Third Day on the AT

On the third day of our hike we walked into Gathland State Park, site of the famous War Correspondents Monument.  Standing 50 feet high and 40 feet wide, it is quite impressive to see. We were looking forward to our arrival at the park because of a soda machine rumored to be there. A cold Coke tastes so good after hiking all day, and we hurried to the restroom where the brightly lit, pop machine stood waiting. We dug into our pockets for dollar bills and realized that both of us only had $20 bills, useless for obtaining our treat. 

The rest of the day was filled with pleasant walking. The weather was beautiful in the morning, but along about 2:00 pm, it clouded up and began to sprinkle. It couldn’t be our hike if we didn’t get a little rain. The shower only lasted a short time and we made the shelter where we planned to stay soon after. 

We were the first ones at the shelter. It was called the Ed Garvey Memorial Shelter and was as nice as any we had seen for quite a while. I looked it over and discovered a stairway in back that led to a neat loft. It was clean, modern, roomy, a delightful place for the night, and we spread our sleeping pads to claim a place. The one discouraging aspect about staying for the night stemmed from the fact that we would have to walk a half-mile down the hill for water. 

All afternoon and into the evening hikers drifted in. A man and his son arrived shortly. They were doing a section hike for a few days. Then the five, young guys that had followed us for the last three days came in and claimed spots upstairs. Then along about dinner time another thru-hiker, a real nice guy from Texas, strolled in. Karen and I knew we wouldn’t have the shelter to ourselves, but we never realized it would become so crowded. 

Just before dark, as we all sat around the campfire talking, we noticed a young girl walk up and ask if their was any room in the shelter. There is an unwritten rule that there is always room for one more, especially on nights that look like rain. 

She had that athletic look about her – long legs and a torso that molded to a backpack – reminding me of the way Karen looks with pack.  Someone asked her name and I heard her reply, “Snorkel.” (All thru-hikers use trail names, it’s easier to remember)
I knew I’d heard her name before when I did some hiking near Damascus, VA. She was famous for something but for the life of me I couldn’t think what it was. It wasn’t until a couple of days later that I found out her story. 

Liz Thomas, trail name “Snorkel”, is a hiking machine. At the age of 24, she became the youngest female hiker to receive a Triple Crown award, an accomplishment that requires you to thru-hike all three long distance trails in the United States – the 2100 mile Appalachian Trail, the 2600 mile Pacific Crest Trail, and the 3100 mile Continental Divide Trail. She is hiking the AT again this year with the goal of becoming the fastest female, unsupported thru-hiker. Unsupported means carrying a full pack all the way, resupplying from towns along the way, and not accepting help from anyone. She is typically walking 30 to 40 miles a day.  

The night was filled with dredging snores from the shelter. Flashes from a thunderstorm winked off and on in the distance, and rain prattled lightly on the roof, always a good time to be safe and dry inside. I slept hardly at all and was the first one up in the morning. I retrieved our food bag and quietly made coffee as everyone else slumbered on. 

At 7:00 am, as everyone was stirring in the shelter, stuffing their packs with sleeping gear, another thru-hiker arrived.  He was doing the “four state challenge”, a requirement that you hike in four states – Virginia, W.V., Maryland, and Pennsylvania – all in one 24 hour period. To accomplish this task, hikers have to start out in Virginia at 1:00 am, and walk almost 50 miles to PA. It’s not something old guys like me should ever attempt. 

The thru-hikers left together; I imagined offering support and encouragement with their quests. Karen and I were on the trail soon after. There wasn’t any need to hurry; we only had five miles of hiking to reach Harpers Ferry and the end of our trip. We knew the walking would be fairly easy. According to my map, it was mostly downhill for a couple of miles and then a leisurely stroll along the old C&O canal towpath. 


3 Responses to “Third Day on the AT”

  1. Mom says:

    Did you go to anything about John Brown? How about the Harpers Ferry Nat’l Historical Park? I discovered that Harper’s can be spelled with or without an apostrophe,and I looked until I found that the C and O stands for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad. That is one of the most interesting parts of our country, especially for those interested in Civil War times.

  2. Donna says:

    Wow, those stories about the power hikers are insane! 50 miles in one 24 hour period?! Crazy!
    Are there bathrooms at the shelters? (Pit toilets, I assume.)

  3. Dale says:

    Donna – The hikers that reach Harpers Ferry have walked 1000 miles and they can pretty much hike all day. What makes the long miles so difficult is hiking in the dark with a headlamp!

    There is usually a water source and a privy at each shelter. The newest design is called a “compost”, where the waste piles up under a platform and there are wood shavings to throw in after use. There’s very little smell compared to a pit.

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