Monday, July 15, 2019

Hiking the C&O: Day 5 (June 24, 2019)

Potomac Morning

resupplied in Brunswick

Back into the green tunnel. Constant shade was a major blessing throughout the hike in 90 degree weather.

entering the Appalchians

Saw two of these during the hike. I thought they were otters which seemed crazy. A large swimming rodent whatever it is.

Onto the flattest 3 miles of the Appalachian Trail

I took a small detour and hiked into Harpers Ferry for ice cream.

Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers converge

Historic town of Harpers Ferry

ice cream hit the spot

Saying goodbye to Harpers Ferry

Potomac River mellows out

One of two bald eagles in tree.

paw paw fruit

Interesting ruins

Calm and quiet on the towpath

Trains were a common site on the hike
Day 5 on the C&O. My hobo game was still not on point, which is often the case the first couple weeks of hiking. I had a late start from the Brunswick Family Campground because I was recharging my phone. There was an electrical outlet a few feet from where I set up camp but I did not see it the night before. Now I was wasting the cool morning hours to recharge the phone and camera batteries. I left the campground around nine. I had a good night's sleep. Last time I camped here a couple years ago, I remember trains passing by all night. This time, I did not hear as many. Also, my body was feeling pretty good. I'm always amazed at the body's ability to heal itself over night. A couple of Ibuprofen and sleep does wonders.

My plan was to hike into the town of Brunswick and resupply. Other than the morning sun really heating things up, resupply went off painlessly. I had to hike a mile to the Dollar Store in town. Found everything I needed to last 3 more days and was back on the towpath within the hour. God, it always feels great to get back on trail after resupply. The path around Brunswick is always pretty quiet, other than the occasional biker passing by. Traffic began to increase as I got closer to the flattest 3 miles of the Appalachian Trail and Harpers Ferry. The AT descends off the ridge and onto the towpath for 3 miles, past Harpers Ferry, and then climbs steeply back onto the ridge after crossing the Shenandoah River. It felt great to be on the AT again. I ate some lunch just before Harpers Ferry and watched some rafters go down the river. After lunch, I decided to take the footbridge into Harpers Ferry for some ice cream. While crossing the bridge, a woman and I made eye contact,

"I'm sorry, I just have to ask," she said. "How long have you been on the trail?"

Since I was on the Appalachian Trail at this point, I knew what she was getting at.

"4 days." I replied. "I'm hiking the C&O from Washington D.C."

Awkward silence ensued, the disappointment in her face was palpable.

"Oh," she answered, then continued walking.

The C&O, the bastard son of the AT. After walking into Harpers Ferry, I bought a cup of ice cream and sat in the shade watching the tourists. I was ready to get out of there, so after finishing the last bite, I took the footbridge back over the river and was back on the towpath, eager to see new territory. The ecosystem seemed to change slightly as I hiked north from Harpers Ferry. To my right, small rocky cliffs rose up from where the canal builders must of had to painstakingly dig out the waterway for the canal boats. The plants and trees took on a different flavor as well. Now that I was in the mountains, or maybe just the time of year, mosquitoes started getting bad again. They would come in waves, really aggressive for a mile, then would disappear for a mile or two, then come back, then disappear. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason when they'd show up. The canal was also really peaceful at this point, one of my favorite sections up to this point. Rain showers came and went during the afternoon, but nothing that warranted rain gear. I just had to keep my camera dry, which I did with a plastic bag. I saw a couple bald eagles up close during this section which was a highlight.

My plan for the afternoon was to hike to Antietam Creek campground and call it a night. After a couple hours of hardly seeing anybody, I arrived at the campground. There were a few others camped there, it looked like a nice site along the river. Unfortunately, the sign there mentioned something about needing to make reservations before hand before camping, and if you didn't have any, to call a number which required walking up a road to get cell service. One problem I have when I backpack, especially when it gets late in the day, is making hasty decisions. It's like once the engine is turned on, it's hard to turn it off, or to restart it. So I made a hasty, not well thought out decision to just keep hiking and to look for a campsite along the river somewhere.

Bad decision. Once I left Antietam Creek, the canal slowly became busier. The complete quiet and solitude I experienced all afternoon, slowly became replaced with a house, here, a house there, a road here, a road there. I was feeling exhausted but couldn't find a spot where I could comfortably call it a night. So I hiked a mile, then another mile, before I knew it I was crossing the 20 mile mark for the day and feeling wiped out. Still the canal seemed to be getting busier and busier with every footstep. Unfortunately, that's just how it goes sometimes, the timing does not line up properly. Finally, when I could not hike another step I had to set up camp. There were young people jogging down the trail every minute, people walking their dogs. When I finally saw a break in the foot traffic, I bushwhacked to the river which seemed to be only 40 feet away. I found a tiny ledge that offered just enough protection and privacy from the towpath, could still hear people walking by 20 feet away. I was hidden behind paw paw's and a small mound. I was so tired I had to make it work. After setting up my tent poorly amongst the vines and plants, I slid my way down to the river gabbing onto roots. There was a perfect little pool nestled between the river bank and a downed tree where I was able to safely lower myself into the river and bathe. This raised my spirits significantly. I climbed back up to the ledge where my tent was placed. Ate a couple of bars for dinner, and passed out exhausted, but at least clean...

