This time last year, I quit everything to attempt a six-month backpacking trip along the Appalachian Trail. I’d learned of the AT only a few years prior and was instantly seduced by the idea of sweat and sky. By late March, I had summited Blood Mountain in icy rain and stood above the clouds with my rain jacket on and dried pineapple chunks in hand. By June, I'd already been benched by an overused ankle, but it was the inflamed bursa in my hip that restricted my walking and ultimately sent me home.
I’d give anything to attempt another thru-hike, this time without injuries. Now that I'm working in Washington, I find comfort knowing the trail is only 16 miles from the nation’s capitol. I talked to experts at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), a nonprofit charged with maintaining the 2,190-mile scenic trail, and a recent thru-hiker to create an introduction to all things Appalachian Trail.
The Appalachian Trail spans through 14 states between Georgia and Maine. Each year, volunteers reroute sections of the trail for conservation purposes, but for 2015, the official length is 2,189.2 miles.
“There’s three-walled shelters along the way, no electricity though,” says Judy McGuire, an information volunteer at ATC and chair of the Landscape and Resource Protection Committee. “A privy if you’re lucky, and you have to carry everything you need between towns along the way.”
An estimated 2,500 people attempted a thru-hike last year, but to date, only 644 finished, according to the ATC. That number is likely to grow, as this number is determined by completion applications that roll in endlessly. Laurie Potteiger, the ATC’s information services manager, says that by the end of March, 95 percent of 2014 applications should be filed. In 2013, 734 hikers completed the entire trail in a 12-month span.
According to McGuire, 40 percent of hikers were under age 30, “but there are a fair number of retirees as well.” Although hikers are “mostly men,” women account for 25 percent of AT completions, McGuire says.
The AT is supported by 31 trail-maintenance clubs, totaling 6,000 volunteers who clocked 200,000 hours last year clearing trees, constructing bridges, and removing litter.
North-bounders depart from Springer Mountain in Georgia anytime between March 1 and April 15 in order to reach Maine before parks close in mid-October. Hikers attempting a south-bound adventure typically start on Mount Katahdin in June, after snows have thawed in Maine, and finish in Georgia.
Donell Booker, Jr., a 2014 thru-hiker, hit the AT on a popular start date, the first day of spring, and summited Katahdin six months and 20 days later. His biggest resource was how-to videos from YouTube, and he did several long day-hikes in preparation.
Although northbound is the most popular route, hikers can also south-bound, section hike, and flip-flop. Section hiking allows completion over a longer time span, while flip-flopping allows hikers to change direction (usually to avoid inclement weather.) Thru-hikers complete the entire trail in 12-months time, but anyone who hikes the entire trail is a “2,000-miler.”
Attractions along the trail include Clingmans Dome, 6,643 feet high in the Smoky Mountains, wild ponies in the Grayson Highlands, Shenandoah National Park in Virginia, and the White Mountains in New Hampshire.
Everyone has their own reason for thru-hiking, but there are some common draws to the wilderness.
“It’s a tempting challenge,” McGuire says. “You have to get by on your own wits, a lot of people want to get away, there’s a real camaraderie, but there’s also solitude.”
Hikers unite under one motto: “Hike your own hike.” It means you can hike any way you please (southbound, barefoot, and there’s even a day for naked hiking), as long as you make it yours. However, some behaviors will ensure thru-hike completion.
Be responsible: Simple habits like checking for ticks, sticking to the path, and using hand sanitizer can keep you safe and prevent a rescue mission.
“Ticks and lime disease are definitely the biggest danger,” McGuire says. “But in the last couple of seasons, there has been an influx of infectious disease,” she added, explaining the effects of Norovirus (known for it's contagiousness) in crowded shelters. “It’s short-lived, but has pretty dramatic symptoms, especially in the backcountry where you don’t have toilets.”
Hang food away from animals and utilize Leave No Trace practices to protect the environment you’re visiting.
“The biggest problem is people pooping,” McGuire says. You're supposed to dig a six- to eight-inch deep "cathole," she says, but that doesn't always happen: “People are not digging holes to bury their excrement, and they’re leaving their Kleenex and toilet paper.”
