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One Day Unaided Hike / Georgetown to Harpers Ferry

Pushing myself physically has always appealed to me ever since my early twenties. My college minister convinced me to start running which led to two marathons several years later. Some friends persuaded me to try hiking. The hike they persuaded me to do consisted of pushing through the entire Smokey Mountain National Park in 4 days. I lost 15 lbs….from 123 lbs. While at a coworkers house someone was telling me about drown proofing, so 5 minutes later I was restrained with duct tape and being pushed into a swimming pool.

A few weeks ago while browsing the internet, I read about the One Day Hike (ODH). The ODH is a 62 mile hike from Georgetown, DC to Harpers Ferry, WV following the historic Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. I took notice and quickly decided to register only to find the event was sold out. At first I was disappointed but then thought, “Why do I need to pay someone $50 to hike something that is always there.”

On Monday I noticed that Wednesday’s weather looked great, I asked a coworker, Neil, to join me and after 3 hours sleep on Tuesday night we started down the trail at 3:15am Wednesday morning.

Preparation

None…well very little and mostly not on my part. Since we solidified our plans on Tuesday morning, my wife went shopping and prepared me some food while I was at work. While at work I tracked down everyone who had done long distance marches or intense treks. Here is the incredibly useful advice they gave me.

  1. Take 4 to 7 pairs of socks. If your socks get wet, you will get blisters. If you get blisters, you will get blisters on top of blisters.
  2. Pack a pain killer. You will have pain. Kill it.
  3. Wear anything to prevent chafing. Bicycle shorts, polyester, baby powder, etc…
  4. Eat bananas. It helps with #2.
  5. Bring moleskin for your blisters that you will have.

With my hyper metabolism food is one thing that I cannot risk underestimating, so besides a two liter water bladder, most of the weight I carried was solid nourishment. Brandy cooked up some great bean burritos, breakfast burritos, and banana nut bread.  These items where supplemented with a range of other goodies.

Hiking Supplies

The Hike

Neil and I started from Rosslyn, VA on a rainy Wednesday morning crossing over the Key Bridge into Georgetown. We were to start in darkness and end in the same. The first 10 miles went quickly as did the second. We briefly stopped at Great Falls to take in the scenery and change out our socks.

After mile 20 I started to drag. I was losing energy and by mile 30 my legs were screaming. With my energy sapped, I sat down and tore into the burritos, oranges, and advil. My world changed and I was back to my chipper self. Neil hit his big challenge between miles 30 and 40. For him sleepiness became a problem. During my 5 minute food breaks, he would sleep and occasionally seemed to be sleep walking.

The trek during a weekday is very peaceful. We met very few people on the trail but came across a lot of birds and wildlife. For both of us it was our first time seeing an owl outdoors.

As we neared mile 43, night returned. We ambled on and as Neil ran out of water, I ran out of reserves. At approximately 50 miles we were going to have to make a water and food stop. Pumping water at night along a steep bank proved to be harder than we anticipated. My body was fried. I sat and tried eating for 15 minutes then 20 then 25 but nothing seemed to hit bottom. My muscles were locking up and we were running out of time. At this rate we’d hit 60 miles by 1am, a full hour past our pickup time. I called it.

What I Learned

After getting back home and having a night of wonderful sleep, I looked once again at the ODH website. On the site you see people walking cheerfully in the daylight with few concerns or pains. I groaned from my blisters and muscle pain and asked what was different. The answer: Support Stations.

Neil and I were both carrying twenty pound packs consisting of food, water, auxiliary supplies, and emergency supplies. The ODH event has stocked stations with food, water, and a medical team to treat your blisters. That, my friends, is what a $50 entrance fee gets you!

However if you do want to try this trek unaided or even if you’ve entered the official hike, here are a few things you should definitely do:

  1. Take a friend. This isn’t just for safety concerns but also it’s great to have someone beside you to push you through quitting points. Conversation also speeds up the miles.
  2. Throw some pain killers in the pack. The farthest I’ve ever been on my two feet in one day, before yesterday was 26.2 miles. My body introduced me to a new kind of pain at 30 miles.
  3. It might help to train. 🙂 I didn’t. I had exactly 3 visits to the gym before heading out. It helps to have some muscle behind that drive and determination.

Attempt #2?

The first thought that sprang to mind the next day after waking up from the hike was, “I want to try that again.” I want to do it the same way with no support station, filtering my own water, and carrying my own food. I think it can be done.

Nevertheless, I am happy with the results of this attempt. Neil and I both broke a personal record of 50 miles in a day, experienced some beautiful scenery, and had some great conversations. Not a bad Wednesday.

 

Side Note: For a first hand account of the sanctioned ODH hike, check out this article from ITS Tactical.

4 Comments

  1. Frank (Brandy's Dad) Frank (Brandy's Dad)

    I stated earlier, I can not imagine walking 50-60 miles in one day, didn’t even know there were people crazy enough to try it, but I should have known my favorite son-in-law would just do it. I don’t have to walk, I have a cell phone that I can call for a taxi. see ya at the other end.

    • This time your daughter was the taxi driver after I wimped out 🙂 My mom said she might be able to make the hike but she’d need a couple days and there had better be $1,000,000 dollars at the other end.

  2. Charlene Spence Charlene Spence

    I’m so in awe of your efforts! Hope your aches go away soon and the blister heals fast. Love you!

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