12/09-13/09 Day 76-77
The Maryland Challenge. 44 miles.
Sun Chaser and I had just gotten to the Mason/Dixon line (Pennsylvania/Maryland border) when we got a message from Spirit. “The bridge is open”. The Potomic River footbridge had been closed because of flooding. It was now open. Having wanted to do the Maryland Challenge for a while, Sun Chaser convinced me to go for it. Hurricane Florence was approaching and we had gotten in touch with a relative to Sun Chaser who lives in Virginia, that had offered to house us until the storm passed. So instead of doing 11 miles to where we were being picked up, we were now looking at a 40+ mile day. We waited until Spirit got there 10 minutes later and updated her on the plans. Not entirely willingly she was in on it.
I honestly wasn’t very keen on the idea either. I had more or less planned to not go through with it when Spirit announced on social media that we were attempting the challenge. I had no choice anymore, I had to complete it.
We started walking at 12:15pm. Yes, 12:15pm. We didn’t expect to be walking more than 11 miles that day, so therefore it was just past noon. Maryland began with a climb, in true AT-fashion. After that a lot of the day blended together, as it does when the terrain doesn’t change much and a decent amount of distance is covered. It was a foggy and wet walk with plenty of rocks. Almost Pennsylvania-esque.
At 7pm or so we had managed to get halfway, walking most of the time with each other. Something we usually don’t do. This time it was because of the fact that we would have to night hike. A lot. For reference, 7pm is a common time to be done with hiking for the day, not be halfway. We took a break at a Washington monument as the sun was setting. I taped my feet. Oh I forgot to mention, I just got new shoes the day before. What better way than to break them in on my longest day of hiking so far?
After snacking, breaking and taping feet for about 25 minutes we started walking again, this time with headlamps on. Both Spirit and Sun Chaser’s headlamps were however insufficient, so we more or less relied on mine. Other than that, we all felt pretty good at 8pm with less than 20 miles to go. With nightfall the walking got significantly slower though.
We walked through a state park with massive ruins were we stopped again a few hours later. Again snacking and resting. When we got going this time however, we did not feel as good. I think we had about 10 miles to go from there. Everyone’s feet were hurting and the fact that it was 11pm or so had started catching up. Seeing that we normally don’t go to sleep any later than 9pm, let alone walk 30 miles after noon, sleep deprivation was unavoidable.
Somewhere around midnight it all got really difficult. I mean close-to-giving-up-difficult. Every step felt like lifting boulders and the rocks had made my feet mushy, tender and sore. My head was throb-aching and I could barely keep my eyes open. Walking as a zombie, on sheer willpower, after what felt like going downhill forever, we made it to the bike path into Harpers Ferry and the end of Maryland. Little did we know that although the bike path is flat, it is actually eternal and has no end. No living person knows for sure where it ends, or if it even ever does.
At one point during this infinite walk of eternal struggle, Sun Chaser wanted tried talking to Spirit and I, but we were both so out of it that none of us responded or even remember it.
Despite pebbles feeling like nails in my feet, legs acting like spaghetti and my cranium merely containing soup that used to be my brain, we made it to the bridge over the Potomic River and into Harpers Ferry. We crossed the bridge, delusional with tiredness while scream-singing “Country Roads” by Neil Young. We had been waiting for that moment for a long time.
Not having any place to stay, we went for the ATC Headquarters. It was nearly a mile uphill and also nearly the end of me. I have taken very few steps that felt so heavy and hurt so bad. But low and behold, we made it up that mountain of a hill. At about 3am. As soon as we did, we threw our things onto the concrete in front of the ATC and fell asleep, cowboy camping right in front of the emotional halfway point of the Appalachian Trail.