Washington DC and the Chesapeake & Ohio Towpath
Monday night I got off the bus, walked into Union Station (awesome) and then as I exit I'm greeted with this view of the Capitol Building.
I got a bit closer. This fountain was in front of the building (It's behind me in this photo)
And it was cold! I got my phone out and started looking for a hostel to spend the night in. I found the Youth Hostel International and went there. And I'm super glad I did. There is at least one activity everyday, usually a walking tour. I spent Tuesday on my own at the Natural History museum and a little bit of the Air and Space museum. Unfortunately my tour on Tuesday night was cancelled, but I was still so tired I didn't mind too much. Wednesday however was excellent. Originally I'd planned just the day in DC but wanted to do the night monuments tour so I stayed an extra day. I met some awesome people, did two tours a morning and then the night monuments, went back to the air and space museum and took some more photos of the capitol. One of my new friends, Pat, travels a lot. he commutes across canada for work, week on week off kind of deal. But the company will let him fly anywhere that costs the equivalent of flying home, and since it is a cross canadian flight which is expensive. So he has a routine of finding gigs in the towns he's visiting. So Wednesday night after walking forever all day, I went and watch a concert. It was amazing but I was soo tired by the end of it.
While I'd been on the Post Office tour in the morning, I'd spoken to the ranger about nearby hikes, see if there was anything I could do in short time. She told me about the Chesapeake & Ohio towpath that goes for 180 miles and meets up for part of the Appalachian Trail, which seemed cool. I did a quick google and decided to try a 60 mile section to a place called Harper's Ferry.
I've been doing a lot of research into lightweight backpacking and hammocks and stuff so I decided to buy a hammock for the trip. I knew the downside of a hammock is that it can get cold underneath using just a sleeping bag and decided to get a wool blanket instead, it's a bit heavier but I wouldn't have to worry about a sleeping pad, and if it turns out I was wrong about my layering system for my clothes I could wear it as a cloak during the day for extra warmth. So leaving late in the day thursday (it took a while to go shopping and get to the trail, plus I slept in the morning) I set off. Sorry no photos of my campsites, first night I didn't make a campsite so was camping on the side of the trail, which isn't really allowed. Second night I got to camp after dark, and in the morning was so cold I had to break camp and start walking as soon as it was light so I could get the blood flowing.
THINGS LEARNED ON THE TRAIL:
1. I don't travel as light as I think I do:
I definitely travel lighter than most. I know I still have a little bit of extra weight compared to ultralight travelers, but I didn't think it would be too bad to hike with everything I was carrying. It might not have been if I'd been using an actual hiking pack, but because I was using my Aeronaut bag, which has backpack straps, but isn't really designed for long term carrying. But to add a blanket, food, hammock and water to a pack that is already not as light as it could be, and isn't designed for hiking was a mistake. The reason ultralight hikers get away without suspension is they are not carrying stuff like a laptop with them, even if it is my lightweight surface pro.
2. Do more research:
I made two research mistakes. I bought the Hennessy Hammock backpacker ultralight kit. I hadn't done enough research to know that it is designed for people under 6 foot, and I'm slightly over. I knew the theory behind getting comfortable in a hammock but couldn't achieve it because it was the wrong size for me. But the bigger mistake was not looking at what the temperatures were going to be. I thought I'd made a mistake getting a blanket rather than sleeping bag and pad because I was so cold at night. It was only when I went online and looked at the temperatures that the second night had got down to freezing temperature. So I guess the system worked, since the only really bad thing was my feet, which froze almost immediately without a second pair of thick socks. But I was very very cold. I don't think there will be another camping trip this autumn unless it's much, much warmer down south.
3. The towpath is okay to walk, but would be much better to ride:
The towpath was very pretty, but not that interesting of a hike.
The towpath is completely flat over its lenghth. Well that's not true, it's actually a very, very gentle rise, but it feels flat walking it. It's also covered in gravel. If I was strolling along, it's probably a very enjoyable experience, but feeling weighed down, and rushing to get to the next campsite before dark, the flat terrain can wear you down. If I was to do it again, I'd probably try cycling or unicycling instead.
4. Know my limits:
I was aiming for Harper's Ferry which is 60ish miles along the track. I thought I could make it in 2-3 days. And if I didn't have to carry my bag and it was summer, so I had an hour or two extra daylight and wasn't so cold at night, I probably could. I did make it to White's Ferry, which is 35.5 miles from the start, at about 1pm on Saturday. Since I only hike about 5 or more miles on the Thursday because I started so late, that might've been possible, I would estimate that was approximately a 20 mile a day pace. But I was dead after that. I couldn't go on. I abandoned my plan for Harper's Ferry, and started making my way into town, to Leesburg, about 5 miles away. White's ferry is a cool old ferry across the river, which I caught. No photos, I'd put the camera away the day before and hadn't got it out again, too tired.
5. I'm really bad with names. (Also Americans are really religous)
I had two really cool experiences with people, but I can't remember their names, which annoys me a lot. The first was with a cyclist that past me twice during the day. He was doing a 60 mile ride, starting at about mile 22 on the track, down to D.C for lunch and back again. He spoke about how he knew Jesus, asked if I knew him. I tactfully said not personally. But he was a super nice guy, who told me he'd had a premonition about sharing lunch with someone. That hadn't happened but then he'd seen me twice during the day hiking and he decided I was the guy from the premonition and he gave me 10 bucks and a musli bar. I was super tired and worried about getting to camp before dark (I didn't it was dark by the time I got there), so even though he got a photo of me, I don't have a photo of him and I forgot his name. Blargh.
I was about halfway to town when I came across someone changing a tyre. I asked if I could get a lift when he was done, he said yes, but didn't seem happy about it. Shortly later another guy pulled up asking if he could help. The tyre guy was fine, and I asked if I could get a lift to town, and he said yes. The motel was actually just around the corner from his house. So this was my first (and possibly only in America) hitchhike. I can not remember his name though. I do remember he was on his way home from doing some work at his pastors house.
I spent two days at the Days Inn Leesburg. After the first night, I woke up, still too sore to do anything useful and booked a second day. And it was expensive. Each night cost \$100. If I do that every night I would spend a lot of money. And I realised if I decided to hitchhike, I'd have no control over where I end up each day, and would have to use these side of the road motels which could be quite expensive. I'd already looked into hiring a car and knew it worked out to be cheaper if I was okay sleeping in it, even with petrol costs. So this is what I've done. I've hired a small Toyota Yaris.
And between the big stops where I can stay at a hostel or couch surf, I'll sleep in the car at the side of the road.