Dedicated to Mara's travel and hiking adventure journals as well as her words of wisdom and suggested resources for hikers and travelers.
June - Thru Virginia and Beyond . . .
Day 77 - Cornelius Creek Shelter - 17.6 miles - 744.2 total
Up early and hiking by 7:00. Found Husky and Squeak a mile away by the side of the road. Apparently, traffic really does stop completely overnight on the Parkway. They had a good night's sleep undisturbed by traffic. Of course, they had to get up with the sun, which for them must have been hard. In any case, I will keep the roadside as an option if necessary as I go. Stopped as I crossed VA 695 for a snack and then discovered some more trail magic in the form of a bottle of water and an apple just as I got back on the trail. I took the apple to eat right away, left the water, and threw away the bag from the apple in the nearby trashcan. For some reason, I totally forgot to empty my own trash, which was heavier and stinkier than normal with day old banana and orange peels. Yuck!
Then it was a gentle climb over Cove Mountain to the Cove Mountain Shelter. There I found a relatively clean privy (WOW) with toilet paper (WOW again!). I also found a complete copy of Charles Frazier's "Cold Mountain," the book I had been reading after Circuit Rider tore pages out. Now I will finally be able to finish it. Unfortunately the book is big and heavy, so I hope to finish it very soon, so I can leave it for another hiker. An hour after leaving Cove Mountain Shelter, I arrived at Jennings Creek (VA 614) where there was yet more trail magic. Fanny Pack had been there over the weekend and left sodas in the creek. It was great to have grape soda with lunch instead of iodinated water. Of course, that was only after I managed to get a soda out of the creek. Fanny Pack had left them in relatively deep water, well guarded by vicious tadpoles. After lunch, I had hoped for a swim, but the sun was not cooperating, so I just made my way over Fork Mountain. Of course, the sun came out for good just after I started up the mountain. C'est la vie. The Bryant Ridge Shelter was an amazing shelter, with three levels, glass windows, some screening, and lots of well placed shelves, benches, and of course, the picnic table.
Had a relaxing afternoon, wrote the first part of my journal entry, found my place in "Cold Mountain" and had dinner. As I left, I realized that none of those remaining at this big beautiful shelter would be sleeping in it. All of them preferred their tents. I was tempted to stay, just knowing that I would have the place to myself. Instead, a quick glance at my food situation and I knew I had to keep going. The 2,000' climb up Floyd Mountain was steady and had no surprises. The breeze had picked up and provided respite from the heat during my breaks. I'm glad I did not have to do the climb in the morning heat.
Day 78 - Matts Creek Shelter - 17.7 miles - 761.9 total
Up early, and once again, being the first on the trail in the morning, I got web clearing duty. The spiders here are prolific, so every day there's a new batch of webs to be walked through. It's the ones that get you in the face that really bother you. Ptooey! If the webs are the downside to hiking early, then the footprints in the trail are the upside. We humans share the trail with all sorts of other creatures of the forest. It is not unusual to follow deer prints for miles, as I have the last three days. I also saw some raccoon prints. While I have yet to see a bear, or bear prints, I often see bear scat on rocks by the trail.
There are also a wide variety of birds now on the trail. Some are spectacular to look at, such as the Scarlet Tanagers with their red bodies and black wings. Others are amazing to listen to, such as the Vireos, with their haunting tunes. With the flowers in full bloom now, the butterflies are also out. I have to wonder if they are territorial. Some really seem to chase others out of "their" area. For sure, the colors and patterns are amazing. Today's hike, though long, had few notable elements. We crossed the Parkway twice, but not near view points. We went under the Guillotine, a rock wedged threateningly over the trail and between two other nearly vertical rocks, and passed another FAA radar establishment. I took a very pleasant break at Marble Spring to read another chapter of "Cold Mountain." Then it poured and thunderstormed on the way to the shelter, so I got my "shower" a day early. Tomorrow, I go to Big Island for a mail drop, and hopefully to meet up with my friend Peter.
Day 79 - Johns Hollow Shelter - 4.9 miles - 766.8 total
Up early, but stayed in bed (er, bag) reading, knowing there was no rush to get in to town. Once hiking, I realized that yesterday's soaking did a job on my feet. I have a couple of spots that seem raw, although there are no apparent blisters, just red spots. I took it easy and had no problems along the way. At the road, I could not get a hitch. Only one large pocket of cars and trucks passed me in half an hour. That was unusual, given the traffic in the other direction. I gave up and started walking the "wrong" way, which was along the trail, thinking that there was a phone on the other side of the James River. There was not. I did find out why all the traffic was so weird. The road ahead was being widened and they had "pilot" cars bringing groups through. That's why I had not seen any "single" vehicles. I gave up, for the time being, on getting to Big Island and headed for Glasgow instead. Just as I was about to cross the street to hitch, I noticed an SUV letting out some hikers at the northern trailhead. Turns out he was shuttling from the Inn and Restaurant he owns. He gave both me and Yellow Blaze, who I had noticed not too far back, a ride to their Inn. Yellow Blaze checked in, but I held off.
I was trying to get in touch with a friend in the area, but was unsuccessful, at least for the time being. I had breakfast, hung out for a while, caught a shuttle to/from Big Island to get my maildrop, only to realize that either they did not look for it, or my bounce box was not there. Argh! After lunch, I did laundry, repacked and got a shower from one of the people already checked in. (Thanks, HeBeGeBe!)Then I had a quick dinner, and set off for the trail again. It was only two miles or so to the next shelter and given my feet, that would lessen the length of tomorrow’s hike. It was also going to be sunny and in the 80s for the next few days, and my hike tomorrow involved 3,000 feet of climbing over eight miles or so. The earlier I could get out, the better. I crossed a few roads in the short distance to this shelter, but the shelter still seemed remote. Once there I met up with Bare Chest and ?.
