AT Part Six: A Thousand Miles Ahead, a Thousand Miles Behind
Bluff Mountain, VA, to Harpers Ferry, WV
Distance: 229.7 miles
Total Distance: 1,025.3 miles
After some great hiking over The Priest and Three Ridges, I took a day off at Devils Backbone Brewing to meet up with some good friends from back home. They brought me food, drinks, and—most importantly—a new pair of shoes.
Saying goodbye to my old pair was emotional. We had been through a lot together, but after 844 miles they were in rough shape. It was time to move on.
The combination of perfect weather, nicely graded terrain, and convenient amenities made hiking through Shenandoah National Park a thoroughly enjoyable experience. The miles came easy. It seemed like all the thru-hikers on trail were having fun.
Compared to The Smokies, this park’s permit system was a breeze. All I had to do was fill out a form at a kiosk that was conveniently located directly on the trail and attach it to my pack.
One of the luxuries about hiking through the park was the abundance of waysides, camp stores, and lodges that the trail passed by.
It was pretty nice stopping at a camp store for a cup of coffee in the morning and a wayside for a little snack in the evening. It quickly became routine.
Yep, the Shenendoahs spoiled me rotten.
Some wildlife biologists estimate there are are one to four bears for every square mile of Shenandoah National Park. After my experience, I believe that estimate is accurate. I saw at least one bear every day, and one evening I saw five bears in just a three-mile stretch.
Fortunately, the bears were always running the opposite direction from me, so I never had a chance to get a great picture of one. I had plenty of opportunities to get glamour some shots of their scat, though. It was so plentiful in some areas that hiking the trail was like stepping through a minefield.
Front Royal: What a Town!
I stopped in Front Royal after leaving Shenandoah National Park to resupply, and it ended up being one of my favorite town stops so far. A trolley was available to get a ride directly from the trailhead to the adorable downtown district.
I was really impressed with Front Royal’s Basecamp, a new facility supported by Front Royal Brewing Company, Mountain Trails Outfitters, and Down Home Comfort Bakery. It provided showers, laundry, and a clean space to relax all free of charge.
All that was asked in return was that hikers support local businesses. Since Basecamp was located between a brewery, outfitter, and bakery, that was pretty easy to do.
The Roller Coaster to Harpers Ferry
On my way out of Virginia I encountered the Roller Coaster, a long series of steep inclines and descents that don’t offer much in the way of views.
I had heard a lot of horror stories about the Roller Coaster, but it felt like just another stretch of trail to me. If I hadn’t known about it previously, I don’t think I would have given the Roller Coaster a second thought.
Harpers Ferry marked the “spiritual” halfway point of my journey on the Appalachian Trail. Although I still hadn’t found enlightenment by that point, it did feel pretty good strolling into that town.
I stopped at ATC headquarters to get my picture taken for the log book. I was the 376th NOBO to come through at that point. When I started in Georgia, I was number 1,356.
Before my hike, walking a continuous 1,000 miles seemed unfathomable. In hindsight, getting this far was simple—I just had to take one step at a time.
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