As sad as we were to leave Snow’s house in the rain, the hike had to continue! Snow told us he’s drop us off at the Mid Atlantic’s ATC office downtown so we didn’t have to start walking in the rain quite so early! After thanking him profusely for his generosity, we were on our way! Our first 14 miles today were going to be through private farmland meaning one big thing in the rain – long, wet grass! Our feet were soaked nearly immediately and the tree cover was sparse, so we were soaked to the bone in less than 20 minutes. However, we were happy that it was raining rather than sunny so we wouldn’t burn up in the sun! Our first four miles went by in less than an hour and 10 minutes. We walked past a gorgeous old stone farm house with an overgrown, neglected family cemetery on the property and came to the I-67 overpass and then the route 11 overpass. It was 11:30 now and we were not only soaked (the rain came down harder and steadier now), but we were getting cold since it was only about 65 degrees and the wind was blowing. We checked our book and remembered Snow telling us there was a great 24-hour cheap diner just past route 11. We saw a note on the overpass from HB saying that the diner wasn’t far and that the food was good, so we decided to go get some coffee and a cheap lunch. When we got to the diner we texted Flash and he said he was going to hike on, so it was just Nokey and me. We checked the weather and it called for severe afternoon storms with hail. We decided to head next door to the Days Inn and get a room. I didn’t feel so bad about this decision given that we were freezing and soaked. We took hot showers and watched TV, made phone calls, and got some rest for hiking the next day. I don’t have photos today since it was pouring rain the whole time and it was too chilly to stop 🙂
After taking a short day, we had to get up today and make good miles to get in to Boiling Springs. Due to us walking through a lot of private land, there are strict camping regulations and there is an 18-mile stretch with no camping allowed. We started our day with easy terrain, walking past the lake and uphill on an old roadbed. The first 7 miles went very quickly and we took a break next to a creek with Flash. There was supposed to be a store about 0.4 miles down the road, but we decided to push on so we’d get to Boiling Springs early so we could get a small resupply. The next 13 miles went by quickly as well, with a ton of road crossings and some climbing that I called the Pennsylvania Rollercoaster, as we had four short and quick hills. We came to about 2 miles from town and began walking through farms! The sun was high in the sky and the tree cover was nonexistent. The grass was high and ticks were on my mind constantly, as we’d been told about the ticks being bad here. Thankfully, no ticks were on us an we got to the backpackers campsite trail just before 5 pm. We sent Flash a text to tell him we were going to go in to town and resupply before we set up at the campsite since it was farther off trail than we’d been lead to believe by our guidebook. We walked in to Boiling Springs to find that the food mart in our book was a gas station with 2-dollar granola bars (you know, the ones you can get in a five-pack for 2.50!) We each bought pop and a snack and decided to sit at the picnic table out front to figure out our next move. I said hello to a man heading in to the gas station and Nokey decided to ask the guy how far a real store was. He said he’d give us a ride if we wanted as it was a half mile from where we were. When we hopped in the truck, we noticed hiker stickers and a custom plate reading 2181, the length of the trail last year. When we got to the store, he introduced himself as Snow, a thru hiker from 2011. He offered not only to give us a ride back to the campsite, but something better – a free stay at his house (since it was going to rain all night) with showers and laundry! We told him we couldn’t since Flash was in and set up camp. He told us to call Flash and come meet us at the road, which he gladly did! Turns out the campsite was right next to the train tracks, was loud next to a port-a-potty, and smelled like cow poo! We hung out with Snow the rest of the night and exchanged trail stories. His sister, who lives next door, came by with homemade challa bread and cookies – she’s in school to become a pastry chef and had leftover from class! It was an amazing night and we were happy to be out of the rain. The photo is of the wheat field we walked through in to town.
