Day 103: Eating my way across the Shenandoahs

Miles Hiked: 23.1
Miles Left: 1250.6
Ending Location: Byrds Nest #3 Hut, Mile 934.7

I woke up this morning raring to go. When dropping off my keys to the cabin I had been offered free coffee, I was feeling great, and I was full of energy. All was right with the world! I stopped briefly by Bearfence Hut, the place I was planning on staying the night before. Despite its name there was no bear fencing to be seen. Then it was on to the Big Meadows wayside for lunch and blackberry milkshakes. On the way there though I received even more trail magic from Dipper Debbie, her daughter Maggie, and her parents. Debbie was planning on hiking the AT next year and was full of questions about the trail so I tried to answer them the best I could. The only answer I really felt comfortable with was when asked what the hardest part of the trail had been so far I replied “The month leading up to getting on the AT”. With all the rush, doubt, and second thoughts during that month I’m still amazed I made it out here. Being the first hiker they helped I was overwhelmed with food and soda. The reason I remember their names is I let them sign my bag which appeared to make Maggie’s day. I don’t think I’ve talked about my backpack much, and it really doesn’t show up in the pictures, but I’ve been having fellow hikers and trail angels sign my bag using a permanent marker. This was an idea I stole from Oh Canada and it has been tons of fun. Not only does it serve as a neat icebreaker, but it helps me remember names and reminds me of all the amazing people I’ve met along the way. Plus by now my bag looks wicked cool with drawings, names, and sayings plastered all over it. Owl recommended that I tell LLBean at the end of this hike that they can display this in their HQ if they want to. I’m actually tempted to do that if this bag survives the trip to Katahdin.

At the wayside I met Woodstock and Gargoyle, but opted to get a table inside instead of getting my food to go like them so I could recharge my phone. The wayside’s milkshake machine was working and they were fully stocked with ice cream so I finally managed to try a blackberry milkshake. I quickly polished it down along with a chili dog and fries. After that I stopped by the store to pick up a few more energy bars and crackers to get me to the next resupply. The ability to carry a only a day or two’s worth of food in the park is amazing as that really helps keep your pack weight manageable.

Back on the trail I initially made good time but then started to slow down as I got tireder and tireder. It was all I could do to keep my eyes open. Eventually I found a rocky outcropping and took a quick power nap. Apparently all that food needed time to digest as it was like trying to work out right after a Thanksgiving dinner. Once I woke up though I felt much better which was good as a storm was rumbling in. There was a lot of cliff walking so it was cool, (and intimidating), watching it on the horizon. Initially it just missed where I was so by that afternoon I was feeling pretty lucky. I stopped by the next hut and it was filled with high schoolers out for the weekend. My desire to stay there was low, and combined with the near miss of the storm helped me make my decision to push on. The reason I had to think about it though was that meant I would have to stealth camp or hike a total of 23 miles that day to make it to the next hut. After the 19 miles yesterday my legs felt great so I figured that was a realistic goal though.

Of course shortly after making that decision the rest of the storm came through and dumped tons of rain on me. My rain gear certainly got a workout that evening and I’m happy to say it performed as expected. Everything was damp but my sleeping bag remained dry and I remained warm which in the end is all that matters. I took refuge briefly in a stables with some horses but then pushed on to the Skyline resort where I met up again with Woodstock and Gargoyle and grabbed dinner. That night featured clog dancing so it was a lot of fun eating hamburgers, drinking beer, getting dry, and cheering on the clog dancers. I was temped to stay the night there as by then it was dark and still drizzling, but the place was booked up. Still, there’s something profoundly awesome about slamming down a pint, putting on your rain jacket and headlamp, and saying “Well see ya guys but I’m going to hike through six more miles of bear infested wilderness before I call it a night.” And that is pretty much what I did. Part of the trail went along Little Stoneyman Cliffs which were spectacular at night, and with the wind and the rain I felt like I was accomplishing something very extreme. Luckily the rain eventually stopped and by the time I finally made it to camp things were starting to dry out which helped a lot when it came to setting up my tent. In another piece of good news no bears were seen that night but I did wake up a herd of deer. With the way their eyes reflected my headlamp I initially thought I had wandered into a wolf den but on further inspection paired with the fact that I did not die I realized what they really were. Perhaps the most annoying thing that night was the bugs. They kept swarming my headlamps so for sections I’d have to switch it over to its red light as that wouldn’t attract them as much. Of course it’s hard to see with the red light so after the cloud of insects dispersed I’d switch it back.

When it was all said and done, with 23 miles hiked and two full meals eaten it was a good day. I went to sleep that night happy and content with my progress.












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