Thursday, June 28, 2001
Waynesborough, VA to Calf Mountain Shelter
Today’s Miles: 7
Trip Miles: 841.9
Today I registered to go through the Shenandoah National Park. There’s a lot of hikers at this shelter tonight. We packed in hot dogs, smores, etc.
Tenderheart and Shepherd of the Hills caught me, and I hadn’t seen them since the GA/NC border. Nice!
It was another great time in the evening. At dusk, we spotted a bear at the edge of camp. It sauntered away, but somebody spotted it at the far other side of the area a few moments later. So – it’s essentially circling us like a shark! I guess I’ll go to bed now…
I pulled myself out of Waynesborough and found a ride up to the trailhead at Rockfish Gap. A short distance up the AT was the self-registration station for thru-hikers to enter the Shenandoahs.
As the last landmark at the northern end of Virginia, this was a big milestone. It felt as though the monstrous state was finally behind me. Besides, the Shenandoahs reportedly featured easy walking with plenty of “snack bars” along the way to keep my starving belly full.
Along the way I passed over Bear Den Mountain, with an open meadow and broad views at its summit. The green, hazy, summer views weren’t as memorable as the unique old tractor seats that were situated there. I regret neglecting to take a picture, as the memory of it today strikes me as a quintessential moment on the Appalachian Trail.
Beyond Bear Den Mountain, my old Wingfoot guidebook makes an amusing statement. He says “The next 0.3 mile has strawberry fields, with berries usually ripe and juicy by June, but, alas, not forever.”
It was so cool to see Tenderheart and Shepherd of the Hills at the shelter that evening. I’d last seen them something like 700 miles ago, months ago, way down in Georgia. On this night it felt as though it was an eternity that had passed since then, and a random rendezvous so many miles later is an experience that’s unique to backpacking the long trails.
This evening at the shelter had a festival atmosphere. Several thru-hikers were in attendance. Most had packed goodies out of town and were in great spirits with the relative paradise of Shenandoah before us.
I never spotted the bear the others mentioned, but I don’t doubt its presence. Our food must have had quite an aroma, and the National Park is known for its population of black bears. The trail shelters were equipped with a set of cables for overnight food storage because of them.
I was set up in a far corner of the shelter and didn’t pay much heed to the bear, as opposed to those that had set up their tents.
Friday, June 29, 2001
Calf Mountain Shelter to Blackrock Hut
Today’s Miles: 13
Trip Miles: 854.9
A good day of hiking in the Shenandoah National Park. The terrain has turned out to be as forgiving as they say.
This shelter has the best, probably coldest spring on the trail thus far. Alas, the shelter has also been conquered by Boy Scouts.
Saturday, June 30, 2001
Blackrock Hut to Pinefield Hut
Today’s Miles: 13.2
Trip Miles: 868.1
I met Master Bob from Holland, and a few others. Stopped at Loft Mountain Wayside for hot, greasy food. Grunted at tourists. Met T-Bone of ’99. Hiked through a light rain in the evening. Saw an incredible rainbow.
I remember the rainbow. It was exquisite – yet another moment that reminded me of why I was out here hiking the Appalachian Trail in the first place. Rainbows are pretty darn cool in the first place, but to see one in Shenandoah in the midst of a journey such as this was a different thing entirely.
Sunday, July 01, 2001
Pinefield Hut to Lewis Mountain Campground
Today’s Miles: 19.9
Trip Miles: 888
I saw PeeWee, Lady Hawk, Manchester, and Jiff for the first time in a while.
Somebody payed for a campsite at this campground for thru-hikers. Sweet! And ah, there’s sodas, frozen pizza … good stuff.
Sat on the bench in front of the camp store late into this stormy night, chatting with Master Bob and Garfunkel.
I remember arriving at this campground exhausted, late in the evening after a 20-mile day. The aroma of folks cooking dinner was almost too much to bear – the relative crowds of happy campers always made me feel a distinct loneliness on the AT.
To make matters worse, upon inquiry I discovered that the campground was full. There was nothing I wanted more at the moment than to leisurely spend time here near the store and consume as much food as possible.
