Beginning my SOBO hike, Shenandoah + Trail Angels!
Days 96, 97, 98, and 99, miles 1172.5 to 1229.2 (56.7 miles total).
I took the train from Washington DC out to Harpers Ferry. On the train I ran into Geisha Girl who was planning on spending the night in Harpers Ferry.
I then neroed out 4 miles to a campsite. Since I had just come from Maine where there was never ending water. I forgot that water was some thing that needed to be kept track of, and I learned that lesson hard when I got to the campsite and there was no water.
I hiked from Harpers Ferry to Front Royal, averaging around 20 miles a day. There was no water on the trail to be found so I had to blue blaze to various PATC locations with running water to fill up. At Blackburn, the caretakers gave me a soda and Oreos to revive me😄
In this stretch of trail, I hiked through the famous “roller coaster” which is a stretch of Trail that is constantly taking you up and down with no rest.
The morning I planned to go into the town of Front Royal, I stopped by Mountain Home B&B. The owners were amazing. I was able to fully resupply from their hiker box, and on top of that, the owners gave me a giant plate of fruit and cheese! The B&B was adorable and I genuinely wished I could’ve stayed there.
However, I had three friends (NOBOs I had met in the first half of my trek) planning on meeting me in Front Royal. It was Jukebox, Roadrunner, and Lighthouse. They helped me sort through my resupply. They took me out for food and drinks and we all went and got ice cream. Then they dropped me back off at the trail so I could hike to the next shelter, setting me up to enter Shenandoah on the following day.
A lot of people told me I would enjoy Shenandoah, but I tend to be skeptical when a place is built up to being so amazing. That being said, after going through Shenandoah myself, it quickly rose in my rankings of favorite places along the trail.
Reasons why Shenandoah is so great include:
- Blackberry Milkshakes (and the waysides in general which allow you to buy food along the way to keep your pack weight low)
- Friendly people willing to help out thru-hikers
- Great hiking tred. In SNP gone are the days of having to stare at your feet in order to avoid tripping every step, you can finally look up and around as you walk
- SWITCHBACKS!!!! Wow I missed switchbacks. In the north they just send you straight up a mountainside. It is so nice finally turning what could be a steep climb in to a nice gradual climb.
Shennies: Days 100-105
Miles: 1229.2 – 1353.5
What I was immediately amazed about Shenandoah, or maybe just being back in the south, was that there were switchbacks once more!!! Gone are the days of hiking straight up a mountain back. Also, because Shenandoah is a National Park, the trails are managed REALLY WELL (esp. in comparison to the bushwhacking wilderness I’d grown used to up north). I gladly took advantage of this, and immediately set about to setting new PR’s for myself (one day I hiked 28 miles, and the next, 29!)
I found Shenandoah to be just as gorgeous as I had come to expect
Another thing that one can do while in Shenandoah is road walk the Skyline Drive, which weaves its way through Shenandoah National Park on a north-south basis similar to the Appalachian Trail. The Appalachian Trail takes itself up and over mountains, going roughly in a straight line intersecting every once in a while with the sinuous Curving shape of Skyland Drive. Now while a purist would stay solely on the Appalachian Trail, I am no purist. Instead, my goal has been and will continue to be, to get as much out of this experience as possible. For me that included road walking Skyline Drive, which has gorgeous viewpoints at almost every curve. Some of my favorite photos from Shenandoah are taken during these walks.
And all of the Trail Magic I received in the park was while wandering these roads. Once, as I walked from a wayside along the road, back to where I would intersect with the Trail, a car pulled up, and the window rolled down to reveal two past thru-hikers that had completed the AT last year. They had a cooler in the back of their car, full of drinks that they offered me. Another time, I popped out to a viewpoint in order to see the sunset and then out of nowhere, it started to pour rain. The viewpoint I was at was about 3 miles from the next intersection with an Appalachian Trail, and so a sweet older couple let me hop into the dry safety of their car, and they drove me to the trail. While in the car they told me that they live nearby and they’ve been married for 50+ years and that this was how they go on dates: they would enter the park, bring food, and watch the sunset. As a result, they had a bunch of food in their car and they gave me some fried chicken as a parting gift! Another time at a viewpoint, I asked a couple to take a photo of me, which led to us having a conversation which led to them giving me a bunch of fruit after they learned that I don’t eat fresh fruit or vegetables while hiking (too heavy to carry on the trail).
To continue on the string of compliments of SNP, I must mention their amazingly delicious Blackberry milkshakes, which can be found at most of the parks waysides (a wayside is the park’s term for what is essentially a convenience store/gas station). These blackberry milkshakes are FAMOUS on the AT, and let me tell you, the shake from the Big Meadows Wayside did Not Disappoint (although, strangely enough, when I got this milkshake at other waysides, it was not as good as the one from Big Meadows).
