Friday, May 12, 2017

Finally Finished

The last weekend in April, we ladies set off to backpack a section of the Maryland Appalachian Trail.  For one of us it was a repeat section, for another it was a first time ever backpacking trip and for the other two (one being me) it was a trip to finish the Maryland section that was started the year before.  We started from the South Mountain Inn parking area which is where my cousin and I had to stop previously.  We were hiking south to the Ed Garvey shelter and from there to the Weverton Cliffs Parking lot.  I was a little apprehensive about this trip.  Since the previous year, I've been working on fixing an injury.  The short story is that 3 years ago I fell and began having pain in my hip/butt area.  That led to a potential diagnosis of piriformis syndrome which then led to the correct diagnosis of a tilted and rotated pelvis.  Since started treatment for that, the pain has been significantly reduced, however, on my last doctor visit I was told that there was little left to do for the remaining pain as I had arthritis in my lower back that was causing some issue.  So, I was going to learn on this hike just how much the pain and injury were going to screw up my backpacking plans.  I loaded up on ibuprofen and also took along Salonpas pain patches the doctor recommended.
So at the South Mountain Inn Parking Lot, we said our goodbyes to Casserole (my aunt- she has a trail name) who shuttled us from the Weverton Parking Lot, and we headed down the trail.  The weather was a little iffy that morning.  NOAA was forecasting some potentially severe storms with high winds and hail.  This isn't really shocking since every time my cousin and I go on an adventure, something squirrelly happens.  Because there were some rumbles of thunder and a little light rain, we covered our packs and put on our rain gear as a precaution.  We hiked down to the Dahlgren Backpacker's Campground and stopped to use the bathroom.  For those who don't know, Dahlgren not only has a normal flush toilet bathroom, it also has hot showers.  Also note that while it is supposed to be for backpacker's only, it usually fills up in the summer months with non-backpackers who take advantage of the close proximity to parking and the fact that it's free camping (I really wish this was monitored better!).
After our quick pitstop, we headed up out.  Uphills are my enemy.  Added weight and and going up put strain on my injury.  So I was hiking up a mountain with 20 pounds on my back.  Brilliant.  What ended up being surprising was how well I was managing the inclines.  It seemed more like my issues were from being sadly out of shape and not an issue stemming from my fall.  We took our time slowly picking our way over rocks.  I dislike rocks.  It was slow going every time we had an uphill.  I have learned that I need to go slow and stop and take a minute to catch my breath and sometimes stretch out the tightening muscles.  My daughter and cousin didn't mind the breaks.  It seemed we all needed to take a break at about the same time.  I began feeling much better about my ability to hike.  20 pounds seemed like a manageable weight, and taking my time was key to making it through the tougher terrain.
We eventually came to some power lines and a view of the valley. We took the opportunity to stop for a few minutes.  The storm seemed to have missed us, so we all put away our rain gear, and my mom shared her Twizzlers.  We took a few photos of the view before putting our packs back on and heading back along the trail.  I never realized just how loud large power lines are.  It's a constant buzzing, and it even felt like the hairs on my arms were standing on end.  I don't know how anyone could stand to live near power lines like that.
Anyway, we continued on our way.  It was a pleasant hike most of the way.
The weather was decent though a little hot and muggy.  We were lucky enough to have a steady breeze that kept things pretty comfortable for the most part.  As we made our way down the trail, we met up with quite a few hikers.  Several groups passed us, and we began to worry about whether or not there would be room in the shelter for us.  We had opted to leave our tents at home to save on pack weight, and because there was a chance of storms that night. There was an option to stop at the Crampton Gap shelter, and we voted to make the decision about staying there once we got to it. We eventually came to White Rocks overlook and took another snack break.  My mom is always saying that she thinks taking breaks for snacks and to take off your pack for a few minutes is important. I'd have to agree with her.  I broke into my beef jerky and ate some more Twizzlers.  We took several photos of each other up on the rock and of the view.  About that time, a Boy Scout Troop arrived.  We moved our stuff aside so they could all enjoy the view too.  I took a group photo for them so all their leaders could be in the shot.  We learned they too planned on staying at the Ed Garvey shelter.  I mentioned it seemed that was the go-to place for the night and they assured us they planned on tent camping.
