AT 2017: Day 78, David Lesser Memorial Shelter to Harpers Ferry

Back where it all begins

Gravity at Appalachian Trail Conservancy's headquarters in Harpers Ferry

This was a significant day.

It was obviously going to be a big day because I would be seeing my wife for the first time in a month. What’s more, I presumed this would be the last time I would see her for a much longer time. Most likely, I will not see her again until after I finish my hike in Maine.

This was also when we reach what’s often called the psychological halfway point of the Appalachian Trail. The true midpoint will still be about 72 miles away. Nevertheless, it’s now starting to feel like we are closer to Maine than we are Georgia.

I thought about this as Stick and I walked to Harpers Ferry this morning, but the true significance of the day hadn’t registered with me yet. That would come later.

DateTuesday, June 27, 2017
WeatherPartly cloudy with mild temperatures, high in low 70s
Trail ConditionsMany more rocks than expected
Today's Miles8.7
Trip Miles1023.1

Our goal was to arrive in town just before noon. That’s when Kim was planning to meet us at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy’s headquarters.

Stick and I got up early and were on the trail in sufficient time for us to get into Harpers Ferry without a rush.

The trail started out flat and easy, so that was a good start.

A cooler of soft drinks

It was made even better when after only about 45 minutes of walking we found a cooler of soft drinks.

Keys Gap, looking to Virginia

Just beyond the cooler of trail magic was Keys Gap.

I mentioned yesterday that the trail was straddling Virginia and West Virginia for much of the way. That could not have been more true than it was here.

Looking to our right, we saw a sign welcoming motorists to Virginia.

Keys Gap, looking to West Virginia

To our left was a sign for West Virginia.

The road at Keys Gap was busy with commuters heading to work, so it took some patience for finding a sufficient opening to dash across.

Rocky trail

Before long, our smooth and easy trail ended. In its place was a jumble of rocks that more-or-less formed a path. This was not what we had in mind when we told ourselves we could make good time today.

power line cut

A mile-and-a-half later the trail crossed a power line cut. There were views from here, but I was mostly interested in the wildflowers.

Entering Harpers Ferry National Historic Park

For the next two miles the trail took us along the top of a ridge before reaching a spot called Loudoun Heights. This was also the boundary for Harpers Ferry National Historic Park.

We weren't able to see them from the trail, but apparently nearby on this peak are the stone foundations of blockhouses of a fort built by Confederate forces in 1861.

In 1864, Mosby's Rangers fought a battle near here in the dead of winter. The skirmish did not go well for the Confederates and they had to retreat.

Among those wounded was the Gray Ghost’s brother, William "Willie” Mosby.

a steep and rocky descent

As the trail came off Loudoun Heights and headed toward the Shenandoah River, it made a steep and rocky descent. Again we were slowed down from our intended pace.

Walking under U.S. Highway 340

Finally reaching the river, the trail took us first under a bridge at U.S. Highway 340.

Walking over the Shenandoah River

Then we walked up steps to reach the top of the bridge, which took us across the river. As we walked we could see kayakers paddling in the cascading shoals of the river.

Shenandoah River

Looking back, we could just see where the Shenandoah meets up with the Potomac River. We will cross that river the day after tomorrow as we enter Maryland.

A building on the Storer College campus

As we entered the town of Harpers Ferry, we took a blue-blazed shortcut to the ATC’s headquarters. This will be our starting point Thursday when we return to the trail.

The shortcut took us through the campus of what was once Storer College, a historically black college that operated here until 1955. The National Park Service now uses many of the buildings for a training center.

Many people know of Harpers Ferry only for its Civil War-era history, but this campus is proof that the area’s role in U.S. history runs much deeper.

Frederick Douglass served as one of the school’s first trustees. The second conference of the Niagara Movement was held on the campus in 1906. The movement was created by Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois and others to demand for equal rights at a time when some African-Americans, like Booker T. Washington, were willing to accept Jim Crow laws.

Gravity and Kim

Just as we planned, Kim was waiting for us outside the headquarters building. She had only been waiting about five minutes, so despite the rugged trail we weren’t delayed by much time. We arrived just past 11:30.

Being here together made Kim and me realize something we had not thought about in a long time.

Roughly 13 or 14 years ago, we couldn’t remember exactly when, the two of us traveled through here while on a short vacation. We made a visit to the headquarters, and as we wandered about, the first seed of an idea for me to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail was planted.

Kim encouraged me then, and has encouraged and supported me ever since, to make this hike happen.

And now, here we were, with the hike nearly halfway complete.

We thought about that, but I don’t think we wanted to think about it too much. There were still too many unfinished miles to go, with too many possibilities to end the hike prematurely.

Gravity and Stick

At any rate, there were many things that needed more immediate attention, including photo-taking at the front porch of the headquarters.

Thru-hikers are asked to register here, so when we walked inside to do that, I discovered Dotcom was here.

I had met her and her hiking companion Queen on my Day 25. They were doing a section hike.

Dotcom remembered me from that day, which included some nasty weather late in the day.

She had told me when we first met she volunteers every Tuesday at the ATC office, so I was glad it was a Tuesday when I arrived.

Photo taken for ATC files

Along with signing the register, thru-hikers are given a number and a photo is taken for the conservancy’s files.

My number was 1176. That's lower than the number (1494) I was given at Amicalola Falls State Park the day before I started my hike.

Some people try to make a correlation between the two numbers, but there isn’t a reliable way to do that because hikers aren’t required to register at either location.

Once these tasks were done it was time to get down to the real business of the day.

Kim and I first dropped Stick off at The Town’s Inn, where he ran in just long enough to check in. Then we all went to Walmart to get our resupply out of the way.

Harpers Ferry has almost no businesses that aren’t related to tourists, so it’s not a good town for a hiker to resupply. It can be done here, but we chose instead to go to Walmart in Charles Town, which was about six miles away.

It’s interesting to think about how, if we were to walk that distance, it would have taken us nearly three hours. By car, it took us 10 minutes to get there.

After completing our shopping we were ready for lunch. For this we chose poorly. We wanted something quick, so we went to a nearby A&W/Long John Silvers restaurant.

This was not a good place to go to satisfy hiker hunger.

After a miserable lunch we returned Stick to The Town’s Inn and then headed to Leesburg, Va. Kim and I elected to stay in a hotel there because it was away from the tourist spots. I was able to reserve a larger room, which gave plenty of space for me to spread out my gear without taking up the entire room.

I cleaned up and did my laundry, then we headed to town. Our first stop was a small microbrewery called Black Hoof Brewing.

Kim discovered a quilt shop was open nearby, so we visited that next before going to dinner at Delirium Cafe.

This was a busy, yet happy and rewarding day.

Kim and I were looking forward to spending another one tomorrow before I return to the trail for the second half of our magnificent adventure.

Travel out across the burnin' sand
Cross the ocean to some distant land
We'll reach the end we'll all be singin' and we'll all be friends
Back where it all begins

Back where it all begins


"Nothing to tell now. Let the words be yours, I'm done with mine."ref.