The dawn chorus of birds wakes us from our sticky, humid "sleep." We're lucky because for the past few days there has been no rain on the Appalachian Trail. Today we'll arrive in Waynesboro, VA for rest, resupply, and, most importantly, custard. We depart the Paul C. Wolfe Shelter and almost jog the 5 miles to the road, chanting "cheeseburger! cheeseburger! cheeseburger!" Along the path, we greet a day hiker. Dumping out of the woods on the road, he emerges behind us. "Going to town?", he queries. "I thru'ed in '84. I'd be happy to take you."
Next thing we know, we're eating a hearty breakfast at Weasie's. The post office has our new shoes, so I'm doing my new-shoes dance out front when a vehicle pulls up and our pals Tiny Bytes and Baygull spill out. They're staying at a local church that hosts thru-hikers free of charge. The Grace Evangelical Church is also sponsoring a complimentary dinner this evening. Well, well, well.
It's early, but the Quality Inn has our room ready for check-in. Score! We explode our bags in the room. I remove the messy, dirty conglomerate of bandages from my thighs. The chafe underneath is impressive. In the shower, I take a washcloth and go through the uncomfortable process of debridement. This will take several days to heal.
The owner of the Inn lets hikers use his car for errands. Fluff, Sohum, and we pile in and the mad dash to do laundry, resupply, and get gear from the outfitters begins. By the end of the day, we're exhausted as we walk to the church for supper. "I Walk" greets us and her group of volunteers have made us a delectable spread, including salad, pasta, and dessert. On their orders, we stuff ourselves to the brim.
Over the next two days, we relax and have fun with our tramily. We meet up with Baygull and Tiny Bytes at the local game store where we engage in a friendly game of Catan. Wood for sheep anyone? Then we all walk over to Heritage on Main for dinner with the rest of our crew: G.Wheezy, Willow, and Magic Pants. We're definitely the loud table. Woot!
Baygull and Tiny Bytes are heading back to the trail the next morning, and we're a bit sad to see them go. The rest of us are sticking around to see Deadpool 2. YAS!!! We play in the arcade before the movie and eat Kline's custard afterward. Then we plant ourselves in front of the T.V. in our hotel room for the rest of the day. The weather channel is saying things we don't want to hear. Hurricane Alberto is coming for us. This is going to be interesting...and by interesting, I mean, very, very wet.
Rain on the Appalachian Trail
"Yellow Truck", a trail angel, picks us up from the Quality Inn, along with Swiss, Miss, Hot Chocolate, and Timeless. "I don't want to know your names. I don't remember them. Tell me what you do and where you're from. You start, girl," he says gruffly to me. This guy doesn't mince words.
We hike into Shenandoah National Park and soon come upon our friends Willow, Magic Pants, and G.Wheezy. The weather holds for most of the day, but a storm rolls in just before camp at Black Rock Hut and completely soaks us. There are virtually no flat spots for camping and the hut is full. We pitch on top of rocks and roots between a group of shrubs. It's our most creative pitch yet.
The weather is odd. It's too humid to use the sleeping quilt, but it's cool enough that if you don't, you're chilled. The quilt sticks to your skin in the most uncomfortable way. My legs are covered in bites. I slather the hydrocortisone cream on, which doesn't help with the overall stickiness. A Whip-poor-will calls loudly all night. This is my idea of fun, really!?
The next morning, we beeline to Loft Mountain Wayside. We were told Shenandoah is a cakewalk: flat and full of Waysides for the consumption of cheeseburgers. While I wouldn't call it flat, the terrain isn't as challenging. The Wayside provides a mediocre, expensive meal, which is better than what I usually eat, so I'm quite content. We hike onward to Pinefield Hut. It's a short day, and camp is set by 3:00 p.m. Visiting with some day hikers, Marathon Mike, and Roll Tide, we see mice, a bat, and a snake in the hut. I'm glad to be tenting. It rains all night long, and it's still hot and humid. Is this the jungle?
Today is my favorite day of the year. On this date fourteen years ago, I married my sweetheart at a BBQ restaurant called The Salt Lick in Driftwood Texas. This is the second anniversary we've had the good fortune to celebrate on a national scenic trail. Last year this time, we were waking up around mile 306 on the PCT. I hear rain slapping on the tent. RamboJuice puts an earbud in my ear, and I hear Ben Harper's "Forever" start to play. This was our first dance. No amount of rain could dampen my spirits today.
It's raining, and our Tramily is shouting "Happy Anniversary!" We stop to air out our tents in a meadow a few hours later. The rain has let up briefly. A car on Skyline Drive slows, and chocolate chip cookies emerge from the window. YAS!!! We hike on, and suddenly a hiker ahead is motioning for quiet. He points with his trek pole towards a beautiful black bear in the ravine below. It is evening when we roll into the Lewis Campground. We've hit 900 miles today. Descending upon the camp store, we celebrate by gorging. As we're loitering, a woman named Shelly offers us a meal at her cabin. YAS!!
Shelly is a gift. She is an elementary school lunch lady. She cooks us up all kinds of goodies as we patiently sit at the picnic table behind her cabin. We are presented with sweet potatoes, broccoli, carrots, quesadillas, and bread with jam. Shelly is the bomb! We rent a rustic cabin and all pile into the bunk beds. It rains through the night.
