Maryland, My Maryland

Marie is cruising! Currently she’s somewhere in her home state of Virginia, knocking out 20+ mile days and shrugging off dayhikers who point out that this or that mountain up ahead is going to be really steep. Fall is here and there is no more beautiful time to hike! I thought I ‘d look back to my last visit with Marie in Southern PA, Maryland and Harper’s Ferry. This happens to be the closest she came to Baltimore, and also it is full of history! So yeah, of course I wasn’t going to miss it.

Everything south of Boiling Springs in Pennsylvania is really great. This part is called the Rock Maze- basically the entire ridge is crowned with giant boulders for miles and miles, and every now and then the AT meanders through them. There are still a lot of rocks underfoot that make the footing tricky, but not near as bad as north of Duncannon. Marie caught on to the fact that I didn’t hike with her at all through the worst part of PA. She’s on to me!

At Pine Grove Furnace State Park is the new Appalachian Trail Museum, which just opened last year. It is small but effective and it is graced with the very same sign that I stood behind on top of Katahdin in 2008! They replace them every 10 years or so, and the weather really does a number on them. It’s a bit like seeing an old friend for me, and I am happy that it has a permanent home so close to Baltimore.

And a sign from Springer Mountain!! Hmmmm is it weird to take a picture with this sign right now?

Pine Grove Furnace marks the approximate midpoint of the trail, (the exact spot marked with a sign a few miles south) and the tradition for thru-hikers is to eat an entire half-gallon of ice cream to celebrate. Southbounders are at a disadvantage because the store is only open weekends after labor day, but luckily Marie’s timing was good and it was a Saturday. Now, we had just received trail magic from a wonderful couple who live nearby, who are former thru-hikers. They took us to their house and let us shower and do laundry and fed us burgers. Marie had plenty of time to contemplate what was about to happen at the general store.

Neapolitan, a great strategy! Being a good sport, I ate some ice cream too. About a cup's worth.

Nutrition Facts! 16 servings per box. 120 calories per serving, or 1,920 calories.

She put forth a very valiant effort, but in the end was defeated by the 1/2 gallon of ice cream. To be fair, it was not very good ice cream at all, and it wasn’t all that warm out. But she did some serious damage, eating 1/2 of 1/2 of a gallon!

There was a very nice lady named Barb who ran the general store, and she was very encouraging the whole time. She must have seen thousands of thru-hikers succeed or fail at eating way too much ice cream. Afterwards we were both hungry, so we ordered some cheeseburgers.

The long awaited halfway point! Marie has walked 1,090.5 miles from Mt. Katahdin, and just as many to go!

Pennsylvania still has some rocks in store

We were soon immersed into the most colorful world of yellows and oranges and reds. Every so often you would be struck anew at the beauty that you just have to stop and take it in. It doesn’t get much better!

This shelter has two shelters, because there are two kinds of hikers.

Don't encourage it, Pippin!

At long last, Marie has crossed into the South! She’s home! Now are those who would argue that Maryland is not the South. I wouldn’t disagree, however it is definitely not the North either. And for a Southbounder there is no greater landmark than getting out of Yankee territory. There was a great entry in one of the journals by a thru-hiker that read something like, [When the last Northbounder has crossed into Pennsylvania, and the last Southbounder has crossed into Maryland, then all will be right with the world.] Being Marylanders, we sung a rousing verse or three of Maryland, My Maryland, our state song. It is probably the strangest state song of them all, as it was a ballad written by a Louisiana man in 1861, pleading Maryland to join the Confederate cause. Robert E. Lee’s troops could be heard singing it both during the 1862 Maryland campaign and the 1863 Gettysburg campaign. Maryland never left the union however, thanks to Lincoln having several of it’s secessionist legislators locked up. Here’s some of the best parts of the song:


The despot’s heel is on thy shore,
Maryland! My Maryland!
His torch is at thy temple door,
Maryland! My Maryland!
Avenge the patriotic gore
That flecked the streets of Baltimore,
And be the battle queen of yore,
Maryland! My Maryland!