Be tough: Walking 2,200 miles with 30-40 pounds of gear, burning up to 6,000 calories a day while feasting on ramen and peanut butter is no easy feat, and if you’re headed northbound, the trail ends in what’s called the “Hundred-Mile Wilderness.” While physical toughness can be attained by mostly anybody, mental toughness will make or break your thru-hike.
“There was nothing good about Pennsylvania,” Booker said. “You literally walk on rocks the entire time. Rocks, sticking straight out of the ground, so sharp, it’d stick through your boot like a knife. But I wasn’t going to let it beat me at that point. I went through three pairs of shoes in that state, middle finger in the air.”
Be committed: “It’s got to be the most important thing to you,” said McGuire.Follow @AngieHilsman
Unlike a maze, a labyrinth has a single path leading to its center and back out—there’s just one way to go, with no decisions to make about which way to turn. This is by design. The idea is to allow those who walk a labyrinth to focus on inner thoughts.
“People walk a labyrinth for centering, feeling grounded, as prayer, for aspirations and yearnings,” says Sue Mosher, who offers guided labyrinth walks throughout Washington. “They allow the labyrinth to speak to them so they make space for their inner lives.”
Interested in trying one? While labyrinths date back four millennia, there’s been renewed interest in recent years, and two dozen labyrinths now exist within a ten-mile radius of DC. There are also versions as small as a smartphone app.
Starting in 2009, the Labyrinth Society designated the first Saturday in May—this year, May 3—as World Labyrinth Day, when, at 1 pm local time, people are invited to walk a labyrinth. To find one near you, check labyrinthlocator.com. For more information about labyrinths, see labyrinthsociety.org.
These six labyrinths, representing a range of designs, are open to the public. Although the patterns vary, the effect is the same. Unless otherwise noted, they’re open daily from sunrise to sunset or a bit after.
American Psychological Association
On a green rooftop near Union Station, the 42-foot labyrinth features trellises, plantings, tables, a journal, and a finger labyrinth that you can “walk” with your fingers—a good option for those with ambulatory issues. Open Monday through Friday 7 to 7. Sign in at the security desk to go up to the roof, or call Holly Siprelle (202-336-5519) to arrange a guided walk. 10 G St., NE.
Part of the former Northern Virginia Whitman-Walker Clinic’s healing garden, the 37-foot labyrinth of precast stone and pavers went into storage when that branch of the clinic closed, then it was moved to this Arlington public park in late 2013. Two benches sit amid the trees and plantings. Corner of North Barton and 10th St. N., Arlington.
Georgetown Waterfront Park
Although this ten-acre park can be busy, its paved labyrinth offers not only views of the Potomac River, Roosevelt Island, and Key Bridge but also a chance to quiet any outside noise. It’s accessible for wheelchair users and stroller-pushers. A contemplative bench is nearby with a journal for your thoughts. 33rd and K sts., NW.
St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church
Set among old pines and other trees, the 40-foot labyrinth is made of rubber mulch with white stones outlining the path and is set near a memorial garden with benches. At nearby Art at the Center, parishioner Kathryn Horn Coneway offers workshops on making finger labyrinths from clay. 8531 Riverside Rd., Alexandria.
St. Luke’s Episcopal Church
A 62-foot labyrinth is made from turf and pavers, while a 36-by-36-inch plexiglass finger labyrinth is also available. A journal for your thoughts is under the bench. 6030 Grosvenor La., Bethesda.
University of Maryland
The Garden of Reflection and Remembrance labyrinth is adjacent to the campus chapel. Guided walks, yoga sessions, and special events are regularly scheduled. Benches, trees, and water elements help visitors connect with nature. 7600 Baltimore Ave., College Park.
Judy Colbert (email@example.com) is coauthor of Peaceful Places Washington, DC.
This article appears in the April 2014 issue of Washingtonian.
This is an update from this original article.