This morning we woke up feeling great for many reasons: Nokey’s 3 month mark on the trail, good terrain in the morning, the halfway point of the trail, and the half gallon challenge! We started walking and immediately my left Achilles tendon was hurting. I checked it out and it appeared I was stung or bitten by something with a ton of swelling. Every step I took the back of my shoe rubbed the bump! It was sore, but we pressed on. About 6 miles and 2 hours in, we passed the official halfway mark at Toms Run Shelter, 1092.2! After we took photos, we walked about a quarter mile and found a sign put in last year at the 2011 halfway point! The sign was really exciting and we took goofy photos there, then pushing on to Pine Grove Furnace State Park for the half gallon challenge! We got there just before noon and went in to the store and got ready for the challenge. Turns out, it was six bucks, not free if you finish like we were told. They also were out of all the favors except chocolate. I decided to skip the challenge and get a pint of mint chocolate chip and a hamburger. Nokey, Byline, and Flash did the challenge. Nokey finished in 18 minutes, Flash in 31, and Byline in 35. We had to hang out there until 5 pm, when the hostel opened, so Flash could get his drop box. Nokey and I decided this would be a good time to go to the beach! There’s a lake at the park that used to be an ore pit in the steel days of the area, now filled in by neighboring streams. We hopped in the lake for a while to cool off and then took a nap on the beach. We went up to talk to Flash and he had decided to stay at the hostel, located in an old mansion on the property. We decided to stay as well considering we could both use a shower and laundry. Turns out they didn’t have laundry, but they did have showers and meals included! Tube Socks came in as well, so we all hung out on the porch of the beautiful mansion before heading in to sleep in a real bed! Tomorrow we do 19 in to Boiling Springs! The photo is of me at “halfway” point.
Our day today was easily split into two parts. Our first half was up a 1000-foot climb to Chimney Rocks followed by an undulation through three different boulder fields. This was challenging, but never hard. The rocks were actually kind of fun and didnt really slow us down too much. We then went downhill and into Caledonia State Park, where a pool, creek, and snack bar awaited! We took a 2-hour lunch break in the shade and were joined by Flash, Byline, and two other hikers as well. As tempting as it was to stay put. We had to keep moving to get to our final stop. We climbed a steep hill up South Mountain to the Quarry Gap Shelters, which welcomed us with a picket fence, fresh flowers, and a water feature! We were sad we weren’t staying there, but we had an easy 7.5 miles to go to our shelter. We did the miles quickly and came to Tom’s Run early. The shelter was gorgeous and in great shape. We had a good time hanging out with Big Sky, Jaws, and Tube Socks. It was an awesome end to an easy day. The photo is of the quarry gap shelters.
After a short day yesterday, we wanted to make up some miles with an early start. Flash was out at around 7:15 while Nokey and I got our usual late start! We immediately climbed a small hill up to a pretty meadow are, followed by another ascent to Raven Rocks, which was a really cool cliff area with rock climbing and a spring. We took a short break and headed on to Big Rocks, getting lost shortly in the scramble, before heading down to Penmar Park for lunch. I’m digging Maryland for all the parks, good job guys! We ate lunch and caught up to Flash while sitting at a picnic table and taking in our first view of PA! After lunch, it was only 1/4 mile to the state line, which is also the Mason-Dixon line! We crossed into our seventh state and celebrated! We then had an easy day with a few small climb before coming down into Valley Forge Park (I love all these parks!) We sat here for a while and I took a bath in a hose to get all the mud of me. We then had an easy and flat 1.1 miles to the shelter for the night. We also got to talk to the PA ridge runner while we ate dinner. Tomorrow we inch closer to the halfway point and have a 1000-foot climb first thing! I’m so sad to have left Maryland, but I’m excited to finally be “up north”! The photo is me at the state line.
