Friday, November 25, 2016

Day 5: Revisiting the Appalachian Trail

July 9: Once again, due to the expected high temperatures later in the day, I got an early start on the trail. I woke up by 5:00 and was on the trail pushing my stroller by 6:00. =)

What a beautiful tree by lock 26!
Early in the morning I passed a large power plant--the Dickerson Generating Station. Definitely not a C&O Canal era structure! The thing I found most interesting about it was that the plant discharge canal had been reconfigured into a replica of the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Whitewater Course for training purposes. A nearby sign also noted that the local fire and rescue departments have trained in swift water rescue techniques there as well.

The day was relatively uneventful and nothing particularly noteworthy happened. Mostly, I just tried to stay cool by soaking my shirt in water at every opportunity and followed along with my book about the history I was walking through.

My book described numerous instances of Confederates troops raiding the C&O Canal and damaging sections along it, as well as following the movements of the main Confederate and Union armies as they crossed the Potomac and C&O Canal during the Antietam and Gettysburg campaigns.

The trail passed a location known as the Point of the Rocks, which also saw Civil War action. Confederates burned a bridge that crossed the Potomac to impede Union soldiers from entering Virginia--pretty much all of the bridges crossing the Potomac had been destroyed during the war for this reason. But Point of Rocks was also an important part of the C&O Canal history.

The B&O Railroad and C&O Canal had an enormous legal struggle over who had the rights to this thin sliver of land along the Potomac. On one side was the Potomac River, and an the other side tall cliffs with just a thin sliver of land between the two, and both companies wanted to build through it. They spent huge amounts of money battling each other in court for four years before the C&O Canal officially won the court battle. However, the legal battles drained much of the money the C&O Canal had, and an agreement was worked out between the two companies to share the land where the B&O paid the C&O Canal for the rights to share the land. A win-win for all!

In later years, the railroad was straightened a bit which required a tunnel through the cliffs, and later still the railroad widened the tunnel further. Now there are two railroad tracks through the area, one of which that runs through the tunnel and the other next to the cliffs.
This hiker/biker campsite along the trail still had occupants
from the night before! Seems like the bikers didn't get moving as
early in the day as I did....

The tracks are still in use today, and the C&O Canal is quite loud whenever a train would pass by at a high rate of speed. I couldn't imagine sleeping in one of the campsites next to this location. It would probably wake you up multiple times during the night every time a train ran by. The tracks were close enough that you could throw a rock and hit them!

Later in the afternoon, I reached the junction with the Appalachian Trail. The AT runs for a few miles along the C&O Canal as it leaves Harper's Ferry--among the easiest miles of the entire Appalachian Trail. It was kind of special for me to reach this point having thru-hiked the AT twice now, including just last year. This was the one section of the trail that wouldn't be new for me.

It was still mid-July, and I figured I'd probably even see AT thru-hikers along the trail. During my first thru-hike, I had started the trail April 16th and reached Harper's Ferry in late June. It was a fairly late start, so I figured the bulk of the thru-hikers would likely have already passed through. But there were bound to be some stragglers or those who, as time started running short, would skip up to Maine and start hiking southbound.

Whoever I saw hiking the trail, though.... I was pretty sure they'd all be envious of my gear in the stroller. =)

It didn't take long before I saw the first thru-hikers. I could tell they were thru-hikers. They were the first people I saw, on foot, carrying heavy packs since I started my walk. They were thin, gaunt even, with well-worn gear and oozed confidence.

They were all walking in the opposite direction as myself, though, so I didn't really stop to talk with most of them. One fellow had stopped at the shore, waiting for another hiker (that I later learned was his sister), so I chatted with him a bit.

This is Corn, an AT thru-hiker who was waiting for his sister to catch up.
"Thru-hiking the trail?" I asked him, even though I already knew the answer to that.

"Yep," he told me proudly.

"Quit! Save yourself! Quit you still can!"

He looked at me, startled.

"Just kidding," I said. =)

He was Corn, and he had started the trail very early in the season. I was surprised at this--I figured the people going through now generally had very late starts to their hike. But it's not a race! As long as he was having fun, which he assured me that he was. =) I wasn't sure what his long-term plans were--or maybe he didn't have any. At his current pace, he wouldn't make it to Katahdin before it closed for the season. If he wanted to finish the trail this year, he either had to start walking faster or flip-flop eventually.

"Don't let the stroller fool you," I told him. "I'm actually a very experienced hiker myself."

Eventually we parted ways, and I continued onward to Harpers Ferry while Corn continued to wait for his sister to arrive.

The towpath doesn't go directly through Harper's Ferry. Harper's Ferry is on the other side of the Potomac--in another state entirely as a matter of fact! But it takes just a few minutes of walking to get from the canal towpath into Harper's Ferry, and that was my destination for the night. I kind of wanted to camp, but the previous campsite was about 10 miles before that--much too early in the day to stop!--and the next one was far enough that I didn't want to walk that far. It was already a solid 20 miles to Harper's Ferry, so that's where I'd stop for the night.

At least I could take a shower and clean up a bit. =)

Crossing from Maryland into Harpers Ferry, WV!
The railroad trestle that the AT crosses into Harper's Ferry goes up a short set of stairs, and I knew Harper's Ferry was steep in places and there were plenty of staircases around town I might want to use. Knowing this, I decided to wear my backpack and carry the stroller like luggage rather than push my stroller through Harper's Ferry. And good grief, my pack was heavy. Glad I only had to carry it a short distance. It definitely was not thru-hiker light!

