Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Road Live

I hopped onto the NBRT early this morning looking to get as far as I could before the predicted 98 degree heat made an appearance. In only a few miles I found myself in West Union, feeling a sense of deja vu.
The county seat of Doddridge County, West Virginia, West Union's early history was inextricably linked with the B&O. When the railroad company built a depot on the opposite river bank from the Union, a town slowly formed up around it, becoming West Union.
Times have been hard the last fifty years or so; the railroad disbanded, the mineable coal and oil was thought to have run out, and finally the garment manufacturing facility left for a cheaper foreign base in the early 90s. The community subsists almost solely on the surrounding farms, few jobs are available. There is a glimmer of hope - recent innovations in natural gas retrieval have brought once unreachable pools within grasp. The future for West Union, however, is still filled with uncertainty.
The bulk of my day was spent traveling between West Union and the town of Pennsboro, twelve miles away. Two tunnels, including Central Station, the longest on the NBRT at over two thousand feet, cooled me down whenever I neared spontaneous combustion.
I would hate to be the cause of a wildfire.
Most of the country in between was unpopulated and that meant I saw more animals, including deer, groundhogs, and rabbits. I also spotted my first possum. Well, I should say my first possum that had not previously experienced the joys of rigor mortis via contact with a passing motorist. I didn't even need to be very observant - as I sat resting the fellow just came through the bush and stopped a mere fifteen feet from me. He slowly turned away and headed down the adjacent road, no doubt late for his appointment with a bumper.
I reached Pennsboro a little after three and managed to snag the very last room at the Legacy Inn. With fifteen more miles to my credit I have now gone 494 miles since Cape Henlopen.

Escape From Newark

May 30: I rose around seven to the tap of Paul's knuckles on my bedroom door. I shook loose the cobwebs, packed up, and headed down to the kitchen, where Sharon had prepared some french toast with a dash of cinnamon and some crispy bacon, which I devoured like a ravenous beast, but politely of course - slobbering and belching were kept to an absolute minimum.
Paul had some fences to put up on their three hundred acre property and they had relatives coming to visit in just a few short hours so Sharon drove me back to the metropolis of Bristol. We parted company all too soon, but not before Sharon told me there had been a bad chemical spill just a couple years ago in the very spot where I would start the day's jaunt. I rubbed some of the grass on my face in hopes I would be endowed with some Incredible Hulk-like powers. Not the power to rip shirts though, I don't have a lot of extras.
By 9:30 I hit the town of Salem. Not the one with the vampires or the one with the witch trials. No, this particular Salem was settled in the late 1700s by a group escaping from the horrors of New Jersey. The impending future of burnt out factories and "Jersey Shore" were apparent even then.
Today you can visit Salem's Fort, a model village where you can see what daily life was like for a nineteenth century Mountaineer. One of the cabins on display there was once Paul's father's home during the Great Depression. The structure looks old enough to be from the early century, but in reality was built in 1933.
Salem's other claim to fame is the Jennings Richardson house. Jennings was one of the seventeen thousand men to serve in the US Senate along side Robert Byrd during the eight million years the elder statesmen spent on Capitol Hill.
Once past Salem the path deteriorated at times and I was forced to wade through grass reaching belt high. I now wear a classy rope belt most of the time as my pants don't fit me anymore.
Buckeye Creek meandered to the left, then the right, then back again, constantly reminding me how close, yet how far the next state is. I better make fun of Jim Tressel while I can.
The heat was oppressive today, my first day over ninety degrees. Tomorrow looks to be even worse.
I finished up at the park in Smithburg around two, with the next good place to stop fifteen miles away and out of reach. I visited the plaque in front of the old Smithton (the town's old name)railroad depot commemorating the twenty two lives lost in the flood of 1950.
The late afternoon was spent twiddling my thumbs and trimming my nose hair, until sundown when I got a surprise visit from Sharon. She had brought me dinner - a porterhouse steak, peppers, onions, potatoes, green beans, salad, and red velvet cake. I was also honored to meet her three sisters and we talked for a while as the light faded. Her sisters also made a contribution to the Wounded Warrior Project - the perfect end to Memorial Day weekend.

Happy Memorial Day! Please don't forget why I am on the road sweating my butt off every day - remember those who been hurt for our country, regardless of our politics we should always look after those who have been severely injured. Contribute to the Wounded Warrior Project today!

12 miles/464 total miles

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Michael Landon vs. Angus Young

May 29: The highway is the best way to get where you are going in a hurry, right? The same truth applies to hikers. I needed to chop a few miles off the top to get to Paul and Sharon's territory before they are swamped by an incoming pack of relatives.
In order to make that happen we collaborated on a plan which sent me onto Highway 50 for eleven miles, through the heart of Clarksburg and beyond.
The first couple of miles were simple, with a large shoulder to ease my mind a bit. As I hit downtown Clarksburg my safety net shrunk and I was much closer to cars going seventy five miles an hour than I would like to be. Luckily the nerves did result in an adrenaline rush and I came as close to running as someone hidden under a backpack looking like the Hunchback of Notre Dame can manage.
The dangerous bit passed quickly and I was soon enjoying the company of my good friend the shoulder. Pancaked along much of the walking surface were various forms of roadkill. I'm not going to miss the putrid rotting stench of animal corpses once I get back into the country and away from busy roads. For some reason I enjoy the odor of honeysuckle just a touch more.
Shortly after the noon hour I was relieved to see the road sign that meant my freedom: Wolf Summit. Here I departed the highway and entered the much-anticipated North Bend Rail Trail. A former Baltimore and Ohio rail bed has been turned into a trail stretching from Wolf Summit to Parkersburg, seventy one miles away.
Only four miles down the path was my rendezvous point with Sharon and Paul. I reveled in the quiet space, away from the screaming engines of trucks and automobiles. In two miles I reached the first railroad tunnel. The cool breeze emanating from within was delightful amid the mid-day heat. Strangely, I seem to have misplaced my flashlight, so traveling through the one thousand foot plus tunnel was somewhat challenging in the middle section. I made it through without falling on my rear yet again and met up with Sharon and Paul in Bristol (good luck trying to find that speck on any map).
On the ride to their house the couple showed me a library just off trail as well as a route to one of the gas stations next to the NBRT. They also regaled me with tales about the 1950 flood, which devastated Smithburg, resulting in numerous fatalities. The covered bridge there was also destroyed and swept downstream where it acted as a dam until the remnants were removed.
We arrived in their beautiful home and I almost fell asleep the moment I entered the guest bedroom and lay on the comfortable mattress. I have to stay strong though, Sharon is cooking spareribs and I am pretty excited about eating them.
Paul raises cattle for beef and Sharon is a retired middle school math teacher who still helps out with some of the math programs from time-to-time. I'm going to have to leave now, I can smell those spareribs - clearly I have better things to do than to talk to you.

P.S.: Sharon prepared a veritable Noah's Ark of food: sweet potatoes, salad with greens from their garden, spareribs, pasta salad, watermelon, applesauce, German chocolate cake, potatoes...I think you get the idea. All of it was a treat for my tongue. After the feast they took me out to a couple places of historical interest I will be visiting - I will brief you upon what I learned as the trail takes me to those spots in the coming days.
Miles today: 17, for a total of 452.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Around the North Bend

I rose just past sunrise this morning and got on the road quickly, headed toward Bridgeport, West Virginia. There is not much of note to report so far today. The terrain consisted of rolling hills and farms, followed by Highway 131, Interstate 50 and the town itself.
I did have a bit of a scare towards the end. As I walked up the sidewalk nearing my hotel I hit a slippery patch of mud and fell over backwards. The pack broke my fall and besides my pride, which I have very little of anyway, nothing was hurt. Unless something inside the pack was destroyed, which I will no doubt be delighted to discover later.
Tomorrow I will finally reach the North Bend Rail Trail, which, like the C&O, has a number of camping spots. Life will be a little simpler for a few days and I won't have to look for an angel to save me every other day. I am also excited to be meeting Paul and Sharon tomorrow night, a couple that has hiked the ADT in West Virginia from end-to-end. Of course, that is all incumbent on me surviving eleven miles of Interstate 50 on the morrow. Stay tuned.....

