Dear Herms’ Hikers,
Finally, after 500+ miles, nearly a quarter of the AT, Virginia is history. Whew, what a relief! I hit the VA/WVA line somewhere on the Rollercoaster, a 13.5 mile stretch of eroded rock fields that included 10 steep climbs. I swear I heard John Denver singing in the background “Take me home, country roads. To the place I belong.” You have to hand it (whatever it is you want to hand) to those people at the trail clubs. They have a stroke of pure genius in the PR and marketing department. When you don’t have a trail, you simply put up a sign with a catchy name and let the AT hikers have at it. It’s a wonder that I didn’t wear out the toes on my boots in stumbling and staggering up and down the hills. Did I mention stubbing my toes? One thing I did wear out was the toes on my feet. Down hill was a killer. I would rather hike up a rocky steep hlll than down it, anytime, anyday. Made it to ther Bears Den hostel after a 16 mile day. The stone, castle-like building, owned by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and managed by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC), was a great reward after an extremely hard day on the trail. For $25.00, you got a bunk with sheets and a pillow, laundry, a shower, a Tombstone pizza, a soda, and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s. You have to hand it to those people at those trail clubs. Put up a sign with a catchy name and let the AT hikers have at it. And have it, we did. It made me want to take back all of those nasty things I said about the Rollercoaster. Needless to say, it was a delightful stay. I spent most of the evening in my bunk reading The Shack. Yes, they even had reading lights over the bunks. By morning, I was rested, despite the professional snorers in the bunkroom, and ready for the 20 mile hike to Haper’s Ferry. It was another long day that included 3 hills on the Rollercoaster and a stop at the Blackburn Trail Center, another bunkhouse run by the PATC without the amenities of Bears Den.
It was a very good hiking day until I hit the last seven miles. That’s when rock fields once again appeared. Time was of the essence becuase I wanted to reach the Appalachian Trail Conservancy headquaters in Harper’s Ferry by 5 o’clock (that’s when they close for the day) to officially register and have my picture taken for the thru-hiker logbook. So there I was movin’ and groovin’ over and around the rocks. I reached a sign (Harpre’s Ferry 1.9 miles) at 4:10 p.m. I had 50 minutes to cover amost 2 miles of hilly terrain. The race was on! I double-timed it unitl I reached the Rte. 340 bridge that crossed the Shenandoah and then jogged the rest of the way to Harper’s Ferry. Man, I was smokin”! Right on time until I saw a sign at the blue blazed trail that said Appalachian Trail Visitors Center. Hmmm, I thought. Is this something run by the National Park Service or is this the Appalachian Trail Conservancy? Well, I kept movin’ along the white blazed trail, thinking the sign referred to some other attraction about the AT. Wrong, Son-Dance, oh, so worng. I ended up in the historic district at the bottom of the hill that leads to the ATC headquarters. With sweat pourng off my face and soaking every inch of clothing, I jogged up the hill (and this is a very steep hill) like a madman to reach the headquarters at approximtely 5:10. Of course, the headquarters was closed, but, of course, the staff let me in after I faked alligator tears which in fact were really beads of sweat. But remember, after all, I am an ATC member. How could they turn me down! The people at the center were just great. After I cooled down with a 32 ounce bottole of Gatorade, I had my picture taken and registered as thru-hiker #386, the last hiker to register for the day.
After that, it was now time to find a place for the night. And, man, oh man, my luck was running hot. After visiting my friends Laura and Mary Sue at The Outfitter at Harper’s Ferry, the best darned outfitter on the trail, I walked downhill a few feet to The Town’s Inn. What a great hostel! No pizza and ice cream like the Bears Den, but comfortable bunks with Pullman curtains and a wall of books for your reading enjoyment. And the best part of this whole deal – the inn was only about a hundred feet or so from the historic distict. I had dinner across at the Secret Six Tavern (reference to John Brown and his conspirators) and then returned to my room to wait for nightfall. As soon as darkness descended upon the village of Haper’s Ferry, I dashed out the door and down the street. For a history buff like myself, this was a dream come true. Despite numerous visits to Harper’s Ferry, I had never been there at night. Now was my chance and I seized it.
Just let me say that it didn’t take much imagination to imagaine the town druing the 1860’s Any second I expected to see Union or Confederate troops marching down the street. Who knows, maybe even John Brown himself! I roamed the streets and alleys, peering into the windows of the various historic buildings that are now museims. It was kind of eerie, especially those buildings that had lights as if someone was home. But I soon found out that I was not alone. No ghosts, just another history buff. This time it was a gentleman from Leesburg who came to take pictures of the historic district at night.
The next morning it was up and out the door in the rain. Thought about staying another night at the inn, but they were booked. Crossing the footbridge over the Potomac in the driving rain, I was at last home again. Cue to John Denver. What a great feeling to have reached my home state, even if it was in the pouring rain. With the wind blowing hard, the Potomac River appeared to be running sideways. It rained all day in two modes, hard and harder. After a 15 mile hiking day, I spent the night at the Rocky Run Shleter, one of the newest shelters on the AT with a varnished floor like a basketball court. For a shelter, it was the epitome of luxury. And thank goodness, I arrived when I did. No sooner had I taken off my backpack when the heavens opend up, and it started to rain even harder than before, as if that was possible. There were 6 people in the shelter built to accomodate 14 so there was plenty of room to stretch out. With a overhanging porch that included patio furnitdure, hikers were dry and warm despite the monsoon rains that fell throughout the night. The sound was like sleeping in a snare drum. It stopped raining early the following morning, but that did little for my already soaked boots. Walking in wet boots with wool socks is like walking in rubber boots along the equator. My feet have never been so hot and sweaty. I couldn’t wait to take off those boots and air our my feet. But first I had to hike. And hike I did with a smile on my face and a song in my heart, for I was meeting Rainbow Brite (Mrs. T) at the Washington Monument on the trail. It was great to have the “love of my life” hiking with me again. It was just like the good old days in Georgia. Despite the layoff since Georgia, she did a great job of hiking. After she gets over the first hill, she really motors along the trail. Great job, hon! Get ready for the Wilderness!
After 2 days of hiking through Maryland, we returned home for the Father’s Day weekend. What a great break from the trail, and what a wonderful time to see my family, especially my father on Father’s Day. After a weekend of home cooked meals (chicken-fried steak, cheese steak subs, and hamburgers) and pampering by Mrs. T, it’s time to head back to the trail tomorrow. Pennsylvania here I come! Less than 1,200 miles to go. At the Blackburn Center, I hit the 1,001 mark! Where have the miles gone! Long time passing! Long time ago! Geez, that sounds like a song!
A special thank you to Karen at The Town’s Inn for your hospitality and prayers.
Hike your angels and keep me in your prayers!
Tammy McCorkle says
Hi Paul, sorry I missed you at Greenbrier the other day! I’m glad you made it this far and wish you luck on the rest of your magnificent journey.
Hey Son-Dance, looks like you’re carrying on with the great trek…our thoughts are with you as you stride along, the froehlische wandervogel as the Germans would call you. Hey, Maude and I had lunch at the old trading post with three of the old Fort Apache command…interesting! Let me hear from you when you get the chance (hey you, leave them squirrels alone!) The Dude