The Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC) takes photos of all hikers passing through Harper's Ferry, including folks like me who just started.

Introduction

One year ago today I began a big journey which I have yet to finish: hiking the Appalachian Trail. I kept a diary along the way, mostly to remind myself of my thoughts and observations about each day, and also to give long-forgotten context to the many photos I took along the way.

I still remember that my greatest fear at the time was only being able to last a few days - or maybe a week or two - before calling it quits. But I kept going, until I came off the trail due to knee pain and to help my parents with a cross-country move. A month after that I was back where I left off, and I finally hit my stride and kept at it until I reached Katahdin in Maine.

Now cooped up inside because of the COVID-19 lockdowns, maybe a good way to get my mind off the virus is to relive parts of my hike by posting bits of my diary entries with some photos I took. I'm not sure if I'll consistently continue posting, but let's see where this goes!

Diary entry written the morning of April 8, 2019

Sign posted welcoming hikers to the Maryland section of the Appalachian Trail

It rained overnight, but I stayed dry and warm inside my tent! A successful first night on the AT!

This shelter is the closest one to Harper’s Ferry, and I was hoping to make it to the next one which is about 4 miles ahead, but yesterday was full of a lot of side walking. Plus there was an unexpectedly tough hill climb in the middle of yesterday’s hike. This all lead me to turn in early. I’m glad I did, since I was able to take my time setting up my tent and cooking my first meal - freeze dried spaghetti (it was really tasty actually!). After that I brushed my teeth and tucked myself in early, and not long after that the first few drops fell. Turns out I setup the tent right - nothing got in. I put my pack with my rain cover on it in the vestibule, but didn’t quite trust it not to get wet, so I managed to bring the pack completely inside the tent. It made for a tight fit, but it worked out surprisingly well.

I did however leave my shoes out in the vestibule, a bit wrapped up with the rain tarp, so they didn’t get wet! I think I neglected to tie that front flap down - it seems too loose.

Today a thunderstorm and rain was originally forecast, but now things have cleared up! Rocky Run shelter is 9.1 miles ahead, and I’ll aim for that. The shelter I originally wanted to camp at tonight is about 4 miles ahead, so that will be a good lunch stop.

I’ll be sure not to make the mistake of not carrying water through the day. That one “unsweet” iced tea from town had to last me through most of yesterday, and I was getting pretty thirsty by the time I arrived into camp. How delicious that cold water tasted - from a plastic pipe sticking out of the stream.

Wild roses growing along the C&O canal towpath, along the Potomac River

My memories one year later

My camp setup for the first night. It was a mistake not to setup the vestibule in the front...
First night's campsite at the Ed Garvey shelter

I remember running into some day hikers at the first shelter (Ed Garvey shelter) and I really thought they must be AT hikers settling in for the night, since they were starting a fire. I wasn't ready to stay and socialize at a shelter, so I sidestepped them and pitched my tent. A good time to try out my gear, too! The next morning I saw that one of them had written in the shelter's log and signed their name “Son of Gath”. What the heck did that mean?! I would discover the next day that they coined their name after the nearby Gathland State Park, where they had likely hiked in from during their day hike.

There was an older gentleman who stayed in the shelter overnight, named Piper, but I was really asocial, so I kept my distance. I would run into him at the next campsite.

I also remember the Weverton Cliffs, a hard steep uphill that required me to take lots of breaks. It was a little embarassing - lots of folks passed me up. I told them I was ok, I was just out of shape. Fast forward a couple months and I'd be passing up day hikers going uphill left and right! And it would turn out that I would look forward to the uphills more than the downhills (the latter having less traction and more of a chance of a fall).

I also remembered taking a side trail to an overlook that first day, where if you knew where to look, you could see Harper's Ferry starting to vanish into the distance. A considerate day hiker at the same viewpoint let me know his dog was friendly. I don't remember too well his words, something like “Sir, please don't mind my dog, he's a kind dog. But let me know if he gets too close.” It was like a different country here. If I was in California, the guy would straight up ignore me or side-eye me. Here are the lost polite honorifics (“sir”!) and possibly a little bit of undertone of gun culture, which I suspect was the reason he was giving me a heads up, so I wouldn't shoot his dog.