Days 105-109 The Four Day Challenge
Some hikers do the 4 State Challenge- hike from Virginia to Pennsylvania, a total of about 44 miles, in less than 24 hours. That’s not our style. We decided to take on a new challenge- The Four Day Challenge. Here are the rules:
- Spend at least 4 days hiking from Harper’s Ferry to Pennsylvania.
- Hike no more than 10 miles per day.
- Do not rush at any point, just enjoy the day- sleep in, get out of camp whenever you are ready (never before 10am), stop hiking because you feel like it and it looks like a good enough spot.
- Take every blue blaze to an overlook.
Day One- 10 miles
David dropped us off at the Harper’s Ferry ATC headquarters so we could get our photos taken. I was so so excited to be there! I have never been before but I immediately recognized the iconic brick foundation and the wooden sign on the front.
After getting our photo taken we flipped through the photo albums, looking for people we knew. We found quite a few before Clarke walked in and hurried us out to join the van he left circling the block.
As we made it to the corner, up came a comically full mini van! Inside were Karen, Beth, Burton, Faith, Hollis, and Christi! Somehow the three of us- and our backpacks!- squeezed in… and I do mean squeeze. Beth was almost literally buried under my backpack!
We followed some signs to a parking lot on the edge of town. Then we all spilled out and organized ourselves for our walk! The whole gang was going to walk the portion of the AT that follows the C&O Canal along the Potomac.
Crossing the footbridge over the Potomac was another emotional moment for me- we were crossing into our 6th state! Had we had a more dramatic state line crossing yet? Having our family and friends doing it with us made it even more special.
Our crew absolutely cruised the 4 miles of the C&O. We only had a few close calls with bikers, phew. When we made it to the parking lot Christi, Beth, Burton and Faith still had some juice left and wanted to climb the mile or so up to Weaverton Rocks with Pinky, Hollis and me. Karen and Clarke went to grab their car and the rest of us continued on.
The climb was pretty steep and had a few good rocky portions. Christi and Beth were absolute champs and made it up way faster than I did!
The view from Weaverton Rocks was great. We could see all the way back to the bridge where we had crossed the Shenandoah before Harper’s Ferry! We could also see the C&O Canal and where the trail split from it to curve up to where we now stood!
After catching our breath and admiring the view for a bit we parted ways with Christi and Beth. We planned to meet them at Gathland State Park where they’d lay out the copious amount of trail magic goodies they brought.
Along the way, we stopped at the Ed Garvey shelter for a snack of some fancy cheese Hollis brought, and just to admire its Lincoln Log luxury.
About a mile from Gathland, who should appear behind us but Bacon! We laughed because we had just told our family her bear bag story and now here she was! It seemed every time we told that story to someone new she would catch up to us! She was happy to see us, too. She was in the last mile of a 23 mile day! She walked the rest of the way with us and was thrilled by the trail magic. She said it was the only reason she had kept going- she ran into Faith and Burton at the parking lot below Weaverton Rocks and they told her about it!
Getting to the park was great. The fam saw us coming and started cheering! They had been there about an hour and NO hikers had stopped! One couple came by but wouldn’t stop, so Beth sent Burton running after them with bags of trail mix.
When we arrived we brought all the late hikers with us. It was about 6pm when we got there, not a super popular time to still be hiking but there was a shelter not too far away so I thought we might get some late comers- I was right! About 10 hikers rolled through after us and Bacon. But most of them were actually pushing to the Dahlgren campsite 7 miles away! Crazy.
We didn’t go any further. After hanging out until dark we found ourselves a sneaky campsite and fell asleep with an unobstructed view of stars and fireflies. Each of us saw a shooting star!
Day Two- 7.2 miles
Bacon and a few other hikers who had arrived late and slept in the pavilion waved good bye to us as they passed early in the morning. We didn’t leave until almost 2 hours later.
Maryland has really chill trail so we just moseyed along and talked almost nonstop with Hollis. She and Pinky used to work together brewing beer, we all have many common interests, and we haven’t seen her in a very long time. It’s hard for us to run out of things to talk about. We admired many bugs and fungi. An overlook gave us an excuse for a long lunch in the sun, complete with more fancy cheese from her food bag.
When we got to the next shelter an hour later we took another long break. Stretching ourselves out on the benches, we chatted and snacked. Eventually we roused ourselves, Hollis did have a long drive home still.
As we neared her car, big scary clouds began rolling in. We could hear distant thunder and the temperature was starting to drop a bit. When we reached Dahlgren campground I told them to go on to her car while I set up the tent before it rained.
We got lucky on several counts- Hollis made it into her car, Pinky made it back to the campground, and I got the tent up all before the rain started. Even more importantly, there was a trail magic cooler with beers and sodas on a picnic table so we got making camp beers!
The rain started right about 5pm. We crawled into our tent and only left a few times to go to the bathroom (there is an actual flush toilet, hot shower bathroom at this campsite!) It was a bit of a stuffy, humid night but we enjoyed the soft patter of the light rain that fell most of the night.
Day Three- 7.4 miles
It was only barely raining when we woke up. I was motivated to get out of the tent because it was way cooler outside than inside. That rain fly really holds in a lot of heat, even with the doors partially open.
We stayed dry until we were almost done eating breakfast, then it started raining harder than it had done for hours! Our almost dry rain fly was now soaked. As were the half of our belongings that we hadn’t quite packed up yet.
We retreated to the slight cover of the overhang on the bathroom roof to wait out the worst of this rain surge. Just a few minutes later it slowed back down and we quickly went to take down the tent. Lesson learned.