Day 80 - USFS 39, Little Irish Creek (tent) - 13.2 miles - 780.0 total
A nice little hike over Bluff and Punchbowl Mountains this morning, with breaks to finish yet another chapter of my book. At the Punchbowl Shelter, I took a few hours, ate lunch, read yesterday's paper that was sitting in the shelter, read more in my book, and toured the pond. While sitting at the shelter with Bare Chest, we started hearing this deep popping and buzzing. I laughed when I realized it was bull frogs. Sure enough, at the water's edge we saw a few bull frogs whose bodies were about 6 - 7 inches long. Yikes! I had dinner at 4:00 and then made my way here by 6:45 or so, for what now seems like an early evening. Plenty of time for writing and reading.
I was recently asked if I have experienced any of what thruhikers call the Virginia Blues. Virginia, being almost a quarter of the whole hike, often discourages hikers because it takes so long to get through it. I have not experienced any of these blues yet. Hopefully, I will not. I think that between Trail Days in Damascus, seeing Betsy in Catawba, and now that I'm looking forward to staying with a friend near Waynesboro and seeing my parents near Front Royal (they will be coming from CT for a visit), I have enough short term goals to make Virginia seem a bit more "friendly" and less "unending" than it seems to most hikers. Well, that’s one theory anyway. I’m more than halfway through the state and enjoying myself more than ever.
Day 81 - Seeley-Woodworth Shelter - 20.2 miles - 800.2 total
A long day... highlights include: seeing a huge tom turkey be startled into flight after I passed Brown Mountain Creek Shelter; a cool breeze during the otherwise hot climb up Bald Knob; Pedlar Dam; the bald on top of Cold Mountain (not the one referenced by my book title); Pete Iossi's trail magic (Texas cinnamon buns) just past Hog Camp Gap in celebration of National Trails Day; water from a stranger at a road crossing; the view from Wolf Rocks (and subsequent offer by Peter of pork chops); both a great privy and a phenomenal water source here at the shelter.
The only lowlights are some pain (tendonitis?) in the outside tendon of my right ankle. Argh! This is so frustrating! I believe that it might just be my feet getting used to having more of an arch in my new boots than they were used to with the Limmers. I guess I will just keep going one step at a time, and hope my time off near Waynesboro will solve all ills.
Day 82 - Harpers Creek Shelter - 14.3 miles - 814.5 total
I woke up knowing that another 20 mile day was not in the cards, so I settled my sights for today on Harpers Creek Shelter. This means that I will probably not get a chance to go to Rusty's Hard Time Hollow. Too bad.
Thankfully, my right ankle felt ok (normal) all day. My left ankle was iffy - perhaps with "sympathy" pains. In any case, it never got anywhere near as bad as my right one had yesterday. Today's hike was up and over The Priest, a 4,000'er with great views of the valley 3,000' below. The 3,000' descent was long and slow but only slightly painful.
Once at the bottom, I crossed the Tye River and hadn’t gotten off the bridge before I was invited to join a family there roasting hot dogs. Well, they asked if I wanted a hot dog, and since it required heating, I ended up joining them for a couple of hours. It was quite a treat to have a hot dog on a bun with some beans and Dr. Pepper. There were other extras, but my appetite was low and I was satisfied with one hot dog. We eventually wrapped up our lunch and moved down to the river, where Meg and I promptly got our feet wet, she finding interesting rocks, and me just trying anything to help my feet. The water was cool, but not frigid, so I could just comfortably sit there. After awhile, we dried off in the sun and took a round of pictures. They gave me enough water to get up the hill, and we parted ways.
On the way up the hill, I had a close encounter of the deerest kind. Somehow I had walked to within 20' of a deer feeding on leaves from within the trail. As soon as I realized what I was looking at, I froze. The deer had not seen me as I walked up, and gave me a funny glance, as if unsure as to whether I had been there last time it looked. It kept nibbling leaves, but when I very slowly tried to get my camera, it slowly moved off the trail and out of range. It had never gotten alarmed, it just seemed to decide that getting off the trail would be a good thing.
That was the second deer I had seen today. The first was in a gap before the Priest. I also saw a couple of rabbits today, and a number of squirrels. Tonight, a pair of them are making a racket as they chase each other all over the nearby forest and chatter noisily at each other and at us human intruders.
Day 83 - Dripping Rock Parking Area/Rusty's - 12.7 miles - 827.2 total
Another hot day for a 2,500' climb. There was a breeze, which helped, but only on the breaks where it could get into the trees from the west. Took a long break at Maupin Field Shelter. Many of the shelters in this area have fairly new privies. Nice!
This afternoon the trail once again returned to the parkway. After Reeds Gap, the trail, though flat, got extremely rocky. Between the heat and the rocks, I found the going very slow. It was 5:00pm by the time I got to the Dripping Rock parking area, so I stopped for the day and started hitching. I was hoping to get a ride about eight miles south to Rusty's. Rusty's Hard Time Hollow is impossible to describe. All along the trail I've heard "go to Rusty's." When I would ask why, they would say "just go" or "you have to go." Once there, it was easy to understand why nobody was able to describe the place. The Hollow is a bit of a farm with a bunch of goats and chickens. There is no electricity and the only "running" water is spring water. He allows no alcohol on the property, but encourages people to have fun. There's a campfire circle, a horseshoe set, a cold tub and a wood-fired hot tub in the lower field, down the hill. Off to the side of that area is another field for those hikers who prefer to camp. Up the hill, by the main group of buildings, he provides bunk space over the barn, adjacent to the main "house," and on the front porch.
