May 11, 2018
Destination: Stealth Campsite at Mile 1027 Today's Miles: 6.30
Start Location: Campsite at Mile 1020.7 Trip Miles: 1027
Everybody got up early this morning. We wanted to try to get into Harpers Ferry in time to have breakfast before the shuttle from the ATC headquarters to Walmart for our resupply.
Our information said that there was a bus at 9:05 that we could flag down at the ATC. I shoved a jumbo iced honeybun in my mouth and we all took off as 710 calories driven by simple carbohydrates hot my system like a team of horses. Vroooom!!! (The sound a team of horses makes, or a fast car).
We saw a few deer hiking out of camp and enjoyed a rocky farewell to Virginia. It was really cool descending down into Harper’s Ferry. First we saw the Shenandoah River, and then we saw the busy bridge we would cross over into Harpers Ferry, before the confluence with the Potomac River. We walked next to fast moving cars on the bridge, but it was still an amazing feeling. On the other side we headed up again, back into the woods, and saw two more deer right as we got to the side trail that leads to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Headquarters. We took that trail, which was cool because it passed by the John Brown memorial and through the Storer College campus where the first meeting of the Niagara Movement was held, as well as other historic sites. There are markers and information there about the armory and other sites within town. I could go on, but there is a lot of history in the town and in nearby Charles Town, founded by George Washington’s brother. The Storer campus is now part of the Harpers Ferry National Historic Park. I didn’t dip into the various Civil War sites and museums, but there must be some in town because Harpers was a hot mess during the Civil War. I think it changed hands between the two sides seven or eight times, and Stonewall Jackson had some glory there at one point forcing a huge surrender of union troops. Suffice it to say, it is historic for many reasons.
The ATC headquarters is a modest building north of the Storer campus. Nevertheless, it was a bit like Mecca for us. We got there just before 8am, so it was closed (opens at 9). We decided to walk into town to see if we could get a coffee or a quick breakfast. We walked half a mile into the historic old town. Even at 8am, nothing was open! There were signs on various cafes that they were permanently closed, and others didn’t open until 10. It was like the town was dead! We walked back to the ATC headquarters to wait for it to open at 9. When it did, we found out that the bus comes by the ATC at 9:11, so a few minutes off the time in Wallace’s guidebook but still close. We just had to have $2.50 exact change and flag it down. The ATC headquarters provided change if we needed it, which was cool. We didn’t have time to look around there before the bus came, but would when we came back. They also let us leave our packs and trekking poles there while we resupplied, which was awesome.
We flagged the bus down and it dropped us at Walmart in Charles Town. There isn’t a place to resupply in Harpers Ferry itself The ATC had given us a bus schedule, so we had that and there were multiple times to get back. We were all starving though, so we walked a mile and a half on the highway to an IHOP. I gorged myself, drinking countless cups of coffee. I had stuffed French toast with strawberry vanilla topping, two eggs, two pieces of sausage, and hash browns. I then had four blueberry pancakes. Yeah.... The young Happy Feet has never been to an IHOP before, so it was a first for her. We all thoroughly enjoyed it, and then stopped by Taco Bell on the walk back to Walmart to get some food to pack out. I got a seven layer burrito and grabbed a bunch of fire sauce.
At Walmart we all dispersed to resupply, aiming for the 1:20 (or thereabouts) shuttle back. I bought so much food! I shouldn’t have gotten as much as I did. I got some clementines to get some vitamin c as well. No trail scurvy! The bus came and Day Hiker hopped on and put his $2.50 in the deposit box. The bus driver then told him she wasn’t going back to Harpers Ferry until 4:30! What?! The ATC didn’t even have a correct bus schedule for the one bus hikers take to resupply.... That seemed a little crazy. The bus left and so we decided to call the ATC to see if there might be any trail angels who could help us get back to Harpers from Charles Town. They supposedly had a list of trail angels at the ATC. We had to get to the post office before it closed, so the later shuttle wouldn’t work. I called the ATC number and no one picked up the phone.... Hitching is not legal in West Virginia and we had been warned about tickets, so I broke down and called an Uber. It was pricey, but that worked and we had a great Uber driver who was there in 15-20 minutes and got us right back to Harpers.
Once back in town those of us who needed to go to the post office did. I had a new pair of shoes there and some permethrin that I bounced to Boiling Springs, PA. I actually didn’t bounce it; I mailed it for $8.50 by priority mail. Apparently you can only bounce priority mailed packages (and they have to remain unopened). Now I know, and I won’t have to pay again to bounce them further north if I still have more life in my current shoes when I get to Boiling Springs.
After the post office, we all hung out at the ATC headquarters for a bit. I enjoyed looking at the exhibits there, and especially at the photo book to see who had already come through who I either knew or had heard of. Of course, we all got our official hiker photos taken. That was exciting! They give everyone a number so you know how many thru hikers before you reached Harpers Ferry from Springer Mountain in Georgia. I was number 169. When I started in Georgia, I was number 371! A lot of people have dropped out I guess.... We took out time looking around at the ATC and hanging out organizing and breaking down our resupply. It was great, and they had WiFi and places to charge our phones, as well as sodas for sale.
We finally decided to leave so that we could hit the outfitter (a few of us needed gas canisters) and the ice cream shop on the way out of town. We went back down the trail and followed it around to town. It passed by the famous Jefferson Rock, where Thomas Jefferson had stood on a visit to view the impressive Shenandoah river, and then into the bottom of old town near the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac rivers. The ice cream shop was a real gathering point for thru hikers! I saw Zia Fox, Fifty, Cheddar, Poncho, and Clothesline, of all folks! I had been wondering what happened to Skates and Clothesline, my two friends from Mt. Pleasant who suffered through the Hot Springs blizzard with me. Skates got off the trail for financial reasons and because he felt he got what he wanted out of his journey. Clothesline got off for a bit due to injury, but is now doing sections. He is not pursuing a thru hike this year anymore. He will probably pass me as they have covered some territory north of here slack packing. Apparently Candyman and Stumbles were in town as well, though I did not see them. After sucking down a mint chocolate chip milkshake and socializing a bit, it was already 4:30 so it was time to find a place to camp.
The walk out of town was awesome! There is a park and some historic plaques at the rivers’ confluence. I met some tourists from Taiwan and exercised my Mandarin a bit. We then walked on a bridge alongside train tracks and a train trestle over the Potomac river just before the confluence. The bridge was architecturally interesting, and where the train tracks disappeared into the mountain tunnel it said “1931 Harpers Ferry.” I’m guessing that’s when the tunnel was completed. The AT descends down stairs rather than going into the tunnel, and then follows a bike/walking path along the Potomac. We found a spot along the river with a fire ring and decided to drop and camp. It was getting into the evening and our packs were heavy. We had walked a lot today, even if many of the miles were not AT miles. All in all, I loved the Harpers Ferry experience! I liked the way the trail weaves through town, and all of the history was excellent. I really enjoyed the ATC headquarters and the people there were awesome! It was a bit weird that the town didn’t seem more ready for hikers. It was so dead in the morning and many places were closed, and I would have thought the ATC would be on top of things like the bus schedule. Maybe we really are super early in the season.... Ot didn’t feel like a hiker town, and maybe it is more of a historic town anyway - I’m not sure if hikers are a big part of the local economy. A lot of our money went to neighboring Charles Town by necessity. Anyway, those details didn’t detract from my experience - it was great!
I was grateful to finally make it to Harpers and see the ATC HQ, as well as get to experience walking in all the way from Georgia! That felt pretty amazing. It was incredible to get into the hiker book at the ATC. I had an awesome time with my fellow hikers today and overall am just so incredibly grateful that I have been able to take this journey, take it this far, and that I will wake up tomorrow and keep walking.