Dedicated to Mara's travel and hiking adventure journals as well as her words of wisdom and suggested resources for hikers and travelers.
Appalachian Trail: May through July 2008
What follows are the emailed reports sent to my TravelsAndTrails group in 2008. I hiked about a quarter of the Appalachian Trail. I also "aqua blazed" (paddled a portion of) the Shenandoah River where it parallels the Appalachian Trail but then went back and hiked that portion anyway. I also spent time in Harpers Ferry, doing trail magic and volunteering for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy.
May (highlights include Trail Days and the Appalachian Trail)
June (highlights include paddling the Shenandoah River)
July (highlights include hiking through Shenandoah and seeing many bears)
Saturday, May 10 through May 19, 2008 - Boston to Blacksburg, VA
After spending a month in the Boston area, living on Spy Pond in Arlington, and visiting with family and friends there, it was time to hit the road again. I bought yet another Ford Taurus wagon, this time a '98, loaded it up and started south.
I spent a couple of days in Connecticut, visiting family and celebrating Mothers Day.
Then I spent a couple of days in NJ with my friend Michele, now very pregnant, and her parents, helping out with some heavy lifting that Michele can longer do and some computer stuff. It wasn't all work and Michele's mom, Janice, after playing two bingos (used all seven letters in her hand), beat us in a game of Scrabble.
Then I made my way to Virginia, and stopped at Daleville to find a couple of hikers looking for a ride to Trail Days. I spent the night there and the next morning, the three of us took off for my annual visit to Grayson Highlands to see the feral ponies that live there. We saw a mare and foal near the parking lot but other than that, the herd was nowhere to be found. It was raining on and off so we didn't dawdle and were soon on the road to Damascus for Trail Days.
I spent the weekend, helping out at the ALDHA / ATC / etc. booth, wandering around, talking with vendors, and visiting with friends from my '99 hike, my '07 hike, and those that I've met just from the common cummunity over the years.
I also took in a viewing of the new Mark Flagler CDT film that he was filming while I was on the PCT with Jim and Ginny Owen in 2006. It was fun to see some familiar faces in some familiar settings even though I had only been on the trail for a couple of weeks.
I'm now in Blacksburg, Virginia on my way to Pearisburg where I intend to pick up the trail where I left off last year. I'll hike for a week to see how one of my knees, always a problem but more recently a bit more so responds. Hiking may either strengthen it so it feels better or stress it so it feels worse. Plus, I'm expecting hiking to help my shoulder which feels like it has been weakening without the exercise I get with hiking poles. My six month trip to Asia allowed for very little upper body exercise so I'm hoping hitting the trail, which was such good therapy last year, proves equally good again this year.
With any luck, neither of these little aggravations will become bigger aggravations and I'll be able to continue for at least three weeks.
At that time, I'll either leave the trail to visit with friends in the midwest or will continue for a few more weeks through the Shenandoah and Harpers Ferry to the Dahlgren backpackers campground.
I expect to send periodic updates to TravelsAndTrails as I have the time and internet access.
As always, I can keep in touch through email so please continue to let me know what's happening in your lives.
Date: Tue May 27, 2008 6:40 pm
Just took a zero after seven days and 92 miles on the trail.
One of the highlights of the walking I've done so far was a stand of yellow lady slippers. They are endangered so I'm refraining from posting any specific information about where they can be found. But, it was a special sighting.
I'm still behind, but maybe I'll write more later or tomorrow...
Day 1: Tuesday, May 20, 2008: Pearisburg, VA to Rice Field Shelter (mile 628.8) 6.7 miles
After spending the night in Blacksburg, Ali gave me a ride to Pearisburg. We found the library closed so I hung out at the Dairy Queen for a couple of hours waiting for the worst of the front that has been dropping rain on the area for the last week to pass.
I caught up with Aries and Red (who I had just met at the DQ) at the Celanese Plant and ended up hiking with Red to the shelter. It was great to be hiking again and my left knee which has been giving me more than the usual amount of grief recently gave me none on the hills. It was great to hear barred owls, towhees and more. It was a windy and cloudy day but the rain held off.
Red moved on but I bundled up in the shelter, ate lunch number 1, and when the lunch crowd moved off, swept the place. I was soon joined by other hikers who like myself were planning on spending the night. It was a good group of people with a lot of fun and silliness. The steps to the toilet however collapsed under me as I descended. I got a little scratch on the back of my Achilles tendon but nothing serious. The steps need some work though.
Bilge Rat, wearing overalls, kept us amused. Not only did his hiking poles have a bell on one and a rear view mirror on another, but out of his backpack, he pulled: a telephone; sidewalk chalk; a straw hat; and a burger from town. There may have been other stuff that slips my mind.
Day 2: Wednesday, May 21, 2008: Bailey Gap Shelter (mile 645) 16.2 miles
A long day, pushing it a bit so soon after starting this hike, but not wanting to carry enough food to take more time to town. I spent much of the day leapfrogging with Aries, Willow, Longwe Tru, section hikers Jeff and Sarah, and others who passed never to be seen again. I did not see the bear that Jeff and Sarah saw. Argh!
We road walked around a bridge that was out, not wanting to ford a cold rushing stream. Most of us prefer to leave the fording for Maine - or at least the hot weather.
After the road walk, we climbed the longest 1.1 stretch of trail up to the shelter. It took an hour just to do that stretch of trail. Thankfully though, with all the rain this year's hikers have had to deal with, any of the water sources listed as "seasonal" have been flowing. The water source at the Bailey Gap shelter was gushing so much it is hard to imagine it as seasonal. In '99, it was probably a trickle at best.
There were five of us women at the shelter this evening and it was generally noted that there seemed to be a lot of women on the trail this year. Last year, I remember hearing comments about how few women there seemed to be. Then later in the evening, some guys showed up but the five of us women still outnumbered them.
Day 3: Thursday, May 22, 2008: Laurel Creek Shelter (mile 659.6) 14.6 miles
The aptly named Wind Rock offered a great view. I was missing Husky and his dog Cyrus with whom I had hiked in '99. It was this section where he would camp past the shelter and I would call out a good morning as I passed each morning.
I played peek-a-boo with a fairly tame doe. I came around a curve and froze as soon as I saw it. It sensed something but since I wasn't moving, it wasn't sure what to make of me and actually approached me, quite warily, to within about 10 feet. Then it started feeding and would look up in my direction or in the direction of some other distracting sound while chewing but didn't seem bothered by my presence even after I started moving and softly talking to it. I thought it would bolt when Red caught up with me and called out my name but it just looked up and when I motioned for Red to be quiet and made antlers with my fingers, she got the right idea and came quietly up to take some pictures.
Once again, I'm missing having my camera on the trail. It's in the shop and I decided to leave my film camera in the car. It's certainly making my hike go faster without the camera, but I'm going to be sorry to miss out on some good shots and great memories.
The only time the doe ever seemed a bit more alarmed is when I faced it directly and stared right at it - perhaps being a prey animal, that resembled stalking behavior.
Heading down to the first shelter, I took a spectacular fall. I landed headfirst down the hill but thankfully had twisted because of the way I had tripped and managed to land on my backpack. I sustained a bit of whiplash but nothing too serious and nothing that a few ibuprofen couldn't take care of. There wasn't a bruise or scratch to complain of. The fall could have been much, much worse.
Day 4: Friday, May 23, 2008: campsite 2.6 miles past Niday shelter (mile 674.6) 15 miles
Today I saw the Keffer Oak, the largest oak tree on the AT with an 18' circumference. It's right by one of the numerous stiles that we climb over and yet in 1999, I never remembered seeing it. It is an impressive tree though.
Most of the fields we've crossed have been empty or the cows have been far off. One field though had a handful of burros. They didn't seem too impressed with our presence. The stallions only action was to move off the trail a ways, point his butt at us, stretch out, and take a piss.
We passed the ridge top piles I had remembered seeing in 1999. There were at least a dozen. One of the most intact certainly seemed like it may have been a beehive oven. There seemed to be a hole near the bottom and though the back was collapsed, it seemed the center may have been hollow. I wish I knew more about these rock piles.
We kept moving past the shelter and soon came to the rocky ledges where feral goats used to attack unwary hikers with their rough tongues, going after the salt that builds up from our sweat. This time, there were no goats to be found.
By now, I was frequently hiking with Red. We had some fun with a man eating rock. We continually foiled the rain that kept trying to fall by being prepared. At the Niday shelter, we had an early dinner, took a long break, and then after meeting some paddling club member with friends in common with Red, moved on. We went another 2.6 miles or so and called it a hike. We bear bagged successfully only after many attempts. We tented and soon crashed.
Day 5: Saturday, May 24, 2008: VA 624, Homeplace gazebo (mile 688.6) 14 miles
I awoke last night to rain and had to scramble to get my awning set up. Even with a couple of tiny leaks and the condensation so typical of these single wall tents, I managed to stay dry in my nine year old Nomad tent.
The Audie Murphy monument is now festooned with flags and flowers. At VA 620, I yogiied some munchies from some hikers bailing off the trail as one of them had gotten injured and sick. I offered to buy extra munchies they may have had but they ended up just giving me some odds and ends.
The slog up Dragon's Tooth was the slog I had remembered it to be. But the formation was as interesting as I remembered it to be. Being Memorial Day weekend, there were a great many people there including at least one large group. Many were ill prepared. One couple was wearing flip-flops. One pair was headed towards the parking lot but aimed towards the blue blaze to the Tooth. When I pointed out the trail to the parking lot, I realized that they had climbed up but had missed the Tooth altogether so I was able to point them to the rocky outcropping of interest.
At our next road crossing, I had remembered when I got to the Homeplace that some hikers came from the other direction. So, Red and I hitched from there to the Homeplace. The first car to come by in our direction picked us up. We were soon stuffing our faces with the family style meal of fried chicken, roast beast, corn, mashed potatoes, gravy, string beans, pinto beans, cole slaw, biscuits, lemon ade, peach cobbler a la mode, and more. There is no menu other than the choice of one, two, or all three meats (chicken, roast beef, or ham). Other than prices, the menu hasn't changed in 30 years.
After dinner, we waddled to the general store for resupply and then waddled back. We dried our wet gear on the Homeplace fence, packed up, and waited for business hours to end. Then with the encouragement of the Homeplace, we camped on their lawn, or as in the case of Red and myself, in the gazebo.
Day 6: Sunday, May 25, 2008: Campbell Shelter (mile 698.9) 10.3 miles
I woke up at 3:00 but knew there would be no bathroom facilities available to me until the cook opened the place at 7:00. Ugh. I tried to relax and go back to sleep which I managed on and off for the rest of the night.
It took us almost an hour to hitch back to VA 624 and when we did get a ride, it was from a man whose wife's family had lost about 1/3 of their property when land was taken for the trail. Uh oh... At first we were wondering why he would pick us up. Then he mentioned that he and his wife are now moving to the property and are glad for the protection the trail provides as abutters to their property. Whew! A big thanks goes out to all those who help out us hikers and can even see the value in having a natural resource like the trail as a neighbor.
I had left my pack behind to slackpack the 7 mile section but Red carried hers, albeit without extra food and clothing. She was still right on my heels the entire way. As a 61-year-old retired ex-phys. ed. teacher, she's in remarkable shape.
Our hitch back to Catawba was easy. We stuck our thumbs out at a car leaving the McAfee's Knob parking lot but when they stopped to see where we were going, they were going the wrong way. But another hiker nearby overheard us and offered us a ride into town.
Back in town, we hung out at the gazebo with Rain and Barkey, a couple from Massachusetts waiting on friends of theirs from MIT to join them for a few days. Their friends, active with the Mystery Hunt, may be people I've met or know.
