Monthly Archives: June 2013

Pine Grove Furnace State Park

Most years some re-routes of the Appalachian Trail occur, which usually means a slight variation in distance. This year’s trail measures 2185.9 miles, a 1.9 increase over the trail of 2012. The half way marker, however, dates back a few years, indicating that the half way mark is 1090 miles. Nevertheless, as of today I have hiked 1095.6 miles by last year’s standards. I have now officially completed over half of the AT. So from now until completion, I will have fewer miles to walk than I have already walked. To be quite honest, that makes me feel pretty good. As a matter of fact, it makes me feel real good.

When Molar Man and I hit the trail this morning at 6:10, there was rain in the forecast. Within about an hour it started. Throughout the day we hiked in a steady rain although it never rained very hard. It was late morning before my clothes and shoes were thoroughly soaked. Then I just slogged along, not worried about stepping in numerous puddles on the trail. There were also several water crossings, but for the most part, footbridges were provided. At one place I was trying to select the best rock skipping strategy when I noticed out of the corner of my eye that Molar Man was traversing the stream via footbridge. I hadn’t even seen it.

Aside from the rain, today’s trail offered very little to get excited about. We passed through Caledonia State Park early in the day and then by another “double shelter” at the Quarry Gap Shelters. Like all the shelters I’ve passed so far in Pennsylvania, the amenities looked inviting. Hanging baskets even adorned an arbor of sorts. I suppose I should eventually take advantage of one of these impressive structures. Perhaps there is a Pennsylvania shelter in my future. A few hikers were still in their sleeping bags as Molar Man and I passed by Quarry Gap.

If I were rating today’s hike on the 1-10 scale for difficulty, with 10 being extremely difficult, I would call today’s trail a 1 or 2 all day. With the easier terrain, we hiked the 19.5 miles in less than seven hours, despite the rain and mud. One noteworthy aspect was the numerous road crossings. We crossed 12 to be exact. In two cases, five gravel roads intersected where the AT moved from one side of the woods to the other. Most of the roads were hard packed dirt or gravel, but a few were paved.

When we reached mile 1090, a sign indicated that the half way point had been reached. Molar Man and I took a brief break here for pictures. Then we passed the Toms Run Shelter before finally arriving at the road leading into Pine Grove Furnace State Park. We walked by a hostel before reaching our final destination, the General Store. Sitting out front were several thru hikers including Finder, Calamity Jane, Sundance, Hooker, and Triple 6. The last time I had seen Finder was at Woods Hole.

Triple Six, another of the Germans on the trail, was trying to finish off his half gallon (it’s now really a quart and a pint) of chocolate mint ice cream for the half gallon challenge. It is an AT tradition for thru hikers to attempt to eat a half gallon of ice cream at the half way point of the trail. I opted for the half pint challenge instead. I’m not sure I could have consumed the larger portion, but the chocolate marshmallow smaller size sure tasted good after my hike in the rain. Molar Man selected a drumstick for his challenge.

After leaving the park, we headed to Boiling Springs and a stop at the ATC Mid-Atlantic Regional Office. Just as we arrived Ambassador and Sugar Bomb also walked up. It had also been some time since I had seen the affable Sugar Bomb. We chatted on the porch, and then I went inside to purchase AT maps for the next five days when Linda will be shuttling me. From there Molar Man and Sweet Tooth were very thoughtful to drive me to Carlisle, about five miles away, where I could pick up a rental car that I had reserved.

After saying our goodbyes until somewhere up the trail, we parted. Inside the Enterprise office I was helped by Courtney. I must say that I received excellent customer service. From there I checked into a motel, showered, and went for a late lunch. It felt luxurious to be able to drive to a meal. Tomorrow I’ll take another day off. Then the landscape will change as my wife becomes my helper for a few days. Stay tuned for Linda’s indoctrination to the life of the thru hiker on the Appalachian Trail.

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Pen Mar Rd. to US 30

The story almost read, “AT THRU HIkER ‘KNOCKED’ FROM TRAIL.” Don’s Brother, an Appalachian Trail thru hiker from Georgia, came close to having his hike suspended today when he ran into a large, overhanging tree limb. Briefly staggering backward, DB commented that he felt his teeth rattle before he regained his composure. Hiking companion, retired dentist Molar Man of Ohio, made no effort to check Don’s Brother’s dental work; however, he did pause long enough to ascertain that there was little chance that a concussion had occurred. For the remainder of the 17.8 mile day, Don’s Brother paid closer attention to his surroundings.

