April Johanssen, a 35-year-old single mom, is turning her life around by getting back to nature. After years of rarely leaving her house in Chicago, she became obsessed with Harper’s Ferry and drew on the support of local and online communities to fund a break-out camping and hiking trip. It’s almost a week into that trip now, and her funds, those she didn’t spend on food and gear, are running low. So, she starts volunteering in exchange for her site at the hostel, and, because she’s got to work four hours a day, she’s not getting to much of the hiking she came to do. The debilitating migraines don’t help either. And when she does have time to hike, after all that work is done, for one reason or another, she just doesn’t feel like it. She’s not getting done the thing she came to do. She wants to try a longer trip with the backpack, but her tent is too big to carry, and she’s never even done a day hike with the pack on. She needs some practice, and a push.
So she had to climb up Weverton Cliffs with me. It’s only a couple of miles, after all, and I need someone to take my picture in front of that gorgeous view anyway.
It was just five miles to Brunswick from the place where the AT and the towpath parted ways, all of it in view of the Potomac. Copper only went in once for water, and other than that, it was quick, easy motion.
On the other side was the canal, and in this section, it had water in it. In fact, it was practically a swamp. There were tons of turtles, and some huge catfish lurking just below the surface.
After the photo shoot was over and my newly-adjusted glasses were mangled underfoot and we had survived the first assault squad of Cicadapocalypse 2013, it was probably 3pm when we finally set off along and around the Smithsonian Wildlife Preserve and into the woods.
This is probably going to be a long post. It covers a week and a half, but all that went by very fast because I hardly stopped for anything, so I doubt my part will be particularly long, but when added to my mom’s account it will surely add up.
So, of course I slept late the day after I was picked up in Rockfish Gap. I barely caught the tail end of the included breakfast buffet at the Residence Inn. I had thought to walk 15 miles this day from Wildcat Ridge trailhead, but it was so late by then time we got into the park, I shortened it to 10 miles. I think I was dropped off at Sawmill Run Overlook at around 1pm to slack the 10 miles back to Rockfish Gap by 6pm. Very little happened aside from the walking, which, as the south end of the park is so narrow, mostly ran adjacent to (and frequently crossed) the Skyline Drive. The Skyline Drive is actually the same road as the Blue Ridge Parkway, having been built as part of the same project in the same fashion, but for some reason it gets a different name while it is inside the park.
I stopped in to Calf Mountain Shelter to eat the leftover pizza I’d packed in, and found the fire going, which I knew meant that Cody Coyote would be there cooking lunch. I managed to catch up to him because someone had gifted him a large quantity of alcohol and so he had holed up in the abandoned motel at Rockfish Gap until such time as the alcohol had all been drunk, which meant about four consecutive zeros for him. This is why he goes no faster than me despite doing nothing but twenties when hiking.
On my way out, I bumped into Lauren, who you may recall I spent the night with in Iron Mountain Shelter. I asked her how she felt, because I’d read her account of her and Sweet Tea’s bout with the stomach bug in the Wolfe shelter log. They’d had to zero there because of it, and she zeroed again in Waynesboro to recover. She still looked a bit worse for the wear, and I didn’t want to touch her since some strains leave one contagious for up to two weeks, but I have to admit I was somewhat glad to actually be catching up to people I thought had long since left me behind.
The only other events that marked that day were passing a huge patch of Pink Lady’s Slippers on the back side of Bear Den Mountain (a hill with a cluster of cell towers on top) and passing Broken Pack just before making it back to Rockfish Gap. I hopped back in the car just before it started raining. I only took one photo the whole day:
We were hiking in the dark. We left Cow Camp Gap Shelter around 10pm with around 10.5 miles to go to the next shelter. First, I had to climb over Bald Knob. Just after the sign that said “no campfires in open or mown areas” I found a group of guys standing around a fire right on top of the mountain. They had cooked steaks on a Bio-Lite Grill in celebration of a bachelor party and seemed to like Bio-Lite a lot. I offered to let them buy mine for $50 and gave them my contact info. Maybe I’ll be able to unload it soon? The trail stayed open and clear with (what were probably in the daytime) excellent views all the way over Floyd’s Mountain until we dropped down toward Hog Camp Gap. Lots of folks were camped in the field, but the campsite that was mysteriously unoccupied was the one with a swing.
Then I went a half-mile out of my way so that Copper could get a drink from the spring. After I’d gone halfway, I started regretting the detour, but my curiosity kept me going forward to see what someone had called “Big, Great Water”.