The Details: Harpers Ferry, WV is rich in American History and provides spectacular views of the Shenandoah and Potomac Rivers. When leaving Harpers Ferry, the AT crosses the Potomac via railroad trestle and foot bridge. After crossing the Potomac, the trail closely follows the river and the defunct C & O Canal. Weverton, MD provided little interest other than as a turnaround point and parking lot. This section of trail is approximately 3.3 miles. We parked a bit further upriver and hiked an additional .5 miles to reach Harpers Ferry making the total for the day 7.6 miles. The trail is mostly flat with little need for hiking poles. Many consider this one of the easiest sections of the AT and thru-hikers often attempt to hike the entire 40+ miles of Maryland within one day.
The Story: By now, Harpers Ferry has become old hat. We’ve visited there many times and rarely see anything new. Today was no exception. We parked at the Park Service’s pay for parking lot, loaded up our gear and Turtle, and began stepping towards the historic part of town. Our pace was slow to moderate as we made our way into town. Crossing the Potomac via the Goodloe Byron Memorial Footbridge always offers spectacular views of the rivers’ confluence. After crossing, we reached the roadway that follows the Potomac and the C & O Canal.
The slow and steady crunch of four feet on gravel and the loud but not overpowering Potomac provided the soundtrack for a near trance-like state of walking. I’ve found similar meditative states in music but even David Gilmour‘s ethereal guitar notes can’t provide the tranquility of mind found in the river’s continuous flow. Although the views certainly weren’t breathtaking, the river was high at 7.07 KCFS and was entertaining to watch.
The Chesapeake and Ohio Canal proved enjoyable. At places, the water was coal-black and mirrored the reflections of the trees and sky above it. In other places, it was covered with thick green algae. Occasionally, we would see turtles on partially submerged logs taking reprieve from the water. I’d point them out and we’d slowly sneak up to them for pictures. As often as not, they’d notice our menacing presence and dive for the deep and murky security of the black water.
We reached the turnaround point and enjoyed a small snack of rice cakes, peanut butter, and water. The break and refreshments were well received as we had been walking at a bit more than moderate pace.
The return walk was more enjoyable. The sun was fading and the trail became thick with shadows. The canal took on a more ominous quality as the bright and cheerful reflections became reflections of darkness. We saw a few more turtles who were less apt to leave the last remaining warmth of the day. We crept up on a couple of geese who paid little attention to our presence. As we walked along, I noticed a moving break in the algae. “I think that’s a snake.” We walked over to the bank and Misti replied. “No. I think it’s an otter.” Two other hikers stopped as well. One contended that it must be a muskrat while the other was certain that it was an otter. I’m almost certain that it was actually a mink. However, to avoid listening to a bunch of dumb hikers talking about its existence, it dove below the thick algae and disappeared before anyone could be certain of its identity.
As we walked back, we talked. This wasn’t the average talk of “how was your day?” “What do you want for dinner?” or “what do we want to do tonight?” This was deep, meaningful conversation – the kind of conversation you can only find when there is no television or cell-phone present. We talked about our lives, our friends and family, our relationship and our future. After conversations like this, all that is left to do is hold hands and enjoy a closeness only found in nature.
We reached an eerie Harpers Ferry. There was no one present. This was the first time that I’ve ever been here and seen no one. The streets were quiet and all of the buildings were closed for the day. It was actually one of the most enjoyable moments I’ve spent at Harpers Ferry. The lack of people provided the quiet needed to think about the history of this seemingly small town.
Overall, the trip was a great success. In fact, I’m trying to complete this post early as we have already made plans to go back today to hike the same section again.