Another amazing thing happened while I hiked through Shenandoah. I knew I was coming up on the town of Waynesboro, which is famous on the Appalachian Trail for having an all you can eat Chinese buffet. In an attempt to save money, I posted on various Facebook pages asking if anyone in the town would be willing to let me set up my tent in their front yard. I got into a conversation with one lady who is a MYTH (multiyear throu hiker), her Trail name is Nightingale, and she went above and beyond anything I’ve ever experienced in terms of Trail Magic.
She didn’t simply let me tent on her front yard. No, instead she took me in and let me stay in her guest room… and then she let me stay for four days and slackpacked me the whole time!!! Slackpacking is when a thru hiker only hikes with a daypack. In this case, Nightingale would drive me out to where I needed to start on the trail, and then pick me up at the end of the day and drive me back to her house.
Day 103: 22.4 miles
Start: Loft Mountain Campstore – 1306.0
End: Beagle Gap – 1328.5
Now, the first day Nightingale slackpacked me, I felt so light and breezy that at the very first downhill I allowed myself to pick up speed and jog. When the trail flattened out, I didn’t want to stop… so I kept running and going and going and going. Eventually I tired ( I’m in thru hiking shape, not trail running shape) so I eventually switched to primarily running when the trail was downhill or flat. It was all going great until ~15 miles when my shins started to complain. At around 18 miles, I had to stop and stretch. At the 20 mile mark I messaged Nightingale telling her that my shins hurt so bad I would need her to pick me up earlier than planned… that being said, I still mad it 24 miles that day. Here is a photo at the end of the day, my shins were screaming by that point and I was a real sweaty Betty
The following day as I rolled out of my way-too-comfy-bed in Nightingale’s house, my legs yelled at me for what I had done to them the day before… And so I asked if I could take that day off and zero at their house. Lucky for me, Nightingale and her husband are friendly and open to letting a total stranger (me) spend a day at their house. It turned out to be just what I needed. I broke up my time between icing my shins, and taking advantage of the jacuzzi they had in their backyard.
I also got my new pair of SOLE inserts!!! It was perfect timing because I got to use Nightingale’s oven to mold them to my feet (I bet you can tell from the photo which pair was new) reminder, if you want a pair, you can get 10% off with my Discount code: ROVER10.
Start Beagle Gap – 1328.5
End: Reid’s Gap – 1353.2
On the third day of Nightingale adopting me off the trail, I hiked myself out of Shenandoah and up and over Humpback Mountain. Nightingale and her husband surprised me near the end of my hike with spontaneous Trail Magic AT in the form of beer and peanut M&Ms. We all then went to the all you can eat Chinese buffet where I took them out as a thank you.
Start: Reid’s Gap – 1353.2
End: Spy Rock – 1372.6
The following day was my last day with Nightingale. That being said, we came up with a fun plan where in the middle of the day, after I hiked over the Three Ridges, she met me on trail, and then we jointly hiked back to her car, where she then drove us to the Devils Backbone brewery, a giant brewery famous on trail because it lets hikers camp there, plus it is practically a giant compound where events occur all the time.
Nightingale took me out to lunch, and as we finished we overheard three men at the table next to us talking about the trail. Being the two extroverts we are, we started up a conversation with them and learned that they too were thru hiking, so Nightingale offered to drive them back to the trail. I don’t have a hoyo of them but I can show you all the Instagram photo one of them posted as we dropped them off.
After dropping them off, Nightingale and I finally parted at the base of Priest mountain…
The priest is a mountain not only known for the steep assent/decent, but for the shelter at the top of the mountain, where famously the logbook is used for hikers to write out their “sins”, they often start their logs with the phrase “Forgive me, father, for I have sinned”, just as you would if talking to a real Priest. Documenting your trail sins at the Priest shelter is just as iconic as eating a half gallon at the halfway point in Pennsylvania. It’s a part of the experience. It must be done. And no, I will not tell you what I confessed to.
I did not stay at the Priest Shelter, however, for I still had a lil’ steam in my legs, so I hiked on to Spy Rock, a place recommended by Nightingale for great sunsets and sunrises.
(one of my goals for the SOBO half of my hike is to camp at as many places with great sunrises/sunsets as I can).
The sunset did not disappoint, although as I sat and watched the sunset, I ate an ramen I had grabbed out of the hiker box in Front Royal and learned that the “spicy” label was more than accurate. In fact, it was so spicy I CRIED stop Spy Rock 😂 Here is a photo of me in torment.
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