Hitting my head on the tree really wasn’t that big of a deal. There just isn’t that much to write about today. With another early 6:10 start, Molar Man and I managed to complete the hike in just under seven hours. The first full day in Pennsylvania could be described as boring. We climbed a little, descended a little, walked level occasionally, and confronted a couple of sections of “from washing machine to refrigerator size” rocks. Pennsylvania is often referred to as Rocksylvania, so I suppose what we encountered today is a precursor to what lies ahead.

We also crossed a few streams with footbridges. “Footbridge” has become one of my favorite AT words. Every time I hear the sound of distant water, I start wondering whether or not there is a bridge for crossing. Today there were four. There were also some patches of black mud on the trail today. They could be circumvented most of the time, however. And as always it seems, there were several short sections with smaller oddly shaped rocks. The trail offered up some variety. It just wasn’t very interesting.

We passed two locations where two shelters stood side by side. At the Tumbling Run Shelters, pea gravel had been spread to enhance the site’s ambiance. “Two” appeared to be the operative number because there were two picnic tables as well. Molar Man and I took a break there. Fis, the section hiker we met yesterday from Massachusetts, had also stopped for a snack. Other than some day hikers, we didn’t see many folks on the trail today. For the second consecutive day, we saw no other thru hikers. We did, however, meet the Gettig family from Fayetteville, PA out walking three of their dogs. I had never seen Italian Greyhounds before today.

When we reached US 30 and the end of today’s hike, Sweet Tooth was waiting. We drove back to Pine Grove Furnace State Park where I consumed a pint of Butter Pecan ice cream. Then Molar Man drove to scout locations for day after tomorrow. He was also nice enough to drive into Carlisle, where I plan to pick up a rental car after tomorrow’s hike to use while Linda visits. After that we headed to a motel and called it a day.

Indeed it has been a beautiful Sunday. Don might have been sitting on his deck, waiting for a deer to walk up in his back yard on other Sunday afternoons like today. I think he would be happy to know that tomorrow I will reach the true mileage half way point as I return to continue the journey on the Appalachian Trail.

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Turners Gap to Pen Mar Rd.

Goodbye Maryland. Hello Pennsylvania! Today I walked into the 7th state on the Appalachian Trail, passing the Mason-Dixon Line just prior to Pen-Mar Rd. I guess I’m officially in the north. The blue skies and white puffy clouds enhanced the enjoyment of the final few miles on a comfortable 23.5 mile day. Despite a few tough stretches of rocks, some slanted in various directions, today’s hike progressed about as smoothly as any I’ve done over the entire trip. I continue to be at my best using my motto of “light pack, big miles, and beds.” Hey, it’s working.

So when Molar Man said he wanted to get an early start, I had no idea he meant that we would be standing in the lobby of McDonalds at 5:00. With breakfast to go, we drove along with Sweet Tooth to the trailhead at Turners Gap, arriving in time to begin the hike at 5:45. Chirping birds and a couple of scurrying squirrels greeted us as we ascended the first gradual incline shortly after dawn. Just prior to the two mile mark we walked into Washington Monument State Park. A side trail of about fifty yards led to the “original” Washington Monument, a stone edifice erected in 1827. After a brief stop and photo opt, Molar Man and I picked up the pace.

With a slightly humid, overcast mild morning, we banged out the miles at near record pace. By 8:00 we were crossing the footbridge over I-70. Sparse traffic travelled the interstate on this early Saturday morning. We zipped by the blue-blazed trail to Annapolis Rocks, choosing to make miles rather than check out yet another view. By 11:30 we had already hiked 14.9 miles to Foxville Rd. where Sweet Tooth waited with the cooler and snacks. I had packed two burgers and a root beer, but I did take a bag of chips. While we ate, section hiker Fis walked up and graciously accepted some of Sweet Tooth’s trail magic. Molar Man and I would pass her shortly after resuming our hike. We would see no thru hikers, however, all day.