It was a sort of trail magic that came about when some thru-hikers saw me at the store and told me they had a campsite. Apparently a trail angel had reserved a campsite early in the day for thru-hikers. I was so happy to set up in some gravel for the night among friends and colleagues.
Monday, July 02, 2001
Lewis Mountain Campground to Rock Spring Hut
Today’s Miles: 12.2
Trip Miles: 900.2
Hiked as far as Big Meadows Lodge, and waited there all afternoon for them to open for dinner. Enjoyed a good meal with By Noon, Tenderheart, Shepherd of the Hills, and PeeWee. It was so funny how they sat us in the far corner of the dining room, and sat all the other guests all the way in the other corner!
We then hiked a few more miles in the evening. I watched a great sunset with Garfunkel, Turtle, and Master Bob, and hung around for some star gazing.
This was mostly a lazy day of hanging around outside the Big Meadows Lodge. Several tourists came and went, and bombarded us with the typical “20 questions” asked of thru-hikers – what do you eat, where do you sleep, what about snakes, etc.
When I say we were seated in the far corner of the dining room, I’m not exaggerating by any means. Big Meadows had a huge room that would seat at least a hundred people or more, and we were at least 50-75 yards away from the nearest patrons.
Well done, because thru-hikers smell!
Tuesday, July 03, 2001
Rock Spring Hut to Pass Mountain Hut
Today’s Miles: 15.3
Trip Miles: 915.5
Had lunch at the Skyland Dining Room. Got to love the Shenandoahs! Just a walk in the park.
Met a lot of day hikers today, including a great family from Stroudsburg, PA, near my hometown.
Hiked the last part of the day with Turtle, Sugar Daddy, and Eggman. I caught a great view from Mary’s Rock where we could actually see clouds and fog developing below us, rolling in swiftly.
Near the end of the day I went through Thornton Gap, which leads to Luray, Virginia and its famous caverns. There’s a bit of a climb up from there to the Pass Mountain Hut. I tackled the climb late in the evening, and didn’t feel very good – probably a combination of heat, humidity, and junk food.
Wednesday, July 04, 2001
Pass Mountain Hut to Gravel Springs Hut
Today’s Miles: 13.1
Trip Miles: 928.6
Happy Fourth of July! I went through the final restaurant in the park and spent four hours there! I ate a LOT! Had many sodas as well, naturally.
Met Basketball Jones and The Accomplice, a very cool father and son pair from North Carolina. The Accomplice is only about thirteen years old. A great kid! I could hear distant fireworks just as I was drifting asleep.
Thursday, July 05, 2001
Gravel Springs Hut to Tom Floyd Wayside
Today’s Miles: 10.5
Trip Miles: 939.1
Finally out of the National Park today, and at this shelter with Badfrog and Indian Summer.
Throughout my time in the park I saw a whole lot of deer… and five bears! Just about every thru-hiker saw at least one bear in the Shenandoahs. One of them scooted down a tree trunk right in front of me! The others were a mom with two cubs that ran from me, and another single young one that didn’t care about my presence. That makes a grand total of six for the whole trip so far, not counting the eyes of that one at Calf Mountain Shelter.
The bear that skidded down the tree trunk is still one of my coolest wildlife sightings to date. I was walking along one afternoon, lost in a random reverie without giving much thought to my surroundings in the long green tunnel.
Suddenly a loud crash broke the silence, located about thirty feet in front of me and and maybe an equal distance above the ground. Startled, my eyes jolted up to see a black bear sliding down a tree trunk just about as fast as it possibly could!
All four of its paws were wrapped around the trunk, and bark flew in all directions as its claws dug in for purchase. It resembled a classic fireman sliding down the fire-pole.
The bear’s head swiveled from side to side, keeping its bearings with an expression that’s best interpreted with a single phrase:
“Oh shit oh shit oh shit oh shit oh SHIT!”
It let go of the tree from about ten feet off the ground, hit the ground running, and disappeared into the brush. The episode was over in a matter of seconds and struck me as pure comedy.
