With the dreaded DC traffic coming to town, it’s another 530A morning leaving the Kyker B and B in mid-May. Taking to the Washington Beltway west out of the city, we find traffic flowing quite nicely and in 20 minutes we are heading northwest on I-270 to Rockville, MD where we will strike breakfast gold within the hour. Heading in the opposite direction, slogging commuter traffic rumbles and stumbles to DC. Life is good heading out of town.
Again, I’ve found a non-franchise diner online prior to our hike. Today it’s the Mountain View Diner on Route 40 in Rockville. Funky, bright, gleaming fifties, the Mountain View has $7, $8, and $9 breakfasts, but we find the hike-nourishing $2.99 special of two eggs, home fries, and toast bursting at the edge of the plate. We hit pay dirt.
From the Mountain View Diner, we tool up and down the hills of route 40 for 15 minutes while school buses pass us in the opposite direction. Only 70 minutes from the Washington Metro area, we spot a parking area for 8 to 10 cars on our right for the Appalachian Trail.
Time is the gift retirement gives us day in and day out. Things we want to do don’t have to be squeezed in or postponed til the weekend.
A hundred yards from the well-marked main trail, we begin hiking along a path where a chain-linked fence separates us from the traffic of I-70 some one hundred feet below and soon has us deep in the forest.
Heading north on the Appalachian Trail in a heavy fog, the assent warms us both, especially Hannah wearing a gray sweater. She soon looks for a place to leave behind along the trail.
Hanging her sweater trailside, Hannah is convinced her sweater will be there when we return. I couldn’t agree more. We didn’t even think there will be a 90% chance it will be there. We are all in. 100% that it will be there upon our return. My goodness, we are among the community of hikers! The temperatures are into the 70s. Far too warm for a sweater! In our certainty, Hannah hangs her sweater and we hike on.
Hiking the AT in Maryland is a classic walk in the park as the canopied trees make it the proverbial “green tunnel.” Hiking three miles per hour while talking is very doable on such level terrain. Hannah calls our path a “red carpet” as the trail is sweetly laid out in front of us. The trees on this ridge hike hide the views of the valley below. At last 2.2 miles from the trailhead, we take a 300 yard side blue blaze trail to the Annapolis Rocks.
In another easy mile we take the short blue blaze trail to Black Rock.
After nearly two hours of ridge line hiking we take a break after what we estimate is five and a half miles of hiking from the trailhead.
As we reverse course, we know that this is the time in our hike when we might see northbound thru-hikers (those hiking 2180 miles from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine).
Within a half a mile we see Smooth and Gimpy. Smooth’s trail name comes from his smooth sailing along the trail to Mount Katahdin. Enough said why Gimpy is Gimpy when we see a black ace bandage around his left knee.
Smooth had left Georgia in March so he is making a good progress to get to Mt. Katahdin in another two to three months. When we ask him what surprised him about the hike, he says it was the five feet of snow in the Smokies. Currently seated on a rock, Smooth says that his second pair of shoes is giving him trouble, not a good sign with someone who still has 1100+ miles to go.
Within minutes, we slow to talk to a young woman by the trail name of Mayonnaise. She left in early February so it’s been slow going for her. In nearly three and half months of hiking, she’s just about halfway to Mount Katahdin; it will be late summer for this recent college grade (a fellow UNH Wildcat) before she’ll be on our mountain in Maine. It was the weather that surprised her. Out of 30 days hiking in North Carolina, it snowed 26 of them. Her AT hiking advice is the importance getting a new pair of shoes every 500 miles. The outsides may look fine, but the interiors can be a mess.
Thru-hikers are just tough and made from a heartier stock than I. It takes real women and real men to brave the weather and the PUDs (pointless ups and downs of mountain climbing) to keep believing day after day that they’ll make it to Maine.
Mayonnaise is sunshine. She is one of those people who gives us energy with her smile and mutual interest. Rarely do we find someone wondering about our story. After talking with her (and she seemed in no hurry), we feel energized by her hopeful and happy nature and our participation in the conversation. After nearly three hours of hiking, we feel renewed and ready to finish our four hours of hiking and talking.
With a mile to go til the trailhead we begin looking for Hannah’s sweater. No matter how racist it sounds, many trees do look alike. Her sweater would be on our right now, down the uphill we passed three hours ago. Our certainty falters as we hear I-70 in the near distance. As we get to the trail parallel to the highway, there is no gray sweater to be seen. Hannah retraces her steps back up the hill for a good half mile or more.
She sadly returns with no sweater.
So what could have happened? Perhaps, a “helpful” ranger took it on to some shelter for a hiker to claim in? We’d like to think someone needed it more than Hannah. No one would steal it. Stuff just happens.
None of this overshadows the five star breakfast at the Mountain View Diner or that hiking the AT in Maryland is about as good as it gets.