Halfway at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
At last, at last, at last it’s getting nice and warm! My spirits are lifted, my fingers aren’t numb, but my feet still hurt wickedly.
Sorry to be incommunicado for so long. Poor reception is partially to blame, but mostly I’ve been too tired and engaged to make an effort to write anything. Besides, I need things to happen to me before I can write about them.
Since my last post it has been a long arduous week and a half of relentless hiking. Day after day all blend together in a fog of exhaustion and meeting new people on the trail. At this stage of the hike all the people I meet are literally one third my age. There was “TJ”, a determined plumber from near Madison, Wisconsin. He’s hiking the AT because he wanted a break from the tedium of the rat race. He has a wife and three year old son, but doing something different and challenging became a priority.
The next interesting person to overtake me a couple of days later was “Bear”. He was an engineer that designed and implemented factory layouts for L’Oréal. He lives near Pittsburgh, PA and quit his job because of the hi stress he encountered building a lipstick plant in Brazil , and a shampoo plant in Mexico. He thought hiking the AT would help him re-set his life and ease his pain of failed relationships. I can usually hobble fast enough to keep up with young guys passing me long enough to get a partial idea of their lives. Eventually, they tire of my relentless persecution of their privacy and speed onward, leaving me behind to a dull lonely plod and relentless foot pain.
Another interesting fellow that passed me was from the university town of Amherst, Massachusetts. His trail name is “Fire Starter”. He received the name Trail Name because he always does his cooking over a wood fire. He was endearing because he’s one of the first people I’ve met on the trail that was actually interested in the flora fauna. Apparently, he had heard a rumour that I knew something more of Natural History than most hikers. His background is computer science but very refreshingly, he was inquisitive about what was around him. We spent a couple days hiking together while I shared what I knew of bryophytes, trees, insects, birds, and wild flowers. Curiously, he had no Massachusetts accent. When I called him on the fact he said he’d worked with a linguist at University of Massachusetts to rid himself of the malady. Suspecting a ruse I got him to eventually conceded that his parents were from the Midwest and his father taught English Literature at U. Mass.
Fire Starter possesses a talent for calculating calories consumed. On a re supply stop he constructed a 4,000+ calorie sandwich. A whole 10 oz. jar of mayonnaise was a major component.
Then he proceeded to eat it in less than half an hour. The hunger generated by constant hiking is legendary on the AT, but it must be experienced to be appreciated.
The next interesting fellow to flash by me was a Swiss fellow from Davos where the annual international banker’s festival, or whatever it’s called, is held. He is a design engineer working for Hilti, the fastener company. He is 34 years old and was a professional cyclists for 11 years. Consequently, he’s in phenomenal physical condition and his name is “Ten Speed”. He is routinely hiking 30+ miles per day with no hiking schticks. However, he told me he was expecting some special carbon fibre, lighter than air, schticks to be mailed to him at Waynesboro, VA. He’ll be set when he gets hold of them, and I suppose he’ll be running off 60 mile days. When I proposed to walk this bloody Appalachian Trail, I supposed I could walk as fast as the next fellow. I’m learning otherwise.
Upon reaching Rockfish Gap near Waynesboro, VA I went into town for a re supply. Waynesboro has a town park where AT hikers can camp for free. After setting up my tent and starting to cook supper two more Swiss hikers approached me. They said they had met me back in Hot Springs, NC. I had a vague recollection of seeing them before. They are a hiking couple from Zurich in their mid 20’s called “Bread and Cheese”. Their English was a thousand times better than my Deutsch will ever be, as is the case with all German speakers. They were excited to ask me if I was going to “Aqua Blaze”? Having never heard the term before I inquired what they were on about. They told me that they were going to rent a canoe and paddle 166 miles down the Shenandoah River to Harpers Ferry, the halfway point on the Appalachian Trail. I was aghast! I had no idea the thing was possible. But, sure enough the South Fork of the Shenandoah River runs to Front Royal, VA where it joins up the North Fork and they become the Shenandoah River that runs into the Potomac River at Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, the traditional midpoint of the Appalachian Trail. With perpetually buggered feet the prospect of eliminating 166 miles of torturous and pointless ups and downs gazing at my feet and wild flowers was a no brainer. Bread and Cheese gave me a leaflet from Shenandoah River Adventures outfitters and I called right away. The deal was to buy a beat off old plastic “Old Town” canoe and be reimbursed minus a fee at Harpers Ferry.
While I was holding the leaflet making the logistic arrangements by cellphone there chanced to be a 20 year old stalwart Georgian accost me with a proposal that we split the fee. He wanted to ship as my bowman. What better luck could a fellow have? So, in the early light we departed Waynesboro for the river. Some folks, the purists “you must hike every inch of the trail” sorts would frown on the proposal of canoeing 166 miles of the trail. I am definitively not in that camp. So, we departed for the great unknown in a shabby, hogged, polyethylene canoe with stubby paddles, and worn out life preservers. I suppose it’s the best one might expect from grasping, money hungry, lubberly outfitters. Of course the outfitter had no map of the river, and every particle of information I managed to glean about rapids and distances was absolutely wrong. The 500 pound oaf that I transacted with covered himself by saying that we should inquire about river conditions at each outfitter we passed. As it turns out, most of the outfitters on the Shenandoah are out of business. That is because, nobody goes on the river anymore. That is because, anyone old enough to sit upright only plays with their “smart phone” all day and doesn’t indulge physical activity of any sort.
Fortunately, soon after departing, we overhauled two other canoes with the same intent of making it all the way to Harpers Ferry by Aqua Blazing. One set of love birds we’d met previously in their mid 20’s hailed from Montana. There trail names were “Tortoise and Hare”. The other canoe floated another set of love birds we’d met before from Booth Bay Harbour, Maine. They were a set of 18 year olds between high school and college. Their names were Hook and Franklin. So, we set off down stream hoping for the best. Little by little we managed to gain some information from local fishermen along the banks about the river ahead, but often they were misinformed with useless information.
We experienced two sets of class three rapids that fortunately none of us swamped in. We had all had some measure of canoeing experience. My forte was to choose suitable campsites which isn’t as easy as one might suppose. Over zealous landowners made trespassing considerably more challenging than in the Canada. One night in Front Royal we stayed illegally in the city dog park making everyone sleep lightly under threat of arrest. The Virginias take their laws seriously.
On the fourth night out we were overhauled by an old acquaintance with the trail name “Gadget” from York, Pennsylvania. We all knew him as he started a Through Hike in early March at Springer Mountain with the rest of us. Unfortunately, he sustained some sort of spiral fracture associated with his knee in early April and had to leave the trail. An operation and a month of physical therapy seemed to set him right. He purchased a bright yellow sea kayak with all the accoutrements and had it shipped to Waynesboro to kayak to Harpers Ferry and resume hiking North. Aside from Gadget breaking a rib getting into his kayak we all seemed to arrive here safe and sound after six days of paddling. Shadow the trusty bowman had to return home to Hartwell Lake, Georgia but plans to return here to resume his trek North next year. He will be missed by all as he had become an integral part of our hiking community.
This night was “Hiker’s Feast” at the Harpers Ferry Hosel where I’m writing this post. Consequently, we’re all well fed and satiated. Tomorrow begins the second half of this most arduous journey. My feet already hurt. A week of rest hasn’t fazed the knotted tendons a bit. Guess they require a Maritime Winter’s interminable long long rest.
No pain, no rain, no Maine. It’s back to the bush eating oatmeal, instant potatoes, ramen noodles, pasta, peanuts, and granola bars; again.
Thanks for your attention!
Light Heart, Easy Pace