As the afternoon began, we encountered a challenging segment of rocks which required some diligent maneuvering. Molar Man continued to lead and I followed throughout most of the day. When we got to the north end of the High Rock Loop Trail, I convinced my buddy that it was worth the short walk to the scenic view. With a tad of reluctance he agreed. Several folks were hanging out at the site that had formerly been used for hang gliding. A young man from Rockville, MD, Carlo, told us that rock climbing permits can be obtained for the dangerously steep looking outcrop. A section hiker at times himself, Carlo offered to take our picture.

When we returned to the trail, we were again faced with an extremely rocky descent. I painstakingly navigated the rocks, falling behind Molar Man. After the rock section we arrived at Pen-Mar Park, one of the prettiest recreation areas I’ve seen thus far. I commented that this would be an ideal place for some “yogi-ing” on the busy Saturday afternoon, were we not so close to the end of today’s hike. Since Pen-Mar Rd. was less than a mile away, however, we just kept moving, arriving at the road a little after 3:00. Indeed, we had knocked out big miles in good time.

Today was a great day to hike. For Don, it would have been a great day to fish. He often had already launched his bass boat, readying for a day on the lake, at about the same time I started hiking today. On many picture-perfect Saturdays like today, he would in all likelihood have still been casting away. There were no lakes on today’s hike, but there were many reminders of my brother’s life. Ferns bordered the trail in several areas today. As I passed through them on either side, I was reminded of how Don regularly brought ferns to our mother and how much she appreciated his kindness. Today beauty abounded everywhere as it does so often on the Appalachian Trail.

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AT Museum

Whether one sleeps in the woods or in beds, it takes a lot of planning to thru hike the Appalachian Trail. Today was one of those “getting ready for the next four days” days. Since it was also my second respite in the last seventy-two hours, I wrestled over the necessity of such a day when I awoke to gray skies, but no rain. Thinking I would rather be hiking, I had to convince myself over breakfast that all was for the best. When the steady, bordering on cold, rain began, I realized that my decision was a good one.

So for much of the day I rode in the back seat of the white Volvo, mentally taking notes on just how a supported hike can be fine tuned. Molar Man and Sweet Tooth have a method that works for them. We first drove back to where we left the trail yesterday so that Molar Man could navigate, via very precise AT maps, where Sweet Tooth could meet him with lunch and also where she could pick us up at the end of tomorrow’s hike. Given all the “back roads” and state highways that sometimes don’t even appear on a traditional roadmap, the “preparation and rehearsal” phase is indeed necessary.

After arriving at Pen Mar Rd., where we will finish hiking tomorrow, we drove into Waynesboro, PA and then to Caledonia State Park where Sunday’s hike will conclude. Checking places to meet along the route, we finally made our way up to Pine Grove Furnace State Park, the half way point and home of the Appalachian Trail Museum. Visiting the historic building, which truly captures the essence of the trail, was the highlight of the day. It was especially meaningful since I had read about many of the exhibits on display. Taking a break at the Pine Grove General Store was thru hiker Colin that I had last seen at the Audie Murphy Memorial.

From the park we scouted out places for Molar Man and Sweet Tooth to meet the following day; however, I only plan to hike with them the next three days. In fact, one of my reasons for rejoining them for a bit revolves around next week. Linda will arrive on Tuesday, so I hope we can duplicate the Ohio couple’s scheme for a few days. My mental notes better be good. I wouldn’t want my lovely wife lost some place like Rattlesnake Run Rd. Yes, there’s one in Pennsylvania. But hopefully after learning Molar Man and Sweet Tooth’s strategies, Linda and I will be just fine.

It has been a good day. Despite taking a day off, much got accomplished. Clouds are still lingering overhead, but tomorrow’s forecast calls for sunny skies, at least in the afternoon. A few Junes ago, Don would have been getting his gear ready for some bass fishing tournament on a Saturday morning. He competed in many and won a few. For me Saturday will provide another opportunity to move on up the trail. I couldn’t be more excited to get to the state famous for its rocks. Great days lie ahead as the adventure continues on the one of a kind Appalachian Trail.

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Harper’s Ferry to Turners Gap

June 6, forty-seven years ago was the last day of school my freshman year. My German teacher, Mr. Russell, wrote the date on the green chalkboard, 6/6/66. He commented that it would be over eleven years before the date could be written using only one numeral. At the time 1977 seemed so remote that it could have been a hundred years in the future. Little did I know as a lad of 15 that before 7/7/77 rolled around, I would be married, have two college degrees, and be a high school teacher myself. Every year on June 6, I still remember Herr Russell.

