It’s a sudden change. The locals’ accents have gone from gentle and mumbly to brash and loud. The day hikers look more citified, slick. We have officially left the South. We are now in the densely populated part of the North.
We were warned, though. In the restroom at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy headquarters in Harpers Ferry, WV, a sign informed us that in a few miles, we would go from the Appa-latch-ian Trail to the Appa-lay-chian Trail. But that both were worth enjoying.
It’s also new terrain for us: neither of us has hiked any part of the Trail north of its “psychological midpoint,” Harpers Ferry. We were so excited to sign the registry and have our photos taken and logged that we were nearly woozy with hunger when we arrived. (We had only had breakfast plus two energy bars apiece all morning…) We are northbound thruhikers #78 and 79 this year. There are probably 700 or so more coming behind us. We ate giant sandwiches and ice creams in the old, historic town to celebrate, and now it’s on through Maryland.
This state has fewer than 40 trail miles, and I was surprised to learn how flat they are. It doesn’t look like what one imagines as the Appalachian Trail at all. The trail is often ten feet wide, running along a low ridge. Airplanes heading into DC are audible constantly, as well as interstate traffic, sirens, and train whistles. The views, low as they are, display farmland and condos through the brushy trees. The sunset is tinged with smog. One never forgets one’s proximity to metropolises, or to the nation’s history: we are passing many bloody battlefields of Civil War and Revolutionary times.
But there are subtle treats. A red toad that puffs up when a curious human gets too curious. A campground offering free, hot showers just as the noon sun peaks. And this:
…a showy lady slipper! I’d never seen any so large, the size of a small plum, and never outside of my grandmother’s cottage in the north woods of Wisconsin. Tiny ones grew in the open space where relatives parked their cars, and she would mark the lady slippers with surveyor’s tape. Woe to the family member who ran over her blooms.
The single flower was followed by a whole harem of the gems:
Georgia O’Keeffe, eat your heart out.