Even as we speak, three days after our return, Elsie the indoor cat is industriously sniffing all over my foam sleeping pad, which still smells, no doubt, of soil and the subtly different air of the Potomac riverbanks and bug repellent. I would like the same aura to cling to me as long as possible, too. Coming home is a shock, even after such a brief time. My daily life seems like a thing of such infinite and overwhelming complexity compared to the simple, nomadic trudge forwards that is backpacking. So I look with trepidation on my to-do list, assortment of creative endeavors, and complicated interpersonal relationships, and dream of the neat 3-oz. box that is my camp stove, the perfectly designed object that is my mini-lantern, and putting one foot in front of the other.
The hardships were minor, just enough to make us feel strong and brave, and for us to be happy to put down our packs periodically, and for the instant coffee I made at lunchtime to taste wonderful. In other words, perfect. And we saw lots of animals. Here is a list I made, just from this first day:
- A lizard, about 8 in. long, reddish-brown, whitish longitudinal stripes (probably broad-headed skink)
- blue heron
- many turtles
- many cardinals
- a raptor (osprey?) holding prey
- voices of many bullfrogs
- family of ducks
- guy on bike with "Jesus is my lifeguard" shirt (kid insisted I write this on the list)
- 2 barred owls, together (we surmised mother and child)
- lots of squirrels
Not one step of my hike "counted." My kid explained, with perfect rationality, that this made no difference to the actual amount of exercise we were getting. Only someone who has not worn a fitness tracker would take this position.
However, I had to try and move on. We were, at that point, not far from our first night's rest:
We did have our own picnic table and fire pit (at left, beyond photo frame), and we had fun while it was still light, building a fire and toasting marshmallows (something kid desperately wanted to do), then going down to the boat launch to look at the sunset over the river.
By noontime, we were in White's Ferry, the only location along our hike that could be said to have "services" (beyond firepits, portapotties, and water pumps, all of which were available every few miles). We'd planned to have lunch at the small store/restaurant there, and enjoyed a break to sit in the air conditioning and eat a hot, non-"trail" meal. However, my kid-- who's been a pescatarian for the past several months, but decided to suspend their pescatarianism for the duration of the hike so that they could eat jerky-- ordered a bacon, egg and cheese sandwich on a bagel, as well as what turned out to be a giant basket of cheese fries, and drank a cold bottled Starbucks mocha. Once we got back on the road, kid was immediately hit by a wave of nausea. They looked very green, and for a couple of hours we had to stop every so often so kid could sit or lie down, or perhaps stumble off the trail in hopes of throwing up (they found an egret that way that we would not otherwise have noticed). Poor kid. I was well-prepared for this trip with many first-aid and pharmaceutical supplies, but it did not occur to me to bring the anti-nausea medication, or the Tums.
But my kid, as before, kept on going. It really blew me away. We took a little extra time, but ultimately kid would stand back up, dust themselves off, and walk a bit more. Again, there was no talk of quitting, or even quitting-for-the-day, even though it was hot, and humid, and kid felt queasy.
Mid-afternoon, we took a nice long break at a campsite to make peppermint tea and rest. As luck would have it, the only rainstorm of the whole trip blew in while we were sitting there, and we were able to cover up all our gear with raincovers, sit calmly under a surprisingly-effective sheltering tree, and wait it out, while other hikers reported having gotten soaked. Beautiful luck. After the rain, the world was a hot fog, bright green and steaming. Uncomfortable for humans, but it brought out the animals, especially the turtles and frogs, many of whom migrated from the safety of the canal onto the damp grassy verge of the trail, seizing the opportunity for travel.
Some additional animals we saw on this day:
- purple martin
- some kind of salamader (probably red-spotted newt)
- more barred owls
- a fox
- 2 large snapping turtles wrestling in the water (I took video, but my cheap website plan doesn't allow me to post it here)
- more great blue herons
- zillions more turtles
- many frogs (jumping, difficult to catch sight of)
Using the picnic table for breakfast was out of the question, so I gathered up everything I needed, stepped around one dude who was lying across the path down to the river, and took myself and my stove over to an immense hollow log near the riverbank. I had already thought, the previous evening, that it would be a perfect spot to perch with my coffee and read in the early morning. I was conscious of one wakeful but hung-over guy's eyes on me, perhaps envious as he watched me perform my neat morning routine, lighting the tiny stove, filling the pot, finding the instant coffee and oatmeal and trail mix in my food bag, sitting with my book. I bet he would have liked some coffee. But I did not offer him any. My pleasant (now that it was morning) sense of superiority to these hapless young men confirmed my momentary sense of myself as a Backpacking Goddess. Screw you, muscular and self-assured dad who thinks a woman and a teenager can't possibly choose a tent site for themselves. He looked at me like I was stupid, I'm not stupid--
The rest of the day proceeded with surprising ease. We had only left 8.4 miles to go on the final day, knowing we'd need to meet my husband at 5:00 for a ride home. We were there by 3:00. Lunch was eaten at Calico Rocks campsite, only 3.3 miles from our endpoint. We took our time. Also, after being not-so-hungry the first couple of days, I was by now starving, wanting and seemingly able to methodically consume everything in our pack. This must have been the beginning of the distance-hiker hunger that is so legendary.
My kid continued to hike with a good will, even though their feet were full of blisters and they had cut their instep the previous evening on a tent stake in the dark, prompting short-term panic and distress. In the daylight, it didn't matter: they said they had more energy, in fact, than they had on the previous days. They are a Backpacking God/dess too.
We saw fewer animals on the last day, perhaps because the weather was drier, or maybe because we were focused on the endgame and not paying as close attention. We did see a long, slim, mostly-black snake on the path-- though we almost overlooked it in its perfect stillness-- I am not certain of the type, but am guessing it was a ribbon snake. We also saw a pileated woodpecker, only the second time we have actually seen one along the C&O, though we have often heard their booming hammer.
The best part of the last day? Kid said they'd like to do this again.
Some last day pics:
Also, I don't want to hike the Maryland section of the Appalachian Trail. I want to hike the whole thing.