Dan and Hannah Hike the Appalachian Trail in northern Maryland

A vow is a vow. Would Sir Lancelot go back on a vow?  Lady Lancelot?  Not even, Baby Lancelot would. If they wouldn’t, neither will we!

After having our spirits and feet shredded by the jagged rocks of the Appalachian Trail (AT) in eastern Pennsylvania near Wind Gap, we vow to never hike in the Keystone State again. So ditching our plans to hike the AT north of Harrisburg at Duncannon this late April morning, we drive south below Gettysburg, PA through the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland to the town of Smithsburg.

The blue blaze trail leads to the main trail, the Appalachian Trail

The blue blaze trail leads to the main trail, the Appalachian Trail

Only later do we learn that we have passed near the presidential retreat of Camp David.  Catoctin Mountain Park does not indicate the location of Camp David on park maps due to privacy and security concerns.   Arriving at Wolfsville Road, we return to a trailhead where we parked six months ago. At that time we hiked north on the AT; today we head south.

The white blaze of the Appalachian Trail in Maryland

The white blaze of the Appalachian Trail in Maryland

We need some mellow hiking today after yesterday’s jagged, spirit-breaking rocks, masquerading as a trail. Having previously hiked five times in Maryland, we pine for its mellow ridge line hiking with fewer rocks; it’s just the ticket to refresh our legs and renew our love of hiking.

Rocky stairway on the AT

Rocky stairway on the AT

From Wolfsville Road, we climb the switchbacks up a mountain with a different kind of rocks. Flatter and smoother, these rocks are positioned by trail makers that allow us easy access up the mountain. After a day of rain, the weather has cleared and the sun shines brightly on the hiker-friendly landscape of Maryland.

Hannah ridge line hiking in Maryland

Hannah ridge line hiking in Maryland

Once at the summit we begin our ridge trail hiking and soon spot a group of young hikers. Always looking to connect, we learn that they are from the Lancaster Bible College in Pennsylvania. As recent high school graduates, they are backpacking and camping and completing other non-classroom activities as part of a gap year of experiences before they begin their pursuit of their Bachelor of Science degrees in Bible Studies.

VCU Ram just north of the Commonwealth

VCU Ram just north of the Commonwealth

Logan, a senior intern, hikes along with us as he leaves the eighteen year-olds on their own for a while. For this experience, the students are outdoors for five days to learn about themselves in close quarters; that means they can’t avoid the issues that come up with each other on the trail.

MD gap yearI think of a gap year as a concept from Great Britain where students spend the year between high school and college traveling, working, volunteering, or completing an internship. It seems to me that such students would bring an earnestness and commitment to their academic studies after having a taste of the “real world.”

My top of the line colleague, Dr. Hair Koirala, in the Department of Education at Eastern Connecticut State University.

My esteemed colleague, Dr. Hair Koirala, in the Department of Education at Eastern Connecticut State University.

As a retired professor of education at Eastern Connecticut State University and the University of New England, I taught 18 to 22 year old undergrads as well as older, non-traditional students.  These older students were returning for teacher training after often having had another career. Almost always, they were fully invested in their studies after having this “gap” time between high school and their decision to seek teacher certification.

There are a few rocky stretches on the AT in Maryland

There are some rocky stretches on the AT in Maryland

The gap year reminds me of what Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints) do when they complete an 18 month (for young women) and 24 month (for young men) mission, often after their first year of college.  With a specific purpose to bring the Word to others during their mission, they gain the added benefit of having time to reflect on their opportunities and how they can serve others.  I can only guess they also return more devoted to their studies after going on their mission.

Mellow ridge line hiking in Maryland

Mellow ridge line hiking in Maryland

Thirty-four students, interns, and chaperones are strung out over the trail here in northern Maryland, hiking in groups of six to seven. And just as you would expect, they are stereotypically delightful, upbeat, willing to engage, and make eye contact; they are excellent ambassadors of Christianity.

MD 3B H on less rockyIn a forest that is just about to blossom with new leaves in late April, our trail is ridge line so we have very little elevation gain as we hike. With no destination in mind, we plan to hike out 90 minutes and double back to complete three hours of hiking this afternoon. Our weary legs could use a break after the nasty, protruding rocks of the AT in Pennsylvania.  (We just can’t let it go!)

