“Smells like the AT!” I noted aloud, and Some Shine agreed.
There are many smells my mind identifies with the trail. Near my home in Georgia, the rotting garlic scent of Galax is the most predominant. Galax, a lilliputian plant with a lily pad appearance, is pollinated by flies. While some find the smell off-putting, I find comfort in it.
Here in Maryland though, a sweet camomile-like odor met our olfactory senses. Waves upon waves of ferns stretched before us, and I assume it is they who are permeating this tea-like scent.
During my 2016 hike, this section of trail was blessedly easy, and felt like a respite after the not at all flat Virginia. I crossed Maryland’s forty one miles in well under two days then. This year however, the traverse took four days.
The only pain I’ve felt at the site of my stress fracture occurred on the C&O section of the trail leaving Harper’s Ferry. This three mile stretch of perfectly flat, hardened ground required the same repetitive motions from my legs. As soon as the trail began upwards into the mountains again, with random rocks and obstacles to amble over, the pain disappeared.
Some Shine and I decided to set ten miles a day as the only goal, and add miles only if we felt like it. With four days of food on our backs, and ample opportunities for resupply, mile per day worries were pointless anyway.
I’ve learned a lot from the way Some Shine hikes. She’ll stop at a shelter and read her book for three hours, hike a little ways then take a couple more for lunch. Breaking up the day like this is conducive not only to my mental happiness, but my physical strength as well. It’s amazing how much my legs have atrophied in two months.
Some Shine lent me her copy of a book on Peace Pilgrim. This gentle boddhisatva woman of the Christian tradition, wandered ceaselessly across American during the Cold War days. During the height of conflict, tension and fear, she spread the Word of peace, respect, and kindness. I’m excited to learn more about her, as all I have seen so far are a few interviews of her that survive through YouTube.
Speaking of kindness, we into trail magic from two former hikers, Catfish and Coffee Bean. I was a little sheepish in accepting the food at first. I felt guilty that I had only been on trail three days, sharing the table with those who have been hiking for three months. That hesitation left immediately after my first bite into a juicy medium cooked burger.
Catfish even provided an electric leg and foot massager, powered diligently by a small Honda generator.
The couple had also hiked some three hundred miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, the photos of which were stunningly beautiful. We passed their phones around a couple of times.
After four days we crossed into Pen Mar County Park, with its clean bathrooms and multiple pavilions. It was raining and we took refuge for, you guessed it, more reading time.
We’ve been developing a protocol for arriving at bathrooms with running water. So far it includes a mandatory floss and brush session, along with a thorough cleaning of cook pots, if soap is available. Dental health takes a quick backseat among many hikes, including myself.
Some Shine and I felt some validation in this, when even the great Anish admitted to getting a cavity after each of her FKT’s on the AT and PCT. During her calendar year Triple Crown her hair began to dreadlock, because as a hiker hair care is the last thing on your mind.
Shortly after leaving Pen Mar, we reached the Mason-Dixon Line, thus concluding our first of the many states to come.