1,000 Miles and the Roller Coaster (5/9, 5/10, 5/11)

Day 73, 5/9: Front Royal hostel -> Dicks Dome shelter (19.0 miles)

We were slow to get up this morning. The inflatable beds were comfy and we stayed up late so we were tired. When we eventually got up, we ate various snacks for breakfast instead of regular oatmeal. Rash made his pizza since he didn’t make one last night. We got our laundry out of the dryer and I stood in front of the heater sorting my clothes out. I started hiking slowly since my back was still bothering me. The 0.5 miles back to the trail seemed a lot longer this morning than it did last night. 0.3 miles down the trail marked the end of the Shenandoahs, and I was glad to be out of the park. It seems like national parks are trying to test us with the worst possible weather.

It was a frost warning overnight, but the sun came out in the morning. I was wearing my shelter pants under my capris and my fleece under my rain jacket, and it didn’t take long before I had to shed some layers. Hiking started out slow but I soon picked up my pace. There was a river crossing without good rocks, so I spent a few minutes and found my way to a road which led right to the trail without having to cross anything major. Now that my shoes are dry, I’m avoiding wet shoes at all costs. I took a short break on a rock after the river, and Darwin and Wetwipes flew by me on the trail.

I hiked along a large fence on one side and houses on the other. Rash and Piñata caught up, and we came to the road together and found Darwin, Wetwipes, Legs, and Nemo hanging out. Someone had left a box of trail magic and I ate half a clementine and a few purple pixie sticks. Everyone except Nemo and us were going into town at Front Royal. We continued on and next to the road I found a huge section of brillant purple flowers.

Mini field of purple flower by the road at Front Royal

So pretty

It turns out, the chain linked fence keeps animals in/out for the Smithsonian national zoo. I’d heard about their Front Royal facility from Hilary before, so it was cool to walk by it. All the building have red roofs and look like a tiny town from far away.

Sign for zoo breeding center

Plank walkway through the forest

I hiked with Nemo for a bit and we crossed a few more streams. There were a couple climbs but nothing major, and soon I was on flat land. The sun was shining, but the weather was nice and cool. It was the best weather we’ve had yet. I saw a small garter snake eek away during a stream crossing. At one point I got mud on my leg and grabbed a leaf to wipe it off. The leaf I snagged from a tree had a pungent enticing smell, somewhere between citrus and basil. I grabbed another leaf for Rash and Piñata to smell. I got water before the lunch shelter and saw the remnants of the old shelter. It was eerie.

I came to the Jim and Molly Denton shelter (which we renamed the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation shelter) and Rash and Piñata were sitting on the bench in front of the shelter. The shelter was beautiful, large, and new. There was a pavillon nearby, a solar shower, and a game of horseshoes. There was even landscaping in front. We spent over 1.5 hours there lounging on the deck in the sun.

Luxurious shelter

Piñata: Guys, maybe we should hike

Me and Rash: Nahhh

I left after Rash and Piñata, and shortly after leaving I came across a bunny in the trail. We have a stare off but he decides to ignore me. Instead, he waltz up to my foot and nibbles on my shoe! I was over the moon. He was adorable and I felt like I peaked as a thru hiker.

Bunny friend

The rest of the hike was enjoyable. I went underneath a highway and crossed a few really cute houses. I met a lot of really interesting day hikers today. At the bottom of the last hill to climb, and older man with a miniature schnauzer who had hiked the Camino gave me lots of advice on hiking the Camino if I ever go. He was so alive in his descriptions it made me want to stay and talk to him all day. Towards the end of the day I met an older lady with an expensive looking camera and a huge Doberman beside her. I asked if I could pet her dog (named Sir) and once he decided I was OK, he would run back and forth between us, pausing to shove his huge snout under my hand for petting. The lady was photographing the blooming flowers and told me about some of them.