A few more rocks on the AT

A few more rocks on the AT

We do have rocky stretches, but they are just sections amid miles of flatter, softer packed dirt and rock terrain.  Today we have done a week’s worth of whining about yesterday’s rocky trail hiking; ergo we have used up our allotment of bellyaching and finally cease our grumbling.

MD 3A H on less rocky partWe run into “Little Buddy” (trail name), a twenty something out for a few days of backpacking with his father. They are agreeable sorts, in no hurry, and tell us of their surprise of getting to the Red Raven Shelter 12 miles back last night and seeing the shelter full of young hikers and tents everywhere filled with the Lancaster Bible students.

MD 3C ridge line trailFather/son bonding has many venues. Some do it on the trail. In two days, I’ll have the chance to do some of my own with our son Will on golf courses in the Richmond, VA area. I like my bonding on emerald fairways and greens that funnel my ball to the hole. Each to his own.

Will and Laurel toast picture

The future Mr. and Mrs. Rothermel

Descending the last mountain, I feel my left knee begin to ache from yesterday’s hike in the unforgiving rocks of Pennsylvania.  Tomorrow is a light day of canal path walking at Great Falls National Park near Washington, DC with the Family Rawding.

And then after, off to Richmond, Virginia for Will’s marriage to Laurel Ann Crane.

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Dan and Hannah Hike the Appalachian Trail near Smithsburg, Maryland

The crash has nothing to do with the Appalachian Trail

The crash has nothing to do with the Appalachian Trail

We love hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) in Maryland.  When here in the Oyster State, we have had sublime ridgeline hiking; those easy going trails that make the day feel like a walk in the park.  As we wrap up our week of AT hiking in the South, we come to Smithsburg in northern Maryland in mid-October. During the Civil War, Smithsburg was a hospital town, treating soldiers from the nearby Battle of Antietam.

We’ve come north from Richmond, VA through the I-95 logjam of northern Virginia, west on the I-495 beltway to I-270 to Frederick, MD. Lunching on Subway subs at a local park, we know we have just three hours and change to hike before our dinner plans. We, who think happy hour nachos and margaritas at Ruby’s are a big deal, have dinner plans.

Wolfsville Road in October

Wolfsville Road in October

Turning east towards the mountains from Smithsburg, we head up Wolfsville Road to trailhead parking for 12 cars. A blue blaze trail to the AT takes us into the Maryland woods on this October day at 60 degrees (blue blaze trails are side trails leading to the white blaze main trail).

Blue blaze side trail to the Appalachian Trail

Blue blaze side trail to the Appalachian Trail

Immediately as we head north on the AT we pass the Ensign Cowell Shelter. I’d have to lose a large bet or be held at gun point to stay overnight in a shelter. Lying on a thin pad in a sleeping bag on pine floors, wedged shoulder to shoulder with another of God’s smelliest human beings?  I think not. Snoring!  NASA still hasn’t developed earplugs with enough sound-proofing to give a hiker a good night’s sleep in AT shelters; and don’t get me started on the mice that scurry over and around and, yes through, sleeping bags.  Okay, I admit it, I’m soft.

Check out the Ensign Cowell Shelter.

With an ambitious goal to hike the five miles to and from the Raven Rock Shelter in three to four hours, we have a tight window to make our dinner plans in nearby Ijamsville (the j is silent).  Today is another golden day in the South and the last one before we head home to winter in Maine. (That’s not as appealing as it sounds.) Our trail guidebook says we will be hiking between 1100’ and 1400’ to the Raven Rock Shelter.  We love our mellow Maryland hills.

Rocks aplenty on the AT in Maryland

Rocks aplenty on the AT in northern Maryland

Stepping along the AT of yellow and brown fall leaves, we find the trail well-marked with white blazes. Truth be told the leaves are hiding a rocky terrain similar to ones we found on the boot-shredding AT in Pennsylvania. Still, the trails here in the Terrapin State allow us to talk easily without the huffing and puffing that we do when climbing the mountains of the AT in North Carolina.

