I cracked up when this loquacious thru-hiker from New Jersey told me the
story above. We walked (very fast) together for about twenty minutes before he
wore me out this afternoon. I couldn't keep up with his pace on the rocky trail
- or with his chatty discourse. He seems like a nice guy, but his wife is
probably grateful for the silence while he's gone hiking for six months!
He decided to hike the AT shortly after he retired two years ago (he's 58
now), and he's been talking about it - apparently a lot - ever since. His family
was joking that it was "all talk," so he had to prove that he meant to do the
hike. His wife's parting comment was the equivalent of "put up or shut up."
Charlie's been having a blast. Not only has he lost 30 pounds, he's also made some
good friends on the Trail.
"THE OLD GEEZERS"
Charlie Brown is one-third of "The Old Geezers," also known as "The Good, The
Bad, and The Ugly" - depending on which of the gentlemen you're talking to
(Charlie admits he's the "Bad" part of the equation). The
other two members of the group are "Little John," age 65, from Huntsville, AL
and "Steady Eddie," age 67, from Minnesota.
I first came on "Little John" in the second mile this morning, a continuation
from yesterday of
"The Roller Coaster." Although John (his real name) was going slower than my pace
through the rocks, he was so nice and interesting I stayed with him for about a
mile before coming to a spot where I could run.
John also started on April 1, a day after beginning a six- month leave of
absence from work. His doctor was concerned about his weight, recommending he
drop from 244 pounds to 185. John had long thought of hiking the AT but never
had time. Now his life might depend on it. He decided to just do it. He's
lost a total of 49 pounds the last three months.
Talk about inspiring! It's hard for me to imagine being 60 pounds overweight
and carrying a 40-pound backpack for almost three months on this very tough
trail. He's gone over 1,000 miles now and he's likely to finish at Katahdin. He
looks great. He's slow but he's out there daily, plugging along with the
encouragement of his new trail friends. He wants to lose another ten pounds to
get down to 185, and I'm sure he'll do it.
These three fellas from three different sections of the country met on the
Trail the second or third day of their hikes. They enjoyed each other's company
enough to decide to stick together as long as feasible. They do not hike
together; their paces range from very fast to fairly slow. But they stay the same place
each night (tent site, shelter, hostel, motel, etc.).
It's common for two or more compatible hikers to hook up along the Trail and
continue on together, often to Maine. Many life-long friendships develop this
way. It's one disadvantage I have slack-packing; even though I see folks along
the way I'm not bonding with anyone around the campfire at night.
One of the "Geezers" got the idea about ten days ago to start slack-packing and using
a vehicle. They've been doing this since the beginning of Shenandoah National
Park and are now about six days ahead of schedule. They can put in more 20-mile
days carrying only 10-15 pounds but they spend more time driving - Jim and I
know all about that. One of the
three has to go backwards (southbound) each day. So "Charlie" is going to go
home soon and get his van - they can do the shuttle more efficiently with two vehicles.
I just love meeting the older hikers out here. They are my inspiration
to keep going when it's tough. Hiking even for just a mile or two with these
guys made my day so much more fun. I was covering "only" 20 miles today so I
wasn't feeling so rushed to get done. When I have a big mileage day, especially
on rocky terrain, I can't enjoy the journey as much as I did today.
I think my ultimate AT hero is 80-year-old Ed (?) Barry, who thru-hiked last
year. He's the oldest person the AT Conference has on record to thru-hike the
entire trail in less than one year. Imagine walking almost 2,200 miles over an
entire mountain chain from Georgia to Maine - at age 80!!!!
PSYCHOLOGICAL HALF-WAY POINT
Harpers Ferry is considered the psychological half-way point on the AT
because it takes hikers about half the time to reach this point. The half-way
point in distance is up the road about 75 more miles.
Check out that dot on the map at left. We love moving it north bit by bit!
It's also cool to put little X's on our state maps where I start and end each
day. Looks awesome to go 20 or 30 miles at a time and see how far that looks
on a map.
It's traditional for hikers to stop in at the AT Conference headquarters
offices in town when they first arrive. The old stone building is only a couple blocks off the Trail.
Not only is it a great hang-out for a few minutes, hours, or days, it's also the best
way to see who's ahead of you on the Trail.
When I got done with today's section - about a mile beyond the ATC office -
Jim drove me back to the office and I signed the large register. One of the
employees took a Polaroid photo of me for the thru-hiker photo gallery they
keep. Each hiker writes down when they started, the date they reach Harpers
Ferry, name, trail name, address, e-mail address, and any other information they
want other hikers to have.
It was fun to browse through the book of photos and see who's ahead of me. I
should be passing most of them before reaching Katahdin.
I am the 476th thru-hiker to reach Harpers Ferry from Georgia this year. No
one has reached the halfway point yet that is thru-hiking from the north. I'd
guess Andrew Thompson, who's trying to beat the speed record, will be the first
one from that direction.
A large percentage of these hikers will go the distance. Before long we'll
be counting down the miles to go instead of the miles we've already done.
More progress: not only am I finished with Virginia, I'm done with
West Virginia as well! That's five states down, nine to go. There are only seven
miles in West Virginia. The trail zigzags over the state line for about fourteen
miles before reaching Harpers Ferry, which is in WV. Today I finished at the
west (WV) end of the foot bridge spanning the Potomac River; at the beginning of
the next section I'll be in Maryland for a couple days.
