Today was a significant day for so many reasons! We would be getting out of Virignia (finally!), hitting the 1000-mile mark, and meeting up with Nokey’s Uncle Joe for the night, followed by Harpers Ferry (the emotional halfway mark) and a few days off the following day! But first, we had to finish the rollercoaster on the minimal amount of food we had left! Our day started with a downhill since we’d camped up top, so we had ample time to warm up first! We headed down to the Sam Moore Shelter for some water and breakfast. After finishing, the hills of the rollercoaster didn’t seem to bother us so much. We passed Bears Den Rocks and came to Snickers Gap early, at only 10 a.m.! At Snickers Gap I was starving and we were both in a bad mood since we had nearly nothing left to eat. We saw a sign telling us about some local restaraunts only a mile away and I fought like hell to get Nokey to go! After deciding that “The Trail Will Provide” (A mantra of ours), we decided to walk the mile to Pine Grove Restaraunt. This turned out to be an amazing decision! They had homemade food (I had a spinach, sundried tomato, and mozzarella omelet!) and the service was awesome! We met the owner of the place and he let us charge up our nearly dead phones. We also got in touch with Nokey’s uncle and put in some requests for food for dinner since he was meeting up with us at the Blackburn AT Center that night.
After spending nearly two hours here, we decided it would be a good time to get back onto the trail before the rain started. As soon as we opened the door to leave, the rain began and we had a mile walk back to the trail! I stuck out my thumb to hitch a ride and less than 5 seconds later, a car stopped and took us back to the trailhead! We got there and Broadswoard and SG were there and we did the rest of the rollercoaster with them, which wasn’t nearly as hard as we thought it would be in the torrential rain. The wind was really blowing and it felt like rain was hitting us from every direction. Around 2 p.m., we hit our 1000-mile mark, which is also the first time we cross out of Virginia! They had a “Welcome to West Virignia” sign up and we took silly photos in front of it. From here, we still had two more hills of the rollercoaster and we pushed it as hard as we could to the Blackburn AT Center, making it there by 4:15 p.m.
When we got there, we had to wait on Uncle Joe, but we were welcomed by Chris and his wife Caroline, two former thru hikers who were running the place. The offered us cookies and sodas, which was an amazing treat. They also cooked us a spaghetti dinner! Nokey’s uncle and friend came and brought us food too! The torrential rain continued and we were informed by James that there were tornadoes down in the valley! The rain finally let up a little around 9 p.m. and we were able to get some sleep. We were super excited about getting into Harpers Ferry in the morning, the emotional halfway point of the trail and the ATC headquarters!
We woke up early again and got a great start. We headed uphill to Manassass Gap Shelter and ran into some hikers we hadn’t seen in a while - Feathers and Wild Turky! We were so psyched to finally see some thru hikers again as our entire “bubble” of hikers had been so spread out lately. We talked to them for a few minutes at the shelter and then headed out separately. We also met a nice dayhiker who was hiking between the hills to his mother’s house. He lived on one side and she lived on the other, but it was faster to walk the ten miles to her house than it was to drive it due to the roads there, so he was walking over to visit.
We met up with Feathers and Wild Turky again just as we entered Sky Meadows State park and we aired and dried out my gear as it was still wet from the night it poured rain on us at Gravel Springs Shelter. We walked through Sky Meadows and it was just a gorgeous park! It was a short walk on the AT for us, but the skies were bright blue and sunny and it was one of the prettiest days we’d had in Virigina. After breaking off from them and eating lunch, we started one of the most infamous parts of the trail: THE ROLLERCOASTER! This part of the trail has 10 ascents and descents in 13.5 miles (I counted 13 hills on my map, but they swear it’s only 10…) Anyway, the first two hills of this thing were absolutely brutal and I was exhausted after hiking nearly 20 miles to get there in the first place! The third hill, however, really did me in. It was easier than it looked on the map, but after getting in so far, I was starving and the terrain was rocky and we were done. We caught back up to Feathers and Wild Turky who agreed it was harder than it looked on paper for the first two hills and we found a great campsite on Buzzard Hill. The wind was blowing pretty hard and the forecast was calling for 80% chance of rain in the morning, but we were done. We all ate dinner and crashed pretty hard, but we were looking forward to the next part of the rollercoaster the next day.