Over the years I section hiked the AT, I would usually begin as soon as the school year ended, so I’ve often been on the trail on June 6. Today I walked out of the state with the fewest number of trail miles and into the state with the second fewest. Walking across the bridge over the Potomac took me from West Virginia into Maryland, the 6th state heading north. I felt inspired and motivated on the overcast early morning. I had arrived in my sixth state on the sixth day of the sixth month.

Since I wanted to get started before 7:00, I called John for a taxi to the trailhead at the east end of High St. in Harper’s Ferry. He dropped me there at 6:40. After crossing into Maryland, the trail follows the old C&O Canal Towpath for three miles. Along that stretch I saw two runners, a cyclist, and a lady walking six dogs, all hers she said. A deer came into view at a distance but had disappeared by the time I reached the spot. The flat spacious terrain made for fast hiking. Even though I had to wait for a train to cross at the north end of the towpath where the trail begins to ascend toward Weaverton Cliffs, I averaged right at 3 miles an hour for the first six miles.

When I reached the short trail to the Ed Garvey Shelter, I took it. Ridge runner Claire was leaving as I arrived. After a short break I resumed my hike, stopping briefly to speak with Bearhawk, a southbound section hiker. I met others, but only said hello before moving on. With a relatively “easy” trail (Maryland only rates a 2 on the 1 to 10 scale), I continued to hike at a fast rate.

When I reached Gathland State Park, I took a break and briefly entered a museum. Sweet Tooth had parked nearby to wait for Molar Man to hike by. Rock Steady arrived as we talked. Before exiting the park I met trail angel Peggy from Pensacola. She was waiting for a group of hikers that she was supporting on a series of day hikes of the AT. Hancock and Gypsy were also hanging out at the picnic tables under a pavilion. Just as I left the park the rain began.

In order to reach my end point for the day before the heavy rain that was forecast began, I continued to hike quickly. I did stop at White Rock Cliff for the view. Then I zigzagged my way through a series of small rocks for a couple of miles to the Dahlgren Campground. By then the rain had increased. Rock Steady, Hancock, Gypsy, and two section hikers from Norfolk were also under the overhang, trying to keep dry. It was then that I changed my plan for the day. Since there are serious storms in the forecast for tomorrow, I decided to stop at Turner’s Gap for a 17.5 mile day. This way I could get a lift from Molar Man and Sweet Tooth rather than risk being at a hostel or shelter all day tomorrow.

When I finally got back to the trail to hike the final .3 mile, the rain had gotten heavier and colder. Rock Steady and I hiked together. He headed on up the trail as I took refuge under the front eave of a church to wait for the Volvo. Feeling a little chilled, I removed my wet T-shirt for a dry long sleeve one. I also put on my raincoat and gloves, knowing that the wait would be over an hour. As soon as Sweet Tooth parked I made a dash for the car. Molar Man soon arrived and we were off to Hagerstown.

So after another comfortable day of hiking, I’m again in a very nice motel room. I hate to take another day off so soon; however, it’s unlikely that many will hike tomorrow if the weather that is predicted arrives. Still, I had recently earned two more zero days based on my 15 miles a day formula. So I’m really in the same place that I was three days ago, regarding how many days I can still take off and reach my goal of a late August summit. So after a lackluster finish to Virginia, I re-energized in WV and started Maryland in a positive manner. Now I’ll prepare to make my way over the Mason Dixon line when I again hit the Appalachian Trail.

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Day Off in Harper’s Ferry

Since I’m taking a day off from hiking, I thought I might also take a day off from writing. About ten seconds later, I decided otherwise. After 17 days of hiking, one streak ended. Today, however, marks 75 consecutive days of posting an account of the adventure. So as I write about a zero day, at least one streak lives on.

Sleeping much later than usual, I found myself eating breakfast at 9:30. Then I spent the remainder of the morning planning my next week’s hikes. Logistically, it’s more challenging to plan using roads as a basis than it is using shelters. Still I eventually choreographed something that appears feasible. With shuttles lined up for tomorrow and Friday, I feel a little more at ease, especially since rain is in the forecast. Hopefully tomorrow’s hike will be completed before the bad weather begins.

