What can I say about Maryland? It is short and sweet and I really enjoyed it. Only 41 miles of the trail go through Maryland from the C&O towpath to the Mason Dixon line in Pennsylvania.
After we left Harpers Ferry we went about 10 miles to the Crampton Gap shelter. It was easy terrain so we stopped at the Ed Garvey shelter to check out the pretty sweet shelter design, a double decker loft type shelter. The late afternoon sun was peeking through the forest from the west and we kept on hiking to Gathland State Park where we stopped to refill our water because it was rumored that water was not good at the Crampton Gap Shelter. There were also coke machines but they were eating money instead of giving anything and we stopped for a nice bathroom break, too. Once we got to the shelter no one else was there but that wasn’t for long when Apollo and Major Chafage showed up. MC as he became to be known, was a bit of a legend in the log books. I honestly imagined an older guy, but he was our age and sported a 70’s-esque mustache. We could hear people in houses or on a lake down below; we weren’t quite sure what we were located next to.
The mountain laurel was blooming profusely in Maryland and in southern PA which made it so beautiful to walk through. I think that also helped in my esteem of Maryland. We had a relatively easy walk the following day of 21 miles. We passed by the Dahlgren Backpackers Campground where you can get a shower and kept on going for the Washington Monument.
The rest of the day was pretty easy. We took an extended lunch at Pine Knob shelter and talked to a hiker named Hobbit who was attempting the 4 state challenge. (Va, West Va, Maryland, PA in 24 hours. It’s something like 50 miles or so). He was taking a long nap and was hoping to finish the challenge later that night. We did eventually find out he stopped about five miles short because of exhaustion.
After Pine Knob shelter our goal was the Free State Hiker Hostel so we could order pizza for dinner. I have to say I was very impressed with this hostel. The walk down the road was a bit hairy; a two lane road with no shoulder to walk on. When we arrived we followed the signs asking hikers to walk around the rather large house to the back entrance which led to a separate section of the house just for hikers. The place was immaculate and housed a lot of bunks, a computer, sodas, and a phone to all the owners of the hostel to let them know you were there. We were able to order up our pizzas, check our email, probably could’ve taken a shower if we’d wanted and flipped through some of the postcards and thank you notes from previous hikers. Two section hikers came in later and we chatted with them for awhile. Cornpatch, another thru-hiker ended up order pizza here as well. My recommendation for thru-hikers is to stay at the Bears Den south of Harpers Ferry, jet in and out of Harpers Ferry and then stop at the Free State Hikers hostel and then go all the way to Duncannon, PA after that (or, well, there’s another stop in between, but more on that later).
After filling up on grub we went to the Ensign Cowell shelter which was .2 off the road. MC, Merf, Cornpatch, Apollo and a few other hikers were there, including some very strange southbound hikers. Apparently the three of them, two hiking together and one was alone, had started the northern section the previous fall and were trying to wrap up a thru-hike in a year. I say they were strange because, well, they were. One of them was carrying a blow gun and was ex-Army. Someone told us he killed someones pet rabbit with it. The woman and her brother also were strange, telling all sorts of warning stories about Pennsylvania, an anti-pitbull rant, smoking up a storm with no regard for where the smoke was going and generally just obnoxious and loud. I slept horribly in the shelter that night because the ex-Army guy kept waking up, turning his headlamp on, making noises, and I swear I smelled pot. It was pretty miserable. MC got up in the night and set up his tent, I think because of how bad the noise was.
The next morning we got up and had 9.8 miles to go to hit the Pennsylvania border and the Mason Dixon line. We had a bit of a rocky climb up around Devils Racecourse and High Rock, but not as bad as we were expecting for being so close to Pennsylvania. After having lunch at Pen Mar County Park (soda machines…!) and watching MC Yogi* food from some senior citizens having a picnic, we mosyed over to the Mason Dixon line and officially left the south.
*Yogi: as in Yogi the Bear, begging food from people, giving puppy dog eyes, intentionally sitting next to people and talking about being a hiker and being hungry in order to get awesome food. Urban Dictionary reference