Chapter 10: Becoming a Backpacker
After spending several days in Shenandoah National Park, and nearing our 100 mile goal, my hiking buddy, Robin, and I decided to indulge our inner history nerds and get in our last 10 miles of Appalachian Trail near Gettysburg, so that we could spend some time exploring the national historic site, in addition to hiking.
We checked into a private campground that was mostly RV park, complete with pool, miniature golf, and signs everywhere proclaiming that metal detecting was not allowed. (Apparently there were still a lot of bullets and other artifacts left from the battle lurking around, and they were to stay put.) Our backpacking tents looked laughable next to the huge RVs in the other campsites, but we were thrilled to get another shower, and go swimming in the pool! We would spend the next day exploring historic Gettysburg!
The town of Gettysburg turned out to be about as kitschy as my own home state’s Mackinac Island, and I mean that in the best possible way. My favorite was a diorama museum that had the battlefield all laid out on top of craft tables, and a video that showed a re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg on the diorama. The national historic site and museum were also well worth the day we spent wandering. We would get back on the trail tomorrow!
The following day, we drove to nearby Caledonia State Park for our last 10 miles of Appalachian Trail. We had chosen this section because of its close proximity to Gettysburg, and that turned out to be quite a stroke of luck–it was simply gorgeous.
The trail was a tunnel of wild rhododendrons, which were past their peak bloom, but still created a magical tunnel that made me feel as though I had stumbled into Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. There were mossy steps carved into the rock, crystalline streams, and a mist that hung in the air as though it were a magic spell. While the trail was rocky and somewhat difficult because you had to watch every step, it was nice to go slowly and take it all in. This being our last day, Robin and I were both feeling that sense of “just a little more” that often comes at the end of a good trip.
The shelter we encountered was one of the most scenic we had come upon, with hanging plants, reading material, and a pineapple decoration on the peak–a symbol of hospitality. I’m guessing that a group of dedicated volunteers must visit it regulary. A group of day hikers was there having lunch, so we didn’t linger, but we agreed that it was by far the most welcoming shelter we had seen.
After reaching five miles down the path, it was time to turn around, although we did so with great reluctance. When we arrived back at the car, we did a quick clean up in preparation for the drive back to Michigan, laughing at the notion that if we continued to section hike at this rate, it would take us approximately 23 years to finish the trail. But, spending 10 days of each summer in this way for the next quarter century of my life doesn’t seem like such a bad idea. I’m hoping to get back to the AT soon.