We started out our day earlier than usual and ready to get out of the park. We still had our bottle of wine, so we told Connect 4 we’d meet her for lunch in the Compton Gap parking lot. We immediately took a wrong trail out of the shelter and ended up walking on a road. We almost got run over by some rangers in a truck! We found our way back to the AT and started a short, easy uphill. It was a foggy morning due to the rain and humidity, but we did have a little bit of a view from North Marshall Mountain. From here, we’d go back down the hill and then ascend Compton Peak. We met a photographer up here, Charlie, who took our photo and told us a little about the history of the park and all the side trails. He confirmed our suspicion that all the good stuff in the park was off on the side trails away from Skyline Drive and the AT. He was super nice, but we needed to head down to the parking lot to have lunch with Connect 4! We had our lunch and our bottle of wine and hiked together to the boundary of the park with her. She was going one way to the hostel and we were headed onward for the night. We parted ways and headed to the next shelter, Tom Foyd, for a break.
After this, we headed down past a 4-H camp and down toward Front Royal. We got some trail magic, some sweet tea, from some former thru hikers who lived close to the trail. We met up with Blues Clues and then headed up the mountain toward the Jim and Molly Denton Shelter, which was exciting for us since they had a solar-heated shower! We got to the shelter around 6 p.m. and had dinner. We were going to rinse ourselves in the shower with our clothes since we hadn’t showered in a few days and the heat had been so bad. When we found the shower, it was just a cold cistern with a trickle of water. We laughed it off and decided to head onward down the mountain and not stay. We lost the trail halfway down the hill and stumbled onward toward I-66 and the Manassass Gap Shelter. When we got to the footbridge, the trail went straight up the mountain and we were losing daylight. We decided it would be better just to stay down the hill next to the freeway for the night (sorry mom!) We made jokes about sleeping under the freeway like bums with expensive houses and slept really well to the sound of the traffic. (Don’t worry you guys, despite sleeping right next to the freeway, it was in a really great neighborhood and there were no on/off ramps; we were never in danger of being mugged or killed or anything like that, ha!)
This morning we both woke up in a good mood - we were almost done with the park, the holiday weekend was over, and I was going to get a blackberry milkshake! These milkshakes are talked about for hundreds of miles and I hadn’t had a chance to get one yet, this was my last chance! About 4 miles in to our day we’d had easy terrain, but I needed some water so we stopped at a shelter to get some. Here, some weekend hikers told me I wasn’t going to be able to get a milkshake! They tried yesterday and they were out! I was so bummed. Being a thru hiker, we’re all pretty motivated by food and this pretty much ruined my day. We continued on with a milder temperature day and easy terrain, reaching the Wayside at about 12:45. I went in to ask about the shakes and sure enough they were out. Happily, they did have one blackberry product - BLACKBERRY WINE! Nokey and I happily bought the wine and headed out to the picinic table with our purchase. Connect 4 showed up and we shared our wine with her. Five hours later and four more bottles, we all felt great, but needed to hike on, ha!
We all got moving and headed on to our last shelter in SNP - Gravel Springs. On the way in with less than a half mile to go, it was again pouring rain. We got to the shelter (with a bottle of wine we packed in) to find it was entirely full of section hikers. Even though there was room in the shelter, they wouldn’t make room for us and we were all forced to set up our tents in the mud, dark, and pouring rain. We again were so happy we’d be heading out of the park tomorrow and were ready to get away from the section hikers!
After a rough night at Bearfence Shelter, we were determined to pull bigger miles and get out of SNP as soon as possible. We started the day with better weather, but a threat of rain looming over us all day. We started by climbing a viewless mountain with a rock scramble that would take you to the top (all the AT in Shenandoah runs along the road with the views all being off trail). We just continued onward down the hill. This day was really pretty uneventful other than the fact that Nokey saw a tiny bear cub before I got to catch up with him.
Towards 2 p.m., it started to sprinkle, but we saw something - ahead at the Skyland Riding Stables, like a beacon, shone a beautiful Pepsi machine! We got really excited and the rain started to come down. We went to put in a dollar (it cost two bucks to get one) and the machine wouldn’t take the dollar! We tried and tried and got into an argument over how to feed a dollar into the machine before giving up. Now it was pouring rain and all we wanted was a stupid Dr. Wham! We continued to walk uphill in the mud and pouring rain, getting soaked. We got up to Stonyman Cliffs just as the sun came out and we had one of the few views we’d had in the entire state! We were so exicited we decided to cook dinner up top. I also had a cell signal for the first time in days, so I called home and talked to my dad. We had a longer hike to go and we were out of water, so ahead we went. We came to a picinic area and were offered free hotdogs from a group of German exchange students. It was getting close to dark and we still had two miles left to go, so we headed out up the Pinnacle. The guidebook didn’t indicate we’d have a view so we rushed up only to find a great rock outcropping with a gorgeous view of the sunset! We were psyched to have the view and stayed up there until nearly dark. We pushed down to Byrd’s Nest shelter to find only four other people there and set up our tents for a restful night. I went to sleep dreaming of blackberry milkshakes at the Elkwallow Wayside for lunch tomorrow!
