Day 82 – Monday, May 30: US 340 to Annapolis Rocks, 21.6 miles, 1,047.6 total AT miles.

I woke up early and noticed that my hiking buddies were a lot closer to me now than they were when I went to bed. The overnight rains had leaked down to the ledge in places and forced some minor relocations – I stayed bone dry. Savage wasn’t so lucky – her sleeping bag was soaked.

The five of us packed up and reviewed our options for the day. Savage was going to hitch back into town with Champa – she needed to dry her bag and he was going to meet another hiker in town.

Black Santa, McDoubles and I had decided to camp at Annapolis Rocks – we’d heard from a few hikers and locals that it shouldn’t be missed. Black Santa and McDoubles left early – I stayed behind and had breakfast with Savage and Champa.

After eating, they made their way up to the highway and I started hiking north. The AT quickly ascends to a ridge that runs north/south through western Maryland. It was rocky, but not nearly as bad as that descent into Harper’s Ferry.

I stopped at the Ed Garvey Shelter to use the privy and ran into McDoubles – he was having a quick breakfast. After I grabbed a quick breakfast as well, we both left at around 9:00.

Despite the rocky terrain, we were making great time. The trail eventually leveled off as we approached the Garland State Park. We paused by the bathrooms to refill water and saw a hiker napping in the gazebo in the distance. It was Black Santa – we walked over as he was getting up.

McDoubles pressed ahead – I hung out with Black Santa while he packed up. We decided that we’d definitely hitch into Boonsboro, MD to buy some treats for dinner.

Note: In Maryland and Pennsylvania, the AT crosses more roads and goes through many more towns than in the South. I’ll have multiple opportunities each day moving forward to make it into town if need be.

We hiked on along the ridge for three hours, eventually hitting the Dahlgren Backpack Campground at 1:00pm. I found Juan relaxing the shade – he told us McDoubles was just a few minutes ahead.

We found him at Turner’s Gap, the road crossing to hitch into Boonsboro. He was eager to make it to Annapolis Rocks – I caught a quick hitch into town with Black Santa, stopping at a local grocery store to purchase food for our Memorial Day feast.

An hour later we were back on the trail, heading towards the original Washington Monument. It was built by volunteers in 1827 and promised our first real view of the valley below. It was kinda cool. Black Santa and I found Juan (again relaxing in the shade) and the three of us took in the views. I climbed to the top – very steep stairs, but totally worth it.

Annapolis Rocks at five miles ahead. It was hot and getting late in the afternoon. I was also carrying raw meat and decided to push hard to camp. About a mile outside of camp, McDoubles texted letting us know he found a campsite. We arrived at 7:00 and quickly set up our tents.

Black Santa set up his brand new Big Agnes Copperspur 2 – the same tent I’ll be getting in a week. It’s really nice – I’m gonna like it a lot. I set up his old tent and the four of us headed to the rock outcropping to watch the sunset. It was easily one of the best views I’ve had on the AT.

We returned to camp and cooked by headlamp – I ate way too much and returned to my tent to write.

* * *

Tomorrow, I’ll definitely be hitching into Waynesboro, MD to hit the Walmart for a three day resupply – I need to buy things I couldn’t find at the local grocery in Boonsboro.

This will put me in Boiling Springs, PA by Friday and in Duncannon, PA on Sunday morning. I’ll stay in Duncannon at the “famous” Doyle Hotel Sunday night and will visit the post office Monday morning before leaving town.

I should have some packages arriving (including the one that’s presumably waiting for me in Harper’s Ferry). If anyone would like to send some food my way, get it in the mail this week. The address for the post office in Duncannon is:

Breakfast: two 20 gram Clif protein bars (chocolate hazelnut)

Snack: 6 PB crackers, raisins

Lunch: bag of beef jerky, one LD Oatmeal Cream Pie, 12 PB crackers

Dinner: three hot Italian sausages (no campfires allowed so I cooked them in my pot over my stove), Parmesan Pasta Side, dozen strawberries, four small French rolls

Day 81 – Sunday, May 29: Washington DC to Harper’s Ferry, WV to US 340, 3.5 miles, 1,026.0 total AT miles.

I was up at 6:00am and immediately hit the shower. This suite at the Hilton is one of the nicest rooms I’ve ever stayed in – the shower alone was bigger than my entire bathroom back in Seattle. I spent too much time in there for sure.

When I finally sites the bathroom, Black Santa and McDoubles were already packing. I went to the lobby and grabbed a cup of coffee, drinking it outside in front of the Embassy of Senegal. I made my upstairs and finished packing – we were checked out and on the streets by 8:00am.

We immediately headed south from DuPont Circle and walked (yes, with our packs on) towards the Lincoln Memorial. The streets weren’t crowded yet, but barricades had been set up in preparation. I stopped to use the privy.

