My Last Night (For Now) Outdoors

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April 23 and 24 …

This was totally unexpected. What you are looking at is the view from my campsite on the Potomac, in Harper’s Ferry Harper’s Ferry, W VA. Let’s rewind to earlier in the day …

From my earlier posts, you will recall that I struck camp late morning in Shenandoah National Park, needing to make tracks northeast. Soon, I was on a road in the valley, wondering where I would pitch my tent for the night. A zillion alternatives present themselves. Veer off into a national or state forest? Stay on the road I’m on?

I’m now going through farmland and the occasional settlement, edging closer to what we call civilization. A million possible landing points present themselves, involving three states, Maryland, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Thirty minutes further into my drive, I decide to head to where two of these states – Maryland and West Virginia – practically overlap: Harper’s Ferry.

I cross into West Virginia, and here’s the sign as proof:

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My original intention had been to just pass through, maybe grab a bite to eat, then head further up the road in search of a campsite. You really don’t want to save finding a suitable spot for too late in the day, especially if it involves venturing on lonely roads in the dark.

I spot another sign, one that announces Harpers Ferry National Historic Park. I have all of ten seconds to take stock. I’m making good time, ahead of schedule, even. I decide to pull off. From Park headquarters, I determine that there is a campground in the area. I grab a Park shuttle that goes into the historic city. By keeping to a disciplined schedule, I am in and out of Harper’s Ferry all too soon. My impressions are recounted in my previous post.

Now to find that campground. The sun is getting low in the sky. I’m cutting this a bit fine. I get a GPS reading and head out. I immediately get lost. I pull over at a gas station at the foot of a forbidding cliff, with a river – which one? – in my rearview mirror. My GPS is as confused as I am. I do what it says and head off, across a bridge. Next thing, I’m in Maryland.

I can’t recall how many times I crossed and recrossed that bridge. Maybe it was ten times. Maybe it was just once to get back. I’m now thinking that maybe this campground is not worth all the effort, particularly one so close to the city, but my internet searches on an appallingly slow connection reveal nothing else in the area, at least nothing I can get to before sunset.

I head down a windy road and through a one-lane pass under an ancient stone railroad bridge and turn toward my campground. Whew! It actually exists.

The place caters to river pleasure-seekers, the type who boat and fish and grill burgers on the shore. There is even a zip line on the premises. But at this time of year, on a week day, I have the place largely to myself. I pitch my tent mere yards from the Potomac and pull up a folding chair. Check it out …

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And here’s a view looking the other way …

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At first, I thought the background roar I was hearing was highway traffic. Turned out to be nearby rapids. Totally unexpectedly, I have stumbled into my best camping spot ever. Tranquil, peaceful …wait! The train tracks just behind me are no mere decoration. Serious rail traffic plies this historic route. Here’s the bridge I passed under earlier …

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And here’s my car, parked just outside my camp spot, right beneath a speeding train …

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For a total sound immersion, there is no experience to rival lying on the ground in your tent at night as a diesel monster hauling a zillion tanker cars hurtles by just overhead. The sound comes over you through the sky and beneath through the earth. The full frequency range – throbbing, screeching, rumbling, clacking. Then, nothing. Nothing but the twitter of birds, the splashing of fish, and the soothing roar of the nearby rapids. Unforgettable …

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