Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Appalachian Trail MD: I-70 Footbridge

While not as popular as the Washington Monument, the I-70 footbridge is nonetheless one of the more photographed sights along the Appalachian Trail in Maryland. However, finding the trail to footbridge for north bound hikers is somewhat confusing, as is finding the trail north on the other side of the foot bridge.

North bounders (NOBOs) will exit the woods at a residential road with two houses across the street. The day we hiked this section of the trail, an older gentleman on a riding lawnmower was riding back and forth cutting the lawns of both homes. We were a bit befuddled as, surely the trail wouldn't pass through someone's yard. The Appalachian Trail is a national foot trail after all. We looked both directions on the road and nary a white blaze was to be found. No blazes were on trees nor on the pavement. Hmm... Let's back up and check that last blaze. Perhaps we missed the turn signal. Nope. Single white blaze - the trail continues straight. Finally, peering across the road we spotted the white blaze on a large tree between the two houses.

The Appalachian Trail does indeed pass between two homes in Maryland. There are two low rock gradens with plants and the trail is a well worn path down the middle of the garden beds. Passing a home, a rail fence appears on your left and then the trail seems to end at an overgrown chain link fence. The freeway lies beyond.

Looking down to our left we found brown wooden railroad ties fashioned into steps leading down. Gingerly, we stepped down and at the bottom found ourselves looking through the chain link tunnel that is the I-70 foot bridge.

Not being a thru-hiker, we hadn't yet experience crossing some of the earlier freeways further south, so this was a new experience. Walking across the foot bridge we recalled our travels with our young family when we drove our little Ford Escort station wagon underneath this very bridge and noting the green sign proclaiming "Appalachian Trail." Someday we thought - someday. Someday was today!

Standing astride the north/west bound lanes we fished out our camera and took a quick photo for posterity. As we turned to leave, a car sounded its horn to signal both approval and encouragement. We realized that they probably thought we were a thru-hiker and felt that the "toot" was not fully deserved. However, for a first time long distance hiker still struggling on the third day, the sound was encouraging. Especially since we had just decided earlier to end our day not at the shelter on the other side of I-70, but several miles further at Annapolis Rock, MD.

Coming off the bridge we noted the well worn trail leading up the hill through the overgrown brush. Following the well worn path we arrived at an old section of asphalt road and noted the trail seemed to turn right and then crossed over a dirt hump. We dutifully turned and headed up and over the hump into a parking area. Moments later we realized that we had once again lost the trail. How was that possible?

When exiting the foot bridge north, we were so enamored with the traffic below that we missed the double blazes indicating a right turn and descent down below the footbridge. The Appalachian Trail actually parallels I-70 for about a quarter of a mile, passing underneath the next bridge to the west and then turning right and up a steep incline. We doubled back, found the trail along the fence, and continued west and then up. (The AT is actually visible in the photo, between the lower green sign and thing fence line to its left.)

So, for NOBOs, remember: Go between the two houses, down the wooden steps, across the bridge, right turn down the embankment, and west to the next bridge. SOBOs seem to have no confusing turns in this section of the MD trail.

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