11 miles/436 total miles

Cynicism Etch A Sketch

I took my time getting out of Grafton, heading first to the laundromat near the hotel to move the stinky hiker gauge back to "bearable by humans." I left my digs shortly before eleven and stopped in at the 1-2-3 Cafe for a leisurely lunch.
While there I met Sam and Mary Kay who helped my Abby Normal brain decide what to have. Sam persuaded me to try the Cordon Blue (sic) panini and Mary Kay suggested the Mountaineer Nut Brown Ale to wet my whistle. I don't usually drink beer before a hike, but having not tried a local beer yet, I believed myself duty-bound to donate my liver to science for you, my inquisitive audience.
The brew has a nice hint of chocolate malt and hazelnut to cut the bitterness normally associated with ales, but not so much as to be sugary sweet, like another Brown Nut Ale, Newcastle.
For dessert I had a chocolate chip cookie just out of the oven that was nine parts chocolate and one part cookie. A perfect percentage in my eyes. Thanks to Sam and Mary Kay for the free beer and a great meal to start my day in earnest.
I headed out of town around twelve and made good time, doing about fourteen miles by six in the evening. Realizing Bridgeport was out of range given the late hour, I settled in the hamlet of Hepzibah, on the steps of the Baptist Church there. Hepzibah means "my delight is in her" in Hebrew. I wonder if the Jews of that era had my love for double entendres.
While sitting on the stoop I ran into Fritz and her friend Catherine out for a walk. Following a brief period when I scared the hell out of them, we fell into conversation about my trip. I asked if they knew the pastor at the church. They did not, but Fritz returned shortly with her husband Tim and an offer to camp on their property, which was quite close. They showered me with affection, bringing me beer, spaghetti, band aids (which I had run out of), Dr. Scholl's insoles, and a little road money.
I don't know what I've done to deserve the love shown me by the people here, but I do know I've met some folks I will never forget. If you are feeling cynical about life you need to get off your butt and walk through the country here - your attitude will quickly be readjusted. I feel like I have been playing the trust exercise with the populace of West Virginia and they have caught me every time. Except for Fort Ashby. Get your act together Fort Ashby, you are dragging down the whole state.
13 miles were eliminated today for a total of 424.

Apologies to Fort Ashby, I never really gave you a chance back in those days. I was just a foolish young man.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Mother's Day 365

The ADT wants me to go Northeast to Lake Tygart. I have a sudden fear of lakes since I started carrying the Rite Aid house brand "Crystal Lake" as my water bottles. I don't care to have an axe-wielding hockey mask-wearing psycho chasing after me.
Instead I chose to cross the Tygart River on the Covered Bridge, headed out of Philippi and towards Grafton. The new route will save me over ten miles and I can get back on the ADT just west of the town.
Winding highways were my milieu as I covered the space in between. Not the safest way, but I accomplished my goal without incident. A deer I found on the way was not so lucky, caught in barbed wire on the side of the road. As I slowly approached to see if I could free the poor animal, she shook loose of the trap. The deer's efforts to stand were in vain, however, and the mass of circling flies seemed to know what the end result of this sad affair would be.
Grateful to have avoided a similar fate, I arrived in town around five. Grafton is small, but they have a lot to be proud of, including Mother's Day. The first celebration of moms and all they do took place here on May 10, 1908. Through the efforts of native Anna Jarvis, Woodrow Wilson made the day into a national holiday in 1914. Grafton has established a Mother's Day Shrine to celebrate their role in Hallmark history.
Grafton also boasts the West Virginia National Cemetery, where veterans from several different wars are buried in two facilities. One graveyard holds soldiers from the Civil War up until WW II. The newer cemetery houses those who have passed since. The most interesting personage interred in the old cemetery is Bailey Brown, the first Union soldier to die in the Civil War. If you have to die in a war at least its nice to be first I guess. My arrival comes a couple of days too early - Grafton will be holding a huge Memorial Day parade on Saturday.
Grafton's most famous native was Clair Bee, the top basketball coach in the nation from 1931-1951, when he coached Long Island University to two NCAA titles, two NIT titles, and a 95% winning percentage. Bee still owns the NCAA record for highest win percentage.
Good Samaritan of the Day: thanks to Brenda, who drove me around the National Cemeteries and told me something of the history of Grafton.

16 miles/411 total miles

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Over the Hills

May 25: I woke shortly after dawn and was almost finished packing up when Melvin arrived. I threw my bag in his truck and we headed down the hill to his house nearby for breakfast. His wife Renee, who I sadly missed since she had departed for work, had cooked us bacon, pancakes, and scrambled eggs. Melvin, who is a dairy farmer, offered me some of his recent product. Some would say milk straight from the tap is udderly delicious, but I would have to shoot anyone in the face who used such an awful pun. Melvin's son Seth also joined us - he has just graduated from high school and will follow in his father's footsteps as a student at the West Virginia University in the fall. Not that I ever beat a dead horse, but I continue to meet fabulous, generous people here.
I went on my way around eight and have had a relatively uneventful stroll. After thirteen miles all on state highways, I found myself in Philippi (pronounced Fill-a-pee), West Virginia by early afternoon.
Things got a little more exciting when I went to look for my hotel, which despite Google's claims, did not exist. I went over to the Barbour County Courthouse, where I was told that the only place to stay in town was the Bed and Breakfast just around the corner. I waited on the porch outside the B&B and telephoned the owner, but to no avail.
After an hour or two I went back over to the Courthouse to fill my water. While doing so I met an employee there, Sandy, who took pity on me and went to ask the Sheriff if my could pitch my tent behind the building. Sheriff John had no problem with that and I finally had some digs in Philippi! The Courthouse is right across from the police station, so needless to say I have never felt safer.
Philippi also has a story relating to the Wounded Warrior Project. James Hanger, a Union soldier, was struck by a cannonball while fighting Confederates at the Covered Bridge in Philippi and his leg was removed as a result. Hanger was the first amputee of the war. He went on to found the J.E. Hanger company, the biggest and oldest maker of prosthetic limbs in the U.S.
In related news, Philippi will be celebrating their part in the Civil War with Blue-Gray days in June. I miss out on all the good stuff :( For a more thorough examination of Philippi's role during the commencement of hostilities, check out this article from the Smithsonian magazine.
Later that evening I went out for dinner at the Medallion. The owner there paid for my meal when he heard about what I was doing. Later on Maria, my waitress, came by the tent and gave me a goodie bag put together by the Medallion staff. I'm putting
the remaining nine states on my itinerary on notice. West Virginia is kicking some serious ass in the TLC department.

