It's been a busy couple weeks. As much as I would like to write more sometimes hiking amongst other things takes priority. This is more than just a walk up the coast for me. I'm working things out within myself but I'm also battling the difficulties of a grueling thru hike. As I pushed to the halfway point I still encountered some tough times but these things seem to balance themselves out. Thankfully some wild experiences in the Shenandoahs and a much needed familiar face visiting in Harpers Ferry has me feeling prime for my 2nd half push to Maine!
Its no secret that I've been battling some foot issues. Each morning I get up and pick something to focus on to keep my mind off the pain. More times than not though the focus was to get the hell out of Virginia. Keep moving and count down the miles until you reached West Virginia and Harpers Ferry.
The Shenandoahs was certainly a big help towards that push. With a change of scenery and an abundance of wild life this national park was a welcomed change. It didn't hurt that everyday you came across waysides (road side stores) and camp grounds that's sold burgers, shakes and 95 cent Miller Lite tallboys!!! It was like hiker heaven! With feet hurting and all I had a smile on my face throughout the Shenandoahs.
I guess the only times I might have been straight faced was the near encounters I faced more than a few times with black bears. All and all I saw 7 bears in the park. The most frightful one being when I came up on a mama bear and her 2 cubs. She didn't leave me much time to slowly back off. She wasn't in the best of moods and felt that she needed to let me know who these woods belong to. After some bear grumblings she charged at me stopping just 20 feet in front of me before she checked back on her cubs and returned to them making sure I wasn't a threat.
All this time I held my arms up and yelled "No No No!!!" as I backed up during the charge. On the inside I had no idea what was going on and for an instance wondered what I was going to do if she attacked but with everything happening so fast luckily my lack of preparation wasn't displayed and the bluff was the only thing I needed to recover from.
Recovering consisted of a shit load of adrenalin which had me calling everyone I knew back home telling them about the craziest moment I've not only had on trail but in my lifetime.
Bear sightings from there became an everyday occurrence through the park. Luckily each of the others resulted in the bears seeing me and running in the opposite direction. I certainly had no problem with this and I'm sure the back of my pants was pleased as well. You can only take so many bears in your lifetime.
With the great food, easy hiking, nice camp grounds also came trail magic yet again. The Shenandoahs are catered towards tourists, day hikers and family outings so when you hike through on a weekend you are treated as a celebrity! There are families asking for you to take photos with their children and all kinds of free snacks and sodas. I really felt like here was the reward for making it 900 miles! Obviously there were no complaints on my part.
Even with the foot issues I did all I could to bandage up, double sock and fight off the discomfort to make the big miles. And that I did. For close to 2 weeks I avg 20 miles a day. Harpers Ferry never leaving my mind as the current main goal. I'd like to say I'm proud of this commitment but as stubborn us Codys can be that commitment didn't help my foot issues and in the long run hurt me more than anything else.
As I left the Shenandoahs it was like the last small stretch of Virginia wanted to remind me one last time how much of a bitch she could be. The last 3 days heading into Harpers Ferry, even with big miles, had me defeated yet again. You know that feeling when you were a kid driving with the family a long distance and you needed to go to the bathroom? You would tell your dad you needed to go and he would say we're almost there and for 2 more hours you were in the car sweating and crying wanting to feel that release. That was me the last 3 days leading into Harpers Ferry. I couldn't stop thinking about it but yet I was miserable with foot pain. Hiking was like stepping on daggers!
And the day before I reached town, daggers is exactly what the trail was. I had reached the roller coaster. A 13.5 mile stretch of straight up and downs on an extremely rocky trail. The feet HATED ME... And hated me and hated me.
I crawled and scratched my way through it hoping to get in 20 miles to shelter but I had reached a point that I honestly couldn't continue to put one foot in front of another. Knowing Paw Cody was in Harpers Ferry I consider calling him to get me at a road crossing. Thought about tenting at any clearing that was remotely close. I was trying to figure out anything I could do to stop hiking. Looking in my book I realized there was a hostile a mile up trail. I pushed and made it hoping that I could clean my feet, redress and do just enough to hike into town the next day.
Getting into Blackburn Hostel I was greeted by the host and her husband. They didn't have to say much and from the looks of me knew I had struggled through my hike. They had made a turkey dinner for the hikers and were as gracious as any host I've come across on trail. Finally I was asked about my hike and I let lose. Not holding back on language I expressed my thoughts on the roller coaster and the creator of this trail. It wasn't a pretty scene but what made it even better is not knowing who my host was before my tantrum. I was soon after introduced to one of my gracious hosts named trail boss the creator of the roller coaster. Foot meet mouth...
Trail boss was a good sport and said many had come through expressing many of the same feelings I had towards the trail he designed. He let me know the trail was much worst before he got to it and he let me off the hook knowing my feet were in such bad shape and that I was from Boston, a place people were known for their temper. His wife actually helped me with me feet and did everything they could to make sure I was comfortable for the evening. Just another great experience when I needed it most..... Even with my stupidity. Thank you much Trail boss!
I rose at 6am to start my 12 mile hike into HF. The feet no better but my adrenalin flowing. I convinced myself to suck it up and promised my feet 3 plus days of rest if they just let me get there. Feet don't fail me now!!!
