In one week, I’ll be on a plane headed for Washington, D.C. and the start of another thru-hike. This time it will be the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, the fifth National Scenic Trail that I’ll be tackling.
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As always, I’m freaking out a little. I’m not fully prepared yet – life always seems to get in the way of my hike-planning and packing. Then there’s the whole coronavirus thing (I’m going to be sanitizing my airplane seat!). And I’m still not sure exactly how I’m going to get shuttled for about three days in Southern Maryland, where there are no taxis.
I’ve tried calling churches, historic sites, a college and more to see if anyone knows of someone who wants to earn money shuttling me a few days, but I’ve come up empty-handed. So I’ve got to move on. I have to move on, because time is!
Starting in Virginia in One Week
So the Potomac Heritage Trail, or PHT, is one of our 11 National Scenic Trails, and it’s an oddball. That’s because it’s a multimodal, braided network of trails. What does that mean? Well, it consists of several established trails: the C&O Canal Towpath, Mt. Vernon Trail, Great Allegheny Passage (GAP), Laurel Highlands Trail, Eastern Continental Divide Loop and the Civil War Defenses of Washington. Plus, some special PHT sections.
The first two sections I’ll be hiking (in one week!) are in Virginia’s Northern Neck and Southern Maryland. These 200 or so miles are designated bike routes, although you can hike them, too. You’re just on roads. Some sections, both here and further up the trail, you can canoe or kayak, if you wish.
Because the PHT combines all of this, it sort of looks like a tree branch on a map, with spurs all over. National Park Service personnel say they’re not sure if anyone has ever hiked it all. If anyone has, it’s likely Bart Smith, a photographer who specializes in our National Scenic Trails. But maybe I’m #2, or the first woman.
Logistics Are Driving Me Crazy
Normally, hiking trails have guidebooks, apps and loads of other information. There’s information out there about all of the PHT paths, but nothing in an easily digestible format. And while certain segments, such as the towpath and GAP, have specific campsites and mile markers, many others don’t.
I’ve spent days and days using Map My Run to trace my routes to figure out how many miles I’ll be hiking in certain areas. And while there are numerous shuttle services along the C&O Canal Towpath and GAP – which I’d hoped to employ to shuttle my laptop – they’re pricey. So I may have to leave my laptop behind after I drop off my rental car and start camping in earnest.
To top it off, I have no idea how I’ll be getting back from the trail’s end in Pennsylvania to D.C. I’m hoping my daughter or her boyfriend can come collect me in a Zip Car, after we visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, which is nearby.
A Grand Adventure
So yeah, as with any hike this will be a grand adventure. And I can’t believe it’s just one week away. I just hope it doesn’t rain half the time I’m out there. I’m not a fan or mud or wet tents.