The challenges long-distance hikers create for themselves are essentially stupid. You generally don't get anything for completing them, and they have a tendency to make you feel bad. For example, on the PCT, there is a challenge that involves hiking from a town to a hostel while drinking a beer every mile. Since the distance between the places is 24 miles, it seems remarkably foolhardy to me.
With that out of the way, let me tell you about the challenge that I did. It involves hiking in 4 states in under 24 hours. I started in Pennsylvania, hiked most of the day in Maryland, went through Harpers Ferry in West Virginia, and ended the day in Virginia.
I started the day just after midnight, and wished Picker and Grinner a silent "good luck". Even though there was a nearly-full moon, the night was pretty dark, and I needed my head lamp all night. Shortly into Maryland, I tweaked my ankle pretty badly, and so I was slowed a bit for the rest of the night.
By 4 in the morning, I had not gone very far, and I decided to take a nap. I found a reasonably flat rock and laid down right beside the trail. I slept until about 6, by which time the sun was coming up.
I had gone around 20 miles by lunch time, so I took it at the Washington Monument:
This is clearly not the Washington Monument that is in Washington, DC, but it was the first one, and that should count for something.
The trail in Maryland was pretty good, and there was a lot of history associated with the places that I was hiking. In some sense, it is a shame that I went through so quickly. In particular, the last shelter in Maryland was one of the nicest that I saw.
It was about 6 or 7 by the time I left Maryland, and the sun was starting to set. I entered Harpers Ferry and started to look for a place to get some food. It took me a while to get my bearings, and by the time I found a street with bars and restaurants, they were all closed. It seems that Harpers Ferry is completely a tourist town, and no restaurants are open after about 8:00. Finally, I found a restaurant with open doors and went in, despite a sign saying that the restaurant was closed. I practically begged the waitress to get me some food, and in the end I overpaid quite a lot for a mediocre sandwich.
I went to the headquarters of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, which was also closed, and looked around, trying to find a hose. Someone must have thought that I looked suspicious, because one of the workers eventually showed up and showed me where the hose was. I filled my water bottles, thanked the employee, and went on my way.
It seems cruel, but the trail climbs a hill for about two miles from Harpers Ferry to the Virginia border. I had walked 43 miles by the time I made it to the border, and I was completely beat. I hung my hammock just past the border sign and settled into bed at about 10:30 PM.
I awoke the next morning later than usual, and hung most of my gear in a tree. I wanted to go back to Harpers Ferry, since it is customary for thru-hikers to visit the ATC and have their picture taken. So I went back with a mostly-empty pack. I had my picture taken and hung around until nearly noon. During the time that I was there, some section-hikers also came in. We talked for a while about the differences between the thru-hiking experience and the section-hiking experience, and they gave me some of their freeze-dried meals, which were of a much higher quality than the meals I generally ate.
Harpers Ferry to Waynesboro, VA
Eventually, I left the ATC. I climbed the hill again, got the rest of my gear, and hiked about 7 miles further down the trail. The next day I did 10 miles by lunch time and called it a day at a really nice hostel: the Bear's Den. If you are ever in the Washington, DC area and would like a hostel experience, this is the place for you.
I lounged and let my legs recuperate. The Bear's Den has a nice deal where you can stay at the hostel, get a frozen pizza and a pint of Ben & Jerry's ice cream for pretty cheap. Even though I had recently completed the half-gallon challenge, I was certainly ready for some Ben & Jerry's.
After the Bear's Den, there is a section of trail called "The Roller Coaster". This is primarily meant to scare northbounders who haven't seen any real mountains yet. The terrain is a bit bumpy, but there was really nothing to worry about.
The following day I stopped in at Front Royal, VA for a resupply. I had to wait a very long time for a hitch (the famed Southern hospitality had apparently not yet kicked in). I noticed that my pocket knife was missing, so I called the Bear's Den, and they had found it. They very generously sent it on to me at a town that was down the trail. I left Front Royal, and camped just a couple of miles before boundary of Shenandoah National Park.
My experience in "The Shennies" was not great. It rained nearly the whole time that I was there, and there is a road that the trail crosses something like 20 times in the park. By the last day, I had determined that the rain jacket that I had was not really waterproof, and when it got really wet it just made me colder. I had rain pants, but they were not breathable at all, so my legs would get nearly as wet from sweat as they would from rain. On the last day, I procrastinated in the shelter as long as I could (I finished the book I was reading), and then went back out into the rain.
I walked 20 miles that day without stopping on trails that were more like creeks. I left Shenandoah and was very glad to do so. Just past the boundary is another road, and I somewhat forced myself on a motorist to take me into Waynesboro, VA. When I got to Waynesboro, the sun was coming out, and I was able to camp in town rather than paying for a hotel. I took a shower at the YMCA, had a meal in a restaurant, and finally felt better.
Central Virginia. If I'm feeling ambitious, also Southern Virginia. Once I get there, the trail's almost done.