So, it had been some time since we had been on the Tuscarora Trail. March, in fact. And I must confess I was quite eager to put the southern states behind us, cross the Mason-Dixon line, and reach the Pennsylvania Blue Ridge.
Friday night, as planned, Miles, Mimi, Doug, and I met where the TT crosses PA 256, found a great spot to leave a few cars, and were quickly headed south from the end-point to Hampshire Grade Road, in West Virginia, where section 4 had ended. We were there at about 8:10pm and were treated to a superb sunset. At about 8:40pm, Shuttle calls. The DC crew, from Vienna, has been blocked by a flooded out bridge! They're going to have to work their way around the mountain and find a new way in! Figuring that they couldn't possibly be there until late, we quickly made the decision to camp, walked in about 50 yards or so, and set up camp. I admit that I didn't really worry about how the decision not to get a few miles in would affect us the next day. In any event, it was the right call under the circumstances.
Shuttle, B.A., Lone Wolf, UPS, Radiance, Krupa, and Biltmore all arrived shortly before 10pm. We looked up at the stars, drank a few beers that Shuttle had brought, but were quickly abed. Wake up was 6am, and I had to hold people back for a 6:52am depature. It was going to be a long walk; people were already talking about a 30-mile day; and it was colder than one would have thought.
We had perfect walking weather as we set off in the early morning light through the Sleepy Creek Wildlife Management Area. It was, however, quite muddy, and no one kept their feet dry very long. We reached the lake and the campsite I had in mind in just under two hours, but it would have taken much longer in the dark and the mud--the TT is not always easy to spot. The Most Interesting Man in America expatiated on his plans for "tactical loincloth."
We climbed out of the Sleepy Creek area, got some good views of the hills marching towards the Potomac Valley, and took lunch at Meadows Branch, which under the current conditions was a raging torrent. Good thing there was a bridge. There was an impressive sharing of snacks. We climbed for the viewpoint at Devils Nose, descended sharply for WV-7, walking along forest road for a spell, then crossed forest land before breaking at Dugans Hollow Shelter. It was 3-ish pm, and we had covered about 22 miles. It didn't make sense to stop so early, but by leaving the shelter we were committed to reaching the Little Pool Campsite along the C&O Canal ... 9-ish miles away. Everyone was game.
Unfortunately, the 4 miles along River Road were a morale-killer. All speeding vehicles and roadkill. And for a reward you got to cross the Potomac on 522, where there is just the barest hint of a sidewalk. We all reached Hancock, Maryland safely, and though we got a bit spread out in town, we rallied at the Town Tavern at Maine Street. Pringle walked by the Hardee's 16 times.
Now, the Town Tavern. What to say? They had three things on the menu, buffalo hot dogs, buffalo burgers, and tombstone pizza. But the draft beer was ice cold. Classic country on the jukebox, which we immediately hacked to play some extremely strange music. And then there were the stars and bars on every available surface ... and our group, which looks like an ad for the Colors of Benneton. But the people were nice ... You wonder, at times, what they think that flag means.
So, yeah, Hancock may need a pub upgrade before it can compete with some of the trail towns DC UL loves. But we had our break and hit the road.
Twilight fell on us as we walked the last 3.7 miles east on the C&O Canal. And the meter rolled over to the big 3-0. We collapsed into Little Pool campsite, which was flat and lovely. UPS declared that she would challenge Wawa for the title of "fire goddess" and set about making a fire. Whisky was consumed. I had a second dinner to accompany my buffalo dog. Everyone was happy to have walked such a big day; they were even happier to fall asleep.
We slept like the dead.
6am wake up. Trail at 6:55am. Steam was coming off Little Pool and the river, and I got some good pictures of the sunlight through the trees. White tail deer bounded before us. We cruised through four more miles of canal walking, but the TT does some road miles across Maryland. These miles told on us. Eight of us reached the cars at Furnace Road, where the trail starts its first PA ridge walk. But that will be section 6.
We used the car to pick up everyone up, reversed the shuttle, drove into Winchester for the Union Jack, one more time, one last time. Now that's a pub we love. We were there by 2:15pm, even if we did hiker-hobble in.
Sum total, we backpacked about 44 miles in about 28 hours, with splits of 31-13. Ummm ... I had planned something more like 5-27-9, I believe ... There is some fuzzy math in there. And we really couldn't have planned for the flooded out road. Anyway, everyone bore up under the long miles, and the Tuscarora Trail continued to show us a lot of good trail. It was often beautiful, always surprising, and full of variety. I personally found it great to see the trail in spring-time, as so far, it has all been winter! Even crossing the less beautiful stretches (River Road, I'm looking at you) gives you a neat sense of the landscape.
Anyway, chapeau to every one, but especially Radiance and Krupa, who accomplished this insanity while being very new to DC UL. Bravo, you two.
I hope you all are getting around pretty well today! One couldn't ask for a finer group of backpackers!