Best Overall Ski Resort: Snowshoe Mountain Resort
With 57 trails, Snowshoe is not only the largest ski resort in the region; it also has the highest vertical drop (1,500 feet) and the most natural snow (an average of 180 inches annually), although all 251 acres are covered by snow-making if necessary. Four terrain parks and an Olympic-size Superpipe make the West Virginia retreat a top pick for snowboarders and freestyle skiers, too. An abundance of blue runs on the main face and in the Silver Creek area make Snowshoe a great choice for intermediate skiers as well. Lodging ranges from inexpensive, comfortable hotels in the valley to slope-side condos. The mountaintop village also includes an array of shops and restaurants as well as swimming pools and a 15,000-square-foot arcade. 877-441-4386; snowshoemtn.com.
Best for Families: Wisp Resort
Adjacent to Deep Creek Lake, Wisp—Maryland’s only ski resort—is ideal for families, with plenty of discounted ski-and-stay packages. Thirty percent of the terrain is rated easy, so children and other beginners will have a fine time. Off-slope family fun includes snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and riding the Mountain Coaster—whose cars zoom along 3,500 feet of downhill steel track snaking through the woods. 301-387-4000; wispresort.com.
Most Romantic: Wintergreen Resort
Wintergreen offers a mountaintop spa with outdoor hot tubs as well as nicely appointed condos along a ridgeline facing east over the Blue Ridge Mountains and Virginia wine country. Couples can ski, get a massage, snuggle in front of their fireplace, and wake to a spectacular sunrise. 434-325-2200; wintergreenresort.com.
Best for Expert Skiers: Blue Knob
There’s nothing fancy about Blue Knob, in Claysburg, Pennsylvania. It’s a skier’s mountain, with five beginner slopes, 15 intermediate, and a whopping 14 expert runs on the steepest terrain in the region, including the Extrovert and the Lower Shortway, two of the toughest slopes in the Mid-Atlantic. The resort also features expert glade skiing through the trees, tight chutes, and an open bowl area. 800-458-3403; blueknob.com.
Best Ski School: Seven Springs
There’s a learning program for everyone at Seven Springs in Pennsylvania. Amost all instructors are certified by the Professional Ski Instructors of America or the American Association of Snowboard Instructors. Group lessons are limited to eight students and based on skill level. The resort also offers private lessons, the Burton Snowboards Learn to Ride program, a Tiny Tots School, a Youth Academy, telemark skiing classes, and a 55-plus program for older skiers of intermediate ability who wish to take it to the next level. After a lesson, you can enjoy the best nightlife of any regional resort, including live music on weekends, bowling, swimming, roller-skating, and indoor mini-golf. 800-452-2223; 7springs.com.
Best Night Skiing: Liberty Mountain Resort
Only an hour and a half’s drive north of DC, Liberty in Carroll Valley, Pennsylvania, is the most convenient resort for Washingtonians. All 16 trails are well lit for night skiing: You can leave work at 4 and be on the slopes for the 5-to-10-pm ticket. Want a bite to eat? McKee’s Tavern serves great burgers, sandwiches, and a variety of beers on tap and in bottles. 717-642-8282; libertymountainresort.com.
Best Day Trip: Whitetail Resort
Also 90 minutes from DC, Whitetail in Mercersburg, Pennsylvania, is a lot bigger than Liberty. There are 22 trails (six more than at Liberty) and 935 feet of vertical drop (compared with Liberty’s 620). All of the slopes are wide open, and the east-facing mountain helps keep the snow from turning to ice. There are two terrain parks, a halfpipe, and the area’s best mogul run. The bumps on the Bold Decision expert slope are big and relentless but generally soft. Don’t miss the beginner Sidewinder Trail, where the pitch is constant from top to bottom. 717-328-9400; skiwhitetail.com.
Least Crowded: Montage Mountain
Right off of Interstate 81 in Scranton, Pennsylvania, Montage—formerly Sno Mountain—is an easy drive, at less than four hours from DC, but never overrun. Even on holiday weekends, lift lines are usually short to nonexistent. The mountain offers 26 trails with a 1,000-foot vertical drop, and all are lit for night skiing. For a fun getaway, head to Montage for a Saturday-afternoon/evening ticket, book a cheap hotel room near the interstate in Scranton that night, then on Sunday continue about 50 minutes north to ski Elk Mountain (elkskier.com), a bit of Vermont in Pennsylvania. 855-754-7946; montageisback.com.
