Eric and I sat at our desks Tuesday morning and we both had the same thought, “I wish I was still on the trail.”
This past Memorial Day weekend, Eric and I set out on our section hike of the Maryland portion of the Appalachian Trail. To say that things started out rocky is an understatement. We had originally planned to leave our apartment around 2pm on Friday, get to Pen Mar Park around 3pm, and have plenty of time to hike the 5 miles to Raven Rock Shelter and set up camp. But of course, that didn’t happen. When Eric got home from work, he decided to take a “20 minute” nap that lasted until 5:15pm. We got to Pen Mar at 7:30pm, saw a great sunset, and accepted the fact that we had a solid 5 mile hike ahead of us in complete darkness. What I didn’t know was that these 5 miles were filled with rocks and the steepest grade of the AT in Maryland. Miraculously, we covered the 5 miles in about 2 hours and stumbled into camp trying to find a spot while being as quiet as possible. Luckily, there were still a few people up hanging around the fire, and they were able to point us in the direction of an empty spot after being thoroughly impressed by our night hiking. We may have even gotten the trail team name, the “Night Rangers.”
When we woke up the next morning around 8am, it was 39 degrees. Eric had been freezing all night on the ground, but I managed to stay pretty toasty in my hammock (lesson learned). We packed up, ate some breakfast, and actually got to see the people that we had talked to the night before. They were a group of 5 people from Baltimore that were hiking the same section as us. They told us that they had all met at their local climbing gym, so I dubbed them the “Baltimore Climbers” from that point on. We dispersed, ready to take on our 13.1 mile day.
The first thing I noticed was hills. Who said Maryland was flat? The second thing I noticed was rocks, lot of rocks. Rocks + hills = a pretty slow pace for Tina (maybe I’m better in the dark?). Eric was getting a bit antsy with our pace so we came to a compromise: he would take my pack on steep uphills so that he got the extra challenge he was looking for and so that I could keep up a decent enough pace. A few thru-hikers passed us looking very confused when they saw Eric with both a front and backpack. We just invented a new kind of slackpacking! Eventually, we made it to the first lookout, Black Rock Cliff, and we relaxed in the sun like a couple of reptiles and ate some lunch taking in the magnificent view. After Black Rock we hit up Annapolis Rock and got some water from the spring. There, we met a former thru-hiker who was doing a road trip back to all of his favorite spots on the AT. We picked his brain a bit about his favorite spots (Grayson Highlands – because who doesn’t love friendly ponies), and then we hiked the rest of the way to Pine Knob Shelter. Guess who was there to greet us, the Baltimore Climbers!
That night, we and the Baltimore Climbers met a very interesting character. We were all sitting around the campfire having some fun small talk when a loud, boisterous, older looking man wearing torn light washed jeans came over and introduced himself as the local bartender. He had a half drank bottle of whiskey in his left arm and when he spoke, we noticed that he was missing his top 4 front teeth. His trail name was Hawk Eye, but he introduced himself as Petey. He was 59 years old and had started in Georgia in January. His plan was to hike to Katahdin and then get 2 horses to take him and his gear back to his home state of Iowa. He told us a story of how he hiked from Texas to Mexico and back. When he was trying to get back into the USA, he got detained at the border because he had several warrants attached to his name. When I asked what the warrants were for, he said, “Don’t worry, honey, they’re misdemeanors. I’m not a felon. Well, I am a felon, but not that kind of felon.” I didn’t ask any more questions after that! Hawk Eye eventually left after serenading us with his rendition of Folsom Prison Blues. We all went to bed still laughing about our encounter with our interesting new friend.
The next morning when we awoke, Hawk Eye was already gone. Our original plan was to hike 12.5 miles to Crampton Gap. We knew it was going to be very hot on Monday, so we decided that we would see how we felt when we got to Crampton Gap, and then decide if we wanted to hike the extra 4 miles to Ed Garvey. The Baltimore Climbers were going to hike the 16.6 miles to Ed Garvey and take a 2 mile detour to South Mountain Creamery, making their total goal mileage 18.6. We said farewell, unsure if we would meet them at the next campsite.
Sunday was much smoother. Our first stop of the day was Washington Monument. After the monument, we ran into the Baltimore Climbers who were still determined to take their ice cream detour. We pushed on passed them and hiked in what seemed to be an overgrown forest for a few hours until we stopped at Rocky Run Shelter for lunch. We ran into a thru-hiker, chatted a bit, and as we were leaving, Eric and I saw something fall out of a tree. We got closer to inspect and found out that it was actually a black rat snake that had literally fallen from the sky (snakes on a plane?). The thru-hiker came over to check it out and help us get a better picture and while we were corralling the snake, ANOTHER fell out of the same tree. All I can say is watch your head walking under trees!
We kept going and made it to Crampton Gap by 4:30pm, since we were feeling good, we decided that we would hike the extra 4 miles to Ed Garvey. We passed through Gathland State Park and met a thru-hiker named Slingshot. We ended up talking for over a half hour and he told us about an unofficial campsite right near Ed Garvey that had a view and some amazing rock chairs. We left Gathland, restocked on water, and stumbled upon the campsite that Slingshot had told us about around 6:30pm. At this point, we hadn’t seen the Baltimore Climbers since around noon and were starting to wonder if they were going to accomplish their 18.6 mile feet. Just as we were speculating, along came the Baltimore Climbers! They walked to the creamery, but ended up hitching a ride back, saving them a steep 1 mile climb back to the trail. Thanks for the tip, Slingshot! We had a great night at the campsite with a few other weekend hikers and a beautiful sunset.
Monday morning came and we said goodbye to our new friends. Eric and I had only 6.5 miles between us and Harpers Ferry. We leisurely hiked to Weverton Cliff, where we had planned to meet our friends. Side note: our friends are awesome. They couldn’t come on the whole weekend trip with us, so they decided that they would do an out and back hike starting at Harpers Ferry, meeting us at Weverton Cliff, hiking back to Harpers Ferry, and then drive us back to Pen Mar Park. Nicest people ever! We met up with David, Liz, and Sparkey (their dog), hiked down the mountain to the Potomac, and walked along the tow path all the way to Harpers Ferry.
Crossing the bridge was magical. Although I had crossed the bridge into Harpers Ferry before (hiking the Maryland Heights Trail), I had never walked 40 miles to get there! I can’t even imagine what it must feel like to approach Katahdin for the NOBOs or Springer for the SOBOs. In just 3 days I met multiple people that I will never forget, pushed myself further than I had ever gone before, and learned new skills that I am sure to take with me in my next endeavors. Like John Muir said, “But in every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.” Until next time, Nature, until next time…