A Ticket to Ride
We slept soundly in the chilly mountain air. It’s getting harder and harder to get out of our sleeping bags in the cool mornings. This will become more and more normal for the remainder of our hike. Over the next few weeks our daily mileage will also decrease with the shorter days. At times we may need to night hike. As for this morning, we enjoyed watching the peachy sky while drinking our coffee.
A few miles in, we then entered an amusement park on trail. Admission was cheap but we cruised through this section dubbed “the rollercoaster” which includes 10 ascents and 10 descents over 13 miles with limited views. To our surprise, this section of PUDs was crowded with day hikers, significantly more than we’ve seen in several weeks. We suspect this portion of the trail is a popular hike for people who live in and around the DC area. This Saturday traffic made the handful of views even more crowded and more challenging to keep our fast pace. We know we will see more of this as we enter Shenandoah during folliage season.
We hit another fun milestone in the afternoon, there are now less than 1000 miles remaining. 1000 used to be overwhelming an overwhelming number, now we can’t believe that’s how close Springer Mountain is.
We finally exited the rollercoaster and enjoyed the ride. This section was a good warmup to set expectations for the next 2 months. The terrain will get more challenging, mountains will get higher, and there will be more ascents to conquer.
At camp we enjoyed a nice fire in chilly air. We pulled out more layers than usual and thought about the NOBOs who are in Maine right now, likely wearing all their layers. The delayed cold weather definitely is a plus for SOBO.
We woke early and prepared for a slightly longer day than originally planned. Our original destination was a campsite about 3 miles from Front Royal with the plan to meet Kurt the following morning to start our “DC vacation”. The lure of town food, ice cream, and football provided the extra motivation to hike the additional miles and get a hotel room for Sunday night rather than camp. This also would give us more time to get the chores done early (laundry, resupply) and more time relaxing.
The terrain was non-descript but we’ve enjoyed noticing the change in landscape. The trees are much taller including elm, sycamore, and oak. A short, but heavy, thunder storm soaked us as we traversed one the few treeless meadow sections. We appreciate the protection from the broad leaves while they are still in the canopy. In a few weeks time, we lose this protection and will start to have more issues with rain.
We arrived at the Massass Gap shelter for lunch, we were happy to refill our water bottles with ice cold water from a piped spring. A local family was hanging out at the shelter and had already built a massive fire. The told us they hike up here every Sunday and see many thru-hikers. We gratefully accepted a cold Coors and some delicious open flame BBQ (port belly, chicken and kimchee all seasoned with a chilli pepper paste). This was our first magic in a long time!
Giddy with full bellies and the kindness of strangers, we cruised through the final miles faster than expected and arrived in Front Royal a little after 5pm where Kurt was already waiting. It’s nice to know we’ll get 3 days off. Our legs and backs will definitely appreciate the rest.
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