One month solo on the Appalachian Trail
Seen on the trail:
The roller coaster: 13.5 miles of rocks and jam-packed up-and-downs. I laugh at reading 'trail boss,' picturing a cross between a mafia lord and a burly farmer lifting rocks with lines of minions in tow. Though my legs begin to tire by midday, I push on, lured by the prospect of seeing Bear's Den Hostel: My guidebook notes its 'castle-like' appearance.
A stone wall lines the perimeter of the Bear's Den grounds, leaving enough space for a gravel road that extends from one end of the grounds to the other. Several cars lie parked before the hostel, which I find more reminiscent of a solid stone cottage than a castle.
As I walk up, a white-haired woman in a black wool winter jacket emerges from her car. "They don't open until 5," she yells across the wind.
No matter: I only wanted to see the place before continuing down the trail. An old, rusty faucet sticks out from one side of the building. Potable water! Heaving my pack off my aching shoulders, I hurriedly fill each of my water containers, happy to find running water that I don't have to filter before drinking. I relish the feeling of washing my hands with soap and water instead of hand sanitizer; I am overjoyed to find trash cans nearby, into which I dump the couple days' worth of trash I've been carrying.
After a quick lunch, I head off again.
As I crest a hill late afternoon, a tall man, brown beard roughly cropped, pick axe in hand, appears ahead.
"Thru-hiking?" he asks.
"Harper's Ferry, southbound to wherever I end up before school starts," I reply.
"Well, this is the most challenging terrain you'll get in awhile. Once you hit the Shenandoahs, you'll see. Nice, rolling terrain. Really graded."
"Good to hear!" I say. "So are you working on the trail?"
"Yep. I thru-hiked last year. Figured I ought to give something back. My trail name was Wreck. I got it after hiking the Whites with my son. After that, I was literally a wreck."
"My son's name was Nopants. Once, he was doing his laundry and left an extra pair behind. The hikers behind him found them - when they caught up to him, they said, 'we weren't sure what we'd find!'"
I thank Wreck for his work on the trail, grateful to the scores of volunteers who keep the trail running.