Thou wilt not yield the Vandal toll,
Maryland! My Maryland!
Thou wilt not crook to his control,
Maryland! My Maryland!
Better the fire upon thee roll,
Better the blade, the shot, the bowl,
Than crucifixion of the soul,
Maryland! My Maryland!


I hear the distant thunder-hum,
Maryland! My Maryland!
The Old Line‘s bugle, fife, and drum,
Maryland! My Maryland!
She is not dead, nor deaf, nor dumb-
Huzza! she spurns the Northern scum!
She breathes! she burns! she’ll come! she’ll come!
Maryland! My Maryland!

I think most people find the song bizarre, but being a history nerd, and doing my best to convert Marie into one, I think there is no better song than one that lives so completely in a bygone era.

Maryland has rocks too, they are just more beautiful.

Maryland brings a little bit of Baltimore to the trail!

Raven Rocks

A very good portion of the trail in Maryland is on this old road, and nearly perfectly flat. A lot of history happened along here. The battle of South Mountain in 1862 was fought in three places right along this ridge, and there are countless old settlements, furnaces, charcoal pits, kilns and stone walls still visible.

We decided to treat ourselves to a very fine dinner at the Old South Mountain Inn, a fine dining restaurant dating back to 1732 as a tavern. Walking in soaking wet and stinking to high heaven presents a challenge for both us and the restaurant, but they handled it gracefully and we got the entire sun room all to ourselves. Marie ordered the quail, of course. We took the leftover wine to go!

I had no idea she had her own Brigade! This is at Crampton’s Gap, where the Union Army smashed through at the battle of South Mountain.

The War Corrospondent’s Memorial at Crampton’s Gap.

The C&O Canal, and the last few miles of Maryland. Strangely enough these were the hardest miles of the day, as the crushed gravel path is very unforgiving on the feet. I got blisters for the first time in a very long time, as it had been raining for several days in a row.

The Potomac!!

She was floating on a cloud walking across this bridge into Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. It is called the psychological halfway point, as it carries more significance in the mind than a sign post. It is also home to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy headquarters, the John Brown raid, it’s where Meriwether Lewis got supplies for his expedition, and used to be home to the federal arsenal. And it is absolutely gorgeous!

The Appalachian Trail Conservancy is the headquarters for the entire trail, and it is where thru-hikers get their official picture taken and a record is made of their hike. You can go there today and see that Marie was Southbounder #112 to come through this year!

St. Peter's Roman Catholic Church

From Jefferson Rock

“The passage of the Patowmac through the Blue Ridge is perhaps one of the most stupendous scenes in Nature. You stand on a very high point of land. On your right comes up the Shenandoah, having ranged along the foot of the mountain a hundred miles to seek a vent. On your left approaches the Patowmac in quest of a passage also. In the moment of their junction they rush together against the mountain, rend it asunder and pass off to the sea. … For the mountains being cloven asunder, she presents to your eye, through the cleft, a small catch of smooth blue horizon, at an infinite distance in that plain country, inviting you, as it were, from the riot and tumult roaring around to pass through the breach and participate in the calm below. Here the eye ultimately composes itself; and that way, too, the road happens actually to lead. You cross the Patowmac above the junction, pass along its side through the base of the mountain for three miles, the terrible precipice hanging in fragments over you, and within about 20 miles reach Frederictown and the fine country around that. This scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic.”

– Thomas Jefferson, writing about this very spot from his visit in 1783.

Climbing Everest

I came across a very interesting article recently on the Appalachian Trail site about elevation gain and loss on the trail.  A long time ago I read a statistic about the AT that the total elevation gain for 2,181 miles is akin to climbing Mt. Everest 16 times from sea level!  However, I have never known how accurate that figure really is.

The article is written by Steve Shuman and he apparently spent months coming up with the following data.  The problem is that while GPS driven programs can come up with a computer generated number, this data is based upon what’s called “centerline” data taken from GPS.  This data is not quite accurate because it does not account for very small elevation gains or losses.  That’s where Steve Shuman comes in.  He sat down with every USGS 7.5 minute topographic quad for the entire trail, and actually COUNTED each contour line that the trail rises or falls.  He has come up with a series of tables representing the staggering amount of climbing Marie has been doing!  Are you ready for this?

