In spite of the title of this post. My entry is actually going to begin before I entered the fabled Shenandoah national park. When last we spoke my friend Ben and I were on our second night out from Beuna Vista. The next day I was planning on doing about 16 to the last shelter before Waynesboro and Ben was going to get off about 7 miles out at a parking lot along the Blue Ridge Parkway. Ben got off as expected and his mother brought me some excellent chicken salad that was most welcome. As it turned out however, I had a bit more than sixteen in me that day, I ended up pushing a full 21 on into Waynesboro that evening in hopes of being able to accomplish what I needed done early and being able to get right back out of town. Unfortunately I ended up needing a second night in town to do everything and it is a shame I didn't get a night at that last shelter. It was in a lovely little spot and the shelter itself was of a very different and interesting construction. On the other hand, the hostel run by the Lutheran church in Waynesboro was very welcoming and the people were exceedingly kind. In fact when they cooked dinner for all the hikers my second night there they went out of their way to find some gluten free pasta so that I would be able to partake. I highly suggest that hostel to any hikers going through, although you do have to vacate between 9 am and 5 pm.
The next day there was no more lolly-gagging around. It was straight out in the morning and on up into the Shenandoahs. In spite of the fact that I was carrying 13 pounds of food for me trek across the Shennies the first day was not overly challenging. In fact it was downright easy for the most part. On the other hand however I experienced something that I hadn't really encountered thusfar. As I was walking through some very dense sections of forest I started to feel a little uncomfortable. This got me to thinking about something Bill Bryson wrote in his book A Walk in the Woods about how the woods always seemed vaguely sinister. I had never experienced that during a daytime hike, but at that moment I began to understand. I think it might have something to do with the density of the woods not letting me see very far in any direction. Anyway, as I said my first day in was not hard wasn't hard but it was long and is was seven 'o clock before I got to camp and I was ready to be done for the day. To my pleasure however I was greeted with the offering of some warm Margerita from a woman named Spindle. It was very tasty and quite welcome.
I slept very well that night and as a result I was rolling not long after 7 the next morning. The temperature was pleasant and there was a beautiful morning view from Black Rocks only about .6 miles from where I started. I had made 13 miles by lunchtime and honestly thats about all I can remember about the walking that day. My journal entry is sadly lacking due to a finnicky pen. I do remember however, that we had a fun evening at the shelter that night hanging around with StoneAge, Triple Deuce, and Eulah among others. Triple Deuce had a radio which was a very special treat. Its amazing what music will become welcome when you haven't heard any at all in some time.
The next day was without a doubt my most memorable day in the Shennies and at the very least in the top three overall. When I left the shelter that morning I had no real idea where I was going. The first shelter was only 12 miles which seemed far too short but the second was a full 24 and my ankle really wasn't feeling up to that kind of mileage. Incidentally, nearly all of the shelters in the Shenandoahs are spaced in this rediculous fashion. You either have to do a really short day or a 20+. They say you can camp in pre-existing campsites as well but these are very few and far between. It is very frustrating. Anyway, moving away from the inadequacies of the Shenandoah shelter system. I decided to just start with the first part of my day and aim at a big car-camping site about 11 miles out for lunch where I could get a few goodies to supplement my food. On the way there I had a much more satisfactory bear sighting than my first one. This one did not run away immediately. In fact it didn't seem to be remotely concerned that I as well as Yorkie and Beat Box were nearby. This fact however did present a problem eventually when we wanted to keep going and it was still near the trail. After we finally got past the bear we were basically at the campground. Unfortunately the comfort and shade there was such that I got sucked in to hanging around a bit too long along with my two cohorts Stone Age, Triple Deuce, Eulah. I must say even though we stayed a bit too long, just hanging about drinking Cheerwine was very nice.
We had not gone too many miles from the campground when I started hearing some thunder in the distance. At the time I didn't think much of it. I just kept walking. Soon however the clouds were rolling in and the thunder was decidedly closer. Unfortunately, there wasn't really anywhere for me to go to take cover. All I could do was keep walking. Sure enough a short time later it was as though someone turned off a light switch somewhere. Accompanying the sudden darkness were buckets and buckets of rain. It was hot that day so I had decided to forgo my raingear and just get wet. I was soaked in moments. The trail quickly became a creek that a talented kayaker could most likely have navigated successfully and my boots just as quickly filled with the water rolling over my ankles. All of this really wasn't too bad though. When it started to hail though, I must say I thought nature was fighting a little dirty. The rain lasted probably an hour in much the same downpouring fashion, during which time Yorkie, Beat Box, and I covered about 2.5 miles. When the rain finally abated we thought that the nearest possible location would be a nice place to set up camp. As it turned out, this was Big Meadows Campground. Unfortunatley, it was Memorial Day weekend so there were absolutely no available campsites (we actually knew this before we got there.) We immediatly proceeded to try and beg (or Yogi to use trail terminology) a spot to camp for the evening. It only took us two tries before we were taken in by the wonderful Bruce and Cindy Scarlett. They recognized our plight immediatly and not only gave us a place to sleep but leftover burgers and soda, as well as some really good conversation. They are magnificent people. Some trail angels spend a lot of time around the trail looking for people to give food or assistance, but the ones who really end up being the best are folks like Bruce and Cindy who simply see some folks in need and leap to their assistance. Thanks again guys, it was a great evening.