Then it was time for more silliness. Rain and Barley were hitching to the McAfee's Knob trailhead. Red and I to the other general store. Someone going the wrong way saw us and offered us a ride but since they were heading in the direction of Rain and Barley, we suggested they get them instead. Ten minutes later, they were back, being followed by another car with her husband and someone I knew from last year, Little Red. Small World. The women ended up giving us a ride to the store, waited for us, and then drove us to the McAfee's Knob trailhead. How cool is that?
Red and I were soon booking it up to the first shelter where we planned to meet Rain and Barley. They were collecting water and firewood. We were soon, digging into ice cream, hanging out, and then had an early dinner of hot dogs, buns, chips, and soda that Red and I hauled from the general store. This was not your typical hiker fare but it was a lot of fun.
Red and I were soon on our way to McAfee's Knob for sunset. We shared the view with a couple, a guy in camo, and Faith Walker and Bible Bill, also 99'ers. I hadn't ever met them as they started and probably finished after me.
After sunset, we night hiked to the shelter, swept it out, and ended up sleeping on the large "porch" instead of inside the shelter.
Date: Wed May 28, 2008 10:31 am
It's a rainy day and I'm in no rush to hit the trail. The radar and forecast make it look like it'll clear this afternoon so perhaps I'll hop on the trail then. Until then, here's a couple more days of journal entries. I'll also take the time today to hit the PO to send out my lightweight backpack for repairs (from the mangling it got in Malaysia) and to send out Skysurfer's journal which had gotten left behind at a shelter.
Day 7: Monday, May 26, 2008: Daleville, Comfort Inn (Mile 714.3) 15.4 miles
I was awakened early in the morning (or was it late last night?) by a deer. It's not unusual to hear deer snorting every now and then but this one just kept going at it. Not just short little snorts but long drawn out ones. It sounded very upset. Weird. There were many deer prints along and near the trail as we left the shelter this morning.
My energy level was down all day today. I was dragging a lot. I'm not sure if I'm not eating enough or perhaps it was the Benadryl I took before going to sleep last night after having taken a Zyrtec that afternoon.
We stopped for a break at Tinker Cliffs. We could see back to McAfee Knob from there. It's amazing how your memory plays tricks on you. I had remembered McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs to be part of the same ridge but they are not. They are on ridges at almost 90 degree angles from each other with a significant gap to descend and ascend to get from one ridge to the next.
When we got to the Lamberts Meadow Shelter, we took a long break. We got water while maybe five deer watched warily from the meadow on the other side of the creek. I took a nap and then ate. Then I ate some more. And ate more. Knowing I was going into town, I just tried to ensure I had a few snacks to eat along the trail but tried to eat as much as I could to try to get my energy level up. I then napped again. A young couple came by and expressed disbelief at the rat that got into their dog's food overnight on a previous visit. Hmm... They left food out at the shelter overnight. And they were surprised a rat got it. Well, usually it's mice, but still. If you leave food out, some neighborhood visitor will try to get it.
Shortly after moving on from the shelter, we passed a couple of trail maintainers and stopped to thank them for the work they do. They seemed surprised - but then pleased that hikers would recognize the value in their work.
We cruised along easy trail for a while and then turned up the last ridge for some harder hiking until we got to the power lines. I made the mistake of touching my metal part of my hiking poles when my fingers slipped off the rubber grips to my poles and got badly shocked. The high tension wires were humming and the view was great, but we didn't dawdle after the shock. We just wanted to get away.
We then walked into Daleville. Red waited with the packs at a convenience store while I went to get my car. Then we checked into the Comfort Inn, somewhat inconveniently located for most hikers but with the best hiker rates ($40) in town. I try to get into full rooms to reduce costs but really needed a shower and given that the truck stop showers were $9, the extra $11 for bed, TV, internet access, and general overnight comfort, seemed worthwhile.
Day 8: Tuesday, May 27, 2008: Daleville, Walmart (Mile 714.3) 0 miles
We spent the day doing errands: laundry; CVS; Dollar General Market; Outfitter; Kroger; Library.
Last night, I had gotten an email from Rockdancer. He's heading down I-81 today. I quickly called last night and left a message with my number and a suggestion that we meet in Daleville for lunch on their way south. We connected this morning and ended up having a late lunch together. John, a mutual friend, was shuttling him to Kincorra so it was great to see him, too. We were joined by Red, Willow, Longwe Tru, and Blaze.
I had thought I might hit the trail today with Red, but with the weather threatening and me wanting to spend more time on-line, I decided to hold off a while. So after lunch, Red hit the trail, I went back to the library and Blaze joined me for a long internet session. Then Blaze and I went to Pizza Hut for dinner.
Day 9: Wednesday, May 28, 2008: Daleville 0 miles
24 hour Walmart Supercenters make for easy midnight bathroom runs. Other than that, I slept well in my car. I grabbed stuff for breakfast at Walmart and then made another library run.
It's a rainy day, more conducive to shuttling hikers around town than hiking. And unlike other days, there seemed to be plenty of hikers who could use a shuttle here and there: to Kroger, the 3 l'il Pigs BBQ place, the Comfort Inn, the Hojos, etc. It was forecasted to clear later in the day so I was hoping to get out today at least for a short hike, the five miles to the first shelter but my plans soon changed. Jen and Alpine, southbounders who work at the outfitters at Neels Gap were among those that were happy to get a shuttle back to their hotel from the outfitters. It didn't take long to figure out that we were each in a position to help each other. They have a car in Harpers Ferry that needs to be moved south and I have a car here that needs to be moved north. We made tentative plans to meet in the morning to decide whether or not to do the shuttle and then went on our way.
I did some more shuttling, met up with some hikers for dinner at the Bella restaurant where the breadsticks are fantastic, made some phone calls to determine if I should plan to be without my car for a few weeks, and to make arrangements for parking it, and then went back to Walmart to sleep.
Day 10: Thursday, May 29, 2008: Daleville 0 miles
I met up with Jen and Alpine in their room at 9:30 as planned and took a shower in their bathroom. How nice! It was only afterwards that I realized they were just getting up and I had actually beat Jen into the shower. Oops! Jen and I soon hit the road, leaving Alpine with Fallon and Odie, their two dogs. It was a beautiful day and we were wishing we were hiking instead of driving. But the weather made for an easy day on the road. We picked up Jen's car at Bonzo's and left mine in Shepherdstown at Mark and John's.
Not feeling great when I got back to town, I decided not to hike out as I had hoped, making for my third zero day. There was another hiker, Freefall, who had a room to herself at the hotel who was willing to share with me. So, even though she was sick with tonsilitis, she probably wasn't contagious so it was nice to share and save some $$$. Without my car, I could no longer stay at the Walmart.
I had dinner with Jen and Alpine at the Three L'il Pigs Barbecue restaurant and got a pint of ice cream for Freefall to eat back at the hotel. We watched a reality show about chefs. It was a sort of cruel joke for thruhikers to watch such fabulous food being prepared.
Day 11: Friday, May 30, 2008: Wilson Creek Shelter (mile 725.5) 11.2 miles
I woke up in the middle of the night with a really bad migraine and no migraine medicine in my kit. I took some ibuprofen which didn't help all that much. Thankfully, I was able to go back to sleep but knew the headache would be there when I woke up. Sure enough, I woke up with it raging on.
I took it easy eating breakfast at the hotel. Then went on an Excedrin run to the CVS across the street. Had it been a 24 hour store, I probably would have gone in the middle of the night. An hour later, feeling much better, I met Jen and Alpine who were giving me a ride back to the trailhead. I almost decided to hang out at the Hojo's near the trail but decided to just hike slow.
This area was another area where my memory and reality diverged. I remember more fields closer to town and more problematic stiles for Husky hiking with his dog Cyrus. Now, all the stiles are out of town.
Rabbit, a geologist, caught up with me as I watched some sort of split tailed hawk circling above. Then he walked with me to the first shelter. We had a great conversation encompassing everything from the geologic features of the trail, to plate tectonics and the recent earthquake in China to earthquake potential across the US and volcanic potential in the northwest. Our conversation morphed into meteorology and more. Wish we were compatible hikers as the topics made the miles go by so quickly. But, he, being a 20+ mile per day hiker is someone who I'll never see again along the trail. Oh well.
At the shelter, we met Enoch. After Rabbit took off, I ended up hiking the next three miles with Enoch, a former teacher and play/musical director. According to some southbounders I had seen before heading north, there was water less than a mile from the shelter. Well, it was three miles away and I was more than dry by the time I got there. Enoch went ahead when I stopped for water.
Just before I reached the shelter, I had a great encounter with a Black Rat snake. It was spread across the trail so I encouraged it to move across the trail. Most of the time, these snakes just spread themselves out lengthwise along the trail. This time, it moved across the trail and loosely coiled itself up to challenge me. It vibrated its tail in the leaves to try to seem like a rattlesnake. Then it moved off, climbed a bush to a horizontal trunk of a downed tree and then climbed a few feet up in another vertical tree. Wow!
When I caught up with Enoch at the shelter, Rain and Barley were there with their friends from MIT. We had some fun talking about past Mystery Hunts. They looked vaguely familiar but probably only from the noon-time madness on Fridays in Lobby Seven or the wrap-up sessions. Enoch, Me (a researcher at Clemson), and I talked through the evening. I did some puzzles from the USA Today I carried out of town. Using the red light, I had an interesting optical illusion at one point. I looked up at the campfire Rain and Barley and friends had and the flames were GREEN. Wild! It was because of what the red light had done to my eyes and my eyes soon returned to normal.
Day 12: Saturday, May 31, 2008: Cove Mountain Shelter (Mile 739.2) 13.7 miles
I was up and out before 7:00. I saw another Black Rat Snake just outside the shelter area. This time I watched it climb about 10 feet up a tree, out a branch, and onto the branch of another tree. It seemed content there so I moved on. Once again, I've had so many good photo opportunities and yet my camera is in the shop. Argh!
Enoch caught up with me a the Blue Ridge Parkway overlook with the picnic table. He soon moved ahead but I caught up when I noticed him standing still looking into the woods. There was a deer just a few feet from him. After he eventually moved away, I was able to move closer and had some time with this deer. Once again, it didn't start and I was able to talk and it would just wiggle its ears at me.
We took a break at the shelter but with Enoch looking to do 20 miles, he kept his break short. I stayed on a while and got water from the little pool with the two salamanders in it. I needed a lot of water as the next shelter where I was planning on spending the night was a dry shelter. I was soon joined by Me. (It's very confusing to write journal entries about someone whose trail name is "Me".) He was having a hard day and while telling me his story, we were soon both crying.
I moved on first but soon stopped to deal with another bloody nose. Me then passed me but was concerned so I assured him I was OK and just needed some time. Me ended up passing a deer just 20 feet from the trail. When I passed it, it was still laying down but a bit concerned about all the hikers passing and didn't stay down when I was there. He got up and moved on. I think that was the first time I have ever seen a deer lying down. I keep hoping to see bear. Many have this year but all the crashing I hear in the woods are deer, squirrels and chipmunks.
I took a break at the route 43 road crossing. It looked like the forecasted weather was moving in and I didn't want to be hungry while cold, tired, and wet. Sure enough, as I moved on it started to rain. Just as I put my rain jacket on, it stopped. The shelter was nicely situated in the lee of the ridge which should have been nice on this windy day but it meant the bugs were vicious. I cooked at the table but ate at the shelter with a carpenter bee in my face the entire time.
Date: Thu Jun 5, 2008 4:21 pm
I seem to be getting very lucky weatherwise. The tornado that struck Roanoke just two days ago was 50 miles south of where I am and yesterday's tornado watches were mostly north of where I am. So, I'm OK, staying mostly dry, and enjoying the hike.
