Dangerous critters, and "Say Goodbye to Dixie" (May 21-June 11)

From Harper's Ferry, WV: 1,000 miles down and feeling good. Harper's Ferry is considered the halfway point of the A.T. (the actual midway point is in PA, about 70 miles north, but Harper's Ferry is something of an emotional halfway point). It's a quaint river town famous for John Brown's raid and early colonial architecture.

Thru-hikers, including this one, are generally glad to get out of Virginia. It's a beautiful state with a pleasant variety of trail, from cow pastures to high ridge lines, but at 554 miles long, the state accounts for about a quarter of the trail. It takes a long time. Some hikers suffer from the "Virginia Blues." But with exciting critters such as black bears and rattlesnakes, the state certainly has personality.

Journal Entry 5/21: I'm back! Got four trout yesterday, kept two. Rain, obviously. Saw a grouse today and a deer — had really wanted to see a grouse, so that was cool. Felt a little bummed coming back, but should get over that soon. Miles to go before I sleep, so no time for pouting.

Journal Entry 5/25: Well, it happened. Tent had to be moved in the middle of a rainstorm because the rain... I got flooded out! At least 1.5 inches of water under the tent floor. It's been raining a lot, but today was pretty nice. Two intense stream crossings though. Up to my knees in fast-moving water.

Journal Entry 6/2: Hitchhiked, jumped off a bridge and drank two beers all before 11 a.m. Great morning.

Journal Entry 6/3: Saw a squirrel last night that was making such a racket I thought it was a baby bear climbing a tree. I walked over, knife in hand, ready to do battle before I realized what it was. They're noisy little critters.

Journal Entry 6/5: Big day! Woke up to a puddle in my tent, like an inch and a half deep. Hiked 22 miles and saw my first bear. Heard it first, then turned around to see a black blob moving about 40 yards away. Then it poked its head around a tree and looked at me. Big head it had. Trotted away, clearly saw me before I saw it. Probably the size of a Great Dane. Saw first rattlesnake yesterday, some guys alerted it to me. Tiger striped, pretty thick. Feet are absolutely wrecked. Goodnight!

Journal Entry 6/11: Another bear! Bigger this time, hiking southbound on A.T., saw me and took off after staring for a short while. They can run pretty fast. Everyone loves bears, kind of. A little nervous about them, but they like 'em. So do I. I was surprised by how unafraid of them I am when I actually see them. I'm more afraid of the idea of bears than I am of the actual animal.

Soon I'll cross the Mason-Dixon line and say goodbye to Dixieland. I'm excited to explore the A.T. section of my home state (PA), along with the other sections "Up North." The White Mountains, the New Jersey swamps, and much more wait ahead. It's hard to believe I'm already (only) halfway done.

See you down the trail,