I didn’t realize this until now, but Memorial Day Weekend is a huge holiday for motorcyclists – many of whom in attendance were veterans. I walked past rows and rows of motorcycles before entering a cool vending area set up for the bikers. I ended up buying a few patches and a breakfast snack before continuing to the Lincoln Memorial.

My mood was starting to change – it was never my intention to mark the unoffical halfway point in my journey by being in DC for Memorial Day, but I’m sure thankful I did.

I mean, here I am, backpacking in relative peace and security, crossing numerous state borders, without any real cares at all. I personally get wrapped up sometimes in all that’s wrong with this country – I often fail to recognize the things we do really well.

The Lincoln Memorial was a sobering experience – I wept.

I put my headphones in and made my way to the Washington Monument – I found Black Santa wandering around and the two of us walked over to a row of food trucks to eat.

After a quick lunch, I found myself hot and sweaty – the low elevation and high humidity were really getting to me. It was here that I decided the beard had to go. It’s been fun, but my beard is too thick for the heat. As we headed towards (another) restaurant that supposedly had good oysters, I kept my eyes peeled for a barber.

After our second lunch in two hours, Black Santa and I found a shady spot in a grove of trees and waited for McDoubles to catch up.

By this time it was nearing 3:00 – time to head back to Union Station. We boarded the train and soon found ourselves on our way back to Harper’s Ferry. We got off at 4:30 and walked into town. I stopped at the outfitter (finally found the place) and bought a few snacks to get me to Waynesboro, MD for my next proper resupply.

I backtracked to the ATC office and resumed my trek north on the AT. I got a message from Savage – she had gotten back in town hours before us and already was relaxing at a campsite a few miles up trail.

While Harper’s Ferry wasn’t the best town as far as hiker amenities go, it sure was beautiful. The AT crosses under the railroad tracks before hitting the C&O Towpath. This part of the trail follows the Potomac River – here I officially left West Virginia and entered Maryland. That’s five states down!
I met Savage, Black Santa and McDoubles at the campsite and sat to have a quick snack. Black Santa checked the radar and it looked like we had storms moving in – I noticed there was an underpass just a mile ahead. Black Santa and I jogged up to the underpass to make sure it would work – plenty of space!

We returned to the camp and relayed our find to Savage and McDoubles. In our absence, Champa hiked in – I first met him in Georgia and have enjoyed seeing him intermittently along the way.

The five of us suited up and made our way to the underpass. And just in time too – the rains started about 15 minutes after we arrived. I made a quick dinner and layed down to write.

* * *

I can’t believe I’m in Maryland. Virginia took what felt like an eternity to hike through.

Tomorrow, I might hitch into Boonsboro, MD and buy something nice to cook for Memorial Day.

I’ll also get to visit the original Washington Monument tomorrow – that’s two Washington Monuments in two days.

I need to shave my beard off now.

And I have some news – I fell today leaving Harper’s Ferry. It wasn’t bad. The reason that this is news is because of why I fell. I’ve been suspecting it for a while, but my double vision is starting to return. When I got to camp I privately asked Savage if she’s noticed anything going on with my right eye lately – she confirmed that it was starting to drift out again.

Crap. I’ve already had two surgeries over the course of a year and didn’t think I’d ever have this problem again. I’m calling my surgeon on Tuesday to let him know. The only thing that worked in Seattle to eliminate the double vision was wearing an eye patch. I brought it just in case and wore it this evening.

It’s back. I’ll still wear sunglasses during the day – they’re dark enough to make my right eye essentially go dormant, but will need the eyepatch indoors and during the early morning/evening hours.

Breakfast: coffee, jumbo hot pretzel

Lunch: Philly cheesesteak and fries

Second Lunch: half dozen oysters, again from Massachusetts. Absolutely delicious.

Snack: 6 PB crackers, Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pie

Dinner: Mountain House Pepper Steak meal covered in Dot’s Pretzels crumbs.

Day 80 – Saturday, May 28: Harper’s Ferry, WV to Washington DC, Zero Day, 1022.5 total AT miles.

I woke at 2:30am to laughter and “get up, Cool Dad” coming from outside my tent. I was groggy and confused. I recognized the voices instantly and saw three smiling faces – Savage and Black Santa had finally arrived, and they found Who Dat who decided to hike in with them.

They were exhausted and immediately set up their tents and passed out. I fell back asleep as well, but not before checking my phone. I originally fell asleep at 6:30pm – at 8:00pm McDoubles made it to HF and went straight to a pizza place. He was now tenting near us.

I woke for the second time at 7:00am having slept 12 hours on the night. I felt great! I was about to take the train to DC. It hadn’t even dawned on me that we’d be making this trip over Memorial Day Weekend until Black Santa mentioned it as we were packing up.