We've got a ride lined up to get back to the trailhead so I'm going to have to sign off without transcribing yesterday's entry. I've been in Buena Vista for a much needed town stop but will be getting back on the trail today. My next town stop is likely to be in five or six days in Waynesboro. Hopefully, I'll be able to get on-line there as well.
Day 13: Sunday, June 1, 2008: Thunder Hill Shelter (Mile 756.4) 17.2 miles
It was a long day with a huge uphill over Apple Orchard Mountain. Me and I left (ugh) before 7:00am and I didn't pull into Thunder Hill until 6:00pm. The first part of the day was easy and mostly level so I hiked with Me. After that, I just slogged on on my own, catching up with Me at the obvious break points. Bryant Ridge shelter which looked so new in 1999, is now graying but still a beautiful shelter that garners great respect from most hikers for it's unusual design. Then it was time for the huge climb. With my knees, I just took it very slow and easy. I had an interlude with a butterfly along the way. It didn't fly away as I approached but when I put my hand down on the leaf litter in front of it, it walked right onto my hand. I took some time to examine it. It was beautiful: mostly black with with spots lining the wings and orange spots on the corners of its lower wings. Powder blue also lined the bottom wing. I left it back on a leaf hoping it was just in the final stages of drying out. It looked OK to me but I don't know why it wasn't flying.
Shortly after that, a deer started. I don't think I was the one that scared it but it was beautiful to watch bounding across my field of vision. I just wish I could move half that effortlessly across the mountain.
I saw a jack-in-the-pulpit nearing the end stages. The flower was a bit limp but still beautiful. And for me, I so rarely get to see them. I also found a couple of pink lady's slippers. A toad, some squirrels and lizards, and some scolding chipmunks rounded out the animal sightings for the day.
A deer tick was crawling on my leg at lunch time. It's the first time I've seen a deer tick on me. They are tiny - the size of the period at the end of these sentences - but this one hadn't started biting so I don't have to worry about Lyme disease from it.
Once again, rain threatened and my packcover went on. This was just around the time the gnats started driving me crazy. So then I dug out the bug net I had been carrying and for the first time on the AT, used a bug net. It's a bit hotter wearing it than not but at least I could hike without the gnats flying into my eyes, nose, mouth, and ears. I had gotten eaten alive the night before and will be a bit more mindful of the bug situation and use more DEET as necessary.
I got to the top of Apple Orchard Mountain and could see angry black clouds surrounding the area but looking straight up was a patch of blue sky with the sun shining through. The golf ball shaped radar installation in white looked quite dramatic with the sun shining on it and the dark gray clouds in the background.
Once again, photo opportunities are going unphotographed as my camera is in the shop. I wasn't able to take pictures of the Guillotine, a rock formation, either.
Day 14: Monday, June 2, 2008: Rocky Row Run tentsite (Mile 771.2) 14.7 miles
Today's mostly downhill run of over 3,200' took a toll on my feet. No damage other than soreness though. As usual, I got an early start. It's even easier when someone like Me is also an early riser who starts fiddling with his stuff at first light and/or birdsong. My morning routine is efficient and I'm down to about 30 minutes between waking up and hitting the trail. Me, who takes a bit longer to pack up, quickly passed me along the trail. I enjoy his company during breaks and at shelters in the evening but he's faster and will soon pass me altogether when he hikes bigger miles. I caught up to him here and there when he stopped for breaks but my PCT habits of fewer shorter breaks allow me to keep hiking when I catch up with others who need longer breaks.
We walked the last couple of miles from Matts Creek Shelter to the James River together. Seeing some local kids out swimming gave us ideas and we were soon joining them in the cool, but not too cold, water. No sooner had I gotten in and looked back towards Me who was contemplating how he was going to get in the water did a water snake swim by just at the point where we have to enter and exit the water. I like snakes and I'm sure this snake was harmless, but it was still disconcerting.
The swim was refreshing and it felt good to rinse off the accumulated grime and residue from three days on the trail. But as soon as I got out, it was back into the same stinky sweaty clothes I've been wearing for days.
At the trailhead, Me bummed us a ride from someone who was waiting for his buddies to finish a kayak run down the river. We got to Glasgow and Me grabbed a soda and some other town goodies and went right back to the trailhead with our driver. I stayed in town to hit the library and do a resupply. I met Tailgate and AquaMaria there and together we went for dinner but declined to stay at the seemingly overpriced motel. We hitched out of town together after I ran into the store to resupply for a few days. Brenda, who "goes over the mountain" regularly, knows thruhikers when she sees them so it was nice to get a ride from her.
We were soon following a beautiful stream through a little gorge. We set up camp next to the same stream. Tailgate and AquaMaria are hammock hangers - at least for the time being - and so left me the tent site in this not so spacious area.
We were soon munching on the ice cream I carried out of town. Then, not wanting to carry the container as well as all the other garbage I forgot to throw away in town, I made a little garbage fire in the fire ring and was able to burn most of my paper and cardboard.
I had seen my first Columbine on the trail today and thought of my friend Brian's old boat. Then, when I got into town, I found I had an email from him about sailing - but on his current boat. What timing! Mountain Laurel, rhododendron, azalea, are all blooming as well as many others with names I don't know. I saw my first red eft salamander today. There are a lot of lizards scurrying about in the sun. Me and I saw a spike buck in velvet.
Day 15: Tuesday, June 3, 2008: Punchbowl shelter (Mile 781.5) 10.3 miles
Lots of talk with AquaMaria today about the pros and cons of staying on or getting off the trail. She's not nearly as strong a hiker as Tailgate who is still completely into this hike. It's not unlikely that she'll get off the trail when they meet up with friends when they get to Maryland.
In the meantime, AquaMaria, Tailgate, and I have kind of decided to team up for the next couple of days. Today we climbed over Bluff and Punchbowl Mountains. they were a long slog but nothing particularly difficult. We had great views of the James river receding below us, helping us gauge our progress up the mountain. It was miles before we put the sounds of the trains behind us.
With such a short day, our breaks were long and leisurely. We arrived at Punchbowl Shelter at about 3:00. As usual, they are stronger hikers and arrived ahead of me. Like last year, I'm finding that I'm one of the slowest hikers out there. Those hiking my pace, usually do much shorter miles. I can do the thruhiker miles but just need all day to do it. For me, it's most important to protect my knees so that I can keep hiking. That means slowing way down.
I had remembered the bullfrogs and the racket they made at the Punchbowl shelter. I was leery of staying here due to the racket but this time, the bullfrogs were in nearly as much evidence. Just every now and then, one would make itself heard. This time, the peepers and the woodfrogs were in larger numbers.
We ate dinner and worked on the puzzles in the newspaper left behind at the shelter. Then, the haze and humidity finally gave way to rain and thunderstorms. I was glad we stayed at the shelter. I am looking forward to another town stop tomorrow. This time, for laundry and a night in a hotel/motel as well as restaurant food.
Day 16: Wednesday, June 4, 2008: Buena Vista (Mile 792.8) 11.3 miles - motel
My morning routine is shorter and quicker than most other hikers so even though K Bomb and Moccasin were already half packed when I woke up, somehow I still ended up on the trail before them. Perhaps it had something to do with growing up in a household with four women using one bathroom?
So after a night featuring lightning storm after lightning storm supplemented by a chorus of wood frogs, bull frogs, and peepers, I hit a soggy trail. Thankfully, the wind had already shaken most trees free of dripping water.
Today was an easy day with a lot of well-graded trail along waterways including a reservoir, a stream, and even a river. The stream offered a few good swimming holes but I was focused on getting a shower in town and bypassed the stream.
We walked along a section of stream that had once been settled by freed slaves. They sold their area to the National Forest Service in the 1920s. They had been sharecroppers and had apparently made good lives for themselves.
At the northern bridge over the stream, I came upon an orgy of butterflies. Well, I don't know what they were doing but there must have been 50 butterflies congregating on a patch of land the size of a salad plate. They were mostly the large yellow and black (not monarchs) with a few other types mixed in. Some looked like they had disheveled looking wings but as they sorted themselves out and took flight, all looked normal and were able to fly.
At the nearby shelter, butterflies as well as bees and assorted flies and other insects swarmed all over our sweaty and salty backpacks while we took breaks.
I made a trip to the privy and was startled when very low, very fast military jet flew by.
I was soon at the trailhead and hitching into town. There wasn't much traffic but soon, a man who could pass for Mark Twain pulled over and took me down into town. We were soon eating lunch at the Hardee's after which he drove me past the historical college and back to the motel we had passed earlier. I inquired about prices but didn't check in, wanting to check out the other motel in town, first. I walked back into town and found that motel to be much more expensive. AquaMaria and Tailgate soon joined me. They had lunch at Burger King and then we hitched to the Food Lion to resupply. We shared the back of a pickup with 50 gallon drums our driver intended to turn into kettle drums.
Then a man offered to wait while we picked up some last minute items from CVS and the Dollar General. He then brought us back to the further motel. As he dropped us off, a car pulled up with Crutch, Moccasin, and one other hiker. Turns out there was a big weekend of trail magic being put on by some 99'ers just up the trail. They came back to visit after doing their shopping and ended up taking our backpacks so we could slackpack up the hill tomorrow. Sweet!
Day 17: Thursday, June 5, 2008: USFS 48, Hog Camp Gap (Mile 799.1) 6.3 miles - tenting
We had a lazy morning sleeping in and only vacated our room at 11:00 when it was time to check out. But, at 9:30, housekeeping was surprised to find us there and told us that someone had been looking for us. It sounded like the same man in the large van that had given us a ride the night before. Hmm - perhaps we missed out on breakfast? So an hour later, when the same guy pulled up again, we found he was offering us a ride to the trailhead. We told him we had a bunch of errands to run in town that we wouldn't be ready to go until later that afternoon and he still wanted to help out so we made plans to meet him at the library at 4:30. How cool is that? No need to worry about hitching.
We tried to hitch to the laundromat but it didn't work so we walked a very hot, sweaty walk. Oh well. A trail angel brought us three cold waters to drink and ended up bringing us to the library after we finished our laundry. At the library, we each spent a bunch of time there, then went to Frank's, an outdoor place across the street for lunch and then back to the library. Not sure what was going on, but Tailgate and I kept the bathroom very busy this afternoon.
At 4:30, our ride came and offered us hot dogs for dinner at Franks before heading back to the trail. We got them to go so that we wouldn't keep losing time. At the trailhead, we ran into another hiker who made quick work of the town food we hadn't quite managed to polish off. Then we made great time (at least for me) up the mountain and to Hog Camp Gap. It was so nice to slackpack.
We knew to expect trail magic and had planned a zero but once here, realized we may be here a bit longer. The main group of 99'ers aren't even here yet and already we arrived to hot dogs, sausage, rockfish and tuna caught the week before, pizza and stromboli cooked in a dutch oven on the fire and more. There are promises of even greater goodies to come. The 99'ers who are already here, Arrowhead and Pop, remember me from my time hanging out at Uncle Johnny's with stitches. Angus and Redneck will arrive tomorrow. I actually hiked in the same vicinity as them and got to know them on the trail. I've seen them at other hiker gatherings. It'll be good to see them again.
Day 18: Friday, June 6, 2008: USFS 48, Hog Camp Gap (Mile 799.1) 0 miles - tenting
Spent a zero day on the trail at the gap. It was great to see both Redneck Rye's and Angus' reaction when they saw me. Both asked "what are you doing here?" as if it wasn't obvious by my attire but the timing we just too good to be true. They couldn't believe I had just walked into the event. Even if we hadn't seen Crutch in town, we would have wandered into it anyway. I think part of the surprise is the fact that some of us 99'ers are still out here walking significant lengths of trail. Angus for instance, has just gotten married and doesn't seem like he's going to be doing any long distance hiking anymore or at least anytime soon.