For light in the evening, there are oil lamps. For refrigeration, he has a working spring house, a small building with a pit in the floor through which a spring is directed. There is about one foot of water in the pit, and all items to be kept cold are stored in the water. Rusty provides sodas - the diet ones float and are only for those who cannot have sugar. The regular ones sink and must be fished out from the bottom of the pit. He provides a privy but prefers that people not urinate in it too much. Urine in a privy makes for more difficult waste management. He also provides two spots in the yard where he prefers to have people urinate. By concentrating urine in these areas, he keeps the rest of his yard looking good. To make it more fun, one of these areas has a fake plastic fire hydrant. The other area has a bull’s eye target at a challenging distance. For women, he does make accommodations in the privy for those who prefer not to bare all in the yard. When using the privy, there is limestone powder with which to "flush." It is customary to use one scoop. For women who urinate in the privy, he just asks that you use two scoops. Fair enough.
Rusty keeps the local sign shop in business. There are hundreds of signs peppered everywhere on the property. Many are humorous, many informative, many tell "how to" or "how not to." When Rusty is busy or not around, they do help keep the place running. Only thruhikers, long distance section hikers and long distance bike riders who get there on their own power are allowed to stay at Rusty's. Once you've been and stayed under your own power, you can go back to visit under other "motor" power. While at Rusty's, I finished "Cold Mountain" and plan to leave it at the next shelter. It was a late night made even later by a conversation I had with Peach Buzz in the bunk room.
Rusty takes pictures of all visitors but I never managed to connect with him. My number there is 438. Perhaps I’ll send him my picture one day.
Day 84 - Humpback Rocks Parking Area/North Garden - 4.8 miles - 832.0 total
The Blue Ridge Parkway does not have a lot of early morning traffic. I started hitching around 8:00am. The first vehicle to stop was a ranger, who informed me that you could not hitch on the Parkway. It was ok, however, to stand there looking sad. He drove off. I let the next car go by without thumbing, but then started thumbing again. It took two rides and one hour to go eight miles. I started hiking around 9:00. It took me three hours to go five miles over very rocky terrain in weather that was just beginning to heat up. I had several more miles to go and a hitch into town, and I became concerned that if the terrain stayed rough, I would not make it. I walked to the visitor center, looked around a bit, and got a ride into town. Now I would have to come back after my day off to finish the parking area and then start Shenandoah.
At the visitor center, I met the ranger who had stopped this morning, who told me his wife passed me not 15 minutes later and told him I looked sad. She was in the one car I let pass without thumbing. The ranger’s wife was also at the center, working there a few days a week. I told neither that I had started thumbing again after they had passed.
I met a couple while wandering around, and they gave me a ride into town. They dropped me at the post office with admonitions to "be careful." I picked up my mail drop and arranged for my friends to pick me up at the Comfort Inn where I hung out in Hyper's room for a couple of hours, enjoying the air conditioning.
It was great to see Ken again and we had an enjoyable ride back to his and Nancy’s place. We passed mountains and rolling hills and farm country in the valleys. They are renting a beautiful old large farmhouse that could certainly use some work, but retains all of its country charm nonetheless. They've done a great job decorating it and it really seems like their "home." They have two birds, a cat, and two ferrets. For dinner, Ken and I ate salad. It was the first salad I've had in along time with lettuce other than iceberg. It was great. A wonderful meal on a hot day, too. I had an opportunity to look up some of the animals I've been seeing. The snake I saw with Overpacked as we approached Atkins was a Common Water Snake. The red headed skink was probably an older male Broad Headed skink.
Day 85 - Ken & Nancy's - North Garden - 0.0 miles - 832.0 total
A relaxing day off - my first 0 mile day since Trail Days, I think. I caught up on my journal, which means I left plenty out - the couple I talked with at the Humpback Rocks parking lot who want to hike the trail - GO FOR IT! - they offered me a ride out, but I had not yet decided not to do the rest of the trail yet. Then there was the couple I met at the visitor center who did eventually give me a ride to Waynesboro - THANK YOU! And at the house, there were the two deer we saw across the lawn - beautiful.
Today was filled with the usual chores - laundry - meal planning - phone calls. There was also plenty of time to relax, check email and tour their huge garden. A great steak sandwich for lunch slid right down. Dinner was Indian in Charlottesville - delicious.
Day 86 - Calf Mountain Shelter - 14.6 miles - 845.8 total
Up at 5:30am to get to the Humpback Rocks trailhead at 7:00 so Ken can get to work by 9:00. I was pleasantly surprised to find that the trail was much less rocky than the previous sections. Had I continued on Tuesday, I would not have had a problem getting to town in time to pick up my mail. Live and learn.
The first seven miles ended up being nicely graded. Even the hill down to the shelter and up the hill afterwards caused no pain. At the shelter, I left "Cold Mountain" for the next interested hiker. I spotted yet another deer this morning. I think the count is up to 13. Once in Rockfish Gap, I was disappointed to find the Ho Jo's "closed for the winter." I scrounged lunch at the gas station/food mart, called my sister, and then hefted my pack to head back to the trail. I was quite pleasantly delayed when I saw Husky and Cyrus heading my way. I'm now 1.5 to two days ahead of them, and had not seen them in a week. We caught up on each other's news and said goodbye again when he caught a ride into town.