Who Dat decided to cowboy camp last night (sleeping under the stars with no tent). Savage relayed that he got eaten alive by bugs and left to seek shelter at around 5:00am. While the three of us were packing, McDoubles walked over. He was all smiles, happy to be heading to DC as well.

The four of us suited up and hiked over to the ATC office so they could get their photos taken as well – I decided to head back to the post office to check on my missing package. It wasn’t there, but Black Santa’s were. He got a new tent in the mail – the one he was getting for me hadn’t arrived.

I had been planning on visiting an REI in DC to return the Quarter Dome 2 and buy new camp shoes – I lost one somewhere in or near Front Royal. Without my new tent I’d have no real business making the side trip to REI. Black Santa knew how much I disliked my tent and offered to let me use his old Big Agnes until I got my new one. What a relief – problem solved.

After purchasing our tickets online, the four of us made our way downtown. Savage was excited as well, but for different reasons. Later in the afternoon, her mother and grandmother were to arrive and spend the night with her near HF. While she wouldn’t be coming to DC with us, at least she was about to spend some quality time off trail.

I ate a quick breakfast in the diner and made my way to the Amtrak station. Black Santa and McDoubles were already there – in minutes the train pulled up and the three of us boarded.

It was a short ride, only about an hour and a half. While on board, I used my app to find a hotel – ended up getting a great deal at the Hilton in DuPont Circle (good job, Cool Dad). The three of us exited the train at 1:00pm and walked into Union Station – we had arrived!

First things first, I wanted to walk over to the White House and get a picture with my pack on before checking in. Black Santa and McDoubles thought it a cool idea as well and the three of us set off.

We made our way through the busy crowds – our packs really made us stand out. It took some time, but we fought our way to the front and got our pictures.

While we were heading towards the hotel, I ran across a squirrel essentially begging for food. I pulled out a granola bar and shared a snack with him – he even let me pet him. Pretty cool!

We checked in to the hotel at 3:00 and found our room wasn’t ready yet. I chatted with the manager, explaining we had just gotten off the AT and that this was a special occasion for us. Not a problem – he ended up upgrading us to a suite! I left my dirty laundry with the guys and headed back outside (pack in tow) to catch a cab to the REI in Rockville.

Two hours later, I was back at the hotel and getting hungry. I had already eaten nearly all of the Dot’s Pretzels and was ready for a hearty meal. We settled on Chinese – I ran next door to sample some East Coast oysters from a gastropub. The oysters were great – having worked in an oyster house in Seattle, I’ve been trying to find them on the menu in every town I stop.

After dinner, we decided it best to go to bed early so we could hit the streets first thing in the morning.

Breakfast: chicken sandwich and Cajun fries

Lunch: 3/4 of a bag of Dot’s Pretzels

Dinner: seaweed salad, pork spareribs, chicken wings, 6 Virginica oysters from southern Massachusetts.

Day 79 – Friday, May 27: Night Hike to Harper’s Ferry, WV, 48.8 miles, 1,022.5 total AT miles.

Note: I’m writing this from the Amtrak back to Harper’s Ferry from DC.

* * *

It was just after midnight and I hiked on. I was hoping to find McDoubles – maybe he had a few extra batteries for my dimming headlamp. I stopped just after crossing the stream at Spouts Run Ravine.

My headlamp was nearly dead. I took it off and pulled out my solar light. I’ve never tried using the solar light outdoors – I usually clip it inside my tent so I can type late at night or pack early in the morning. It really worked great – for about ten minutes.

It was time for Plan C – my iPhone flashlight. I unzipped the front pocket on my Mammut hiking shirt and slid my phone in. It took a few minutes to adjust to hiking with my only source of light shining from my chest, but I got used to it. I hiked on with a renewed confidence in my decision.

Then it happened – bears. It happened to Savage just outside of Vandeventer Shelter and it was now happening to me. The bear was big and standing squarely in the middle of the AT. I clicked my trekking poles together a few times in an attempt to scare it away – it didn’t budge.

I froze. For a second, I didn’t know what to do. My heart was racing and I could feel the adrenaline rushing through my veins. I took a deep breath and screamed at the bear from the top of my lungs – I’m pretty sure I told it to “get away from me”, making sure to use every curse word I knew.

The bear took off running, crashing through the woods like some giant drunken toddler. Man, I felt ALIVE. I wasn’t scared at all – it was as if I reached a level of understanding with nature right at that point. The bear was just doing his thing and I was simply doing mine. We only met for a brief instant and, in that moment, I did what it took so I could continue doing my thing. No harm, no foul. With a renewed confidence, I hiked on.