13 miles/395 total miles

Grubs With Paprika

I departed the river valley shortly after nine and headed back into the hills. In no time I rose one thousand feet on country roads bereft of human life. There is a reason John Denver sang specifically about West Virginia. For fourteen miles I saw eight cars and three homo sapiens. I'm assuming the automobiles were driving themselves since all evidence points to the fact that no one lives in that area. I did see my first tractor crossing sign - the figure on board the machine was wearing a cowboy hat, as you probably already guessed.
I was able to meet two of the aforementioned humans, Joe and Barb, up close and personal. They are retirees and grandparents and have entertained ADT hikers and bikers before, including Karen and Jerry, whose trail journal I stalked to get a lay of the land back in February. Joe and Barb were supremely gracious towards me, filling my near-empty water bottles and treating me to a fluffy and delicious cinnamon roll.
Three miles later I reached WV 38 and some semblance of civilization. Sometimes I feel like Bear Grylls finishing a survival challenge when I emerge from such an unpopulated place. Unlike Bear, who gets to ride in a chopper at the end of his show, I get to walk more. At least I don't have to eat insects like he does. I was able to dine upon some Vienna Sausages instead. On second thought, what would be a good seasoning for grubs?
Soon after hitting the highway a van flew by me in the opposite lane, slammed on brakes and shot into reverse, stopping beside me. A man leaned out and offered me a ride, but understood when I declined because I was walking for charity. He warned me to stay in a place close to people since there are black bears everywhere around here. No doubt Colin Stewart has offered them a reward for me.
I dutifully obeyed the driver's instructions and halted in Valley Furnace at the United Methodist Church. I met a man named Melvin who lived down the hill from there who promised to make certain it was okay for me to put my tent up there. I sit now under a picnic shelter across from the church gazing at the lush valley below and listening to the thunder in the distance. I'm glad to have a roof over my head tonight even if it has no walls.
Eighteen miles fell by the wayside today for a total of 382.

P.S.: Soon after I originally wrote today's journal entry, the rain came pouring from the sky and the wind whipped around me. The shelter kept me safe and dry until the precipitation ended and a rainbow appeared over the far hills. I guess Disney wanted a better ending.
P.P.S: While I was about to lay down to sleep, Melvin and his wife Renee came up to the church and offered me breakfast. I accepted and they drove off to their home. As I drifted off the lightning bugs zipped around performing a show with their bioluminescence. Even Disney needs a rewrite on occasion.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Alan Parsons Project

May 23: I have now been walking for one month. To celebrate I will give my feet a deserved rest. If you had me at one month in the over/under contest, you lose. Please contribute my winnings to the Wounded Warrior Project. Here is some information on Parsons, West Virginia to keep you busy while I do errands, courtesy of my father:
"As you are there, you might want to know that the town of Parsons is the county seat[3] of Tucker County, West Virginia. The population was 1,463 at the 2000 census [surely much bigger now]. The town was named for Ward Parsons, described by one source as having once owned the land on which the town was built, and by another as having been an aged wilderness pioneer in the area. The Cheat River is formed at Parsons by the confluence of the Shavers Fork and the Black Fork.[6] According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 1.2 square miles (3.1 km²), of which, 1.1 square miles (2.8 km²) of it is land and 0.1 square miles (0.3 km²) of it (9.17%) is water."
On a less boring note, the main claim to fame of Parsons is the battle (skirmish) of Corrick Ford, which took place in 1861. The fighting is notable for one reason - one of the casualties was Confederate General R.S. Garnett, the first man of such rank to be killed during the Civil War.
Parsons has also been the victim of a natural disaster. Not surprisingly given the amount of water surrounding the area, the culprit was flood, the year 1985. The devastating deluge destroyed most of the buildings in town. The librarian showed me the high water mark inside the Five Forks Library, about seven feet high. She said they were only able to salvage a total of three volumes from the thousands in their collection.

0 total miles/364 total miles

Mind the Gap

May 22: Today is my second and final day of this initial excursion off the ADT. I went to breakfast in Davis hoping to bounce my planned route off some of the locals. Instead of road-walking, most of the hike would take place on the Blackwater Canyon Trail. The people I spoke to at the Bright Inn all enthusiastically endorsed the idea as an easier and more scenic alternative to the highway. I ended up in a number of conversations about the trip and the Wounded Warrior Project with the friendly and inquisitive folks there.
Just after nine I went on my way and humped the two miles to Thomas, where the aforementioned trail begins. For awhile I felt like I was on the towpath again, with the ruins of an old coal town replacing the crumbling locks of the C&O. The area was one of the largest coal producers on earth during the its boom years of 1900-1910. The trail itself was the old rail bed that had been used to transport the excavated coal.
The natural scenery did not disappoint either. At first a large stream paralleled my path, growing ever larger as the miles passed. The water moved quickly and the rapids were punctuated on two occasions by spectacular waterfalls. About halfway thru the ten mile trail the stream had graduated to river status and dipped far below me into the chasm below, where it could be heard but rarely glimpsed. Every mile a waterfall would plunge down the mountainside to my right, crashing to the canyon below and adding to the ever-increasing volume of the river.
Animal life was surprisingly rare on today's walk, but considering the fauna here includes bears and rattlesnakes maybe that is for the best. I did see an inordinate amount of crickets, all doing their rendition of the House of Pain classic. Maybe they thought the fourth quarter of the Wisconsin game had started.
Despite the Blackwater Canyon's natural beauty there are a couple of negatives about the trail. The way is marked rather poorly in the early going and one can easily get lost and confused - signs saying dead end and road ends in fifty feet are for cars, but are worrisome to read when you are a first-timer uncertain of the way.
My biggest complaint is the trail surface, which has been laid out with a "cobble to hobble" motif using only the finest in large, sharp, and painful stones. No problem for bikers, but hikers need to wear steel plates on the bottom of their feet to protect themselves from the minefield.
I limped out of Blackwater Canyon and into Hendricks, where I rejoined the ADT. A man in the adjoining town of Hambleton whose name I did not catch was considerate enough to fill my nearly empty water bottles. Did I mention the people in West Virginia are really nice? Three miles later I was in Parsons where I dropped into CJ's Pizzeria and ate more za than any human should consider consuming. Happily bloated I waddled to Five River Campgrounds just down the road, paid for the night, put up my tent and passed out.
I did another seventeen miles today for a total of 60 or so for the last three days. Tomorrow I will be granting my feet respite and fiddling around in Parsons doing errands.

