West Virginia and Other Things
West Virginia (Sept. 13 – Sept. 21)
Four miles, eight days
I know what you may be thinking. It took you eight days to walk four miles, what are you doing with your life?Maybe you have more faith in me and you’re waiting for a reasonable explanation to follow, which will, I promise.
Sun Chaser, Dreamer, and I crawled into West Virginia after completing the Maryland challenge (42 miles in 14 hours) and woke up groggy on the front porch of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. It didn’t open until 9 a.m. so we further dragged ourselves to a coffee shop and the post office looking severely trashier than ever.
The Great Surprise
There was a package waiting for me at the Harpers Ferry post office! The two greatest people ever (AKA Em and Cam) had put together a care package with carefully selected items of which all of them I loved.
–Three pairs of clean socks that smelled new and clean and nothing like the dirty ones I had that smelled dirty even after having been washed over and over.
–A car freshener, which gave me a good laugh at the complaints of my hiker stench.
–A bottle opener with Canadian flags on it, Jack.org sunglasses, of which Emilie is a representative of (an awesome Canadian organization for mental health), and a buff that comes in handy for extra cold nights
–Lastly, I pulled out a Loyalist College beanie covering a four-pack of beer from Signal Brewery (from my Canadian hometown) that took me by surprise because they must have forgottento claim it on the customs form they filled out
All in all, it made a very good start to West Virginia!
After waking up on the porch and opening my package full of Christmas morning excitement, the ATC (Appalachian Trail Conservancy) building opened and we meandered on inside, flipping through the photos of previous thru-hikers. As traditions go, we succumbed to the obligatory porch photo. Harpers Ferry is known to be the unofficial halfway point of the Appalachian Trail, as it’s the town closest to the official halfway point, which was in Pennsylvania. Lounging in the hiker hangout they had for us, we heard their office phone ring and an important announcement followed. That morning, Sept. 13, the trail south of Harpers Ferry closed. I hadn’t known it to be possible before, that the woods could be closed. My initial thought was to continue on because who do they think they are to tell me what I can and can’t do? Let me be free and wild and have the sun rise and set on my terms. But no—the closure was due to Hurricane Florence and precaution or not, we obeyed. It’s obviously pretty impossible to enforce and I’m sure hikers slipped through here and there, but to know it would be selfish to do so without any emergency services available seemed worth waiting the weather out.
The entire Wade clan earned an elite trail angel status. As family friends of Sun Chaser’s, they offered us their home as a place to wait out the trail closure. Angela drove an hour from Northern Virginia to pick us up and made us feel right at home. Angela, Rob, and their kids—Maddy, Joda, Josie, and Luke (plus two more out in the real-world)—managed to make room for us. After apologizing profusely for smelling up her car, I showered and got to put on real clothes thanks to Maddy and Josie. Cotton clothing, how I’ve missed you. What about hoodies and sweatpants—aren’t they just the most beautiful thing ever? A pair of mint green shoes that fit, leggings, and a T-shirt dress was a bonus outfit I got to wear while visiting DC for the first time.
There was certainly more to the Wades than cotton clothing. We got to feel a sense of community that was sort of like home again, among very good people. Don’t get me wrong—the trail hosts a majority of good people—but to get back into something as familiar as the home I’d left for the trail was extremely welcome. Three months on trail without the comfort that home has, and there I was just stumbling across a situation that presented exactly that. Waking up in a bed, drinking coffee out of a real mug, being a comfortable temperature all the time, learning how to make syrup, not having to filter stream water, going to Costco (sadly, finding no samples), eating home-cooked meals as well as Chipotle, and playing board games with the family were among some of the highlights. I even realized how outdated my gaming skills were when Luke beat me at Super Smash Bros and Mario Cart, because since I’d mastered those games they’d apparently come out with newer versions which I seriously sucked at. I think that means I’m old now, yet still not able to lose without being a tiny bit bitter.
The Wheatons and their kids came for dinner one night and we had the opportunity to talk to experienced trail people. They’re former AT thru-hikers and have been trail angels many a time. They’ve been caretakers, hostel-runners, and currently live with the AT as their backyard. It was such a comfortable feeling being at the Wades, overeating, that I was nervous to get back on trail.
Septt. 18 – The trail opened back up! Angela offered to slackpack (drive us and pick us up without packs) for six miles that day to get back into the swing of things. It meant another night in a bed. The next day we planned on slackpacking 14 miles, then stay with the Wades one last night. I guess we crossed into Virginia that day but I’m sticking it in this West Virginia post. Unfortunately for me, I contracted a sickness that I’d rather not go into detail with, but I’ll tell you my stomach wasn’t happy with me at all.
I really tried to walk fast but I had to pull over so many times that I got to the end of 14 miles well after the guys. I also met some SOBOs for the first time—Turtle Man and Humming Bird—while I was lying in the middle of the trail feeling very unwell. Anyway, my stay with the Wades was prolonged due to that unpleasantness, and I’m grateful I could sleep it off in a bed and drink hot tea while feeling sorry for myself in a house with four walls and a ceiling!
Sept. 21 – I finally left. I’d only expected to be in West Virginia for one night and I’m happy things didn’t go that way. I had the opportunity to meet a wonderful family! I’ve also had the pleasure of experiencing stomach problems in Southeast Asia, South America, and Central America, so North America is one more to add to the list now, reluctantly of course. On that note, the transition back to trail will probably not be an easy one so I’m looking forward to the challenge. Setbacks like this do happen and you’ve got to be able to roll with things. A later finish date is to be expected now but so be it.
Bring on Virginia
Two DC Bonus Photos
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