So here's how the day went: Got up; went down to the kitchen/fire circle/social area with folding chairs; sat down; ate breakfast burrito when offered; sat down; as more people drove up, helped unload cars; sat; when food was offered, ate, and there was a lot of food offered all day and night.
Here's a food list: cheesy scrambled eggs, loaded hash browns with sausage, mushrooms, onion, pepper and cheese, bananas, grapes, ham and turkey sandwiches, hot dogs, sausage, kielbasa, three kinds of wings, drumsticks, beans, veggies, party type mix, pulled bbq chicken, pulled bbq pork, cole slaw, pizza, soda, beer, homemade peach wine, and more. So far, just about everything that requires heating has been cooked over the fire. They have double fire ring so that hot coals area always available. The dutch oven has been in almost constant use, from pulled pork, to pizza, to hash browns, whatever...
During my last trip to grab stuff from someones car, I had a muscle spasm in my hip and walking is now extremely painful and my leg's ability to carry weight is questionable at best. But, I was OK socializing, standing up and sitting down. When I went to bed though, I was in tears with pain so bad. I finally found a position I could sleep in and nodded off knowing that I could always sit in front of the fire all night and get a ride to the hospital tomorrow if necessary.
Day 19: Saturday, June 7, 2008: USFS 48, Hog Camp Gap (Mile 799.1) 0 miles - tenting
Another zero punctuated by a trip to a local waterfall dubbed Blue Tongue Falls. I woke up this morning still in some pain at times but stretching and massaging helps. I expressed discomfort and when one person mentioned getting a massage therapist next year, someone else pointed out that there was an RN present, a ???, and a physical therapist. I had him point out the physical therapist to me and later that morning, when she asked how I was in passing, I gave her a pained expression and said not so good - could she recommend a stretch. So she did. And that stretch took care of the spasm almost instantaneously. The relief was immediately evident and lasted throughout the day with occasional 15 second stretch sessions. If it hadn't worked, I thought I would be off the trail looking for a doctor. Hopefully, the relief will last.
Culinary delights of the day included: omelets cooked to order; loaded hash browns; mixed fruit pancakes cooked to order; pulled pork; pork tenderloin; a whole rotisserie turkey; burgers, pizza, peach cobbler a la mode; grilled fish; peanut butter brownies; and lots of munchies.
Day 20: Sunday, June 8, 2008: USFS 48, Hog Camp Gap (Mile 799.1) 0 miles - tenting
Loaded scrambled eggs, bacon, and more for breakfast and then the task of watching and helping as trail angel after trail angel packed up their tents, tables, awnings, chairs, coolers, and more and then packed their cars and said goodbye until next year. After the weekend crowd left, there were about 20 of us left here for dinner.
It was supposed to have been the hottest day yet with temps near 100 degrees but here it's been 15 degrees cooler up here at the Gap and this morning, it was chilly enough for me to want to wear long sleeves. Needless to say, the last few days have been good ones to take it easy.
Rain and Barley hiked out today but not before we figured out that we have a friend in common. They know G-Force. Small world syndrome strikes again. Then it turns out Bone Lady and her sister Wild Oats know the Missing Kink.
I had hoped to continue hiking in the vicinity of Tailgate and AquaMaria but they were delaying getting on the trail to see if some alternative plans could be made to work. AM may be getting off for good and they may both be getting off for a week to go to Bonnaroo Music Festival in Tennessee. Either way, Tailgate will eventually continue and likely turn into a big miles hiker.
A small spike buck walked through the meadow and came so close to our goings on. It was nervously curious but not particularly deterred by our quiet voices. We joked however that it was so small it would barely feed us if we did manage to take it.
At this evening's campfire, I had noticed a piece of what I thought was garbage reflecting light back to the fire only to realize that it was, in fact, a piece of phosphorescent wood. It was a small punky, ant riddled piece. Not sure if it was the ants or something else but it was fascinating and not at all obvious that the luminescent portion would be so when there was light shining on it.
Day 21: Monday, June 9, 2008: The Priest Shelter (Mile 813.7) 14.6 miles
Hey! I'm moving again. Tailgate and AquaMaria are going to town so I'm on my own for the time being. But I'm sure to meet others as I hike. There was some ridge walking today with great views, especially from Spy Rock - well worth the extra effort to climb the rocky knob off the trail. Saw another deer along the way. Seems the deer encounters are basically a daily encounter. There are a lot of interesting shaped rocks here and there. Some remind me of many of the formations I've seen at places like City of the Gods, and the Devil's Marbles. I took a break on a chaise lounge shaped rock. One rocky outcropping should have been named Big Butt, the name of a mountain further south. This one had two round rocks with an appropriately positioned cleft in between. This evening, I passed an Easter Island head shaped rock at the junction to the shelter.
Tuna Mac was the heaviest meal I could eat to help reduce my pack weight but it certainly paled in comparison to all the fantastic food I had been eating at Hog Camp Gap the last few days.
The bugs (black flies and no-see-ums, mostly) are horrendous morning and evening. I've been using my DEET twice a day and sleeping in my silk sleeping bag liner as much as possible. During the day, the deer flies circle overheat annoyingly and the gnats get into my ears, nose, eyes, and mouth. Thankfully, the bugs don't come into the shelters as much as the open areas in front of the shelters so I'm still able to sleep in the shelters mostly unmolested.
My hip complained just a little bit today. Mostly a reminder that something had been wrong recently, not something telling me to take it easy. My knees are holding their own. My feet do get a bit sore and I'm a bit concerned that my shoes aren't holding my feet back as much as I would like during the downhill sections. My shoulders have gotten noticeably stronger and I can now sleep on my sides without shoulder discomfort. Allergy eyes are annoying at times as is allergy nose. I sometimes snore if I'm stuffed up.
Day 22: Tuesday, June 10, 2008: Maupin Field Shelter (Mile 827.3) 9.5 miles
Woke up early with no one else in the shelter to make me feel like I had to stay quiet. so I could move around to my hearts content.. I was out hiking by 6:45. There were lots of big 1" long black beetles around the shelter area and above 3,500' or so. There were also a lot of green inchworms strewn along the ground and dangling from the trees. The beetles were around yesterday as I walked to the shelter but the inchworms weren't. I don't know if they are a morning issue or if they just started doing their thing overnight last night. Either way, it's kind of gross to have to dodge them so frequently or otherwise get a face full of inchworm.
There's a wonderful overlook on the Priest that made me wish I had brought my breakfast up there to eat rather than eat as I packed this morning. Oh well. I took a short break and then moved on. The descent to the Tye River wasn't nearly as bad as I had worried. I had even cut my toenails last night to give my feet whatever extra room in my shoes I could manage. But, the descent was gradual and as usual, I took it easy. My knees had no problems but partway down, the inside tendon on my left foot decided to flare up with tendinitis. Ouch!
At the bottom, Ross, an '04 thruhiker, was offering rides to the store but since I was carrying too much and only would have gotten a soda and ice cream, I declined. I was tempted to go in the other direction and get a shower but decided to check out the river first for swimming, splashing, "bathing" opportunities. I had remembered soaking my feet here while getting some trail magic nine years earlier.
So I ended up soaking my feet and ankles at the river, dunking my head, rinsing my shirt, and taking a bit of a sponge bath in the river. It was quite refreshing. I was there with Phyllis, a section hiker, and Fizz. The shallow part of the river where we soaked our feet was full of hundreds of tadpoles. Once we put our feet in, they would come exploring and tickle between my toes. I stood in an almost knee deep section to wash up a bit. There I displaced a bunch of 6" long fish. Trout perhaps? As soon as I sat back down on the rock just a foot away near the more shallow water, the fish came right back.
After a two mile uphill section, I chose to do the Mau-Har Trail. It's a three mile blue blaze trail that cuts off nearly seven miles of AT. I was doing it only partially because my ankle was still bothering me. It's known to be a hard trail but have waterfalls along it. It was much rougher and steeper than the AT in these parts but would be right at home in the Whites.
The largest cascade was almost inaccessible, past a fallen tree full of poison ivy. I made it over the tree but could only go to an overlook to see the top of the cascade. I then took a lunch break and found a pool where I could once again, soak my ankle and rinse off. Back on the blue blaze heading on to the Maupin Field shelter, I found the trail followed the stream almost all the way to the shelter. It was very steeply graded and there were lots of pools, cascades, and small waterfalls along the way. It was a beautiful hike. I saw a muskrat cross the trail in front of me at one point.
There was a family (father and three of his sons) of Amish at the shelter out for a two weeks stint on the AT. The father has done 500 miles or so of the AT but this was a first time for the sons. They carry no tent so go shelter to shelter. That means they must go 16 miles tomorrow. I hope the 11 year old can manage it but given their usual lifestyle, I'm guessing it won't be too much of a stretch.
They were rather spread out in the shelter, no doubt hoping to have it to themselves, but when a rumble of thunder happened, that settled it and I put my pack in the shelter. Hoping to beat the rain, I went to the water source and had to encourage a friendly crayfish to get out of the way before I could dip my cup into the deepest pool. If that crayfish hadn't been alone, I might have been calling him dinner. I made my dinner under cover of the shelter and was eating as Sunny and Share came up. They tented as did Double D and Fizz. But when Chaco and Toe Socks showed up, they also decided to stay in the shelter. So the family was basically relegated to one side of the shelter and the three of us to the other, knowing that if anyone else came, we would be making room on our side. We just hoped the resident copperhead wouldn't be visiting us in the night.
I was done fiddling for the evening by the time the thunder finally amounted to anything. And when it rained, it sprayed into the shelter so I moved everything a bit further back into the shelter. That was enough and I went to sleep with the thunder and lightning still crashing around us.
Day 23: Wednesday, June 11, 2008: Paul C. Wolfe Shelter (Mile 843.1) 15.8 miles
Chaco and Toe socks were up at 5:00 and out before 6:00. That was too early even for me. I got up at 6:00 and was out by 6:30 or so but that's only because the Amish started to make noise and I gave up on getting a few more minutes of sleep. It was a rocky walk to start and major gypsy moth devastation made for a green footbed of chewed leaves. It also allowed for views into the valley that normally wouldn't be visible through fully leafed out trees. I also wonder if the forest floor getting more light than usual allowed the poison ivy to thrive more than usual. It's been bad but in these sunny areas, it always seems worse. After the rocks, the trail was mostly easy. There were a few rocky outcroppings to negotiate but they were tiny and fun.
Not liking cola, I left the Pepsi Trail magic the ridge runner had left after the Dripping Rocks parking area. I would be in town tomorrow and others would enjoy it more.
I stopped at most of the outlooks along the way. The morning overlook was a bust. If I had skipped it, I got the same view at the Cedar Cliffs area. But the Glass Hollow Overlook at the end of the day was a long way off the trail and different than any of the views from the trail. During my section hiking, I'm open to Blue blaze trails like I wasn't during my thruhike but today's blue blaze over humpbacks rocks used to be the AT and is the route I followed in '99 so I stuck with the AT today. The shelter is above a beautiful creek so I had another foot soak this evening.
Day 24: Thursday, June 12, 2008: Waynesboro (Mile 848.1) 5 miles
Damascus may be the easiest trail town but I'm thinking Waynesboro may be the friendliest. After a five mile walk to Rockfish Gap, we checked out the Visitor's Center. There, nestled amongst all sorts of abandoned buildings including a Hojos, the visitors center hands out a listing of trail angels/shuttlers and an information sheet with just about everything a hiker needs to know about town and getting around town. So, I called and got a shuttler to come get me and Tetris knowing there may be two others as well and sure enough, House the Cat and his daughter Micro showed up needing a ride to the Super 8. Our shuttler dropped Tetris and me off at Weazies where we could get breakfast. I declined to get the AYCE pancakes and plowed through the eggs, ham, and hash browns of my Hungry Girl breakfast but could only eat 2/3 of my three dinner plate sized pancakes.
