Bronchitis. Bear. Shenandoah Burning: The First Flipping 100 Miles
I left Wisconsin with snow falling heading east in search of spring. I also had the smallest of coughs. By the time I hit the trail two days later, I definitely had the largest of coughs—the kind that starts to build as you attempt to talk and is so hard your husband stops talking because he knows you can’t hear what he’s saying. For real.
But a little cough wasn’t going to stop me.
I began my flip flop hike northbound out of Shenandoah National Park on April 11 at Rockfish Gap. For those of you keeping track, the park started burning five days later on April 16. My husband and I based camped at Lewis Mountain Campground for four nights from where he would drop me off each morning and meet me each night. Sometimes he golfed during the day, sometimes he hiked with me halfway and would then turn around to head back to the car. On day three, the cough was getting persistently worse. Then there was the little matter of my knee starting to hurt on all the descents. Before he headed back to winter in Wisconsin, we best get these things checked out.
Two hours, one inhaler and a 10-day supply of doxycycline later, I was ready to resume my hike knowing I was now fighting off bronchitis. And a little vitamin I for a few days took care of the knee issue. I began the trail as “Arachne,” but having been signing the shelter journals as “Hacknee.” And yes, that does sound like a cat throwing up a hairball, which I admit is a fair description of my cough – and does speak to the “acne” (hives and blisters) showing up on the back of my legs, on top of my hands and on my nose–a side effect due to the meds. My skin has become super-sensitive to sun exposure. But we’ll see if that sticks. I sure hope this cough doesn’t.
I recently met “Atlas.” Like “Arachne,” his trail name is derived from Greek mythology. He knew exactly what Arachne meant. So, yeah… Much better than a hairball.
The first 100 miles found me still within the national park, but a few days ahead of the fires. Oncoming NOBOs catching up to me had to miss 4, 14 or up to 40 miles of the trail as the fire grew. I hiked along ridge lines, down into the gaps and around the Skyline Drive overlooks. I saw lots of deer, scads of bear scat and two actual bear, neither of which required the need of bear spray.
A flip flop beginning at this point, at this time, has given me a time to hang out a little longer with my husband, get my trail legs and enjoy solitary days. I will admit, however, that the initial solitude during these first 100 miles also equates to a less social experience. Given that I spent four nights returning to my base camp and another enjoyable day hiking with a visiting friend on day six, I got a late start meeting any other hikers. The first two GA-ME NOBOs I did meet at Pass Mountain Shelter in Shenandoah had just finished an impressive, but totally intimidating 22 mile day. I didn’t know what, if any shelter protocols there might be when they pulled in at dusk. They deftly got settled while I coyly observed their routines.
With the daily mileages NOBOs are able to make, I don’t expect to see them again anytime soon—if at all. One surprise to me, however, is the number of southbound flip floppers I’ve been passing. I’m not quite understanding why they are choosing to head right into the NOBO bubble and southern heat, but one person told me he is doing so in order to still summit Katahdin as his finish.
Bottom line to date: Quiet days (when the cough is absent), open shelters (I haven’t had a full one yet), advantageous terrains (I’ve been able to warm-up my trail legs), and for the win–I’m having a pretty good time.
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