The first is the total elevation gain: 515,000 feet!  That’s 97.5 miles up, 97.5 miles down.  Or climbing and descending Mt. Everest 18.4 times.  Or… is anybody tired yet?  Let’s look at the tables.

Total Elevation Gain in feet:

ME 69,357.2

NH 52,969

VT 35,802.2

MA 18,761.6

CT 11,094

NY 19,139.4

NJ 11,584

PA 30,955.5

MD 6,421.3

WV 3,027.5

VA 129,103.7

NC/TN 103,577.6

GA 23,362.7


272……..380.8……..North Carolina/Tennessee
173………17.5………West Virginia
160………72.4………New Jersey
217………88.2………New York
329……..161.0……..New Hampshire

So for the state of Maine, which is 286.6 miles long, Marie climbed an average of 242 feet every mile,  or 69,357.2 feet total!  New Hampshire has the highest average elevation gain at 329 feet per mile, while Pennsylvania is the flattest at “only” 135 feet per mile.  Georgia is the second steepest state at 307 feet per mile.  And by the time Marie gets out of Pennsylvania, she will have climbed 249,662.9 feet and hiked 1,125.1 miles.

If anyone is interested in the full article you can find it at



Sometimes we like to call Pennsylvania “Pensyl-tucky.” Yes, the back woods of this fine state are filled with folks gearing up for huntin season. Powder picked me and the boys up from a spot near Port Clinton for our weekend off trail to go to the Watermelon Park Bluegrass Festival. He said, “We gotta take the guys to Cabela’s, they won’t believe it.” Yep, I was looking for a little square piece of blaze orange cloth. In their massive store, such a simple item cannot be found. But how bout a blaze orange ear flap hat. Or better yet, an entire suit in blaze orange camo. We had the bison bratwurst upstairs and spent most of our time looking at all the stuffed animals.  Bow hunting has begun in PA, but, fortunately rifle season doesn’t begin until I’m well out of the state.

Two Bobwhites in the display case at Cabella's

This store has a mountain. And lots and lots of dead animals.

It's quite over the top!

My entry into PA was a happy one. I was so glad to be out of NJ!!! There were beautiful wildflowers. The air was crisp. My buddies were there, and we camped together several nights. PA is known for its rocks. Every time we’d see a nobo in the North, they’d moan and tell us all about it. It really wasn’t that bad (silly nobos). But there was a memorable section of rocks right before Palmerton. We crawled along the boulder field and hitched into town. That night we stayed in the Palmerton municipal building basement. They call it the “jailhouse hostel.” It’s not the jailhouse, but you do have to sign in with the cops at their office before crashing there. Palmerton was the site of the largest zinc plant in the country during WWI. Sulfur dioxide, cadmium, zinc and lead bled out from the factory and destroyed the surrounding forest. It’s now a “superfund site” and the government is trying to put some money into it to bring it back to life. The trail goes through 4 miles of sahara-like grass fields (the grass was planted for erosion control, but nothing else will grow there). And from the top we looked down at the factory town: the ticky-tac houses and one existing factory. This is the spot where my buddy T-mello nearly quit the trail. When he went through, he was so struck by the effects of the pollution, he could not bare to go into that town to re-supply. So he kept going, without food (crazy!). But some section hikers ended up helping him out and gave him a loaf of bread and block of cheese. (T-mello and I both hit our low points in the same week, and had similar recovery stories)

The flowers express the joy in being in PA

Coach eating some SPAM left as trail magic.

AT shelter life

The zinc plant company town, Palmerton as seen from the stripped mountainside.

The Superfund site. The loss of vegetation allowed the rains to wash away all the soil, so only grass will grow now.

On the other hand, it is one of the best views in PA and provides a very rare above "tree line" experience for central PA

Another newt hamming it up for the camera! These guys love to pose. (photo credit: Marie)

I had a good stretch of amazing weekends in PA. When I reached Delaware Water Gap (the town after crossing the Delaware River), Powder came up and surprised me. We stayed at a hostel under the Presbyterian church with our friends. We ate some amazing food at the farmers market (Bmore folks, it’s worth the 2.5hr drive for a day trip: and check out the hiking on the NJ side of the river!!!). They’ve got a “true love special” on the menu: a hot dog and slice of homemade apple pie. AMAZING!

