Six Weeks to Harpers Ferry
I woke up at 6:00 in order to beat a rainstorm due in the late afternoon. I started the trail a little before 6:30, and the morning seemed like any other calm morning out on trail. I heard thunder half an hour into hiking, and I picked up my pace slightly. Then the rain started to dump. I started to descend Humpback Rocks when both rain and thunder started to intensify. After fully descending the rocks, I turned back to look at the top of the ridge. That’s when I saw lightning strike something up on the ridge. Flash, bang. I started to walk faster. As I continued on the trail, I saw an older lady go the opposite way of me towards the ridge. I told her what I just saw and that I’d probably wait before I go up. Seconds after I said that, we both saw lightning strike the ridge again. We were directly under the storm. I immediately started to run down the trail (while yelling some expletives). The rain dumped, and the lightning and thunder persisted. After an hour of briskly walking, both tapered off, and I was left with a very muddy trail to deal with.
At 10:00 I got to the road, and I had covered 12 miles in about 3.5 hours. At the road, I met another hiker who was looking to get into the hiker-friendly town of Waynesboro. A shuttle driver from Stanimal’s Hostel saw us on the side of the road trying to hitchhike, and he kindly offered to drive us into town. I requested a quick stop at Blue Ridge Bucha brewery where I was supposed to pick up some bottles left at the front door. To my disappointment, there were no bottles present at the front door. They were closed Sunday, so I called the day before and asked where I could buy their kombucha. The worker on the line said they’d leave some bottles for me at the front door. So that was a major disappointment when I didn’t see them there.
Stanimal’s Hostel was fully booked, so I was only able to wash my clothes and take a shower. I tried the church hostel, but they were closed as it was a Sunday. I then decided I would try the campsite in Waynesboro, but after a quick assessment, I didn’t feel comfortable sleeping there. Only two latrines for 30 hikers camped in a field near a Mexican restaurant. I’ll pass. I had exhausted nearly all options, so I decided to spend some money and try the Quality Inn. Fully booked. There had to be over 100 hikers in town on this day. Absolutely gutted, I made the decision to Uber back to the trailhead and enter Shenandoah to camp. I hiked a little into the night but got to the shelter.
Calf Mountain Shelter
I woke up around 5:30 and left camp around 6:00. Wasn’t really sure how long I was going to hike today. I just wanted to get to the Waysides in the park that sells ice cream and sodas. Shenandoah is famous for its blackberry milkshakes, so that was a prime motivator to hike in the park.
I got to a wayside, but they were unfortunately not selling milkshakes at this location. I was told the next wayside in 20+ miles would have them. I settled for a pre-made sandwich and some chocolate milk.
I had already hiked close to 17 miles at this point, and it was 1:00. I just had to coast for another 13 miles and I’d hit another 30-mile day. But the Virginia heat intensified in the afternoon. We aren’t all that high up anymore (compared to walking at 4000 and 5000 feet in NC), so I was baking a little quicker. The heat got so nasty and the bugs swarmed me. I assume they were trying to get at my sweat. It was absolute torture. I decided to bail on my 30-mile day, even though I was two miles short of it. I got to Simmons Gap and called a local hostel to pick me up. A beautiful farm called Small Axe Farms became my home for the night. I got a home-cooked dinner on a porch overlooking the cattle grazing. The sun faded and fireflies soon populated the meadow below. I washed down dinner with some sherbet ice cream.
Small Axe Farms
There was a thunderstorm, so I didn’t leave the farm until 12:00. Until then I played checkers and chess with the young son of the owners. A little bit of me didn’t want to go back out there, but I knew I was close to DC, and I’d be able to break there.
I was dropped off and hiked 10 miles. That’s when I looked at my schedule and realized I was gonna be early to Harpers Ferry. Knowing this, I called the hostel again and asked if they could pick me up again. They of course obliged. This time though, I asked to be dropped off in the town of Elkton where I’d get a shower and wash clothes in the outfitter store. I also wanted a burger.
The town of Elkton is a new AT town, and I hope it becomes more popular because it has a brewery, a bunch of restaurants, a grocery store for resupply, and an outfitter store. I suppose my next writing assignment will be about this town.
When I was picked up from town and back to the hostel, I passed out on the couch.
They dropped me off at the trailhead at 7:00. I needed to really push today because there was a storm due sometime in the evening and I wanted to avoid that. Well push I did. However, on a descent, I did fall, and I felt some discomfort in my ankle. So I called up another local hostel. I feel bad for platinum blazing-ish, but I feel like at the miles I’m doing, I earned these bed stays. The owner at Open Arms Hostel picked me up (she waited two hours for me to walk down the mountain). She and I watched a little bit of Stranger Things in the living room before I decided to call it a night.
Open Arms Hostel
Started the trail at 7:00 with the intent of leaving the park. I had a few big climbs during the day, but they were nothing I hadn’t seen before. It however got hot again, and I started to feel it. I was probably going less than 2.5 miles an hour and sweating profusely. The bugs were circling me again trying to get a lick of my sweat. They try getting into your eyes which is so annoying. How I longed for those electric fly swatters.