From forest to fields to forest

From forest to fields to forest

Soon we are crossing fields, passing other hikers with backpacks who are out for a few days on the trail before the winter snows. When hiking in the South, I travel back in my mind to Civil War times. Surveying the hills, farmland, and valleys as we hike, I wonder what it was like for soldiers as well as the townsfolk trying to survive the ravages and uncertainty of war.  What must have been the terror and hope of slaves traveling the Underground Railroad through this part of the country?

MD 3 Han on ATWondering how far it is to the shelter, we meet up with a young couple from nearby Hood College. They let on that they lost the trail and are turning back. Undeterred, we have no doubt we’ll find the trail and carry on. And we do.

MD 7 trailAfter 90 minutes of hiking and no Raven Rock Shelter in view, we wonder, considering our dinner plans, do we go on or do we turn back?   Four teenage boys out for a first time backpacking adventure, going in the opposite direction, say the shelter is 2-3 hours away. We dismiss their youthful wild guess and hike on.

MD 4 rocky trailSoon thereafter we meet up with a 40-something male hiker, who tells us we are a mile away from the shelter as he points upward to the mountain before us.  We weigh another hour of mountain climbing versus our dinner plans?  With never a doubt, we head back to the trailhead.  for out “don’t miss” dinner plans.

VCU Rams are everywhere on the AT

VCU Rams are everywhere on the AT

Hiking back to the Wolfsville Road trailhead, we meet Bubble Gum (his trail name). Wanting to get to the Raven Rock Shelter before dark, he is understandably distracted talking to day-hiking dilettantes (i.e. dabblers) like us. We do learn that his trail name comes from giving bubble gum to other hikers.  Sadly, he never offers us any.  Such can be the dismissive approach to us day hikers.

Maryland's Appalachian Trail

Maryland’s Appalachian Trail

Heading for the trailhead, we soak in every last bit of our fifth of five hikes on the AT over the last week. After thirty years of running on streets and biking country roads, we have found gold in hiking the trails of the Appalachian Mountains.

MD 5 white blaze trailHeading for dinner, we see the teenagers on the trail ahead. They hear us and pick up the pace!  Kids!  A fool’s errand. We have dinner plans, fanny packs, and years of hiking experience; they have heavy backpacks, youthful bravado, and mistaken notions of their own fitness.  It’s no contest as they finally relent, step aside, and let us pass. We smile graciously as they look beaten and stunned that we two, who are probably older than their grandparents, go sailing by.

Packing up off Wolfsville Road, we navigate the modest 5P traffic through Frederick and Ijamsville, Maryland for our dinner plans.

Wendy and Hannah, 1970 grads of the College of Wooster, Ohio

Wendy and Hannah, 1970 grads of the College of Wooster, Ohio

Arriving at the home of Hannah’s College of Wooster classmate, Wendy and her husband Bill, we are welcomed like long lost friends.  Wendy and Hannah find the forty plus years since they were last together melt away. (While they graduated from this liberal arts college in Ohio, I lasted just three years there and graduated from the Harvard of the West – Arizona State.).  Treated like old friends, we reconnect over wine and cheese, down home dinner, and a mutual interest that allows our stories and theirs to emerge in a soul-satisfying confluence.

We’ll be back again. To both the AT in Maryland and Wendy and Bill’s, you can count on that.

Dan and Hannah Hike to the Ed Garvey Shelter on the Appalachian Trail in Maryland

MD map

If you love to hike, come to Maryland.

From Frederick, Maryland, which is just 45 miles northwest of Washington, DC, Hannah and I drive west on Route 340 to exit 17, following signs to Gathland State Park.  Driving the winding country roads of the Maryland countryside the first week of November, we have hit bucolic pay dirt.  Together Hannah and I will hike in mid-60s weather, ready for any unexpected adventure that comes our way.  Freedom  of the open road is a cliché, but it’s what I was hoping to purchase when I retired.  I get that and more today.

Gathland St Park arch

Today we’ll hike south toward Weverton Cliffs (near Harper’s Ferry, WV) on the Appalachian Trail (AT) where we hiked just a year ago.  Driving up the Gapland Road from Burkittsville, we come upon a 40 foot stone arch dedicated to the war correspondents of the Civil War in truly the middle of nowhere.  And Nowhere, Maryland is just where we want to be today.  No traffic nor list of things to do.

