So naturally I got out of Harpers Ferry later than planned. After grabbing my pack at the hostel I headed down to the trail which wove through the woods for about 1/2 mile before it shoved me out into historic downtown Harpers Ferry. I was officially in Touristville. Under normal circumstances I would love wandering around this historic town, but when you have a pack on and you are simply in the market for an outfitter and a grocery store, it can be a bit annoying. As I wandered aimlessly among the old-timey buildings, Oak (fellow trailmate staying at the hostel I was) spotted me and directed me to the tiny outfitter. I grabbed a few bandannas then joined him for some ice cream at ye old ice cream parlor. Oak pointed out that there was a general store on his little map, so we headed in that direction to see if I could pick up some fruit to hike out with and to see if he could do a full resupply there. We arrived at the "general store" and headed inside, realizing upon first step in the door that we were hugely mistaken. We had unknowingly wandered into 're-enactmentville' Harpers Ferry and there among a variety of fake goods available for purchase in 1883 stood a 17 year old in a civil war costume spewing a rehearsed tour. After our tour we inquired where one might purchase present day goods, only to be answered with a blank stare. At this point I decided to screw the fruit and get the hell out of this town. I had a few more quaint streets and bridges to pass by before the trail finally led me out of town. Oak walked me to the trailhead and waved me goodbye as I crossed the river and he wandered back into town in search of a store with actual merchandise.
I exited West Virginia almost immediately after leaving Harpers Ferry and entered Maryland. I hiked 15 miles that afternoon and it was a very quiet and pleasant hike. The AT in Maryland weaves around the Civil War Trails, so my hike was dotted with monuments and battlefields with plaques informing visitors of what great general died there. If you are a Civil War enthusiast, a visit to Harpers Ferry and the surrounding area is a must. The spattering of history throughout my hike was a pleasant change, but I was anxious to get to the backcountry. I realized this would not happen for me in Maryland. I got to the shelter late that night due to an extended puppy chow break (thanks Amy!) and an invested interest in an episode of Ants vs. Caterpillar. Watching ants does not make me crazy. I love that I have been afforded the time to simply sit and observe life, even at such a minute level. Ant watching is also an excellent 'hiking avoidance tactic.' When your only options are to either climb up this mountain, or sit and watch some ants, sometimes, you're gonna go with the ants.
I had to set my tent up that night in the dark, and right after I crawled in, my tent was attacked by what turned out to be a cat, though I didn't realize that until after I had 17 heart attacks. Only when I heard it meow did I conclude I was in no immediate danger, and my fear was replaced by confusion as I wondered what the fuck a cat was doing out here. Apparently it lives at the shelter and makes a good living yoging food from hikers and catching mice. The next morning Q-tip and Dances with Flies (fellow hikers I met that morning and may never see again, as it took them three days to do what I did in one) made me a breakfast burrito, which I gave half of to the cute forest cat, and then headed out to Dahlgren Campground. There were so many of these 'campgrounds' with bathrooms and running water. It's convenient but I am getting a bit annoyed at the presence of civilization. I walked another two miles and hit Washington Monument State Park. The trail leads right by the visitors center and straight up to the original Washington Monument. After I read through all the random George Washington facts scattered about and climbed the tower with Testament (section hiker I met the night before), it was was time to get moving. Testament and I hiked to the next shelter to have lunch, where I learned how alarmingly unprepared he was to be out here. A lot of hikers who are only doing half the AT launch from Harpers Ferry, so just when I was finally familiar with all the faces out here, a whole new batch of section hikers are getting thrown in the mix. When he learned that I had already been out here for three months he dove right into a novel of questions for me which I answered happily. I mean the kid had a garbage bag full of Chef Boyardee cans. Now my three months out here by no means makes me a backcountry expert, but I realized talking to him how confident and comfortable I had become out here. He told me how scared he would have been to hike after dark like I did. It's not ideal and I usually only do it when I still need to find water, but there's nothing there in the dark that isn't there in the light.
After leaving Testament I probably had one of the most boring stretches of hiking. I didn't run into another person all day, which most of the time is nice, but the trail was so flat and easy, I increasingly became less motivated to hike it. At least the climbs and boulders and roots and crazy turns give your mind something to focus on. When you are simply walking a flat tread with nothing to look at but the same tree on repeat and you have become exceedingly indifferent to your ipod and the numerous bird calls you have memorized, your mind has the freedom to wander wherever it chooses. Sometimes I welcome the long stretches where I lose myself in thought, and sometimes I go insane. I realized that even though I'll bitch about it later, what I like most about hiking and why I do it is the challenge. Hiking is a form of meditation for me, it is the only thing that has ever successfully cleared my head. When I'm going up a tough climb, my mind empties and I focus solely on getting to the top, probably similar to a runner's high. I realize this is a bit masochistic of me (but everyone on the AT is a masochist) but the physical pain I am putting my body through provides a path to clarity for my mind. Hiking is a very peaceful activity for me, despite it's difficulties, and that is why I do it.
I camped alone that night on top of Raven Cliff and woke the next morning ready to get out of Maryland and the Blair Witch woods (it's only 40 miles, 2 days of hiking) and excited to catch up with Daystar, Pants and Gribly. While I was packing my tent the morning rush hour started filtering past. The Ape Team (really fun couple from TN) informed me that Bullet was at their shelter last night and he had a message for me. I didn't know Bullet, but he knew that my trekking pole replacement Black Diamond was suppose to send me arrived at the Bears Den Hostel the day after I had left. Before my annoyance at Black Diamond could register I first was impressed by the effectiveness of trail telephone. Bears Den had no way of getting ahold of me as these hostels rarely take down any info, the manager simply asked the hikers that were currently there to spread the message up the trail. It only took 2 days after the pole arrived for the message to reach me via trial grapevine, even though I was already 60+ miles past Bears Den.
I found some water (I had to hike .4 off the trail down a steep hill, was not happy) and started my 26 mile day to Quarry Gap Shelter. I booked it past Pen-Mar park, crossed the Mason-Dixon line (ya!) stepped into Pennsylvania and by the time I had reached Snowy Mountain Rd, I had found Daystar and her sister Be-Bop! We all had the same goal for the day and headed on. Gribley and Pants had decided to hitch into Gettysburg for the night and camp with a bunch of boy scouts, and would meet us on the trail tomorrow. Quarry Gap Shelter was one of the nicest shelters thus far, in fact all of the shelters in PA have been top notch, TN should take notes. At the end of my marathon day I was nothing short of starved. This was the first time I really felt my hiker appetite take over my sanity. All I could think about was food. I devoured a pot of mashed potatoes intended for a family of 4 and felt like I had simply taken a deep breath, that's how little impact it had on my stomach. I realized that if I was going continue doing these big mile days I would need to start carrying more food. We all went to bed a little hungry that night, but it was ok, for the next day we would reach the official AT midpoint and be rewarded with a half gallon of ice cream....sweet dreams............