This morning I woke up super excited about being in Maryland! After a short 2 miles, we found ourselves up at the original Washington Monument on a sunny morning. We took photos and a snack break before heading to some undulating terrain. We ended up walking through a neighborhood and across I-77 before heading to Pine Knob Shelter for lunch with Flash. After lunch, we had a climb up to Annapolis Rocks and I was really hauling since I had on some music and was wearing my knee brace! I hauled up the rocky hill and kept a good 3.2 mph pace for nearly and hour and a half before realizing how tired I was. The boys caught up and we took another break. There was lot of thunder and a threat of rain, but it held off for a while. An hour later we were all beat and decided maybe we should cut our day short at the next shelter, or at least take a nap before heading on. We decided to hitch in to Smithsburg for something to eat and some sodas. We got a ride in pretty quick and headed to Dixie Diner. When we got inside, a pretty bad storm blew through so we were happy about our decision to come in! We had dinner and dessert (Boston creme pie for me and chocolate shakes for the boys) before trying to get back on trail. On our way back up to MD 17, a truck pulled over and asked if we wanted a ride – a hitch without even putting up our thumbs! We got back on trail and walked in the short 0.2 to the first shelter, calling it an early night with a promise of an early start in the morning. The photo is me at the Washington monument.
After three days off, it was time to leave the comfort of Joe and Fran’s and all the good food. We got dropped off with Flash in Harpers Ferry and walked back down the blue blaze to the AT once again. We got to walk through the historic town and over the river to the C&O Canal trail, which runs 160 miles through MD and WV. We walked in to Maryland without much notice and began our climb to Weaverton Cliffs. From here, it was nice and easy ridge walking with a few rocky places. We reached Gathland Park around 4 pm and met Jerry and Anne and talked with them a bit as we drank a rootbeer and ate dinner. After leaving them, we walked past a war memorial and an old barn and then headed up a hill to Lambs Knoll. Flash had a phone number for a guy who was doing trail magic a few days prior and called him up to see if we could stay at his house. He couldn’t take any hikers tonight, but offered to slackpack us to Dahlgren Campground and buy us pizza for dinner! We called a pizza place from a parking lot close to the campground and they delivered it to us! A backpackers campground with hot water, electricity, and pizza delivery?! Maryland is some kind of heaven! The photo is of the War Correspondents monument.
Days 67, 68, 69
We got back to Joe and Fran’s and got to take showers and eat a ton of food. We were going to head out in to town to meet up with Connect 4, but it ended up being pretty late. We went out to downtown Leesburg and had pizza and a few microbrews with Fran and Joe. The second day, we went back in to Harpers to see Flash and Dirty Girl, whom we haven’t seen in a few weeks! We had an awesome reunion and convinced Flash to come zero with us in Leesburg. We went down to the historic part of Harpers Ferry, which is actually a national park with historical reenactors, and took photos and shopped around. We also went shopping at an outfitters, a running store (for new insoles), and Walmart for food. We took a third zero and relaxed and thoroughly cleaned all our gear, which was disgusting after 1000 miles!
I’d like to now delve into so facts and myths about the trail after 1000 miles of walking:
1) Thru hikers aren’t fast hikers. A lot of people comment they could never keep up with me and that’s just not true! Nokey and I may do big days, 21-25, but we actually hike pretty slow, doing about 2-2.5 mph at the end of the day. When you walk for 70 days you can’t push too hard or you’ll hurt yourself. It’s amazing how many thru hikers haven’t learned this yet and are still killing themselves and getting injuries!
2) Virginia is NOT flat, beautiful meadows and farmland! It’s a giant green tunnel with a ton of tough mountains and not many views. I had some good days in Virginia, but I honestly could care less if I never hiked there again. All the good things in Shenandoah were off the AT and all the views were from the road. It’s beautiful from a car, but I’ll pass on the hiking. I liked Virginia better as a tourist in Leesburg, which was a beautiful colonial town. Also, I was always told I’d pull easy 30-mile days in VA. I never came close to 30 ever! I did one 24.8 and one 25.3… My biggest day was in the Smokies and I think it may stay that way.
3) A lot of the fun stuff happens off trail. I’ve always had awesome experiences when hitching in to town or meeting people off the trail. We have a great saying, “the trail will provide,” and it’s very true! If you need anything, chances are you can find it.
Harpers on National Trails Day!