Friday, July 06, 2001
Tom Floyd Wayside to Dick’s Dome Shelter
Today’s Miles: 18
Trip Miles: 957.1
Got a late start today. It was good to see Dolphin Boy, Indian Summer, and Shakey Leggs again. Stopped at the concession stand of a local pool off the trail with Garfunkel and Jamie. The radio there was playing a ton of bad eighties songs, and it was fun to reminisce. I caught Charlie later on and hiked with him for a few miles.
I walked a mile and a half off the trail to resupply in Linden Virginia, down this beautiful country road. It was perfect, and so was this General Store. it was sort of like your typical convenience store, but it’s in the middle of the countryside. It had an old soda machine out front, a gravel parking area… the works. It was obviously privately owned. I love places like that, good and old fashioned.
I loaded up on Coke, bought fresh batteries for my headlamp, and proceeded to embark on my first night-hike. It was amazing – the fireflies, the stars, the moonrise, the sounds, a world of cool air, silver and black, the confidence … oh, the confidence. Who knows how I would have felt about being alone in the woods in the middle of nowhere in the pitch dark of night only a matter of months ago. Now, it’s like just stepping blindly through the living room of my house without turning the light on.
I saw a big rat in a supposedly copperhead-infested shelter. It must have been a foot long. I eventually set up my tent next to a creek without the rainfly, feeling wonderful going to sleep on this phenomenal night.
This was my first genuine, intentional night-hike – clearly a success.
The rat in the shelter was absolutely huge, basically the size of a house-cat. I’d never seen a rat before, and it was certainly startling to encounter it by the light of my headlamp as I peered into an empty shelter late at night.
Early in the day I crossed a paved road that leads to the town of Front Royal, Virginia. The town is a common stop for thru-hikers, but I passed it up in favor of a quick resupply in Linden. I’m glad that I did.
Judging by the way I wrote about the general store in Linden, I’d bet that it had a wooden screen door. The suburban city boy in me just couldn’t get enough of the classic Americana in some of these countryside businesses. It was so relaxing to simply sit on the front porch of a place like that in the midst of deep summer – with nowhere to be and really not a care in the world.
Saturday, July 07, 2001
Dick’s Dome Shelter to Sam Moore Shelter
Today’s Miles: 15.9
Trip Miles: 973
I stopped today at another general store on a road off the trail. It was also a taxidermist’s workshop. Interesting.
I hiked with Basketball Jones, The Accomplice, and The Italian Scallion for most of the day. B-ball Jones was pointing out different kinds of trees to us.
I began the roller coaster section late in the day, but the weather was still searing hot, as usual. We came upon Huffer + Puffer of ’98 at a forest service road near the top of one of the hills with a cooler full of soda, not to mention cookies! Awesome! We talked with him for a while, a cool guy. He mentioned he’s been following my journal online here, perhaps the first person that’s told me that so far.
It was just about dark when I got to the shelter, after hiking much of the rest of the way with Italian Scallion. There was a tree that stuck out at one of the views at the top of one of the roller coaster mountains, and we posed for pictures there.
It won’t be long now until I’m in Harpers Ferry, and the 1,000 mile mark! …not to mention finally out of Virginia!
The aforementioned taxidermist’s workshop was adjacent to a general store near Ashby Gap. This is where I bumped into B-Ball Jones and The Accomplice again as we ended up hiking together for the following days. They were an energetic, talkative pair, and it was especially neat to hear The Accomplice’s opinion on the experience, as he was only thirteen years old. They were on a long section hike.
Huffer + Puffer was a nice guy who seemed to really love the Appalachian Trail. He signed in to my guestbook a couple times on trailjournals.com and cheered me on. His “trail magic” was well-placed in the “roller-coaster” section of trail – a series of relentless ups and downs, or PUDS as some hikers call them (Pointless ups and downs). The local trail club took a sort of masochistic pride in this section, having posted witty warning signs at each end of it.
The Italian Scallion was a middle-aged guy who was fun to hike with. I think it was me that talked him into pushing on for the Sam Moore Shelter, even though it looked like it’d be sunset before we got there. I asked him to take a photo of me standing in a picturesque tree, and he thought it was such a good idea that he asked for me to do the same for him!