Talking with another restaurant patron, after realizing he was on the list, I took another look at the list and realized there were a couple of familiar names on the list. Walt and Pat Radney also shuttle hikers in the area. I know them from my time on both the PCT and CDT. Now the AT makes it a triple crown of association, I guess. I called them and made plans for Pat to pick me up later. We would have lunch together.
Tetris and I went across the street to the consignment store. He got a pair of pants and I got an India skirt. These were so we could wash all the clothes in our packs without having to wear our rain gear on a hot day. My skirt is nice enough that I'll mail it to myself in Harper's Ferry.
After laundry, Pat gave Tetris a ride to the library giving both of us a bit of a tour along the way. Then we went to meet Walt for lunch at a great little cafe. It was good to catch up with them. Then I spent the rest of the afternoon in the library.
The church hostel is wonderful. Clean showers, a large function room to set up cots, free dinner on Thursday nights (my timing was perfect) and all sorts of munchies and breakfast stuffs for the taking.
There were stories from everyone about how they got rides easily or even without asking. You don't get that kind of treatment in Damascus.
I'm looking forward to the AYCE Chinese for $5.50 tomorrow for lunch.
Date: Mon Jun 23, 2008 11:09 pm
After a long delay, here's my journal entries from my trip within a trip... hence the 95 mile without taking a step subject line.
Day 25: Friday, June 13, 2008: Waynesboro/Cremora, 0 miles
Most of today went the way I would expect a zero day to go. I had breakfast at the hostel and cleaned up and checked out by 9:00. The hostel in town closes between 9am and 5pm. I could leave my stuff there but I wasn't sure I was going to stay another night. There was a chance I would hike out in the afternoon. So, Brushstrokes and I walked over to the nearby YMCA and stashed our packs there, where hikers can make use of the services and even camp on a nearby lawn. I decided I would probably go back in the evening for a lap swimming session.
A call to someone on the shuttle network here in town and Brushstrokes and I had scheduled a ride to the outfitters for a bit later in the morning. We killed time in the library, then got our ride, bought what we needed to buy, and were soon on our way to the Walmart for the last few odds and ends. We were back in town, dropped off at Ming Gardens, the place with the Chinese buffet, and were soon stuffing our faces with peel and eat shrimp in addition to two large steam tables of fried appetizers, stir fried dishes, and a cold table of desserts and a freezer with ice cream cups. All for $5.50. What a deal!
We killed time in the afternoon, digesting lunch, at the library. Too stuffed to hike out, we checked back into the hostel at 5:00. Almost immediately, K Bomb (Kevin) and Raccoon (Ed) came by. They're not staying here but are looking for friends. They've got a plan to aquablaze (take canoes down the Shenandoah) instead of hike. They're going from Luray to Harpers Ferry. It's 95 river miles in six days. I had thought about this but hadn't made any effort to make it happen. They had it all planned out but thought they might be down a couple of people. An invitation was extended and I soon agreed to join them on their little adventure. I'll have to decide some other time whether or not I go back and hike the Shenandoah section after all.
About to leave the hostel, Tailgate wanders in without Aqua Maria. She decided to get off the trail at Hog Camp Gap and was already on her way home. He got on the trail two days after me and no surprise, was moving fast and caught me in no time. We caught up a bit but I had to go with K Bomb and Raccoon to the store for provisions. With the coolers that we're renting from the canoe company, we're able to carry lots of heavy and cold food. Cold cuts, cheese, beer (for those that drink), soda, veggies and fruit, and more.
Then we made our way to Jill and Tim's house, trail angels extraordinaire. We had dinner of all sorts of yummy leftovers since some of these guys have been hanging out here for a while. Then we did some planning for our very early morning start, and had an early night.
I'll be paddling with Babu, K Bomb, Raccoon, and Cookie Monster. Six days should prove interesting.
Day 26: Saturday, June 14, 2008: Bixler Bridge, South Fork of the Shenandoah River (Mile marker 17)
Woke up at 4:30 to prep for the 5:00 shuttle to Front Royal but since not all of us had to go all the way there, I was one to wait until nearly 6:00 to leave for Luray. We met the outfitters at the put in. Then we packed our dry bags, loaded up the canoes, and were soon on the river. I'm paired up with K Bomb for the day. We switched off bow/stern roles but with a some paddling instruction under my belt things went a bit more smoothly when I was in the stern. K Bomb, preferring to relax, had no problems with the arrangement.
We saw great blue herons, green herons, kingfishers, and more. It was mostly flat water with a few riffles here and there. We made it through some of the rocks but quite a few required us to get out and push and pull the canoe through the worst of the rocks. We had one class 2 rapid today and we handled it without a problem.
Lightning forced us out of the river twice today. We would paddle through thunder though or else we wouldn't have gotten anywhere.
A rope swing was a nice diversion for Babu as we watched and none of us tried to stay dry and often looked for opportunities to get wet. I repeatedly dunked my shirt in the water as I paddled to get the cooling effect as I put it back on.
We pulled into a campsite along the shores on some National Park service land. We heard a noise and looked up to see a train crossing far overhead on the narrowest rail bridge I've seen. There's just enough bridge for the train, no side walk area, no railing, just a narrow bridge that wasn't even noticeable as we had just paddled under it. Of course, while paddling under it, we were distracted by rapids and we were looking for a place to pull out but still, we hadn't noticed it at all until the train went by.
We set up camp on this rainy afternoon between passing thunderstorms. Then even with wet wood, Cookie managed to get a fire going by using an Esbit tablet. We cooked hot dogs over the flames. Directly across the river from us are large cliffs. Just upstream across the river is a beautiful pay campsite with about 30 canoes and kayaks. They might have the green grass sites, but we have a bit more peace and quiet. There were frequent splashes as fish, many of them a foot or two long, jumped out of the water and splashed back in. If this river weren't so polluted, they would make for good eating. Many do fish here but almost all do catch and release. Signs indicated that two meals a month from the river in places is OK, but nobody I talked to would eat anything from the river.
Day 27: Sunday, June 15, 2008: Mile 32+
Woke up at 3:30 this morning to take care of some personal business only to hear some obnoxious guy across the river bellowing "Laid Back!" over and over again. If we could hear it downstream, I can only imagine how loud it must have been to those paying for nice campsites. I'm glad we weren't there.
For breakfast, we had blueberry pancakes. Without a campfire this morning, they took quite a while to cook over K Bears camp stove so we ate one at a time. The pancakes were delicious though. A rabbit hopped through our campsite as we packed up.
I paddled solo today. We have three canoes for five people so we'll all have at least one opportunity to paddle solo. I'm strong on technique in canoes but without all that much upper body strength, I had only intended to paddle a couple of hours on my own and then switch out. I ended up paddling the entire day on my own. In the morning, it worked out well. I had no problems negotiating the couple of class II rapids along the way. Later, I got tired and did a lot of drifting, saving my strength for those times when I needed to maneuver through the riffles and class I rapids. There were plenty of times however, where I needed to either get out and push or rock the boat to redistribute weight to get unstuck from rocks. It was a long day but also interesting to see how well I could do on my own. For the most part, the canoe went where I wanted it to when I wanted it to. We did have some wind which turned it into a sail and was difficult to paddle against but I found ways to deal with it. I would have preferred a smaller canoe for the solo paddling so I could have knelt or sat in the middle. Instead, the middle and forward were loaded up and I sat in the bow with the canoe moving stern first in an attempt to get more of my weight in the middle. That worked well enough except for the seating arrangements were uncomfortable. I could either sit on the seat with my legs over the thwart or kneel forward of the seat but had no room for my feet under the seat. I opted for the former for most of the day.
More of the same types of birds today with one great blue heron winging by croaking as it went. We got to see a Bald Eagle overhead. More Green herons than Great Blues. We stopped to go for a swim at one point only to find another animal had the same idea. We found a baby copperhead in the shallows where we pulled out. We watched it, left the canoes and went swimming in the deeper water. With 83 degree water, even I don't have a hard time getting into this water.
At another rope swing, Babu went first and didn't quite climb high enough to swing past the water. Then K Bomb showed us how to do it... With fairly shallow water at this swing, a belly flop was in order. :-)
We stopped for the night at an undeveloped end of the Shenandoah State park. The ground was lumpy so once again, I'm really glad I carry a thick sleeping pad.
Dinner of quesadillas was delicious. Cheese, chicken, onions, salsa, tomatoes, jalapenos. All good.
Day 28: Monday, June 16, 2008: Mile 40 - Front Royal Canoe Company
There was a BIG spider hanging out on my Tyvec ground sheet this morning. Yuck! I think Brown recluse spiders are smaller so I chased it off but it still made me shudder. The usual Daddy Longlegs needed removing as did a slug and a snail. The usual residents of out meadow came by this morning upset with our presence. The deer snorted and stomped up a storm while passing by. A huge dragon fly was eating an equally large insect this morning on one of the life jackets. Ed and I paired up for the day.
It was nice to wake up to dry gear this morning. But that wasn't meant to last. Thinking we had to get in and out of Front Royal in a day, we pushed rather than played on the river today. Rumbles of thunder also had us pushing. It would be nice to get off the river before the rain and while we were shopping for our resupply. The thunder was getting louder and making me nervous. There was one loud and close flash of lightning that would normally have chased us off the river. Instead, since we were just a couple of minutes from our planning pull out, we pushed on under the trees along the shore, and safely but perhaps a little bit foolishly, made our pullout. We unpacked the canoes, stored our gear in the tunnel under the railroad tracks to keep it dry and made it up to the outfitters just before the deluge hit.
We soon discovered that we would be stopping in Front Royal for the night so we could relax and take our time during the day. We ate lunch at the Mill Pub. They guys sat at the bar, once again bowing to Cookies' idiosyncrasies, even though that made group conversation impossible. For me, I can rarely get close enough to a bar to eat without crunching my knees. This place was no exception so when my meal came, I opted to eat at a table. Since I was at the end of the line anyway and Ed, sitting next to me, was more interested in golf, it didn't really matter. After lunch, three of us went to see the new Indiana Jones movie while the other two went shopping. The movie was even more silly than previous Indy movies but it was a nice diversion.
I bought some Easy brand "croc" like shoes that are a bit more enclosed and shoe-like than most and have an adjustable Velcro closure. I'm hoping they'll be better than my trail shoes for river shoes. Seemed appropriate given that with the Easy button that K Bomb is carrying, "that was easy" has become our catchphrase along the river.
We spent the night camped out at the Front Royal Canoe Company. Their porch is rather shelterlike plus they left the bathrooms and changing rooms open for the night in case we needed the facilities. We called in for pizza for dinner.
Day 29: Tuesday, June 17, 2008: 22 miles - Hebron Island
We were all up, eaten breakfast, and packed well before the 9:00 opening time of the outfitters. Another customer who showed up early was soon packing all of our gear into his truck to help us take it down to the put in. Wonderful! We moved the canoes, loaded up, and as soon as the outfitter was open, bought bug spray, Gatorade, and a few more bags of ice. Once again, Ed and I paired up, switching roles with him in the stern for the day. Being in the bow, I try to point out obstacles and recommend paths through rapids but I'm still not all that good at "reading" the river.
Our big obstacle of the day was a portage around an electric generating dam. We had been told to portage from the right side but a sign at the dam said left. But, when we scouted that portage, it was huge, long and not anything we wanted to do. We did get to see three fox kits while checking out the portage so there was some redeeming value to our having checked it out. We could see the portage that had been recommended to us on the far side and opted to ignore the sign and go to the other side. We had to completely unload the canoes, move everything over a wall and down a rocky drop, and pack up again. We took our lunch break at the portage after getting everything over the wall. Being tall, I was on the receiving end of the canoes coming over the wall. The portage itself was exhausting and we had a big day on top of it.
