Weverton Ridge to Raven Rock Shelter
Burritos And Toad Camp to Dirty Thirty Camp
AT miles: 30.8
Total miles: 1070.6
Elevation change: 5531ft gain, 5092ft loss
Remember all that talk about Virginia being flat? Well, whatever your opinion of Virginia, whether you think it is flat or not, Maryland is flatter. So far, the ridges have been wide and the prominences not too prominent. There has also been abundance in the bathrooms and water faucet department. They love their state parks in Maryland, and each one is well equiped with public amenities. And roads. Maryland is home to a bajillion roads. Fast ones, slow ones, dirt, and pavement. Over the course of a single day, I crossed close to a dozen, and a major highway is always within earshot, a distant roar reminding me of how slow my chosen form of locomotion really is. So yeah, Maryland is flat, full of flushing toilets and roads. In hiking terms, that amounts to fast and easy. My first, and only, full day in the state was a good one. A mellow, and productive reintroduction to trail life.
It was helped by my second excellent night of sleep in a row. A light shower or two had brushed over in the night, but the morning was all warm, all dry by the time the sky began to brighten. My alarm pulled me from a dream of being back in the hiker bubble, surrounded by a gaggle of smelly, laughing people. I wasn’t sure if it was a nightmare or not, but it did tell me a lot about my thoughts on how my time off in DC may have affected my position in the standings. Who was I going to meet now?
Those thoughts or something else got me back on the trail twenty minutes earlier than usual, and I was pleased to have finally found an opportunity to make some good morning miles. The trail was helpful in that quest, providing smooth and easy walking along a super wide ridge. The width meant that the depth of trees, even without leaves, blocked views left and right, but like I said, the trail was wide and flat. A fair trade. I passed a bunch of hikers coming the other way, all released from the shelter in a single wave. Charging day hikers filled in behind them, their source an unseen road. None of us were particularly chatty with the morning as peaceful as it was, just cordial and indifferent.
I made great time for the first five miles to the first bathroom at the first state park, Gathland State Park. I filled up my bottles in the bathroom sink and chugged a bunch of water to get my hydration up to speed. It may have been a cloudy morning, but the sun was poking through in widening clear patches, and I expected that it would be a warm one. It already was by the standards of the trail so far. I shared a few sentences with some other hikers that were also taking advantage of the running water, and then got moving to keep my morning momentum.
I crossed a road, then climed a short uphill onto another flat ridge. More easy cruising followed, with a single viewpoint, until another bathroom and water spigot at a backpacker campsite. This was luxury backpacking, and I would have stopped except that I just had, a few miles before. No need for these benches and flushers right now. I felt kind of guilty for not taking advantage of something.
However, my chance came later and perfectly timed for lunch. After a few more road crossings and some interesting and confusing informational signs about Civil War troop movements and battles, I strolled into Washington Monument State Park, home to the OG Washington Monument. But I was more interested in the picnic benches and water spigot. The sky was blue and clear now, and the sunshine gloriously warm. With it came a renewed responsibility to manage my hydration closely, so I chugged a bunch of the good stuff and plunked my pack and butt on a bench in the empty campground. I kicked off my shoes and made a peanut butter wrap in the crumbling remains of a once circular tortilla. Handful after handful of chips and trail mix followed, before a mouthful of chia seeds and square of chocolate finished things off. Three other hikers milled about, and identified themselves as flip-floppers who started north from Harper’s Ferry. I was surprised, but shouldn’t have been, to hear of this other thru-hike strategy. People were starting their hikes from everywhere and in both directions, which is great. Their fresh enthusiasm and excitement was endearing, and reminded me of my own when I started my first long hike on the PCT, many years ago.
The afternoon was full-on warm when I got moving once again. The temp might have touched 70F, but probably never got that high. I crossed another road, then another, followed by a major highway crossing on a caged pedestrian bridge. Big rigs rumbled past as the trail paralleled the six lanes. I breathed deep the smell of exhaust and made note of how much louder the trucks were relative to the passenger vehicles. No surprise there, but thinking about it was the best show in town.
The sustained uphill to the viewpoint at Annapolis Rocks was hot and busy. Sweat dripped from my nose, which was a bummer because I was trying to be economical with my water. But when the sweat is flowing, the body needs more juice, so I gulped down some cherry electrolytes, economy be damned. A youth hiking with his family looked like he could have used the same treatment, but kids are hard to bargain with and I had nothing to offer.
I didn’t actually see the view at the top as it was down a quarter mile side trail, but I did get some intel from a day hiker that Stealth was just ahead. Still sweating, I didn’t quicken my pace, but expected to see him soon. My view came a short while later at Black Rock viewpoint. I can’t compare it to Annapolis Rocks, but it was pretty sweet. An expansive valley of dotted farms spread from horizon to horizon. That same busy highway snaked and roared through the middle. A big black buzzard soared on the wafting breeze blowing up the warm cliffs.
The afternoon blur took over then. I was feeling good and still making good time on the flat ridges, so my mind began to dream of getting back into the 30+ mileage world. A few gardens of gnarly rocks threw some obstacles my way, but mostly I cruised. Even the rocks were smoother today, my cushy new shoes absorbing all the points and fins that would have caused a grimmace a few days earlier.
I filtered a single liter of water after crossing another road, then pushed up and over a small knob to the next road. The low sun cast long glowing shadows through the forest, and the heat of the afternoon began to ebb. The best part of the day was just getting started, the cool golden cruise to camp. The majority of the hard work was behind me. Just a few more miles of walking left. No need to push anymore.
A wide pasture, another road. A rushing creek provided the final puzzle of the day, but I made it across with dry feet after some circuitous rock-hopping. Another road, the final hill. I sat as I filtered water at a cascading waterfall. The sun was just about to set through the trees and I let the final rays wash over me. My feet were tired, but it was a satisfying feeling rather than one of discomfort. Water cooled my hands and sweat chilled my back. I let go of my conscious thought, allowing the day’s memories and feelings swirl to the surface. It had been a good day, one that I was proud of. The sun dipped below the hillside, painting a final epic pink across the hazy sky, a flamboyant exclamation mark on my favorite moment of the day.
A mile further, I turned towards the shelter. Stealth and some new faces were eating around the picnic bench, and I joined them for a few minutes before wandering a few yards to find myself a flat spot. My cold mashed potatoes were the perfect meal on a warm night, and I scarfed them down with greedy haste. I wanted to get to sleeping, and there was no time to lose. Maryland, a pretty good state.