We started our first full day in Shenandoah National park bright and early. I was typically awake before the sun, and happy to hike in the cool morning air. Cookie and I stopped down at the shelter to let Gummy Bear know we would see him up the trail.
My only hang up about the park thus far was the waysides—these were something I had hyped up so hard in my mind, only to find out I had started the trail too early to really benefit from them. Blackberry milkshakes were not in my future, which killed some of the motivation I had for hiking slowly through. Even the first little store, abundantly stocked with yummy hiker snacks, was too far off trail to justify visiting. I pouted after this realization, then decided I needed my second breakfast to cheer myself up.
Cookie and I sat on a rock for a while eating and planning our next couple of days as far as resupplying at the waysides that were open. Gummy Bear caught up with us, and joined us for an extended morning break. We decided to hike to Pinefield Hut for lunch and a nice cup of trail coffee. Our routine had shifted to include frequent, extended periods of rest and snacking. Once at Pinefield, we had lunch and chatted with a section hiker we met at the shelter, Roost.
We stopped later that evening at Hightop Hut to eat dinner before pushing on. This was common practice for us when our camping plans left us a few miles out from a water source. Roost had also stopped at this shelter, so we all ate dinner together. I discovered that Roost’s hiking plans had gone awry, and that he wouldn’t be on trail as long as he originally thought. I invited him to get dinner with us if the opportunity arose, then Gummy Bear, Cookie and I headed out.
The last few miles after Hightop were quite easy, albeit mostly uphill. I was always glad to get an extra climb out of the way, though, if I had the energy to do so. We camped a little ways off trail above Swift Run Gap that night, and just in time to avoid the little bit of rain that passed through.
Sleeping Above the Clouds
The next day, our plan had been to hike to the Big Meadows wayside and resupply there. However, we realized that morning that the Loft Mountain camp store was much closer to us and to the trail. We made it there fairly early and took a long lunch break, pigging out on premade sandwiches from the cooler. I was reluctant to leave, but the wind was starting to feel colder, and I knew moving was the only way to warm back up.
We were planning on camping as close to the Skyland resort as possible, so we could hit their breakfast buffet. Fully motivated by the idea of a hot breakfast, we set off—but apparently, Cookie was interested in a hot dinner as well. He emerged from the woods at a Skyline Drive crossing later that day and informed us he had booked a room at the resort. Gummy Bear and I were shocked but happy about an unexpected night with creature comforts.
Lovely Cabin Getaway
Skyland was just as luxurious as one might expect from a resort in a National park. From the outside, everything looked like it belonged in an early 80’s advertisement for camping. On the inside, our room looked like a beautiful log cabin-esque hotel room. We got our stuff in the room, showered, and headed over to the restaurant for dinner. The three of us sat for a while with drinks and food and laughs. We figured out our plan for the next day, then went to sleep as content as could be.
That is, until we woke up to the rain. Hiking in the rain wasn’t something that bothered me, provided it wasn’t already cold outside. But when we stepped out of our room in the morning to hit the breakfast buffet, we were instead hit with cold, biting wind and even colder rain. The uncomfortable thought of spending the day hiking through that weighed heavily upon me, and I was prepared for the mental breakdown I knew I would have partway through the day.
Halfway through my second plate at breakfast, Gummy Bear suggested an alternative plan. What if we shuttled into town and took a zero day? I was thrilled with the idea of not spending my day cold and wet, and quickly agreed to participate in the new plans. Cookie agreed as well, and we got to work figuring out a shuttle and a motel to stay in. Gummy Bear found someone willing to pick us up and for a very fair price, and Cookie secured us a room at the Quality Inn in Luray.
Sometimes, You Just Decide to Zero
Once in town, we debated on visiting the Luray caverns but quickly decided against it in favor of a “lazy day.” We had already resupplied in the park and showered at Skyland, so we laid around catching up on social media. At one point, I learned that Roost was off trail as well, so I invited him to get pizza with us later that evening. We ate at an Italian joint called Vesuvio, which had huge portions for incredibly low prices. Satisfied with the impromptu zero day, we settled into our room for an early night.
