AT Section 4 — August 17, 2013

RD overlooking the turn-around point at Little Antietam Creek.

RD and I did another section of the AT in Maryland yesterday.  That makes two weekends on the Trail in a row!  This time, rather than drive up, hike, and drive back on the same day, we camped near the Trail.  Camping was at Greenbrier State Park.  This was a fun trip, because in a lot of ways this is what I had in mind when I was first conceptualizing the trailer and the whole AT section hiking thing.  The plan was to head out as early as I could Friday afternoon, drive to a base camp, hike Saturday and Sunday, and return home Sunday afternoon.  Two differences on this trip were that I drove up Saturday morning, I didn’t take the trailer, and I didn’t hike Sunday.

I had the itch to go camping again, and decided to scratch that itch and knock out another few miles of the MD portion of the Trail.  Saturday morning I packed up a fairly minimalist (for me) set of car camping gear and we were off my mid-morning.  It took a little over two hours to get to Greenbrier SP, and when I arrived I found that it was a madhouse.  They have a swimming beach at a lake, and I’ve learned that state parks with beaches draw quite a crowd in the summer; in fact the park was so full that if you weren’t camping, you couldn’t come in because there was nowhere left to park.  If I had known it would be this crowded, I would have preferred to camp at Gambrill State Park, only a few miles away.  It doesn’t have as many activities and so is a little quieter park in general, but still a great place to camp and hike.  Gambrill SP is my go-to spot for camping around Frederick so I wanted to try something new this time.

The campground was nearly full, but there were (lucky for me as I did not make a reservation) still some sites available  in the pet loop.  I saw a few pets, but what there were a lot of were children.  They were everywhere — riding bikes, throwing footballs, frisbees, running around screaming — pretty much what kids do when they’re outside and their parents  let them roam free.  It was nice to see kids doing something other than playing with electronics. (Does that last sentence mean I’m getting older?  Oh well).  I didn’t really care about the noise because I was there for hiking.  I set up the small tent quickly and threw a big tarp over it and the picnic table (there was a 60% chance of rain Saturday night and Sunday).  After hiding anything left in the car from view, we set off to go hiking.

I didn’t realize at the time that I could have walked right to the AT from the campground.  I had planned for a parking lot near the park that led up to Annapolis Rocks, which according to the guidebooks is a lookout with a nice westerly facing view.  I thought that if we timed the hike right we might be able to watch the sunset.  Apparently everyone else decided to go hiking Saturday as well; much like the park the parking lot for the AT was overflowing.  I broke out my map and found another access point a few miles up the trail.  What a difference a few miles makes!  There was only one other car in the parking lot and we only encountered two other groups on the trail, both after the half-way point.

The AT crossing a hay field.

The section that we walked was actually some of the easiest so far.  It was relatively flat for most of the hike and several times had nice packed dirt to walk on rather than rocks, rocks, and more rocks.  It passed through some power line right-of-way corridors and a big field that was likely private property.  Thank you Mr. Farmer for letting people hike through your field!  Every time I hike in the mid-Atlantic I remind myself that this is the easiest portion of the trail in terms of ruggedness and elevation changes.  I figure that there is nothing wrong with starting out on the easy part, especially since that is what is close by to me at the moment.

We didn’t have a particular plan for the hike today since we started at an unplanned location, so we just hiked until we felt like turning around.  I thankfully remembered to bring my hiking stick today and it helped so much that I found another.  I want to share a story about hiking sticks.  I  remember my grandfather always had a bunch of hiking sticks around, and he carried one even for walking around the neighborhood.  He would also experiment with improving them by adding electrical tape on the grip and rubber stoppers on the base.  Even now, he’s got close to a dozen in his garage.  Next time I’m down there I’ll have to see if there are any stories behind them.

I know a lot of people use fancy telescoping “trekking poles” today, but I think I prefer  the old-school feel of wood.  Plus if I even need to fend of a critter with them, I think wood is better.  The first of the current two hiking sticks was granted to me by the cosmos after I wished for it.  Seriously, I was hiking near home at  Fair Hill NRMA one day and was thinking that it would be nice to have a hiking stick.  A little while later I came across an absolutely perfect hiking stick just laying in the middle of a hay field.  The only reason I saw it is that I wanted to hike to the high point in the field and see if I could spy any deer down near the creek.  The stick had no bark, no dirt, and was almost perfectly smooth except for a couple of knots at the perfect height to make great handholds.  In the middle of a hay field was a strange place to find such a perfect stick, so (as people tend to do) I assumed that it wasn’t just luck.  I wasn’t sure if I found the stick or it found me, but I knew that I was supposed to have it.  Only problem is that I keep forgetting to take it when I go hiking, but after fighting the rocks and remembering how my knees felt on the long downhill stretches over rocks during last weekend’s hike on the AT, I remembered to bring it  this time.

And it helped a bunch, particularly when going over rocks.  After a while I thought that it might be  better to have two sticks rather than one, and wondered if the cosmos would send me another stick.  Sure enough, about 15 minutes later I spied another good stick.  It took a bit but then I got used to having two.  I couldn’t believe how much extra stability they give you and how much extra power when going uphill.  Now  I have 4WD like RD!  And it is great for the knees!  After a while the combination of feet and hands moving you really get into a rhythm, sort of a walking trance.  I’ve had that same feeling while skiing a couple of times — there is something joyful when your brain turns off and everything is just kicking along in rhythm…being in flow.