17 miles/364 total miles

Sauron To New Heights

May 21: Today, according to some, is Judgment Day and I am about to climb the dreaded Mt. Storm. Never again will a sentence about my life sound so much like a Tolkien novel. I feel like Frodo, carrying my trusty pack Samwise on my back. Come to think of it, Frodo was kind of a wuss, that ring could not have been that heavy of a burden. I'll gladly trade out the pack for a day with the ring.
Before I would even reach Mt. Storm my path would take me through Greenland Gap. This Dave Letterman-like cleft between two mountains boasts two miles of raging whitewater, punctuated by a small but powerful cataract. Whilst I sat resting aside the river and checking my maps a snake snuck up behind me. Wary after Daniel's warnings of rattlesnakes the night before, I jumped away from the serpent. My mind was quickly eased to realize the yellow and black snake A) had no rattle B)was very small (I know small snakes can be dangerous but it did eliminate some of the intimidation factor) C) was much more interested in an old banana peel than my presence.
Greenland Gap also held the day's history lesson. Here Union Captain Martin Wallace held out against a much superior Confederate force long enough for the Union garrison at Rowlesburg to be warned and reinforced. Because of Wallace's brave stand the rebel raid failed to accomplish their goal of knocking out the B&O railroad and disrupting the Union supply trains.
After completing Greenland Gap I decided to leave the ADT and ascend Mt. Storm. I had spent a lot of time mulling over this quandary, weighing the pros and cons of continuing on the ADT to Dolly Sods and in the end safety issues led me to take this alternate route. Continuing with the Letterman theme here are my top 6 reasons to change paths:
1) Karen and Jerry, whose trail journal from last year I read in preparation, said the Blackbird Knob Trail in Dolly Sods had rivers that could be tough or impossible to cross in times of flood. A source had told me there might be rain for the next fifteen days. If I could not cross and had to turn around that would mean 36 meaningless miles and back to square one.
2) The alternate route is shorter and less steep.
3) Road-walking is faster than trail-walking most of the time.
4) The locals I spoke to said Mt. Storm was the much safer way to go.
5) Climbing something called Mt. Storm sounds so bad ass.
6) Colin Stewart would want me to go to Dolly Sods.
Dolly Sods does feed heavily into the ADT's decision to label West Virginia the trail's "Amazement Park" and it was not easy for me to miss out on an opportunity to see if the region lives up to that billing. Since I am only thirty five, however, and my camera is broken anyway I feel I can have a safer and more memorable visit there in the future. Unless I decide after this trip never to walk anywhere ever again, which certainly is possible.
Back to our regularly scheduled program:
Several huge three-bladed wind turbines waved to me from the mountain's apex as I began the ascent. I had been told the highway had little traffic, but curse my luck, the gravel company in Scherr had picked today to move their pile of rocks to the top of Mt. Storm. An armada of trucks chugged up with me. Their noise aside, the gentle 10% grade was much easier than Table Rock and I went from 1000+ feet to 3000+ feet in only a couple of hours.
My pace slowed from the exertion of the climb, I rested against an embankment where I witnessed a man coming out of the woods riding a snowmobile. There wasn't any snow on the ground, of course. Welcome to West Virginia?
The crest of Mt. Storm is a huge plateau and man-made Lake Storm sits atop. The whole region gets their electricity from the power plant there, which uses the energy from coal to pump juice along the sizzling lines that shoot like strands from a web towards the surrounding communities. The lake is used to cool the plant and is warm year round as a result. You can swim there on Christmas Day!
With nowhere to stay in sight I decided to push on to Davis, where there is a bed and breakfast. The last ten miles were brutal, all forest and hills in the process of being stripped of their coal. I finally pulled into town around ten, having been on the road thirteen hours. I had completed a one day record of twenty eight miles.
My joy at reaching Davis was short-lived. Their B&B had no vacancies and another I stumbled upon had closed for the night.
Having run out of water as well I went to see if I could get some from the local bar. The owner Randy was just closing up and his customers leaving on their horses (welcome to West Virginia?), but he was kind enough to fill my bottles. My luck continued to improve as I met a young man named Jeff who invited me to crash on his couch. The people of West Virginia impress me ever day with the wonderful way they treat strangers. Today was extremely difficult, but also immensely satisfying.

28 miles/347 total miles

Friday, May 20, 2011

On the Road Again

May 20: After a day of rest I was rejuvenated and ready to go again. The rain has stopped, at least for 24 hours, a record for West Virginia as of the last couple of months.
Along with my risen spirits came a new outlook on my surroundings. West Virginia is incredibly green. I'm surprised they don't use the color in their flag or for their state university. Maybe they are just sick of seeing it all of the time.
Of course, there is Marshall University, they wear green. I remember watching them humiliate Furman on our Homecoming one year. For those of you who don't know, schools are supposed to schedule a cream puff for Homecoming so they can get and easy win and all the alumni go home happy. Not so with Furman - we scheduled the best team in 1-AA at the time - they had some guy named Randy Moss and a young QB named Chad Pennington. Randy Moss had two hundred yards, three touchdowns, and smoked one ounce during the game. I think we lost 51-0.
Now what was I saying about West Virginia before my alma mater got me so upset? Oh yes, the land is verdant and hilly. Rivers and streams flow in angry brown torrents almost everywhere. Add in the constant rain and an impressive variety of bird life and the state reminds me a bit of Costa Rica thus far.
Today's walk took me out of Keyser on a boring and busy highway, but after a few miles I was back on country roads, heading through the tiny towns of Ridgeville and Antioch. For future ADT travelers Antioch Methodist church has a wonderful covered picnic area right on the road where you can rest your weary bones for a moment in comfort. I am just starting to enter the mountains and cities will be basically non-existent for the next few days.
Deer, butterflies, and birds abounded on today's stroll. My favorite find was a woodpecker with a crimson head, white middle, and black bottom, not large enough to be a pileated and not small enough to be a downy (the only two species I can recognize). There are seven different species in the area so pick one of the middle-sized ones and you have a one in five chance of getting it right, kind of like the SAT, but without the downside of losing your college basketball scholarship if you get the answer wrong.
Even in a area as rural as I went through today I managed to bump into a piece of American history. Nancy Hanks, the mother of Abraham Lincoln, grew up in a home just off of my route. A memorial to her now stands in the spot.
I was getting tired near the end of the day when providence shined upon me in the form of a local man named Daniel, who first offered me water and then when he found out I had no place to stay tonight, offered up his home to me. He and his wife Maria were incredibly kind and welcoming, I consider myself incredibly lucky to have stumbled onto such wonderful people. I was warned the people in West Virginia are incredibly nice, I guess I better just get used to it :)

14 miles/319 total miles

Thursday, May 19, 2011

And on the Seventh Day...

Today I did nothing. My feet were not used except to take me to the Pizza Hut buffet down the street. All my wet clothes are now dry and I will set off come the morn in the direction of Scherr, the wife of Sonny Boner if I recall correctly. The requisite juvenile statements out of the way I leave you now. Tomorrow I will do something.

Thanks to those of you who have done something recently to help the Wounded Warrior Project:
Chris and Christy Carden
Dr. Robert Dukes
Ellen Flaherty
Colin McCandless
Mark and Melissa Normington
Corey Smith

No More Wine and Roses

May 18: The days of regularly staying in hotels is over and so to the ease of finding a camping area on the C&O. I have entered West Virginia and logistical difficulties have already reared their ugly head.
When I left Oldtown, Maryland at noon yesterday I had the vague idea I would stay somewhere in Fort Ashby, only twelve miles away. If you have read yesterday's post you know I successfully made it there. Unfortunately, the town has no hotels, hostels, or campgrounds (yes I did already know that). My attempts to look sad, cold, and miserable did not engender any offers to stay in someone's backyard and I could find no one at the local churches. There was no choice but to move on and look for somewhere to put my tent up for the evening.
As dusk fell I walked down the road looking for a spot, but everywhere were signs threatening trespassers with a slow painful death, so I kept moving. Dark fell and I inched along with my flashlight unable to find a safe spot. Eventually I grew so tired I plopped down in the grass a few feet off the road to try to gain a couple hours of sleep.
The rain was not interested in my plans, falling in sheets and disturbing any chance I had at rest. One of the few cars to go by stopped, thinking I was dead by the side of the road. Finding I was alive and kicking, he moved on. I thought it might be a good idea for me to do so as well. Call me impatient, but I got tired of people wondering if I was dead after only once.
An hour or so later I discovered what appeared to be an abandoned property. The rain had let up so I pulled out my sleeping bag and lay down. Still worried about the legal repercussions of staying on the property, I was loathe to set up the tent. Rain came again before long and my bag and I were soon soaked. I began to shiver so much the fear of hypothermia became too real to ignore. Regardless of the hour and my fatigue, I had to keep moving to stay warm.
I limped on, managing to see my next turns in the dark thanks to my flashlight and the well-marked roads (well-marked by the ADT not the state of West Virginia). By about five o'clock I gratefully reached a church and hopped onto the porch to dry out and rest for an hour.
I still had nine miles to go before Keyser, where I could get a hotel and escape the rains, so I got up shortly after dawn. I shuffled slowly along, my last socks had gotten wet and my feet were shredded. After three hours I finally made Highway 46 and had only a couple of miles left into Keyser. Not surprisingly at this point (and something I'll just have to get used to as I am entering, you know, the mountains) the first mile was straight uphill.
After a seemingly interminable time, I finally arrived in the city of Keyser and stopped for lunch. I had planned to ask the waitress to call a taxi for me so I could get to the hotel, but when the time came I realized there were 50 people in the restaurant and she was the only one serving them. I gave up on the idea (too easily I know) and instead hobbled the last two miles or so to the Keyser Inn, where I will be staying tomorrow night as well. I've rarely been more tired in my life and besides, my feet aren't really willing to go and I can't do this trip without them despite my brain's attempt to ignore their constant pleas.
I walked 18 more miles since I spoke with you last and a total of 30 between when I left Oldtown at noon yesterday and when I arrived in the Inn at two today.

