Monday, November 28, 2016

Day 6: Exploring Harper's Ferry

July 10: The hostel provided unlimited waffles for breakfast--and I took full advantage of this fact, eating them up until I was stuffed. Hikers and bicyclists packed up for the day, myself included, but I stored my pack at the hostel for most of the day. I'd been to Harper's Ferry twice before on my Appalachian Trail thru-hikes, but I always passed through quickly and didn't explore the town or the exhibits as much as I would have preferred. I hoped to make up for it today--at least in part. I could generally skip the stuff I'd already seen on my previous visits.

John Brown's capture in the engine house, as depicted by these wax figures
in the John Brown Wax Museum. That bearded guy is John Brown,
who's cradling his son that was killed in the final showdown.

So I left my pack (and stroller) at the hostel and walked around town completely unencumbered. I walked back into town, which passed by the ATC headquarters where I dropped in and leafed through the photo albums of all of the 2003 and 2015 thru-hikers--my years! And I took photos of every single 2003 and 2015 hiker so I'd at least have a record of them if I ever wanted to contact any of them. That took a solid hour of effort and generated nearly 400 photos of over 2,000 people.

I was also curious about how much more popular the trail was between the two years. In 2003, they recorded about 740 northbound thru-hikers. In 2015, they recorded 1380 northbound thru-hikers--almost double the numbers from 2003. This year, they already had 200 more hikers that had gone through as of July 10th than they had last year on July 10th. The A Walk In the Woods movie had come out since last year and I  had heard rumors that a thousand more people started the trail at Springer Mountain this year than last, and it would appear that at least 200 of them made it as far as Harper's Ferry.

Interesting... very interesting....

After I finished with that, I continued walking deeper into town and poked my head into the John Brown Wax Museum. It looked like a cheesy tourist attraction that no self-respecting person would step foot in, so of course I had to! I asked the lady at the entrance how much it cost ($7), and asked if it was worth it--knowing she'd probably be biased towards talking it up because hey, that's her job, right? She said that it was air-conditioned inside (well that's worth the price right there! It was shaping up to be another hot day!) and that they had 87 wax figures inside.

I did a bit of quick mental math--realizing that $7.00 wasn't even 10 cents per figure! I'll take it!

This is the Shenandoah River, and that long bridge
is where the AT comes into town. Harper's Ferry marks the
confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers.
I walked through the museum quickly, taking a few pictures and reading about what each scene represented. John Brown, for those of you not up to snuff on your American History, fought against slavery first making a name for himself in the Kansas conflict when they were deciding whether Kansas should be a free state or a slave state. His most famous exploit, however, was taking over the federal armory at Harper's Ferry in 1859, wanting to give the weapons to slaves and other colored people to rise up and rebel against the federal government. He failed and was captured in the engine house located just a few blocks away. He was tried, convicted and ultimately strangled to death from a poorly executed hanging.

The museum covers the entire life and times of John Brown from his younger years up until his death in 1859, but focused primarily on the Harper's Ferry raid--which makes sense since that's where we were located and it's what he was most famous for.

It was all interesting, although I can't say that I learned anything new from the walk around. I'd read quite a bit about John Brown before.

Later, I ate lunch at the Potomac Grill. Ranger Scott had suggested it the night before as a good place to get dinner, but I hadn't wanted to walk all the way back into town then. But now that I was in town, I had no qualms about stopping by for lunch. It had a wonderful outdoor patio overlooking Harper's Ferry which I very much enjoyed. In the shade, it didn't even particularly feel hot.

I wasn't done exploring Harper's Ferry just yet, however, and after I finished lunch, I walked around on the waterfront towards Virginia Island--a section of Harper's Ferry I'd never been to before. I continued following the waterfront until it met up with where the Appalachian Trail entered Harper's Ferry. At that point, I was back on familiar ground again and decided to follow the AT back up towards the ATC headquarters and back to the hostel. It was time to collect my pack and stroller and get back to the C&O Canal.

Due to the steep and narrow sidewalks around Harper's Ferry, I carried my pack on my back and dragged the stroller around empty. One guy who was passing by me in the other direction said, "Hey, umm... I think you lost a baby?"

I looked in the empty stroller with mock concern. "Oh my GOD!!!!" I picked up the stroller and looked under it. "Where'd the baby go?!"

