Day 104: More bears and more night hiking

Miles Hiked: 17.5
Miles Left: 1233.1
Ending Location: Gravel Springs Hut, Mile 952.2

Unsurprisingly, after my late night last night I slept in. This was made easier by the fact that my tent-site was a distance from the shelter itself so I wasn’t woken up by the standard commotion of other hikers leaving at a more reasonable time. Eventually I headed out though with the goal of another wayside driving me on. Most of the day passed without much commotion. There were some nice views on top of Mary’s rock, (It totally was worth taking a side trail up to it), and I did surprise one bear, but nothing dramatic. Later that afternoon though it started to rain again. I was traveling through a heavily canopied forest at the time and I was very lucky to get my pack cover and rain jacket as I didn’t have much warning before it started pouring. At first, hoping it would pass over briefly, I huddled under a tree, ate a Cliff bar, and felt sorry for myself. After realizing this storm was going to go on for a while I stood up and started hiking again. It’s amazing how forward progress can make you feel better. At this point the rain had turned those nicely packed paths of the Shenandoahs into mini streams but since my shoes were already soaked I just waded through them. Eventually the rain settled into a misting and I briefly took refuge in a park restroom and tried to get dried off enough to use my phone and figure out where I was. The LifeProof waterproof case I have certainly has gotten a workout on this trip, but once it gets wet my ability to use the touchscreen becomes nonexistent. Luckily I have a camp towel in my backpack, (Douglas Adams would be proud), but using it in the rain is not really an option. Long story short, I saw I was right by the wayside so I forged ahead.

Upon arriving there I discovered two things. Their grill was on the fritz so I could only have fried food and there was only outdoor seating. Ordering a chicken club, fries, and ice cream, I ended up taking them to a covered overhang near the soda machines to eat them. I must have been a sad sight perched under there, wet and shivering while trying to squeeze ketchup onto my fries since a very nice couple approached me with their contact information written on a part of a torn up tissue box. They said they lived near Harpers Ferry and if I needed a place to stay they would happily take me in. I was amazed by the offer because at that point I don’t know if I’d let myself into my own house in the stinky and muddy state I was in. I thanked them very much and they left and I finished up my meal.

During this time the wayside closed for the day, (I had just made it in time), but some bikers stopped in and started looking around. All of a sudden the store’s alarm went off and started blaring like a car alarm. Not wanting to be around if any cops showed up, (let’s be honest, I looked guilty as hell), I quickly packed up my stuff and headed back out to the trail. By then the rain had stopped so I was able to dry off a bit before the sun set. Thanks to my late start though I still had several miles to go. This led to my scariest bear encounter to date. The sun was rapidly going down and I had my headlamp on and was going up a mountain. Suddenly in the middle of a switchback a bear stood up. I suspect it had been sleeping and I had woken it up. This was how I found myself not only much closer to a bear then I would have liked, but with it between me and both sides of the trail since I had initially walked past it and the switchback looped back around above the bear. I slowly backed off the trail and into the woods all the while telling the bear what a good bear it was and how good bears did not eat hikers. To the bear’s credit, it mostly just gave me an annoyed look like, “Really dude, I was sleeping!?”, stretched, slowly walked on to the trail and then ran away. My immediate thought after that was, “Darn it, that would have been an amazing picture”, but at least you all now know I’m not going to be that guy who gets mauled while reaching for his camera.

The rest of the night passed without incident. One interesting and slightly disorienting thing was with all the rain the ground was crawling with worms which would retreat back into the ground surprisingly fast when my headlamp illuminated them. It made the whole trail look like an old school Tool music video. Eventually though I reached the shelter. With lightning booming in the distance I opted to sleep in it vs camp. The decision was much easier than normal since everyone in the shelter was still up so I didn’t feel bad barging in there. That turned out to be a good decision since in the very early morning hours the sky opened up and it turned into a fairly impressive storm that I was able to take note of and then fall back asleep.

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