The First Few Days: Overlooks, Flip Floppers, and Bears

Trail name “Spicy” checking in from trail! I’m taking a nero (low mileage day, near zero) today to rest up, shower, and do chores in Waynesboro, PA. Today marks day 4 since I started my hike in Harpers Ferry, WV. Here’s the run down on how things have been going:

Day One

My family (and my dog Buck!) had come down to Harpers Ferry to see me off, we grabbed breakfast at a local diner and headed into HF. I was anxious to get on my way, so I said goodbyes, gave hugs, and started chasing white blazes! Finally embarking after so much preparation felt surreal. I’m so used to short backpacking trips that I don’t think it has quite sunk in that I’m in it for the long haul.

The first couple of miles were nice and easy, strolling through town, across the bridge that overpasses the Potomac River, and alongside the river for a couple of flat miles. I was feeling very introspective, touched by the magnitude of the trek I was embarking on. I was happy to be broken from my reverie when I met a day hiker (trail name Ginger) and slowed down to chat. We talked art, music, and literature, until we parted ways when the AT made a turn away from the river and started climbing uphill.

The climb out of Harpers Ferry is nicely graded with well-maintained switchbacks. Once I reached the top of the climb, I decided to make a quick detour to the overlook. I followed the blue blazes (which mark points of interest, shelters, springs, etc. along the white blazed AT) to Weverton Cliffs. I stopped to drink some water and admire the beautiful view of the Potomac stretching off into the distance below.


The view from Weverton Cliffs.

The rest of the day was smooth sailing, the trail was flat and easy and flew by quickly under my feet. With about 3 miles left to the shelter, I met a section hiker who was also headed to spend the night at the same spot, so we decided to hike together for the last few miles. I’m accustomed to being a solitary person, and mostly hiking alone. However, I’m learning that the magic of the AT is in the incredible, interesting people you meet. It’s worth taking the time to chat with other hikers.

I had told myself I would only go 10 miles on day 1, got to Crampton Gap Shelter by 2:30 PM. The section hiker I had been hiking with was tent-camping, so I had the shelter all to myself. I set myself up, read through the trail log, and decided to settle down for a nap until dinner. I still had the shelter all to myself by 7:30pm, so I decided to save my phone battery and call it a night.

Day Two

I woke up feeling great. Even with the cold temps, I had only woken up 2-3 times to toss, turn, and readjust my quilt before getting back to sleep. I stretched, ate some breakfast and got back on trail by 7:30 AM with plans to hike the 12 miles to Pine Knob shelter.

I climbed up a short hill and was greeted by a tight tunnel of Pinxter flowers. The splashes of pink highlighted my path, the sun illuminating the flowers from behind. I stopped for a few moments to appreciate the scenery before trekking on.

Pinxter flowers lining the trail.

A few miles later, I was happy to come across a campsite with running water and flushing toilets. While this was only day 2, I knew to appreciate the little luxuries. As I left the campsite, I came across another flip flopper, Fireflo, and her dog Jojo. We hiked and chatted until we reached the Washington Monument (nope, not that one. There’s a small Washington Monument in Middletown, MD). Fireflo wanted to take lunch, so I waved goodbye and pushed on.

The terrain rambled down an easy downhill. I was trying to dawdle to avoid getting to the shelter too early since it was 1:30 pm and I only had 4 miles to go, so I set down my pack and put my feet up on a log to take a quick rest and water break. As soon as my pack was on the ground, I heard some movement in the leaves. I looked up the trail and not 50 yards away, I saw a hen turkey. She was totally unphased by my presence, picking through the ground cover in search of food. I felt a grin spread on my face as I sipped water and watched her until she walked into the brush and out of sight.

I felt like I could put in a few more miles after reaching Pine Knob shelter. I decided to stay at the next campsite, Annapolis Rocks, which was only two miles further. My feet started to feel a bit sore in the final mile. When I rolled into camp, I set up my tent and took a nap until dinner time. After eating, I hung my bear bag, and made my way down to the stunning Annapolis Rocks overlook to watch the sunset. As the sun dipped below the clouds and the evening chill started, I made my way back to my tent.

Rocking the crocs- sunset at Annapolis Rocks.