AT in MD

With no one in sight, we cross the road and find a welcome path to the AT.  Today we are in for unexpected treat – ridge hiking.  We’ll have a mostly level terrain across mountain tops, where the trail is wide enough for Hannah and me to maintain a rockin’ pace as we walk side by side.

Today on the trail I introduce the topic of how to share our riches.  What is truly being generous?   Giving what you have?  Tithing?  Giving til it hurts?   What do we really need anyway?  Are we letting prudence get in the way of our giving?  Is our faith greater than our fear?

AT trail in MD 2

Without a conscious, frontal lobe focus on the giving-away-money part of our life, we just don’t seem to make it happen as much as we’d like.  Here’s a thought: Let’s pick a dollar amount to give each month and the last day of every month see how we’ve done.  If we haven’t reached our giving goal, we don’t leave the room until we find a home for the balance of the month’s giving.  Let’s talk about being generous the next time we meet.

Side by side on dried brown leaves we walk through the Maryland countryside on this sun-dappled fall day.  From time to time, branches with green leaves from a recent storm block our path, but they are easy to circumvent and return to the trail.  We hear geese squawking south this November day and feel few rocks beneath the dried leaves.  In seventy minutes we arrive at the turn to the Ed Garvey Shelter after 3.7 miles of ridge line hiking.  By the way, Ed Garvey was a thru-hiker (hiked from Georgia to Maine in one calendar year) and a former president of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club.

Ed Garvey Shelter

Ed Garvey Shelter

The shelter is a two story building of wooden floors with a loft above that is reached by a back entrance.  Climbing the stairs to the loft we find a pristine room; the broom hints at why.  At the picnic table out front we lunch on our Subway subs, scanning the valley below through a thicket of saplings.  The raised privy lies to our south while benches on three sides in front of us face the campfire.  Each shelter has a log for hikers to record impressions of their hike.

AT trail in MD 3

The latest entry is October 29th from a couple hiking during the snowstorm just a few days ago.

The firewood we collected was damp (even with flammable toothpaste) however we discovered skin-on-skin is a wonderful way to stay warm.   – LaChelle and Tim

 From October 4th

I was here 4 months ago.  It was naked hiking day (editor’s note – hiking sans clothes on June 21st) and hot.  How I miss the trail.  – Yinz

Hannah at the Ed Garvey shelter

Hannah at the back entrance of the Ed Garvey shelter

Hannah adds to the log.

Dan and Hannah from York, ME – ½ day hike to and from Gathland State Park.  What a beauty-full spot and shelter.  Thank you Potomac Appalachian Trail Club.  And here’s to Ed. Garvey.   2-Ply (Hannah)* and Jersey (Dan)   [Our trail names.]

 

AT trail in MD 3

Today is hiking at its best: Hannah, warm temperatures, and ridge hiking on a trail wide enough to walk and talk side by side.  We are blessed with this Maryland hiking escape.

As always when hiking, know thyself, thy limits, and the conditions.  Be prepared.

*Hannah’s trail name is between you and her.  Email her.

Dan and Hannah Hike Annapolis Rocks on the Appalachian Trail in Maryland

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.

Mountain View Diner

Mountain View Diner

At in MD MVD interior

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.

$2.99 Special

$2.99 Special

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.

Appalachian Trailhead off route 40 Maryland

Appalachian Trailhead off route 40 Maryland

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.

Hannah leads the way

Hannah leads the way

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. 

AT in MD trail Han

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.

Hannah's Sweater of Gray

Hannah’s Sweater of Gray

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.

Angled log to divert running rain water into the forest rather than to let erode the trail

Angled log to divert running rain water into the forest rather than  let erode the trail

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.

Looking west from Annapolis Rocks

Looking west from Annapolis Rocks

In another easy mile we take the short blue blaze trail to Black Rock.

Hannah surveying the Maryland countryside from Black Rock

Hannah surveying the Maryland countryside from 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.

The turn around point

The turn around point in paradise

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).

White blaze that guides our way on the AT

White blaze that guides our way                  on the AT

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.

Heading for home

Heading for home

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.