|Dear family and friends, |
After three busy weeks back in Connecticut, I leave in about an hour for Maine and Mt. Katahdin where I will
begin again my walk on the Appalachian Trail heading south this time. I ended my north-bound trip in
Harpers Ferry, West Virginia on July 5th having covered just over 1000 miles.
Many of the final miles from Waynesboro to Harpers Ferry were in Shenandoah Nat. Park which I traversed
in 4 days averaging just under 24 miles a day. This was in hot and humid Virginia weather. But the pull of Harpers Ferry had me up early and walking till well into the afternoon. The park is rich in wildlife that
are habituated to close contact with humans. Deer met on the trail would watch you approach and step aside
only in the last few yards, retreating a to a safe distance of perhaps 20 feet to let you pass. I had one deer resting about 10 or 15 feet off the trail just lie there and watch me as I went by. There should be at least a few good deer photos from these very tame animals.
And there were also lots of Bear [image]. After walking all the way from Georgia to Virginia with only a fleeting glimps of 2 bear in the first 900 miles, I finally found bear heaven in Shenandoah. In 2 and 1/2 days I
met 14 bear on the trail, including a moma with three cubs. She was positioned behind a large boulder
slightly down hill and about 60 feet to my right. Two of the cubs were in trees on her side of the trail and
scrambled down when she poked her head out from behind the rock. The third cub was in a tree just to the
left side of the trail and literally 10 feet over my head. My first thought was "photo op" but I'd need to do some digging in my camera bag and was just a little too unsure of mama's intentions so dicided to forgo the "bear cub in tree" picture.
The other great thing about Shenandoah has to do with a favorite hiker pastime - food. On each of the four
days in the park I managed to get at least one meal at either a "wayside" (one of the tourist areas along the
highway that runs the length of the park and parallels the trail), a campground store, or, in one case, a rather elegant, sit-down restaurant. This was at Big Meadow Lodge in the middle of the park. I needed to walk 8 miles before breakfast, and, even in the slightly cooler morning air arrived at the lodge more than a little damp from the effort. But I'd saved a clean dry tee shirt and after a quick rince off in a restroom, was escorted to my dining table by one of the hosts. I ordered a big plate of pancakes with a poached egg on the side and enjoyed hot coffee and great service. My waitress was a young lady from Washington State named Deanna and we talked a little about my walk and Washington, a state I lived in for a while in the late 60's.
After a great breakfast, I went back to the trail and walked another 19 miles before ending the day camped
high on a rocky summit. I found a small sandy spot tucked down just to the east of the rocky ridge crest
that had geodesic survey markers placed at the highest points. My AT guide book said that these exposed
rocks were estimated to be over 1 billion years old. I watched the sun set from a pearch on the highest point of rock where I found a little depression for my backside and a convenient split it the rock that allowed me to use the facing boulder for a foot rest. As the evening darkened, the distant lights of the small towns and farms in the valleys to the east and west began to glow through the haze that is always present in this part of Virginia. I crawled down off the rocks and spent my last night in the park watching the stars wheel slowly across the sky overhead. The final couple of days to Harpers Ferry included the infamous "roller coaster". A stretch of trail that includes about 5000 feet of rolling ups and downs in about 15 miles. None of the climbs are that long or
hard in themself, but they keep coming one after the other. By now the daytime temperatures were in the 90's with high humidity and little wind - so it was a long hot slog. The reward at the end was a night in Bear's Den Hostel. Part of the American Hosteling System, Bear's Den is in an 1930's mansion built by a wealty DC resident. The grounds are beautiful and it's just a short walk to a westward facing rock outcrop from which there are great sunsets. There was also an "all you can eat" 4th of July picnic open to any hikers who happend to be in the area. So instead of leaving in the morning, I took a lazy day and had a great meal finally hitting the trail at about 4 PM to walk another 10 miles to a facility run by the Potomic Appalachian Trail Club. The PATC maintains the AT through Shenandoah Nat. Park and north to Harpers Ferry and beyond. They have a fantastic "camp" just off the trail about 10 miles south of Harpers Ferry. I arrived just in time to have a second meal and then watch fireworks in the valley below on the night of the 4th.
My last day on the trail began before dawn. Since I didn't know the train schedule out of Harpers Ferry I
had decided to leave early and try to be in HF by 9:30 in the morning - figuring this would also give me time
for yet another sit down breakfast in one of the local restaurants and also have a stop at the Appalachian
Trail Headquarters to get my photo taken for the annual hiker scrapbook. So I rose at about 4:30 and took to the trail just before 5 with my headlamp lighting the way.
I took a train back to CT and have spent the last weeks finishing the Peace Pilgrim 2003 calendar, making a 1 week trip to California, and trying to reorganize my life for this second time on the trail.
I'm not sure how far I will go on the southward leg. Certainly it would be great to get all the way back to Harpers Ferry and complet the trail in one season. But this walk has always been more about the "journey"
itself than the destination and however far I go, I'm sure it will be a wonderful and enlightening
Peace and Blessings to All,