Thursday, September 24, 2015

Day 7 - Off the Trail

Backpacking a long trail for an extended period is like stepping into a different world. After only a few days your expectations, rhythms, and perceptions shift. Thoreau captured the essence:

"I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.” Walden

Those "lowest terms" boil down to the essentials: the rise and fall of the trail you're treading, the rocks and soil under your feet, the miles ahead and behind you, sunshine and rain, water, food, and shelter. 

Touches of Fall were in evidence as I hiked south
I was fortunate to have hiked in the company of some kindred spirits on this trip, so it seemed only fitting that I met many of them when I arrived at the ATC office in Harpers Ferry. Hand shakes, fist bumps, high-fives, and even a hug were exchanged as I accepted congratulations and wished them well for the rest of their journey.

My day today was short, but not uneventful. I awoke to the sound of trucks in the distance, laboring up the grades to cross South Mountain on US 40. My camp mate, Waffle Tread and I both packed up quietly, trying not to disturb Rocky, cowboy camping on the ground next to our sites. Waffle Tread told me he'd arrived at Midnight. Hike your own hike, I guess...

Rocky catches some Zs 
Waffle Tread left before me, while I finished my coffee. We hiked at similar speeds, so I was pretty certain I'd see him down the trail. It was a great morning on a hike distinguished by wonderful weather. The sun slanted through the trees and across the Civil War battlefield of South Mountain, a major engagement in the Antietam campaign.
Spot where Union general Reno fell in battle, 1862. South Mountain., MD.

Soon I caught up to Waffle Tread, at a nice overlook that presented a great southern view of the ridge we would follow until we hit the Potomac River. In this distance I could see the fog that indicated the valley of the Potomac, which we'd follow into Harper's Ferry. 

The ridge the trail follow is in the center. To the right, in the fog, is the Potomac River, leading to Harpers Ferry.
At Gathlands State Park I took a short break for a snack, then pushed on towards the final stretch of ridgeline and the descent to the C & O Canal Towpath, the final 3 miles into Harpers Ferry. Waffle Tread and I hooked up and started hiking together, only to be joined by a beagle dog. I called the number on "Sammy's" tag, and the owner, rather nonchalantly, said he'd meet us when the trail came off the ridge. Unfortunately, Sammy the dog decided to run off after sometime before then. When we met the owner
Waffle Tread and I pose at Weaverton Cliffs
sitting in his car at the agreed upon road crossing he was rather grumpy and put out about the fact I didn't have his dog with me. Turns out that Sammy is a serial offender, and runs off to the AT all the time -- the next hiker down the trail brought him down. My advice -- learn to take care of your own damned dog, and quit leaving it up to us hikers to do it for you (just my opinion).

After an awesome view of the Potomac from Weaverton Cliffs, we trudged up the C & O towpath until we finally reached the promised land of Harpers Ferry. Being a Frenchman, Waffle Tread immediately suggested we stop for a beer. Being an American, I immediately agreed. After at a beer and sandwich at the Potomac Grille (formerly the Secret Six Tavern, but exactly the same as in 2010), we walked up to the ATC Headquarters, where I had a nice reunion with Gravity, Rockman, Highlander, Breezy, and Rocky.

"Spike" is officially photographed at ATC headquarters in Harper's Ferry!

After having my picture taken at ATC HQ, we backtracked to the town and caught the shuttle bus to my car. I drove Waffle Tread to the next trailhead, and hit the highway home, back to the world of fast cars, gas stations, mini-marts, and the the rest of the best of American culture. I can't wait for next year!

Following a white blaze into Harpers Ferry.

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