Wild orchids

Another hiker I had passed earlier passed us while we were chatting. I thanked the lady for the flower information and hiked on. I was pushing fast to get to the shelter in time to eat and set up before dark. If I maintained 3 mph rather than my 2.5 mph, I could get to the shelter by 7:30. I passed the hiker, named Red Goat, and we talked for a while. When I got to the shelter, there was the old small shelter and the newer shelter. Rash and Piñata were at the newer one a ways down the blue blazed trail. Rash was hammocking and I set up my hammock near his, and Piñata was sleeping in the shelter. Red Goat, Toothless, Engineer, Sneakers, and Timber were in the shelter too.

I made an awesome dinner of mac and cheese with cream cheese, Vermont white cheddar, and butter. We have a short day planned tomorrow over the Roller Coaster.
Day 74, 5/10: Whiskey Hollow shelter -> Sam Moore shelter (15.3 miles)

Last night I went to bed staring up at the trees lit up by the moon. It was peaceful and a little chilly but not freezing. This morning I woke up to the birds singing all around me. This hike has its challenges but these are the parts I love.

Red Goat was out on the trail before we were even out of our hammocks. The others trickled out while we slowly got up and ready for the day. We ate breakfast with Sneakers and were out on the trail around 9:00. I was struggling to hike. I was exhausted and my legs didn’t want to move. My back still hurt from bending over to hang my hammock in the shelter a few days ago and the Ibuprofen was taking a while to kick in.

The sun was shining and it was a beautiful day, which made hiking harder because all I wanted to do was sit on a rock and enjoy the sun. I sat on a log and called Louis since I had reception and told him I was struggling to hike. He gave me encouragement enough to get up off my log and plod along. I put my music on shuffle and the first song that played was “Bad Day” by Daniel Powter. It was painfully accurate. I checked the map and found out I’d accomplished 1.8 miles in 1 hour (I normally go 2.5 mph, or 3 mph if I’m rushing).

I managed to pick up the pace a little and ran into some day hikers who were over the moon excited to see a thru hiker. They offered me snacks which I politely declined since I had a full food bag. They were so interested in the hike and being a woman on the trail that it lifted my spirits. I hiked through a beautiful meadow and passed yellow, white, pink, and purple flowers blooming and perfuming the forest which lifted my mood even more.

Picturesque meadow

The trail went back into the forest and over some mud flats. I texted Rash and Piñata and got a picture of Piñata’s shoes completely covered in mud. I came to the blue blazed trail before the shelter where they were eating lunch and talked with a couple section hiking who were on a log eating. They didn’t want to walk the 0.2 to the shelter and I didn’t want to either. A SOBO section hiking came by and we asked about the roller coaster, a 13 mile stretch of trail with 10 small and steel climbs back to back. He said it was rocky but doable. I got into hiking mode and started down the trail.

Roller coaster sign
Beware of wasps (there were none)

Beautiful blooming tree

The flowers smelled amazing. I felt like I was enveloped in aroma

I went over the first 1.5 mountains without incident. Rash and Piñata caught up to me and passed me, and said they’d wait at the 1,000 mile sign. After they passed me, I felt like I hit a wall. I felt sick, exhausted, and I was sweating profusely on the climbs. I stopped for a snack and stopped again to get water. It took what seemed like forever to go those last few miles but I managed to get them done. We took our pictures next to a 1,000 sign made out of sticks and again with a sign on a tree. It was a weird feeling to get into quadruple digits.

1,000! What an awesome milestone

The other 1,000 sign down the trail

We headed the 0.2 miles to the shelter and set up camp and ate dinner. It felt good to be in at 6 and not 7 or 8. Sneakers was already at the shelter and had a fire going. Tomorrow we get to go into Harpers Ferry and I get to see Louis!
Day 75, 5/11: Sam Moore shelter -> Harpers Ferry (23.5 miles)

When we woke up around 6, it was bright and the birds were chirping. I was a little bummed we didn’t try and push on those few miles to camp since it was calling for rain early morning. Around 6:30, while I was waiting for the privy to open up and sitting on a rock in my puffy, it started sprinkling. We ate and packed up, and by 7:00 it was raining fairly hard. By the time Rash and Piñata left it was really coming down. I sat in the shelter for a couple minutes, in awe of the sheets of rain pouring down all around me, and trying to cherish the feeling of being dry for the time being. It was calling for temperatures in the 50’s, so I was wearing my shelter pants, my short and long sleeved shirts, and my rain jacket.