The next morning the guys and I set out. I at least was wearing boots that were more than just a little waterlogged. Honestly though only two things really stick out about the walk that day, an unsuccessful attempt to Yogi food at a campground and the distinct fear that I was going to get caught in another gully washer that afternoon. The signs were all there and I was practically running the last 4 or so miles to the shelter. Of course it never actually rained. Ah well. That night we had some serious excitement. Sublime had bought travel Candy Land. Needless to say, the competition was fierce.
The next day I decided to really take advantage of the amenities offered by the park. That is to say, I decided I was going to get a milkshake at a wayside. I did this, and I more or less planned my day around that activity. Once again, while enjoying my time off I got a little caught up and ended up chilling out for several hours. That day though it wasn't too big a deal as I was only planning on going 16 miles total and stealth camping at Hogwallow flats. In truth this campsite was rather less than splendid, mostly because it wasn't a campsite. It was just a slightly larger than average open section with an acceptable amount of kind of flat ground. On the other hand it was kind a cool night since it is the first time I have ever really stealth camped completely away from a proper camp site.
I got up early the following morning but it took me a good while to get moving out of camp. Once I did however, the sluggishness faded quickly. I knocked out the 10 miles to the road into Front Royal in about 3 hours. The Dude was only a bit behind me and it didn't take the two of us long to catch a hitch into town to Weasel Creek Outfitters in town. We were on our way to the post office when we ran into Truffles and Ross who had apparently been in town for 5 days. After meeting with them we adjusted our destination to the grocery store which ended up being a very good idea. Since eating out can be challenging for me in these small towns I was just going to get a couple of things to tide me over until dinner at the Food Lion. Instead The Dude and I bought a large Rotisserie Chicken from the deli and devoured it (as well as chips, soda, fruit, and a pint of ice cream for me) using plastic sporks and fingers on the bench right outside the grocery store. We skeletonized that thing like piranha at a cow. I felt very much like a hobo, but that was actually kind of cool. Incidentally, aside from being a huge meal it was also really cheap, I spent like eight dollars on it.
After getting all we needed in town The Dude, Ross, Truffles, and myself got a ride back to the trail and hiked the five miles to the Jim and Molly Denton Shelter which is really cool. It has a big front porch and a spring fed solar shower that was unfortunately broken. We were joined by numerous others and had a really cool evening hanging out around the porch.
The next day was kind of nondescript except for a couple of things. First, early in the day I had to walk through about half a mile of really narrow trail through a chest high hay field. I felt like I was walking through tick central. Oh yeah, the hay was also mixed heavily with poison ivy. Awesome. This one guy Sapra got something so bad his face swelled up and he had to get a ride to a hospital. Secondly, the shelter I stopped at for lunch was rediculously small, hexagonal, and looked like it should have been the home of a gnome or something. Very Odd. Finally, Waffle caught up to myself, Yorkie, and Beat Box after chasing us all the way across Virginia which was pretty sweet.
The final full day before Harpers Ferry was really tough. It was immensely hot right from the get go and about the first two thirds of the day were comprised of a section of the trail known as The Rollercoaster because of its constant up and down undulation. As you can imagine this was not the most relaxing walking ever. In truth I think it was some of the tougher walking I've done, in spite of the fact that none of the peaks were overly high. I was glad to finally hit a bit of flat once I was past them. Late that afternoon I discovered exactly how easy it would be to get lost in the woods. I went a good long ways from the trail to use the bathroom, thinking I had a good grip on the direction I was heading. When I turned around however I realized I couldn't really tell where the trail was. It took me a fairly hair-raising five minutes to work my way back and when I did I was a pretty good ways from my stuff. I was quite creepy. Anyway, that night I was at another cool, porched shelter and I got to relax in it while watching a pretty good thunderstorm outside. The next morning I rose and hoofed it quickly in to Harpers Ferry where I met my folks for the weekend and where I am now currently residing.
Having now caught up to my current location I am going to call it a night for I am tired.
Take it easy,
The Breadless Horseman