As I slacked my buddies through Northern VA, WV, MD and Southern PA recently, we made the requisite stroll through Harpers Ferry. Although nowhere near the halfway point of the AT, HF is considered by many the first of many “halfway” landmarks for AT NOBOs. These midpoint markers keep cropping up well past PA’s Cumberland Valley until you cross the mighty Susquehanna River on the far side of Duncannon.
The morning before we hit HF, my pals hiked through a blinding rainstorm. I spent part of the morning arranging a book signing in Winchester and waited until the afternoon — when the rain had conveniently ceased — to join them on a stroll along the C&O Canal tow path, one of my favorite spots on the AT. We stopped by the ATC HQ and chatted with other hikers and ATC employees, including one of my favorites — Laurie Pottieger — who serves as sort of a den mother for thru-hikers of all ages, shapes and sizes who love making the stop in HF to get their pictures recorded in the ATC record book. Laurie is a repository of knowledge and a patient dispenser of TLC to hikers who feel very proud to have made it all the way to historic Harpers Ferry.
The day we were there, Harpers Ferry was not exactly abuzz with tourists. The downtown area was eerily somnolent, almost as if if had backslidden a century and half to the days when Robert E. Lee took on a feisty abolitionist named John Brown at the still-standing armory. The day was overcast, misty and a little on the spooky side. Trailbeard — a big tall dude who has little to fear at any point on the AT — is pictured below walking past the old church en route to the final ancient stone steps that descend to river level. Note that the venerable Trailbeard is wearing the smartest version of gaiters I’ve seen yet. They are made of a stretchy material that hugs footwear and ankles to keep trail debris out without weighing too much. Just another item in Trailbeard’s magnificent collection of lightweight gear. Check out my Facebook Page to see him in his fashionable rain kilt and lightweight umbrella ensemble.
Harpers Ferry, a treasure trove of Civil War history, is a spot I have visited many times. The first was in 1973 when I met Jean Cashin who held Laurie’s job in those days. She introduced me to Col. Lester Holmes who at that time was ED of the ATC. He told me that I was the first SOBO he had met and ribbed me a little for doing the trail “backwards.” Fast forwarding 27 years, I was in HF when my son, Optimus Prime, strode through town during his 2000 thru-hike. I’ve also visited over the years when working with ATC friends on trail committees and establishing corporate grants. It was great fun to see it again with Stoneheart, Tortilla Tosser and Trailbeard. They knocked off more than 100 miles on the trip as they labor toward completed AT section hikes, and at no time did they have to carry full pack weight. Stay vertical, my friends, keep walkin’ and tell all the world to read THRU: An Appalachian Trail Love Story.