Roberta and I often talk about hiking the New Jersey section of the Appalachian Trail. At 72 miles or so, it would be a bear (and we'd see some of those too), so neither of us has pushed the other to actually do it yet.
But West Virginia... that section is four miles. That I could do. But who would be silly enough to go all the way to Harpers Ferry and do that little hike with me?
My mother, of course, who only lives about an hour-and-a-half from there.
I went straight to my garage on Thursday night, picked up my 1990 Ford (with no a/c), dropped off some Bundt cake with Michael Kraiger for his landlady (she dips it in her coffee), and headed south down the NJ Turnpike. By 10 p.m., I was ensconced in a motel just west of Baltimore.
(Wow, when did they start providing self-serve waffle machines at lower-end motels? That's totally cool. Not that I used it. But just the fact that you can make a waffle for breakfast at a cheap motel makes my days a little brighter. Less excited about their ethernet-only Internet access. My Dell Mini 10v "Mac" does have an ethernet port, but what if I had an iPad or Air?)
In the morning, I continued on to Harpers Ferry. I'd tried to figure out where the hike would start before we got there, but nothing on the Internet was that helpful in this regard. The border on the West Virginia/Maryland side of the Appalachian Trail was clearly in the middle of the Potomac River. The Virginia/West Virginia border wasn't so clear, and appeared to be in the woods.
"What? The woods? I thought we were hiking river-to-river," said Mom, when we met in a motel parking lot on the outskirts of Harpers Ferry.
"No, the Shenandoah isn't the border of Virginia and West Virginia," I said. "The actual border is south of there, somewhere in the woods."
"What? In Loudoun Heights? Are you crazy? It's 95 degrees out."
I wasn't sure what Loudoun Heights was, but it was possible to infer from the context that the "Heights" bit was not a friendly, cool jaunt through the woods. I envisioned a Walk in the Woods scenario, in which we were both throwing our spare junk—which would consist of water bottles, sunscreen, and cell phones—over the cliff.
"Let's go to the information office and find out."
The man at the central Appalachian Trail office—Harpers Ferry is the mid-point of the Trail that goes from Georgia to Maine, and Trail HQ is there—was extraordinarily helpful and friendly, but he backed up Mom's case.
"There isn't really much of a marker to show you've gone into West Virginia, and there is nowhere to leave a car near there. And yeah, it's a pretty steep hike up or down to Loudoun Heights. And it's 95 degrees out."
I let go of my scheme to hike an entire state section and agreed to hike river-to-river. Which is pretty wussy. We were on the pansy tour of the West Virginia section of the Appalachian Trail.
When I'd been at Harpers Ferry in 2002, Aussie Turbo and I had parked Henry the 1990 Ford Taurus at the visitor's center and taken the shuttle into town. When I suggested this, Mom looked at me kind-of sideways.
"There will be parking at the train station."
Don't argue with a local.
She left her car at the train station and we drove Henry up to the Shenandoah. I left him in the shade and paid the parking fee. The shade didn't stay put, of course, so by the time we got back, I couldn't touch the steering wheel.
After some debate about my footwear—I wanted to wear my street sandals since we were just walking up a hill and down into town but Mom made me put on my hiking shoes to avoid ticks—we climbed above the Shenandoah River over Route 340, and into the shade of the trail.
This was not a tough walk. It was a breeze, actually. So much that as we reached the top, three kids came scampering by at top speed.
"They're wearing sandals," I muttered sulkily. But they were traveling with a young woman, obviously a babysitter or cousin, not their mother.
We reached the crest of the rise, looked at an old cemetery and out at the Shenandoah at Jefferson Rock. It looked a lot like the Delaware Water Gap. That's when I realized that the 95-degree heat was a killer. The walk itself was nothing, but I was dehydrated and exhausted. I found myself wishing for a Coke or some peanuts or something besides just water, and remembered how dehydrated even super-athletic Turbo had been after his Grand Canyon hike. You can't just have water in the sun and heat, even on a wussy-hike. Junk food is essential. I'd intended to stock up on trail mix before we left but then hadn't bothered once we'd decided to do the wuss-hike.
"Ugh, let's hurry up and get into town. I need some salt."
We left Jefferson Rock and headed downhill into Harpers Ferry. The sooner we got to the Potomac, the sooner I could eat something bad for me.