Again I’d like to quote the Dan “Wingfoot” Bruce guidebook about a feature I passed on this day.
He notes “Rock Wall: just before highway, marks boundary surveyed by 19-year-old George Washington, who, from this very spot, went on to help chart the course for this republic. What might you do hence?”
Sunday, July 08, 2001
Sam Moore Shelter to Blackburn A.T. center
Today’s Miles: 10.9
Trip Miles: 983.9
It rained hard in the early morning, and the rest of the day was humid and muggy. I spent most of the afternoon at a family pub off the trail, eating with B-ball Jones, the Accomplice, and Gump. I had a huge order of fries and a cheeseburger, and it was so good that I had a second huge order of fries and a cheeseburger! That was one of the things I wanted to do at some point on this trip – order a full meal, and say, “That was so good, I’d like another one!”
Stuffed with grease, I climbed up and hung out at an overlook, watching a storm pass by just barely to the south of me. I eventually made it here to the Blackburn AT Center for the night, an outpost of the Potomac AT Club. I met Trailboss and Wildchild of the PATC, along with another dude, and a thru hiker named Treebeard – Treebeard as in the character from the Lord of the Rings!
Harpers Ferry tomorrow!
The overlook where I watched the storm was at Bears Den Rocks. Nearby was the aptly named Bears Den Hostel – I skipped it as a place to stop but heard good things about it. I think the Walking Wounded crew had an especially nice stay there.
The pub where I had lunch was the Horseshoe Curve Restaurant, located a short way down from Snickers Gap.
The Blackburn AT Center was a nice piece of property located three-tenths of a mile off the trail, down some steep switchbacks. It had a fully enclosed set of bunk rooms for hikers to sleep in, as well as a picturesque house with a big, wrap-around, screened-in porch.
Trailboss and Wildchild (the caretakers) were talkative but kind of moody and gave the place an unwelcoming vibe. My memory carries the impression that they’d been jaded by dealing with too many entitled, unappreciative thru-hikers – can’t blame them much for that.
The bunk room was stuffy and I didn’t sleep very well that night. I also remember being extremely hungry despite the two cheeseburgers I’d had earlier in the day. I think I was just low on food again as I approached Harpers Ferry.
Monday, July 09, 2001
Blackburn AT Center to Harper’s Ferry, WV
Today’s Miles: 11.8
Trip Miles: 995.7
A surreal day. I’m in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia, and I’m finally OUT OF VIRGINIA! Not only that, but I’ve come one thousand miles! Nearly halfway!
The descent to town was so much fun, just knowing that I was almost there. The trail also went through some old trenches from the Civil War – pretty cool.
A view of the Shenandoah River opened up before me, and a guy on a canoe and I caught each other’s attention as I was crossing the bridge. We both sort of “raised the roof,” acknowledging that we’re each pretty cool cats, loving life.
The ATC Headquarters were closed when I got in, so I just did laundry at the KOA Campground, showered, and crashed. Not without ample Cokes, of course.
I’m not kidding about walking through trenches – there was a significant network of depressions in the mountainside I descended toward Harper’s Ferry. Home to the confluence of the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers, the town was a landmark of the Civil War, and steeped in history – the entire “downtown” area of this sleepy place seemed to consist of National Historic Landmarks.
Not only that, but Harper’s Ferry was home to the offices of the Appalachian Trail Conference – governing body of the AT and responsible for its continued existence. The town also lies beyond the Virginia border and one thousand trail miles from Springer Mountain, Georgia, so there was a lot to be celebrated here.
Unfortunately services in town were sparse on this Monday evening, and a lot of businesses were closed for the day. I managed to find some food but all the lodging in town was booked, so I had to walk a considerable distance to a KOA Campground for the night.
My knees were screaming from the descent, and I remember that walking the town’s sidewalks was not altogether pleasant as a result. I don’t recall encountering any other hikers in town this evening, so that factor combined with my exhaustion didn’t yield the celebratory feeling one would expect of arriving at such a landmark.