Once again I tried to leave, but was delayed by the arrival of some long distance bicyclists. There are a number of places where the trail crosses some well established trans-continental bicycle routes. It's always interesting talking with the bicyclists to see how they travel. Likewise, they're always curious about us long distance hikers. For me, as a bicyclist, and as a hiker wearing bicycle shorts, I find bicyclists often wonder how hiking compares to bicycling. Meeting cyclists also gives me a chance to lament the loss of a bicycling season. The feeling does not last long as I get back on the trail and appreciate what I'm doing and where I'm doing it! I finally said goodbye to them and got back on the trail around 1:00.
The trail through Shenandoah has its ups and downs, but none as big as what we've been through already. Today I had to self register to get a free permit to use the hut system here. Unlike in the Smokies, here the thruhikers have priority in the huts. If the huts are full, those out for less time must make room for thruhikers. Once at the shelter, I found myself with a large group of hikers for the first time in a very long time. Those here include Quick, No Time, Sir Pee-a-lot, Mike, No Moss, Overpacked, Squeak, Grizzly, Tony and HeBGeB. It was quite a time for reunions for me. I had not seen many of these people in quite a long time. I hope to be hiking with some of this group for awhile.
Day 87 - Black Rock Hut - 13.1 miles - 858.9 total
Thunderstorms last night and fog this morning made for some very wet hiking, though nice and cool compared to the recent heat wave. We passed under some high voltage power lines that were just sizzling with the rain and fog. Walked through 3.5 miles of recently burned forest. There had been a wildfire on May 1 that started from a forest management burn a few days earlier. The forest floor was blackened and much of the undergrowth was burned. At times, everything under four feet was burned and above that was healthy. At other times, it was seven feet. Here and there, the forest was burned to near the canopy. Some of the burned Mountain Laurel was blooming near the top of the plan, and burnt near the bottom. The new growth pushing up now shows vibrant green against the blackened earth. The pine needles off the burn trees were orange lines sprinkled on the black ground. The insects and spiders are thriving again, as are the birds. I even stepped over a salamander. I had lunch with HeBeGeBe at the next road crossing, where we saw a deer walking by the road. Then it was a short hike as the fog cleared to the shelter, where it was nice to have plenty of time to relax for the afternoon.
Sounds of the forest according to Sir Pee-a-lot: * Whippoorwill - (whistled) * Barred Owl - (hooted) * Mountain Lion - (screeched) * Thruhiker - "Where the hell's the shelter?"
Day 88 - Hightop Hut - 21.4 miles - 880.3 total
The easy hiking of the Shenandoahs has set in. The trail is smooth and the grades easy. The seven miles to Loft Mountain were done in just over two hours, and then came the disappointment when we found the restaurant too far away to walk to. I shared some lunch stuffs from the campstore with Matt (?) and went on my way. A short break at the next shelter, and an eight mile walk here.
The weather today was beautiful. I was beginning to wonder. This is the third time I've been in the Shenandoahs. The first time, I was about eight years old. I remember fog. The second time was last year. I drove through on the way to the Gathering and it was foggy. The weather here had been great for weeks and then the day I entered the park, it turned foggy. I'm very glad to have experienced good weather here. The wildlife here is habituated to humans. The deer are not startled by people, and let you approach as close as you dare. Many hikers have seen bears, but they have not been a problem at shelters. One hiker even saw a mother bobcat nursing two babies. I hope I get to see some of the more "interesting" wildlife soon.
Once at the hut tonight, I met Bear, a local man doing some trail magic. There were cookies, sodas, juice and more here. There is also going to be some slackpacking tomorrow. Perhaps I will do another 20 miles. Thankfully, I do not have to decide until halfway through the day. Should be fun.
Day 89 - Big Meadows Campground (tent) - 20.5 miles (18.5 slack) - 900.8 total
Up early to catch the 7:30 slackpack that Bear has offered. Today was the first time I had ever used the top of my pack as a fanny pack. It felt a bit awkward and cumbersome, but a lot less so than my full pack. After hiking two miles to get to Bear's car, I converted my pack so I could use the fanny pack and started out. I had the same experience I had when I got my new boots. My feet were moving so much faster than I was used to that my arms had a hard time keeping up. I got used to my new pace readily enough, and decided that I really liked slackpacking. The terrain has been getting even easier and it's nice to be able to plan on hiking three miles an hour. It's also strange to realize that three mph is my normal city walking speed.
It was apparent early on that even though we had a stop planned at the Lewis Mountain campground and could end the day at 11 or 12 miles, I was comfortable enough to do another 20 miles today. We had microwaved frozen pizza at the campstore for lunch, watched a couple of Luna Moths for awhile (one got eaten by a bird) and then went on our way. I finished the 20-mile day at the Big Meadows lodge, where I had a great dinner. F.A.L. and Hercules, who had put all of our packs in their room, joined us for dinner. Then, Whittler and Trail Trotter, Quick and No Time, Cracker, and I got a tent site. It is always a little issue to thruhikers to have to pay to tent, but with $14 split six ways, it's not so bad.
Day 90 - Beahms Gap/Big Meadows - 20.6 miles (slack) - 921.4 total
Up early - as usual - but no rush to hike today. Marveled at the deer wandering around. Saw one still with "furry" looking grayish coat, its winter coat. Saw doe and fawn, too. Left my pack at the lodge desk in anticipation of checking in later with my parents. By the time I got back to the campsite, Whittler had snagged us all a ride with a couple driving a huge pickup. We were getting a ride north to Beahms Gap so we could walk back to Big Meadows, knowing my parents could give us a ride out the next day.
