Twig Adventures

AT Day 59 & 60: Harpers Ferry & Washington DC

Tuesday Sept 21st, 2021, 0600-0820 
Ed Garvey Shelter to Harpers Ferry, SOBO AT mm 1167
6.5 miles
318 gain, 1165 loss

It was an easy downhill, then stroll along the Potomac and C&O Canal for about 3 miles into Harpers Ferry in the early morning. The small historic town is said to be the spiritual halfway point of the trail and is headquarters for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the non-profit organization that oversees the AT. This is where hikers get their pictures taken for the AT class yearbook.

Upon arriving town, I had time to grab a breakfast sandwich, then head over to the ATC office. A volunteer and former SOBO AT hiker greeted me, inducting me into the hall of fame as 2021 SOBO Hiker #61. I was surprised that there were only 60 SOBOs ahead. I thought I’d passed at least that many, so I guess I was middle of the herd at this point. No telling where I’d finish.

My ATC glamour shot
My yearbook shot

I checked out all the pictures and displays in the center. There was a huge 3D topographic map showing the whole trail. It was fun to see how big the mountains looked at both the northern and southern ends. I was in for a lot more ups and downs in VA and NC. I wish I could have displays like that of all the trails I’ve done. I’d probably stare at them for hours ever day, reliving the journey.

I’d checked the DC train status to see that it was already 1.5 hrs late. It comes all the way from Chicago, sharing tracks with commercial freight trains that take precedence over it, so that’s why it’s always late (this is almost never the case for passenger trains in Europe and Japan). I hated to wait until after noon so I started asking around for a ride. While at the ATC, I met a guy, Sergio, who was just starting his SOBO section hike. He was from Denver and his buddy, Tom, from the DC metro area was just dropping him off. I could ride with Tom on his return. Score.

While public transportation to DC can suck, once in the DC metro zone, it’s easy. Tom dropped me off at the Spring Hill metro station near Tyson’s Corner. I caught a train in 5 minutes, made a transfer to the red line and in no time at all, got picked up by my friend at her nearby station. It was a little weird being in a big city, with everyone wearing masks and warning signs no matter where I looked. Things are always crazy in DC. I’d spent a lot of time in the area, having completed 2 summer internships at government agencies (EPA & NIH). I’d also visited on numerous school trips. But DC seemed especially volatile these days, with coronavirus and all the protests and demonstrations.

I wanted to avoid all of this by staying with my friends Sheila and Gretchen. Sheila was my first semester roommate at the Coast Guard Academy and we’ve been buds ever since. She is, in fact, probably my closest life-long friend. I’ve visited her or vice versa in a laundry list of locations: Washington, Hawaii, Mexico, North Carolina, New York, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and Florida to name just a few. We traveled together on our 4th and 3rd class USCG Eagles cruises to the UK and Copenhagen. And it was her and Gretchen that I stayed with over the summers in DC (they’re married). Thinking back on all the fun times we’ve had together is a whirlwind of a tour.

I hadn’t seen them since 2017, just before I started thru-hiking. Their son, Colm, had just been born. Now, during my stay, he was having his 5th birthday and was already in kindergarten. How time flies. It was amazing to see him instantly transformed from a baby to a pretty grown boy. I was also introduced to a completely new set of pets, 1 cat named Cordelia and 2 dogs, Shady and Luna. I used to pet-sit for them, back when it was rabbits and cats, sadly all passed on. It was great to get some animal therapy time, especially since the dogs and cat were very friendly and cuddly.

The family…minus cat and kid (he was at school)

We had a wonderful dinner ordering take-home Indian food. It was a real treat to have some diversify in my diet. And also a bed and room all to myself! I’d only stayed in hostels and shared hotel rooms up to this point. This home stay with my good friends was the best trail reward I could ask for. Thank you Sheila and Gretchen for sharing your time and home once again.

Wednesday Sept 22nd, 2021. Zero Day

I took this day off, which also includes having to write about it in detail. Not much to say about zero days, anyway. Just chores and relaxing. I cleaned about everything I own and did some repairs. Sheila was taking some days off too, so she drove me to REI just to get a fuel canister, then the grocery for resupply. It rained most of the day, so it was a perfect time to be off the trail. The storms were supposed to clear out the next day, so I resigned to get back on trail in the evening. The train to Harpers Ferry only goes once a day, leaving at 4 pm, so I didn’t really have a choice about taking another nero the next day. Oh darn.

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