4 miles* in West Virginia
40.9 miles in Maryland
3 days (not including our 2 ½ week hiatus spent in Michigan)
Fun Fact: Maryland and West Virginia are considered the easiest states on a thru-hike due to minimal elevation change and well maintained trail.
* Figure does not include the 15 miles +/- that hug the Virginia/West Virginia border.
Still reeling from hiking 1,000 miles, we knocked out West Virginia with ease. Okay, okay. It’s beside the point there were only 4 miles of trail in it… we kicked ass those four miles!
West Virginia – Check!
The neatest part of our West Virginia trek, indeed one of the only parts in the ENTIRE. FOUR. MILES, was Harpers Ferry. A short 1 ½ hours west of Washington D.C., the town was constructed in the mid-1700’s at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. Not only is the area visually stunning, the town is a history buff’s dream come true. Much of the downtown area is a designated National Historical Park showcasing restored original buildings and cobblestone streets. During the Civil War, Harpers Ferry switched hands a remarkable eight times, due to its strategic location, which left disastrous effects on the town.
From Harpers Ferry, many hikers decide to visit Washington D.C. Access to our nation’s capital is fairly easy with two great transportation options being the Amtrak or MARC trains. Click on the links to find information on train schedules and cost.
The more hardcore opportunists choose a different challenge… specifically, the Four State Challenge. Basically, the goal is to set foot in four states (VA-WV-MD-PA) in one day. To cover the ~44 miles in less than 24 hours, plan on getting an early start. While the easier terrain makes this section an ideal spot to cover such mileage, even the most fit hikers can take 15 hours to complete the challenge. One of the downfalls is having to speed through Harpers Ferry and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy HQ.
Known as the mental halfway point of a thru-hike, reaching the ATC HQ is kind of a big deal. Complete with a visitors center and all the A.T. information you could possibly need, hikers get their picture taken for official A.T. records and weigh themselves to see how they compare to the beginning of the trail. Here’s our journal snapshot from that day:
06.25.2012 – Day 102 (Candice)
We were both eager to get into town. We were hiking pretty fast until we got SLAMMED with rain (again). We set everything out to dry while we were visiting the ATC so all was well. It was a surreal feeling having reached the ATC headquarters. We feel very excited and accomplished that we have made it this far to what’s known as the mental halfway point of the trail.
While at the ATC, we had our picture take for their record books, learned we are hikers 662 and 663 for the year, and weighed ourselves. Rob started at 195 lbs and is now 171 lbs! I started at 158 lbs and am now at 143 lbs. Whoa! I wonder what we will be at the end. We are wasting a…w…a…y………..
We hung out for awhile perusing the museum and talking with other hikers. We said our goodbyes with Comma-Kaze who finished her incredible section hike (she started in Georgia, too). Afterwards, we went to Wendy’s with Santa’s Helper. We were speaking with him and Baltimore Jack for awhile and he offered to take us there since all the food places in H.F. are so expensive. Vagabonding is not exactly cheap, after all.
After he dropped us off, we headed on down the trail at about 6:30 pm to do our last 7 ½ miles for the day. We’re getting picked up tomorrow by Enterprise to get our rental car for our drive back to Michigan for Amy’s wedding. We’re excited, yet anxious, about being away from the trail for two whole weeks. I feel like we’ve been out here for so long already that it will be an adjustment to be back home with running water, clocks, cars, people. It will be amazing seeing family and friends again and to let out bodies heal. Who am I kidding, being able to drive, rather than walk, to the store every time we need something will be nice, too.
One more statistic: A little less than half of those attempting a thru-hike make it to Harper’s Ferry. We’re happy to be in that 50th percentile! One in four completes a thru-hike. We’re excited to become one of those, too!
After crossing the Potomac River, thus entering Maryland, the trail coexists with the C&O Canal for a short while. Running 184.5 miles from Washington, D.C., to Cumberland, MD, the canal was originally built to transport coal from the Allegheny Mountains. Today, most of the canal has been drained of water and is a converted path enjoyed by hikers, joggers and bicyclists. While the A.T. only shares about 2 ½ miles of the C&O Canal, a growing number of bikers take on the entire 184.5 miles. We’d have to stick to 2 ½ miles for now.
Weverton Cliffs is the first destination reached after veering away from the canal. Switchbacks take you to the top of the cliffs where you’ll find extraordinary views of the Potomac below. Surrounded by Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia, this area is magical:
The next day brought us through Gathland State Park, the former estate of Civil War journalist George Alfred Townsend (who wrote under the pen name “Gath”). Several original buildings still remain, including his unused mausoleum. Creepy, eh? Perhaps most notable at Gathland State Park is the War Correspondents Monument Arch, the first monument dedicated to war correspondents killed in the line of combat around the world.
We were picked up by Enterprise where the A.T. crosses a road outside of Boonsboro, MD. The employee was a little taken aback when we walked up to the car, straight out of the woods, with our backpacks and worn clothing. Fortunately, there were showers available shortly before at Dahlgren Backpacker Camp so we didn’t smell of 3 months accumulation of sweat (just our packs in the trunk did). I’m sure that helped our cause… a little. At least we weren’t SMELLY hobo’s.
Remember when I described the strange sensation of riding in a car after a week’s worth of walking? Amplify that a hundred times over and that is the sensation of driving a car after 3+ months. I’ve never seen Rob’s eyes more glued to the road than in those first 15 minutes after leaving Enterprise. It wasn’t until Ohio (of course) that he was pulled over. During a “routine traffic stop” for not using his blinker (which we were both convinced that he did), he was ordered out of our car and INTO the cop car while it was my turn to answer the cop’s questions. It may have been because I accidentally handed Rob the paperwork the driver before us left in the glove box making us look a little suspicious when the name’s didn’t match up.
I promise I wasn’t setting him up!
I mean, 3 months is a long time to spend every waking moment with someone.
No, no. I PROMISE I wasn’t setting him up.
It must have been our lucky day as the cop let us head on with no ticket. Either that or he was looking for someone specific and we were not that person.
After spending two weeks back in Michigan for Rob’s sister’s wedding, we were excited to step back on the trail. Our vacation revitalized our limbs and cleared our mind for the next half of our journey. Something happened while off the trail… something… awakening. You see, we had approached our thru-hike as a we would towards a new job… a new 8-5 task that we took with too much seriousness, too much planning. While planning is important, over-planning can prevent the kind of spontaneity we had been craving prior to the thru-hike. Realizing that half of our hike had already come to pass, we arrived back in Maryland full of energy and with a renewed outlook towards the trail to come.
Our hike through Maryland came to an end nearly as quick as we arrived. I guess only a thru-hike will make a 40 mile hike feel short. Highlights included Washington Monument State Park (not the famous one, the first one), Annapolis Rocks and High Rocks, both providing gorgeous views over surrounding lands.
Excited to take on the infamous rocks of Pennsylvania, we proceeded on with a new mission at hand: not breaking our ankles.
Next up: ROCKSYLVANIA