Early that next morning, we had breakfast with Weasl, the husband of the receptionist at the hotel. He had been kind enough to shuttle us back into the park that morning, as all our other shuttle options had been booked up. There was a diner attached to the Quality Inn, presumably run by hotel staff, where Weasl ate breakfast every morning after dropping his wife off at work. We joined him there, then piled into his car and made our way up the windy highway back into Shenandoah National Park.
Remembering When Reality Was Just a Dream
I was incredibly excited for the hiking day ahead of me. This was the day we were set to hit Mary’s Rock, a cool overlook I had discovered the year before. I had been excited to get a sort of “comparison photo” of my hike that day last August and my hike when I finally hit the park. However, when we came to our first overlook of the day, my disappointment skyrocketed. The rain from the day before had pulled a massive amount of fog over the valley, and our view was entirely obscured beneath the cloud cover.
When we did finally hit Mary’s Rock, I thought perhaps the mist had somewhat dissipated from the valleys below. This was not the case, but I had come down from my disappointment and settled on indifference. I sat on the same rock I had 8 months prior and ate some snacks with Gummy Bear. Cookie had fallen behind us due to some calf pain. Gummy Bear and I waited for a while, then decided to push on and hope Cookie would catch up to us.
Late in the afternoon, we hit the Elkwallow wayside. We stopped for a break, filled our water bottles, and grumbled about the lack of cell service. I had grown accustomed to an increased amount of cell reception, which was something that did not hold true in the mountains high above the Shenandoah valley. I wasn’t sure how far back Cookie was, and could only hope he was alright. Gummy Bear pushed on past me that night, so I stayed in a strange sort of limbo between friends.
Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head
I awoke the next day to a whole lot of rain. It wasn’t raining hard, just consistently enough that the majority of the trail had turned into a stream. My rain coat was basically pointless as far as keeping me dry, and it was a bit too warm to wear my rain pants. Less than an hour into my day, I was already soaked. I didn’t necessarily mind hiking in the rain, but sloshing down the stream-trail in water logged shoes really sucked. Plus, I was unable to see how far I’d gone; the rain made it impossible to use my phone, so I was left guessing.
Eventually, I hit the edge of the National park. This had been my milestone for the day, so I knew I didn’t have too many miles left. The rain had finally sort of let up, so I allowed myself to finally take a break from walking. At this point, Cookie showed up, and we settled on a campsite destination another 5 or so miles ahead. As much fun as I had in the beautiful Shenandoah mountains, I was extremely glad to finally be out of that section.
Only 1,198 Miles Left!
The next day, we hit the 1,000 mile marker. I stopped, took a picture of the sign, and tried to let the grandiosity of it all sink in. 10 weeks prior, I had set off from Springer Mountain in Georgia. Now here I was with 1,000 miles of trail between myself and that mountain. It all felt so surreal, and I finished my day in a sort of dream state. I couldn’t help but wonder what the rest of the trail would hold.
My final morning in the state of Virginia, my routine was immediately upended. Cookie had been complaining of a sore throat and small cough, but we both assumed it was allergies. He approached my tent that morning and, in a hoarse, raspy whisper, informed me he was going back to sleep and I should hike on without him.
I had plans that day to meet up with MacGyver—he had gotten off trail back in Hot Springs, NC but lived in the area that I was passing through. I hiked close to Harper’s Ferry that day, met up with him for lunch, and enjoyed being able to catch up with someone I had bonded with during the beginning of my hike. After getting food, MacGyver was kind enough to take me shopping for my resupply, and drop me off back at the trail.
At the last minute, I decided to stay in the town of Harper’s Ferry for the night. The seemingly constant drizzle of rain from the last few days was my main motivation. My quilt had gotten damp, my tent was perpetually wet, and I didn’t have a dry pair of socks left to hike in. I got myself a room at the Quality Inn and spent the night happily watching cooking shows on the television.
Spending so much time off trail had been welcoming, and a good way to break up the monotony of trail life. The “Virginia Blues” never did get me, and how could they? Every time I felt as though I had learned what I could from the trail, it brought something new my way. As another hiker once told me, “the trail does it’s thing,” and I believe that fully.