One of the beautiful things about the Appalachian Trail is that everyone hikes it differently. People hike at different paces, with different intentions and priorities. People hike it at different times of year and in different directions. As a result, people develop their own relationship to the trail. I have wanted my relationship with the trail to teach me to stop and smell the roses. To not feel so rushed. I think I am learning that lesson little by little. Yet, still, there are times when it feels good to rush.
It was outside of Daleville when Claudia let me in on something she was thinking about. Her dad, she told me, was willing to pick us up wherever we were on May 17th, so we could go visit her sister in New York on the 18th. She wanted to take him up on that offer but didn’t want him to have to drive far to pick us up, and then again to drop us off. She was hoping we could be in Harpers Ferry come the 17th. It was May 3rd, so we had 2 weeks with 277 miles left or an average of 19.8 miles a day. Oh, I thought, okay. The gauntlet was thrown.
Hiking had been hard leading up to the Shenandoah National Park (SNP), with the rain and then the black flies, motivating us to keep moving from sun up to sun down. On our first day in the park, we discovered that the trail in the Shenandoahs was nicely graded and mostly cleared of rocks and roots. It made for some nice hiking, and we cleared 20 miles easily.
But there were some challenges in the Shenandoahs, too. We absentmindedly walked over huge black, rat snakes, only to recoil with horror when we realized what we had done. We were keeping abreast of another wave of norovirus that had found it’s way to Waynesboro. Rumors of bespattered shelters, and long nights puking kept us motivated to stay ahead of the sickness.
And bears! There were also bears. We had seen one run away from us just outside of Waynesboro. It was our first confirmed sighting. On our second day in the park we had a closer encounter with a momma bear. Like most bear encounters, by the time we spotted the bear it was running away. There was a cub too, though, and it chose to climb a tree that was adjacent to the trail. The mom realized this and turned around to get between us and the tree. I was racing forward to get pictures while Claudia was telling me we should get away from the bears. I conceded that this was wise advice. We opted to blaze a trail through poison ivy rather than confront a protective mother bear.
We took first lunch (or was it second breakfast?) at Pinefield Hut where we found Rooster still asleep in his hammock. He was happy to join us, and even offered to get us a round of milkshakes at Big Meadows Wayside the next day if we could make it–the wayside was still 27 miles away. It was already 1pm, but we did 20 more miles to set ourselves up for some tasty shakes the next day. We were grateful for the extra motivation to hurry when when we got into the shelter that night and it started to downpour barely 30 minutes later. And we really enjoyed those shakes.
Despite our quick pace through SNP, we still made time to take pictures and eat at three of the waysides littered throughout the park. Then, we motored through Northern Virginia as quickly as our battered feet would carry us. We had a really nice stay at Bears Den Hostel and mercifully had our packs shuttled to Harper’s Ferry so we could walk the last 20 miles unencumbered. It was much needed, as I was really spent from our huge push.
Claudia’s dad, Pete, was waiting for us when we got to the ATC headquarters in Harpers Ferry. Not the true halfway point, but the psychological one. There was a lot of smiles. We enjoyed a celebratory lunch, complete with delicious draft beers. Then finally, there was the victorious drive to Baltimore for a much needed break. The day was May 15th. We had earned ourselves two extra days off, thanks to holding at 23 mile per day pace. Whew! Time to relax.
The Morel of the story? Here it is: