During the later runs of the PA Appalachian Trail- Summer of 2014, something occurred to me. After the journey through the PA A.T. was over, what next? After having so much fun on the trails and running so many miles, I’d be afraid it would be a shock to the system if I were to just stop. It really was such a great time, why stop?
The A.T. has such a unique atmosphere. If you take a hike or run on it, you are bound to see an awesome view, meet a fellow traveler, see one of the numerous shelters, and/or see wild life. Most of the entire trail is through wooded areas and mountains, so you experience the wild side of things. But there is also a civilized side to it, so you are not completely isolated from civilization. If you don’t see people themselves, you’ll see a walking stick propped up on the side of a tree, or a smoldering campfire along side the trail, or a cairn, to name a few things. A cairn is a pile of rocks that someone has built along the trail. It could mean a warning of sort, like a sharp turn on the trail, or a nearby branch off trail. It could also be a marker for a particular section of trail. Sometimes there is nowhere to mark one of the A.T.’s famous white blazes, so a cairn could help the hiker stay on trail. Other times, cairns are made just for fun…here’s a picture of one….
Speaking of fun, the West Virginia and Maryland portions of the A.T. sounded fun. The mileage from Harper’s Ferry to the Mason/Dixon line is roughly 44 miles, ideal for a fall day’s trail run. So onward we go!
Jen, AKA Earth Girl (EG), and Stacy joined me for a fall run through the woods on November 1st. We decided to start at Harper’s Ferry and run north to Pen Mar, which is at the border of Maryland and Pennsylvania. If you look at a map, Harper’s Ferry is in West Virginia, with Virginia bordering on the east and south and Maryland bordering north of town. The weather forecaster leading up to that Saturday had pretty much stayed the same: overcast with about a 50% chance of rain and windy. It was a forecast we weren’t used to, with all of the PA A.T. runs being sunny and warmer with hardly a breeze each day.
I woke up Saturday morning to a Timex watch that supposedly died overnight. This was the only watch I had along with me on the trip. I never ran without a watch before. I guess there is a first for everything. As we pulled into the parking lot on the northern end of the Int. 340 bridge, rain drops started to collect on the windshields. The first mile included going through the actual town of H.F. The town is rich with all kinds of history, mostly history that took place during the civil war.
Once going through town, we crossed over a bridge, basically where the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers meet, and joined up with the C & O Canal Towpath. This towpath ventured along the Potomac river for a few miles. It felt good to “stretch out the legs” on this stretch of trail. Eventually we met up with EG’s family….husband Ryan, daughter JJ, son Aidan, and Ryan’s brother Shawn. They kindly volunteered to crew us with food and drink throughout our adventure. We would see them on average every 6 miles this day. After a few chips and a quick adjustment in clothing, we were off…and up to Weverton Cliffs. It was one of the better views we would see all day.
This time of year, the trail is coated with leaves. They make it very hard to see those pesky little rocks that protrude from the ground. I call them “shark fins” because, well, they look like fins sticking out of the ground. We navigated through these the next few miles, settling in on a nice, easy pace. The wind had picked up a bit, but the rain that we were expecting, hadn’t gotten to us yet. And if there is wind, cold, and rain, that makes for a not so fun experience. After a meet up or two with our crew, we continued our morning trek north with more miles running on top of a ridge…. enjoying the dreary, gloomy, but still colorful fall foliage type of morning. Eventually we got to White Rocks Trail, which included a nice view of the eastern side of the mountain we were on, I believe it is still considered the Blue Mountains.
The total elevation change on our 43 mile trip equaled roughly 8,800 total elevation. Normally, that deserves recognition as being a tough amount of elevation to complete. However, it didn’t seem all that bad. There were climbs and descents, but overall, there weren’t quad and hamstring busting changes. We were glad for that, because cold and windy conditions and tight/sore legs equal a not so happy person. Though I had gone ahead of both EG and Stacy, they were only a few minutes behind after each aid station stop. Jen’s family continued to do a superb job in finding the right locations to meet up with us. They had been so used to crewing our PA A.T. runs, that it was second nature to them. I do feel for them, though. It was cold that day, and they did a lot of sitting and waiting. The one aid station I happened to look in their van and all the kids and adults were wrapped in blankets waiting for us. It became apparent, it appeared they were having a more tiring, uncomfortable day than we were. But they never complained and they continued to meet us every 6 miles or so. Here’s a picture of Stacy, Jen, and Ryan at one of the aid stations. Yep, people were getting cold….
