4: deer lick shelters to ensign Cowell shelter
I’m writing this one a day late. I was bored and lonely all day so I listened to the soundtrack to “Anything Goes” and the an audiobook, and then I got to the shelter and realized my phone was on 6% and my battery charger was dead. So, that was the end of my phone usage.
As it happened, I ran into 5 dogs this day. 3 assorted labs and one big, steady, floofy thing all being walked by a man. And then I saw a young guy with a huge boundy St. Bernard-Akita mix. His dog is one year old and already 110 lbs! I like seeing dogs on the trail. It’s fun for me.
I left Deer Lick Shelters in the freezing rain and headed south to the Mason Dixon line, and also Maryland. There was supposed to be water at Pen Mar, but it was all shut off. I sat at an overlook posting my blog entry when an overseer drove up. We chatted and he gave me a bottle of his water. Always unexpected kindness. He said Pen Mar is his favorite park that he takes care of.
But sitting in the shelter in the dark (my head lamp batteries were low but I couldn’t use my phone flashlight to change them), no pen and paper, no book except the ones on my phone, I decided that the next day I would charge my phone in town and buy a real book. And change my headlamp batteries.
Trip total: 66.8
Day 5: ensign Cowell to Boonsboro to Ed Garvey Shelter
This was the best day ever.
I woke up and headed first to the Washington Monument for water. I passed some dayhikers and an interstate and walked through a neighborhood real quick. I always like when the trail goes through a neighborhood like that. It’s like a yellow brick road or pied piper, calling us to follow into the woods, to go to the mountains.
But all the Washington Monument could offer me was enough battery power in my phone for a quick picture, and then some water that I didn’t have to filter. It was a quick few more miles down to the road to Boonsboro, Maryland.
I tried to hitch, but no one was stopping so I started walking. A woman pulled over when I was about a mile from town, so I hopped in and she drove me in. We chatted, and she said she always tried to pick up hikers. She mentioned that there was a bookstore owned by Nora Roberts just down from the pizza place I was going to. I decided that was perfect, and I’d stop by before I left. I thanked her, and we said goodbye.
I went to eat pizza and breadsticks and soon received a phone call at the restaurant, from my ride. “I know you said you hadn’t had a shower in a while, and I don’t want to mess up your schedule or anything, but I just feel like I should offer if you need a place to stay or just dinner and a shower or whatever you want, just let me know.” I was so surprised and touched by her generosity. I thanked her profusely, but told her I needed to hike another 10 miles today.
“Well, something just told me I needed to offer, I don’t know.” I smiled. It was something I needed to hear, maybe. I’d been feeling lonely.
I finished my pizza and headed down to the bookstore. I chatted with the woman working once the other customers were gone. I told her I’d never read Nora Roberts but always wanted to. She suggested a few, but I decided on one set in Boonsboro. Seemed appropriate.
She told me they usually offer rides to hikers, but she was the only one working today. Her son was still in school or she’d have him drive me back to the trail. I told her not to worry, I thought it’d be pretty easy to hitch back. She offered the couch if I wanted to sit inside for a while. I told her thanks, but no, I was going to try to head back.
I stood on the sidewalk and stuck out my thumb. A few minutes later, a guy going the other way stopped. “Where you going?” He asked me. “Back to the trail,” I replied. “Do you mind a quick detour?” I decided I didn’t. We drove down to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription for his dog, and chatted about life. He shared a quote from Joseph Campbell with me. Now, Campbell could be some horrible neo-nazi writer for all I know, but I did like the quote:
We had a nice chat, and he drove me back to the trail. I set off for my night hike in high spirits, then encountered two more super friendly dogs which made it even better. A hunter and his wife taught me how to identify golden eagles, which migrate down this corridor of the AT, and gave me a can of mace (evidently bobcats are an issue), and eventually, in the cold and dark, I passed the Gathland war correspondents memorial and then came to the shelter. And here I am, snug and with a wary eye on a mouse I spied.
Day 6: Ed Garvey Shelter to Harper’s Ferry to Blackburn PATC Cabin
I had a beautiful sunrise through the attic window this morning. I watched the sun come up and then got myself out of bed. That’s probably the hardest part of my day, deciding when to get up. It’s the hardest part off the trail too, so my life is consistent.
