After a pleasant day off at home, I returned to the trail and entered Shenandoah National Park. I had heard mixed reviews about the park, but it turned out to be amazing. I met up once again with the “SOBO bubble” and we navigated our way through beautiful views, perfect trails, and the convenient NP waysides.
Day 85 (0.0 miles)
I got to sleep in my bed for a night and it was fantastic. Lots of sleep and a large cup of coffee was just what I needed. My fiancé, Kara, and I went to my sister’s, Jenna, and her boyfriend’s, Tom, house to help setup for the party. Tom was turning 30 and they were throwing a Penn State Tailgate party. Food, beer, yard games, a football game and friends/family made for a great day. Ohh.. and dogs!
We headed home in the evening to relax and so that I could pack my things. We attempted to watch a movie afterwards, but half of my family (dad and brother) fell asleep about 10 minutes in. It was a fun day but I was exhausted! Nice to have one more night at home.
Day 86 (21.8 miles)
Packed up after a full night of rest. My dad made Kara and I a fruit smoothie, I forgot how much I missed those. My dad and mom agreed to take me back to the trail. They treated me to some Panera before heading off. I had decided that I wanted to do a normal mileage day, even though I was only starting in the afternoon.
It was a long day of hiking with lots of elevation gain. I barely stopped. There was a beautiful Barred Owl right along the trail. I nervously passed underneath it, but it was calm and allowed me to take a great picture.
Not far down the trail was an even friendlier deer. I whistled at her and she approached me. As she got within arms reach I told her to get back. I’m not sure how I feel about animals being this comfortable around humans. On one hand it presents a unique opportunity to see them up close. On the other it feels completely unnatural. Humans, at their core and whether modern society wants to believe it, are predators. Our ancestors hunted to survive. Humans are brutal animals and deer should fear us just as they fear coyotes or bears.
I hiked through the afternoon and into the evening. Crossing over nearly every type of trail material that exists: gravel, asphalt, dirt, rock, and wood planks.
As it neared nightfall I was tired and sore. I had hoped to be at the Gravel Springs shelter before dark, but that was seemingly unlikely. There were some great views as the sun was setting. I took a few minutes to just soak up the beauty that surrounded me!
7:45 pm rolled around and I staggered into the shelter area. To my surprise there was another hiker who had just came in as well. I setup my sleeping system and began cooking dinner. The other hiker offered me a beer. I gladly accepted and considered it a reward for stuffing 22 miles into 7 hours of hiking.
That night there was a giant mouse (possibly a rat) inside the shelter. It managed to drag my fanny pack about 4 feet away from me. My fanny pack is heavy as it includes my headlamp, phone, wallet, headphones and a few other essentials. A normal sized mouse would not be able to move it even an inch. The mouse did the same routine all night: It would scurry across the upper level of the shelter, jump down to the lower level (making a loud smack), run to some location where it was gathering supplies, and then scurry back up a post to the upper level and back to its nest. It repeated this for hours. After I woke up and realized it tried to steal my money, I waited for it’s next adventure for supplies. I positioned myself in the direction it normally jumped and had my headlamp ready. When I heard the smack, I shined my light at him. The mouse was larger than my fist and had a tail about 5 inches in length. Needless to say it was one Thiccc mouse.
Gravel Springs Hut: T1, S3, P3, W1, B5
Total Score: 45
Day 87 (21.3 miles)
I got another hour and a half of sleep after the mouse dilemma. As I was making coffee I recognized a familiar face. Cheerio, a fellow SOBO, was also at the shelter. I met him a few times before in PA, but hadn’t seen him since. Early into the hiking and it was beautiful weather and views! The Shenandoah’s were turning out to be better than expected.
Many of the views are along the main road that goes through the park, Skyline Drive.
A few miles into the day and I met another thru-hiker, Photo Op, exactly where you would expect… at an overlook. We both took picture’s of the mountains and then he informed me that the SOBO bubble was just ahead of him.
I walked with Photo Op to the first wayside of the Shenandoah’s. We discussed photography for a while. It seems both of us have struggled with limited storage on our phones! At the wayside we met up with the group. It was great to get a hot coffee and even better to see everyone again. After a short break everyone headed out and decided to meet about 10 miles down the trail for lunch. Although the group is large, we spread out while we hike. Most people hike alone or in small groups of 2-3 people.
We took lunch at the base of a large climb. Picnic tables, bathrooms, trash cans, and water. Can’t complain about the national park life! We finished the day with 5 more miles to Pinnacle Picnic area.
One of the hikers, Homework, had arranged for trail magic there. His parents graciously brought us sandwiches, snacks and beverages for dinner. We gorged ourselves until the evening and then meandered another mile or so to a place where we could camp.
