Half-Ways, Flip-Flops, & Harpers Ferry

On Monday, August 8th, Stryder, Snips, and I stayed at the Jim & Molly Denton Shelter just outside Front Royal, Virginia. The shelter is easily one of the most premier shelters on the Appalachian Trail. Most shelters follow the typical Adirondack-style lean-to design, sleeping six to eight people, but the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club went above and beyond on this one, so I’ve included a photo.

Image result for jim and molly denton shelter

We hung out with a couple guys we met in the Shenandoah Mountains, Archer and Sleepy, and met two new folks, Fish and Sunshine. It was a nice evening of chatting and just relaxing after a day resupplying in town.

The hike out of the Jim & Molly Denton Shelter on Tuesday morning was fairly easy – in fact the entire day was fairly easy. Archer left first and we didn’t see him again until we got to Harpers Ferry on Thursday. Stryder and Snips hiked out next, then me. Sleepy must have left sometime shortly after me, though.

My favourite part of the day took us through Sky Meadows State Park in Delaplane, Virginia. The trail was lined all along with yellow poplars, their leaves dancing in the wind that swept over Appalachia that particular day. Those looking for an incredible day hike should definitely check out Sky Meadows.

I got on Rod Hollow Shelter and found Snips and Stryder were already there along with a young teen called Ben with his dad, Jake. While we were setting up for breakfast, Sleepy came in, followed by Fish and Sunshine. We all chatted for a bit, Jake encouraging us to tell Ben stories and give him pointers. In turn, Ben told us he’d like to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail himself one day. So, of course, we decided to be as encouraging at possible!

Wednesday was a very trying day. The climb out of Rod Hollow Shelter was more demanding than one might think for such small hills. I knew the stories – 13 hills in 13 miles – The Roller Coaster, as it is called. Of course it was going to be hard work, but it was far more strenuous thanks to 97°F heat and humidity at 90%.

Up the first hill, down the next. Ran into Ben and his dad.  Up the second hill, starting to feel sick, I ran into Tinky-Winky (another fellow thru-hiker). Down the second hill was a footbridge over Martin Mill Stream. I threw off my shirt and sat down in the stream to cool down. Despite cooling down and resting, I continued to feel unsettled and markedly nauseated. I refilled my water and added electrolytes, knowing I needed to just keep hydrated and go on. There was no where to get off trail safely here.

Sleepy and I ran into each other and kept our minds off the heat by chatting. By the time I did 10 miles into the Sam Moore Shelter, I wanted nothing more than to vomit and go to sleep. Instead, I ate lunch with Snips and Stryder, who were waiting there for me. After an hour of rest, we hiked on. From here, only three more miles to Bear’s Den Hostel.

Soda. Water. Cold shower. Resupply. I kept chanting these to myself as we hiked on. But no. Two miles in, I collapsed from heat exhaustion. It was too much. My pack was so soaked in sweat that Stryder figured it weighed an extra six or seven pounds. Stryder carried my pack ahead to the hostel while Sleepy carried my water and Snips kept her hand on my back, pushing me up the hill to Bear’s Den. Once there, they got me quickly into the shower for a long, cold soak.

The hostel did not open officially until 17:00, so we made our dinners, drank a lot of fluids, and rested – knowing we still had eight more miles to go to make it to the Blackburn AT Center that night. Once they opened up, I grabbed my resupply box and off we went. Refreshed, we made it just an hour after dark – night hiking the last three miles.

We got up super early on Thursday. Big day! Eating only a Luna Protein Bar, we hiked 12 miles in under four hours – reaching Harpers Ferry and the Headquarters for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy just before Noon. Woot! We made it – the psychological / spiritual half-way point of the Appalachian Trail (just a few miles shy of actual half-way). And I cried. I cried on and off all day. I accomplished something I never thought I’d have the opportunity to do.

Inside, we met with Miss America (trail name of an ATC volunteer), Dave, and Laurie. They were super sweet to us and invited us to hang out in the hiker lounge. We had our photos taken – a tradition the ATC started to mark when hikers reached Harpers Ferry. All photos are kept in archival books for posterity. We met back up with Archer and Fish and said farewell to Snip, whose parents came to take her back home.

It’s bittersweet. So many people get off the trail in Harpers Ferry. We may never see many of them again. Others we’ve befriended are ahead, inching ever closer to Katahdin. And what about us? So badly we wanted to be walking with our other friends, but it was not to be. There is no way for us to catch up in time. But we aren’t fretting, we’ll see many of those who continue north very soon.

We’re flipping up to Maine to hike south back to Harpers Ferry, completing our thru-hike in that way. We will get to see so many of them soon as we pass by, trail family forever – north or south – and wherever else we may roam thereafter.

Speaking of trail family, we’ve made a new dear friend. While Stryder and I were sitting in the hiker lounge at the ATC HQ, conversing and fretting about how to get to Maine (bus, for example, was $180pp!), we fell into more serendipity. A lady who was perusing the photo book turned to us and said “I’m heading to Maine. Let me think about this first, but I think I want to offer you a ride. Tell me your life stories first.” And so we did. I’m not sure where we’d be without her, but CuppaTea is a trail goddess, not just an angel. So now – off to Maine!

If you’d like to help me with staying on trail, a typical resupply costs me about $50.00. You can make a contribution to my trail fund via http://www.paypal.me/trekreef. Any amount is gratefully appreciated.

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