Before quitting town completely, I did stop at the ATC headquarters one last time. There's a tradition that thru-hikers get their photos taken outside with the ATC sign. It's an AT thru-hiker tradition, but I wanted a photo of me with my stroller despite doing the C&O Canal instead. It wouldn't go in any of their photo albums which were just for AT hikers, but rather it would go in my personal collection. I asked another hiker who was lounging around outside if he'd take my photo for me, which he did after he made me explain what was up with the stroller. =)

Back on the towpath, I removed my pack and placed it in the stroller. I was done carrying my pack. For now, at least.

I was back on the trail and hiking by 3:00 in the afternoon--a very late start by anyone's standards! But I had certainly seen a good chunk of Harper's Ferry by that point. The temperatures were still very hot and humid, but they seemed considerably less than yesterday. Maybe only 85 degrees instead of 95 degrees? Definitely not as bad as it had been since I started the trail.

The rest of the day's hike was relatively uneventful. I had originally intended to stop at the Antietam Creek campsite about 10 miles out from Harper's Ferry. Perfect location considering my 3:00 start time. This was the same Antietam Creek that ran "red with blood" from the Battle of Antietam. The bloodiest day in American history with 23,000 casualties, took place about four miles upstream.

But I was disappointed to learn it was a drive-in campsite rather than a hiker/biker camp and--even worse--cost $20/night. Yikes! Thanks, but no thanks. I pushed the stroller on another 5.6 miles to the Killiansburg hiker/biker camp.

By the time I arrived there, it was dusk and darkness fast approaching. This campsite was absolutely wonderful--right on the Potomac River. When I arrived, a family had already set up camp. A dad--Brian, from South Africa--and two kids. They told me there was a wife with them as well, but she was already in the tent and I never did see her.

I set up camp. This time, no rain was expected during the night, so I decided to cowboy camp under the stars. While cooking dinner, two other bikers arrived to set up camp as well. They weren't biking together, though, and arrived all of about 5 minutes apart from each other. Mickey was out for a few days and shuttling with a car while Erik, who had started the trail just the day before, was planning to ride from DC to Alaska!

"Alaska?" I asked. "The state attached to Canada?" That's a pretty long distance, even by biking standards. I wanted to make sure I understood it correctly.

"That's the one," he replied.

"Normally, I'd tell people you're almost there... but in your case, you really aren't." I said, shaking my head.

By the time I finished up dinner and was set for the night, it was quite dark and I decided to go for a swim in the Potomac. I stripped down to my underwear and waded into the water. It was cold, but tolerable. Getting in the water was the hard part, and the first few seconds after I dunked myself took my breath away, but after that it wasn't so bad and I just floated in the shallow water enjoying the swim and washing off the sweat from the day. I'd have preferred to skinny dip, but with two other people who had also been talking about taking a swim and kids nearby, I figured it was probably better if I didn't.

After leaving the water, I headed back to my campsite for the night. The night was pleasantly cool, and it would be the first night I'd actually get in my sleeping bag. Previous days, I had draped it over me using it more like a blanket, and even then I only did that to keep bugs off me during the night.

My halfway photo at the ATC! =) Although I wasn't actually anywhere near the halfway mark.... I'd covered only about 80 miles of the 350 or so I had expected to complete.
It might not be readily apparent, but the Potomac River is getting smaller and smaller the further upstream we go. At this point, the Shenandoah River is no longer feeding into it.

A hiker/biker camp just past Harper's Ferry. I wouldn't stop here because it's too soon, and because the water pump had been disabled. (The handle for the pump had been removed.)

Overlooking the Potomac River from a culvert under the trail.

Potomac River

Antietam Creek Aqueduct, crossing over Antietam Creek. Just a few miles upstream was where the Battle of Antietam took place.

The Antietam Creek campsite was actually a very pleasant place, but I skipped it when I learned that it was designed for car campers and cost $20/night.

Shepherdstown Ford, across the Potomac, looks like a nice little swimming hole with that tire hanging from the tree, doesn't it? =) Back during the Civil War, it was called Boteler's Ford and the Confederate army crossed back into Virginia here (now West Virginia) after the Battle of Antietam. The better part of the Confederate army used this ford during the invasion of Pennsylvania (the Gettysburg campaign) and Jubal Early crossed here to begin his raid on Washington in 1864. Lots of Civil War history in this area!
Railroad trestle across the Potomac.

Sunset over the Potomac.

Mickey contemplates going for a swim in the Potomac. (Which she would do after setting up camp.)

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