18 miles/305 total miles

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

The Breaking of the Fellowship

I endured a vicious thunderstorm last night and rain threatened to reign for the majority of the day. When the downpour ceased Swagman and I rushed to pack up and shuffled the short distance to Oldtown, Maryland to dry out and fill our faces with feed.
The only restaurant in town is the Schoolhouse Kitchen, located in, yes, you guessed it, a former schoolhouse. The place had ended decades as a source for the educational needs of the young back in 2000, likely due to a lack of students. I deduced this fact from the senior class photos that lined the wall, which included just a few individuals in the later years.
After lunch and a short rest I shook hands and parted ways with Swagman. I have benefited greatly from his experience and his knowledge of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. I will miss the company most of all, though.
I crossed the Potomac into West Virginia and began the trudge to Fort Ashby. Rain dogged me nearly the whole way. The state had only three dry days in April and has had only one in May, according to our waitress in Paw Paw yesterday.
I wasn't sure whether to feel welcome or not, the locals sent mixed messages with such signs as "Jesus Loves You Way" and "if you can read this sign you are in range."
I also had my first run in with the state's wacky road numbering. I walked for awhile on road 1/3. The fraction seems, at least from my first experience, to indicate the amount of cars one sees in an average hour. The number was about right in this instance as I walked three hours and saw only one car there. The ADT has many signs here so far - if that continues at least navigation here will be a breeze (famous last words).
I landed in Fort Ashby around five and had a nice meal at the Town Kitchen, where I discussed the Wounded Warrior Project with two sisters. I gave them my card and they were so kind as to pay for my meal. Their kind act nearly had me in tears (fatigue makes me emotional okay :).
Fort Ashby was originally (surprise!) a fort, one of 69 Colonel George Washington had built in 1755 to protect the area from hostile Indians. Mr. Washington was a common theme this day, as he is said to have regularly visited a man named Joseph Cresap and slept at his house while in Oldtown. Oh, and by the way, Fort Ashby is the only one of those 69 forts still standing.
I managed fourteen miles today and have reached the 300 mile mark for my journey. Only a few thousand miles left to go :)

14 miles/287 total miles

What a Fruit

May Something: I started my last full day on the canal with Swagman early, with a chance to glimpse an exciting bit of history motivating me to get moving. A short while after we began our trudge onward the walls around us turned to rock and closed in on both sides. Half a mile later we came upon the most impressive engineering feat on the canal: Paw Paw tunnel.
The tunnel is about 3/5 of a mile (3000 plus feet). The rock was forcefully opened by black powder as dynamite had not yet been invented. Black powder was notoriously unreliable, as likely to kill the workers as it was to actually break away the precise rocky obstruction.
Lee Montgomery was picked to head the project, which he planned to finish within two years, starting in 1836. As with most construction projects, there were cost overruns and delays. The tunnel wasn't finished until 1850 and Montgomery was bankrupted in the process.
Although you can see the exit from the very beginning, walking through the tunnel is creepy. Even with a flashlight I could not see the canal below me. I did not view any of the horrific beasts who know doubt dwell in that dark lair and I gladly passed to the other side in ignorance of their twelve eyes and sharp-toothed gaping maws.
Shortly after passing through the tunnel we turned left and crossed the Potomac into West Virginia for the penultimate time. Swagman and I entered the city of Paw Paw, which, like the tunnel is named after the Paw Paw fruit, the largest edible fruit in North America. We have not yet had an opportunity to enjoy its juicy joys as of this writing.
Paw Paw, as with the other cities on the canal has worn many hats throughout the years. At times the canal, railroad, orchard, and tannery industries have all been the employer of the town's citizens. All have departed and the burg struggles to find a niche in the uncertain future.
As industries have come and gone through the years, buildings have adapted to the changing times as well. The International Order of Odd Fellows Hall (named by Monty Python no doubt) has acted as the post office, city hall, library, etc. Grandma's Country Kitchen, where we ate breakfast, had once been used as a funeral parlor.
After our meal we returned to the C & O, completing a total of eleven miles for the day (plus a couple miles in and out of Paw Paw). I will go to sleep tonight at Potomac Forks, just short of Oldtown, Maryland. From Oldtown I will cross the Potomac for the final time, entering West Virginia and leaving the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Towpath behind me for good.

11 miles/274 total miles

Staying Alive

May 15: The weather looked spotty that morning so we waited out the morning and enjoyed some of Steve's fine cooking. Swagman and I devoured sausage, French toast, mash potatoes, meat loaf, and butter beans before our stomachs cried enough. Steve was also kind enough to let me use his personal computer to do my journals.
The sun finally shining, we said our goodbyes. Little Orleans may be small, but the personality of the town's occupants most certainly is not.
Swagman and I high-tailed it to our stopping point just short of Paw Paw. We covered 14 miles of mostly non-descript ground. The three lockhouses we passed had decayed to little more than foundations. The mix of rain and sun did bring out some animals. I spotted my first beaver of the trip (insert your own joke here). A salamander with a bizarre diamond shaped pattern on its back and several furry caterpillars were among the more interesting finds.
I got a scare from John later in the day when he fell hard while we were entering a camp site to rest for a moment. After a few seconds that seemed an eternity, he said he was okay. My mind calmed quickly, but I had been racing to think what to do if he were hurt - we were eight miles from the nearest town.
Tomorrow will be my last full day on the canal. I've been bedazzled by the history of the region, but most of all the rise and fall of the towns here and their battle to stay alive long after the canal which brought them into being closed and fell into ruins.

14 miles/263 total miles

Little Town, Big Personality

May 14: I woke around dawn bent on getting to Little Orleans and a bed for the night before the rains came again. We packed up our temporary homes and left without disturbing a homeless man who had shown up during the night on a bicycle, coming from who knows where. The poor fellow had slept underneath the picnic table whilst the rain fell.
We quickly ate up 7.1 miles of ground and arrived in Little Orleans. I've never been to Orleans, France, but they certainly got the Little part right. There are only three buildings of note in the village. The first we visited was Bill's Place, where Swagman and I relaxed with a beer and lunch. Bill is ninety and suffering from lung cancer, but he is still clearly the man in charge. His sense of humor is everywhere, from the can labeled deer ass holes behind the bar to the sign in front of the kitchen reading quityerbitchin.
We paid up and moseyed down to the Old Schoolhouse, now run as a hostel under the name Little Orleans Lodge. There I met Steve who, Swagman had warned me, was quite a character. The 75 year old did not disappoint, constantly cracking jokes, many of them directed at his son Jay, who gave back as good as he got. They reminded me a bit of Archie Bunker and Meathead from "All in the Family."
Steve was a more than gracious host, driving us to a picturesque scenic overview nearby where the Union had held an artillery position above a horseshoe bend in the Potomac. On our way down we passed by St Patrick's Church, the third building of import in L.O. The churchyard there holds the graves of soldiers from the Civil War and WW I, plus victims of the influenza epidemic of 1919.
Later on in the evening, Steve and Jay took us down the National Pike and across the Mason-Dixon Line (one of their original surveyor stones still lies beside the road) into Pennsylvania. Our destination was the Roadkill Cafe in Artemas, motto: you kill it, we grill it. I was a bit of a wimp, settling for the chicken that didn't cross the road. The Smear of Deer and Awesome Possum are local favorites and the bold can play "Guess that Mess." Those canny enough to figure out what they are eating earn a free meal.