We woke up at Blackburn this morning and were ready for an easy hike in to Harpers Ferry, but first we had to climb the longest 0.2 miles straight up and out! It rained last night, so the trail was a little slick but not too rough. From here, we had an easy 4 miles in to the David Lesser shelter. I walked alone for the first time in nearly 600 miles to let Nokey catch up with James and Joe. I saw a ton of chicken of the woods growing on a log just past the shelter and Joe picked some to cook for us all later. When we got to Keys Gap James met his wife and headed home, leaving us with a short walk with Joe in to Harpers! We walked through some rocks and down a steep and wet hill to the Shenandoah River. You could look straight up the hill and see the town in the cliffs and it was a really emotional moment for me, knowing I was about to be at the psychological halfway point. I also met my first southbounder (SOBO), KitKat! When we came down to end of the bridge, we were looking straight up the mountain with a ton of stairs. Nokey and I ran up the stairs and directly to the blue-blazed trail leading us to the ATC headquarters! Nokey’s aunt Fran was there as we practically ran down the street. We ran into Feathers and Wild Turky, who were getting ready to head out for a few days with Wild Turky’s dad. We left our packs on the porch of and went inside to check out the hikers lounge and get our photos taken. Hawk and Blues Clues were inside and we said hello to them and talked to the staff for a bit. We got our photos taken and headed off to Leesburg for a few days off. We were definitely ready for a break after talking about this day for several weeks and pushing so hard to get here! The photo is of Nokey and me, our official hiker numbers at the ATC are listed in red – I’m the 329th NOBO through this year!
Today was a significant day for so many reasons! We would be getting out of Virignia (finally!), hitting the 1000-mile mark, and meeting up with Nokey’s Uncle Joe for the night, followed by Harpers Ferry (the emotional halfway mark) and a few days off the following day! But first, we had to finish the rollercoaster on the minimal amount of food we had left! Our day started with a downhill since we’d camped up top, so we had ample time to warm up first! We headed down to the Sam Moore Shelter for some water and breakfast. After finishing, the hills of the rollercoaster didn’t seem to bother us so much. We passed Bears Den Rocks and came to Snickers Gap early, at only 10 a.m.! At Snickers Gap I was starving and we were both in a bad mood since we had nearly nothing left to eat. We saw a sign telling us about some local restaraunts only a mile away and I fought like hell to get Nokey to go! After deciding that “The Trail Will Provide” (A mantra of ours), we decided to walk the mile to Pine Grove Restaraunt. This turned out to be an amazing decision! They had homemade food (I had a spinach, sundried tomato, and mozzarella omelet!) and the service was awesome! We met the owner of the place and he let us charge up our nearly dead phones. We also got in touch with Nokey’s uncle and put in some requests for food for dinner since he was meeting up with us at the Blackburn AT Center that night.
After spending nearly two hours here, we decided it would be a good time to get back onto the trail before the rain started. As soon as we opened the door to leave, the rain began and we had a mile walk back to the trail! I stuck out my thumb to hitch a ride and less than 5 seconds later, a car stopped and took us back to the trailhead! We got there and Broadswoard and SG were there and we did the rest of the rollercoaster with them, which wasn’t nearly as hard as we thought it would be in the torrential rain. The wind was really blowing and it felt like rain was hitting us from every direction. Around 2 p.m., we hit our 1000-mile mark, which is also the first time we cross out of Virginia! They had a “Welcome to West Virignia” sign up and we took silly photos in front of it. From here, we still had two more hills of the rollercoaster and we pushed it as hard as we could to the Blackburn AT Center, making it there by 4:15 p.m.
When we got there, we had to wait on Uncle Joe, but we were welcomed by Chris and his wife Caroline, two former thru hikers who were running the place. The offered us cookies and sodas, which was an amazing treat. They also cooked us a spaghetti dinner! Nokey’s uncle and friend came and brought us food too! The torrential rain continued and we were informed by James that there were tornadoes down in the valley! The rain finally let up a little around 9 p.m. and we were able to get some sleep. We were super excited about getting into Harpers Ferry in the morning, the emotional halfway point of the trail and the ATC headquarters!