Our next bridge was a low bridge and unlike the first one we had encountered on day one or two where we could swim under with our canoes, this one was too low for us to float under. So being a short portage, we opted to put four people on a canoe and just carried each canoe, fully loaded, across the road in succession.
Interesting items for the day, watching a deer cross the river, bounding across at a shallows. Having the North fork of the Shenandoah join in which unfortunately, means motor boats on the river. Thankfully, being a weekday, there weren't many on the river. We saw an osprey.
Frito pie (Fritos, chili, and cheese) for dinner. We camped on what is private property left over from a King's Grant way back when. We should have tried to be discrete and use our camp stoves but Cookie being who he is insisted on a fire.
Day 30: Wednesday, June 18: 2008: 22 miles on the Shenandoah River
We got up early today in anticipation of another long hard day. I had to clear my tent of many dozens of tiny snails, some just a millimeter or so big. Others approaching 4 millimeters long.
The water was running deeper and faster today so we found ourselves three quarters of the way done before lunch at noon. We passed an old mill complete with water wheel on a side stream. Our lunch stop was at the 3/4 mark at a public landing and we were done paddling by 2:30. We would have continued paddling if we thought we would be able to find another campsite further on but the maps showed no further islands along the way. Ed and I paired up yet again.
At one point, we got a great view of a bald eagle first flying low and then settling on a branch. We've seen occasional turtles in the past but today we saw a great many of them. We saw nine geese flying in formation at eye level straight towards us, rising to about 15' above us by the time they passed straight overhead. It was pretty cool to see them coming at us like that. I saw a beaver on a tree on the bank at one point. We saw three deer swimming across the river to the island where we ended up camping tonight on a public island with very nasty, cementlike mud for a landing. Once we climbed up the six foot tall embankment though, there was fairly good camping with an already established fire ring.
Rain and thunderstorms threatened enough to have me get my awning ready but never amounted to anything. By the time I went to sleep, I pulled the awning back out of the way but kept the awning pole and stake at the ready just in case.
We ate quesadillas again for dinner. Yum!
This paddling is strengthening my shoulders big time. I'm still not nearly as strong as the guys but I can hold my own out here. Plus, I can tell when I'm sleeping on my side when my shoulders are strong or not and though the hiking has helped them quite a bit, the paddling helps even more.
Anyone able to identify a bug from a description - or know of a web site where you don't need to know the insect before being able to identify it? In camp, there was a big insect that reminded me of a dragon fly but wasn't. It was about 3-4" long, had four wings that seemed dragonfly like when fluttering but when folded, were swept back rather than held out to the side and the four wings looked like two. The wings were also about 3-4" long and a good .5" wide. The wings were folded flat on its back rather than held vertically up like a damselfly. It kept trying to crawl up a stalk of grass but slid backwards quite a bit. It didn't seem able to fly. Perhaps it had just emerged from some lesser state or was injured? It was whitish tan. The body looked "meaty" as opposed to sticklike... Almost like a caterpillar. Not sure what other information would be useful... I tried doing a web search but ran into sites where you seemed to need to know what it was before being able to get more information about the bug. Hmm, after looking at a few web sites, I'm thinking it is some sort of moth... Still need to narrow it down more...
Day 31: Thursday, June 19, 2008: 11 miles - to route 9, Shenandoah River (and Harper's Ferry)
With the river moving faster than expected yesterday, we slept a bit later today and called to get an earlier pickup than the 3:00 we first arranged. We'll meet our shuttle at noon or 1:00. That was the best they could do. We had an easy and short day of paddling. I was back with K bomb today. After a phone call to verify exactly where the pullout was, we got there by 11:30, giving us enough time to clean up, repack our backpacks, eat as much of the extra food from our coolers as possible, and then stage a silly picture with all of us sitting in one canoe, wearing our backpacks, and using our hiking poles as paddles. Unfortunately, we couldn't do this in the water so the canoe is sitting on the grass for the picture. It's still pretty silly.
The weather was threatening as we packed and we were worried we would get rained on but it never amounted to anything. Our shuttle came and dropped us off at the pub in town where you have to ring a bell to get buzzed in. Once again, it was bar seating. At least this time, I was seated in the middle of the group and the bar was set a bit deeper so I wasn't banging my knees too much. Plus, this bar didn't have an wide edge like the one in Front Royal so I could reach my food once it came.
We walked into the ATC office, surprising everyone there. Babu worked there as a volunteer all winter and is well known and I've been a familiar face there for years, both before and after my summer 2005 stint working there. Everyone knew Babu was on the trail but didn't know when to expect to see him. As for me, nobody really knew I was on the trail and certainly nobody expected Babu and me to walk in together having aquablazed our way there. We hung out for a while then went to the outfitters for a while. We dropped our stuff at Bryce's place. He's a friend of Babu working at the wine shop and agreed to let us crash at his place. Then we went to lower town to grab some frozen custard. While there, I got in touch with my friends Mark and John. Babu, having already retrieved his vehicle, was soon shuttling me to go visit them and reunite with my own vehicle.
It was great to see Mark and John again and I was soon settling in for a while.
Time will tell what I end up doing next.
Date: Tue Jul 8, 2008 9:14 am
I've been back on the trail, north from Waynesboro where I had gotten off to do the aquablaze. This time, I met up with Rockdancer, a friend from at-l and Massachusetts to go through the Shenandoah where I saw more deer than I could count, even more tourists, ate well at the Wayside restaurants, and saw 11 (yes, ELEVEN) bears. For those that remember my first thruhike, that's ten more bears in five days than I saw during my entire thruhike in 1999. They were cute. More details when I get my journal entries up.
We've got three more days of hiking to get back to Harpers Ferry where I'll spend a couple/few weeks volunteering for the ATC. I should have some time at that point to update my journal.
Date: Sun Jul 20, 2008 12:23 pm Subject: 6/20-7/20: Trail magic, hiking, and volunteering: Harpers Ferry to Harpers Ferry
I'm finally caught up with my journal. Many of my "in town" entries are abbreviated so even though this email contains a month's worth of entries, it's long but not too long - I hope.
I'll be returning to Boston during the first week of August and though I'll be taking some shorter trips to New Hampshire and Vermont, I'll probably stick around for a couple of months. If you know of anyone either looking for a housesitter for August (especially the second half) and/or September - OR - with an extra room for rent in the Boston area, please get in touch with me.
Day 32-33, Friday and Saturday, June 20-21, 2008: Harpers Ferry
I spent a couple of days hanging around town, doing trail magic and shuttling hikers to and from Charles Town and up and down the hill to the historic lower part of town. It's definitely thruhiker season. I then spent Saturday night in town and finally ate my first pint of Ben and Jerry's on this trip. I did share, however. John's at a sleep study and Mark's got friends coming for the night so it's easier if I'm not there tonight. Plus, I am planning on a hike tomorrow and it'll be much easier for me to get out on the trail if I start from in town.
Day 34: Sunday, June 22, 2008: Weverton Cliffs trailhead to Boonsboro - 13.6 miles
With storms in the forecast for this afternoon, I got an early start on my hike today. I wanted to be done with my hike before the rain.
There was all sorts of bear scat on the trail leading up to and beyond the Weverton Cliffs overlook but it seemed to peter out well before the Ed Garvey shelter. I was feeling pressed for time and having been there any number of times, I didn't stop at the overlook this time. There was a group camping near the shelter so I made my privy stop quick and kept going.
I stopped at Gathland State Park for a soda and flush toilet bathroom break. The soda machines didn't accept my dollar bills but I happened to have enough change on me to buy one soda. That was a nice treat along the trail. While thruhiking, I didn't take all that long to explore the Park. This time, I stopped to read many of the plaques around the park. Most told the story and gave the timeline of the movements of the civil war soldiers and regiments. But, the most impressive monument in the park is the war correspondents memorial, a huge Arc de Triumph type monument dedicated to those correspondents and journalists that lost their lives in the war. What caught me by surprise was another nearby plaque that hadn't been there in 1999 when I first walked through the park. This one erected sometime after 2003, was dedicated to four journalists who lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan including Daniel Pearl, David Bloom, Elizabeth Neuffer, and Michael Kelly. [Defense.gov dedication speech]
North of the park, there were many blowdowns along the trail. It'll take a chain sawyer to deal with them.
This section is easy walking compared to other parts of the trail. That, plus the proximity to public transit and the DC metro area probably explains the great number of people I'm seeing along the trail. I saw four large groups plus quite a number of smaller groups of two, three and four. With all the people on the trail, there were no wildlife sighting of note.
My two hitches back to my car at the Weverton Cliffs trailhead took a combined total of less than 10 minutes of waiting. I was back to my car less than 30 minutes after I finished my hike. Not bad! I am once again reminded that sometimes even though I didn't have to pay for either ride with money, there may be other costs. This time, I had to "pay" for one of these rides with my ears. There are some people who look to a fresh face as a place to vent and I got an earful on one of my rides with a couple who found all sorts of things to complain about. When people complain about the economy, the government, and such, I can handle that. But when they start complaining about things that they have the power to change but choose not to, that gets annoying. But, you smile, show concern, and nod and hope the ride ends sooner rather than later.
I spent the week hanging out at the ATC office, offering rides to hikers needing to get to supermarkets, and a couple of days volunteering at the ATC fulfillment center. The work there is mindless but necessary. I spent time bundling guidebook and map sets, rubber banding map sets, and thinking about any way to make it more interesting. There wasn't.
I also helped out a bit at Mark and John's as they've started to put siding up on their guesthouse. Spending time there always means lots of good food and with Mark celebrating his 50th birthday, his party was no exception.
Day 42: Sunday, June 30, 2008: Waynesboro to Calf Mountain shelter. (Mile 855.1) 7 miles
Being early risers, we had a leisurely morning before driving to Martinsburg for John's appointment. I dropped him there and then went to a nearby supermarket to shop for my next stint on the trail. When I went back to pick up John, I had just enough time to repackage all the food I had just bought and pack my backpack before John was done. Then we drove to Waynesboro. It was further than I thought it would be, being two hours each way. I had gotten email from Rockdancer saying he expected to arrive in town today but I had no idea when to expect him. We checked all the usual places hikers would hang out but no luck. Finally, John and I ate a late lunch, then with a stop at Rockfish Gap Outfitters, John dropped me off in Rockfish gap and headed back to Harpers Ferry with my car.
After a three week delay, I finally started hiking north from Rockfish Gap. It was 4:15 in the afternoon. Even though it was contrary to the forecast, I wasn't surprised to have rain as we had driven through rain on our way south. Thankfully, the heavy stuff didn't last long though the thunder started, annoyingly, right as I got the the communications tower area where it's more open than usual. But there were still plenty of trees about so I kept moving north.
I followed a couple of deer at times along the trail today. I spooked a couple of others but also did the deer whisperer thing a couple of times. It's weird talking with deer and having them slowly walk up to me. Grand total of seven deer today. I also followed three bunnies along the trail. There were rainbows to chase as well.
Day 43: Monday, July 1, 2008: Black Rock Hut (Mile 868.1) 13 miles
There's a big difference with the people at the back of the pack than those at the front. I didn't get out until nearly 8:00am and most people were still sleeping when I left.
My first stop was at the spring near the shelter. While I stopped for water a deer stood nearby and watched me between taking bites of fodder.
I didn't feel like I was walking any faster than usual today but the terrain must have been a bit easier. It was a cool morning and I thought it would pour but the rain held off for. I stopped for lunch at the halfway point, as much because I was hungry as because I wanted to stop and get some food into me in case it did rain. I don't stop to eat when it rains if I can help it.
