|We awoke a little later than usual at the shelter, but it was ok. It was a five mile walk into Waynesboro, VA with the rest of the day off. We made it to the highway and hitched a ride into a Ruby Tuesday craving that salad bar. Fresh vegetables – what a concept. After lunch, we casually loitered outside deciding what to do next. A woman approached us asking if we needed a ride anywhere. We told her we needed to do some laundry and get to the other side of town. Jennifer offered to drive us, but then invited us to her home to do laundry and shower. We graciously accepted her invite and spent a lazy afternoon in an air conditioned house doing chores and watching tv. After a few hours, Jennifer drove us to the church hostel we stayed at for the evening and even gave us money for dinner. Now that’s a Trail Archangel.
We checked into the hostel and made our way to Ming’s Garden, a massive Chinese / American buffet including hibachi and sushi. Basically a hiker’s paradise. After several rounds, we went to the grocery store to resupply and ended the evening with comfy couches and Harry Potter.
In the morning we had a delicious breakfast, and we made our way back to the trail. From Waynesboro to Harpers Ferry is a final 165 mile stretch to the unofficial half way point and the ATC Headquarters. Also, many hikers make their way to Washington DC, and we were planning a much needed few days off.
Just outside of Waynesboro is the southern entrance to Shenandoah National Park. The AT stretches 100 miles through the park crossing their claim to fame, Skyline Drive, far too frequently. Many AT “thru-hikers” take the opportunity to travel by canoe or kayak down the Shenandoah River from Waynesboro through the park and as far as Harpers Ferry. Well, we want to claim we really thru hiked, so hike we did. Honestly, the section wasn’t the most thrilling, but it was some of the gentlest terrain we had seen thus far.
Over the next six uneventful days, we hiked through the park stopping occasionally at the park’s Wayside restaurants which are quite a treat to the hungry hiker. And no one could complain about dollar tall boy Budweisers either. Near the northern boundary of the park, we left the trail to resupply in Luray, VA and got enough food to get us into Harpers Ferry.
Our final challenge before exiting Virginia was The Roller Coaster, a 13.5 mile stretch of tightly packed ascents and descents. We began the day early and, thankfully, the terrain wasn’t as difficult as expected. What really got us was the 95 degree heat and high humidity. All we had to do was push through this day and 9 miles in the morning to get us to Harper’s Ferry. But our mental and physical exhaustion was growing apparent. Up and down the world’s least thrilling roller coaster we hiked drenched in sweat. A quiet hurrah was said when we crossed mile 1000. We continued hiking and were warned of storms passing through.
“A torrential downpour pummeled the Midwest yesterday, it’s coming our way!! Find shelter!!!” I swear, it’s always the perfect storm.
Well, we finished all but 3 miles of our day at the Blackburn AT Center which has bunks for hikers, a big enclosed porch, plenty of camping space, water, and a privy. We stopped, made dinner, and packed up. The rain started to sprinkle as we were about to head out. I had a feeling we should just stay put and wait out the storm, but we decided to make a go for it.
And got 100% drenched from head to toe. To make matters that much more annoying, a bit of sand in my wet shoe scraped the bottom of my left foot on every step. Every single step through the pouring rain was made with a great deal of pain. I pushed back the tears and continued on knowing it was only 3 miles to the shelter. Knowing this pain and rain were temporary. Knowing that tomorrow we would be in Harpers Ferry meeting my Aunt and Uncle to relax in their cozy, dry home. Every step counts.
Of course by the time we got to the shelter for camp, the rain had stopped for the evening. I stripped off my soaked socks and checked out my poor feet. We settled in for the night with the other hikers watching the pink sky with the promise of tomorrow in the air.
We woke up to a beautiful morning feeling rejuvenated. The 9 miles flew by, and we FINALLY very happily said goodbye to Virginia.
By 10:30 we had made it to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters where we were happily greeted by volunteers and got our half way pictures taken. It wasn’t long before my Aunt Linda and Uncle Neal arrived to take us into Maryland near DC. We had a wonderful lunch at The Anvil in Harpers Ferry and then made the hour and a half drive to their home.
Ahh a home! With couches! And food! And a gift from my brother and sister in law from their visit a couple weeks prior. Their care package included some yummy trail mixes, jerky, a very interesting selection of Ramen noodles, and 2 six packs of beer – Bell’s Two Hearted and People’s Moundbuilder. Thanks, bro – I needed it!!!
After showering, laundry, and Thai food, we happily went to sleep in a real bed! In the morning, my aunt and uncle made a breakfast that hikers dream of. They helped us run all of our errands to gear up for the next round of hiking and treated us to Mexican food for lunch. We spent the rest of the day relaxing and watching tv. Is it weird that I kinda miss laying on a couch for unknown hours??
It seemed that morning came too quickly, but we were once again amazed at the breakfast spread. Eggs scrambled with vegetables, bacon, Maryland crab cakes, strawberries, cherries, watermelon, juice, and coffee. Hiking would be better if every morning began that way. But that day still wasn’t for hiking. Instead, we said goodbye to my amazing family and took the metro into DC.
We spent the day checking out the monuments probably walking far too much for a “zero day.” Our timing couldn’t have been better though. We made sure to stop by the Supreme Court building to celebrate the day’s ruling.While there we were spotted across the crowd. Two familiar hikers were also visiting DC. Dang hickers.
That afternoon, we met up with Sean’s friend Isabella who lives near the city. We picked up some beer and headed to her apartment. That evening, we went to eat Ethiopian with a couple of her friends. We very much enjoyed our first time eating this cuisine without any utensils. Yep, just your hands. Super tasty.
Saturday, we had a lazy day and listened to the rain fall. We decided to make our way to the American Indian Museum at the Smithsonian and hit an Indian buffet afterwards. The rain fell all day long, and we were so grateful to be indoors for it. Ice cream and Hunger Games finished our last night off the trail.
The next morning, Isabella drove us back to Harpers Ferry were I was expecting two packages – new shoes and a new pack. The volunteers at the ATC HQ went to fetch my packages but only came up with one. Shoes, well that’s good. The pack was sent from Osprey via next day mail two days ago and should have arrived. Well, after many attempts, it just wasn’t there. We decided we would wait on it and delayed hiking another 24 hours. We got a ride to nearby Charles Town and checked into a hotel. And didn’t leave it once. Nope, pizza delivery,tv, and internet are all this couple needed to be happy.
It was now Monday, and we returned to the ATC HQ. And yes, they had my package. Osprey, sticking true to their almighty warranty, sent me a whole new pack after my front zipper pocket had popped twice. I’m pretty blown away by their customer service. I switched over all my gear and BigFoot and I made the realization that it was actually time to start hiking again. After hiking a half day into Harpers Ferry and four full days off, after completing the first 1023 miles, after being blessed by family and friends, after getting some fresh gear and clothing, after taking an international food tour, it was once again time to head back to the Appalachian Trail and continue the long journey we began over three months ago in Georgia.
And we had a crazy first week back planned.