In the early afternoon I took the bus back over to Harper’s Ferry and the ATC headquarters. Fidget was signing in, and Runner-up also stopped by while I chatted with Peter Pan. Deciding that I wanted to begin my hike tomorrow at the end of High St., I walked the blue blazed trail back to the AT and went ahead and hiked the .6 mile stretch up to the bridge today. Along the way I walked down to Jefferson Rock. Most have seen the famous picture in a history book. Then I paused at the site of the ruins of the old Episcopal church and also took a pic of the adjacent newer structure.

When I reached the end of this section at High Street, I walked up the hill to look for a spot for a late lunch. Rock Steady suddenly appeared, so we found a tavern to share lunch and some hiker banter. After lunch we walked to the outfitter where I purchased some more aquamira, the water purification treatment that I’m using.
Realizing that it was almost time for the commuter bus, I quickly walked back to the pick-up location across from the ATC office. I made it just in time for the 4:45 shuttle.

After getting dropped off in front of Wal-Mart, I did a little shopping and them walked to a nearby “salon” to get my first professional haircut since the hike began. The hair stylist asked about my hike, so I shared a few details. Then I walked back to the motel. As I neared the building I smiled, for in the parking lot sat the white Volvo with the Ohio plates. Molar Man and Sweet Tooth (formerly Diane) had arrived. When I called the two they invited me to join them for dinner at an Italian place.
Molar Man has been hiking some big days, and is only about a half day behind me now. It was good catching up with the couple while we dined.

Overall, today has been relaxing, although for a while there I wondered why I wasn’t out hiking. Sometimes it’s harder to take a day of rest than it is to hike. My days of the week are also confused. It seemed like Saturday all day. Tomorrow, however, all will be back to the routine of the thru hiker. I’ll arise early, try to consume as many calories as I can tolerate at breakfast, and hit the trail early. The trail in Maryland only runs 41 miles, which I hope to hike over the next two days. Virginia seemed to last forever, but now each state should come and go with rapidity as the walk continues onward north on the Appalachian Trail.

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Bears Den to Harper’s Ferry

When the day began I didn’t expect to be sitting in a bus on the side of HWY 340, waiting for a deputy sheriff to fill out an accident report. But I’m getting ahead of myself, so first I suppose I need to start with the morning. Actually, I wanted to add some material from last night before I even began the today. I had mentioned that other hikers would probably arrive at Bears Den, and one did. Not only did Ambassador show up, but he also played some on the guitar that he’s carrying on his pack. He doesn’t seem to mind the extra weight. In fact, he’s also packing about a three pound camera.

At 6:00 this morning my alarm and Runner-up’s sounded at almost the same time. Wanting to get an early start so that I could make Harper’s Ferry before the ATC office closed at 5:00, I immediately headed to the kitchen to cook my breakfast. In addition to four large pancakes, I scrambled a couple of eggs and made myself a cup of instant coffee. I also downed 20 ounces of water before leaving the hostel. Pacemaker and Runner-up were having breakfast when I departed. Ambassador was still asleep.

Less than a mile after leaving Bears Den, the trail crosses VA 7 at Snickers Gap. Apparently the speed limit is 80 on the busy thoroughfare leading into DC. It took several minutes before I could find a large enough gap in traffic to dash across. When I got to the other side I met Rock Steady who had stopped for a photo opt with a Snickers bar. Knowing that he would pass me quickly, which he did, I began the first climb of the day. Fortunately, the final four miles of the roller coaster came at the beginning of today’s hike rather than at the end.

Just past the 1000 mile mark a spectacular view awaited at Raven Rocks. When I got there Rock Steady was taking a break. We took each other’s picture, and I told the Californian about my brother and journal. Rock Steady said he has a good friend who was recently diagnosed with ALS. The personable engineer is only the second hiker that I have met in his 40’s. Having only a limited number of days to complete the trail, he hopes to finish in under three months. Since he didn’t start until April 14, he seems to be well on his way to achieving his goal. We would see each on breaks throughout the day.

The day passed smoothly. I stopped for lunch at one of the nicest shelters I have seen-the David Lesser Memorial Shelter. Rock Steady had also stopped for water. Flare, a southbound section hiker and veteran, was drying out some gear. The only other hikers I chatted with were father and son, C4 and Hotdog, from Connecticut and also sectioning south. I saw a few others hiking south, but just said hello, not wanting to break stride with a goal in mind.