We headed back onto the trail after that planning on stopping and having lunch at the pavilion at Gathland State Park. AS we headed off, we all sang Bohemian Rhapsody which sounded pretty darn good if you ask me.  Don't ask anyone else though.  We hiked past the Crampton Gap Shelter and decided to keep going for the day.  There were already some folks there, and we were all feeling pretty good physically.  We reached Gathland shortly after and stopped for lunch.  There we ran into one of the other hiking groups we had talked to earlier in the day.  It was 4 local guys hiking for the weekend.  They were just finishing up their lunch and said they'd see us at the Ed Garvey Shelter when we got there.  Lunch was good even if it was only Kind bars and beef jerky.  There were also Twizzlers.  Gathland State Park is a great place to have lunch.  It's also a great place for a day trip for anyone looking for suggestions for such things.  There's a huge history with the place and it has a little museum as well as actual flush toilets and a water spigot.  Once lunch was complete, we hit the bathroom and filled up our hydration bladders.  I was surprised to see I drank all but .5 liters from my 2 liter bladder.  I was also surprised when I put my pack back on after refilling the bladder with 2 liters of water.  Even though it wasn't any heavier than it was that morning, it felt like I had added about 10 more pounds to it.  After filling up our water supply, we set out for Ed Garvey.
The guidebook listed it as about 3 miles from Gathland State Park.  No problem, we could do that easy peasy.  On our hike to the shelter, we saw a snake, and my daughter nearly stepped on a box turtle.  My mom was quick to tell me to leave it there.  I've been known to bring turtles home that I've rescued on the road.  Not that I keep them- I just let my kids see them and learn about them before setting them free away from the road.  And taking a turtle on the trail would be a serious Leave No Trace no-no.  But I did make sure to take a photo.  We hiked on and on and on.  And we began to seriously worry about whether or not we would have a place to sleep.  We passed several hikers coming from the direction of the shelter who said how crazy crowded it was.  This part of the hike seemed like it would never end.  Then the breeze died.  The heat and the humidity increased, or at least seemed to increase without the breeze and my daughter and cousin started to feel the effects.  Just about the time I was ready to just lay down on the trail, we saw the blue blaze for the shelter.  My mom and I were ahead of the other two and she called me over.  "We are staying in that shelter" she said to me.  I assured her I had her back. 
As we walked up to the shelter, we saw a large group of men sitting around the fire pit.  The guys we had seen a few times that day waved us in and told us we had the whole bottom of the shelter.  It seems when they arrived they let everyone know there were 4 women headed there and needed space in the shelter.  We ended up being the only women there that night.  There were 4 Scout troops.  Two camped around the shelter and the other 2 stealth camped on the other side of the trail.  Plus there were quite a few section hikers.  Not long after we arrived, the guys decided to get a fire going.  Our guy friends from earlier in the day brought hot dogs and offered to share with a couple of military guys if they got the fire going. 
First one man tried to get the fire started with flint and steel.  He regaled us with tales of how he "always gets a fire started".  It was serious work, or so I assumed when he took off his shirt.  Several minutes later, no fire.  So the two military guys tried.  Someone got a lighter and they worked to get something started.  My mom suggested I help but I insisted I was enjoying watching them try to get something going.  Eventually, I just couldn't take it, so I quietly walked to my pack and pulled out my ziploc bag of lint and cotton balls with petroleum jelly (along with matches and a lighter) and I walked over to the men and asked "Which would you like to use?"  They opted for the cotton balls and a fire was started immediately.  One of our guy friends asked why I didn't help sooner and I simply told him I was enjoying the show.  The macho man said, "You sure are prepared." To which I responded, "I'm a Scout leader."  There were other conversations about how my cousin and I have a fire wherever we go since we're "pyros from way back".  All in all it was pretty hilarious.
The stay at the shelter was a lot of fun.  We had conversations with people from Delaware, New Jersey and Connecticut as well as some locals.  Meeting fellow hikers is my favorite thing.  We all eventually turned in for the night.  None of us really got much sleep though.  It was hot and muggy for a while and then the wind kicked up and it got chilly.  I only brought my sleeping bag liner so I was a bit chilled.  Several time my cousin and I had conversations about hiking out at first light.  At one point some coyotes started howling which was super creepy.  Luckily I had already been to the privy. 
In the morning we got up, ate a cold breakfast, packed up and headed down the trail.  We  ended up finishing a little after 9:00am.  We were all beat and really sore, but had a great time.  I was thrilled that while my muscles were screaming, my injury hadn't really caused much in the way of a problem.  Sure I have to go slow and take a lot of breaks, but I still got to the end. A few other thoughts: I highly recommend Darn Tough socks, which I used for the first time on this overnight.  My feet felt pretty good and the socks were comfy.  Gaiters are a good idea.  I don't have Gaiters, and I didn't think they were very important.  However, I ended up with a bunch of dirt and leaves in my boot and gaiters would have prevented that.  And if you're getting tired and you don't want to say you need a rest, take a photo!