March 21, 2020! The day has finally arrived! I flew from Buffalo to Atlanta super early this morning. Dave rented a car and drove us to the Amicalola Falls State Park. It’s 54 degrees and cloudy. It’s a perfect day to begin my journey of thru-hiking the Appalachian Trail. My pack weighs 30 pounds and I am full of excitement, adrenaline and nervousness. My plan is to climb the 604 stairs to the top of Amicalola Falls and then spend the night at the cushy Amicalola Lodge with my husband. In the morning, I will have a delicious breakfast and continue my hike on the approach trail 8 miles up to the top of Springer Mountain which is the official start of the Appalachian Trail.
Yeah, that didn’t happen.
Thanks to a wee invisible beastie (yes, I quoted Jamie Fraser Outlander fans!) called Coronovirus our amazing country is grinding to a halt. People everywhere are contracting the virus and it is spreading, making them very, very ill and killing people. REI is closed, restaurants are take out only, you can’t socialize in groups, toilet paper and cleaning supplies are sold out at every store. In my mind, I was so glad to begin my hike away from the outbreak. Alas, more areas in the south and along the trail were closing. And the situation along the trail is just like the situation at home. The restaurants and bars were shut down except for take out. Hostels along the trail were closing. It is recommended you create a 6 foot distance between you and others – called social distancing. My hike was changing rapidly. I started to plan out where to send resupply boxes so I wouldn’t need to rely on trail towns for food and toilet paper. Dave and I decided that I would fly down alone to the trail head so he would be put at less risk of contracting the virus.
Then I realized….this hike is not the hike I had been dreaming about since I was a teenager. I dreamed of sitting among other hikers around a fire, making dinner at the shelter with others close by, meeting my “tramily” in towns and enjoying a burger and beer at a the best places along the trail. I dreamed of carefree, worry-free hiking day after day. Stopping for rests only when I felt like it and if the mood struck me. I would walk into trail towns and resupply everything I needed. I would go to hostels and meet the most interesting people. And Trail Days! Trail Days is a festival in mid-May in Damascus, Virginia. Dave would meet me there and we’d party for three days and I would walk in the Hiker Parade. Trail Days is cancelled this year.
So, I am officially postponing my hike.
However, if things change, I will section hike this year. Am I disappointed? Of course. But I will be better prepared to start my thru hike next year. Some of the hikers on the trail now have traveled from other countries only to have to return home without reaching Katahdin. Some people left jobs and homes to start their hike. Now they are jobless and homeless. Plans are ripped up and shredded. That being said, there are still hikers on the trail. They are committed and I support their decision to stay on trail and fight for Katahdin. I know there are trail angels and limited support from open outfitters and hostels. They are hiking their own hike and if I had already been on the trail when this started, I probably would have held on to the trail until officials closed them. As of now, the AT is closed through PA, CT and NJ.
I don’t want people to feel sorry for me. I have the opportunity to continue preparing for my thru hike next year. I’ll have more hiking under my belt. I’ll do some longer overnights – nearby and taking all my food, so I don’t need resupply in towns. Then next year, I’ll be all the more ready to tackle the 2,193 miles. I will be rethinking how I start my hike next year, but more on that later.
Over a year ago I attempted to hike the Maryland section of the Appalachian Trail. Things did not go as planned. I was under-prepared, physically unfit, and mostly inexperienced. It was a big blow to my confidence and made me really question if my dream was achievable. You can read all about it here.
Since that huge wake-up call, I have been hiking, hiking, hiking! I’ve lost weight. I’ve researched and bought new gear. I’ve read books about mentally preparing for personal challenges. But was I really ready to try again?
One piece of gear that I would like to upgrade is my shelter. I have a decent shelter, but it weighs over 3 pounds and there are tents that weigh in at a lot less. Speaking with my husband I expressed a desire to purchase my new light-weight tent and he made a case that I haven’t actually used my current tent on a trip longer than 2 days. Point made. Then he said I should really go back to Maryland. WHAT? That state HATES me! I understood his argument and said, “Fine, I’ll leave Monday.” Why did I say that? It was Thursday, I had three days to prepare! Panic mode, I researched food options (miserable fail), watched Maryland section trail videos and gathered my gear. I made a reservation at the Teahorse Hostel in Harpers Ferry, arranged to keep my car there for five days and then called to arrange a shuttle to Pen Mark Park from Trail Boss Chris. I even reached out to my trail angel, Alys, from last year just to let her know that I would be in her area again. This was getting real.
Monday – 0 miles hiked, 360 miles driving:
I woke up and left the house by 9am for the 6 hour drive to Harpers Ferry. I arrived at the Teahorse Hostel and was thoroughly out of my element. Only a top bunk was left. I never visited a Hostel before. Everything was very foreign to me. I walked around and visited the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters that was nearby. I had dinner with a hiker/wanderer named Garlic Salt who was a very unusual person. I slept well but was too nervous to eat the waffle breakfast.
Tuesday – 7 miles.