Best Bargain: Canaan Valley
A high-season, adult weekend lift ticket at Canaan Valley in Davis, West Virginia, is only $52—compared with $62 and up at most other regional resorts. That’s just the start of the bargains: A weekend pass runs $85, and a midweek lodging/ski/breakfast package is $84 per person per night (based on double occupancy). If you crave more than Canaan’s 43 trails—and don’t mind spending more money—visit adjacent Timberline Resort (timberlineresort.com), home of the two-mile Salamander Trail, the longest run in the Mid-Atlantic. 304-866-4121; canaanresort.com.
Best Adaptive Skiing: Wintergreen Resort
Founded in 1984, Wintergreen Adaptive Sports, which works with the Wounded Warrior Project, brings skiing and snowboarding to the physically and mentally challenged. Each skier is provided with customized equipment, such as a sit-down ski sled, and specialized assistance from some 100 volunteer instructors. 434-325-2007; wintergreenresort.com.
Best Snow Tubing: Massanutten Resort
The 900-foot-long, 125-foot-high tubing hill at Massanutten in Harrisonburg, Virginia, thrills riders with three whoop-de-doo jumps, high-walled individual lanes, and one magic-carpet lift that makes it an easy trip back up for multiple runs on a two-hour lift ticket. 540-289-4954; massresort.com.
This article appears in the January 2014 issue of Washingtonian.
Hone Your Sport
Boar’s Head, a resort in Charlottesville in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, is offering Everything for Your Sport. This couples package includes two 60-minute lessons in the sport of your choice (golf, tennis, or squash), two 60-minute sport-specific personal-training sessions, and two 60-minute yoga classes tailored to your sport, along with accommodations, breakfast for two, resort fees, tax, and tip. Rates start at $725 a couple. 434-296-2181.
Cook Like a Pro
Hole up at the historic Robert Morris Inn in Oxford, Maryland, on the Eastern Shore, and learn to cook with co-owner and chef Mark Salter, whose most recent stint was helming the kitchen at the Inn at Perry Cabin. Throughout the winter, Salter will share his culinary prowess with small groups in his Chesapeake Seasons Cooking Demonstrations, which include a two-hour demo, recipe cards, a two-course lunch, and a glass of wine. A cooking package—encompassing the demo, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner for two plus one night in a Captain’s Suite—runs $210 a person. 410-226-5111.
Get Well and Relax
The Greenbrier resort in West Virginia offers guests a way to double down on efforts to improve their health, thanks to an on-site medical clinic. There, nine physicians—from cardiologists to endocrinologists—conduct preventive plans and diagnostics reviews. A 60-to-90-minute introductory interview about your health history sets the tone for the individualized attention you’ll receive. Combine doctor visits with massages and detoxifying hydrotherapies at the spa and you have a recipe for a healthy start to 2014. Packages, which include clinic services and accommodations, start at $2,250. 800-362-7798.
Find Some Peace
It’s hard to imagine a more tranquil slice of land on which to restore your soul and perfect your downward dog than Fox Haven Learning Center’s 620-acre organic farm along the Catoctin Creek in Jefferson, Maryland. On January 24 and 25, mini-retreats feature yoga, wholesome food, and meditation. Stay in one of three historic farmhouses with porches offering views of the property, which is teeming with bald eagles, beavers, great blue herons, and foxes. Rates start at $199 if you register by December 15; after that, they begin at $229. 301-695-8646.
This article appears in the January 2014 issue of Washingtonian.
Romance in Hunt Country
Middleburg’s Goodstone Inn & Restaurant has long been a go-to for Washingtonians seeking a little romance in Virginia’s Hunt Country. Eighteen differently decorated rooms and suites in six cottages allow couples to pick an experience from French countryside to rustic chic. (To really get away from it all, book the standalone Bull Barn, with its wood-burning fireplace and king-size sleigh bed.)