The next morning, it's still deluging as we hike out to Big Meadows Wayside. We order a blackberry ice cream pie with 923 calories and destroy it. After resupplying at the store, we walk to the lodge and get a suite. There's no T.V., so we put our phone on Magic Pants' tripod, which is sitting on an ironing board in front of the king bed. We pile on the bed and watch What We Do in the Shadows. There is a monsoon outside. There is an incredible amount of rain on the Appalachian Trail.
We've hit the Appalachian Trail by 7:30 a.m. The rain has stopped, but the path is a creek from all the rain on the Appalachian Trail. Ahead is a blowdown. A group of trees has fallen across the footpath. We are awkwardly straddling the downed trees when a strange huffing sound from the woods behind startles us. A large black bear is but 20 feet away making noises at us. "HEY, BEAR!!!!", we yell. He looks at us unbothered. Clapping our trek poles together loudly, he climbs a few feet up the tree but continues to stare at us. "Ok, we're leaving!", we announce as if he could understand.
Skyland Resort offers us coffee and snacks before we start our hurried descent to Thorton Gap. A storm is blowing in and the thunder is rolling loudly. Alison from Open Arms at the Edge of Town Hostel & Inn meets us on the road and takes us into Luray, VA. This place is fantastic, and Alison is awesome! We've just missed a big rain on the Appalachian Trail, and we settle into the comfortable living room with delivered pizza to watch The Heat.
Today we're going to try slackpacking 22 miles. Alison takes our crew to Compton Gap, and we hike southbound (SOBO). The weather is gorgeous and visibility good. A Black Snake is slithering up a tree in front of us. The weather turns to hot and muggy. We spot many beautiful deer from the trail. They are large and healthy with sleek coats and supple movements. Suddenly, two bears are running through the woods adjacent to the trail. "HEY, BEAR!!!", we cry out. The bears disappear only to reappear directly on the trail a ways ahead. One saunters down the trail before running off into the brush.
We languish in the heat at the picnic tables of Elkwallow Wayside. Eating too much, the rest of the hike is a bit tedious. Soon we start running into familiar NOBO thru-hikers. We see at least 10 hikers we know. Most are coming back on the trail after the annual Trail Days festival in Damascus. Our friend Stumbles, whom we haven't seen since Pearisburg, makes an appearance. He tried blue blazing the Shenandoah river, but the flooding stopped him. Some of his party were overturned and in serious danger.
A Mountain Home
Alison collects us from Thorton Gap just as a gigantic storm starts up. She has prepared a spaghetti party for us, and we feast before she runs us to Walmart for resupply. She is incredibly accommodating. At 8 a.m. the next day, Alison takes us back up to Compton Gap. Heading north once again, the fog is thick and damp. The forest is darkened by the leaves and clouds above as we officially depart Shenandoah.
Today is National Trails Day, and we soon find ourselves under a tent being treated to magic burgers and sodas courtesy of the Appalachian Trail Community of Front Royal. The owners of Mountain Home, Lisa, and Scott, are here. They have agreed to pick us up from the Trico Trail this evening. Mountain Home is a wonderful stop. The hiker cabin (sic) is comfortable and Scot and Lisa are helpful and very hospitable. Scott "Possible" has thru-hiked the A.T., so he knows what's going on. They slackpacked us in flood conditions, drove us to town, and cooked us a hot breakfast.
A Bear's Den
The next morning, it's pouring. There is a lot of rain on the Appalachian Trail. Lisa and Scott shuttle the lot of us to the trail, and as we drive, the roads are covered in rapidly flowing water. We're hiking what's lovingly referred to as the roller coaster today. It's roughly 14 miles of rocky PUDS (pointless ups and downs) or maybe MUDS (mindless ups and downs) to the Bears Den Trail Center. The trail is covered in water and mud. Some of the creek crossings are knee deep where I'm sure normally they would be a dry rock hop.
Honestly, the roller coaster isn't bad. After leaving Shenandoah, which is easier terrain, the roller coaster feels more like a back to your regularly scheduled programming. We pass 1,000 miles just before the hostel. At Bears Den, Glen hooks us up with a tramily room and a private bath. YAS!!! This place is awesome! It looks like a castle and has everything a hiker needs for an affordable rate. Plus Glen is super nice.
We're rolling into Harpers Ferry today. It's 20 miles, and we're flying high. The weather is nice, and everyone is excited to get to the ATC for our pictures. The path is a muddy mess from all the rain on the Appalachian Trail, and then it turns into a rocky mess as we enter Harpers Ferry National Historical Park. Soon we can see the Shenandoah River through the trees. It is absolutely incredible! The river is a raging, brown sea from all the rain. It is hypnotic and exciting. We cross over the river on the bridge to Shenandoah Street, pausing to stare at the waters. I cannot believe our bud Thumper blue blazed this! It's a swollen, debris-laden rapid. We have hiked through the deluge to get here, and there is nowhere else I'd rather be. Soon we'll be crossing into Maryland and new adventures await.
- If you see a black bear, do not run. Be calm. Speak to it. Walk away slowly while watching the bear for its reaction. If you are attacked, fight back.
- In wet conditions, your feet get soaked. There's a ton of rain on the Appalachian Trail. It's important to get them dried out. At the end of the day and, if possible at lunch, air them out.
In the Spring of 2018, we set out to thru-hike the A.T. To hear our full story, click here.
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