I woke up early and made sure my pack was ready. Trail Boss Chris picked me up at 8am sharp. We made the nearly hour drive north to Pen Mar Park. He dropped me off at the trailhead in Pennsylvania so I could walk to the Mason Dixon Line, which I missed in my last attempt. My nerves were on end as I remembered the rocky ascent to High Rocks Overlook. Before I knew it I was there! I took off down the trail towards the Raven Rock Shelter (I totally screwed up the name of this shelter in last year’s article about this hike.) I was so proud of myself when I hiked past the blue blazed side trail to the shelter. I was determined to get to the next shelter. Until I wasn’t determined anymore. There were three more miles to the shelter and I couldn’t continue. I made a quick call to my trail angel then resigned myself to stealth camping along the trail. My tent went up quickly and I slept well.
Wednesday – 12 miles:
When I woke up in the morning I hiked the three more miles to the shelter and met Alys at the Ensign Cowall shelter. There is a long, steep climb out of the shelter to the ridge. She was determined to help me and offered to carry my heavy pack up the half-mile climb. I was grateful. I huffed and puffed up that climb and rested every few feet. Alys was right behind me letting me set the pace. She’s a strong, amazing woman. I want to be just like her.
After we reached the ridgeline I put my pack back on. Alys made her way back to her car and promised to meet me later with turkey sandwiches! We had planned to meet at Pogo Memorial Campsite but I made good time and it was too early to stop, so I quickly texted her and made plans to meet at Annapolis Rocks campsite. I’m so glad I did! What a view! I spent the night in my tent at Campsite #3. Can you see my tent in the picture?
Thursday – 10.5 miles:
Fortified by TWO turkey sandwiches, oranges, gatorade, breakfast bars and Alys’ encouragement I continued on Thursday knowing I would be seeing some history this day along with the trail being relatively flat.
First, I became slightly emotional crossing the pedestrian bridge over I70. Having gone under this bridge in a car wishing to be on the bridge and now actually hiking on it was amazing!
Second, the original Washington Monument is on this section of trail. It was built in 1827 and just refurbished. I walked up the stairs to see the view from the top. It’s not an attractive monument, but remarkable when you think of what people had to do in 1827 to build something so big on the top of a mountain!
After filling up with water I continued on to Dahlgren Campground. This campground has the only free shower directly on the trail. Also, I had heard you could order pizza and have it delivered here. Additionally, there is a restaurant with air conditioning nearby. It was early when I reached the campground and I spent a long time taking my shower. It rejuvenated me and it didn’t take me long to decide that I was going to continue hiking to the next shelter just a couple miles more. (No pizza….) That night I stayed at the Rocky Run Shelter. There was a family of seven staying the night along with a few others sleeping in tents and hammocks.
Friday – 8.5 miles:
It was overcast and misty in the morning. I prepared by putting my pack cover on and having my raincoat handy. I made a rocky, steep climb out of the shelter. My motivation today was that Alys was meeting me again. It started to downpour. I decided that the Appalachian Trail was baptizing me; giving me a taste of what hiking in the rain feels like. I was drenched.
Everything from the top of my head to tips of my toes was waterlogged. While texting Alys she said she would meet me on the trail and bring with her more turkey sandwiches! Well, she outdid herself and brought me towels, dry socks, so much food, water and best of all her contagious smile that really encouraged me. We sat in a pavilion at Gathland State Park while I dried out and had some lunch.
Alys helped me find the blazes to continue on my way and off I went into the rain. Watching her drive away in a warm, dry car wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. I was excited to get to my last stop. Ed Garvey Shelter.
The Ed Garvey Shelter was vacant when I arrived. I changed into dry clothes, checked out the loft, the privy, found the bear pole, and made some ramen soup. Then a young man arrived to spend the night in his new hammock. Then two young women hung their hammocks, too. There was a campfire, laughing, talking and a great night’s sleep.
Saturday – 8 miles.
The sun was barely a glint in the sky when I awoke. I was eager to get packed up and down to Harpers Ferry. There was a long steep descent then a very flat section on the C&O Towpath. Unfortunately, my phone and battery backup both died so I could not take pictures. As I approached the pedestrian bridge that would take me over the Potomac River into Harpers Ferry I was shaking my head in disbelief. I was pretty amazed that I had actually made it. I hiked through Lower Town and up to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters, triumphant! I charged my phone a little and spoke with a hiker that had just completed her first half of a flip flop hike. She had hiked from Harpers Ferry to Mt. Katahdin in Maine. She was back in Harpers Ferry to now go South to Springer Mountain in Georgia. How I wished I could go with her. I put some of my left over food in the hiker boxes and then hiked on to the Teahorse Hostel where my car was waiting. I decided that I needed to go back to the Harpers Ferry National Park and take the bus shuttle to Lower Town Harpers Ferry and take the pictures I missed and have a bite to eat (and a beer).
I spent the night in a hotel about an hour away to be that much closer to home. The hotel had a king sized bed and a hot tub. Boy, did that feel good!
I am forever grateful to my Trail Angel, Alys. She made me feel like I was the most important person in her life for my whole hike. I made some mistakes with my food choices and she really helped by bringing me those turkey sandwiches, Gatorades and granola bars! Her friendship made all the difference for my successful hike!
By the way, all those hikers out there that say Maryland is easy….it was not easy. However, it may be easier than New Hampshire, Maine or other states.