The restaurant has a new chef, Benjamin Lambert, who honed his culinary chops under a Food Network-like cast of mentors ranging from Rocco DiSpirito to Geoffrey Zakarian to Michael Mina. Lambert’s French-inspired menu meanders from brioche-crusted sweetbreads in truffle sauce to Châteaubriand, prepared tableside. Check the website for cool-weather packages. 540-687-3333.
Butlers and Beignets
At the Inn at Willow Grove, you don’t have to leave your room for breakfast. Just ring for your butler, who will deliver a tray of complimentary French-press coffee and a paper bag of hot sugared beignets. Service is the name of the game at this inn, which includes a restored 18th-century manor house and cozy private cottages with fireplaces, set in the Blue Ridge foothills of Orange, Virginia.
The butler will come in handy if you want to book a massage at the inn’s Smokehouse Spa or dinner at Vintage Restaurant, where executive chef Jason Daniels hosts the “Three on Thursday” tasting, a three-course, farm-to-table meal for $29.95. Just be sure to save room: Your butler will be back at turndown, bearing a pot of hot tea and a tray of sweets. 540-317-1206.
The Cat’s Meow
When you stay at the Inn at Montchanin Village in Wilmington, Delaware, you don’t just get a room; you get a small town. Montchanin Village, in the Brandywine Valley, is made up of 11 restored buildings dating from 1799 to 1910; most once housed workers at the nearby DuPont gunpowder mill (now the Hagley Museum and Library). Today the old homes accommodate 28 luxe rooms and suites, many with soaking tubs and gas fireplaces.
The village’s stone-covered lanes remain, as do the outdoor privies (now gardeners’ sheds). A sprawling 19th-century barn holds a lobby with wooden beams and cushy chairs as well as a full-service spa. Cat lovers will cozy up to Krazy Kat’s restaurant, decorated in an over-the-top animal theme, complete with tiger-print chairs and portraits of military-garbed felines. The Modern American cuisine includes stout-braised short ribs, scallop gratin, and seared antelope with a cherry-Cabernet reduction. 302-888-2133.
Organic Style in Baltimore
Open just two years, the Inn at the Black Olive has already leaped to the top of Baltimore’s hotel heap on TripAdvisor. Every suite in the 12-room inn promises Inner Harbor views, a soaking tub, and enough eco-friendly amenities to please the pickiest green guests—from organic mattresses to furniture made with sustainably grown wood.
The inn is run by Demitris Spiliadis, who, with his family, also operates the Black Olive, a Greek restaurant specializing in seafood, around the corner in Fells Point. You can stroll over there for dinner or head up to the inn’s swank rooftop restaurant, the Olive Room, for a decidedly lamb-centric take on classic Greek cuisine, complemented by a mostly organic wine list. 443-681-6316.
Eating Well in Easton
Choosing a room at Easton’s Inn at 202 Dover is like picking a travel itinerary—should you go Asian, English, French, or African? Each of the four suites at this restored 1874 mansion features decor inspired by a different country, and all are tastefully done. (There’s also a queen-size bedroom.)
And while we love the French fare at the neighboring Bartlett Pear Inn, the Inn at 202 Dover boasts the equally sublime Peacock Restaurant & Lounge, where chef Douglas Potts prepares contemporary Eastern Shore cuisine—oyster bisque, seared duck breast, or whatever comes in fresh that morning. He calls it Potts Luck. 866-450-7600.
This article appears in the January 2014 issue of Washingtonian.
As a founder of a busy travel startup, I travel quite a bit and have some core rules: No shorts or sandals. Ever. (It’s always freezing on planes, even if your destination is tropical. Also, who wants their bare legs on a seat that a possible bird flu carrier might have just sat in for 14 hours?)
Other rules are ballet flats or boots—for comfort, but also because you don’t want to totter around in six-inch heels if you need to evacuate quickly—with lots of layers and a cashmere wrap. Lately, I’ve found myself wondering: What are the secrets of other jet-setters? So I decided to find out.
I checked in with ten busy and fashionable travelers, who divulged their best tips
and tricks for traveling in style and comfort. Check out our slideshow for their input.