Our Ohio friends are quite familiar with Cedar Point Amusement Park and the amazing roller coaster rides at that park. Chief and I, along with fellow hiker Tiger Mike, recently experienced the dreaded “Roller Coaster” on the Appalachian Trail in northern Virginia. This was not a thrill ride completed in seconds, rather a grueling eight-hour hike that covered more than thirteen miles of rocky ascents and descents. The highest climb was a challenging 2,000 feet and then immediately descended. Over and over we put one foot in front of the other as we navigated the steep hills and tricky rock-studded terrain. The Roller Coaster left us gasping for air at the top of each hill and nursing sore knees and feet at the bottom. It was undoubtedly one of the toughest days of hiking we had experienced in the last 78 days. About halfway through the Roller Coaster, we crossed a county road and were unexpectedly greeted with trail magic. A former thru-hiker, No Pants, was there to share cold soda, fresh fruit, chips, and Little Debbie snacks with passing hikers. No Pants also interviewed us for a documentary that he is producing about A.T. hikers. Chief, Tiger Mike, and I agreed that the trail magic was the only thing that got us through the rigorous Roller Coaster. That day the three of us hiked a total of 21 miles in order to get to the shelter by dusk and position ourselves for a short hike into Harpers Ferry, West Virginia the following day.
On a side note, this is a point on the A.T. where some of the younger hikers take on the “4 State Challenge”. Over a 24-hour period, a hiker attempts to travel a 43-mile section of the Appalachian Trail across the borders of Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, and Pennsylvania. Just to be clear, we are NOT pursuing this ride!
On Day 79, Chief and I awoke early, packed our gear and hit the trail with Tiger Mike by 6:30 a.m. We were all experiencing swollen feet and fatigued muscles but nevertheless were mentally invigorated by our accomplishment over the Roller Coaster the previous day. We had only eight miles to hike to Harpers Ferry, the “spiritual halfway point” on the A.T. Harpers Ferry (Mile 1,022) is the home of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy that registers and tracks thru-hikers. Our hike took less than four hours when we descended a hill and were met with the stunning site of the Shenandoah River. We were joined by one of Tiger Mike’s friends, Home Fry, who hiked the remainder of the way with us. Since the date was June 30th, many thru-hikers arrived at the Conservancy as this seemed to be a goal date for thru-hikers to reach this halfway point. The Conservancy is housed in a small historic stone building and the front was lined with backpacks and weary hikers when we arrived before noon. Chief and I had the ceremonial photo taken in front of the building and then took advantage of the cold soda and ice tea available for hikers. Chief, Tiger Mike, Home Fry and I met up with Log, her dog Yoyo, and Old School, and then walked the short distance to the historical downtown for a celebratory meal. We were surprised to see No Pants in town and he joined the group for lunch. As Chief and I enjoyed a delicious hamburger and crab cake, Yoyo slept peacefully under our chairs. Our time at lunch was enjoyable and relaxing as the group reminisced about our Appalachian Trail journey thus far and the many hikers we’d met over our first thousand trail miles. When we returned to the Conservancy, we found fellow hiker, Juice, who had made his halfway point. The afternoon was even more joyous when our daughter and granddaughter arrived to pick us up for a few days of rest and relaxation.
In a bittersweet turn, our time with these hiker-friends has ended as Chief and I will fall behind the others by taking four zero days to visit with our daughter’s family over the July 4th weekend. We will return to Harpers Ferry on July 5 to hike NOBO (northbound) for ten more days. We have decided to then flip-flop our Appalachian Trail hike so that we don’t get into bad weather in Maine in October and not be able to finish our hike. We have purchased tickets to fly to Bangor, Maine the end of July and then hike SOBO (southbound) for the remainder of the trail. We will still cover all 2,189 miles, just in two different directions. In Maine, we will first summit Mount Katahdin and then hike SOBO until we get to the point where we stopped hiking NOBO. Our chances of avoiding bad weather will be greatly increased, although the higher elevation mountains in New England can still have cold temperatures and snow even in summer. We also have the added benefit of potentially passing NOBO hikers with whom we’ve lost contact.
As we write this post, Chief and I are enjoying a much needed rest and realizing we already need our third pair of hiking shoes. This journey has been exhausting yet exhilarating, grueling yet rewarding. Thanks go out to YOU – our family, friends, and followers for your support, encouragement and prayers. God’s grace and your support keep us moving forward. Please remember the “Hike for John” – the fundraising efforts for the Gurney family.
We can’t wait to see what the next 1,100 miles will bring.
Halfway On This Wild Ride, Chief and Toad