It took me 23 days to hike 108 miles to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. During that time I spent the 17th in Front Royal, Virginia, and on the 23rd I took another day off at Bears Den where they sold quarts of high quality ice cream.
The first day out I went 12 miles to Rock Springs Shelter. That nite in the shelter there was an older man with two women, one his wife, and his son who I walked up behind earlier in the day. He was far behind the others. As we walked along he was very inquisitive about hiking. He asked about getting food when hiking long distances. He was going along with his family who were out for a few days. That evening in the shelter area I unfolded a large trail map on the picnic table, and called him over to show him possible places to resupply. When I did they all came over and crowded around to see the map. Later when it was almost dark two thru hikers showed up, set up their tents, ate diner, and went to sleep, politely oblivious to everyone the whole time.
It was cold the next morning. The day before when I stopped hiking I went into the woods to get out of my sweaty tee-shirt and shorts, and get on dry clothes. It was dark when I discreetly got in my sleeping bag nude. The next morning it was dark and cold when I got out of the warm sleeping bag to put on the cold, wet clothes I hiked in the previous day. Doing that everyday on the trail was one of the things that made me mentally tougher. Putting on cold, wet clothes meant there was always dry clothes in my pack. Nobody was up yet. I put on a goose down vest, and boiled some water on my camp stove to make instant coffee. Then I was warmer. As daylight slowly filled the sky people were getting up. By then I was having some instant grits for breakfast. My routine since Georgia was to do that and have still another coffee in an insulated mug, pack-up, take off light weight rubber camp shoes, put on hiking shoes, fill two one-liter water bottles, and start hiking North.
The section of the Appalachian Trail I hiked that Summer seemed remote but it was near highly populated areas. That was one of the most amazing qualities of the trail, it was remote yet close to some of the biggest cities in the United States like New York City and Washington D.C. Because of that there were more people in the shelters and on the trail in the mid Atlantic states.
That day I went 11 miles from Rock Spring shelter to Byrd Nest Shelter. By the time the sun set there was quite a few people at that shelter. Most of them tented. There was two older men who said they were brothers, a single man, me, a thru hiker going to Maine, an older man with blue jeans who also said he was going to Maine, two more thru hikers with British accents, and two mountain bikers who came in from a side trail. Signs at or near most road crossings say no pack animals, mountain bikes, or motorized vehicles, and that the Appalachian Trail is for foot travel only. According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy magazine keeping it that way has gotten more difficult even though much of the 2200 mile trail is impassible for anything but foot travel.
I walked across U.S. 211 and kept on going. That is the road leading to Luray. I didn’t want to go back there. It is a sweet little town, but I spent so much time and money there. I didn’t even think of going back. I thought about places in that town I knew all to well. After 3 more days I got to U.S. 522 which goes to Front Royal, Virginia. It was early in the morning. That day I planned to go 8 more miles to the next shelter. As I sat down to take a break this white full size pick-up truck pulls up to let out another hiker. The diver is a crusty old man who goes back and forth with hikers each day. I am thinking since he is right there and the ride won’t cost me anything, and I could sure use some wonderful food, why on earth not? At that point I’ve been on the trail 5 days. I’m not out of food yet, but when the ride is so easy the thought of a hot shower, a warm bed, and a juicy cheese burger is too much to pass-up. I hop in, and he goes back to town where he is a maintenance worker at a well known motor lodge. I go in to get a room.
I wait while the clerk at the front desk has an extended conversation with a steam turbine mechanic. He is staying there while doing some routine maintenance at the city’s electricity generating facility. I’m beginning to think I’ll never see the bath room. Finally, she asks him to move over and it’s my turn. She says check-in is later in the day. I explain the obvious, that I’m a hiker, and that I will sit over there in the lobby and wait. She knows it would not be good for business to have a hiker sitting there half a day, possibly asleep. She also knows the old man in the white truck is supposed to bring in hikers, but not that early in the morning. She looks at a computer terminal for what seems like a long time and says I can get a room in two hours when housekeeping gets there. When we drove in I noticed a fast food restaurant. I go there to eat and wait.