“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity”
― John Muir,
The increasing intonation of the alarm slowly beckoned us back to reality as we awoke following a good night’s rest in a nice, warm bed. We probably could have managed sleeping in our hammocks for the evening, but I’m not sure it would have accomplished much, aside from an achy body for the following day. As it was, we awoke, happily dressed, re-packed our packs, and headed down the hall for a quick breakfast at the hotel. As it happened, our hotel was only about a third of a mile from the trailhead, so we were able to leave one vehicle in the lot, and simply drive the second to the stopping point from the previous evening.
The weather forecast was looking to be even more in our favor, as much of he rain from Hurricane Joaquin had passed us by, and the temperatures were a bit warmer, along with calmer winds. Thus, we ventured back into the woods and onto the trail in good spirits, excited for what the second day would bring. It wasn’t long before we were deep enough into the woods to escape the traffic noise that accompanies the unfortunate realities of an overpopulated society. Luckily, for another day, we would have the luxury of forgetting those concerns and embracing the natural world.
We hadn’t been hiking more than ten minutes when we discovered several paw-paw trees with fruit scattered on the ground. We collected a few and tasted the delicious banana-like, fibrous fruit, and then continued on down the trail. Overall, this section of the trail was less technical, and more well-defined than the previous day’s journey, so we were left to discuss a wide variety of different topics. Over the course of the weekend, we managed to plan out our retirement, start a new business, correct for the ineffectiveness of the American two-party political system, philosophize over the nature of endurance athletics, and plan for future adventures. This last accomplishment would prove important for future discussion, so I’ll return to it in a bit.
Just as we had yesterday, we stopped when we were hungry, rested to rehydrate, and made sure to enjoy the numerous opportunities to gaze out over the expanse of nature that was joyfully enveloping us. This section of the trail happened to also be a portion of the JFK 50-Miler route, which I’ll be running next month, so I was excited to have the opportunity to preview the course. Aside from a section of intense and steep switchbacks, I found the section relatively runnable in most areas, which got me even more excited for the race. We came across some historic markers and memorials along the way as well, which helped to quench my consistent appetite for history. After about 15 miles, we emptied onto the C & O Canal towpath, which runs along the same route as the AT.
The C & O Canal towpath took us all the way to Harper’s Ferry, WV, where our vehicle was parked. Along the way, this flat path afforded us beautiful views of the Potomac River, and the various water fowl and other wildlife that called this portion of the ecosystem home. We eventually crossed the river into town and it was a strange feeling returning to civilization. We made our way through town, and it was fun to see the AT markers continue into town, up a steep climb, past some old church ruins, and back into the wild along the bluffs overlooking the river on the other side.
As we were approaching the end of our journey, not more than a quarter-mile from the trailhead, we spotted a family of deer up ahead on the trail. We stopped and watched as they stared back at us, seemingly unconcerned with our presence. It seemed a fitting end to our journey, and a reminder of just how close the natural world truly is, but simultaneously invisible unless we make a conscious effort to seek it out and embrace it. Along those lines, this trip left both Stefan and I with the desire to see more of the AT. The stories of through-hikers are amazing, and I found myself that much more connected to my “A Walk in the Woods” moment. Although taking the required time off to complete a through-hike is outside our means at the moment, we decided that conquering the trail one section and one state at a time was much more within our grasp. Thus, I may have disembarked from the AT in Harper’s Ferry, having completed the entire Maryland section, but I will most certainly be back to explore the wild wonders waiting for me along the many remaining miles of the Appalachian Trail.