Day 2: SASH #9 Virginia – Steam Engine Mode

“You could have a steam train, if you’d just lay down your tracks.” Sledgehammer, Peter Gabriel

I can confirm that the previous night was indeed not clear at all. Of course, I had to get up in the middle of the night. I usually do not use a headlamp to see; my night vision is quite good most of the time. The mist and the smell of lingering smoke from the campfire at the shelter last night should have given me a clue. Nevertheless, off into the woods I stumbled, quickly slamming my shin against a boulder. Back at my tent, and now with my headlamp in hand, I saw that I put a eight inch scrape vertically up and down my shin. It was not bleeding; so, I did a hand sanitizer scrub and got back into my tent and sleeping bag. In the light of morning around 5:30 am, the scrape looked no worse. I rubbed in some antibiotic ointment, but did not think a bandage would hold up to hiking. My thoughts turned to breakfast. First order, after getting the food bag down from the conveniently close bear pole, is almost always coffee. My family knows they should not get between me and my morning coffee from my European made home espresso machine. Even on trail, I almost always make time for coffee in the morning, usually instant. A hot cup of coffee is one of my camp luxuries and, for Christmas, my wife gave me a Nanopresso espresso machine. Just add a scoop of coffee, boiling water, pump the pressure by hand, and you have an excellent shot of espresso. I made the German couple tenting nearby quite envious that I was using Jacobs Krönung – a classic German coffee – for my double shot! Then it was a Spam single between two street taco tortillas and a side of instant mashed potatoes. Of course, all this short order cooking and still breaking camp is time consuming. I did not get back on the trail until 7:30 am; but I felt okay with that as I was now back into the wilderness.

Bear in Mind

Going SOBO from Blackrock Hut, the trail continues its descent from Blackrock Summit. The morning mist seemed to linger, but sunshine still made its way to the trail. It felt like I might continue where I left off yesterday, getting into a rhythm and letting the solitude and silence quiet my mind. Mountain Laurel remained the main feature and a few wildflowers also were sprinkled along the edges of the trail. But before shinrin-yoku could again guide my walk, the trail started its ascent. Pointless ups and downs became the theme of the day and I entered steam engine mode. Initially, I had no specific time goal in mind for the day. I simply focused on completing today’s work of the planned 13 miles to Calf Mountain Shelter. And since there are no vistas or noteworthy features in this stretch, I let my mind focus on another of my reasons for hiking the AT: challenging myself mentally and physically. I fueled the steam engine with a second breakfast consisting of a blueberry Rx Bar. Just as I ripped open the package, I passed a sign warning of active bears in the area and entered a Mountain Laurel tunnel closing over the trail. Of course, I immediately imagined a bear leaping cartoon-like from the Mountain Laurel to swipe my blueberry flavored snack. Fortunately, this truly possible scenario did not come to fruition. The only wildlife encounter I had was a laid-back Shenandoah white-tailed deer earlier in the day.

Nazar Boncuğu

By mid-day, I was at the day’s half-way point and sat down on a trailside log for a short lunch break of beef jerky. Soon, I was joined by two thru hikers my own age: No Rush the Elder and Chopsticks. No Rush, a retired Army first sergeant, and I exchanged the usual “where were you posted” stories. They both had started early February and appeared to be having a great time taking their time along the trail. As always, the moment comes to offer each other encouragement for the future miles and get on with the trek. Looking at the time and feeling pretty good, I let myself ponder a time goal for the first time during the day. Remembering the full-house of hikers at Blackrock Hut the night before, I wondered how many spots at my destination of Calf Mountain Shelter would last later into the day. I set my sights on an arrival no later than 5 pm. Steam engine mode continued into the afternoon with more pointless ups and downs. Unfortunately, the Mountain Laurel seemed to be much thinner now, offering no peripheral motivation. The only feature of note was passing the AT marker for Turk Mountain and Turk Gap. This made me smile and I had to take a photo with the nazar boncuğu, or evil eye amulet, I recently started carrying on my hikes. The nazar is from my daughter’s wedding last October. Her new husband is of Turkish descent and a nazar was given to each wedding guest. I had to send them the photo as a way to share my hike.

Turk Mountain, Shenandoah NP, VA

Calf Mountain Shelter

It seems to be a cliché that just before the end of the day, the trail gives one more challenge. Today, it was one last pointless up of at least a mile before the shelter, albeit somewhat gradual. I still struggled a bit with this last climb and was glad when I saw the blue blaze turn-off to the shelter. Nevertheless, steam engine mode was quite efficient today and I made Calf Mountain Shelter before 5 pm with 10 minutes to spare. Surprisingly, there was only one tent site occupied and the shelter itself was entirely empty. On the other hand, Calf Mountain Shelter has to be the absolute worst shelter I have seen in my short time on the AT. The piped spring was flowing decently enough, but you have to traverse a huge mud flat to get near the pipe. The shelter itself is falling apart and, at this stay, had abandoned gear in the loft. All but one of the five tent sites were overgrown with weeds. Luckily, I was able to secure the best pad in front of the shelter as there was no way I was going to share the shelter with its likely rodent and serpent full-time residents. Shortly after my arrival, two thru hikers arrived; one opting for the shelter and the other opting for one of the less weeded tent sites. After pitching my tent and setting up, I joined the three thru hikers at the shelter’s picnic table for dinner. Sunshine, Rabbit, and Wildcat were great evening companions, sharing conversation and trail insights. I opted for Good To-Go Coconut Thai Curry with Jasmine Rice dehydrated meal, along with a packet of Thai Chili Style tuna; definitely one of the best trail meals I have found. This section hike I also have started having a half packet of instant mashed potatoes while waiting for the meal to rehydrate. Knowing a thunderstorm was approaching, I slipped into my tent early and it was not long before I was falling asleep to the sound of rain.

Virginia spiderwort, Shenandoah NP, VA

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Comments 2

  • Holly : Jun 11th

    Wonderful shots of deer and the tunnel. Enjoy this perfect weather, no serious heat for a few more days.

    • Rick "Quiet Man" : Jun 11th

      Those Shenandoah deer are so laid back, I could have had time to paint its portrait! (If I could paint that is…)


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