May 27. After spending a few hours at the AT Conservancy I packed my gear and headed for the historic downtown of Harpers Ferry. One new item I picked up in the mail is a SteriPEN, sent from Kilimanjaro (Brian Sarvis) as a half way, you made it gift! The SteriPEN uses UV light to steralize water for drinking and it only takes about a minute to do one Gatorade bottle, pretty handy tool! Thanks Kilimanjaro! (P.S. Sarvis, I talked to Frenchy and he said you always be Flosser-AT to him). As I entered downtown it was packed with people. It was a very hot afternoon and there were tourists everywhere. I walked around a bit looking for the outfitters, found it, then promptly found a place to get a burger and a beer. I made sure to sit outside and away from the other customers, I had showered and cleaned my clothes only 2 days ago but in those two days I really worked up a sweat. After a great lunch I talked with a few tourists about the trail, took one last look around, and headed out over the bridge and into Maryland. I was in Harpers Ferry from about 9:30 to 3:00 and was ready to hit the trail. The hot day and loads of tourists made me want to get back on the trail as fast as possible. I didn’t even look in my food bag, I just figured I had enough food to get me two-ish days north and I would figure out a resupply after that. The first few miles of the trail there were nice, flat and smooth, all along the river. There were loads of people out in tubes on the hot afternoon, floating down the river, having a great time. The trail took a left up into the mountains and I started hiking the ridge line of Maryland. I passed by the first shelter around 5 PM and made it to the second shelter closer to 7. I set up camp, ate my dinner, and relaxed. The weather was nice, warm, not much of a breeze, but a calm, lazy summer night. The other tenters were all sitting on nice benches around the tent pads. My only complaint was that it was a little too warm…maybe I would have to leave the vestibule open on my tent to increase the airflow. I finished dinner and went up the hill to hang my bear bag. My first throw of the rock and rope missed and the rock flew off. I’d have to re-tie it and try it again. As I went looking for the rock it suddenly grew erriely dark. The light faded almost instantly and I looked up to the trees as a freight train of wind blew through them. Uh oh… I grabbed the rock, fumbled to re-tie it and threw it again. Missed…and the rock fell out. I was getting frantic, a storm was moving in quick, very quick. I tied it one more time and got the rope over the branch and in place. When I went to tie my food bag to the line it was almost too dark to even see it. I tied off the line and hurried back to my tent. I had a few minutes as the lightening approached but soon the rain started and the storm moved directly over us. It poured for a long while and I fell asleep to the sound of a raging rainstorm.
May 28. I woke up to no rain and a warm morning. The rain must have stopped early and my tent was almost dry. The tent was muddy though from sitting in a tent pad with no leaf litter or grass to buffer the rain drops from splashing mud onto the tent sides. I packed up and hit the trail by a little after 7. I hiked hard, I wanted to reach PA today. I was the first one on the trail and was on spider web patrol. I must have been caked with webs in the first few miles. At the first road crossing I hastily crossed and continued on the trail It didn’t feel right but I kept going, thinking I would find another white blaze soon. I made it a little further and crossed a side trail, no blue or white blazes anywhere, something was wrong. I dropped my pack and ran back to the road, there I saw the white blaze trail I should have been on. I ran back and picked up my pack and walked it back to the road. By now I was frustrated, I must have added a good 2 miles to my day by taking the wrong trail. I passed a backpackers campground operated by the state of Maryland that offered free showers, but with no soap and my smelly clothes (no laundry) I figured a shower would be pointless. The trail crossed a few more roads and entered the Washington Monument State Park. I took some time in the visitors center, filled up on water, answered some questions from people who couldn’t understand that yes, I walked here from Georgia and yes, all I have to live on is in my backpack. Lots of day hikers and families were on this section of trails and luckily the trail was wide and flat. We (thru-hikers) can tell when we are near day hikers. There is a distinct smell that day hikers have…it is called clean. When they pass we can smell detergent…soap…shampoo! It just isn’t natural for us. I wonder what the day hikers smell when they pass me? When we reached the Washington Monument I was very aware of my oder and I waited for an older couple to come back down from the lookout tower before I made my way up. While I was at the top taking in the views a young couple came up and I carefully worked my way around the platorm and when I had the chance I made a break for the stairs. I am used to my smell, but I don’t think other people want to be. I ran into another thru-hiker around 2 in the afternoon and I pressed on while he relaxed to wait out the mid-afternoon heat. I hit the last shelter in Maryland around 6 PM and no one was there! The shelter was huge and had lots of tent sites but I was the only person around. I think it really showed that it was the last night of a holiday weekend, everyone was off the trails and heading back to real life except the thru-hikers. I think the other hiker I passed in the afternoon was going to stay there but I decided to push on and try to reach PA. I hiked up to the High Rock lookout and found a road with tons of cars and people everywhere drinking beer, smoking, writing stuff on the rocks. It was an interesting mix of people, not the best looking crowd, you might say a little redneck and having a good time. I kept my distance because I smell so bad and was happy to hit the trail again. The trail down crossed a big boulder field and made the hiking really tough. I guess these rocks may give NoBo’s some insight into the trail in Pennsylvania, aka Rocksylvania. I passed a section hiker, a lady from TN and she said she planned to camp on the other side of the state line as well. This was her 3rd day on the trail this year and it was a tough day! Before entering Pen Mar County Park in Maryland, a mere 0.2 miles from the state line, I found a flat spot for a few tents and decided that was it. I covered 30 miles on the AT, 32 miles of total hiking, and I could cross the Mason-Dixon line tomorrow. The section hiker came in right behind me and agreed. We took up residence of the flat spots, talked about the trail, hung the bear bags, and got in our tents just before dark. Up near the last shelter I had seen mountain bike tire tracks on the trail and around the shelter. We typically don’t see that since bikes are not permitted on the AT. The section hiker said she had been up at the shelter by herself when two guys rode in on mountain bikes and circled the area. She said they didn’t talk to her very much and made her very uneasy about spending the night there alone. She must have left right before I arrived. It worked out well that we caught each other coming down the hill, I think we both felt better about stealth camping together near so many road crossings and the county park. Not that it is all that dangerous, but at least we feel like there is safety in numbers. Plus then at least you have someone to talk with! I didn’t make it to PA today, but I will tomorrow!