Day 102: Amazing trail magic from government employees

Miles Hiked: 19.9
Miles Left: 1273.7
Ending Location: Bunkhouse at Lewis Mountain Campground, Mile 911.6

One great thing about weekend hikers is when they are around if I get on the trail before 10am I feel like I’m getting going early. I actually did make an early start this morning though since I had a goal. If I could make it too Lewis Mountain campground before 8pm I might be able to grab dinner and a shower. At nearly 20 miles, that was a bit of a stretch but it kept me going throughout most of the day.

I was glad I started hiking early since the day turned into a scorcher. I arrived at Hightop Hut as things were really heating up and made the mistake of sitting in the sun to dry out and eat some lunch. Even after sucking down water and filtering more I started feeling sick from the heat since there was no shade. Once I realized the source of my distress I packed everything up and headed back into the woods, as with its metal roof the hut itself was like a sauna.

On hitting mile 900 of the trail I noticed several rock piles celebrating that fact. Through shear coincidence this milestone happened to occur right by some scenic cliffs which was a nice bonus as most of the 100 mile marks have been on some nondescript section of the trail. Next up, one thousand miles!

While the climb up to Hightop was the biggest of the day, as the trail continued on there were a good number of sections where you would gain and then loose 500 to 1k feet of elevation. Don’t let anyone fool you that the Shenandoah section is all flat. It was hard to stay motivated but the allure of a good dinner kept me focused. As the afternoon started to turn into evening I ended up having several bear encounters. Most of them involved a bear crashing through the woods to run away the second they became aware of my presence. You know the saying, “You don’t have to outrun the bear, you just have to outrun your friends”? Well you better have some slow friends because those bears are fast! There was one bear though that was lazily sitting on the trail and didn’t seem to mind me. I probably spent a good fifteen minutes watching and talking to him before he wandered off. Yes I talk to the bears so they know where I am since their eyesight isn’t the best. Hey, it makes me feel more safe anyways!

I arrived at the campsite around 7:30 with a whole half hour to spare … or so I thought. It turns our this camp store closed at 6. The bathroom was open though, but I didn’t have any quarters for the shower. Luckily I eventually found someone passing by who could make change so all was ok with the world. As I was leaving the bathroom a ranger was hanging out looking at my pack. I’ll admit my first thought was, “Crap, I’ve been busted!”, even though I don’t think I was doing anything wrong. In my defense, as a dirty hiker I’m pretty sure I’m breaking some rule or law every time I’m near civilization. It turns out though that he just wanted to help. The ranger had hiked the AT back in the 80’s, (trail name “Marathon Man”), so he knew what it was like and reopened the store for me. I picked up some microwaveable sausage biscuits for dinner and a few snacks for the trail and when I went to pay for them he waved me off and said they were on the house. Talking to a couple other hikers later he apperantly does this a lot. At the time though I was absolutely floored. I had been amazed with him just opening the store in the first place! I talked to him for a while and he had a bunch of good stories. Supposedly the campground used to be at the 900 mile mark before new sections were added to the trail and he still considered that to be the case regardless of what the guidebooks said. I’m not going to argue with him! Also there is usually a surprising number of through hikers who show up in July. The reason that’s weird is by that point it’s almost impossible to finish before weather makes scaling Katahdin illegal, and very possibly fatal.

As the night wore on the ranger offered me the opportunity to stay in the bunk house for free. As he put it, they weren’t going to be able to rent it that night and it’s not like they have to change the sheets. So I saw bears during the day, had a shower, and was able to sleep that night with a full belly in a warm bed. It was a good day! It was also a turning point for my time in Virginia as that was when the Virginia Blues really started to melt away. Thank you Marathon Man!

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