I checked into the Teahorse Hostel--the same place I stayed the year before while thru-hiking the AT--where I met a few more AT thru-hikers and a couple of C&O Canal thru-bicyclists. I kind of felt like I had a foot in both worlds just then. Even though I wasn't currently doing the AT, I could still relate to the stories the AT hikers told and share some of my own. The bicyclists told me about the trail ahead for me--they had started from Pittsburgh a few days earlier--and I could tell them about the trail to Washington.

There was one guest at the hostel who wasn't doing the AT or the C&O Canal--he was a ranger that worked in Harper's Ferry. Ranger Scott only worked there on weekends, though, and lived in Washington. Rather than getting a permanent place to reside in Harper's Ferry or commuting between Washington and Harper's Ferry, he'd stay at the hostel during the weekend. He was a regular guest!

He told us stories about people he'd met during his work. Like the people who would tell him he's getting the history wrong. And one person who had a girlfriend in Turkey that would be moving to the US soon, started a Skype chat with her so the ranger could tell her the history of the area. The man felt she needed to know it before moving to the United States. "That was a little odd," he said diplomatically.

I had mentioned that sometimes I've met kids during my thru-hikes that seem absolutely amazed to meet me, a "real" thru-hiker! And that I like to think I've inspired them to someday thru-hike the trail themselves when they grow up, and Ranger Scott said the same type of thing happens to him.

They have a Jr. Ranger program for kids, and the kids will be so overjoyed to be a Jr. Ranger, and he likes to tell them that they too could be a "real" ranger when they grow up because he too was once a Jr. Ranger--which was one of his inspirations for being a real ranger. (Even if it's just on the weekends!)

I had a really good time chatting with all the people, though. At the campsites along the trail, although I didn't mind the peace and quiet and solitude, it's still fun to have company around at times as well.

For dinner, I headed up to Mena's Pizzeria and Italian Restaurant where I ordered a pizza all for myself and a bottomless soda that I may have set a new record for the number of times I had it refilled in a single sitting.

The rest of the evening, after everyone else went to sleep, I pulled out my laptop and got some work done. It was my first wi-fi connection since leaving the hotel near Washington. I even fixed a small bug on Atlas Quest before I called it a night. =)

I hadn't been totally out of touch or offline all this time, though. I did have my smartphone and was able to call Amanda with updates on my progress on a nightly basis and get online to check some email, but I was a lot more limited with what I could do on a smartphone than my laptop. Interestingly, as soon as I entered Harper's Ferry, my cell phone stopped working. No signal! For days I'm walking through the "wilderness" and had a strong signal pretty much everywhere, and in Harper's Ferry--IN the city--absolutely nothing. I vaguely remembered having this same issue in Harper's Ferry the year before but had forgotten about it until it happened again.

But I was still able to call Amanda using Skype with the wi-fi connection at the hostel. All is well!

Dickerson Generating Station

The Monocacy Aqueduct is by far the longest aqueduct on the C&O Canal (560 feet long), and on September 9, 1862, Confederate troops spent several hours attempting to destroy the aqueduct but were stymied by its "extraordinary solidity and massiveness." There was no seam or crevice to insert a crowbar, and the drills they had brought to make holes for blasting powder were too dull to make an impression on the hard rock. As Union troops approached, the Confederates gave up and left.
View from the top of the Monocacy Aqueduct, looking out towards the Potomac River.

Occasionally the trail would pass an access point to the Potomac River, such as this boat ramp. The colored line on the boat ramp is to warn boaters of dangerous water. If it covers up to the yellow line, "caution" is advised. If the water level is up to the red line, nobody should really be going into the water. It's calm and placid right now, though!
Potomac River

The railroad by Point of Rocks. A major 4-year legal battle between the C&O Canal and B&O Railroad was fought over this section of land.

If you ever wanted to spend the night in a lockhouse, there are several that are available to rent overnight! I'd love to have spent the night in one of these, but I wanted to keep my schedule flexible and reserving one for a specific night makes that difficult. Perhaps someday, I'll come back for a weekend visit or something! =) Anyhow, you can see a list of the lockhouses available for rent on the Canal Quarters website. This one is one of them available for rent. It's Lockhouse 28. Just $100 per night! (At the time this post was written.)

The Catoctin Aqueduct is 100 feet long and crosses over the creek with the same name. It was often called the "Crooked Aqueduct" because the path of the canal zigzagged here so that the aqueduct would cross the creek at a right angle. Two of the three arches collapsed in 1973, and for many years, the towpath traffic crossed on a metal truss bridge across the creek. Almost miraculously, divers retrieved many of the original stones (459 of them) and pieced it back together by measuring and matching them to old photographs. New stones replaced the missing pieces that had washed away, and molded concrete was used to fill other gaps. It's quite an accomplishment!

A couple of miles of the trail followed an actual road that cars could use. Booo! No cars! No cars!

The trail passes right by Brunswick, MD, but I didn't stop in this town wanting to reach Harper's Ferry instead.

Lock 30 near downtown Brunswick. The lockhouse is no longer around, but it was probably located under the concrete bridge pier for Route 17 (seen in the background).

The stroller is still hanging in there! I still had concerns if it would hold up all of the way to Pittsburgh, though....

The flower still wears a happy face, but I tell you, the palms of my hands were so sore.... *shaking head* (And get your heads of out of the gutter!)

Highway 340 bridge over the Potomac
There must have been some sort of tubing event going on, because near Harper's Ferry, I saw hundreds of people tubing in the Potomac! And there was one guy speaking over a loud microphone or something as if he were the MC of an event. No idea what it was all about, though.

The engine house at Harper's Ferry, where John Brown's raid came to an inglorious end.

1 comment:

BeckyG said...

There are two or three river outfitters that run tubing and kayaking trips down the Shenandoah River, which exits into the Potomac at Harper's Ferry. During the spring, summer and early fall, you'll see colorful participants everywhere, especially on the weekends.