After the end of the roller coaster the trail leveled out for much of the afternoon. Other than some flat rocky sections, with some of the rocks being of the pointed variety, the trail continued gentle until the final two miles when it abruptly dropped almost 1000 feet down to the Shenandoah River. After walking across the lengthy bridge, I crossed a street to where the trail continues to ascend until a blue blazed trail leading to the ATC headquarters appears. I walked up the side trail and strolled into the office about half an hour before closing. Peter Pan welcomed me as the 318th thru hiker to sign in this year. I had my picture taken and filled out the required paperwork to be official.

To my total surprise, Mr. Gigglefits and Paisley were in the hiker lounge along with Carpenter. They had hitched from Luray to get a bus to DC and then a train to NY for some music concert. When I asked how they got 70 miles behind me, Gigglefits said they had spent six days at trail days. Ah, the youth on the trail! As we waited together for a commuter bus to Charles Town, Daypack walked up. He had been at the first campsite with me in GA. I hadn’t seen him since early in NC.

So after I left the ATC on the bus with Mr. Gigglefits and Paisley, the almost perfect day began its decline. Shortly after getting on well-travelled 340, a small car with four teenagers inside, sideswiped the bus. For over an hour we waited for the law enforcement to arrive and for all the necessary forms to be completed. Passengers on the bus (there were only five of us) had to show ID and verify that we weren’t injured. The delay kept me from getting to a motel until after 6:00. The bus driver, however, was extremely nice to drive me right up to the registration office rather than letting me off at the designated area.

Even with the mishap, it’s been a very good day. I recovered nicely after yesterday’s fiasco. In nine hours I hiked 19.8 miles with one stretch late in the day where I did three miles in an hour. I met Rock Steady and got re-united with Mr. Gigglefits and Paisley. Tomorrow I’ve decided to take a day off after 17 consecutive days and 266 miles. After a day of rest I’ll cross into Maryland, the sixth state and second shortest next to West Virginia. I must admit that I got a little emotional thinking about my brother as I crossed the Shenandoah River and realized that I was at what many consider the (first) half way point. I could just see Don standing by the river, fishing rod in hand. There will be other rivers and ponds and lakes along the way. I know he’ll like them all as we start the second half of the adventure on the Appalachian Trail.

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Ashby Gap to Bears Den Hostel

Today was ugly. It took me almost as long to hike 13.5 as it did to do 20 yesterday. I staggered, wobbled, and shuffled the last five, feeling totally depleted. If I had been in a road race, an official surely would have pulled me off the course. For 5 milers, be they running, walking, or hiking, today had to have been a PW (personal worst). So am I discouraged? Absolutely not. I’m back at Bears Den, have showered, and now I’m munching on some Pringles and sipping a Dr. Pepper. Life is good.

The day began with a ride from John back to Ashby Gap. Since he couldn’t drop me off exactly where I ended yesterday’s hike, I had to walk south for about a quarter of a mile and then retrace my steps north. I may not sleep in the woods that often, but I am determined not to miss any white blazes. When I did get headed up the trail north, I saw no other hikers for about the first three hours. Then I met some southbound sections hikers out for a few days. A few minutes later I caught Hickory and Jackrabbit, also section hikers from Arlington. Not having hiked with anyone all day, I actually slowed my pace to chat with them a little while.

It was after I moved on ahead of the duo that my day took a turn for the worse. I paused to photograph a sign on a tree “warning” hikers of the infamous roller coaster, a 13.5 section of trail with numerous “tightly packed ascents and descents.” Mumbling that the description could be for just about any section of trail, I think I jinxed myself regarding its difficulty. I hiked up and down, up and down, over large rocks, across streams, through the mud, until I felt like I really was on a roller coaster, as much emotionally as physically. It concerned me a little when I found myself singing “They’re coming to take me away, the men in their little white coats, to the funny farm, where life is beautiful all day long, they’re coming to take me away.” Believe me; it wasn’t funny.