The afternoon went even quicker even though the sun came out and it got warm. Mostly I guess, I wasn't stopping to eat blueberries or talk with a photographer as I had in the morning. With a full belly, I was able to walk the seven miles to the shelter without stopping for additional snacks. Hmm, that's something to think about... I may make more of an effort to eat a bigger lunch now.
At the shelter Care Bear and Growler were in for a break and soon left. Woofman shared "bratritos" (tortillas with onion, mustard, and bratwurst) with everyone. Lee, a Korean hiker with extraordinarily limited English speaking skills, shared extra animal crackers and 'Nilla wafers he was carrying. Then it was dinner time and I ate Mac and Cheese, one of my larger meals. As I'm cleaning up, Rockdancer shows up. I hadn't really expected him to catch up with me until another day or two down the trail. Well, he brought hamburgers to the party. He made patties which were soon grilled over the fire and we were eating yet again. I am rarely stuffed on the trail but tonight, I definitely am.
I know Rockdancer from the Long distance hiking community and from Massachusetts. When he started his section hike this year, he started later than me and a good three weeks further down the trail. With my dawdling, he managed to catch up - or mostly so. He did yellow blaze a few miles today - his first ever yellow blaze - to catch up with me. I think he was looking for company and I certainly welcome the company.
Day 44: Tuesday, July 2, 2008: Height of land north of the Simmons Gap ranger Station. (Mile 884.9) 16.8 miles
What a day! I saw over a dozen deer including an eight or ten point buck in velvet. I had lunch at the Loft Mountain wayside. And to top it off, I saw five BEARS!
I had recently been lamenting just how few bears I had seen in my hiking career. With easily more than 5,000 miles of hiking under my feet, I had only seen three bears in the wild while hiking and only one of those was in the east, the other two being along the PCT. Most of my long-distance hiking friends had seen many more than that and I thought perhaps it was my hiking poles but since everyone uses them now, I knew that couldn't be it. In any case, I can no longer complain about not having seen many bears.
As an early riser, I knew I would be up and out long before Rockdancer so we planned on meeting at the wayside for lunch. Afterwards, we walked together, leapfrogging a bunch of Quaker kids. At one point, when passing a group of them taking a break, they mentioned having just seen a bear. Sure enough, just after we passed them, we caught sight of the bear. We stopped to watch it as it meandered along below us, parallel to the trail. At one point, it turned towards me and came a bit too close for comfort but then it lost interest and kept foraging. It was a wonderful sighting and for the most part, not too far, not too close. Of course, my camera is still being repaired.
We had dinner at the Pinefield Hut and then walked a bit more in order to shorten tomorrow's hike a bit. We made the right decision. After stopping at the Simmons Gap Ranger Station to load up on water and observe a small herd of deer there, we continued up the hill. It was then that Rockdancer caught sight of a bear. This time, he thought it was a sow with two cubs. But, when I stopped to look, I realized there were three cubs with the mama bear. This time the bear was oblivious to our presence at first, so observing them foraging without our causing any interference was great. But after a a bit, the mama caught sight, sound, or whiff of us and woofed at her cubs. They scrambled up three different trees looking incredibly cute and remarkably like those little bear clips I used to see some kids attaching to their pencils, etc.
At that point, the mama stood up to get a better look at us and then she did something completely unexpected. With another woof, two of the cubs climbed down their trees and climbed the same tree their sibling was already in. That way, Mama could guard one tree instead of three. Who knew bears could communicate such specific instructions? Not wanting to disturb the bears further, we didn't hang around very long after that.
Day 45: Wednesday, July 3, 2008: Bearfence Mountain Hut (Mile 901.9) 17 miles
I went to pee this morning only to look up and find three deer watching me. One was a six or eight point buck. As with all the deer I've seen this year, they are all in velvet.
I walked to the Hightop Hut where we met the group of Quaker kids that had done a night hike last night. Apparently they got in at 1:00am after hiking 19 miles yesterday. That's more than Rockdancer and I did. Yikes! Rockdancer caught up with me there.
We stopped for lunch at the side of the road at the route 33 interchange.
Then, we took a nice break at the South River Picnic Grounds. We showered under the water fountain that shot it's water well past the fountain bowl. I rinsed my hair, rinsed my shirt and used my shirt as a towel to wipe the sweat and salt off most of the rest of my body. If felt good to get relatively clean after a couple of hot days.
We stopped to eat a lot of black raspberries today.
I finally spotted a bear today. It was a yearling, alone, and slowly meandered out of sight.
We got to the Lewis Mountain Campground which was to be a resupply point for both of us only to find the store had closed early. The manager was still there but couldn't or wouldn't do anything to help. Then, Rockdancer had the soda machine at the store dispense incorrect change. This was the second day in a row that he had been taken by a soda machine. Both days, however, I was able to find someone to rectify the situation. As we were leaving, the manager popped his head out of the store and mentioned the lady across the street likes helping hikers. We should go across and ask her if she had any extra food she would be willing to part with.
Some section hikers catching showers at the attached shower and laundry building overheard us. They had extra food so invited us back to their campsite. So we never made it across to the lady who likes to help hikers. The section hikers gave us three Mountain House meals. I was happy with a Chicken and Rice Mexican meal. Rockdancer got the same and he also got a Primavera dish for tomorrow. I still had one extra meal in my pack so was OK for another day. We ate dinner with the section hikers at their campsite and probably could have stayed with them but decided to move on.
While we were eating, another hiker came up looking for the campstore. When we told him it was closed, he was disappointed but not needing food, just went over for a soda. While there, he was surprised when a lady approached him with a plate of spaghetti and meatballs. She had heard there was a hiker who was hungry. We had a good laugh at that. He had benefited from our, now resolved, predicament and gotten our trail magic. That was cool though as we had just eaten well.
Moving on, we stopped at the shelter just a short distance up the trail. There was a section hiking Mom there with her daughter. They also had a dog and they were staying in the shelter. Not particularly cool. Plus, the dog was startled at our approached and continually growled at us. Also not cool. They should have been camping and a dog that isn't well socialized for trail life should be left at home.
My feet hurt today and we have ambitious plans to get to Harpers Ferry by July 9. We'll just have to see if it all works.
The fireflies are out in force. There's a huge pile of bear scat between the shelter and the privy. Bear poles are provided in the park so there's no excuse not to hang food. We were happy to have an easy way to hang our food.
Day 46: Thursday, July 5, 2008: Rock Spring Hut (Mile 913.4) 11.5 miles
I started the day communing with a ten point buck who came out of the woods as I was walking to the privy and started grazing just a few feet from where I was standing. He stayed there until someone same out to grab their food from the pole didn't bother to look around and see what was happening. He scared off the buck. Then, a doe soon followed him across the clearing.
On the trail, I bypassed the blue-blazed summit loop. I'm glad I did. As soon as I got to the other end of the loop, I got to see a sow and cub on the trail well in front of me. As they moved up the trail, I followed slowly and then more quickly once I realized they had gone downhill off the trail (yes, bears can run downhill). I soon found an overlook from which I could see the bears in a clearing below me. The cub, so cute, started climbing a tree that would have had it coming closer to my vantage point up on the cliff. But the sow called it off and they soon disappeared into the underbrush.
I saw more deer along the way including one ten or more point buck at the cemetery on the way to big Meadows. I was surprised to find there were people with the name "Meadows" buried there.
I was also surprised to catch up with Woofman, Paradigm Shifter, and the Train Gang, a couple with a dog. They took off soon after I arrived and were gone before Rockdancer caught up with me at the wayside. After a surprisingly delicious chicken pot pie (or chicken stew over biscuit, we made our way to the nearby visitor center to take shelter before an impending storm hit. After settling in, we took turns watching our gear and looking through the exhibits in the visitor center. They were commendably even-handed and included information about the controversies surrounding the taking of the A.T. for the Skyline drive (the A.T. was rebuilt at the same time), and the segregation that occured even though it was a national park (it was still in the state of Virginia). We eventually moved our stuff inside to take in a couple of the documentaries they show there. While there, it poured, the fog rolled in, it thundered, and eventually, it cleared a bit. Then after catching a final look at the radar, we went back to the wayside, ate dinner, and then hiked out.
Luckily, we got to the shelter before yet another wave of heavy rain hit us. When the rain let up, we bear poled our food. Peppermint and Rockdancer went to sleep almost immediately. Michele, an AT dreamer ('09, most likely) and I could hear fireworks so went down to the PATC hut to watch. The folks renting the hut didn't mind our hanging around in the clearing so we got to see a bunch of displays in the valley below. With some fog settling in, some were just colorful splashes of light in the clouds. The rest, in the clear, were tiny as fireworks always appear to be unless you're almost underneath them. Michele and I talked about AT thruhiking while watching. It was 10:30, well past hiker midnight, before we got to sleep.
Day 47: Friday, July 5, 2008: Pass Mountain Hut (Mile 928.7) 15.3 miles
I woke up to rain so took my time getting going this morning. I ran into another sow and cub and this encounter would have been much too close except that the sow had obviously known I was coming and I only saw her rump until they got far enough away, above some rocks (this time they ran uphill), and turned around to watch me watching them. As I watched, I got to point them out to Superman, a thruhiker I had heard about from Rockdancer.
I saw a lot more deer today, some with more than ten points.
Rockdancer caught up with me right after my bear encounter. By the time we got to Skyline, Superman was already enjoying his breakfast buffet but we were too late for breakfast. We were also too early for lunch so settled in to wait for dining room to reopen. This is one of the nicer dining rooms in the park. The fare is similar but a bit more upscale than some of the other facilities but the prices were still OK. A bit high for a thruhiker, perhaps, but a really nice salad, and a humongous BBQ pulled pork quesadilla that I couldn't finish for only $12 or so? Not bad.
Further along the trail, Rockdancer yogiied some water from a Hispanic family packing up their vehicle. Then after a break, we moved on. In just a couple of minutes we came to another family picnic. I expressed surprise when I saw they had a stove toaster and they invited us in for toast with ham on it. We got to talking and found out they were from Russia. When they realized we had a clue about their part of the world, they revised and said they were from Uzbekistan. They were an interesting family. She looked Slavic and most of the rest looked very eastern. Our conversation was just getting interesting and the watermelon juicy when rain started. At first it was light so they just started packing up but as they finished, it really let go. Rockdancer and I raced back to the pavilion we had just taken a break under for yet another break. Too bad. It would have been nice to talk more with that family.
When we finally continued, we took a break at the Byrd's nest shelter to talk with a newby who was drying stuff out and learning a lot along the way. He was looking forward to hitting an outfitter and getting some proper clothing and gear rather than the cotton clothes he was wearing and the heavy gear he was carrying. He was a bit bummed to realize how much he still had to learn but was still excited about doing what he needed to do to learn and get out on the trail again. After waiting out yet another threat of a storm, we continued and walked to our shelter for the night, getting in yet again just before another deluge. After dinner, the rain didn't let up so we just hung our food in the shelter and hoped the bears wouldn't visit. Since most people always use the poles, it seemed a safe bet that bears don't usually get food at these shelters. It's just that we had seen a bunch of bears scat shortly before arriving at the shelter on the woods road, rather than the trail.
Day 48: Saturday, July 6, 2008: Gravel springs Hut (Mile 941.8) 13.1 miles
It was another rainy day with more fog than ever. Though we passed many viewpoints, there were no views. Just gray fog. Even the animals seemed to go into hiding. I saw one deer and no bear today. Peppermint, a section hiker who seems like he's hiked enough in the presence of thruhikers enough to seem more experienced was annoying me this morning. I'm not even sure if he was aware of it, but every time he passed me, he would soon stop to make a gear adjustment and then I would have to pass him again. Then, he would walk behind me regardless of whether I tried to go a bit faster or slower. I finally let him pass and took a long enough break that he could get ahead for good, at least during the day's hike.