New pack at Delware Water Gap! This is pack number four so far

The following weekend was my birthday, and as per tradition, we went to Watermelon Park. All my best friends were there. The organizer of the event and family friend, Frazer, got me up on stage during one of my favorite bands and everyone sang happy birthday to me. (This is the crazy treatment we thru-hikers receive.) It was one incredible weekend of bluegrass, folk and cajun music on the Shenandoah River. Our favorite bands, the Woodshedders and Furnace Mountain were there, not to mention a new fav, the Steep Canyon Rangers.

Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys!

Marie on stage with the Woodshedders after being sung happy birthday by the entire festival. She was a celebrity there because the organizer of the festival featured Marie's hike on the web site and facebook page, complete with updates the last three months!

The girls are all together again!

More first-class glamping by the Cobbs and Walkers. These folks travel in style!

The guys got in for free!

All the important flags were flying high here on the Shenandoah River

I wish I could remember what band this was



Happy Camper

The camp scene. Thru hikers aren't used to all this luxury!

My bday present from my folks was 2 tickets to the Mid-Atlantic Small Craft Festival for the following weekend. I’ve gone to this event since I was 7, and only missed one year. We initiated Jeff to the world of small boat sailing. The weather was perfect for initiation. It was blowing! During the race, he and I raced my 10’ boat and had buckets of water splashing over the bow into our faces. And we won for our class! That same weekend, my buddies were running the Freedom Marathon in Harper’s Ferry, WV and one of the boys won third place! Whoohoo!

First Mate Joe

So, I’m still excited to cross the Mason-Dixon line sometime next week, and can’t wait for the fall leaves in Virginia!!

The iconic Doyle Hotel in Duncannon PA. The owners Pat and Vicki are some of the best trail people on the trail. The whole downtown area flooded after Tropical Storm Lee, and many business are still closed. They braced for water as high as 6 feet above the sidewalk, but only got a few inches instead. It was still enough to come inside the Doyle. Business down the street were not so lucky.

Duncannon is one of the most hiker friendly towns on the trail. They give great tribute to AT hikers in their incredible town mural.

There really is a miniature Statue of Liberty on an old piling in the middle of the Susquehanna River


Hawk Rock


The view back into Duncannon from Hawk Rock.



The Low Lands

Before I started the hike, I heard from many different people that the hardest thing about hiking the AT in one continuous shot is mental stamina. At some point the mind overtakes the body. It doesn’t really matter what you put your body through/what kind of uncomfortable situations you find yourself in: at some point if you can’t convince yourself it’s worth it, then you’ll have a hard time carrying on. Well, I listened but had a hard time believing I would go through something like that. I grew up camping with my parents. We went to some magical places: Monhegan Island in Maine, the Smoky Mountains in NC, the Blue Ridge Mountains of VA. Growing up, my passion for living outside was so great that I would long and dream of the 2 weeks I’d be at summer camp on the James River in VA, or on “out trips” caving and hiking while attending Camp Chanco. I would have my bag packed at least two weeks before camp started! Since being a working lady, I’ve cherished the three-day weekend trips to the Three Ridges and the Priest Mountains on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Just two nights out in the woods were something to savoir. My best friends and I would split up who was in charge of what meal. We’d drive some crazy miles just to get to the really good stuff, far away from the city. Yeah, I’d surely have no problem loving everything about a long distance hike.

Look at this tree! The Dover Oak is supposedly the largest oak on the east coast.

And then I hit the Low Lands! The topographical lowest point on the AT is in NY. There is a “Trailside Museum” that Southbounders walk through after crossing the Hudson on the Bear Mountain vehicle/pedestrian bridge. The lowest point is in the “museum,” which is actually a zoo, by the bear cage. The place is a true physical low point, and a figurative one as well: It’s a bit sad to see a bear in a cage after seeing them roam around wild in the woods! But, as it turns out, I got to the zoo one hour too late and had to walk around it’s perimeter to meet back up with the AT on the other side, in Bear Mountain Park. The park was very nice. Lots of people were everywhere, playing soccer, picnicking, hanging out by the pond. I marched right through. I was on a mission to climb the mountain before dark. This spot has received lots of special attention. I’m not sure I’ll see trail work like that anywhere else on the AT. People have labored there for 11 years, perfecting the trail with massive hand-cut stone steps. I had a nice summit. The sun was sinking and lit up the sky with pink.