As our ride left Big Meadows, they stopped to pick up two more hikers, Raindancer and ? to be left off at Thornton Gap. I could not help but wonder if I should go the short route to get back early to meet my parents. Instead, I went to Beahms, knowing that it would shorten the next couple of days. We walked for an hour and stopped for a large lunch at Panorama. Then it seemed to take a long time to walk past Skyland, back to Big Meadows. Not only were we walking this section in the "hard" direction (more uphill) it was also one of those days when I just felt lethargic. We finally walked into Big Meadows lodge at 8:05, with just 25 minutes to spare for the dining room. They only served until 8:30pm. As we walked in, I met my parents and the five of us had dinner.
We made plans to pick up Trail Trotter and Whittler at 7:00am, then we went to our room. It was late, so I showered and went to sleep.
Day 91 - Mile Marker 15.9 - 12.8 miles (slack) - 934.2 total
Picked up Trail Trotter and Whittler at 7:00 and while driving, made arrangements to drop their packs in Front Royal so they could slack 25 miles. We dropped them at Beahms Gap and went back to Panorama for breakfast. Construction had us leaving the park in order to get to the wayside. After breakfast, it was back to the park where they then dropped me at Beahms Gap.
It was quick walking without a pack still. Almost immediately I came across some blueberry bushes with ripe berries - YUM! They were the first blueberries I had seen. Five miles later, I found my parents at Elkwallow Gap. There was a mostly decomposed/eaten carcass of a deer on the short side trail to the Elkwallow parking lot. Moving along, I found my parents doing trail magic at Little Hogback Mountain. Walking Home was there and was able to take advantage of the van and ended up slackpacking the rest of the day with me. We walked the last five miles of the day together.
Driving into Front Royal, it was once again evident that the best views were from the road, not from the trail. We checked out the trailhead on 522, dropped Walking Home off, and eventually settled into the Super 8. Dinner at China Jade and then sleep.
While hiking, I saw a Jack-in-the-Pulpit. I was also "attacked" by a grouse when I disturbed an entire family. The little ones went scurrying and the mother came at me, wings and feathers fluffed up to look twice as big as normal. She was hissing and charging me. With the family out of sight, I went toward the mother, who then did the broken-wing routine by walking along the trail in front of me dragging one wing. Once I was away from her brood, she flew off, obviously with two healthy wings.
Day 92 - Front Royal - 11.5 miles (slack) - 945.7 total
Picked up Walking Home at 7:00am and started hiking to Front Royal by 7:30. At one point, while looking at an old foundation with full grown trees growing from it, we startled another grouse family. No hissing or charging today, though. We finished around 12:30 and went back to town for our usual town chores; post office, laundry. At the laundry mat we found Sir Pee-a-lot and Peach Buzz. We put our laundry in, went to McDonalds for lunch, and went back to find Trail Trotter and Whittler there, too. It was quite a party. My Dad, without any prompting from me, drove a bunch back to their hotel while we waited for ours to dry. Then back to the hotel to organize, make phone calls and finally, an AYCE dinner at the Grapevine.
Day 93 - Front Royal - 0.0 miles - 945.7 total
Visited Montecello in Charlottesville as well as the University of Virginia campus to see the rotunda and buildings designed by Jefferson. Jefferson, who owned slaves and advocated emancipation, was also an architect. He designed many buildings in DC. He liked the octagon as efficient use of space and light. I chuckled when I heard this, as a friend of mine (correct me if I'm wrong, David) lives in a house in Massachusetts designed with octagonal rooms. This house was used as part of the underground railroad.
The day was also a useful shopping day. I bought a new pair of bicycle shorts at a Performance bicycle shop and picked up a summer weight fleece sleeping bag that I had ordered from Timothy Mouse, a hiker I had met at Rusty's. The new bag should save me quite a bit of weight. It also saves me space, so my backpack is getting much too large. Perhaps I will shop for a smaller pack at some future town. Went to the Aberdeen Barn for a great tenderloin steak.
Day 94 - Ashby Gap - 20.5 miles (slack) - 966.2 total
Another breakfast of cheapo, powdered donuts at the hotel. Then a 7:00am start at the trailhead, where I quickly came across the "Trespassers will be eaten" sign at the National Zoologic Research Center. The only animal I saw there appeared to be an Asiatic Wild Ass, similar to (the same as?) the Przewalski's Horse that I saw in the Berlin zoo twenty years earlier. I'm hoping it's part of the breeding program, as most Asiatic wild horses are threatened now by the encroachment of human development. The herds in Asia are dwindling, and captive horses may be the only way for the species to survive.
Continuing on, I heard something snort or growl in one of the enclosures higher up on the hill, but I have no idea what it was. I saw Cracker and Too Obtuse in the first shelter I came to, the "Hilton" of the area. It was a beautiful shelter with amenities galore. A bench, table, wood shed, privy with t.p. and shower. I met my parents around 10:30 for lunch at route 50. There I ran into Overpacked just starting his day. The afternoon went quickly. I passed one shelter, with a couple of hikers getting a late start, and then took just 1.5 hours to go the next five miles to Dick’s Dome, a shelter built as a geodesic dome. I was disappointed to find it far enough off the trail that I did not want to go the extra .5 mile round trip to visit it. I walked out to the road at 4:20, up to the parking area and then back to the store by 4:40. I finally got my pint of Ben and Jerry’s there before going back to Front Royal. Packed and had dinner at HoJos.
