Day 1, Part 2: I’m Surrounded by Badasses

At 12:37 pm, I set out onto the blue-blazed trail behind the ATC. The Appalachian Trail is marked with white blazes, and all trails connecting to the AT are blazed blue. By following the blue blazes from the ATC, I’ll eventually reach the AT. Once I see the white blazes, I make my way north along the trail towards Maine.

My descent out of Harpers Ferry involves a lot of steps before reaching the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. At this point, I reach the flattest stretch of trail I will ever encounter, where the AT briefly shares foot traffic with bicycles.

I see two hikers ahead and wonder if I’m walking fast or if they’re slow. It ended up being the latter. As I gained on them, they confessed that they both really had to pee but saw me approaching from behind and wanted to wait until I passed ahead. But as I tried to do so, they started chatting me up.

Wolfie informed me that they started in Georgia in February. I asked if he knew Halloween and he said yeah, he’s a great guy! I told them that Halloween had told me about a day he hiked 42 miles. Wolfie was not surprised and said he once saw a hiker out at 4am, suspecting it was Halloween. Kamikaze came back after peeing behind us, and Wolfie went to do his business. I told Kamikaze it was my first day on trail for my flip flop hike. He immediately told me that there was a hostel I should avoid down south and urged me to write down the name. I took out my phone and created a new note titled, “hostels to avoid,” and listed the one he mentioned. Wolfie came back and the three of us walked slowly down the bike path together. They told me of their struggles over the past few days, like hiking 26 miles in the rain. They were both in good spirits, giving credit to new shoes they had gotten in town. Wolfie insisted that he would be getting new shoes every 300 miles instead of pushing his shoes to 500 miles. He felt it made a huge difference.

Kamikaze lit a cigarette and smoked while the two of them imparted their wisdom onto me, like keeping my mileage low to start. Wolfie spoke highly of Kamikaze’s ability to tackle big climbs with ease. Wolfie commented on my gaiters. “Dirty Girl gaiters? Right on!” We were all wearing them, but mine were the most vibrant, with a Lisa Frank style rainbow leopard print. This accessory is part of the unofficial thru hiker uniform, something that is a tip off that we might be trying to tackle the whole trail within a calendar year.

Kamikaze said that he didn’t want to be negative, but the views had gotten old, and they all look the same. We passed by a small waterfall visible under the arch of a bridge. He said you learn to appreciate cool things like that with time. I wanted to take a picture, but my new friends weren’t going to stop, and I was more interested in continuing our conversation.

We chatted a bit about trail magic, the random acts of kindness from strangers who will give food, water, or rides to hikers. A well wisher apologized to Wolfie that she didn’t have something to give him, and he suggested that she could buy him a coffee. And she did! I laughed at the story. It wasn’t rude but it was bold. I told them of the time I had hiked up North Kinsman and sat at the summit with some thru hikers. One of them told a day hiker that all he could think about lately was peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, that he would do anything for one. And she gave him one! Wolfie and Kamikaze were delighted at this story. We all agreed it doesn’t hurt to ask for what you want. The worst someone can do is say no.

With the first 1000′ climb ahead, Wolfie and Kamikaze surged on ahead of me. I hung back to keep to a pace that felt good. My current approach is to take more time than I think I need. I also stopped to take off my shoe to file down an irritating callous on my pinky toe. I knew that anything going on with my feet would be best addressed immediately, and I felt better right after dealing with that slight annoyance.

I hiked on and reached my destination for the night, Ed Garvey Memorial Shelter, a little before 5pm. My feet were sore but otherwise I felt great. I had slept in an AT shelter during my first overnight backpacking trip and had a good experience, so I planned to stay in the shelter for the first night of my thru hike if there was room.

There were plenty of folks at the shelter. It could fit about twelve. There were maybe 10 of us in total but many had chosen to set their tents up. A woman with shoulder-length mostly white hair assured me there was plenty of room if I wanted to stay in the shelter. As I cooked dinner with the crowd in front of the shelter, I learned her name was Greygoose, and that she was on a month-long reunion hike with 3 socks and Birdie, who thru hiked the AT with her with back in 2018. She had also done the length of the PCT in California last year. She planned to get to the Oregon and Washington sections this year. This year is a historically high snow year in the Sierra Nevada in California, which is completely socked in and extremely difficult to hike as a result. I commented on her good timing, and she expressed that she was really glad she did it last year.