Saturday, July 13, 2019

Hiking the C&O: Day 4 (June 23, 2019)

Potomac morning

White's Ferry

Ferry taking truck into Virginia

Massive Maple Tree

Maryland's Largest Tree: Sycamore

Getting hotter by the day

Monocacy Aqueduct

Monocacy Aqueduct: The bridge once held water here so the canal boats could continue south.

Another view: to the right was once filled with water so the canal boats could continue south, while below the bridge, the tributary could still flow into the Potomac River.

At Point of Rocks

Illustration of how the aqueducts once were used.

Catoctin Aqueduct

Washout along the C&O

Newly installed footbridge

Brunswick Family Campground
I woke up on the 23rd of June to another sunny day. There was thumping music the night before complete with what sounded like a live DJ over a microphone. I thought I was in the middle of nowhere, guess not. I ate some breakfast and watched two bald eagles fight over a fish. After hitting the trail, I found out that I had camped less than a mile from the small town of White's Ferry. There is not much there, just a few houses a small store, and the ferry. This was the first time I had ever been there, and the ferry was not what I imagined. I pictured something larger, the river wider, the ferry bigger. Nevertheless, I enjoyed watching the ferry transport cars from Maryland to Virginia, and vice versa, while I drank a Gatorade I purchased at the small store. There was some interesting civil war history along the way here too. White's Ferry was a location where General Lee and the Confederates crossed into Maryland attempting to sway possible sympathetic citizens to their cause. Supposedly they were met with indifference here, and a few soldiers wondered why they weren't welcomed as liberators. Sounds familiar.

By 11:00 I was back in familiar territory. A couple years ago, I visited Dickerson Conservation Park to see Maryland's largest tree, a giant Sycamore growing on the Potomac. I decided to stop by and see the tree again, and took a small break along a really peaceful section of the Potomac. Around this time, my luck started to change a bit. After an excellent break, I decided to try and bushwhack back the towpath, rather than hike back the extra distance I took to detour and see the tree. This was a big mistake as the land around this spot is very swampy. I couldn't male it back to the canal, wasted a lot of time and energy, and got real muddy in the process, and had to backtrack anyway. Feeling a bit defeated, I continued north on the towpath feeling like I lost some momentum and it started heating up pretty good.

By lunch I was back in unfamiliar territory and reached the Monocacy Aqueduct. There are a total of 11 aqueducts on the C&O and they were considered beautiful man made works of art by engineers back in the day, and probably by many today. Confederates unsuccessfully tried to blow up the Monocacy Aqueduct during the civil war, but the structure was so solid, they were unable to. I began to have more appreciation for these structures as the hike progressed.

By late afternoon, I began to worry a little about what was ahead. I was back to getting good miles in, but there was something I read online about a "washout" just north of the Point of Rocks. Supposedly the C&O was closed there and there was a shuttle bus taking hikers and bikers around the area, first come, first served. This all sounded strange to me. How bad could a washout be where I couldn't just walk around it? There was nothing I had seen to this point along the Potomac where such a scenario could even exist. Also, how reliable was this shuttle? This wasn't exactly Yosemite National Park.

When I reached Point of Rocks, there was a small cardboard sign announcing the washout and shuttle pick up. It wasn't very comforting. I walked across the street to a small deli and ordered an Italian cold-cut sub and asked the cashier if she knew anything about the washout. She didn't. Of course, I forgot about the infinite source of information I had in my pocket, the smart phone. After finishing my sub, I googled info on the washout. As it turned out, a small footbridge had literally just been installed at the location, and the canal was open again for hikers and bikers. Score!

Also around this time, a funny situation occurred. Two out of shape guys came into the deli only wearing bathing suits asking for a ride back to their car. They had floated down the Potomac on rafts and forgot to bring their car keys. They were now several miles downstream and had to get back to the car where they left the keys. (I once did the same thing when I lived in California on a two day hike.) Unfortunately, I pointed to my back pack and told them I was on foot. I couple minutes later, I saw them trying to hitchhike on the side of the road. They looked comical.

By now I was getting tired and looking for a place to camp. There was a hiker biker site I was trying to reach. Also during this time, I met the only other backpacker I saw out there. He was doing a training hike and was getting ready to head out to the PCT for 600 miles. When I reached the hiker biker site, there was just one other man camped there. Unfortunately I also had run out of water. The man said the water pump was no longer working, and that the park service had to re-prime it, or something to that effect. I was already exhausted and began to weigh my options. I decided I would just go ahead and push the extra four miles to the Brunswick Family Campground, a place I like and have camped before in the past. My body wasn't ready for it, but that's how it goes sometimes. Around this time, I noticed mosquitoes for the first time. I reached the campground right after sunset. I limped to my campsite, limped back to the bathhouse where I got a shower, cooked some dinner, and fell asleep in my tent exhausted. My first 20 mile day in a long while...