Day 95 - Bears Den Hostel - 13.5 miles (slack) - 979.7 total
Up early, as usual, but this time to get my parents on the road early. French toast for breakfast was a nice break from powdered donuts. Then, as my parents dropped me off at the trailhead, we realized that they were already on the road with the hostel. How convenient. It was only 9:00 when they dropped me off, so I had to fill eight hours doing 13.5 miles, as the hostel would be closed until 5:00pm.
Saw a bunch of deer along the way. Took breaks at both shelters and the one road crossing, and still arrived early. Today’s hike was dominated by "The Rollercoaster," a series of small hills in quick succession that add up to significant elevation gain. While slower than most of the recent hiking, it is still easily comparable to earlier, larger mountains. Having my parents visit over the last week was fun. Slackpacking was easy in this area, and it was fun helping other hikers get to and from the post office, their hotels, the trailheads, etc. It was also nice to see my parents understanding and comfort with the trail community grow. Even though I'm hiking "alone," they realize that I'm never really "alone" out here.
Here at the hostel, I nuked a frozen pizza and a frozen burrito for dinner, and then munched on a pint of Ben and Jerry's. Redneck called from Harper’s Ferry where his parents were visiting him. He offered to slackpack anyone from Bear’s Den Hostel to Harper’s Ferry the next day. This was an opportunity which both Stretch and I decided to take advantage of. It will be an easy slack into Harper’s Ferry tomorrow.
Day 96 - KOA Campground, Harper’s Ferry (tent) - 19.7 miles (slack) - 999.4 total
The slackpacking parade continues. Last night, Redneck called from Harper’s Ferry and offered to slackpack any thruhikers at the hostel. Both Stretch and I took him up on the offer. This morning, we awoke to gray skies. It had rained the night before and as we were preparing to leave, it started pouring again. I was trying to figure out how to handle the situation. Should I take a day off, carry my full pack and go shorter miles, go for Harper’s Ferry, or what? Just then, F.A.L. and Hercules walked into the hostel. They had stayed at the shelter three miles south. I mentioned the slackpack opportunity, and they started to seriously consider it. Minutes later, Redneck walks in for our packs. Four of us ended up slackpacking to Harper’s Ferry. The rain let up as we loaded our packs in the truck and so we headed to town.
We finished the Rollercoaster and then had a fairly easy hike. There were a few rocky sections, but mostly we could cruise. Along the way, I scared yet another grouse family, startled a few deer, and did not see any bear or bobcat. One of these years...
Once in Harper’s Ferry I thanked Redneck for the slack and got some soda and a sandwich from his parents. I picked up my pack and Redneck gave me a ride out to the campground. There, it started raining as I set up my tent, so I just stowed all my gear inside the tent and then set up the tent. It was nice to be able to do that. With no restaurants nearby, it was yucky microwave food and munchies for dinner.
Day 97 - KOA Campground, Harper’s Ferry (tent) - 0 miles - 999.4 total
Usual chores - ate breakfast at a cafe, got mail drop at the post office, showered, laundry, etc. Visited the ATC (Appalachian Trail Conference) office headquarters in Harper’s Ferry, and had my picture taken. I was number 361 to pass through this year.
Had an early dinner at Kings with Tree, F.A.L. and Hercules, then they told me of a slackpack opportunity for the next day. I had been trying to get together with a friend, so I told them not to wait, but if I was there, great. Back at the campground in time for "Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom," just the mindless entertainment I was looking for. Then I talked with my friend and we made plans for Saturday at Pine Grove Furnace State Park. This freed me up for the slackpack, so I went back to my tent, prepared my stuff and planned for a 5:00am wakeup.
Day 98 - Dahlgren Backpacker’s Campground (tent) - 17.7 miles (slack) - 1017.1 total
Up at 5:00am, packed by 20 after, and hitching by 5:45. Thankfully, the first vehicle that came by picked me up. There was dense fog and I was approaching the busy road that I would have had to walk along. It would have been dangerous to walk on that road in such fog. I got to the Comfort Inn, where I was to meet F.A.L. and Hercules, ate breakfast, dozed a bit, and talked to some Atlas pyrotechnics guys in town to plan the DC fireworks. (The Atlas folks were from Jaffrey, New Hampshire, home of Mt. Monadnock, a mountain I climb frequently, and a mountain from which I occassionally watch the special fireworks performance put on by Atlas each year for the town.) F.A.L. and Hercules eventually emerged and we met up with Hercules relatives who would be slackpacking us that day.
Today's hike took us out of West Virginia and into Maryland. We walked three miles along the C&O canal before heading for the ridge. The walking was easy and we made great time. We made one stop at the ? State Park and another at the shelter before arriving at the campground. We waited for out packs to show up with Hercules family. We had time to set up our tents but no time to shower before going to the very elegant Inn just .1 mile further along the trail for dinner. There were five of us hikers and four of Hercules visitors so we walked into the restaurant and asked for a table for nine. The hostesses face fell and asked if we had a reservation which, of course, we did not. As soon as we said it would be OK if she split us up and sat us at two tables, her face brightened up and we were seated at adjacent tables. At first, the reservation question could have seemed to be a ploy to keep us dirty, smelly, underdressed hikers out of their fine establishment. But, once we indicated a willingness to be split up, it was obvious that they were perfectly happy to have us.
I’m not so sure about our waiter. He seemed the stuffy type and barely broke a smile but loosened up quite a bit towards the end of our meal.