I went down a steep .2 side trail to the Blackburn PATC cabin for the night. Ethan, a SOBO, is here with me. We stoked up the wood stove and I’m feeling warm. 8 miles to the hostel tomorrow, but it’s a steep .2 back up to the trail, unfortunately.
It’s my first night sleeping with someone though! Weird, huh?
Miles: 18.8 (+.4 +.2=19.4)
Trip total: 111
LVP: side trail
Day 7: Blackburn Cabin to Bears Den Hostel
As I was walking in the freezing cold today (seriously, it was in the 20s with an incredible windchill- huge gusts all morning), the thought hit me, “wow, it’s really hard to see when my nose is running this bad.”
That’s when I knew I was cold, hungry, and ready for a nearo.
I woke up early in the cabin- the wood stove was cold to the touch and I had to pee. I’d forgotten that the problem with having company in a cabin or shelter is that you can’t just get up and start making noise. I tried to be quiet and pack up outside, but I kept dropping things. Oh well.
I was on trail by 6:45. As it turns out, I accidentally took the southern side trail back up to the AT and it was much easier than the other one. Pro tip, right there.
It’s been beautiful, these clear mornings, with the brilliant sunrises to the east and the full, bright moon still hanging low over on the west. Most of the time the AT has been going exactly straight, so I’m walking between the sun and the moon. If you haven’t caught the moon this week, make a point to catch it soon. It’s gorgeous.
My phone was at 2% (if you’d like proof that cold weather drains batteries, last night I didn’t sleep with my phone; it started at 20% and when I woke up it was at 2%) so the only picture I took was at the start of the roller coaster.
At least the physical exertion sort of kept me warm. I mean, ok. I got in to the cabin last night and didn’t eat dinner. And then this morning I just drank some water and brushed my teeth and left and never ate breakfast, and then it was too cold to eat or drink. So I was hungry and tired and cold and not even my ski gloves kept my fingers from going numb.
But after playing frogger across a busy highway, I climbed up Bears Den and took an easy side trail to the hostel. Sartec, a SOBO, was inside already. We chatted, and I soon hopped in the shower to warm up. We tried to find a ride into town but eventually the caretaker offered a ride. I stocked up at the store and popped in to chick fil a and more than made up my calorie deficit.
When we came back, Ethan and Dr John were waiting for us. Ethan, of course, from the night before, and Dr John is a lasher going from Harper’s Ferry to Georgia. We all watched movies and ate and hung out. It was a great night.
I got along particularly well with Dr John, a geologist. We talked about a lot of stuff- he’s thru-hiked the AT 4 times, I think, and the PCT and most of the CDT. He’s lived in Norway and done fieldwork all over and we just had a lot of science and trail things in common.
And there’s a puppy.
Tomorrow I’m slackpacking with Sartec and maybe Dr John and Ethan, and then I’ll leave the hostel the day after. It feels good to be full and warm and clean 🙂
LVP: no McDonald’s
Day 8: slackpacking ashby gap to black bear den
We woke up and made pancakes. With full bellies and trepidation for the cold hike ahead, we piled in the car and headed for ashby gap.
The day was cold, but without the cutting wind of the day before it didn’t actually feel that bad. We merrily tromped through the woods, us 4, at a pretty quick clip.
Dr John and I covered a variety of topics, from calculus to caving. His specialty is rock mechanics which isn’t that different from mechanical engineering in a lot of ways.
The streams were mostly frozen, but beautiful.
Cooking dinner, the caretaker told us 4 more hikers were 3 miles away. They came in 3 hours later, a bunch of Virginia Tech students out for the weekend. Our little group made room for them, but we went to bed soon (after Sartec made us 4 mugs of sleepy time tea).
MVP: slackpacking the roller coaster
LVP: hurt my dang knee
Day 9: ashby gap to Manassas Gap Shelter
After coffee and pancakes again, we sat and waited for the ice to melt a little before we got a ride to ashby gap.
Talking with the guys while we hiked was great, though. I kept guessing that we had 4 miles left but then we were at the shelter. The time went so much faster. Community and fellowship is so important to have.
Trip total: 141.2
MVP: kings Hawaiian sweet rolls