Front Royal to Duncannon

Posted on: Sunday April 15, 2018 Appalachian Trail

This post was written in my sleeping bag at the end of a long day. Please excuse any errors.

front-royal-to-duncannon I say goodbye to Shake’nBake at the trailhead. As always, I feel a little lost as I head out alone. I’m not sure how many miles I want to do: I feel slow and sluggish the way I always do leaving town. I pass two section hikers. “Are you Fun Size?” They ask. Scratch is a few miles ahead and told them to expect me. Suddenly I have purpose again. I put my head down and charge.

front-royal-to-duncannon I catch him around 3pm. We hike together on and off, stopping for breaks on our own schedules. There’s trail magic by a highway and I grab a soda for the morning. I hit the shelter 24 miles from town at dinner time. Face Plant is already there and Scratch rolls in behind me. I’m glad for their company: it would be easy to be lonely tonight. There are section hikers there too, and, as always, I am the only woman. front-royal-to-duncannon One of the section hikers gets up to pee multiple times in the night. I don’t think anything of it, but I notice when I’m a little ways from the shelter that my poles are bent. He obviously accidentally stepped on them during the night and didn’t bother to say anything. I’m extremely grumpy about this- I have over 6,000 miles on these poles. To make matters worse, it’s snowing and I’m about to hike something called the rollercoaster, which is probably not named that because it’s a lot of fun. front-royal-to-duncannon I pass a guy who I assume is day hiking shortly after. He offers me a Gatorade and I turn it down since I have trail magic soda left from the day before. I joke about the sign saying to leave some for Scoutmaster. Turns out this guy is planning on meeting Scoutmaster the next day. I say goodbye with instructions for him to tell Scoutmaster to hurry up and don’t think much more about it. front-royal-to-duncannon I grump my way down the trail, past the thousand mile marker, up and down the rollercoaster hills. The snow moves in enough that I don’t want to stop for lunch, which also makes me grumpy. Then, I climb up to Bear Den rocks. “You made good time!” It’s the man from earlier. “Did you eat lunch already?” There’s a bag of Gatorade and bananas with a cheerful “save one for Fun Size” written on it, but he has something special just for me. He hands me a bag with Chick Fil’a in it. I sit with him on the rocks and chat while I wolf it down. Then, he hands me a bag of cookies to share with the others at the shelter. front-royal-to-duncannon My mood does a 180 as I’m heading out and I practically dance down the trail. Face Plant catches me a few hundred feet from my lunch spot, so I put him in front of me so I can chat with him. We’ve been going for a few hours when he lives up to his name and falls over quite spectacularly. front-royal-to-duncannon “I’m ok! I’m ok!” He starts to pick himself up. He goes to grab a water bottle that’s fallen from his pack. “Oh no. I don’t have time for this.” His little finger is bent oddly, obviously dislocated. He swears a few times. I’m already thinking about the road we just passed and how fast we can get help, but he just reaches over with his other hand and pops it back into place. He apologizes for slowing me down, while I crow about what a badass he is all the way to the shelter. front-royal-to-duncannon It’s an easy, but rocky, 8 miles to Harper’s Ferry in the morning. I race the boys, hiking through the historic town to the ATC office. A lady there smiles at me, tells me where to charge my phone, and takes my photo to add to the collection in their log book. It’s an AT rite of passage. She also numbers it. I’m the 7th northbound hiker to come through this year. front-royal-to-duncannon We get lunch with Scratch’s friend who has driven from DC, and then I go pick up my package. My friend Liz has mailed me a fruitcake. It takes a little hunting: it’s not at the hostel it was supposed to be at, but it turns up at the post office. I take it back to the ATC. A brand new flip flopper is there, so nervous he is shaking. I share some fruitcake with him and Face Plant and he calms down. It’s good fruitcake- good enough to even cure first day jitters, apparently. front-royal-to-duncannon I head out with Face Plant, hiking easy miles along a canal until we climb away. We reach the shelter and find 4 people already there. One of them has his tent set up inside. “Room for two more?” I say, nicely letting them know I’m planning on sleeping there. “Actually, I think we’re full.” One of them says. I’m flabbergasted. “There’s only four of