The rain was really getting Pinky down. The weather report suggested it might clear up by 2pm, so we decided to play a rematch to last nights game of Catan (we have an app on our phones) and leave a little later, giving us fewer hours hiking in the rain. It was a satisfying rematch for me, almost as one sided as the game we’d played the night before in which I lost horribly.
We didn’t get too soaked and the rain did clear up by early afternoon. The mist made the OG Washington Monument extra spooky (aka the Milk Bottle according to my family, apparently..)
And it made the blue sky, fluffy white clouds and sunshine even more amazing when we made it to Annapolis Rocks.
We hung up our wet rain fly, lounged about on the rocks and had one of our most leisurely lunches to date. We had originally planned to hike another 7 miles from there but it was so late in the day, and the rocks were so lovely.
After much discussion and delay we decided to just camp there. We set up in a really nice campsite back in the woods, laid in the tent for 2 hours, then went back down to the rocks to make dinner and watch the sun set. We were very happy with our choices.
Day Four- 9.5 miles
For maybe the first time on trail I slept until 9am. Really, I woke up at 6:30, peed, did the Wordle, sent it to Suze, then rolled over and went back to sleep until 9. It was just the perfect morning for sleeping in. We were in a very secluded and shady campsite, we heard almost nobody. It was nice and cool and I was snuggled up in my sleeping bag.
We officially left camp at 11:11 and stopped at the next overlook before noon. I found a handful of blackberries nearby and shared them with none other than Hoops and Outlaw Pete, we were pleased to see them again! We also met French Press, an English teacher and certified beer judge! Needless to say we took a long break there before we even got started!
My foot was really bothering me all day so we made it nowhere fast. A long late lunch at the next shelter did little to bring me around. I felt daunted by the idea of making it another 5 miles to the next shelter, our Plan B for the day. Plan A was to find a stealth site near a water source in between – thus saving us the need to make the 0.4 trek to water from the shelter or carrying extra water up to the shelter. Maryland isn’t big on stealth sites though so I wasn’t super hopeful.
Lucky for me, Plan A worked out. We found a decent spot next to a creek, exactly 9.5 miles from Annapolis Rocks and 9.5 miles from PA 16- our road into Waynesboro.
As we began to unpack I made a grave discovery. We left my CNOC (dirty water collection bag) at the last shelter! This left us with only Pinky’s CNOC. We haven’t been using his because it has a hole. Lucky again, I had a fresh roll of Leukotape, gifted to me at Dahlgren. I was able to use it to successfully patch the bag. Whew.
The rest of the night was quiet, though buggy. We had to retreat into the tent pretty quickly.
Day Five- 6.9 miles
That’s right, it took us Five Days to make it out of Maryland. Impressive, right?
I wonder what the Longest Known Time is for this state? Maybe we will start a trend.
True to form for the week we left camp close to 11. We had set up almost directly on the trail so hikers were passing us while we were eating breakfast in bed and then packing up. Nemo, Achilles, and Helium arrived as we were getting ready to leave and we wound up leapfrogging with them all day.
Today our goal was to make it across the border and into Waynesboro where Pinky’s mom would pick us up the next morning. First up, we hit High Rock, a popular spot for the locals since you can drive right up to it. On top of the rocks it looks like there’s a foundation from an old fire tower, but everything is absolutely covered in spray paint so it’s kind of hard to tell what is natural and what is built.
We took a long lunch break in the shade and chatted with Nemo, Achilles and Helium. Eventually we made the decision to push on, only a few more miles till the border!
When we arrived at Pen Mar Park the first hiker we saw was Icarus, he told us he had ordered pizza and soda and we should help ourselves! I had eaten a huge lunch but I still managed to put down a piece of pizza and a lot of soda, plus half a beer and an apricot from a local trail angel out for a day hike. We were less than half a mile from the border but nobody had any motivation. We sat for a long time with Yoko and the other girls. Jay Douglas was probably the least motivated, he was cutting some serious Zzzz’s, his snores provided a background to our conversation.
It was close to 3pm now so we figured we might as well walk. Less than half a mile to the border and then a quick 0.1 to the road. We changed our mind and instead of doing another 3 miles to the next road we figured we’d take the first one down to Waynesboro. The first one was closer and allegedly the speed limit was lower so it would be a safer road walk (and maybe an easier hitch?)
First, the border! Everyone who had walked off ahead of us was clustered there. We cheered for each other and soaked in the satisfaction of another state done!
I’m glad we made Maryland last so long. It’s a state that gets very little credit, since so many people blaze through it, but it’s really beautiful and has tons of bathrooms and really nice shelters and campsites. We moved so quickly through the end of VA it felt good to slow down again. It reminded me of our early days in GA when we would make 7 miles last all day. I like hiking but I really love lazing about in the woods.
Nemo, Achilles and Helium were heading into town too, for a resupply. We wound up walking the whole way together. No luck on the hitch. It was actually a pretty pleasant walk, only about 2 miles and through a neighborhood. I love looking at other peoples houses and imagining living next to the trail.
When we spotted the Sheetz we knew we’d made it! Our hotel was right around the corner from it. We beelined for the Sheetz and got milk shakes before going to check in.
The Cobblestone Hotel was really nice, probably the nicest hiker hotel we’ve stayed in so far. It’s in a perfect location, right next to the Wal Mart and a few restaurants. We took an amazing shower, did laundry and ate sushi for dinner next door. The only downside was the police knocking very loudly on the door across the hall at 3:30 am!!! No idea what was going on, the door never opened and we didn’t hear anything else after the police gave up and walked off…
In the morning Christi picked us up and we drove home for a weekend with family at the bay. Our slow week was refreshing and we are excited for a vacation from the trail to keep resting and maybe heal my aching feet a bit…
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