7 miles/249 total miles

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Building Block of A Nation

May 13: We finally escaped Hancock's gravity this morning, leaving the town's environs about 8:30. The weather was dull, gray, and rainy. The mosquitoes circled us in hordes like beggars in a bread line waiting for their Deet sandwich. Those that made it through my chemical Maginot Line met their end with a swat of my hand. I won't say I killed seven with one blow for that got Mickey in no end of trouble, or so the story goes.
The monotony of our hike was broken when we came upon an interesting geological formation. The "Devil's Eyebrow" (which looks more like the devil's eye socket in my opinion) was created when during the canal's construction in the 1830s the builders discovered and extracted limestone from the rock, leaving an empty cavity eerily reminiscent of an eyebrow (socket).
Limestone is used to make lime, an ingredient in cement. The mineral's abundance led to the erection of the Rock Top Cement factory adjacent to the Eyebrow. Most notably, Rock Top's product was used in the building of the Washington Monument and the Capitol Building.
The rain tapered off in the early afternoon, but John insisted he was in no shape to make the additional seven miles to Little Orleans, so we stopped at Capacon Junction to camp for the evening. Capacon has all the amenities that should lead to a sleepless night: a railroad and highway across the river in addition to the nearby fire station, which utilizes an old air raid siren from WW II every time they are summoned to get Muffy's cat out of a tree.
We put 9.7 miles behind us today and I am only 35 miles from finishing Maryland.

9 miles/241 total miles

The Evolution of a Community: Hancock, Maryland

I spent my first zero day since reaching the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal in Hancock, Maryland running errands to prepare for my last forty miles on the canal before heading into West Virginia. While wandering around I learned something of the city's history.
Hancock is not named after the flamboyant parchment-hogger John, but rather Joseph, who as an enlisted man fought in several key engagements during the American Revolution. The city was also bombarded by Stonewall Jackson during an unsuccessful attempt to find a place to safely ford the Potomac.
The history of the town was tied for years to its importance as a hub on the canal and later the Western Maryland railway. After the demise of both, the citizenry have searched for a new niche. During the mid 20th century Hancock flourished thanks to the apple industry, which thrived on the Potomac's flood plain. The renaissance was short-lived. Arguments over labor compensation between the owners and the state government led to the closure of the orchards in the early 1980s.
Hancock's present iteration is as a "Trail Community" tied to the C&O and Western Maryland Rail Trails, a way of embracing the past in order to establish a future. the C&O Bicycle Shop, where I stayed for my two nights here, is part of that effort. If the kindness and generosity of Dennis and Ron at the shop and Dawn at A Little Off the Top is an indication of the town as a whole I have a feeling the endeavor will be rewarded in spades.

0 miles/232 total miles

Flying Fish?

Fifteen miles to Hancock, fifteen miles to a shower and pizza. After forty eight hours of Slim Jims and granola just the word pizza was enough to quicken our gait.
In between us and our destiny of gooey pie goodness lay Fort Frederick, an outpost that had played a role in three wars. Originally designed as a defense against hostile Indians during the French and Indian War, the stockade had later housed British prisoners during the Revolution, and was used to protect the nearby railroad during the Civil War.
Our history lesson for the day behind us, Swagman and I passed along the side of Big Pool, a small lake that had been incorporated into the canal. Wildlife was abundant here. We saw a great horned owl as well as innumerable turtles. One of the largest of the turtles sat down in the middle of the towpath and allowed us a photo. What we saw less than another mile down really surprised us. This time our way was blocked by a fifteen pound carp, still breathing!
The fish was several feet onto the path and there was a six foot embankment. The thing had clearly been moved there, but there was no teeth or claw marks evident. Ron, our bunkmate later that night suggested a fisherman had abandoned his catch as too heavy to carry, but we had seen no one walking in the area. Other possibilities: carp breeding with snakeheads or Bad News Bears 2. We made Hancock around 4:30 and moved into the "chicken coop," a bunkhouse behind the C&O bicycle shop. After a hot shower and half a pizza consumed in about two minutes I felt whole again.

Note: I later discovered that Asian carp do have the ability to jump such heights. If they live in the canal that is likely what we saw.

15 miles/232 total miles

The Canal Giveth, The Canal Taketh Away

May 10: After the hard slog yesterday and with the next town of Hancock out of reach, John and I decided to make today a short one. Nine comparatively leisurely miles of hiking got us to our campground for the night, just beyond the Four Locks.
We stopped for awhile at Dam #5 where there was a nice grassy area to watch the water flow evenly over to the river below. The Confederates also tried without success to blow Dam #5 during the War of Northern Aggression. The Union Stratego player must have done an excellent job of using his miner pieces in this region of the game board.
Our next brush with history came at Four Locks, where an elevation change required four locks to be installed in quick succession when the canal was built. A thriving community built up around the locks during the 19th century, but as with many towns along the C&O the canal's demise carried the community's raison d'etre along with it. Little remains there today but the stone locks, a stoic reminder of what once was.
We arrived at our stopping point for the day at North Bend early on in the sunny afternoon, shortly after passing Four Locks. We rested and reinvigorated ourselves in preparation for the trip to Hancock tomorrow with our ultimate grail in sight: pizza! I know the goal seems trite, but please recall that I ate half a bar of frozen Metrx dog turd for breakfast yesterday.

9 miles/217 total miles

A History of Almost in Williamsport

May 9: Swagman and I awoke at the crack of dawn on the 9th of May with a long day ahead of us. I decided to start the day right with an experiment I had picked up the day before, a Metr-x chocolate chip cookie dough meal replacement bar. Please choose A)Good idea B) Bad Idea.
If you chose A you have clearly never consumed the product. I peeled open the wrapper, revealing something that looked like a frozen dog turd. The taste of the bar bore out the original impression. I chucked the rest of the crapstick into the woods, likely drawing a cruelty to animals charge when some unfortunate creature stumbles upon the remains.
Our goal for the day was Williamsport, Maryland, 16 miles away. We first had to leave the towpath thanks to a dam detour. Dam #4 has been under repair for ten years and, according to locals, will be finished in time for the 25th millennium. The detour was steep at first and windy with little shoulder. We accepted a ride up the last mile of the most dangerous road. After two hours we returned to the towpath and made steady progress towards Williamsport, which we finally reached around two. Right before entering, with no sewage treatment plant to distract me, I finally saw a groundhog. I was reminded of the Bill Murray movie and how I had been annoyed for almost two consecutive hours, with a brief intermission when the lead character kills himself repeatedly. The rest was not funny. I have to admit finding only the suicide scenes hilarious may point towards serious problem with me rather than with the movie.
Back to Williamsport, which had a less exciting Civil War history than our previous two stops. A brief takeover by the Confederates before Gettysburg is the only story the town has to tell. Earlier on in American History, the town had just fell short of fame when George Washington had the area surveyed during his search for a permanent capital, but chose the current location lower on the Potomac instead.
Although not hosting a gaggle of dirty politicians, the town did have a Sheetz, where I stocked up on groceries, and a Chinese restaurant, where I ate my serving of vegetables for the week (just wanted to let you know I am eating healthy Mom :).
We also hit the Third Base Tavern where I noted this particularly Williamsport also failed to host the Little League World Series. Despite another almost, the establishment was kind enough to supply a shot of unknown liquor to trail virgins of the C&O who are then allowed to write their name on the ceiling before passing out and going to sleep on the bar.
We limped into our campsite two miles beyond Williamsport an hour before sundown to find we had company for the first time, a young couple from Pittsburgh biking the canal. We stayed up to chat with them a while, but the long day took its toll and once the sun went down so did we. We had gone from mile 83 to mile 101 of the towpath. 67 miles remain before I turn left and head into West Virginia.

