A walk in the woods

April 23, 2012 § Leave a comment

White blaze and AT sign

Bill Bryson could not have chosen a better title for his book about the Appalachian Trail. Nor would this title have fitted for just any trail. Because that’s exactly what the Appalachian Trail is. A walk in the woods. I had planned my hike on the AT so that the crowd of thru-hikers would still be further down south. I didn’t want to chance meeting even a single one of them and keeping on all the way to Maine. It failed, I did meet a thru-hiker but, no worries, I wasn’t tempted to follow him north. I can’t do 2000 miles of forest. But it was perfect for a relaxing and reflective 5-day hike.

As end of April draws closer, PCT nostalgia was bound to creep in. So I thought I’d take preventive measures and take a walk in the woods. It did me good. It was great to hike and be a Swister again. Although there’s no denying it’s always more fun to be The Swisters 😉 I loved being a section hiker. It took some time to stop thinking that 10 miles a day was a lame average. Anyway, as my shoulders and back reminded me gently, my body is not used to the load of the pack anymore and I’m not as fit as when we stepped off the PCT. And I soon took to the relaxed rhythm. Waking up at 7.30am, leaving camp at 9am, a 2 hour break for lunch, enjoying a book in the warmth of the sun, and rolling in camp at 5pm. Ah that’s the life! No rush, no obsession with miles.

On the 6th of April I arranged to be dropped where the AT crosses US 522 near Front Royal in Virginia and I started to hike north. Spring was in full swing, the forest green with fresh leaves and here and there blooming trees formed splashes of purple and white. Wild flowers carpeted the ground and butterflies flew around. I hadn’t been in the wild for long that 3 deer stumbled on the spot I was having lunch. That’s the good thing about hiking alone, you’re quiet and don’t scare the animals away. The downside is that the creaking squeaking branches and leaves rustling in the wind can make you quite jumpy. I was a bit nervous at the idea of camping alone but on the 1st night I met One More at the shelter. He’s hiked half the trail section by section over the last 4 years and plans to complete the whole trail some day. The following nights we both set up camp at the same spot so I never had to camp on my own, and he was of good company.

The Easter Bunny managed to find me even out there in the woods. A Butterfinger egg was waiting for me outside my tent when I woke up on Sunday morning. I don’t know who the generous hiker was but thank you, it was a great surprise and a nice touch before what awaited me on the trail. The Rollercoaster. A succession of eight hills so up and down, up and down I went. But at the end of the day I had a shower, soda and ice cream, and slept in a bed at the Bear’s Den hostel.

Elevation profile of the Rollercoaster

On the 4thday I crossed the border into West Virginia. Virginia, with about 530 miles, is the longest state on the AT. It was a milestone for One More and he was happy to eventually be done with Virginia. I couldn’t help but smile, remembering it took us 1700 miles of the PCT to be done with California. West Virginia, wild and wonderful, if what’s written on the state’s license plates can be trusted, and the shortest state on the AT with 17 miles. For the rest of the day I was humming to myself. “Country roads, take me home. To the place I belong.”

West Virginia border

That night the David Lesser shelter was a great place to sleep, except for the snoring of another hiker 😉 This shelter even has a wooden swing! The next day the return to civilization was brutal as the loud noise of the traffic on US 340 crossing the Shenandoah River tears you out of the quietness of the forest. Then I was in Harpers Ferry and that’s where I was getting off the trail. Harpers Ferry is the mental halfway point for thru-hikers and it’s also home to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy headquarters. Hikers usually get their picture taken there. I had some fun time looking up through their old pictures to find the faces of some PCT fellow hikers 😉

I can’t do 2000 miles of forest but I can do a few miles. It’s only a thought for now, but I might well have completed the first section of a section thru-hike of the AT. Georgia is on my mind…

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Practical details:

Appalachian Trail – US 522-Chester Gap,VA to Harpers Ferry, WV – 53.8 miles 5 days

US 522 – Manassas Gap Shelter 10.7 miles / Manassas Gap Shelter – Rod Hollow Shelter 12.9 miles / Rod Hollow Shelter – Bear’s Den Hostel 9.9 miles / Bear’s Den Hostel – David Lesser Shelter 11.1 miles / David Lesser Shelter – Harpers Ferry 9.2 miles

MARC trains go to/from Harpers Ferry from/to Washington DC on the Brunswick line.

The Teahorse hostel is a great place to stay in Harpers Ferry. Laurel, the owner, is really nice. She makes waffles for breakfast and also offers shuttle services to/from the trail.

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