When my shelter companions heard it was my first day, they asked how it had gone. I told them about the advice of Wolfie and Kamikaze about the hostel to avoid as a solo female hiker. Greygoose disagreed with their assessment. She said she met the hostel operator and he just looks scary but he’s harmless. It reminded me to take a diversity of perspectives into consideration as I made decisions along the trail. I mentioned Kamikaze’s opinion of the views and another hiker, Sriracha, disagreed. She said the views have never gotten old for her, and she had hiked nearly as much of the trail as Kamikaze had. I was reminded that people have different experiences of the trail and it’s important to HYOH, focusing on what you want to get from it and structuring your days accordingly.

After finishing dinner, I set up my sleep stuff in the shelter and began my elaborate stretching ritual. I was shocked to see that some folks were starting to sleep before 7pm. As I was stretching, a hiker approached me looking concerned. “I left my water filter in Harpers Ferry!” he lamented. I felt terrible for him. He had been getting a shakedown of his pack before heading out of the ATC, and left his Sawyer squeeze sitting on the table. “I guess I’ll have to go back and get it,” he sighed. “Don’t go back!” I said emphatically. “There are so many people here who want to help you. Most of the time my filter is just sitting there. You can borrow one until you can get your own. Or you can take some of my Aquatabs!” I added, offering to share my backup supply of chemical treatment tablets.

On the shakedown hike I did before setting out on my thru hike, my water filter froze. I thought, oh no problem, I’ll use my Aquatabs. Except I hadn’t packed them. I learned an important lesson during my shakedown: one of something is none of something. (And lucky for me, I only had 4 miles to bail out from that trip and didn’t need to risk drinking untreated water.) Now I try to have a backup in place for all of my essentials on trail. I was glad that this lesson could benefit someone who was in trouble, because I knew what it was like to be missing an essential item.

As I continued my stretching routine, the hiker with the lost water filter would periodically return to update me on what his plan was to get a new filter. He was getting one shipped to an Amazon locker in the next town. He introduced himself to me as Phil. We had both started our flip flop hikes today. I was glad to be sharing in the newness of this experience with someone else.

AT miles today: 7

Elevation gain: 1100′

Total AT miles: 7

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Comments 8

  • Heidi Riley : May 8th

    Great ‘view of the trail’ for us at home in our recliners. 7PM too early for bed? I think not after a day of trekking.
    Love hearing from you and learning about your experience.
    A big fan.

    • Hillary Rodgers : May 11th

      Thanks, Aunt Heidi!

  • Al Galletly : May 9th

    Hi Heidi — Just found your post and am look forward to following your adventure. I’m a biker, not a hiker. It’s been a while, but several years ago, I cycled cross-country from Newport Beach, CA to Washington, DC … enjoyed that so much, that six years later, I cycled from San Diego to St. Augustine, FL. But your hiking endeavor is … for all intents and purposes … much the same. And the rewards are equally thrilling. Sending best wishes for a safe and fun-filled trip … and eagerly await future posts. Cheers and all best wishes.

    • Hillary Rodgers : May 11th

      Biking is cool too, sounds like you went on some incredible adventures! I hope to try bikepacking after this. 🙂 Thanks for the well wishes!

  • Ananda Lowe : May 9th

    Hillary, you are amazing! And a great writer! So inspiring, really makes me wish I was there with you!!

    • Hillary Rodgers : May 11th

      Thank you, Ananda! It means a lot!

  • Skylane : Aug 29th

    Hillary: I just found your blog and I’m reading the whole thing! Tell me: what is the app or device that you are using for GPS? The one that you captured screen shots of your progress above? Looking forward to reading about the rest of your walk. I was just on Pierce, Jackson, and Webster last weekend so it was fun to read your experiences there.

    • Fresh Prince : Aug 29th

      Thanks for following along! I use the FarOut app 🙂


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