My eyes cracked open as I scrambled to my phone to silence the alarm before it woke the others in the shelter. I had set the alarm for 4:30am so that I could get a jump on the day and finish the trail. It was still dark with no hint of sunlight peaking through the trees and the cold was biting. I couldn’t muster the courage to get out of the warmth and comfort of my sleeping bag. I shivered, not thinking anymore about sleep, but the finish line. I had 36.7 miles to go before reaching Harper’s Ferry, the final stop on my 2,189-mile journey along the Appalachian Trail. I knew it would be a long day, but after nearly 7 months of ups and downs including nearly a two month hiatus to recover from a stress fracture. I couldn’t picture another night in the woods.
I packed up and said my farewells to the trail family of SoBo’s that had adopted me over the past week. Like so many other times in a nomad’s life, you make strong connections to people in a relatively short time because of the intense experiences shared. Then it’s time to depart knowing that you probably will never see them again. It’s a strange phenomenon that all those who travel solo have to come to terms with. Raven Rock Shelter sits just 4.9-miles south of the Pennsylvania / Maryland boarder. The terrain looked doable, but no matter the terrain 37 miles was going to be a tough day.
Some sections of the trail are truly isolated but the same cannot be said for the Maryland section. I crossed over seven roads ranging from a dirt path to I-70 before lunch. I had lunch at the parking lot of the original Washington Monument. Don’t feel bad, I too had no idea there was another Washington Monument. This phallic dry-laid stone tower stands 40-feet tall and was the first monument dedicated to the first president of the United States. I ate and talked to some day hikers about what I was doing and why I was so filthy. I don’t even notice anymore – embrace the stank! At this point I had hiked nearly 17 miles and was not confident in myself to finish the whole of the trail. 20 miles seemed daunting.
At the next road crossing I noticed a trash can and dropped all my extra food excluding three pre-rolled peanut butter / Nutella tortillas. This was pushing my hand a bit not giving myself an out to stop short. Hungry? Finish! This determination was quickly challenged. I reached Crampton Gap Shelter (25 miles down for the day) and thought about stopping. I convinced myself I could finish the rest in the morning and then I thought about the day count – 160. Nice and even. I wasn’t going to ruin that so I got up and kept going.
I pushed until I reached Gathland State Park where I finished the last of my food. Only 10 miles to go! It was getting dark so I had to rely on my headlamp. Thank goodness I changed the batteries recently! I passed Ed Garvey Shelter without hesitation and pure elation running through my mind. Weverton Cliffs offer a great view of the Potomac but I couldn’t see a thing. I started my final descent and was just dumbfounded for words. Once down to Weverton road I was howling at the moon! Just three miles of towpath separated me from crossing the Potomac and Harper’s Ferry. I found my third (or fourth) wind of the day and started skipping, dancing, and pumping my chest. I was in disbelief of what was about to happen.
Those three miles took what felt like ages but in reality it was less than an hour. I climbed two flights of metal stairs and crossed the footbridge over the Potomac. I was officially in Harper’s Ferry, Lower town to be exact. I screamed and hollered. I looked around and the place was a ghost town … no literally there was a group of tourists on a ghost tour through the historic town. I couldn’t hide my excitement, but it was 9:40 and the only place open was across town and closing in 20 minutes. My hike continued another mile and a half up hill to a pizza joint. I got a victory pizza and wanted beer but had to settle for a Dr. Pepper and a Sprite. I took them back to a cheap hotel on the outskirts of town and pigged out!
Even now, nearly three weeks later, I get goose bumps thinking about that moment. It has taken me some time to get acclimated to life outside of the woods but the experience has changed me forever. I am more appreciative, more patient, and more connected to what I really need in life.
Life is simple. Give. Live. Love.
A huge thank you to everyone who helped me along the way especially, Cory the Editor of this publication for allowing me to use this medium to stay connected to everyone while so far away.
I've thru hiked the AT north bound to raise money for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. If you're interested in finding out more, and contributing to my cause, please visit my HikeFor account. Remember to follow my journeys here at HighlandFrog.com and to "like" the HighlandFrog Facebook page to be notified about future articles and updates! Who knows where I will Explore next! Thanks for your support!
One step at a time,
Geoffrey, aka Messiah
More Articles by Geoffrey about his Thru Hike of the AT