When I got to Compton Peak, the last peak going NOBO in Shenandoah, I cried. This was my first real cry on this trip. I really couldn’t believe I had hiked nearly 1000 miles and was about to be rewarded by seeing friends in DC. I wanted to be done for the day. Luckily the descent was easy. But in typical AT fashion, it went from 90-degree heat to a hail and rain storm. The last two miles were through puddles and a surplus of precipitation. I decided to yet again hostel up. At this point, I don’t care if I stay at a lot of hostels. This is a part of the experience. It was a Bed and Breakfast run by a former thru-hiker in 2012. It was an old mansion built in the 1780s. After I showered, they dropped me off in historic Front Royal so I could get dinner. Slammed a cheeseburger and called it a day in town. The house was amazing, and I wouldn’t mind returning again post-hike.
Mountain Home Bed and Breakfast
What was cool about this next stretch is that I did this exact section a year ago. It was my first solo backpacking trip, and I did this 55-mile section into Harpers Ferry in three days. Now I was attempting it in two days.
After an amazing blueberry pancake breakfast, I hustled onto the trail. It was nostalgic walking this very familiar path. Flashbacks of myself a year ago appeared in my mind as I walked. I realized how slow of a hiker I was, or rather the fact that I didn’t have trail legs.
This section is rather easy until one reaches the Roller Coaster section. This is about a 14-mile stretch of continual ascents and descents. No views, hardly any ridge walks, and little to no breaks at the base of the hills. My plan was to start the Roller Coaster in the late evening to avoid the mid-day heat. I would do half of it and then stop in at Bears Den Hostel (a 1930s mansion converted to a hostel. It’s maintained by the ATC). Tomorrow morning I’d wake up and do the rest in the morning temperatures.
Climbs weren’t as bad as I remembered them. My strategy of doing it in the evening paid off. I got to Bears Den at 9:00 (super late!), but I got a shower, laundry, a whole pizza, ice cream, soda, and a bunk for $35. A great deal! I caught up on calories and went to bed.
Bears Den Hostel
I was 20 miles away from Harpers Ferry, so I knew I was making it today. Woke up early and finished the roller coaster at around 10:00. Now it was a nice descent into Harpers Ferry. I texted my friends Kylie and Karan from my backpacking club, and they said they’d drive up to meet me for lunch. When I got to town, I went to the ATC HQ and got my photo taken. They printed the photo and enshrined me in the yearbook. While I was perusing the HQ, I got a tap on the shoulder and was surprised (or not surprised because I knew she was coming) to see Kylie. We went to the Cannonball Deli and treated me to lunch. We discussed my plan for this next half of the trail, which is essentially to do exactly the same thing as I’ve been doing lately. Obviously slow down in the places I need to slow down, but I plan on keeping 25-35 miles a day when I can. They departed at around 4:00, and I was picked up by a member of the Twelve Tribes Community. Yes, I stayed with them that night. I don’t really want to talk about the details of my stay with them because they’re religious practices are private to them, and honestly, so much has been said about them that one can read about it themselves and come to their own conclusion. All I can say is that I enjoyed my stay, the food was delicious, they were all incredibly kind to me, and yes, I drank the Maté.
Twelve Tribes/Stoneybrook Farm
I took my first zero day. After Twelve Tribes dropped me off back in Harpers Ferry, my friends Abby and Emily arrived to bring me back to DC. We enjoyed lunch at the Rabbit Hole and for the next two hours they were stuck listening to all of my stories about the trail because I know none of them read my blog (or did they? I suppose I find out if I get a text message that clarifies). When we got back to DC, Emily and I went to the chocolate store where I reconnected with my old co-workers. Emily had to sit through another hour of me recounting stories of the trail. Following this, I had to get new shoes because I had put 1000 miles on my Altra Lone Peaks and needed a new pair finally. Headed to REI and reconnected with co-workers there. They were all surprised to see me because many thought I’d get to Harpers Ferry after July 4th (boy were they wrong). Grabbed a new pair of Lone Peaks and skirted out. To end the day, I went out to dinner with four friends at The Diner in Adams Morgan to once again recount stories and catch up. Emily let me sleep on her couch. She offered an air mattress, but I insisted that a couch was exponentially better. I had great sleep.
I’m very proud of what I’ve done so far. Six weeks to go from Amicalola to Harpers Ferry. I’m proud of myself. It’s weird thinking that this has been 1000 miles so far, but here we are. It has been isolating at times, and I’m really glad to be out of Virginia, but I will say there was no better medicine than seeing my friends who came out to Harpers Ferry and the ones I saw in DC. I didn’t think hiking alone would actually get to me but it has. The trail has been empty in Virginia, and when I show up to shelters late, everyone is already asleep. This is what I chose, so I have to live with it, but I can’t but feel it just a little. Here’s to another 1000+ miles of healthy and happy hiking.
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