The weekend was a blast. My buddy Bryan was married, and I got to see a lot of my Blacksburg friends again. Over the weekend my dad informed me that he got me a doctor’s appointment for Tuesday afternoon if I wanted it. The decision lay before me to go back to the trail or get my knee checked out. I decided to get my knee checked out and give myself peace of mind, and know for sure what’s going on. I was heading home once again.
I had a whole day to do absolutely nothing. It was glorious. I iced my knee and played video games all day. A true day of rest. Of course, I was ever aware of the hiker bubbles moving on without me.
Adjusting to a new group is a common point of concern for hikers at this point in the trail. Nobody seems to want to do it. We’ve been through hell and forged friendships over the last two or three months. Not only that, but the people who start in March are apparently slower than people who started in April. It isn’t uncommon to see a new hiker who started weeks after you did, and frankly, it’s kind of a shot to the ego. After a day of good rest, I became restless. My friends were moving on without me.
Luckily, there was no damage to my leg. I learned that my left hamstring was tighter than my right, and my right was compensating for it and turning inward. Armed with peace of mind, I planned where I was going to be dropped off. If I went back to Glasgow, I would be so far behind everyone I knew. I decided to be dropped off at Rockfish Gap, right before the Shenandoahs.
I awoke to return to the trail on a rainy day. Of course. The tropical storm was moving through that week. I could wait one more day… But no. You can’t escape rain on the trail. Grin and bear it.
Mom drove me to Waynesboro, VA where I would get on the trail once more. After a fast food lunch and a stop at Dollar General, we headed up Skyline Drive to Rockfish Gap. We eventually found the trail head, and I headed up the mountain in the pouring rain.
I had to stop almost immediately to get my permit for the Shenandoah National Park. I stood there in the rain, furiously scribbling my information on the frail paper. I shoved the soggy permit in my pocket and trudged on.
I don’t remember much about the scenery. When it rains I keep my head down and move as quickly as I can. I moved through soggy fields, and was dropped on by many trees.
I finally reached my intended destination, a shelter just 8 miles from where I got on. I was soaked through, and I just wanted to change clothes and crawl in my sleeping bag. I walk up to the shelter and notice a lot of people asleep inside, but there was room.
Inside were MGD, Pippin, Bogey, and Ledge. I did just what I meant to do, and crawled into my sleeping bag after putting on some dry clothes. I had no problem with calling it a short day.
The next day offered more rain. I left the shelter by 9am, just after it started raining. Again. I moved quickly through the park that day. I was doing my standard rain routine: head down, move fast. The rain let up some as I approached Blackrock Hut, but I had decided to stay put there.
I met Double D and Dixie, his dog. The rest of the company was the very same as the night before. Everyone seemed to have the same plan. I waited out the rest of the day in the comfort of my dry clothes and sleeping bag.
I pulled on my wet clothes and left the shelter. I was excited because I would be passing my first Wayside. The Shenandoah Waysides are famous to hikers because you see them almost daily, you can get good food, and the ever so decadent blackberry milkshake. As a bonus, you can carry less food through the whole park.
I was excited for the prospect of a beautiful day, after two days of total suck. Before long I arrived at the Loft Mountain Campground under clear skies. After drying out some of my stuff, I was off to the wayside.
It was quite a hike down to the restaurant; enough to make me question whether it was worth it. When I finally reached the store, I saw Old Boy and Hog Greer, the two I gave a ride to and from Trail Days. I got my blackberry shake with then and moved on to Hightop Hut, where I spent the night.
The next day I had some miles to do. My friend Lady was just ahead, and I could catch her if I could make it to Rock Spring Hut that day. That would be about 23 miles.
I was really enjoying the Shenandoah terrain. I was still climbing mountains, but the slope was more gradual. That meant the climbs were longer than usual, but not difficult. The forest was beautiful and thick in the late spring. So dense in some places that people were working to cut back the overgrowth. Little cement sign posts were everywhere, telling you how far to the next land mark. It was easy to get used to them.
Every once in a while I would pass a larger campsite with lots of vacationing families. Their tents were massive palaces. I wondered what it would be like to camp and not have to go anywhere the next day. It would feel very relaxing to be able to sleep in and not worry about making miles.
Toward the end of the day I stopped at Big Meadows Wayside for dinner before hiking the final five miles to the hut. I shoved a burger into my mouth as I charged my phone and smelled bad in a public area.
During my last few miles for the day, I walked along the side of a mountain as the sun was setting. It cast a lovely light over the trail and I stopped a few times to take in a view of the valley. I finally made it to the shelter and met Lady there.
I set out in the morning after Lady had gone. I caught up with her in the rain a couple miles later and we hiked together to the Skyland Resort for breakfast. We got a sweet breakfast buffet, and we watched the rain worsen as we ate. Needless to say, neither us were excited to leave that spot.
Before long we met MGD and Pippin in the lobby. We had heard that the building next door would let us have a fire, so we went next door to dry out. As we solved puzzles and watched tv we reflected on the fact that none of us wated to hike that day. We claimed a room at the resort and the rain promptly stopped.
We enjoyed the rest of the day, though. And we met the Fun Patrol, a larger group of hikers. All in all, we only hiked about 4 miles that day.
We all left Skyland and continued north. The trail wound around Skyline Drive as usual. Lady and I kept having “deja view”, which was the same view from many different spots. It was slightly frustrating to realize that every viewpoint was right below the road, but the views were nice and came often. I didn’t complain much.
After a while we came to our last wayside. MGD, Pippin, Lady and I hung out there for a while and got something to eat. The plan was to go a little further to a cabin to get water and find a place to camp.
By the time we arrived, we realized the cabin wasn’t empty… A middle aged couple had rented the cabin for the weekend. As Lady and I approached the cabin, I had mind to get water and go. Lady had a different plan. She called out, “hi! We were hoping there was camping around here. Do you know?” The woman called back, “there’s a campground close to here!” That didn’t sound too welcoming to me. Lady didn’t give up, “we just hiked 18 miles, and we were really hoping to camp close to here somewhere.” After that the couple were a little more friendly. They told us of spur trails with good camping spots.
I was treating my water, so Lady went to scout out the spots. While I was waiting, the couple invited me over for a glass of wine. Now this was an interesting turn in events. Lady came back and was also offered wine. Then we were asked to stay for dinner. We camped close, and were wined and dined by bed and breakfast owners. Some of my favorite trail magic so far.
The next day was our last in Shenandoah. I enjoyed the dense forest and the green foliage. I enjoyed it so much that I zoned out, and I was ambushed by a short, brown bird. It rushed out of the bushes, hissing at me with its neck feathers ruffled! I kept my trekking pole between it and me, and soon it retreated back into the bushes. Lady said it was a grouse, which I had never seen. I called the encounter a win, since I could have totally punted that bird. Yeah.
We walked until we came to the Front Royal Hostel. It was run by Mime Evans, who is a huge Greatful Dead fan, a past thru hiker, and an incredibly nice guy. The hostel was just in his basement, and when we got there we stayed with MGD, Pippin, Two Socks, and DB Cooper, among others. I wore a giant pair of sweat pants while my clothes were in the wash.