Trail Update: Front Royal to Carlisle
Day 63 (16.3 miles)
Front Royal, VA., to Dick’s Dome Shelter (Mile 986)
After a hot breakfast in the hotel, I stepped across the street from the Quality Inn and stuck my thumb out. The first vehicle that I saw stopped. I jumped in the back of the pickup truck and went straight to the trail.
It’s a Saturday, so lots of day hikers and some section hikers on the trail. I stopped and called the wife from a bench on top of Ridgetop clearing. Lunch was a not so quick stop at Manassas Gap Shelter. Caught up with Tangerine and we had a nice chat. Smiles and Crawdaddy were there, and a group of four women who were section hiking Front Royal to Harpers Ferry.
Lunch break ended with a brief safety meeting with Switch and Tangerine.
Made it to Dick’s Dome/Whisky Hollow Shelter, arrived simultaneously with a 2016 SOBO who was meeting some friends, Franklinstein, Red Coat and a gal. Train Wreck and Switch were already here. The forecast was for all-night rain starting at 5 p.m. One guy pitched his Duplex tent behind the shelter but everyone else wanted floor space in the newly built shelter. Tinkerbell, a German, arrived just before the rain started.
Water, dinner, hang food bag, safety hang behind the shelter, and I’m calling it a day.
Day 64 (19.5 miles)
Dick’s Dome/Whisky Hollow Shelter to Bears Den Hostel (Mile 1,004)
So, apparently a huge tropical storm was just rotating over us for about 48 hours. Rain, rain, and more rain. I put on my rain jacket and pack cover, then put my head down and hiked into freaking Water World.
The trail was a flowing river and the streams were raging floods. There was absolutely no staying dry today. I needed to make some miles, so I skipped some breakfast trail magic and just kept splashing my way down the trail.
Eventually I stop for a quick breakfast and Switch, Tangerine, Snicker Bear, Crawdaddy, and Smiles all passed by.
I was on a section of the AT known as the Roller Coaster, a series of six or seven strenuous up and downs. Today the roller coaster was more like a waterslide, very slippery and tough to negotiate.
At the bottom of each roller coaster was a stream crossing. However, today the streams were raging rivers. The currents were powerful and you had to wade across 20 to 40 feet of up to waist-deep water.
So far, on this entire hike of over 1,000 miles, I have only fallen a few times. Today I fell on my butt twice, once on a slippery rocky downhill and the other was a current sweeping my legs out from under me in a river crossing.
It seemed like a very long 19.5 miles today, but finally the Bears Den Hostel appeared around the last of the Roller Coaster.
I’m guessing 25 to 30 people were at the hostel, including Rambo Juice and Stretch, Easily Forgotten and Rockhopper, Tinkerbell, Redcoat, Franklinstein, and many more.
I showered, did laundry, had dinner, played the guitar, and called it a day.
Day 65 (20.5 miles)
Bears Den Hostel to Harpers Ferry, WV (Mile 1,024)
Rolled out of the old stone castle-looking hostel at 8 in the morning with Crawdaddy and Smiles, and started banging out the miles to Harpers Ferry, WV.
The hiking started off with the first couple hours being a continuation of the previous day, but after passing the VA/WV border the trail became mostly flat but still rocky and muddy. I stopped for lunch at the David Lesser Memorial shelter and sat on the porch swing for a few moments.
A couple hours later I made my way down to the Shenandoah River bridge and was shocked at what I saw. The river was terrifying raging torrent and the water was up into the trees on both banks.
At Harpers Ferry I heard that they had closed the AT footbridge across the Potomac River because of the flooding.
I checked into my room at the Quality Inn, then it was shower, laundry, pizza delivery, bed.
Decided to take a zero the next day and go visit the ATC, buy some new shoes (pair #4), as well as pick up my box from the post office.
Day 66 (25 miles) Harpers Ferry, WV to Pine Knob Shelter (mm 1047.7)
Started the day at the Quality Inn, a lot of thru-hikers were there, then headed towards Historic Harpers Ferry. Yesterday the footbridge across the Potomac River was closed due to the heavy flooding but it was re-opened by this morning. After crossing the bridge I walked along the canal path for several flat and easy miles.
After hiking several hours into Maryland I met some trail maintenance crew members. Battlelion came blowing by, slack packing with a new boyfriend named Oat. Passed Cowboy, hadn’t seen him in a couple weeks. Stopped for a short break at Gathland State Park where they were some interesting monuments and ruins from Civil War era and older. While I was there I met Doc Holliday, he’s going southbound. Cowboy showed up and a few minutes later so did Switch. We all took off together, Cowboy stopped at a campground while Switch and I continued on.
Switch and I took the side trail to explore the original Washington monument, a fascinating stone structure with an amazing view. After hiking a little further the trail went right through someone’s backyard, down some stairs, and across a footbridge over the highway.
A couple miles later we arrived at the Pine Knob shelter, pitched our tents and hung out with Isabella, a young section hiker planning to flip-flop the entire trail.
After a brief safety meeting we called it a day and laid in our tents listening to the highway noise all night.
Day 67 (26 miles) Pine Knob Shelter to Antietam Shelter (mm 1072.8)
Switch and I rolled out of Pine Knob shelter and hiked a 10 x 10, 10 miles by 10 a.m. We stopped at the Ensign Cowall shelter for a break and were surprised to find a group of hikers still asleep in their tents. I was almost out of water and we had a choice of going .3 miles back south to a spring or 3.5 miles north. We went north.