Today we were up pretty early as the result of uncomfortable sleeping conditions and the bear threat! We were determined to make good miles today and get through the park as fast as possible. With it being Sunday on Memorial Day weekend, the traffic on the trail was heavy and we were fed up with being treated like a sideshow attraction by the tourists. We don’t mind answering questions and talking to people, but when tourists ask to take our pictures, it gets borderline creepy and rather annoying!
So we ended up heading 6 miles up to the first shelter, our original destination the night before, and had a huge early lunch with Swiss. We hung out there for nearly an hour drinking the nice, cold spring water and having wonderful conversation. Swiss mentioned there was a river with a picnic area about 12 miles away and we got excited with the prospect of swimming and told him we’d see him there. We continued on up the hill to our first good view in days! The rest of our day was uneventful and we were so hot by mid afternoon we couldn’t help but daydream about going swimming. As we got close to the river, we took a wrong turn on a fire road and ended back up out at Skyline Drive. We just wanted to swim! We turned around and backtracked back to the AT to find more sadness: the river was more than 1.5 miles down a hill, meaning we’d have to add a total of 3 miles to our day and hike UPHILL away from the it back to the AT. By this point we were delerious with anger at everything, the hills of Virigina, the guy who wrote our guidebook, the tourists, the whole national park system… you name it and we hated it! We decided we’d push on to the next shelter, Bearfence Shelter, and the campground just before it to hit up the store for some junk food.
After singing ridiculous songs about all the junkfood we wanted to eat and hiking a few nearly level miles, we came to the campground. Nokey was a few steps ahead of me and I noticed him talking to two women at the trailhead leading into the camp. When I caught up, I asked them if there was some place around to get some Doritos, as that was all we’d talked about for nearly 5 miles. They told us the campstore didn’t have them, but they did at their campsite if we wanted to come over for some! When we got there, they offered to make us some grilled turkey and cheese sandwiches and gave us some cold beer too! We sat there with them for about an hour, talking to them about the trail so far and telling their kids about our trip. We were both excited as we’d hit the 900 mile mark earlier in the day as well.
The camp store closed at 6 and it was 5:30, so we thanked them and headed for the store to get something good to eat. We sat on the porch of the store with Lee Bob and Skunkape for a little while and then a man came over and asked if we were thru hikers. We told him we were and he invited us over for hamburgers. They also had quinoa salad, orzo salad, and several other fixings as well! We ate our second dinner and had to head out to the shelter before it got dark. When we got to Bearfence, it was twice as far off the trail as the book and signs told us and was in a swamp :( There was also a thruhiker there who was very hateful to everyone, so we set up our tents right in front of the mouse-laden shelter and went to bed, cursing Virginia and SNP. We both hoped for a better day the next day to be sure!
Today we planned to get on the trail by 9 a.m. and out of Bearfoot’s house. We had stayed long enough and didn’t want to impose by having her slackpack us again, as it was an hours’ drive to the park. Unfortunately for us, we didn’t even get out of bed until 9:15, oops! We got back on the trail at 1 p.m. and hit the ground running. It was still pretty hot on us and we had 7 days’ worth of food, so to say we were moving slowly is putting it mildly. There were tons of day and section hikers on the trail with it being a holiday, so we saw a ton of people the entire time. Around 4 p.m., we stopped at a stream in a ravine for a break. We were pretty unimpressed with Shenandoah so far and were tired and hot. After our break, I took the lead and walked only about 0.1 miles uphill before I ran into a bear less than 20 yards away standing in the middle of the trail! I yelled to Nokey to get his camera and we watched the bear, remaining behind her, as she walked up the trail. As she continued walking, three cubs came out from the woods playing and eating and we followed them for nearly a quarter mile up the trail until they got off into the woods. About another quarter mile up the trail, we saw our first copperhead!
Around 6:30 p.m. we were dog tired and super hot, so we walked off the trail to an abandonded ranger station to get some spring water out of a pump. The water was so nice and cold and we were dying of the heat, so we looked for a place to camp. We walked up the hill until about 7 p.m. when we found an abandoned trail or old logging road and it looked like the only level spot we’d seen in a while, so we set up camp. There was only room for one tent and we were in heavy bear country, so we hung a food bag and prepared to fit two people into a one-man tent. Shortly after it got dark, a LARGE bear came crashing through our campsite about 5 feet away from our tent! We yelled and shined a headlamp on it to scare it off and it took off towards the creek down the hill. We started to doze off when about 15 minutes later we heard another loud crash less than 2 feet behind the tent and again began our yelling. Turns out, the crash was just my trekking pole with a shoe on it falling down! We laughed about it and tried to go back to sleep. After dozing off again, we heard another loud crash yet again and it spooked us even more! It was my other trekking pole! We had a long laugh and finally were able to fall asleep :) The wildlife count for the day was five bears, a copperhead, and two deadly trekking poles!
