It Gets Easier
If you walk all day, every day for two months you get better at walking. Who knew? For me, this was a short day.
Dan has run 15 marathons, at least one half-Ironman triathlon I know of (possibly more), I don’t know how many half-marathons and sprint triathlons, and two rim-to-rim Grand Canyon hikes (one with a return rim-to-rim). But he’d had enough trail walking by the time we got to the Washington Monument State Park, so we called it a day and went in search of something cold and bubbly.
A Fresh Look
I really enjoyed seeing the AT through his eyes for two days. Trail blazes, blue blazes, trail names, thru-hikers, and shelters have all become everyday normal to me. But to Dan, it was as exciting as it was to me the first time I walked the trail. I wish I could have shown him a bear, but we talked so much, I’m sure we scared off any wildlife within a quarter mile of the trail.
At our relaxed pace, we didn’t pass any thru hikers, but we met a busload of them slacking south to Harpers Ferry. We chatted with V6 and Optimus at the White Rocks viewpoint, hearing their trail name stories and comparing opinions about the Rollercoaster while we ate an early lunch. As we packed up to leave, V6 looked at Gus and said, “I think your dog is eating poison ivy.”
After a moment of panic, I determined that he probably ate the plant right next to some poison ivy, but regardless, he’ll get a sudsy chin bath when we get back to the van. He hasn’t shown any signs of poison ivy rashes on the AT so far, even though I know he’s occasionally gotten into it. But I’ve read that urishiol (poison ivy’s bad juju) can stick to dog fur and rub off on humans. His beard needs a wash anyway. I have no idea what would happen if he ate some.
A few minutes later, we saw Hoot-y-who & Cheesecake coming south with nearly empty packs. I’d last seen them at the VA60 pull out near Buena Vista (mile 809). I’d neglected to get Hoot-y-who’s trail name that time, even though we’d previously met even further south. So today I made sure to ask. She said it, spelled it out, and I repeated it into a quick video so I wouldn’t forget. I’ve got horrible short-term memory, especially for names.
I’ve talked to several thru hikers about their experience on the Rollercoaster. Apparently, I’m alone in my opinion that it’s been over-hyped. One hiker said he thought it was the hardest day on the entire trail so far. Another said she broke down and cried on the last climb. Still another said that while it wasn’t the hardest day yet, it was one of the top three. It sure wasn’t for me. Go figure.
After we left the slackpackers, I noticed Dan starting to fade, so I pulled out the FarOut app and checked the mileage to the Washington Monument, which was just after the next road crossing. We had less than two miles to go, which revived Dan enough to make him charge off into the woods.
Unfortunately, I misread the map. I didn’t realize it until we got to Old National Pike, which I mistook for the Washington Monument Road, which is another 1.5 miles further. Plus, another 0.6 miles to the monument itself where our wives planned to meet us. Oops. Poor Dan. I think I heard his heart break when I told him he had another two miles to go. Extra miles are the worst.
But we survived the extra mileage and walked up the hill to the monument just as our wives pulled up in the shuttle vehicles. They’d spent the morning touring Antietam battle sites and came armed with tons of information about the Civil War. Antietam was the bloodiest battle in American history, with 22,740 casualties in just a few days of fighting, more than half in the first hours of fighting. Something like 60% of the Confederate troops were lost in the first onslaught.
Dan and I had sensed ghosts of soldiers all morning. The woods still faintly echo musket shots, cannon blasts, and battle cries. It takes no effort to imagine blue and gray soldiers moving silently through the dark woods or taking aim at each other from behind trees and rocks. Parts of the woods are so thick entire battalions could probably pass hundreds of yards away without being seen. I wonder how many soldiers crawled off battlefields and died quietly in the woods from their wounds without ever being found?
The Original Washington Monument
We all hiked the short path up to the Washington Monument, a 25-foot high stone tower built decades before the more famous one on the Capitol Mall in Washington, D.C. Maryland’s monument tower has been rebuilt and restored several times. Northstar recalls visiting as a child but remembers it as a pile of rock rubble.
Today, we climbed the circular stone stairs to the lookout platform and watched an approaching rainstorm blanket the valley to the northwest. When the storm started sending lightning bolts, we scurried back down, reaching the van just as the first raindrops hit. Another reason to quit early.
After a shower, we gathered for one last dinner at Bulls & Bears in Hagerstown, where we told stories and laughed until we cried. We’ll miss our friends, but it’s time to get serious about making some miles.
- Start: Gapland Road/Gathland State Park (Mile 1036.4)
- End: Washington Monument State Park (Mile 1026.3)
- Weather: Puffy clouds, muggy, but not as hot as yesterday. Rain’s coming.
- Earworm: None. One of the benefits of conversation.
- Meditation: Mt. 21:22
- Plant of the Day: Red Raspberry Slime Mold
- Best Thing: Conversation
- Worst Thing: Dan’s going home tomorrow.
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