An Appalachian Trail Thru Hike: Part 18 - Washington DC
"At times like that, it's easy to think about all the things that can go wrong like taking a wrong turn and losing time by going the wrong way for a while."
The Apple House
On the morning of May 21st , we hiked 10 miles to a store in Linden, Virginia where we were to meet my Uncle Bill and Aunt Millie. On the way we stopped at a store near Front Royal and we stocked up on some supplies. We arrived at the meeting place and waited for my aunt and uncle. As we had arranged a week earlier in Waynesboro, they arrived around four o'clock in the afternoon. Mark had been planning to stay at a church in Linden, but they invited him along. They brought us back to their house in a northern Virginia suburb of Washington DC and fed us a hearty dinner of steak, baked potatoes, and spinach. We also got a shower and did our laundry.
Our morning began with a hike through some fields of grass drenched from the previous night's thunderstorm. The trail was mostly downhill as we came down from the Blue Ridge into the Valley that would eventually lead to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Our prearranged rendezvous with my Aunt and Uncle was at a country store called the Apple House. It was a short hike there from Floyd's Wayside shelter, and even stopping at the store along the way to restock our food supplies, we made it there by 12:30.
There is always a concern when you make plans to meet someone somewhere at a specified time and you have a lot to do or a long distance to go before you get there. Being on the trail where there weren't any payphones around, I couldn't help but be concerned about making it on time. At times like that, it's easy to think about all the things that can go wrong like taking a wrong turn and losing time by going the wrong way for a while. So when we reached our destination with 3 1/2 hours to spare, there was a sense of mild relief and good fortune to be able to browse around the store and hang out for a while until my aunt and uncle arrived. The Apple House was a combination produce stand, restaurant, and gift shop. It was the type of place that had its busy season in the fall just before Halloween and Thanksgiving. Then city folk from Washington DC and Northern Virginia suburbs would come out and buy bags of apples, pies, cider, pumpkins, jams and jellies, and all sorts of other seasonal items. The place smelled of cinnamon and spices. The shelves were crammed with folksy crafts and foodstuffs. When we were there in mid to late May it was far too early for locally grown apples, but the store was open anyway, selling other produce and crafts.
If you want to read this series from the beginning, click the link below:
- An Appalachian Trail Thru-hike: Part 1 - Deciding to...
Two teenagers hike the Appalachian Trail from end to end in 1982. This episode describes how they decided to hike the trail and their preparation for the trip.
"Looking back on it now, I’m amazed and grateful that she even allowed those clothes into her washing machine."
When Uncle Bill and Aunt Millie arrived we asked if they could give Mark a ride to the church in Linden he had planned to stay at for a night. Their response was to invite him to their house as well. What followed was a day and a half of well appreciated rest and relaxation as well as some interesting and educational sightseeing. We showered and for Dave and I at least, we did laundry for the first time in a long time – possibly for the first time since Pearisburg.
My aunt had grown up on a farm in southwestern Virginia, not far from the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail. She was no stranger to how dirty clothes can get after a hard day’s work, yet when she helped us get our dirty clothes into the machine even she was taken aback. All she could say was "Good gracious!" as each item of clothing emerged from black garbage bags we used to hold dirty laundry. That was followed by a number of “Ugh’s!” when the smelly socks caked with ground in leaf duff and mud were brought out. Looking back on it now, I’m amazed and grateful that she even allowed those clothes into her washing machine.
"After hiking almost a thousand miles through the forest and mountains, one of the most interesting wildlife sightings of the trip came in Arlington Cemetery just across the Potomac River from Washington DC."
The next morning we slept in until around nine o'clock and we were treated to a breakfast of bacon and eggs. My Uncle Bill and Aunt Millie drove us into Washington DC so we could sightsee. They dropped us off, and then they went off to a wine festival. We looked around the National Mall – a section of Washington bordered by the Smithsonian Institute, stretching from the Lincoln Memorial to the Capitol Building. Near the end of the day Mark split off to see a museum while Dave and I went to Arlington Cemetery to see the eternal flame at John F. Kennedy's gravesite. From JFK’s gravesite there is a winding roadway that leads down a long hill to the visitor’s center and the cemetery entrance. As we walked down that road after seeing the eternal flame, something caught our attention next to a tree that grew amongst the gravestones. We looked over and saw a fat raccoon waddling along the ground toward the tree. We stopped and watched him for a few moments before we continued on. Both of us chuckled. After hiking almost a thousand miles through the forest and mountains, one of the most interesting wildlife sightings of the trip came in Arlington Cemetery just across the Potomac River from Washington DC.
At five o'clock Uncle Bill and Aunt Millie picked us up, and that night they treated us to a dinner at a Chinese restaurant. All of us had eaten Chinese food before, but only a very limited selection of dishes such as chow mein, sweet-and-sour pork, and what was up until then my favorite Chinese dish, tempura fried butterfly shrimp. My aunt and uncle told us that the restaurant we were going to didn't serve any of that and they would order for us. I only remember one dish that they ordered - Mushi pork – which comes with pancakes like small crepes and a plum sauce. Of course we looked at it with suspicion, but they showed us how to construct a "burrito" with the pancake. A large spoonful of the Mushi pork, a mixture of stir fried pork and shredded cabbage, was scooped into the middle of the pancake and drizzled with the plum sauce. Then the pancake was rolled or folded and held for eating like a soft taco or a burrito. We quickly found out it was delicious. We tried and liked the other dishes as well since they ordered several and made sure everyone got to eat some of each one. We ended up coming away with a whole new outlook on Chinese food.
