to the adjacent forest?

Roadway Crossings

As much as I love the utility corridors, I don’t love road crossings. Most are harmless enough, with just two lonely lanes running through the woods. Gus and I cross those with barely a concern. Others, like VA7 at Snickers Gap, feel like the championship level of Donkey Kong. And not in a good way.

Regardless of how anyone feels about the crossing hazards, we have to agree that the AT is not a true wilderness trail. Aside from the Smokies and the 100-mile wilderness, we rarely go a day without at least one road crossing.

Crossing I-70 at mile 1048.8 was no exception. The trail crosses a small, paved road, goes directly between two houses along the edge of their mowed side yards, before dropping down a little hill and crossing the freeway on a pedestrian bridge covered in chain link fence. Once off the chain link tunnel/bridge, the trail follows the Interstate for a quarter mile before crossing under another highway. That section of trail is loud, fumey, and unsettling.

Thru Hiker Shenanigans

About halfway through the day, I stopped to let Gus drink from a small stream. Two guys sat by the stream surrounded by six backpacks. They wore long chin beards, black pants held up by cloth suspenders, white shirts, and straw hats. Amish?

They smiled at me as Gus drank his fill and I said, “You guys carry more packs that most people.” One guy chuckled. The other looked very serious and gave me a sincere explanation that the rest of their family was down at the spring getting water. I nodded just as seriously and said, “Ah, that makes way more sense.” The other guy laughed more, but the serious guy looked satisfied. Mission accomplished.

A few minutes later I saw some women walking up the blue blaze trail in long-sleeved, floor-length dresses and white bonnets. Yup, definitely Amish. Interestingly, their backpacks were all modern, lightweight designs. And we didn’t see any horse and buggies at the trailhead.

Shortly after that, I saw Hoot-y-who and Cheesecake ahead of me. I’d made a special point of remembering her name, so I called out, “Good morning, Hoot-ananny!” She gave me a funny look, and replied, “Hoot-y-who.” Right. It sucks to get old and lose the little short-term memory I started with.

Phantom Pain and Itchies

At least once a day I have a hike-ending mysterious injury. I’ll be walking along and suddenly get a searing pain in my foot, knee, shin, hip, ankle, thumb, or whatever. Clearly, I’ve broken a bone. As I get lost in thought about how I’ll get help, find an ER, and recuperate in time to return to the trail, I realize that the pain is gone. What is that?

I get the same thing every time I see poison ivy or a tick. I immediately start itching somewhere, usually just out of reach. Oddly, I can’t see any rash, bumps, or any other signs of irritation, but it can’t be anything but the worst. Until it mysteriously disappears, usually just about the time I’ve broken a bone in my foot.

Wrapping Up

Today’s plan was to meet at Raven Rock Road, six miles south of the Pennsylvania border. A part of me really wanted to finish Maryland today, but we have a better plan. More on that plan next week. Also, quitting a little early gave us time to drive back to Rockfish Gap near Waynesboro, VA.

Tomorrow, I start the Shenandoahs, where we left off before the San Diego trip.

Daily Stats:

  • Start: Washington Monument State Park (Mile 1045.8)
  • End: Raven Rock Road (Mile 1061.4)
  • Weather: No rain in the forecast…so rained off and on.
  • Earworm: Somebody’s Gonna Hurt Someone
  • Meditation: Mt. 22:21
  • Plant of the Day: Purple Flowered Raspberry
  • Best Thing: Groomed trail
  • Worst Thing: Rocky trail

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Comments 2

  • thetentman : Jun 30th

    Maryland. When we hiked thru MD we stopped at the then relatively new Ed Garvey shelter for a break. As we were sitting there we heard someone go by on the Trail. They were whistling, loudly and persistently. Not quite a tune but they were trying. It seemed jarring and out of place. One of my buddies exclaimed, “I hate whistlers”. We all nodded in agreement. A minute later as the whistler progressed down the trail 2 very loud shotgun blasts erupted and the whistling stopped. We all thought the same thing. But I said it. “I hope he got him”. We listened for a bit but heard nothing. So we then moseyed out on the trail expecting to find the whistler’s body but we found nothing. Our hike continued.

    I also remember Stink bugs. Lots of them. Horror movie amounts.

  • Charlotte : Jun 30th

    Thank you for sharing your thru hike tales! I find myself waiting for the next installment!


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