In 4 hours I saw the bridge into Harpers Ferry through the trees! I ran down the mountain and came onto the bridge. With my emotions running high I finally saw Paw Cody who was waiting on the other side. The meeting was everything you could imagine. A son who truly used this moment for months as motivation to make it 1022 miles and a father showing such pride and love for a son he said goodbye to at the train station 3 months earlier.
You miss so many while you hike each day of the AT but it really hits home when you finally get to see your Paw. As I change through this hike I constantly feel so many emotions. Having a loved one there to finally say, "This experience is beautiful and it's so much more than I ever imagined." is truly important because in that moment someone who knows you best can see what the hike is really doing for you.
Harpers Ferry was filled with rest, food, beer and a little history but more than anything it was mostly about Paw seeing the life Im living out here on the AT. He met so many of my trail brothers and sisters. He provided trail magic (food and sodas) to hikers coming off trail into town and got to see their pure joy and appreciation for these goods after hiking 10 plus miles in 90 degree weather reaching such a huge point of their AT hike. We had dinner with other hiker friends and he saw the closeness I share with so many of different ages and backgrounds that share the same common goal of reaching Maine. Honestly though I think the experience of Harpers Ferry would be better in Paws words so at the conclusion of my entry he is going to add some words on his experience being with me for 3 days halfway into my hike. Paw fit in so much that us hikers considered him hiker trash throughout his time spent with us. :)
Im in West Virginia now. Out of the long state (close to 580 miles) of Virginia. It was a grind. It took its toll. My feet were scabbed and more all over. But 3 and a half days I rested and revived. This town (and Paw) gave me exactly what I needed. Thoughout I feel great. No doubt what I begin tomorrow. No worries that something is going to stop me. It's never perfect. I can't predict what comes throughout the next 1000 plus miles. I just know that I sit at 1022 and have 1167miles to go. States will go by quickly again. So much so that I'll be standing in PA in 3 days or less.
I have more on my mind but I'll save it for another time. Today was an emotional day saying goodbye yet again to Paw Cody and the feeling I've mentioned before of a bit of off trail downs kicked in some. It's time to rest for the night and prepare for the second half off my journey. Like when I started this hike I still feel all the thoughts and emotions swirling throughout. Man I'm ready to get it. I'm ready to cross borders and hit more mile markers. More than anything Im ready to follow that white blaze to MA knowing I'll see some familiar faces along the way and when I reach my home state. After that it will be 3 states to go. 500 miles to MA so for now I'll take it one mile at a time and keep letting you know how it's going. Enjoy what Paw Cody has to say about his perspective on this crazy "walk". :)
Hike that good hike ya'll!
Jesse AKA The Boston Mule
I had last seen my son Jesse at the end of March when I dropped him off at Boston's South Station for his long train ride to Atlanta and his start on this challenging journey. Now, three months later, there I was on the northern end of the Shenandoah River Bridge at Harper's Ferry waiting for his arrival. I only had to wait about one half hour when, in the distance, a figure emerged on the other end of that long bridge. It took a while for me to see that it was Jesse, and his recognition of me with upraised poles, confirmed the fact. I videoed him as he approached, but stopped as soon as we could embrace in a great father/son hug.
We spent the next three days together. I had the chance to be a tiny part of the AT Through Hikers experience. I met people with unusual trail names, most of which I could never remember, but to Jesse they were easily recalled. On the second day in Harper's Ferry we set up a Trail Angel's stand at the spot we had reunited, complete with snacks (some of which were actually nutritious). and sodas. It was amazing for me to see my son reunite with so many of his fellow hikers as they ambled to the bridge's end, happy to cool themselves with one of those ice cold drinks. I watched and listened as they exchanged hikers' stories of celebration and complaint.
Our visit to the ATC Headquarters was interesting. Jesse had his picture taken and added to the collection of through hikers' pictures. I had a chance to better appreciate the challenge of the hike by studying the large relief map which showed the relative heights of the mountains and hills of the trail. I can see why so many hikers make Harper's Ferry the psychological half way point of the challenge. This headquarters spot is like a hiker's mecca celebrating and encouraging them.
These three days were an opportunity for Jesse to rest and relax and heal. I watched as he very, very slowly immersed his blistered and battered feet into a stinging hot water bath with Epsom Salts. Although he had these red badges of courage on his feet, he was otherwise a very healthy specimen. He had lost a lot of weight. I suggested to him that he should write a book called "The 1000 Miles Walk Diet." He stood in bold contrast to his paunchy dad.
Most important to me was seeing Jesse in such great spirits. I assume many hikers are often discouraged in their efforts, some even dropping out before long. But the successful accumulation of miles builds confidence and to be half way must give immense self-satisfaction. The widening circle of trail companions offers an emotional support network and the joy of camaraderie. Throughout the weekend I so often heard the affectionate greeting "Boston." I had the pleasure of dining out with some of these friends of Jesse. What a positive, joyful group they are.
We had a chance to talk about some changes this experience has already brought to his thinking about himself and his future. Without discussing them here, I could see that the personal transformations that through hiking can signal are a life altering benefit of the grueling endeavor.
Our three days together went by too quickly, but Jesse had to prepare for the second half of his hike, and I had to return to my citified life in Cambridge, Massachusetts. We said our very fond goodbye, promising to meet again when he gets to our home state. By that time he will be three quarters of the way to Katahdin, an amazing achievement, not so obvious when I left him at that Boston train station in March, but one now so optimistically sought.
So "God bless" to Jesse and all through hikers. May you hike your own hikes and make them good ones.
Trail name: Papa Boston