East Coast humidity takes a toll on this Arizona boy. The forecast called for rain, which led me to leave Gus with Northstar, but I didn’t feel a single rain drop all day. But after two hours of climbing my clothes were as wet as if I’d walked in a downpour all day. A salty downpour. A salty, smelly downpour.
By mid-day, the combination of soggy pants and salt build-up on my thighs led to some uncomfortable chaffing. Which is why I carry body glide in my first aid kit. It might be the only thing I’ll actually use in that kit. Hopefully.
How Humid Was It?
My pants got so soaked with sweat I had to put my phone in a ziplock bag so the touch screen wouldn’t be too slimy to sense my wet, sweaty fingers. I’d pull out my reading glasses to look at the map app and they’d be completely fogged over. And I didn’t have a single dry thing to wipe them off. Even my ears got so sweaty, my ear buds kept sliding out. I didn’t even know that ears sweat.
And the good news is that everyone assures me that Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and New York will be worse. I grew up in upstate New York and my grandparents lived in northern New Jersey. I know what’s coming but am still in denial. My only comfort is that Arizona’s 110F dry heat would be worse. It is worse, right?
Where are the Bears?
Today’s tour of the Shenandoahs was another episode of the long green tunnel, with no views due to fog, low clouds, haze, and smoke. My feet loved the well-groomed, smooth trail, but the rest of me wanted some distraction besides the dozens of deer that seem to live within 20 feet of the AT and have no fear of hikers. Gus and I have walked to within 10 feet of them. I practically have to shoo them off the trail.
I really wanted to see bears. The Shenandoahs are famous for their bears. Warning signs posted near every campground warned of active bears in the area, but nobody is seeing them. I think all the ripe berries are keeping them in the deep woods and away from shelters. I, however, have I’ve logged a few stump bears – tree stumps pretending to be bears in the distance – but those are even less exciting than rattlesticks.
Find Your Excitement Where You Can
My only moments of excitement came when I suddenly, er… urgently?… remembered that last night I’d forgotten to replace the TP I carry in my pack. All I had was the empty cardboard cylinder, the blank pages of my write-in-the-rain field book, and in a pinch, a sweaty dry-fit undershirt. Fortunately, I rounded a bend and saw one of the many Skyline Drive picnic areas in the distance and avoided any unfortunate incidents.
32 Feet Up
The other bit of excitement came when I met the “32 Feet Up” clan, a single mom hiking the AT with her 15 children. The mom posts snippets of their adventures on Facebook and Instagram, which has led to some fame and notoriety. A fair number of AT hikers gripe that the clan fills up shelters and campsites, clogs up the trail, is unruly, and all manner of other complaints. Some internet haters speculate that the mom is mooching help from trail angels, scheming to defraud local merchants, or simply guilty of child abuse.
Northstar and I had seen them in the Loft Mountain Wayside last night but didn’t recognize them until we’d driven away. One of the boys ran up to the van and raced us across the parking lot…a little weird, but something I might have done at his age. Other than that, my only impression was, “Wow! That’s a lot of kids.”
I saw them again this morning, this time at a pull out where the AT crosses Skyline Drive. They’d camped nearby and were getting ready to start hiking. I can’t imagine the logistics of camping and hiking with 15 children. That morning, they were being wrangled by two of the older brothers and a trail angel named Smoky who has been following and assisting them since Georgia.
Thumbs Up for 32 Feet Up
I’ve seen them three times since that first encounter. Regardless of what the internet says, they seem like happy kids. They are definitely enjoying their adventure. They are very polite, saying “Sir” whenever they spoke to me. The older ones remembered me the next time we met, even though I didn’t have Gus along that day. Most people remember Gus, but not me.
When I passed them, they all pulled to the side to let me go by, the rear guard calling out something that sounded like “To the right” when I approached. When I saw them gearing up in the parking lot, they asked me if I needed anything. As I walked past them on the trail, I thought about how many times I’ve been pushed aside by surly hiker trash who can’t grunt out a simple hello as they walk by.
I chatted briefly with the mom, complementing her on the kids’ behavior. She seemed happy and like she had everything under control, even though the next time I passed them the little one was having a tantrum about something that small children get excited about. But they all took it in stride.
I mentioned the internet controversy and she shrugged it off, saying that it used to bother her, but not anymore. That’s 900 miles of thru hiking for you – you’re either comfortable with what you’re doing or you’ve already quit.
I got back to camp by 2:00 having knocked out 18 miles in six hours. Northstar and I were chilling by the van with some icy La Croix’s, when Soco walked up and said hi. I hadn’t seen him since May. I’d thought he’d be much farther north by now, but he’d gotten off trail for a wedding or something.
We walked up to the camp store for some refreshments, had a great chat about the trail (especially the lack of bears in the Shenandoahs), and caught up on some mutual acquaintances. I mentioned that I’d seen Mudbug yesterday and he told me that Happy Feet was pulling consecutive 30’s to get to Harpers Ferry by July 4th and must have passed through here yesterday.
No sooner than he said that, Happy Feet limped up the road and sat down with a groan at a picnic table. She saw us, got up, and hobbled over to join our palaver. Apparently, the consecutive 30’s was just a rumor. She’d done one 30-mile day (an impressive feat) a few days ago, but had injured her knees and had been limping ever since. It sounded like the same injury I had between the NOC and Fontana Dam back in April that disappeared rather miraculously in the Smokies.
It finally started to rain, so I hurried back to button up the van and hang out with Northstar, who had begun to wonder where I’d gone. After dinner, I saw them walk out after the thunder quit.
Owls and Warnings
Just before bed, I noticed the campground host standing outside our van staring up into the trees, so I poked my head out to see what had captured his attention. The birds were going nuts, calling out and flying in and out of the trees above us. He said a barred owl often sat in that tree and hunted in the robin’s nests. Sure enough, the owl was up there doing its thing.
After the robins finally drove off the owl, the host asked me where I was going tomorrow. When I told him I planned to hike to Skyland Resort, he looked startled. He said that was an extremely long hike and that he’d never heard of anyone going that far in a single day because of the steep, rocky climbs and descents. He checked with his wife and she agreed.
So, I spent the rest of the evening scouring the map and profile for tomorrow’s walk, trying to find the difficult sections. All I could find out was that there are two Waysides along the route. I might not make it all the way, but at least I’ll be well fed.
- Start: Simmons Gap (Mile 900.3)
- End: Lewis Mountain Campground (Mile 918.3)
- Weather: Cloudy, smoky, humid, warm. Again.
- Earworm: Project Hail Mary (I’m hooked)
- Meditation: Mt. 23 (all)
- Plant of the Day: Orange Day-Lily & Drummond’s Phlox
- Best Thing: Soco
- Worst Thing: Humidity. Still.