Bad News Bears: Williamsport recently had a problem bear. The police lured him out of town using donuts. You can't make this stuff up.

18 miles/208 total miles

Monday, May 9, 2011

A Story of Gory and Glory

May 8: Today the towpath has taken me to the battlefield of Antietam, one of the bloodiest battles of the Civil War. 23,000 were killed in three days of action, one for every second the fighting lasted, according to the promotional film at the Visitor's Center, which wouldn't lie to me as we had previously established a relationship based on trust.
The rebels called the battle Sharpsburg after the nearby town where I had a huge pile of bacon, sausage, eggs, and toast mixed into a pile for breakfast. No one really cares about what the South thinks though, because they lost. Apparently the news has not reached Alabama or Mississippi as of yet.
Many famous personages participated over the three days, including Robert E. Lee, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Stonewall Jackson, Joseph Hooker (yes they are named after him), General Burnsides ( switch the compound word that makes his last name and yes they are named after him), General McClellan, Abner Doubleday (who people used to think invented baseball, now I don't know why he is supposed to be important), and Clara Barton. Barton provided medical supplies and wasn't a combatant, sadly she turned down a $10,000 offer to pose in her corset with a Gatling gun.
The three days of action break down generally like this, with some info deleted to prevent mind-numbing boredom: Day 1)Dunker Church: Union soldiers force Confederates to abandon the area around the church through massed artillery fire.
GREAT MOMENTS IN IRONY 2: the Dunkers were a pacifist German baptist sect who had never heard of basketball or Dunkin Donuts.
Day 2) Bloody Lane or Sunken Road: whatever you call it, day 2 resulted in more casualties than any other day of the Civil War.
Day 3) Burnsides' Bridge: General Burnsides shows he is ahead of his time by ordering repeated head-on charges over open ground against entrenched positions on a hill. What a fabulous WW I commander he would have made - certainly a five star general in no time. On the third try the Union forces figured out there was a wall to hide behind and managed to pry the Confederates off the hill. The Union crossed the bridge and the battle was concluded shortly thereafter.
McClellan decided follow up the victory by napping for a few days and Lee's forces managed to escape across the Potomac.
President Lincoln was less than pleased with McClellan, whom he sacked shortly thereafter. The semi-victory was enough of an excuse for Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, which he did only a couple days after the fighting at Antietam was concluded.
Tired of war, I limped down the hill back to the canal where we camped at mile 83 for the night. Rejoice, for I am nearly halfway done with the C&O and the state of Maryland.

11 miles/190 total miles

From Brown to Blabber

May 7: If you have heard tell of Harper's Ferry, West Virginia before one man is almost certainly due the credit: John Brown. His raid on the US armory there is considered by many to have been the true first shot of the Civil War, with apologies to my Charleston homies.
If John Brown was alive today he would almost certainly be confined to a straight-jacket. His zealotry in the name of abolition was legendary even before the ill-fated raid. Brown's involvement in the battle over whether Kansas would be a slave state contributed to the period's "Bleeding Kansas" moniker.
Escaped slave Frederick Douglass said of the man, "his zeal in the cause of my race was greater than mine." With only a handful of men Brown decided to take the National Armory at Harper's Ferry and all the weapons within as part of his anti-slavery crusade. What twenty or so men would do with such a mass of armaments was unclear, but the raid was at first successful.
GREAT MOMENTS IN IRONY 1: the only casualty of the initial raid was the death of a black freedman.
The US army sent in a few marines under the command of some Colonel named Robert E. Lee and they quickly took back the facility. After a trial John Brown and his compatriots were executed. Southerners had wanted his head, but their blood lust backfired, resulting in Brown's martyrdom. "John Brown's Body" was part of the Billboard Hot One Hundred mix constantly being over-played by Union DJs during the subsequent conflict.
Of course there is more than just the one shining moment in Harper's Ferry's history. For instance, the city changed hands eight times during the war. Earlier in American history, the armory had provided goodies for the Lewis and Clark expedition, including his much ballyhooed canvass fold-up boats that turned out to be completely useless.
Sitting astride the Potomac and Shenandoah as it does, water helped make the town a transportation hub during the 19th century. Flooding was always a serious issue, however, with devastating deluges in 1889,1924,1936, and 1942 to name just a few. After much of the town had been obliterated about ten times the citizenry wised up and quit building right on the river.
Before another flood rolled in John and I decided to head up the road to Antietam. After spending the morning in Harper's Ferry and with rain scheduled for later in the day we decided the nine miles to the campground near the famous battlefield was sufficient. We have now put Virginia behind us and are walking in Maryland with West Virginia on the opposite shore across the Potomac (we crossed a bridge into Harper's).
The walk was uneventful until I reached Antietam Aqueduct just before our planned campsite. Once there I met a biker whom we will call Maximum Blabberus. After I managed to say I was walking with someone who had done the canal five or six times Maximum took over. He spent ten minutes regaling me with every detail of the C&O and its history, mentioning several times that he had done the entire trail on 48 occasions (on a bike and staying in hotels, not the same thing believe me). Luckily, he was interrupted when John, who was walking behind me, showed up on the scene. Blabberus asked John if he had indeed circuited the canal a few times before. After Swagman answered yes Blabberus launched into a thirty minute monologue directed towards him. I sat behind John on the stonework trying to stifle my urge to chuckle at the man's pomposity.
The Swagman was trapped in the Jupiter-like gravity of Maximum's pie hole as he pontificated upon trips to Katahdin, the Alleghenys, the Upper Peninsula, and the Grand Canyon without even pausing to breathe. Finally feeling sorry for my compatriot, I mentioned our dire need to put up our tents before the rains came. John took the hint and we escaped without further harm.

9 miles/179 total miles

Friday, May 6, 2011

The Hiker's Clean Clothes

I arrived today in Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, a beautiful burg nestled under the mountains at the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. Virginia will no longer be across the river to my left, but rather West Virginia. I still have one hundred miles of Maryland yet to complete.
We had lunch today at the Sloppy Taco, a delightful combo of Mexican food and BBQ. I will be calling daily after the trip to demand they put a restaurant in Greenville, if only for the great name alone.
Today's hike was only eleven miles as John and I have the opportunity here to take our first showers since beginning the C&O. My official theme song will no longer be "We Want the Funk" by Parliament, at least for a few days. We were also able to have our laundry done, and just in the nick of time.
I will be exploring the history of Harper's Ferry tomorrow morning before heading up towards Antietam in the early afternoon. Right now I am headed down to the tavern for a beer and some grub followed by my first night in a bed since DC, courtesy of a cheap local hostel.
Hostels are plentiful here as the Appalachian Trail intersects the ADT in Harper's Ferry. The town, as a matter of fact, is the 1,000 mile mark and official halfway point of the Appalachian Trail. I met several fellows celebrating the milestone. For at least one night I can feel like part of a group, instead of a lone loon.