you right?” He nods. “This is a six person shelter. We’ll fit.” The one guy takes down his tent and everyone moves over, but my love affair with shelters is definitely coming to an end. front-royal-to-duncannon Maryland and the start of Pennsylvania bores me. It’s flattish and a little rocky, but there’s no challenge. I do 25s with Face Plant and Scratch and we still find ourselves sitting in the shelters by 6pm. We tick off new states and cross the halfway point, but the trail mostly winds along flat ridges, dropping down to manicured state parks. I get better cell service in shelters than I do in town. I miss the wilderness. front-royal-to-duncannon Still, the weather has drastically improved. The sun beams down and flowers unfurl. Butterflies flit in the breeze. I’ve mostly forgotten how to hike when it’s not 40 degrees. I sweat salt streaks onto my dress and struggle to drink water. I take breaks and realize I need to actually find motivation to move on- there are no shivers to prompt me to start hiking again. front-royal-to-duncannon After a few days of this, I say goodbye to Face Plant, who is feeling the milage and staying in Boiling Springs and head out alone. A mile down the trail, a non-ultralight tent is set up. “Hiker or homeless?” I think, as I always do when something looks a little out of place. But there’s a woman standing out front with muscular legs and bright sunglasses. She says goodbye to whoever is in the tent, and comes towards me. And I see that it’s the woman from Shenandoah, the woman I am pretty sure is Anish. front-royal-to-duncannon She falls in maybe 50 feet behind me. I hike fast, trying not to embarrass myself. She catches me quickly, so I let her pass and try to keep up. She comments on my dress and we chat a little about hiking. front-royal-to-duncannon I want to ask if she’s who I think she is, but Anish is one of my heroes and I’m shy. Most people outside of the long distance hiking world have never heard of her. Even a lot of thru hikers don’t know who she is. But, as the current PCT speed record holder and the former AT record holder, she’s one of the strongest, fastest hikers on trail. She was my favorite person to mention when guys made comments about women not being as good at hiking (now, of course, I just out hike them). front-royal-to-duncannon But I remember Shake’nBakes message this week that our mystery military official in Shenandoah was a General in charge of the air force and the second highest ranked military official in the US. And I talked to him. Anish is just a woman with holes in her shirt and dirt caking her calves. I can do this. front-royal-to-duncannon “I don’t want to be creepy, but are you Anish?” She confirms that she is, so I introduce myself. “I thought you were, but I didn’t want to be creepy either.” Anish replies. Anish knows who I am?! She says she has seen my register entries and saw my photo at the ATC. I think about how I know all of the other hikers, especially women, on trail in front of me. It hadn’t occurred to me that others might do the same. She asks where Shake’nBake is, and we chat more about hiking. I have to jog a little to keep pace. After a half mile or so, I’m getting tired, so I tell her I can’t keep up any more and she vanishes around a bend in the trail. front-royal-to-duncannon I pull into Boiling Springs around lunch time. Scratch’s family is meeting him there and they’ve left trail magic for us. Anish, Anish’s fiance and Now or Never are there and I chat with them a little before going to get lunch. I leave town during the heat of the day. It’s 14 flat, open miles to the next shelter. front-royal-to-duncannon It’s mostly through farmland. I should be bored, but it makes me nostalgic for the CDT. Cows watch me, eyes dumb in the heat. At the end, I take a break in the shade before the climb to the shelter. I’m filthy- the parts of me not covered with heat rash are caked in dirt, but I’m suddenly wildly happy again. front-royal-to-duncannon Weather moves in overnight. It’s cold and drizzly as I knock out the 11 miles to town. I lose all feeling in my fingers. It takes an hour of gripping a hot coffee mug before they work properly again. But I don’t mind too much. After all, I have new shoes here, which I will need for the infamous rocks of Pennsylvania. front-royal-to-duncannon front-royal-to-duncannon

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Eloise Robbins (Fun Size)

About the Author

Eloise Robbins (Fun Size) is a writer, triple crown thru hiker, and adventurer. She is a lover of the outdoors, hiking, canoeing, and most of all mountains.

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