Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Into the Woods: Day-Hiking the AT in West Virginia


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Had I actually slept eight hours? Yes!

As usual, I’d nodded off a few times during the previous night’s program, a movie about the Appalachian Trail, but who wouldn’t after seeing the AT in person for six hours?

Today, for our West Virginia hike, we had two choices. One was shorter than the other, and I wondered if the first alternative hike of the week had been offered in consideration of our sorry state after three days of hiking. The weather report promised another wet day, but I would not take the alternative hike. How could I skip hiking in my home state, even drenched to the skin? If it rains, you hike.

Only four miles of the Appalachian Trail pass through West Virginia. In order to extend the hike to 6.5 miles, we would begin in Loudon Heights, in northern Virginia. The hike would end in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, home of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.

The temperature that morning was in the 60s. As we approached our starting point in the vans, the mountaintops were fogged in; we might have been in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. I had dressed appropriately for the temperature, but I didn’t want to hike alone in foggy conditions. Would I ever stop being afraid?

As it turned out, the fog was not an issue, but rain dripped all day. I wore my rain pants and jacket and protected my pack with its bright yellow rain cover. Underfoot the ground was slippery. Remember the little boy in The Sixth Sense who said, “I see dead people”? My version was “I see mud.” We had to sidestep the large puddles and respect the roots and rocks.

Our guide for the day stopped often to point out historical sites in the woods. He explained how coal had been converted to coke there in years past. He showed us the foundations of homes built in the valleys and now long gone. In order to do so, he would stop and wait until the entire group had gathered around him, a contrast to previous days when each person hiked at his or her own pace. I liked it.

My comfort level increased on this hike; in fact, it was my favorite hike. I didn’t even mind the rain.

Our guide split up the men and women for a group nature break in the woods. The men disappeared around a curve, and we women went behind a boulder to pee. “Watch out for snakes,” one called. “They like to hide in rocks.” Thanks for the warning, I thought, but at that point I couldn’t run if one jumped out at me.

The cliffs above Harpers Ferry gave us a wonderful view of the town, located at the convergence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers. Harpers Ferry is also a national park. We walked toward it on a long bridge, and I thought the people speeding by in trucks and cars might feel sorry for us, trudging along in the rain, but they’d be wrong.

We ended our hike by eating lunch on the porch of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy sheltered from the rain. Perhaps the weather was to blame for a slow day in the shops, but we did our part. I bought two gifts, one a wooden sign for my brother’s apartment: “It’s 5 O’clock Somewhere.” A similarly named chapter in his memoir, Mr. Joe, describes the little boy’s wait for his father every evening.

Our dinner was a farewell banquet. For our evening program we were leaving the premises to hear a group of local musicians. I knew I had to fortify myself against sleep, so I had a cup of coffee. I was still awake at midnight.

We attended a concert at O'Hurley's General Store in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. A group of musicians play there on Thursday nights in a big room with chairs set up so that people can come and listen. That night there were 11 musicians. The performance was amazing: Every one of those musicians could sing and play at least two instruments. I discovered that Irish music moves me. I wouldn’t have needed the caffeine.

Our group had been exchanging contact information and saying good-bye. After a tour of Antietam Battlefield the next morning, we left for home.

One day when I was on the computer I saw a post on Facebook from a company called A Walk in the Woods. It seemed a place had unexpectedly opened for a weekend backpacking trip in the Smokies in September. I took it.


  1. A lovely ending to your wonderful woods series. You, my friend, are hooked on hiking and I am hooked on your blogs. Another exceptional trek in the woods with you and our beautiful WV trail being the finale trail in your series. Thanks again Jane....

    1. As always, Betty, I appreciate hearing from you. I did think the hike ended on a good note. Just because something is difficult, we don't have to give up on it.