Escargots, Breast of Chicken Amore, and the most incredible Chocolate Mousse served in a dark chocolate edible bowl with raspberry sauce were the highlights. This was not your typical hiker fare and all involved rated it amongst the best on the trail. At $40 for the dinner (with no alcohol), I would have been upset had it not been a good meal.
Oh yeah - today we passed the 1000-mile mark. WOW!
Day 99 - Devil's Racecourse Shelter (tent) - 18.1 miles - 1035.2 total
We started the day with a visit to the original Washington Monument which was built in 1827 by the villagers of Boonsboro. Even though I was moving well, I still felt so slow. After 155 miles (or so) of slackpacking, I finally had to heft my full pack today. I took a three-hour break at the Hemlock Hill Shelter, and then tackled five miles of hills to get to this shelter area. I ended up camping at the top of the hill, but only after carrying my pack down to the shelter and back up. One good thing, other than water, came out of it. Too Obtuse pointed out a young rattlesnake to me. With a bit of patience, I got a picture too. This was my first sighting of a poisonous snake and the fifth type of snake I've seen along the trail.
I had some thoughts today about leaving Harper’s Ferry. Though I do not know people who got off the trail there, I can see why someone might. At 1,000 miles, if you are not absolutely committed to continuing, it would be easy to have a feeling of completion there. In one sense, I was glad to put Harper’s Ferry behind me, and continue walking. As F.A.L. pointed out today, the only thing that would keep most of us who have continued from finishing would be injury, or perhaps money.
Day 100 - Tumbling Run Shelter - 13.2 miles - 1048.4 total
On the trail by 6:20 and at Pen-Mar before it opened. Scrounged enough change for a soda, and ended up being there when the caretaker opened the restrooms. How nice. I passed the Mason Dixon line at the only state line crossing not marked with the state names. Suddenly, I craved barbecued pulled pork, a staple of the south where I had just come from and a now a specialty item in the north. There are many road crossings now, and many roads lead to towns. When I got to PA 16, I hitched to Blue Ridge Summit just to eat lunch. I started with a bacon cheeseburger, sweet potato fries, and a chocolate shake. Then I had a grilled cheese sandwich, and to go, I got a ham and cheese sandwich. Perhaps this is the start of the deli to deli hiking I had heard about.
Then it was a beautiful walk past Deer Lick Shelter to Antietam Shelter and the Old Forge Park, perhaps one of the most beautiful settings for a shelter - on a lawn with a stream at front. 1.2 miles later, there was another great set of twin shelters, a picnic table, a stream, triple springs gushing with clear water, clotheslines and more. As Sunshine East quipped, "I'd pay money to stay at a place like this."
Later, when I got water, I thought of how many people would pay money for the spring water here. Then, I was about to fish my t.p. out of my pack when it occurred to me to ask if there was any in the privy already. Sure enough, the privy was supplied. How great! While sitting down to write in my journal, we see two people headed our way, one carrying a cooler. It was George and Tawnya, caretakers of the local shelters, working some trail magic. The cooler was full of Cokes, bananas, nectarines, plums and Snickers. We enjoyed talking to them and hearing their trail magic stories. Then Sunshine East made plans with Tawnya for a ride to Walmart for tomorrow. I might take that ride as well. I seem to have gotten into some poison ivy and even though I've cleaned my skin, I think it's spreading because the urushiol is on my shirt, which I have not washed yet.
Day 101 - Birch Run Shelter - 19.6 miles - 1068.0 total
Up early as usual. (Why do I even bother to mention that?) The walk to Caledonia State Park was mostly nice and smooth sailing with some gratuitous detours up and over some rocks. Perhaps that was to prepare us for things to come. At the park, well before the store was to open at 11:00am. I saw Jersey George there and decided to follow his lead and get some snack bar food before going for a swim.
About then, Raw-wits and I watched a man jumping through what we thought was water coming from a sprinkler. Turns out it was not water. I had just ordered my food when the area was evacuated. That man had just been showered and burned by liquid chlorine. Soon, the area was inundated with all of the usual 911 response vehicles plus the HazMat vehicle. The pool area was then cordoned off. We thruhikers and about 200 others (mostly children) were disappointed to miss out on the swimming.
Sunshine East and I were shuttled by Tawnya to a nearby Walmart. I picked up some Techno Poison Ivy cleanser and food for the day. Now I'm carrying way too much, but it's worth it to have appetizing food. Saw Bare Chest at Quarry Shelters. Ate blueberries as I continued on. At Milesbourn I met Debby, a guitarist with Full Circle, who was to play at a hoe down tomorrow. Too bad - a private event. I'm still hoping to find some dancing along the way. Oh yeah - got stung in the back of my knee by something. It hurt a lot, and swelled some, but I could keep walking.
Day 102 - Iron Master's Mansion AYH - 10.0 miles - 1078.0 total
I failed to get a picture of a chipmunk just at the entrance to a hole in a tree at Tom's Run Shelter. Oh well. It's hard to get pictures of rodents. Then I made it to Pine Grove Furnace State Park and the Ironmasters Mansion AYH in plenty of time to shower and change into clean clothes before my friend Tim showed up at noon.
I had not seen him in years and barely recognized him with no beard and a crew cut. We spent the day in Gettysburg, eating good food, wandering around the town, and taking the taped driving tour (highly recommended). The size of historic area and the number of monuments was amazing. The few hours we took were just enough to whet the appetite. I’ll have to go back sometime.
Back at the hostel, we did a few West Coast Swing steps in the parking lot. Then we went in to look at a map and make plans for next week. He's going to pick me up in Harrisburg Friday afternoon and bring me back to Baltimore so I can go to a swing dance. It will be a great break from the trail. I'm really looking forward to it.
