Becoming a Backpacker, Chapter 7: Adventures on the AT: Hosteling in Harpers Ferry

Our second day on the Appalachian Trail was more steamy green tunnel with bigger ups and downs than I was used to, being a Midwesterner. The bliss of being on the trail had not worn off though, and as we sweated our way down the trail, we laughed about what our friends back in Michigan, who were probably enjoying a day at the beach, would think of hiking 15 miles with a 30-something pound pack on a hot day.

After a few hours, we stopped at a picnic pavillion by a road crossing to eat lunch and fill up out water bottles, and I had my first of about a dozen tuna packets. (I haven’t eaten tuna since this trip–10 days of tuna was just too much.) We aired out our feet and watched as families picnicked, possibly drooling a little over the goodies they pulled out of their big icy coolers. But, we headed back up the trail, and were immediately greeted by a trail angel dispensing a little magic: Girl Scout cookies in little snack bags. We pocketed a couple and saved them for a moment when motivation and sugar was needed.

My Injinji toe socks are the best–they take a while to get used to, and are a pain to put on, but the lack of blisters between toes is well worth the hassle! Dirty Girl gaiters helped keep debris from getting into my shoes.

In a few more hours, we found ourselves slip-sliding our way down gravelly switchbacks into the outskirts of Harpers Ferry, where the trail turned into a wide gravel bike and pedestrian path. We abandoned the trail to walk the road to our hostel. The road turned out to be even hillier than the trail had been, and after a few ups and downs, Robin flung herself into someone’s front yard to catch her breath. Ever the rule follower, I was fretting about trespassing, but I think she would have been fine with being arrested as long as the jail had AC. After we trudged up the rest of the hill, we stopped at a gas station to ask about the location of the hostel, and were stunned by the beautiful cans of cold beer. We left the gas station sipping our beer (camouflaged in paper bags) and walked the short distance to the hostel. 

Neither of us had ever stayed at a hostel before, so we were curious to see what this would be like. The young lady at the desk showed us to the women’s bunk room, which was empty, and after we dropped off our packs, she gave us a tour of the kitchen and the shower room. I was thrilled! Towels! Soap!  After two days of hiking in summer heat, the layer of sweat scum on my skin was palpable. In the common area, there were two other guests, contemplating going into town for dinner. They invited us to come, but we were so desperately in need of showers that we declined, so they offered to bring us back food, which was an incredibly welcome offer. After the best shower of my life, we sat outside on the picnic table, reflecting on the day, and when our new friends brought back dinner, we fell upon it like vultures, and then went to bed. 

Rules of the hostel’s kitchen.

The following morning, we cooked breakfast in the hostel’s well-appointed kitchen, and made plans for the day. Severe thunderstorms were forecast for the evening, so we decided to slack pack Harpers Ferry and spend a second night at the hostel. We were feeling a little guilty about spending two of our first three nights indoors, but rationalized that the first night was justified because there was nowhere to legally camp, and the second night, we were just playing it safe. After chatting with some cyclists (from Iran and Brazil) who were in town to cycle the C&O Towpath, which is apparently well known in the cycling world, the hostel hosts politely kicked us out for the day, and we walked into town.

Robin, climbing down the path from the hostel to the C&O bike path/AT.

The hostel had a path in the backyard that connected to the AT, which turned out to be less of a path and more of a steep drop with roots and a cable for hand holds, but we landed on the path, and headed toward town.

Display at the John Brown museum.

Harpers Ferry is a history nerd’s dream. The armory that John Brown robbed to try to arm and free slaves, the historic buildings, the amazing bridges over the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers… While our walk into town was AT/C&O Towpath, we deviated from the trail to explore the town, and play tourist.

The armory the John Brown and his followers used as a base for their short-lived plans to launch an armed slave rebellion.
Cooling my dogs in the Shenandoah. (Photo credit Robin Johnson)

After getting in our miles, later in the afternoon, we stopped at a pub for dinner, and as thunderclouds gathered, we contemplated getting at Uber back to the hostel to avoid the weather. Since none were available, we took our chances, and arrived just before the downpour began. We discovered that the hostel manager’s dad, who happened to be an Uber driver, was there visiting, and we worked out a deal with him to deliver us in the morning to the AT trailhead we had hiked to that day, so that we could continue on without having to repeat any miles. The following morning, we noticed a tent pitched right near the trailhead, almost in the parking lot, with two women, a mother and daughter, as it turned out, breaking down camp. We took off down the trail, discovering a cooler of Gatorade about ½ mile in, but since we were both well hydrated with full water bottles, we passed on the trail magic and headed off down the trail, surrounded by greenery once again.

Published by lovesmichiganoutdoors

Hiking, backpacking, kayaking, stand-up-paddle boarding, sailing... exploring Michigan is my passion! Instagram: @jenren_hikes

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