We didn’t see any snakes this time or find any grand overlooks, but because of the solitude and easy terrain it was some of the most peaceful hiking we’ve done in a while.  I’m finding that I’m making friends with the Trail.  Even in areas that you haven’t yet traveled, there is something familiar about being on the Trail.  It is like getting to know a new friend, lover, or pet — everyting is both somehow familiar yet new at the same time.

So far I’m having fun hiking the Trail in little pieces.  It breaks it up which keeps it from getting monotonous and you don’t have to worry about making a particular amount of mileage or a goal for the day.  That said, I definitely want to do an overnight hike so that I can get in a longer section and spend a night on the trail.  I could make some of my current gear work for backpacking already; it’s just something I haven’t done much.  But there seem to be a lot of places where shelters and tent camping areas are fairly close to the trail head, so that would be a good way to break in backpacking.

The only time I’ve been backpacking was as an undergrad at the University of Georgia.  I was taking a wilderness area management course and the class did a spring overnight hike in the North Georgia mountains.  I remember that my pack strap exploded (and was fixed with duct tape) and I nearly froze because my small fleece sleeping bag (the only one of my bags that I could fit into the pack) didn’t have enough insulation. But, it was great fun to sleep out there on the side of a mountain.  I decided that I wouldn’t try it again without proper equipment.  Well, I’ve now got some stuff that will work.  It is probably heavier than you would want for a long hike like the AT, but it should be fine for weekend to week-long excursions.  Something else to try relatively soon!

RD’s favorite post-hike activity.

RD was starting to get tired toward the end of our hike.  When we got back to the campground she decided it was more important to catch up on sleep than to eat.  I cooked up some noodles and some leftover hamburgers and Italian-spiced turkey sausage from a cookout a few nights ago.  Not surprisingly, RD decided it was time to eat once hamburger had been added to her doggie food.  I knew that we would hit the rack early so I didn’t bother with a fire.  We waited for the moon to come out and listened to the night critters (I’m not sure if they were tree frogs, crickets, or what, but they were some of the loudest critters I’ve ever heard while camping).  Luckily the noise drowned out a lot (but certainly not all) of the Saturday night campground noise.  Reading a book about the Lotus Sutra left me feeling calm and peaceful (for some reason just reading Buddhist texts tend to induce a calm meditative state).

I fell asleep pretty quickly considering, but woke up a lot throughout the night due to my self-inflating sleeping pad deciding to give up on the inflation part.  I blew it up a couple of times and then would wake it with it flat as a pancake.  While it still provided some insulation, it provided almost no cushion.  I sleep on my side, so I kept having to turn from my shoulder and hips digging into the ground.  I’m about to give up on self-inflating sleeping pads.  I’m not sure if it is because I buy relatively cheap ones (all of mine have been Coleman brand) or what, but I’ve now had three that failed after relatively little use.  Now I’m not little person, but this level of performance is just not good enough, especially on gravel that tends to be ubiquitous in campgrounds for good drainage.  I keep trying them because they take up less space and are faster to set up than inflatable air beds, but for car camping at least it is an inflatable air bed from here out — they’re more comfortable, cheaper, tend to last longer, and when they fail they leak slowly but don’t usually go flat.

All told, it was a good but not great night’s sleep.  It was about 60 degrees this morning and raining.  It didn’t look like there would be a break in the morning for more hiking, so I cooked some breakfast, packed everything up, and we headed home.  Surprisingly with the rain, there were a lot of cars at the trail head near the park.

This was the first time that I had been camping since my two-week trip with the trailer in June.  I spent a lot of time on this trip thinking about everything that has happened since that trip and thinking about the full-time dream.  I still definitely want to get the trailer fixed up so that I can travel more, even if it is not full time.  I still do have the urge to go full time as well, even though I know that this may not be exactly the right time.  I guess I’ll get the trailer together and try some more short and long trips and see what happens.  One day, I might just not be able to hold off any longer.  One of the nice things about a month-to-month lease is that I can get free quickly if I decide that it is time to go.

Overall, I’ve made it outdoors a lot more this year and that has been great.  Each time I go, it makes me want to go more.  In the last couple of weeks, I’ve made it up to one-third of the Maryland portion of the Trail and started on Pennsylvania.  Once I’ve got the trailer set up better, it will be easier to take off and hit areas that are a little bit farther away.  A 6.5-hour drive could put me anywhere between Marion, VA and Hanover, NH.  This is approximately 1,215 miles of the AT, about 56% of the total mileage.  I hope to do a lot of Thursday to Sunday trips along this area.

I’ve got a decision coming up — I may have the chance to move into a cheaper place that would give me more money and freedom to travel.  However, I would have to give up my current house that I love.  In addition to saving money, I would be downsizing a good bit, it would be much less to take care of, and I would be able to leave for longer periods without worrying about how my house was doing while I was gone.  It would give me the possibility to spend more time on the road without having to give up a home base in this area.  A lot to think about.  I guess I’ll find out how much I’m willing to give up to pursue this dream!  My current situation is perfect for me…if I didn’t have the urge to travel a good bit of the time that is 🙂

Well, I’ve to go and put up some gear.  Have a good night all!  May we all get to do more of what we love and have the will and courage to go for it, whatever it happens to be!

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