To try and take my mind off the drudgery, I attempted to recognize some of the vegetation along the trail. Sorry, Mr. Stewart. Despite enjoying leaf identification in high school biology, I failed miserably today. Between swatting bugs and slipping on muddy stretches of trail, I just persevered. And at about my lowest moment I heard a rustling behind me. When I turned I came face to face with a beautiful whitetail deer. When I looked into his eyes, I thought of my brother. It was as if Don had made an appearance to tell me to “suck it up” and get today’s hike finished.

So I did my best to listen to my brother’s advice internally and work as hard as I could to get to Bears Den. When the sign came into view indicating the blue blazed .2 mile trail to the stone structure, I was again a happy hiker. Even though there was still no zip in the legs, I managed to get to the hostel and into a mood changing shower. The old hot shower after a hike does wonders. Now I just have to wait until 5:00, when the hostel officially opens, for my pizza and ice cream. For now I’m content to sit on this comfortable wooden bench and enjoy the refreshing breeze.

Shortly after I arrived, Pacemaker and Runner-up hiked in as well. I’ve now seen the young German couple for several consecutive days. Four southbound former high school buddies from Ohio were also taking a break outside the hostel. Without guides, they weren’t sure where they wanted to end their hike. I let them borrow my AT Guide and suggested Mike at Terrapin Station when they asked about a shuttle. Before the end of the day I suspect other hikers will also arrive for the night. Bears Den is one of those places that is hard to pass up.

As I reflect on my difficult day, I could probably attribute my lack of energy to a number of factors. Tomorrow I’ll definitely increase my calories at breakfast. I’ll also drink more water and electrolytes early in the day. And I hope to get a good night’s sleep. Because tomorrow I’m headed to Harper’s Ferry, the psychological half way point of the hike. I’m looking forward to visiting the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and getting back to a motel. At this time last year my brother was nearing the end of having the ability to speak. But today I heard him loud and clear as he encouraged me to keep on hiking and reach my goal of getting to Maine on the Appalachian Trail.

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Categories: AT Hike | 2 Comments

Front Royal to Ashby Gap

Under overcast skies, I set foot on the trail today at 7:40, still holding a half cup of McDonald’s coffee. Since the terrain was completely flat for the first mile, clutching both poles in one hand and the coffee in the other worked fine. When I did reach the first climb of the day, I heard talking from up the trail. As I got closer I realized Bison and Barking Spider were just up ahead. When I reached and passed the brother and sister, they fell in behind me for the next three miles. It definitely felt good to be able to share the hike and a conversation with the Texans. Their dad, Blister, had to leave the trail with a foot problem. He had rented a car and was picking them up for lunch at VA 638.

When the three of us reached he road, to my surprise Shrek was sitting under a tree taking a break. Not having seen the strong, young hiker in almost a month, I thought he would be half way through Pennsylvania by now. I offered him a share of my shuttle to Bears Den, but he declined. Trail magic also appeared in the form of cold Sprite and various types of chips. I took a soda and some Cheetos. Thanking Bison and Barking Spider for the opportunity to hike with them, I then headed up the next climb alone. Almost shoulder high weeds (or maybe they were some kind of flower I couldn’t identify) bordered the trail for almost a mile. My shoes and shorts were wet from the morning dew before I exited the protruding plants.

For the third day in a row I happened upon a couple of trail maintainers. Speedy (AT ’96) and his wife Katherine stopped their weed eating to chat for a minute. Just past the couple I began to hear the cicadas. Their deafening song even drowned out the traffic on I-66 that the trail passes under at Manassas Gap. Just past the gap I was asked about my hike by 70 year young Underdog, a retired gentleman who was getting ready to start a three day hike. Then I crossed a footbridge and began almost a 900 foot climb to the Manassas Gap Shelter where I took a lunch break.

With a little over half my day complete, I hiked steadily throughout the afternoon. With about five miles to go I was passed by Tugboat and Life-raft. For the remainder of the day I hiked just in front or just behind them as we each stopped for breaks. As I arrived at Ashby Gap to complete a 20.0 mile day the rain began. Fortunately, Mike Evans was already there to shuttle me to Bears Den Hostel. By the time we arrived it was flooding. I didn’t get wet hiking, but I sure did walking from Mike’s car to the door of Bears Den.

