My dad and sister and I flew to West Virginia last week to take care of family business. After that, I took the opportunity to hike trails much different from what I have around home.
On Tuesday morning we drove to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, which is one of the most beautiful towns I’ve visited. It is the mid-point of the Appalachian Trail, which runs over 2,000 miles from Georgia to Maine.
The previous day I’d hiked north from Harper’s Ferry and covered eight or so miles in Maryland, so on Tuesday the plan was to head south on the trail.
In town, the trail took me past the beautiful Catholic church to Jefferson’s Rock which overlooks the Shenandoah River for a view that Thomas Jefferson wrote was “worth a voyage across the Atlantic.” Just past there were the ruins of St. John’s Episcopal Church which was used as a hospital during the civil war, and then the cemetery overlooking town that is the resting place of people from back into the 1700’s.
A mile or so out I came to the bridge that crossed the Shenandoah. This was the only time during any of my hiking that I was nervous, as only a small concrete wall separated me from the busy traffic also crossing the bridge.
Not far after, I was in deep forest. The terrain over my hike ranged from steep to flat and rocky to muddy, but it was all beautiful. At times I was warm, and then I’d pass through a cold area. Beautiful old trees, ferns, mushrooms, and moss surrounded me. I came very near a red fox, and so near a group of deer that I began to think I might pet one. Also scattered throughout the woods were civil war batteries—long, deep trenches lined by large rocks where union solders awaited their cousins in the confederacy so long ago.
Deep in the woods I crossed the West Virginia/Virginia state line, marked only by a wooden sign nailed to a tree, and soon after I came to four mile camp—a camp used by “through hikers” who take multi-day, or multi-month, backpacking trips on the Appalachian. There I met Michael, a 65-year-old man who’d started on the trail last July and was a day away from having completed the 1,000 mile stretch from Georgia to Harper’s Ferry.
Eventually I came to my destination—a spot known as Key’s Gap, seven miles from where I started. There I took a break, ate some snacks, and considered my options. I could continue hiking south until dark and hope that I ended in a spot where I could hitch a ride, or I could turn back to Harper’s Ferry and arrive just before sundown for food and beer. I’d fallen so much in love with Harper’s that I didn’t want to miss seeing it one more evening, so I opted to turn back.
Other than a longer visit with Michael at four-mile camp and helping a hiker named Sharon carry water back to her camp, the return trip seemed much quicker. I kept an eye out for bears since it was getting darker and Michael had photographed one the day before, but I didn’t see one.
After fourteen miles in the forest, I was both sad and relieved to be back in town. I didn’t want the hike to be over, but I was also ready for a meal and a Big Timber Brewing Company beer at the Rabbit Hole.
Fourteen miles was enough of the Appalachian Trail for me to fall in love. I hope to return this fall to hike the 40 miles of trail that passes through Maryland, and then possibly finish the rest of the trail over the remaining years that I have, state by state.