Looking up the Hudson River from the Bear Mountain Bridge. West Point Military Academy is visible on the point on the left, and Forts Montgomery and Clinton are just out of view on the left, which together were constructed to prevent the British from advancing ships up the Hudson River.

The Bear Mountain bridge. The Hudson River is a significant milestone!

Check out the trail work. T-Mellow does trail work in regular life and helped with this project.

Even though I passed through some areas in NY where there were lots of people everywhere, my loneliness for the first time really struck me. It was my low lands and only got worse when I entered NJ. NJ was mostly swamps. An incredible amount of rain dumped over this region and caused a tremendous spike in the mosquito population. A local woman told me the mosquito plague was in their news, they talked about it on TV!

Timber Rattlesnakes are one of two poisonous snakes on the AT. Rattlesnakes are by far preferable to Copperheads, which are very aggressive and give no warning.

I was wearing 100% deet, applied twice a day, and those evil suckers still drove me mad. They would go for my eyelids and behind my ears. It would get so bad that I would start running, but the cloud would follow right behind!!! Wow! It was so miserable. I hadn’t seen my friends in many days. My phone rang and it was Coach. Turns out Tag got dehydrated and was very sick. They were taking some days off and I was able to catch up with them. Things got much better. (And Tag got better too.) Coach and I decided to hitch out of mosquito swamp hell and go to High Point State Park, the last leg of NJ. The bugs were still really bad up there but the following night was our first cold snap: it got down in the 40s and most of the demons died!

The "Lemon Squeezer" is another place where the trail checks to see if you're skinny enough to continue. Of course, there is an alternate route around.

Poison Ivy hell!

Even in all of that, I wasn’t ready to give up. I was feeling really sorry for myself during the week I was alone. My biggest mental hang up was feeling like I just couldn’t do the miles and keep up with the guys. Also, I started stressing over the rest of the hike: can I finish before Christmas? What does my daily average have to be then? It’s amazing how these thoughts so engrossed my mind, I couldn’t even see the beautiful woods of Harriman State Park. Powder told me it was one of his favorite spots when he hiked, but I couldn’t appreciate it. In my misery, he sent me a text that he was praying for me and he knew God would lift my spirits and the “trail would provide.”

It was so cold. The tent helps with the warmth, and the shelter keeps everything dry.

I know God uses this depression stuff for His glory. Over the next several days, many people were sending me texts of encouragement. I kept thinking my emotions were somewhere posted on the internet and people were reading my heart and wanted to help. But that wasn’t so: folks sent those nice words without even knowing anything of the low lands. And then I met Slowtar and Baby Steps. Baby Steps was hiking North from PA and wanted to finish the thru-hike she began the previous year from GA. She was having a heck of a time.  She could barely do 10mi a day and kept being down on herself and saying she was the “last Northbounder.” She and I were sitting there on a rock, and her friend Slowtar started encouraging us. He spoke words from Heaven. I’ll recount it for you:

“You are hiking your own hike. Who cares if you only hike 5 miles a day? Whoever you have in your mind that you are comparing yourself to, get them out! They do not belong in your house. These guys who hike 25mi a day come in rock-headed and leave the trail that way. They don’t learn anything. It was just a goal to accomplish, a race to run, and then they’re asking themselves: what is the next thing? The biggest thing the trail offers is to humble you and teach you about your own shortcomings and what you can handle. This trail reveals what kind of person you are: are you a person who is always down on herself, or are you a person who celebrates herself? Do you finish your day and smile, glad for what you accomplished, or do you sit in a funk, thinking of what more you could have done? Hike your own hike and who cares what other people think!”

Yep, words from Heaven. One of the best sermons I’ve ever received. I am happily still Georgia-bound and looking forward to hiking in the Fall through the South!

Amazing rock formations at Sunfish Pond