Already at he hostel was a troop of Boy Scouts from Ohio with two adult leaders. After the hostel officially opened for business at 5:00, I signed in and took the $30 hiker special-a bed, shower, laundry, a full pizza, soft drink, and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Also arriving were thru hikers Gator and Pilgrim. I can’t say enough good things about Bears Den. The rustic stone building is filled with AT memorabilia and history. This year’s caretakers, Dana, Johnny, and John, along with Dana’s dog Doug are all most hospitable. Visiting with the other hikers ended another satisfying day of adventure on my journey along the Appalachian Trail.

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Categories: AT Hike | 1 Comment

US 522, Front Royal, VA

For the fifth consecutive day I hiked alone. And again I saw no thru hikers on the trail. At times it seems like I’m the only one headed north even though I know there are still many others. I’m just not finding myself around them. I did pass two northbound section hikers, Bloodhound from Raleigh and Poncho who lives in Puerto Rico. Poncho was finishing the complete trail in sections in Front Royal today. I asked him if he had champagne in his pack. He said he didn’t but that he was sure he could find some way to mark the occasion.

With another mundane trail and a very hot temperature, I found myself reflecting for much of the day. I’m glad to finally be out of the Shenandoah National Park. Early in the week its uniqueness with the waysides and Skyline Drive captured my attention. By today I had just about seen all that I wanted to see. Plus, the trail continued to consist of stretches of the same old gravelly rocks, leaves, and roots. Being able to hike at a quicker pace was welcomed; however, I miss the variation. In fact, as soon as I exited the park portion, a steep descent with large rocks awaited. Usually I would cringe at such a section. Today I actually enjoyed the change of terrain.

I thought a lot about what I’m doing as I walked today. When I began this quest (that seems like an appropriate word), I said that I loved to hike but that I only enjoyed camping a little. After about the first three weeks I altered my terminology to: I love to hike and can tolerate camping. Shortly thereafter I mentally moved to I really like hiking, but I hate camping. Now I seem to be in the: I kind of like hiking, but I detest camping. I fear that I may eventually get to: I’m tolerating the hiking. Please don’t misconstrue. I have no intention of quitting. I’m just trying to resurrect some more enthusiasm.
I am beginning to understand, however, why more hikers quit in Virginia than any other state except Georgia.

Those who really know me understand my competitive nature. So this hike has become more about “getting to the finish line.” I find myself more and more comparing the rigors of the trail to the challenge of finishing a marathon. As I approach the literal half way mark, which I should reach around next Sunday or Monday, I’m reminded of the half way point in a 26.2 mile race. For anyone who has run one, they know it’s not where one would think mathematically. It’s the 20 mile mark. It takes as much mental and physical effort to complete the final 6.2 as it does to run the first 20. So when I reach the half way point on the AT at 1092, I won’t really be half way. That will occur somewhere in Vermont or New Hampshire.

So back to my day, I did meet another trail maintainer from the Potomac Appalachian Club. John was doing some weed eating as I passed by. Numerous day hikers also appeared throughout the afternoon, many not even carrying water, which concerned me considering the heat. There was also a large number of bicyclists on Skyline every time I passed the drive. Other than the 90 degree heat, it was a pretty nice day.
When I reached US 522 at Front Royal, Possible, a 2012 thru hiker, and his wife Lisa had erected a tent and were handing out some trail magic. Even though Mike was already there, I went ahead and had a hotdog and lemonade. Pacemaker and Runner-up were taking a break as well.

Other hikers are at the hostel tonight including thru hiker Newton from Maine. A couple of section hikers from Australia and Bee Man, who lives in the West Indies, joined me on the trek with Mike into town. I shared a booth at Burger King with Bee Man. Experiencing a shin splint issue, he plans to take a zero tomorrow. After the meal I picked up a few groceries. Tugboat and Life-raft had come into Front Royal to re-supply but were going back to the trail tonight.

Now I’m sitting on the steps leading up to a deck at the back of the hostel. It’s been quiet since Mike’s neighbor finished mowing his lawn. There’s a breeze. Thunderstorms are forecast for tonight and tomorrow morning. Even though there’s a chance I may get wet, I’m looking forward to a night at the Bears Den Hostel, one of the best on the entire trail. I’m also getting ready to motivate myself for tomorrow’s 20 miler. After all, I’ll again get to spend all day among the trees and wildlife, and as I keep reminding myself, Don loved the woods.

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