When we got to the Pen Mar County park there was amazing trail magic going on. Burgers, dogs, chips, cookies, pie, soft drinks, adult beverages, and more. Gaia and her friend were hosting the magic, and they drove Switch to the store for some supplies. We hung out there for at least an hour and a half and then took a short walk to the Mason-Dixon line. Goodbye Maryland, hello Pennsylvania.
We pushed on and had a choice of three different shelters all within about 4 miles of each other. We chose the Antietam shelter and pitched our tents nearby. Turns out we were right next to the Old Forge Park, which had bathrooms, trash cans and running water.
We built a small fire, sat down and cooked our dinners. Shortly after that, the sun went down and we called it a day.
Day 68 (21 miles) Antietam Shelter to Birch Run Shelter (mm 1093.6)
Got another early start hiking today and aimed for another 10 x 10. We passed a lot of day hikers, section hikers and a large group of inner-city kids getting some outdoor experience. Eventually, we took a break at Caledonia State Park, which is a very nice facility.
As we hiked up the hill towards the the next shelter, a group of four or five guys came running by in the opposite direction and said they were in some sort of a race. A minute or two later another group of guys come by and wanted to know how far to the first group.
We stopped at a very unique shelter called Quarry Gap Shelters, which was built in 1935. It is a pair of small shelters with a swing, picnic tables, flower pots, bear box, wooden tent pads, sundial and all kinds of amenities. While we were there eating lunch several more teams of guys ran ran by. We chatted with a couple of ladies who were out section hiking and they told us they had seen a rattlesnake on the trail about six miles back. That shelter would’ve been a really cool place to stay but we had to push on.
Late in the afternoon with many miles behind us, I stopped at a stream next to a cabin for water, Switch went on. While I was there Metric showed up and sat down for minute. He’s thru-hiking and aiming to finish in 100 days. Metric told me that this was his day number 50 and he was passing the halfway point. So, he figures he’s right on schedule. We both sat there for a minute and enjoyed a hand rolled cigarette.
Back out on the trail, I passed a family with four little children out hiking and camping for the weekend. Turns out they were headed for the same shelter I was.
The Birch Run shelter was pretty full of section-hikers and a handful of thru-hikers, but we found a place to pitch our tents. Pace Car and Pac Man were camping there also.
The usual routine of fetching water, cooking dinner and hanging the food bag didn’t take long. After a brief safety meeting we called it a day and went to bed early.
Day 69 (21 miles) Birch Run Shelter to campsite by stream (mm 1115)
Another early start and we put some miles behind us while it was still cool in the morning. Shortly after we passed the official halfway point we ran into Wiley and Navster.
Both those guys are from Atlanta and I hadn’t seen them since Boots Off Hostel in Tennessee.
The highlight of the day was the infamous “Half Gallon Challenge” At the Pine Grove Furnace State Park. Switch conquered the half gallon challenge but not without consequences. The ice cream was frozen solid as a rock in the center and he broke his titanium to spoon, but it didn’t really slow him down much. I time lapse videoed the whole thing and if you want to see it, look up Champ Hikes on YouTube.
I took a quick shower before we left the state park and started making miles. Along the way a guy told me he had left some “goodies“ in the bear box at the next shelter. I hustled towards that shelter letting my imagination run wild. I was hoping that maybe he left beer or cigars. As I approached the shelter a ridge runner named Page was coming out of the shelter area with a huge bag of garbage. She told me those guys left a bunch of trash and pancake mix in the bear box. Darn campers!
Turns out the ridge runner, Page, is a real cool person. This is her third year as a ridge runner on this section of trail. This year is a little different however, because the previous two years she was a he. Whatever, she’s a great hiker and loves the trail.
Page went on to the Alec Kennedy shelter, where most everybody was spending the night. I stopped at a campsite next to a stream several miles shy of the shelter. I had to because my knee was hurting. Built a small fire, pitched my tent, cooked dinner, hung my bag and called it a day.
Day 70 (16 miles) campsite by stream to Carlisle, PA (mm 1130.7)
Turns out my little campsite by the stream was a wonderful choice, it was peaceful and I got a great night’s sleep. I woke up with the birds, packed up and was walking before 6 AM. Started off with a big climb up to the rock maze. That’s a cool section, some rock scrambling and squeezing between tight places with ups and downs. I had a lot of fun there.
Eventually, the trail came down the mountain and into these big pastures and open fields. That felt odd walking through somebody’s farmland.
When I got to the breakfast trail magic, A lot of people were there. Switch, Ed and Elaine, Pace Car and Pac-Man, plus a half a dozen others. The food was amazing and the fellowship also. I hung around much longer than I intended to.
The afternoon rain was scheduled for around noon and was right on time. And I hustled as fast as I could to the days inn in Carlisle. I saw a coyote cross the trail as I was making my way there. However, I arrived at 12:20 PM and was already drenched from the rain.
I got checked in, took a shower, did my laundry, then walked to the convenience store nearby for pizza and coke. Later in the evening I had dinner at the next-door diner, including a ridiculously huge dessert. Went back to my room and called it a day.
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