I was nearing the end of the Roller Coaster and was still moving slowly. At 3:00am, I crossed into West Virginia. There was a small sign commemorating the event – my phone was too fogged up with sweat to take a photo.

Shortly after crossing the border, I found myself at Raven Rocks. The moon was a little more than half full, just enough to illuminate the valley below. I sat on the rock overhand and ate a snack. All of the stars were visible – the skies were that clear. I sat on the rocks for nearly and hour, counting satellites and lost deep in thought.

I noticed the skies to the east ever so subtly start to brighten and decided to hike on. It was a little after 4:00 and I had covered just under 30 miles for the day (well, day and night).

A mile later the Roller Coaster ended and the terrain leveled off – but it stayed rocky. My feet were really starting to hurt. If this rocky terrain is any indication as to what lays ahead, I’ll be looking at some low mile days in the very near future.

At around 6:30am I reached the side trail for the Blackburn AT Center – I thought it too early to visit and bypassed it. He sun was just starting to rise – I was finally able to switch off my iPhone light and dry it off, snapping a quick picture of the pink morning skies.

At this point in my trek, I had to substantially slow down. My feet were killing me. Every rocky step shot pains through my feet and ankles – I’m just not used to all this uneven terrain.

Two hours later, I paused at the David Lesser Memorial Shelter for  quick breakfast – it was empty. I guess the promise of reaching Harper’s Ferry had everyone excited and up early. I was starting to get a little excited myself. I guess that’s why I didn’t check to see how much water I had – I left the shelter not even realizing my Platypus was bone dry. It wouldn’t be until 9:00am (at 40 miles on the day) until I figured out my error.

I checked my map – there were no other water sources between here and HF. There was a road crossing ahead with quarter mile walk to a gas station – that would have to do. I felt what might be my second (or third) wind and hiked aggressively towards Keys Gap.

After a quick detour for water and Mountain Dew, I made my way back to the trail and hiked on. It was nearing 11:00 and HF was only four miles away. I stopped at a campsite to rest and watched as three or four other hikers passed by. After chugging my last Mountain Dew, I decided to make the painful hike into town.

I hit Loudoun Heights not even realizing that, as I made the rocky descent towards the Shenandoah River, I was leaving Virginia and officially entering West Virginia – there wasn’t a sign (or if there was, I was too tired to pay attention).

Before I knew it, I was crossing the Shenandoah and heading into HF. I had a huge smile on my face. Not only was I close to finishing this crazy hike, but I’d soon be visiting the offices of the ATC and receiving my new hiker number.

The trail leading up to the ATC as rocky and steep. I stumbled blindly over sharp rocks – I stopped caring about where I planted my feet. I was ready for two things – food and sleep.

I entered the offices of the ATC at 1:45pm and was met by smiling volunteers eager to give me a tour. I hung out in the hiker lounge for a little while, meeting folks I had never seen before – I had night hiked clear into a completely new bubble of hikers. I got my photo taken and received my new hiker number.

I started this thing on March 10 as number 534 – it was now May 27 and I was surprised to hear I was the 344th northbound hiker of the year. I’d really moved up!

I left my pack at the ATC and walked down to the post office – I knew I had a few packages waiting on me. Sure enough, I picked up a few boxes (new rope, my extra camera battery, and my base layers from Granny, a huge bag of Dot’s Pretzels from Mom) and headed back to the TC to repack.

There’s not much to do in HF. I was hungry, but wasn’t willing to spend $15 on a cheesburger from the pub downtown. I couldn’t find the outfitter and ended up walking back to the ATC to secure a tentsite for the night. I decided to cook my emergency meal at camp.

The town of Harper’s Ferry had very recently opened a tenting area in the city park – it was a very nice gesture. I set up my tent and ate a quick meal. Finally satisfied, I checked my phone. McDoubles was still planning on making it to town tonight – Savage and Black Santa were hiking with Who Dat just a few miles behind him.

I told them not to expect much (or anything) if they were planning on arriving that late. I layed down in my tent and started to write (I didn’t finish – totally fell asleep mid-sentence, I’m finishing much of this post from the Amtrak).

* * *

Let’s see: 48.8 miles over 30 hours – I’m pretty proud of that accomplishment. When asked by other hikers where I started today, most couldn’t believe it when I told them I last slept at the Denton Shelter almost 50 miles away.

I’m a little concerned about my feet – every step kills me. I don’t have any blisters or hot spots so I think I’ll be fine.

And everyone caught up to me, but since I had been sleeping for hours when they got in, I’ll save that for tomorrow’s post.

I’m glad Black Santa and McDoubles committed to making it to HF before Saturday morning – the Amtrak for DC leaves at 11:30 and I still needed to hit the post office – I’m missing a package.

I can’t remember what I ate. Sorry.