Hi all! I've made it to Harper's Ferry, West VA! This is considered the mental halfway point of the AT. The ATC headquarters is located here, and it is the moment we finally get out of Virginia. The actual AT midpoint is in another 75 milesish so I should be hitting that Saturday morning. It is tradition to eat a half gallon of ice cream at the halfway point on the AT (there is a small store in the state park there, which I assume keeps the ice cream well stocked for this event). As excited as I was to reach Harper's Ferry, I will be more excited to reach the half gallon challenge:)
After an awesome two days off with my pops, I was dropped back off at the trailhead by myself in some lovely weather. Threats of hail and tornadoes were in the distance as my dad looked at me one last time to check that I really wanted to go out hiking in this.....apparently I did as I hopped out of the car and waved goodbye. One of the many things I love and appreciate about my dad is his ability to let me do what I want without questioning it. Very few parents would confidently deposit their child on top of a mountain in a storm by themselves without putting up some fight. About 10 minutes into my hike the storm I was intent on ignoring hit, and I started to quicken my pace down the mountain. About 5 or 6 deer flew past me on the trail, sprinting away from the storm. I wanted to yell at them to wait for me, as I also didn't want to be up there, but the stupid fast quadrupeds left me alone to deal with the storm by myself. I only made it 9 miles to the first shelter just in time to watch a 20ft. tree fall down right on the trail. Cathing up to my friends was going to take a bit longer than I thought.....
The next day was gorgeous and I hiked 25 miles straight into Shenendoah National Park. The park is very crowded with tourists, there are lodges/campsites/restaurants everywhere, and the wildlife is abudant and very used to humans, so bear and deer sightings are quite common. I saw a total of 6 bears, including a mamma bear and her cub. I got to watch the mamma teach her cub how to climb a tree, then I got to run away very fast when she realized I was watching. The deer also have no fear and practically walk right up to you. One of them tripped on my tent one night it was grazing so close. I was excited to get in and out of the park and back to the normal quiet woods. One thing I realized my first day in the Shennies is how much of a little family all the thru-hikers had become. Since I was seperated from my group, I didn't think I would have hiking buddies for awhile, but on the first day in the park I ran into a ton of old familar faces I hadn't seen in awhile. They had all caught up to me while I took those 2 days off. I still got to Blackrock by 7:45pm even with my numerous chat breaks with Ranger Bill, Spirit, The Honeymoon Hikers, Peach, Overdrive and ta-da! - Watermelon and Pants were at the shelter when I got there! I hadn't really seen Watermelon since the blizzard on Roan Mountain so it was awesome seeing him again. Pants, Watermelon and I hiked together for the next few days.
Sadly Watermelon and I lost Pants when he left Bearfence shelter early one morning and Watermelon and I decided not to leave till 1:30 for no apparent reason. The two of us had a slow couple of days with frequent town stops into Luray and Front Royal as Watermelon battled some unknown illness that kept him puking quite regularly:( I tried to keep him company while also keeping my distance so I didn't get sick, so far so good:) We celebrated as we finally got out of the park and set our sights on West VA. Virginia didn't let us out without a fight. The last 25 miles of VA were rocky as hell, and included 13.5 miles of The Rollar Coaster, a series of tightly packed climbs that totally wore everyone out. Unfortunately Watermelon ended up getting a ride from Bears Den Hostel to Harpers Ferry to catch a train home:( I am bummed to see him go and hope that he can finish the trail soon!
I hiked the last 20 miles into Harper's Ferry with Hot Shot, we got rained on the entire way so we booked it here and arrived around 3:30 yesterday. 20 miles by 3:30 might be one of my best times. We went straight to the ATC headquarters to get our picture taken and sign in, I am the 447th thru-hiker to come through Harpers Ferry this year. I had a relaxing night eating obscene amounts of pizza and hanging out with new friends at the hostel. I am excited to venture out into the woods on my own again, but hopefully this time get in some serious miles to catch up with the gang. 20's are pretty easy now, and I know we are all going to slow down once we hit The Whites up north so I'm going to try to get as many miles in now so I'm not hiking in snow up there.....probably will be anyway.
As I was hiking the other day I really realized how happy I am out here. There are ups and downs (literally), but there is really no where else I would rather be. I have nothing but love in my heart for these mountains and this trail and I am so excited to start the second half of my journey. I will be leaving West VA shortly as there is only a total of six miles or something here, heading into Maryland for two days (it only has 40 miles of trail) and then it's on to Pennsylvania! I gotta go eat the rest of my pizza and walk into the woods. Peace and love!!