Hello! I’m writing this post from James Fry Shelter in southern Pennsylvania. It’s been a little while now since I left Virginia, and West Virginia and Maryland flew by in only a few days. As you may have seen in my last post, I decided to canoe the last 40 miles of Virginia on the Shenandoah River instead of hiking on the trail. It was such a fun experience that I figured it was worthy of its own post!
I had been debating whether or not I wanted to aquablaze (A.T. term for padding a section of the trail) for quite some time. I was pretty sure it would be an amazing time, but I just wasn’t sure I wanted to miss any of the trail. Many people rent boats and aquablaze up to 100 miles, bypassing the entirety of the A.T. inside Shenandoah National Park. I knew I wasn’t interested in this option since I was looking forward to hiking through the park. I had been thinking however that it might be nice to canoe a smaller section of the river, after hiking through the park. I had actually decided against it, when I got a call from Barnum while lunching at a shelter. He told me that he was in Front Royal, VA, and he was setting up an aquablaze trip through a local canoe company. He filled me in on the details, and told me that our friends Sunshine and Moonshine were on their way into town and would also be joining. It didn’t take much convincing before I turned around and hiked 3 miles back to the last road crossing. I stuck my thumb out and got picked up by the first car that passed. A few minutes later I was hopping out of the car in a motel parking lot, where Barnum, Sunshine, and Moonshine were all waiting. We hit the grocery store for some provisions, then split a room at the Super 8 Motel. Our shuttle would pick us up there at 7:00 am the next morning and bring us to the boat launch.
The plan was to paddle 40 miles in two days, and spend one night camped somewhere along the riverbank. A nice local man who had given the girls a ride into town lent us big plastic cooler for the trip, and we had it stuffed to the gills with 70 beers and a few snacks. Our shuttle picked us up right on time, and we were on the river about twenty minutes later. We paddled pretty leisurely most of the day, sipping cold beers and listening to tunes on a small speaker that Barnum picked up at Dollar General. After cruising about twenty miles, we pulled the boats ashore and set up camp at Watermelon Park Campground, in who-knows-where, Virginia. We woke up early the next day and shared a watermelon before heading back out on the river. Another twenty miles of paddling, floating, and soaking up the sun put us into Harper’s Ferry W.V., where the shuttle was waiting to pick up our boats. We arrived at the ATC headquarters shortly after, all of us sporting a solid sunburn for our half-way photos.
The trip was an absolute blast, and I’m super glad I decided to do it. The two days we spent on the river were some of my most fun days on the trail so far, and if I were to thru-hike again I would definitely make the same decision. It was great to get a little change of scenery, and it was the first actual rest my les had gotten since I started. Don’t get me wrong though, it wasn’t as easy as you might think. Paddling a canoe 20 miles is actually pretty tough! For anyone interested in doing a similar trip on the Shenandoah, or for any of my thru-hiker friends south of me who may be considering an aquablaze, the company we used was Skyline Canoe in Front Royal, VA. They were really easy to work with, and they offered a reasonable price compared to the other outfitters in town.
After getting off of the river I stayed a night at The Towns Inn Hostel/Hotel in Harper’s Ferry. The place had actually been featured on the television show Gordon Ramsey’s Hotel Hell. A few other hikers and I got a real kick out of watching the episode on YouTube while we were there. The next morning I took a train into D.C., where I met my girlfriend Emily, who had flown in from Colorado for the weekend. We spent a day visiting the museums, and then a couple of days lounging poolside eating pizza and sipping mixed drinks. We also met my sister for dinner one night at one of my favorite restaurants. She let us stay at her apartment one night, and even stocked her fridge with some delicious brews for us (sister of the year award!). It was a little rough transitioning back to the trail after three days in the city, but I got back into the swing of things quickly.
Since getting back on the trail I have blown through West Virginia and Maryland, and am now making my way through Pennsylvania. PA has been a breeze so far, but there are some really rocky stretches ahead.
That’s all for now! I’ll try to post another update sometime next week.
Peace love and pizza.