As the day went on, and the miles kept building, we realized we had gotten lucky with the rain. There wasn’t any! Another thing that we noticed, was that the hikers in Maryland are an active bunch! We saw so many hikers, and runners for that matter, on the trail. We were a bit surprised by that. The weather wasn’t the greatest, but there sure were groups of 1 or 2, followed by groups of 7 or 8. And they were a variety of people too…young women, old men, old women, young men, old runners, young runners, etc. You name the type of person, and I think we saw them that day. It was an active trail, for sure. I also saw a cairn. We normally see a few each run and this run wasn’t any different. I had got to thinking that I hadn’t really taken a picture yet of one so I snapped one. Haha, it has to been the smallest one I have ever seen. It was stacked maybe 3 inches high….and I’m pretty confident it was one of the “just for fun” ones.
Like I said earlier, I had been running solo with Stacy and EG behind me. With about 10-12 miles remaining, and daylight starting to fade, I had noticed that I hadn’t see Ryan and family for a while. Though I wasn’t that worried, it did get my attention. At one point, I had crossed over a main road. On the other side of the road in the woods, there was a blue blazed side trail. The sign read “Parking” and had a arrow pointing the blue blazed direction. I was stuck. I wasn’t sure if I should continue on the white blazed A.T., or attempt this blue blazed trail to reach this parking lot. For one, I really didn’t know how far the lot was from the trail. For two, if I got to the lot, were Ryan and family going to be there? Figures, I didn’t have my A.T. map/booklet with me, so I couldn’t get any information about it. I started on the blue blazed trail and then slammed on the breaks. I thought, “Jeremy, you love adventures. Why don’t you just make an adventure within and adventure and forget about the parking lot?” So I turned around and got back onto the A.T. To make matters a little tougher, my cell phone battery was minimal, and I really didn’t know how much battery life I had left with my flashlight. A mile or two later, I approached a stream, and it seemed drinkable, so I filled my hydration pack to the top to be safe.
I decided to attempt to call Stacy with the minimal battery life I had left. Luckily, I got a hold of her and she confirmed that I should have taken that blue blazed trail to the parking lot and that would have led me to the crew. I was to meet Ryan and the gang 4 miles beyond there. I was relieved to hear that. I hung up the phone and started to head up a side of a mountain with better spirits. I should see the crew in about a mile. As I was heading up the mountain, I heard this rumbling and cracking of sticks and such. I looked over and all I could see in this thick patch of small trees and bushes, was this big, round, black, furry blob sprinting away from me. It was a bear! Thank goodness it was sprinting away from me. I scurried up the mountain even faster, with brief glances over my shoulder as I went. I eventually got to Ryan and the gang. I loaded up on food, coke, and coffee that I had requested at the last aid station I was at, some 3-4 hours prior. It tasted good. I also had my headlamp stored in their van, so I had backup light. I talked with them for a while and then was off for the final 6 or so miles.
The first mile was quite a climb up a mountain and it seemed like it would never end. Once at the top, it was pretty good ridge running, but it eventually got rocky. With about 10 minutes of light left, I snapped this photo…
After another mile, I turned the headlamp on and continued. It seemed like another mile or so until I got to an intersection on the trail. The A.T. went left and a blue blazed “vista view” labeled trail was straight ahead. After thinking it through for a minute, I decided to take the blue blaze to see what it looked like. It was the Pen Mar High Rock Vista, and was it ever awesome! It was so deserving, after a long day in the woods. The night was tranquil, with hardly any wind. And the gloomy skies had started to clear. The following picture doesn’t do it justice….
After gawking for about 5 minutes I decided to start the descend down into Pen Mar. Rude awakening! Rocks, boulders, rocks, boulders, everywhere, for at least a half mile heading down that mountain!! Later, all three of us agreed we weren’t expecting that type of finish. It was very hard to pick up the white blazes mixed in with all of the rocks. It resembled the toughest/rockiest sections of the PA A.T! Eventually, I got down to a flatter area, but it was still tough to spot the shiny blazes of the A.T. Luckily, I only ventured off the actual trail a few feet each time I got disoriented and finally got to a nice, flat, runnable section. I had never been at the Pen Mar State Park before, so when I got to it, I was expecting a parking lot with Ryan and family waiting. I was wrong! No parking lot, no Ryan and family. Now what? I continued to follow the blazes until I got to the train tracks area…the same area where we started the PA A.T. way back in June, but Ryan and the kids weren’t there either.
I had about 5% left on my cell phone and the last text message I had gotten was from Ryan, who said the park closed at dusk and he would meet me past the park at the gate? My phone was now dead. Hmm? Well, I knew there was a gate at the main entrance to the park, so I walked up there. No Ryan. It was starting to get cold, since the temps were now back down into the higher 30’s. So I ran back down to the train tracks…No Ryan. I continued to go back and forth from the main park entrance gate, to the train tracks. Finally, after at least a mile of running back and forth in the dark, and numerous cars passing me along the way, I saw a headlamp by the train tracks….it was Ryan. There must have been another parking location beyond the train tracks that I was unfamiliar with. He lead me back to the van, with Stacy and EG just finishing up. I gave each a high five! We were all glad to be done. And I was grateful that Stacy and EG had come along for the journey.
2 more states checked off the 14 state list!