So day 56 was pretty uneventful as I had to take a day off for a sick day! We were able to sit at Dutch Haus and let me recover and I was finally able to hold down food, so it made me a little stronger. By early afternoon, Snagglefoot and Dances with Flies caught up to us with Q-tip, so it was nice to have some more of the gang back together again! I was finally able to eat all the delicious food they offered there, so I took advantage of that. We pretty much sat around all day so I could regain my strength. We woke up on day 57 at 3 a.m. to Nokey… he had caught my virus and was now sick. He insisted we would be hiking out that day, however. After trying to get him out of bed for over two hours, he finally gave in to the fact that yes, he was sick, and we tried to find a way into Waynesboro given the fact that we couldn’t afford yet another few days at the B&B. We found a ride into Waynesboro after a few hours and went down to stay at the YMCA since the only hostel in town we could afford didn’t open until 5 p.m.
After trying unsuccessfully to find a place to camp, we heard back from Nokey’s friend Bearfoot who lived in the area and could come pick us up to take us to her house to rest up. We stayed the night with them and decided to do a slack pack for our first day into Shenandoah so we wouldn’t be struggling to hike after being sick.
Our slackpack didn’t go well either. We unfortunately were in the park for Memorial Day weekend. It was not only hot, but the water situation on the ridgeline in the heat wasn’t good for us either. The terrain wasn’t too hard, but we weren’t 100% yet and the heat was really cooking us. Only about 3 hours into our slack, we ran across Sasha and Miss Maggie. Sasha had been bitten or stung by something just moments before we ran into them and he was covered in hives and losing his vision. We sat with them and assisted the rangers while they took his vitals and waited for EMS. After this, our slackpack got tiring and we were ready for dinner. Thankfully, Bearfoot picked us up and took us to a great AYCE place that was straight out of Vegas in terms of the food we could eat. We got our resupply at Walmart and were ready to get back to the trail with our full packs.
Today started out early from Bobblets Gap and was promising. We had easy climbing to the first shelter, Cove Mountain. I also found an awesome sombrero there as well! We had easy walking down to Jennings Creek and a swimming hole and decided to hang out there for a while. A huge group of hikers were ending their day there, so we headed on alone. After climbing Fork Mountain, the Virignia Blues hit me again and I was once again ready to
go home. we came upon Bryant Ridge Shelter and it was like the Taj Mahal, a 20-person shelter and it was totally empty! We decided to say put and only three other people showed up, so Nokey and I had the entire loft to ourselves. Tomorrow we have a big day and I’m hoping to feel better about Virginia soon.
We planned to do a longer day today then we actually did, sadly. We left the shelter a little later than I would have liked, but we had a short 8 miles or so to get down to Daleville to resupply. We had some good ridgeline walking and got down close to Daleville when we came into the cicada swarm! Those guys were everywhere and flew into me like you wouldn’t believe! I even had some stuck in my hair. We got to the HoJo and it was like a hiker reunion. Snagglefoot decided to get a room, so Nokey and I decided to stay as well. We did a resupply, laundry, and ate at the Mexican restaurant across the street. Snagglefoot’s old hiking partner, Birdman, showed up too. It was a great easy day, but I’m looking forward to longer hiking tomorrow!
Today we woke up to terrible weather, downpour and about 45 degrees in the rocky VA mountains. We decided that we’d zero at Woods Hole Hostel. The breakfast they had here was phenomenal - grits casserole, farm fresh eggs from their chickens, homemade cinnamon rolls, and fresh bread with homemade apple butter, jams, and real churned butter. They even hand roast their coffee and use fresh cream and raw sugar to serve. It was absolutely phenomenal and not a hard decision to stay. Before you eat, you get in a circle and they go around and ask your trail name, your hometown, and then you offer a few things you’re thankful for. I told them I was thankful I slowed down to hike with new friends :) After breakfast, I volunteered to help with a few chores, dishes and sweeping the bunkhouse, and we sat around in rocking chairs playing with the dogs. Spicerack and his wife offered us a ride to town to get our supplies and drops, so Nokey, Snagglefoot, and I jumped in and rode the half hour to Pearisburg. We were able to get and mail out our stuff, resupply, and eat while Spicerack and his wife got their stuff done as well. We got back to Woods Hole to meet everyone just before dinner. I opted out of dinner tonight since I was so full from lunch and had such a heavy food bag from my resupply. I’m looking forward to getting back on the trail tomorrow for sure. The terrain tomorrow looks brutal, so we’ll be getting an early start for sure.