Another year, another wave of smelly hobos making their way north to Katahdin. Having been a member of said hobo’s (also known as thru hikers) just last year, I was excited to pay forward some of the magic I had received and get back out on the trail.
We ended up with 6 on the trip and congregated at ~930 Saturday morning at Pen Mar Park, our ending point. Mann’s wife had kindly offered to shuttle us up to the trailhead in their van, saving us from having to set and eventually reverse the shuttle, which was much appreciated. We hit the trail at just about 1030 where the AT crossed Rt30 at Caledonia State Park and headed SoBo.
As we started the weather was fair, mostly sunny, mid 70s, and fairly humid, much better than the rain which had been forecasted for the entire weekend. We hadn’t even crossed the road before we found our first hiker. Despite looking slightly too clean to be a thru hiker, we greeted him and after confirming his status overwhelmed him with more snacks, beer, and fruit than he could hold. We chatted for a few minutes while he munched before crossing the road and heading into the woods.
Not 100 yards into forest we ran into a cooler full of trail magic, containing snacks, drinks, and an invitation for hikers to camp for free and join a cookout later that day, which I’m sure the hikers would appreciate. As we ascended the ridge we ran into several more hikers and worked on refining our magic technique… our early meetings usually didn’t start until the first person passed the hiker and saw the ATC tag on their backpack, ending up in the hiker being surrounded by the 6 of us dumping cans of beer, slices of watermelon, trail bars, and Little Debbies at them out of nowhere… which was slightly overwhelming for the hiker.
We eventually settled on a rhythm where as we approached we’d ask if they were thru hiking and if so if they’d like some magic. Confusion quickly turned to glee and they processed and started deciding between the multitude of goodies we offered, which was really fun to see.
We took it slow, making only about 3mi in the first 2.5 hours of hiking, stopping often to chat with hikers as we distributed our magic. Ashley quickly ran low on beer and shifted to clementines, I ran through about half a watermelon and several kiwis, Mann handed out most of his deluxe protein bars, John decided to just hang his grocery bag full of sour patch kids and chips off the back of his pack for easy access, and Marika and Alex both handed off several of their snacks before we stopped for lunch at the side trail leading down to Rocky Mountain Shelter.
We spread out a bit during the course of the afternoon, tending to regroup as we ran into and chatted with hikers. The humidity began to take its toll throughout the afternoon as we crossed South Mountain road and ascended back onto the ridge but thankfully the green tunnel was in full effect, keeping us almost entirely shaded during the hike. By this time the frontrunners of our group were entirely out of magic and so we started working through the reserves of the folks farther back as the steady stream of hikers continued.
We stopped at the top of Chimney Rocks for a bit around 4pm, snacking and taking in the view and (most importantly) the breeze before finishing the last mile of downhill into Tumbling Run Shelters. Yes, that ‘s’ is intentional. In the northern PATC style there are actually two shelters side by side here, one dedicated to snorers and the other reserved for non-snorers. All the other sites already having at least one person in them, we headed over to the group side and squeezed in with the 5 thru hikers that were already there and broke out the beers that we had been saving.
There ended up being 8 thru hikers in camp that evening and we hung around the dinner table, discussing the trail and the amazing privy at this site. No really… it was clean and pretty much bug and spider free, it had toilet paper provided that wasn’t even chewed by mice, and to top it off it had several pine tree air fresheners hanging inside to give it a pleasant smell. Doesn’t get much better than that.
We all traded stories until just before midnight (hiker midnight, that is) when the thru hikers headed off to bed. Mann has a nice fire going so the DCUL folks settled in and roasted some marshmallows which had been intended as trail magic but hadn’t elicited much interest (likely only due to the ‘late’ hour though). As dusk turned to night, the embers cooled from scarlet to black, and the fireflies bedded down, we too trickled off to hit the hay.
The next morning started early with two of the thru hikers hitting the trail before dawn and the others trickled out of camp as we roused ourselves and made breakfast. We hit the trail at 730, opting for a slower morning than the DCUL standard since we only had ~8mi back to the cars.
We passed several hikers along the way… not as many as the day before (which was just as well since we were completely out of trail magic) and moved quicker due to the shorter greetings. We regrouped at Falls Creek and sat for a few minutes until the sky noticeably darkened above us. We made it just a couple hundred yards short of the Mason-Dixon line before the skies opened up on us and we scurried over the train tracks and up to Pen Mar Park.
The shower was refreshing and helped to wash a bit of the sweat and grime away before we headed home. Though already wet, we hung out under the pavilion for a couple minutes until the rain let up and received our own magic from a family who were just setting up for their second annual trail magic day. At first (and second) we declined to partake, wanting to save the treats for the thru hikers, but the third offer (and promises that they had more than enough) finally broke our resolve and we enjoyed a bit of the donuts, snickers, fruit, and soda that they had brought.
Back at the cars we donned our dry clothes and headed down to Barley and Hops in Frederick for the post-hike calorie fest! All and all, the trip went great. Several of the DCULers commented that it was a lot of fun to watch how unexpectedly excited the thru hikers got and that it was nice to get out for a nice easy weekend trip. It seems like there’s interest in a fall redinition of the trip to help out the SoBos, so we’ll try to make that happen.