At the last wayside in the park, Rockdancer and I found a sheltered picnic table and settled in for a long break. Though the weather was threatening, there was enough sun peeking through so that we spread our wet gear out on a fence to dry. We took turns going in for lunch and to shop for enough food to get us to Front Royal the next day.
The weather, though threatening, held off long enough for most of our stuff to dry. We eventually started out again and not 10 minutes later, heard our first rumble of thunder. A light shower had us put our packcovers on our packs but neither of us bothered with our rainjackets. Once we got to the shelter however, it again poured and for the second night in a row, we didn't use the bear poles.
Day 49: Sunday, July 7, 2008: Front Royal (Mile 955.2) 13.4 miles
The weather finally broke and we had beautiful weather all day today. The views that we had, mostly in the morning, were great, too. I took the time to stop here and there and once to fix my feet, I've had some raw spots developing on the soles of my feet but they're not turning into blisters. I covered them with Band-Aids and they were OK.
I stopped for lunch at a trail junction with two side trails to viewpoints. I did neither side trail though. I walked out with a couple just doing small hikes and was surprised to find Rockdancer at the parking lot with their vehicle. He had gotten delayed that morning by a strange kid hiking with weird garb and made up the time by roadwalking.
We soon hit the edge of the park and the trail changed immediately. It got steep and rough. We stopped at the Tom Floyd Wayside, a shelter (not a Shenandoah-like wayside restaurant), and took a break. Then Rockdancer went ahead. We pass a large fenced area before coming out to the road to Front Royal. At one point, I saw yet another stump pretending to be a bear - and then it twitched its ears. Oops! I was probably less than 10 feet from this bear. I quickly started talking to it and without turning around, slowly started backing away. As soon as it saw it was getting more space, it bolted across the trail and into the brush. Where it had been I saw only afterwards, it had been cornered by a jog in the fence. I'm just glad we could come to a mutual non-aggressive agreement.
That made 11 bear sightings for me between Waynesboro and Front Royal. Wow!
When Rockdancer and I walked out of the woods, we found Mountain Squid sitting in his truck. He said he had just gotten there. What timing! He gave us some trail magic juice drinks and munchies and then drove us to town and dropped us at the laundromat. While I monitored our clothes, Rockdancer went for coffee for himself and brought back two pints of Ben and Jerry's, one for each of us. I also grabbed a Fresca out of the soda machine at the laundromat. I don't know when, if ever, I've seen Fresca in a soda machine, before.
After laundry, we resupplied at Martin's for the next stretch of trail, then checked into a Super 8, showered, rested, and made our way to the Chinese restaurant. Back at the hotel, we were both happy to watch episodes of Star Trek, the Next Generation.
Day 50: Monday, July 9, 2008: A few miles south of Ashby Gap (Mile ~971) ~15.8 miles
We had a slow morning with English muffins and cheap donuts from breakfast at the Super 8. After packing and checking our email one last time, we walked to Burger King. Rockdancer got another breakfast and by the time I got out of the bathroom, they were switching over to lunch. That worked for me. Then we stopped one more time at a Rite Aid and then stuck out our thumbs. It took us two minutes to get a ride back to the trail. Not bad.
When we got out of the pickup, Rockdancer's hat got left behind. Oops!
Given our ambitious schedule, we've decided to do some roadwalking for this stretch of trail. It'll allow us to see some different aspects of the trail, too. We walked through newer and older neighborhoods and ate wineberries before hitting the trail again. We stopped at the Molly Denton shelter, a beautiful shelter that even has a solar shower nearby. Rockdancer made use of those facilities while I just enjoyed being off my feet.
Our lunch stop was at a picnic table under a mulberry tree. It's so weird for me to see these huge mulberry trees after seeing the mulberries bushes in SE Asia that were kept so small. No silkworms here though. We took another break at the Manassas Gap shelter and got to see a baby copperhead snake in the rocks there.
We did another road walk along a street with a lot of communications towers on it. After it turned into a smaller road, we met Arrowhead, a thruhiker from 1990. He brought us water, lemonade, showed us the view from his street, and given how much time we had spent talking with him, dropped us a couple of miles further up the road (my first yellow blaze) at the gated portion of the road. We expected to find the trail right there and did find ATC property signs, but not the trail. We found a place to camp, ate dinner as the light faded, and will look for the trail in the morning.
Day 51: Tuesday, July 9, 2008: Bears Den hostel (Mile 988.6) ~17.6 miles
Since we're not on the trail, Rockdancer and I have to hike together this morning. I packed slowly and Rockdancer made an effort to pack more quickly. It worked out. We continued the road walking on the old woods road as it was going in the right direction. We eventually found a trail marked "Old Trail" and it was literally blazed in pink. The term "Pink blazing" along the A.T. has generally come to denote what those guys do that change their hike plans to hike with a woman along the trail. It's the only trail I've ever seen that was literally blazed pink. Rockdancer and I got a chuckle out of it. We eventually found the AT but it was ambiguous which direction to go - even after Rockdancer and I each took a direction and scouted a ways off the trail.
After a brief storm during which time we sheltered under trees rather than hike, we chose a direction but soon realized we had probably picked wrong. That said, our mistake brought us to Sky Meadows which is a beautiful area to hike in. The trail had been rerouted since both Rockdancer and I had bought our maps. Oops! When we turned around, we soon ran into two hikers who confirmed we were now heading north. Phew! We stuck with the trail and soon found where the old trail had been. Soon we were at Ashby Gap heading for a local diner. But, the diner had been shut down so we stopped to eat on a bench in front of the old restaurant. Oh well.
Continuing with our road walk, we traded half of the roller coaster with harder surface but gentler grades on the road. We got some trail magic water from a lineman looking for a short in the power lines. We lunched on a huge flatbed truck, the type used to haul construction vehicles.
When we got going again, it was apparent that I had done something to my right foot. The top felt bruised and it was quite painful at times. Rockdancer went ahead and I just took my time along the trail. I stopped for water at a stream, took a break to eat some cookies, and for the last three miles, traveled at one mile an hour. Rockdancer came back down the last hill to help me out and took my pack. Nice guy!
At the hostel, I was happy to get the hiker special. For $25, you get a Tombstone pizza, a pint of Ben and Jerry's, a can of soda, laundry access, showers, and a bunk. Turns out the current caretakers are Redwing AT'99, and his wife, Hopeful. Their daughter, the Hikelette rounds out the crew. I didn't know Redwing from 1999 as he was always "behind" me along the trail.
When I finally got around to taking my shoes off, the top of my right foot was swollen, red, and very sore. With my feet flat on the floor, I could barely lift my toes up. Something was definitely wrong and with a 20-mile day planned for the next day, I knew I couldn't hike unless things were dramatically better the next day. I took ibuprofen to counter the pain from the foot and to help the swelling before I went to bed.
Day 52: Wednesday, July 10, 2008: Harpers Ferry (by car)
My foot, being no better in the morning, has me off the trail for the time being. Argh! Then Rockdancers shoes went missing, probably taken by another hiker and whether it was done maliciously or not, it's ended his hike a day short of his intentions.
Redwing, heading to Berrysville anyway, gave us a ride there and dropped us off where we could hang out and wait in a nice cafe until John came to pick us up in my car. We had lunch back at Mark and John's place and then Rockdancer and I went to the ATC office. Rockdancer filed an incident report and then I "checked into" the volunteer apartment that I can use while volunteering at the ATC office for the next two or three weeks. Dinner and an early night back at Mark and John's place.
Day 53+: Thursday, July 11, 2008 to now...
I've been volunteering at the ATC office most weekdays since arriving back in Harpers Ferry. On my days off, I usually end up at Mark and John's doing my best to help with the siding of their guesthouse.
I have my dance shoes with me but the timing didn't work out for me to go to any local dances in Shepherdstown or Frederick. I've got one more weekend to possibly make it into DC. We'll see if I make it or not.
Date: Tue Aug 5, 2008 10:59 am
My last full week in Harpers Ferry (two weeks ago already) was interesting...
I spent Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday volunteering at the ATC. We had some unusual visitors come in. Zero/Zero, a northbound hiker came in. He's a blind hiker who is relying on other hikers to be his eyes along the trail. From what I've heard, there have been plenty of people out there who have volunteered to help out and have hiked with him for days or weeks on end. That same day, the first southbounder, Jennifer Pharr, came into the office. She started on Katahdin on June 20 and has averaged 35 miles per day so far. She's being supported by her husband until mid-August. She's likely to blow away any "shortest hike" records that may exist for female hikers. This is her second hike. She did a "normal" northbound thruhike in 2005.
It was interesting watching her talk with Zero/Zero. I'm pretty sure she may have never realized that Zero/Zero is blind or if she did, not until well into her conversation with him. With a slight bit of blurry peripheral vision, Zero/Zero carries himself off as a sighted person would.
And while I was talking with Zero/Zero, another visitor came into the visitor center who is deaf. Not a hiker, it was just someone who needed directions around town. It was interesting to go from orally describing everything and making a point of not relying on gestures for Zero/Zero to trying to use gestures and pointing rather than using spoken language (she didn't seem to try to be lip-reading).
A few days later, a mother/daughter thruhiking team walked in. It was the daughter's 12th birthday so we threw her a little party and got her a cake and ice cream. She was a lot of fun to talk with. That same day, a mother/son team walked in. The mother is thruhiking and the son, also 12 years old, is out for a long section. Both parent/child teams were likely flipping up to Maine.
On Wednesday, I finally completed the section of trail from Snickers Gap to Harpers Ferry. It was a 20 mile day and except for the first hour and the last hour, it rained all day. I walked the first half of the day alone but then Shepherd caught up with me just past the shelter site and we walked the rest of the way together. It was nice having someone to talk with and try to keep my mind off the rain for a bit. This was especially true during those points when the trail was ankle deep in water. There was no avoiding it so we just walked right through it. At least it was was warm enough that we could just walk wet and not have to deal with the sauna effect of wearing rain gear on the trail.
I've now hiked more than half the AT for at least a second time. I've hiked from Georgia to the PA border in three separate hikes, I've done the Whites multiple times, and I've rehiked a few other random sections. It certainly seems like I'm section hiking the trail so when and if I've got more time to hike, I'll probably concentrate on those sections I haven't hiked more than once. So now I have to wonder when or if I'll finish the trail again.
The following weekend, I made my way to DC to go dancing at Glen Echo on Friday (contra dance) and Saturday (swing) nights. I stayed with Ruth and Mark again. I had first met them three years ago when working for the ATC and needing a place to stay in DC. Ruth and her family took me in so I would have a nice base each weekend I went in to dance at Glen Echo and tour the museums. It was she who was working in Bangkok for the last couple of years who gave me a place to base myself as I traveled around SE Asia. So, it was fun to see her again back in DC.
Her next assignment is in South America. If I end up traveling abroad again this winter, I was most likely going to head in that direction so who knows? Maybe I'll end up seeing her there, too.
I spent two more days volunteering at the ATC, then slowly made my way north, stopping in PA to visit with a couple of friends from the trail community, then my friend Michele in NJ who is about to give birth to twins, then a family reunion in CT, and finally back to Boston.
I'll be heading north to NH and VT for a week or so in a few days but then I expect to be back in Boston for a month or two. I'll then have to decide if I'm going to stay longer or if I'm going to head south of the border...
I'll keep in touch,
P.S. If anyone knows of any house sitting opportunities or available rooms for rent in the Boston area, I'll be looking for a place to stay for the second half of August through September. - Thx, MF
Last updated, March 17, 2012.
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