I finally pushed myself out into the pouring rain to start the very long 23+ miles. I had the roller coaster to finish which would have been awful even without rain. The rain kept me motivated to not take breaks, so I hurried along up and down the last few mountains. I crossed a busy highway and parking area, then up the next mountain I found a young Asian couple scrambling over some rocks off trail a little ways. It was still raining, and when they saw me they called over somewhat frantically and asked if I knew how to get to the parking area. I showed them the white blazes and told them to follow them back down the other side of the mountain.

Once I was done with the roller coaster I celebrated since the rest of the hike was flat. I was up on top of the ridge line, and the wind was whipping the rain around angrily. Hiking on ridge lines usually comes with lots of wind, and this one delivered. I wasn’t expecting temperatures to be as low as the wind was making them. It didn’t take long before I went from comfortable to horribly cold. I tried hiking faster to warm up, but my joints were stiff from the cold and all I could do was a quick shuffle. Some southbounders said the shelter was 2.5 miles away, so I tried to hurry and tough out the cold.

2.5 miles is a long ways to go in the wind and rain. When I was about a mile in, my mind felt a little foggy and my whole body was shaking uncontrollably. I decided I should stop to put on more layers despite how cold I’d become when I stopped moving. I tried undoing the first buckle on my pack to take it off, but my hands were shaking and the cold made me loose all dexterity in my fingers so I just had a big, shaking, useless crab claw. This was been the only time I’ve contemplated using the alert button on my GPS. I was very, very cold, soaked, and scared. The next mile or so to the shelter felt like 100 miles. I saw the shelter sign and felt huge relief. In the shelter I didn’t find Rash and Piñata, so they must have pushed on without a break. There was a young day hiker in the shelter wearing jeans who said his tent got flooded.

I took my rain jacket off and added my fleece and puffy jacket. I made hot chow mein and slowly started to warm up. I took a long break and contemplated staying there for the night. I didn’t want to go back out in the rain. I finally decided to go back out and do the 8 miles to Harpers Ferry and to meet Louis. I put my capris over my shelter pants and hiked out with my fleece, puffy, and rain jacket. Hiking in a down puffy jacket is a big no-no, but I’d be in a hotel tonight so if it got wet I could dry it. I was scared about getting cold again.

Hiking in the puffy was the right call. I did 4 miles and was perfectly comfortable after I got moving. It was still raining but the rain wasn’t soaking through my rain jacket too much. I came to a road with a blind turn that seemed like a very dangerous place to put a pedestrian crossing. Down one road was the welcome to West Virginia and the other direction had the Virginia welcome sign. I came to a billboard at the trailhead with a man sitting on a bear canister. Today was his first day starting a southbound hike and he didn’t look thrilled. I tried to cheer him up and told him not all days are this bad.

Goodbye Virginia!

After hiking 4 out of the 8 miles, I stopped to pee and take my puffy off. I was off the ridge line and the wind had died down. After hiking for a bit, Strider came along and we hiked together. We came to the VA-WV border sign which meant only a couple more miles into town.

WV border

It was nice to have someone to talk to, and keeping pace with Strider’s long legs was challenging but made me hike faster. The descent into town was steep, and we crossed the long bridge into Harpers Ferry. I stopped at the parking lot before town and said goodbye to Strider. Louis was only 8 minutes away so we timed it perfectly.

Seeing Louis after such an awful day was just what I needed. I loaded my muddy, wet gear and body into his car and we went to the hotel to check in and shower. We ate at the restaurant in the hotel which had karaoke night. After being in the woods with just the sounds of birds, hearing people sing on a loudspeaker was a lot of stimulation. We switched tables to a quieter area. I texted Rash and Piñata most of the evening, and it was weird to go to sleep without them nearby.

Loading up on the beer calories!

Karaoke at the hotel

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