Large Stealth Spot: T1, S3, P4, W5, B3
Total Score: 180
Day 88 (18.4 miles)
A nice peaceful morning in camp. There was a Starbucks near the trail about 3 miles into the day. I held back my need for coffee and the caffeine aftermath until I made it there. Along the way was an absolutely amazing view. The sun rays perfectly reflected off the East side of the mountains.
When I arrived at the Starbucks, I slipped on my Uggs and LuLu Lemon leggings and entered the building. I ordered a cappuccino and cinnamon roll. As much as I like to make fun of Starbucks… my drink was one of the best I have had in a while. I sat on the couch in the building for far too long, but it was nice to just sit and talk with my fellow SOBO’s. On my way out there was a male turkey walking along the road. Another completely unnatural acting animal.
It was another 9 miles to the lunch spot for the day, Big Meadows Wayside. It was the fastest 9 miles I think I have ever done. When I arrived at the trail junction I thought that my location on my phone couldn’t be right. This is a sign that the Potomac AT Club is doing some great trail work.
The wayside was quite literally in a big meadow. The grill was in operation and I got a burger and fries. The trail in this section barely felt like backpacking! It was another long break. Good thing today was a shorter mileage day. 3 more miles down the trail and we hit more trail magic. Grilled cheese sandwiches and snacks from a guy who just finished his NOBO Thru-hike. A great surprise before finishing the day. We camped at Bearfence Hut. Mountain Goat suggested a fire which made everyone’s night. Even after all the food consumed this day… I still ate dinner!
Bearfence Hut: T2, S2, P3, W5, B2
Total Score: 120
Day 89 (20.8 miles)
I woke up to the sound of MG packing up. It was already passed 6:30 am, daylight savings really needs to start soon. At least it was another idyllic morning.
The shelter did not have a water source, but a campground just down the trail had a sink to fill up. From there I hiked another 11 miles to High Top Mountain where the group decided to have lunch.
Close to the top of the mountain I met MG2 and FrankE. They had completed their flip-flop Thru-hike a few days ago but were doing another section while waiting for family to join them. MG2 decided to have lunch with me (and the rest of the group) at the top even thought he had already hiked part way down the mountain. He made us pancakes as we soaked in the beauty of the mountainscape.
There was a great spring nearby with crisp cold water. I gulped down as much as I could and left the lookout around 1:30 pm. There was an old Ranger Station a few miles away. This gave me a chance to recharge some devices and replenish my water before another night of dry camping. Another 2 miles up and over a hill and I was at camp. The mountains seem to be getting steeper, but still nothing compared to the North. A trail angel brought us pizza and Busch Lattes that night. We made another fire and ate until our stomachs were full.
Pinefield Hut: T2, S2, P3, W4, B2
Total Score: 96
Day 90 (26.2 miles)
Marathon Day! The group, now known as “The Low Life’s”, wanted to do a bigger day to make it closer to town. Mountain Goat was smart and got up early. The rest of the people in the shelter followed suit. I was out of bed before 6 am. I packed up and headed out early. One last goodbye to MG2 and FrankE, I likely won’t be seeing them for a while.
Each section of trail seems to have its own way of labeling turns, waypoints, shelters, or any other point of interest. The Shenandoah’s seem to prefer concrete posts with stamped metal bands at the top. Beautiful and long lasting, but hard to read from a distance.
It began to rain in the morning. There was a camp store (the last of the park) 6 miles into the day. The Low Life’s stopped there and enjoyed a final luxury breakfast.
We then hiked another 7 miles to the Blackrock Hut for lunch. The rain came and went, but finally stopped for good around 1. Along the way we crossed mile 1300, less than 900 miles to go!
The remaining 13 miles to camp were dry. I cameled up as much water as I could before leaving the shelter. My body was sore in the afternoon and I was feeling the past few days. I pushed on anyway and cruised over some serious elevation gain and loss. The grade of the trail aided in my ability to cover the mileage. My IT band was acting up over the last couple miles. I took time to slow down and stretch it out.
I managed to make it to the Calf Mountain Shelter around 5:30 pm. By that point the wind had picked up significantly. Trees were waning back and forth. I was glad to have the perceived safety of the shelter. A widow maker could easily fall and crush a tent (maybe even a shelter if it was big enough). Everyone made it to the shelter before dark. It was getting quite cold as the sun set. We ate dinner and then climbed into our sleeping bags.
There were laughs shared until it was time for bed. The forecast was for a cold night, I was glad to be surrounded by people with warm hearts. Curling up into my sleeping bag was a great way to end a long day of hiking!
Calf Mountain Shelter: T1, S3, P3, W1, B2
Total Score: 18
Thank you for reading this trail update! I hope you enjoyed the stories and pictures I was able to share with you. Hiking with these “Low Life’s” has been fantastic and Virginia has provided a much needed change to the trail… finally some mountains! I’m hopeful that the terrain will only grow in beauty as I move further South. Until my next post, remember to keep wandering in your own direction!