Day 103 - Alec Kennedy Shelter - 15.4 miles - 1093.5 total
Got a "late" start today. Did not leave the hostel until noon and then hung out at the store for a while. Saw Quick and No Time, Court Dog, and others. Did not bother with lunch before I left as I had eaten a huge portion of the half cheesecake my sister sent to me. It was delicious and filling.
Walked out of Pine Grove Furnace State Park, with Tony. We stopped to take a picture of the furnace and then again to take a picture at the half way marker, now out of date and place. They should put it on wheels and have numbers that can change.
Rain threatened all afternoon but never amounted to much. Tony left off at the campground and I continued to PA 34 where I stopped for dinner at a local store. The seven miles after dinner went painfully slow. I think the heat finally got to me again as it had along the Blue Ridge Parkway. I was not feeling very well but there was nothing in particular wrong.
I got to a section of roads up on the ridge and it was apparent that the trail was routed up there for no apparent reason. At one point, the trail was visible about ten feet ahead along a well-worn trail but the A.T. took a right turn, two lefts, and a right around a big boulder to get there. Perhaps the trailblazers were having fun. Perhaps they put a video camera up there at times to catch views of bewildered hikers. I could just imagine Allen Funt coming out with "Smile, you're on candid camera."
Unfortunately, I was in no mood for such merriment and got very discouraged. I was going very slow and felt like the shelter was not getting any closer. I encountered a group out for the evening descending from the rocks and was discouraged when they let their dog romp into the stream at the road. That was to have been my water source. I mentioned that they should try to keep their dog away from water sources and it was an apparent that they had never given it much thought. As I found a piped spring across the street, they got their hot, thirsty, panting dog out of the water too late. He was drinking too fast and panting a lot and ended up inhaling too much water and started heaving.
Thruhikers know to let their dogs cool down before letting them drink. These people and this dog obviously do not hike much. Well, maybe they learned something for next time. It was 9:00pm and nearly dark when I finally found the shelter. Having already eaten, I just went to sleep.
Day 104 - Darlington Shelter - 18.2 miles - 1111.7 total
With just a four-mile walk into Boiling Springs, Court Dog and I managed to get lost on the top of Center Point Knob. Together we walked down the wrong side of the mountain and end up doing a four-mile road walk to get to town. Argh!
Being yet another hot and humid day, it did not take us long to latch onto Bare Chest and Wandering Taoist’s idea of a night hike. The next twelve miles were to be through exposed fields. Besides, this would give us time to hang out at the pool, shower, etc.
Thunder and lightning threatened and some rain came but it never amounted to much. I had a swim and a shower at the local pool, a facility open now for 72 years. We then hung out at the ATC office all afternoon. Pizza for dinner around 5:00 and we were nearly ready to go. Hungry Brett walked in around 5:30 having just completed 20 miles. That was not enough and he decided to join us on our night hike if we would wait until he had time to eat. Finally, at 7:30 we started out.
It was still very hot and humid but the trail was basically flat. We made good time even thought we kept stopping to eat the mulberries, blackberries, and cherries along the way. We took many breaks and when we crossed a road at 11pm, we took a side trip to the diner just ½ mile away. With just one more major stop at the Scott Farm where we almost decided to stealth camp, we eventually made it to the shelter - at 4:00 am!
Unfortunately, it’s impossible for five people to be really quiet especially when there’s a dog around so we ended up disturbing the sleep of the couple already in the shelter. But, they had been warned before leaving town and so had left room for us to crash which we all did rather quickly.
Day 105 - Duncannon, PA - 11.4 miles - 1123.1 total
After only four hours sleep, the hike into town seemed a bit longer and harder than it should have. There were quite a few rough and rocky spots that made for slow hiking. I skipped the Thelma Marks Mermaid Shelter just after spotting a six foot black snake. I had plenty of water and it was too far off the trail to bother.
I walked into town with Mike and together we made our way to the truck stop at the other end of town. Mike checked into his own room and I joined Wandering Taoist as he waited for the others to show up. Eventually Court Dog, Bare Chest, and Hungry Brett joined us. A $32 room split five ways was cheap. The room was large and clean and the bathroom and shower was nice as well.
The restaurant had good (not great) food at reasonable prices including an AYCE salad/food bar for $4.99.
Day 106 - Clarks Ferry Shelter - 13.3 miles - 1136.4 total
Shortly after waking up at 6:00 AM, I noticed a sheet of pink paper had been slipped under the door. It was for me, from Kahley. She came down early to treat me to breakfast and take me to the trailhead at 325 so I could walk back to Duncannon. Not knowing where to find me, she had plastered the truck stop area with signs.
We had breakfast with Grace’s Son and his brother. Then, Kahley drove me out to the trailhead so I could walk the twenty miles back to Duncannon over two days. It was great catching up with her.
I met Joe (Mother Bird), the ridgerunner at the trailhead. We ended up walking together and taking a break at a great viewpoint over Clarks Valley. Moving along to Peters Shelter we saw Overpacked, Red Stripe, Second Wind, and Changing Pace heading north. We all took long breaks there and cooked our main meal. Joe and I moved south looking for campsites and ended up at the shelter just a few miles out of town.
Humbolt was there with her dog, Lila. The couple doing a three week section hike with their dog Judy who we has disrupted on our night hike was also there. We also caught up with Wee Willie the Prince of Whales, some hiker trash moving as slow along the trail as possible. He collects trail names for possible use in a book he's writing.
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