The Capitol Tour and Saying Goodbye
The next day Uncle Bill and Aunt Millie took us to the U.S. Capitol building where we went on the famous guided tour of that venerable building. The tour guide showed the tour group many things in the building, but the things I remembered the most were the current Senate chamber, the original space where the Senate met, and the magnificent painting called the Apotheosis of George Washington on the inside of the capitol dome. One of the most interesting things that our group learned on the guided tour was that during the early years of the Capitol, when the Senate met in a large open area with a marble floor that is now just an open rotunda, one clever congressman discovered a certain place to position his desk where the acoustics of the room allowed him to overhear everything that was being said at the desk of an influential congressman from the opposing party. The tour guide even demonstrated by having the tour group form a circle around the spot and lean in. The guide then went about 50 feet away and whispered a few sentences. Sure enough, it sounded like the guide was whispering right into our ears.
After the Capitol tour my aunt and uncle drove us around to a few more sites and pointed out some of the buildings such as the Supreme Court, the National Archives, and others. It was a rainy day so we didn't get out much – we just saw things from the car. The last thing we saw was on the Virginia side – the Iwo Jima Memorial statue. I remember it being much bigger than I'd expected it to be. Next they drove us back to the trailhead near The Apple House in Linden. After the stately buildings and monuments, the traffic, and the general bustle of DC, going back to the drizzly, fog shrouded trailhead seemed like stepping back in time. Before long we were saying our goodbyes to Uncle Bill and Aunt Millie and we were swinging our packs back onto our shoulders. As I was about to leave my uncle slipped $60 into my hand. I was taken by surprise and for a moment I thought to protest, but instantly I realized how big a help the money would be to me, so I just shook his hand and said “Thanks”. Then we all thanked them for their hospitality, and after a round of well-wishes, handshakes, and hugs, we turned and headed off into the mist.
"After the stately buildings and monuments, the traffic, and the general bustle of DC, going back to the drizzly, fog shrouded trailhead seemed like stepping back in time."
Lost in the Fog
After about 2 miles we came to a dirt road. In the fog we thought we saw a double blaze indicating we should follow the road. It appeared that there were a few more blazes along the road, but after a while we stopped seeing the white rectangular marks. We became perplexed after we walked a ways without seeing the trail markings. We flagged down a vehicle traveling in the opposite direction. We asked the driver if we were following the trail and she told us that we were. Buoyed by this affirmation, we picked up our pace for a while, but soon the doubts started creeping back in after hiking a long way and still not seeing the white painted blazes on any trees. Furthermore, our guidebooks did not mention any walks along dirt roads in this section.
Finally we decided to ask someone else, but there was no one else on the road to ask. In the end we went up to the front door of one of the houses along the road and we knocked. A lady came out and we asked her if we were on the AT. She explained the confusion. The trail used to travel along the road, but it had been recently relocated. The blazes we had seen had been old blazes that had been painted over with brown paint. The brown paint, as we had seen when we went over the Big Walker Ridge, did not always cover over the white paint very well. The lady told us how to get to the current trail at Ashby Gap. By then it was getting late. She told us that we could fill our water boittles from a spigot on the side of her house and that we could stay in a small building in her yard that bordered the road. The building was the size of a shed and it was completely empty. It had a wooden floor with a square framed hole in the center. The hole was dark. There was no telling what it led to – probably just the ground beneath the building. Of course we were curious about the hole. We all speculated why it was there. The most likely answer that we came up with was that the building was an old pumphouse and that the pump had been removed. Then the hole had never been covered over. It was too dark to tell so we ended up just rolling out our sleeping bags as usual and falling to sleep. For some reason the dark hole in the floor bothered me. It seemed ominous. I couldn't stop thinking about what might crawl up through the hole from underneath the building while we were sleeping. The hole played on my imagination more than the actual rat that I had seen in the garden shed at the Big Walker Lookout. Eventually I must've gotten over my concerns because I drifted off to sleep, and I can't remember having any bad dreams.
The next morning we followed the lady’s directions 6 or 7 miles to get to Ashby Gap where we met up with the trail again. Once again we were walking through a misty rain. Ashby Gap was the beginning of an infamous 11 mile road walk along Route 601. Since that time the trail has been rerouted off the road and into the woods, but in 1982, the guides and shelter logs were full of descriptions of the roadwalk along rt. 601. Lucky for us there was a snack bar at the beginning of the road walk. Never ones to pass up a hot food opportunity, we stopped there for a few hours before we set off on the road walk. Part way through, a guy in a yellow pickup stopped to ask us if we needed a ride anywhere. After a quick consultation we asked if there was a motel close to Snickers Gap. When he answered yes, we asked him to take us there. Split three ways the room cost $10 apiece. We decided to hole up, dry out, and see if the weather would be better the next day.
If you want to read the next episode in this series, click the link below:
- An Appalachian Trail Thru Hike: Part 19 - Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
The Double Dave's hike into Harpers Ferry, WV and gain some unexpected companions along the way.