11 miles/170 total miles

A Short Day

My fourth day on the C&O was relatively uneventful. I did finish my fiftieth mile on this particular trail, but we mainly took it easy, as we had started at number 42. We putzed around in Point of Rocks, Maryland after escaping a two mile long cloud of mosquitoes bent on removing our blood. I probably put together my fastest pace yet in an effort to escape their clutches. Only one was able to successfully zap me thanks to the powers of Deet.
Point of Rocks did allow us to have some hot food for the day, including a massive gyro that hit the spot. The library was a bit of a disappointment, though, as I discovered it is only open twenty minutes a week and none of those minutes coincided with my visit.
Our campsite for the night was underneath the railroad tracks, which will join us for the rest of our journey up the towpath. The canal fought the B&O railroad's attempts to buy some of their Potomac property for years, but finally gave in and sold when revenues went down.
Once the railroad was established, the canal's days were numbered; the waterway was just not as efficient a means of transport. A flood finally ended the C&O's operations in 1924. The B&O eventually folded as well, and CSX now operates the railroad, which does a great job of shipping freight in addition to keeping me up all night with loud noise.

8 miles/159 total miles

The Blair Witch

Last night was rainy and windy, but fortunately the tent held up through the night, passing this first test. We waited out the weather, and fortunately the front passed by ten. John and I were on the road by eleven.
The main sights of our day were Civil War landmarks. Much of the war was fought up and down the Potomac River and I started to see the first evidence that in actuality there really is nothing civil about war anyhow. First off, our contingent of two passed White's Ford, which the Confederates used on three separate occasions during forays into Union territory. Later in the day we crossed the Monocacy Aqueduct, a forbidding thick stone structure whose masonry stood up to attempts by the rebels to destroy the crossing via Nobel's vile invention.
The most logical home for the evening was just on the other side of the Aqueduct, so we ditched our gear there and headed off the towpath towards Dickerson, Maryland. We had been stymied in an earlier attempt to buy hot food when the lunch counter at White's Ferry turned out to be closed. Our stomachs had tired of granola and yearned for something better. The five mile round trip to Dickerson culminated in our reward. I had the juiciest hamburger pretty much ever made, topped with bacon, cheese, pickles, and a wickedly good pepper relish.
We grabbed a few snacks for the future and headed back to Monocacy. As we neared I spotted an older woman carrying a stick, but not using it as a walking aid. Immediately it dawned on me that the "Blair Witch Project" had been filmed in the woods of Maryland. I felt terrible after we reached her and discovered she was a sweet older lady. We exchanged good wishes and trod onward. Then, suddenly, she turned me into a newt (I got better).

14 miles/153 total miles

A New Friend

Day two started without any hitches and I abandoned the campground around seven in the morning. At lock 22 I visited my first site on the MAPT (the Mediocre American President's Trail). Grover Cleveland had enjoyed using the area to decompress while president. Cleveland's main accomplishments are: 1)Being the only president to serve two non-consecutive terms 2) Having an illegitimate child lead to a candy bar being named after him 3) Not having the city of Cleveland named after him.
Around lunch time I strode into Poolesville, about a mile off trail, to get more water and some snacks. The store there is closed, but I was able to obtain the water from a hose out back. As I reached the trail again I spoke to a marine named Winfield who had hiked the Appalachian Trail. The moment our conversation ended I turned to find another C&O hiker, Swagman John.
John is a former Navy man who has hiked the trail in its entirety over ten times and along with his brother and scout troop helped to break trail there in the early 70s. John and I started walking and talking and we didn't stop until we reached our bivouac for the evening, just past mile thirty on the C&O. We decided since we were headed in the same direction for awhile that we should stay together. I consider myself lucky to have found such an experienced hiker from which to learn. My time as grasshopper under the sensai's training has commenced.

14 miles/139 total miles

C&O Here We Go

After a couple days spent with old friends Scott and Sue as well as dinner with a new one,a vivacious lass named Ellen, I headed off on the metro to Foggy Bottom station. A short distance from my stop is the beginning of the Chesapeake and Ohio Towpath, which stretches from Georgetown, DC to Cumberland, Maryland. The ADT follows it until Oldtown, Maryland, eighteen miles before the end.
As you walk the canal is to your right and the Potomac to the left. I wondered at first whether the water in the canal might be a more effective murder weapon than arsenic. After a few miles the muck cleaned up a little and I began to spot life - herons, turtles, and ducks roamed about. A great blue heron allowed a glimpse into the underwater world by snatching a herring from the waters and devouring it in front of me.
My favorite stretch of the canal was mile 13-14, where the waterway widens and small rocky cliffs line the edges. At the end of that mile the Potomac butted in with an even more impressive sight to the right - Great Falls. Little Falls at mile 5 had given me a concept of the amazing volume of the river (4 billion tons empty into the estuary each day) and Great Falls showed me the power. The Falls lasted for nearly a mile, with the coupe de grace coming as the river narrowed and massive waves collided in a cacophony of sound.
I finished a total of 18 miles on my first day - 16.6 on the C&O and a little more on a detour to Glen Echo for lunch, plus the jaunt from the station to the towpath.
Exhausted, I pitched my tent* at Swains Lock, the first of many free campsites along the canal, and prepared for another day.

*I learned later I was setting the tent up completely wrong. Somehow the structure stayed together through the night despite my profound stupidity. God bless REI.

16 miles/125 total miles

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Cutting the Umbilical Cord

Saturday was my last day with Dad and Nalan. Nalan and I did a half day, hiking from just south of Old Bowie to Greenbelt, a distance of eleven miles (120 in total). Old Bowie had the feeling of a small town and the citizens were setting up for a town fair as we passed through the area. There was an interesting little railroad museum there as well which was unfortunately closed at the time. Finding a museum in Washington DC will surely prove difficult.
The terrain on the way to Greenbelt via Beaver Dam Road was mainly U.S government property, some owned by NASA and the rest by an unspecified agency or agencies. Besides the numerous "US property, no trespassing signs" though, the land was mainly farm (pesticide testing?)and forestland (designing mutant squirrels trained to combat Al Qaeda?). I didn't see much wildlife today, although Nalan did claim to see a groundhog whilst I was staring at the waste treatment plant spew poo. Not the best decision my wandering eyes have made thus far.
After a four hour trip we arrived in Greenbelt, Maryland, one of three model cities planned and constructed by one of FDR's alphabet soup agencies. I could never keep all of them straight, only the military and education professions have an acronym fetish comparable to FDR's.
Appropriately enough we ate at the New Deal Cafe, which turned out to be a Lebanese restaurant. My chicken schawarma was a good primer for the Lebanese meal Sue is cooking for Scott and I Sunday night. Scott is in the military and did a couple tours in the Middle East where he developed a taste for some of the cuisine. He will be shipping out again in June for six months. Keep him in your thoughts and/or prayers depending on which you are better at doing.
Sunday is a rest day, all I have to do is prep for the C&O Canal and eat some wonderful home cooking. I may have to savor the flavor memories for some time with my upcoming menu looking like Jerky followed by granola, then repeat. Sue's mad kitchen skills shame the Iron Chefs to such an extent they have no choice but to commit seppuku. I have been looking forward to this meal for some time.
These reports will probably be less frequent in the future. I won't be staying in hotels very much any more so my internet access will be spotty at best. I will be writing a daily journal though and I will post my day-to-day activities whenever opportunities arrive, mainly through public libraries.
I am going to miss Dad and Nalan's company very much. They have been an incredible help throughout this first week and I don't know if I could have done it without them. The time has come to cut the umbilical cord now and how I will do on my own is a story to be told in the coming days. Stay tuned. (I bet he screws it up). Shut up me, you have no self-confidence whatsoever. Jeez.

Thanks to recent sponsors and donors:
Jesse and Holly Cunningham
Ellen Flaherty
Larry Holmes (not the boxer)
1st Lt. Ryan and Mrs. Frances Sidlovsky, USMC

We are nearing the $3000 mark, a great start, but like my walk there is still a long way to go.