Day Three

I was woken up around 2:00 AM by the sound of movement in the brush near my bear hang. It continued for long enough that I got out of my tent and shone my light up towards my food to see if I could search out any eyeglow shining back. Nothing. I shrugged and got back into my tent to go back to sleep. Soon after, I was startled back awake after by headlamps shining around and poles clacking. I figured there were some hikers headed out early to pursue big mileage.

I officially woke up at daylight with a sore ankle. I took some Motrin and massaged the muscle. If the soreness didn’t clear up, I decided I would take a low mileage day and head into town to rest up. As I left Annapolis Rocks, I met another flip flopper who had been staying at the same campsite, Scratch. She told me she had had a bear encounter overnight! She had woken up to something pawing down at her tent (note: she didn’t have any food or scented items in her tent), and had shouted to try to scare it off. Three other flip floppers- Choochoo, Bones, and Neon had been set up near her and ran over to help her. The bear had been scared off, but not before putting two slashes through Scratch’s tent, through the rainfly and mesh. THAT had been all of the nighttime commotion! I was shocked. I’ve heard tales of people’s tents getting raided, but I’ve never personally talked to someone who had a bear go after their tent. Thankfully, Scratch was unharmed, and the only casualty was her tent. The incident was reported on FarOut and to the ATC.

The flip-flop gang.

I hiked with Scratch, ChooChoo, Bones, and Neon a mile and a half down to the next campsite-Pogo- where the rest of the little flip flop bubble was staying. Most of the flip floppers who had stayed at Pogo were hanging out on the trail, getting ready to get rolling. I met the whole gang of awesome hikers, and continued up the trail with a large part of the group. As the day proceeded, and everyone spread out, I spent the morning hiking and talking with Scratch and ChooChoo. As we proceeded, Scratch gave me the trail name of Spicy. Anyone who talks with me for very long knows that ‘spicy’ is my own trademark descriptive word. I don’t know where it came from, but I can commonly be heard talking about spicy weather, rocks, ski trails, and so on. It felt pretty fitting with my personality as well, so I decided to give the name Spicy a try. The trail was getting increasingly rocky (and spicy!), feeling more and more like my home state of Rocksylvania.

Luckily, my ankle soreness cleared up as the day went on. I had lunch at a shelter with most of the flip flop gang before continuing along. Shortly after lunch, we reached a wide open field, with long views and longhorn cattle down the way. The short break from the green tunnel was more than welcome, out in the warm sun and cool wind. I had a rush of energy, so as we re-entered the trees, I turned on the jets. I motored the next few miles until running across some other flip floppers I had met earlier in the day- Ave, Leo, and their dog, trail name Icebreaker. Ave had her crocs on and her feet in a nice, deep creek. This seemed like a fantastic idea! I took off my boots and put on the crocs, sat on a rock, and let the cold water flow over my feet. As the rest of the group caught up, most of them did the same. Cold water on hiking sore feet feels incredible.

Scratch trekking along!

The group planned on staying at Raven Rock shelter that evening. I was enjoying hiking and hanging with them, so I cancelled my plans to go into town and decided to hike a longer day and hang with the group. The shelter was clean and in great condition. We had a fire, chatted, and hung out until hiker midnight when a spat of rain starting coming down and I turned in.

Day Four (Today!)

I woke up at 5:45 am to the sound of bird calls and the first hint of daylight. I was planning on meeting my mom and taking a nero, so I wanted to get an early start and make the most of a day in town. There were a few small gear item trades I wanted to make (i.e switching out my utility knife since I’d accidentally brought one without a tweezers, changing out my shorts for a pair that I liked better). I was very grateful to have started close to my home state of Pennsylvania so I didn’t have to worry about shipping items to myself/back home.

From Raven Rock Shelter, it was an easy 4.5 miles down to Penmar Park. Since I was on trail so early, I jumped a number of deer that had been bedded down close to trail, and watched their white tails bound away into the woods.

I met up with my mom at Penmar by 8:30 AM and crossed into Pennsylvania before heading into town to get hot food, a hot shower, and laundered clothes.

Welcome to Pennsylvania!


The next couple of days are looking rainy, but who doesn’t like a little mud? I’ll be back on trail tomorrow, and I’m ready to get back to it!

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