Some hikers take the "40-Mile Challenge," but I'm not up to it. They hike 40
miles in one day from the edge of Virginia, through the few miles of West
Virginia, through Maryland, and across the Pennsylvania state line. All that to
say they hiked in four states in one day!
Even with time off around Vermont 100 and going home two more times I should
be able to complete this adventure run before the end of August, barring some
It's not likely I'll be able to break the women's record. I'm just not sturdy
or fast enough - and I want to enjoy the journey because I'm not doing this
whole Trail again! (Another one maybe, but not this one.) There are several
places I will want to revisit and show Jim later on. After this trek is over
I'll compile a list of what I consider to be the best places to run on the AT,
best views, etc.
LIKE A CHAMELEON
The Appalachian Trail is like the weather: if you don't like one
section, just wait a bit and it will change. It's sometimes hard for me to
believe all the disparate parts belong to the same trail because it changes
character so dramatically and quickly. That's part of the fun of going out there
each day - I never know exactly what to expect, even after reading the AT
guides, Horton's book, and various hikers' journals.
This 20-mile section has some interesting features, although it isn't real
runnable. It makes for a better hike than run if you're as rock-challenged as I
am. I did a 21-minute/mile pace today because I was able to run only about
one-fourth of it. (My pace always includes stops for photos, views, notes,
shelters, pee breaks, talking to hikers, etc.)
There were a few more steep climbs and descents as The Roller Coaster
continued for about seven miles at the beginning of the section. Since it was
early morning and I wasn't fried from hours in the heat the hills seemed less
ferocious than yesterday's climbs on similar terrain.
The first and best viewpoint was from Crescent Rock, although someone's
trophy house marred the otherwise-unspoiled scene of several wooded hills to the east. The valleys
on either side of the ridge I was running were blanketed in haze. There was
little breeze even on the ridge tops. I don't think it got as hot today -
mid-80s instead of 90s. I was done running by 2 PM so I didn't feel the heat
nearly as much as I did yesterday.
The second interesting feature was The Devil's Racecourse, a boulder field
with a creek under it that you could hear but not see. You have to go downstream
to access the water. There's another "devil's racecourse" in Maryland, I
The woods were very attractive and full of wildlife. I am always amused by
the antics of squirrels and chipmunks. Deer are everywhere; I saw a cute little
spotted fawn, larger than the teensy one I spotted two weeks ago. Bear scat was
evident but I didn't see any bruins.
I'm very watchful for snakes now. In a shelter register yesterday I read
about a copperhead that visited camp the night before. Although rattlesnakes and
other snakes like sunny rocks I'm most careful in grassy areas. Fortunately
the summer growth has been kept trimmed fairly well in recent days. A couple
weeks ago there were tall grassy, weedy areas where I couldn't see what I was
stepping on. That's dangerous!
I could hear lots of birds after I got out
of earshot of busy VA 7 at Snickers Gap. The road crossing halfway through the
section wasn't nearly as treacherous as the ones from yesterday, and there was a
safe (but extremely noisy) pedestrian walkway over the Shenandoah River bridge
once I got to Harpers Ferry.
CIVIL WAR REMINDERS
As the Trail approaches Harpers Ferry hikers pass several rock redoubts
dating from the Civil War. When Lee invaded Maryland in 1862 he detailed
Jackson to capture Harpers Ferry, which fell after a siege on September 13-15.
Brigadier General John Walker's division bombarded the town from these heights.
The redoubts were infantry defenses built and abandoned by the Federals.
The last couple miles before reaching the river are within the Harpers Ferry
National Historical Park. Although "Charlie" had gotten ahead of me on the last
uphill I caught up with him again on the long, runnable downhill to the river.
We crossed under busy VA 340, climbed the stairs to the pedestrian walkway on
the bridge, and walked the 3/10ths mile to the other side. It was too hot in the
sun for me to want to run.
Confluence of Potomac (left) and
Shenandoah Rivers in Harpers Ferry
The Shenandoah River is very wide and shallow here. Lots of folks were wading
through the shoals and rafting on the water. Yesterday I probably would have
gone on down to the water to cool off. Today I just continued on the AT as it
climbed up a hill paralleling Shenandoah Drive and ran on the smooth path past Storer College, the Jefferson Rock, the ruins of St. John's Episcopal Church
(1852), St. Peter's Catholic Church (1833), Robert Harper's house (1775), and other
buildings and down to the foot bridge that spans the Potomac River.
I love the diversion of running through history!
Jim met me near John Brown's Fort and arsenal and showed me the bridge where
I'll be starting my next section. We watched the tourists enjoying the restored
historical buildings and several rafts floating by at the confluence of the two rivers, then
headed for the ATC office. Tomorrow we'll search the town a little more and be
This morning Jim spent over two hours running from the KOA campground along
the Shenandoah, through Harpers Ferry, across the Potomac, and along the C & O
Towpath in Maryland. He's a history buff and enjoys the Civil War sites
in the area. I'm glad he had a lot of fun today.
MOST MILEAGE EVER
I set an all-time high mileage record last week, ending Sunday: a
whopping 157 miles of running and walking! That includes a couple bonus miles
not included in the AT mileage. (There are always extra miles every week - going
to shelters, springs, trail heads, overlooks, walking around campgrounds in the
My previous high was 128.5 twice during this
trek. I normally run/walk about 40-50 miles per week, even training for
Yowza - major mileage for this old gal. So tomorrow will be a "zero" day to
rest up a bit for my onslaught on Maryland and Pennsylvania.