Editor’s note: This is a reprint (with Jim’s permission) of an email from Jim Heaney sent during his “through-hike” of the Appalachian Trail.
What a trip. I wander into the “lobby” of the Hotel Doyle, an historic and lored AT hostel offering dingy and dramatically underventilated rooms for $15 a night (the lobby, by the way, is a bar), and I find ten fellow hikers, most drinking beers. This was at noon. It is quite hot outside, and, well, heck, most of us are staying over tonight.
So I missed an email I intended to send from Harpers Ferry, WV. The library was closed the day I was there so the books could be re-barcoded. My first thought: hey, I’m a taxpayer… wait, where am I again? So I walked on.
The time between the previous email and now has been sort of a Tale of Two Weather Patterns:
- The Shenandoahs were a total wash. Rain, rain, rain; one night got down to 43 degrees — my sleeping bag stopped working 12 degrees warmer, and I wore all three shirts I have with me to sleep that night. One day the sun comes out, so we get hazy views of the valley below; the sun kicks up thunderstorms and it’s raining again by the late afternoon.
- Going into Front Royal, VA, the rain started to dissipate, and other than two short showers yesterday and last night, we’ve had twelve straight days of mostly sunny, mostly very hot weather.
With the benefit of so much water, the bugs are out in force now. Shifty came down with Lyme’s Disease last week, and I myself picked a few ticks off at the last town visit. The gnats are really unbelievable.
Besides the rain, the Shenandoahs were notable for the two black bears, one wild turkey, and over one hundred deer that I saw. (I also had an exciting bobcat spotting outsidethe park.) Deer in that park are like squirrels in the city, or dolphins in southern seas: they’ll come up to the shelters looking for food, or they will stand in the middle of the trail while you figure out how to try to get around them. Outside of the park, deer are generally hunted, thus much more skittish. Shenandoah is also a park where a hiker can count on convenience stores and restaurants almost every day; I almost picked up the new Trail handle “Wayside” as a result of my heavy usage of them.
Harpers Ferry is the emotional halfway point of the Trail, and in fact, since the past message, I have passed through there in addition to the following actual milestones:
- completed 1,000 miles
- completed 50% (1,086 miles)
- consumed half a gallon of Hershey’s ice cream (peanut butter cup) at the Pine Grove Furnace State (PA) Park, in 48 minutes (the record is 12 minutes 10 seconds), joining the esteemed “Half-Gallon Club”; this was 3,360 calories if you are counting at home
By Harpers Ferry, historically over the past ten or so years, approximately two out of every three hikers has left (or “gotten off”) the Trail; and, historically, one out of every two who makes it there will drop off before reaching Mt. Katahdin. I find this somewhat staggering, but it makes sense. I’ve been hiking on a somewhat sore ankle for over 400 miles now. Illness (West Nile Fever being added to the list recently) can easily take you off. The weather, as I’ve hopefully mentioned, has been miserable, and it’s only now about to get hot. But I think mostly the reason people get off is money. I’ve started seeing and hearing names of a surprising number of people getting off, and it seems that more than not, they’ve run out of money.
With that note, I mention with excitement that Stonehenge (whom I met in the Smokies) caught up, but with news that Hoops (whom I met on the fourth day) is off and looking to hike some sections. So the crowds I’ve been hiking with are different than before, but all still very neat people: just to drop a few names, Mellow Yellow, Constant Motion, Blink-Blink, Lion King, Woods, Stripe, Mickey One-Sock. I promise some more fun names in the next email.
I’ve been teasing about water safety for some time, but given that I’m paying for this internet access, I’ll push it off once more. My next section is what’s known as the rocky section, which, given how rocky the non-rocky section I just finished was, fills me with fear.
Shoutout to my good friend Tim Jarrett, who has made it possible for my past journal entries to be retrieved at this address: http://www.www.jarretthousenorth.com/mothman/.
Best to all,