Day mileage: 21
AT total mileage: 1,019.0
Time: 7.5 hours
One. Thousand. Miles.
After making and eating some delicious pancakes this morning, and checking an ominous weather report, I hit the trail at 7. Today was a day with a mission: reaching Harper's Ferry, West Virginia. If you'll humor the idea that Damascus is the celebratory 1/4 way mark on the trail, Harper's Ferry is the celebratory halfway point. In actuality it's 75 miles shy of halfway, but I'm not here to argue minuscule details. Today was to be a hugely exciting day and I'm going to pretend it's actually halfway. This entire trail's thrill is based upon the excitement gained from arbitrary accomplishments like crossing state lines and uncelebrated hundred mile marks and tiny hiker towns that become the objects of obsession for my hiker tunnel vision.
Finishing off the last 5 miles of the Roller Coaster, the trail smoothed out for quite a while. There was, of course, no sign or celebration as the Trail mileage changed over like the mechanical odometer, rolling into a 4th digit place. Miles of smoothly flowing hills with lush green vegetation on the forest floor were quite pleasant to hike despite the exceptionally present humidity. The first hours of the day flew by, and Pneumo and I arrived at a shelter around noon to snack quickly and refill water, as there was to be none between this point and Harper's Ferry which was still 10 or so miles north. All would have been well had I not agreed to collect the water in exchange for Pneumo's filtering it. The trail to the water source was 1/3 of a mile down a very steep trail with many switchbacks. It took me 20 minutes to go down, refill our Platypus water containers, and hike back uphill to the shelter carrying 9 pounds of water. I unknowingly drew the very short end of this stick. Regardless, we filled our water as I snacked on the last of my bagels that Andy provided, and we pressed on. My goal was to be in town by 1500hrs, and we weren't too far off from that goal. Towards one of the last road crossings we came across unexpected trail magic of cold oranges, soda, and apples. There's something unbelievably thrilling about eating an orange on the Appalachian Trail. It's incredible how much you come to miss fresh fruit, and as such I enjoyed both an orange and an apple along with a Coca-Cola. Typically I'd hesitate to take more than one piece of magic, but we're at the point in the trail where I literally know exactly how many hikers will pass a point in any given day. At this point we had 3 miles to town so we continued on at a good clip, limited only by the rocky sections of trail ahead. I really cringe to think about Pennsylvania's rumored rock gardens that the Trail traverses over. I trust my ankles despite the lack of coverage my trail runners provide compared to hiking boots, but it's still a bit unnerving. I suppose I'll find out soon enough.
Crossing over the gorgeously white capped Shenandoah River, the trail climbed up a few hundred feet and we took a side trail half a mile or so to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy headquarters. This place is the exact point in the trail tunnel vision syndrome that hikers gravitate towards. Having your photo taken on the front porch is akin to having the printout photo of your facial expression during the Disney theme park rides Rockin' Roller Coaster or Space Mountain. After having my photo taken I was asked by Reed, the ATC employee working, to fill in my name, trail name, direction of travel, start date/current date, and hometown. I was also assigned the second of three important numbers pertaining to my hike: 282. I don't expect you to remember, but I was the 920th person this year to sign in at Springer Mountain/ Amicalola Falls in Georgia. I'm the 282nd to arrive in Harper's Ferry in 2014. Even if not everyone signed in at both places, and my speed allowed me to surpass lots of people, the numbers say a lot about how many hikers actually continue on this far. Katahdin, or Baxter State Park, will have the third number for this sequence. I'll be interested to see how that turns out.
Eating at a great little pizza place called Mena's right down the block from the ATC building, Pneumo and I shared a large pizza and each got a large sub sandwich. I ate my half of the pizza and half of my sub, saving the rest for tomorrow. Upon paying I asked Mena, who owns the place, where we could find tenting. She eagerly offered us to take up residence in the back of her building on a small grassy area. She said she was friends with many of the police officers, and would 'text the on-duty' guys to alert them we'd be here. After thanking her profusely, we wandered out back to pitch our tents and await the thunderstorms that are scheduled to hit this area.
What a great day. Sure, the mileage isn't amazing but it's unbelievable to think that I've walked here, West Virginia, from Georgia. I'm (nearly) halfway between Springer and Katahdin. The smile on my face is indescribable. Thank you all for your support. We're getting there, one step at a time.
One thousand and nineteen miles, fifty five days, putting me at an eighteen and a half miles per day average. For those interested, that average is up 3 miles per day over the duration of my hike compared to when I entered Virginia 23 days ago. Not too shabby, if I may say so myself. I'm still smiling.