Day 3: SASH #9 Virginia – Farewell Shenandoah

“Up on Cripple Creek, she sends me; If I spring a leak, she mends me” Up on Cripple Creek, The Band

I cannot write that I had a peaceful night’s sleep. I tossed and turned quite a bit, unable to get comfortable. Unfortunately, I am a side sleeper, which is not compatible with my wonky hips. On reflection, I really did not sleep well the night before either. Nothing, of course, that coffee does not make right! After getting my gear packed away, it was getting the food bag down from the bear pole and hiker hobbling off to the shelter table to make coffee. Rabbit was already on her way while I was still packing up; Sunshine and Wildcat retrieved their food bags from the bear pole and had breakfast at their tent sites. That left me at the table with last night’s late arrival thru hiker. I will redact this young man’s trail name because, frankly, he was not a good representative of his generation. I barely said more than a friendly hello to the fellow last night and said absolutely nothing to him this morning. For some reason, when he arrived last night just after dinner he seemed to be rather dismissive, if not passive aggressive, towards me, but quite friendly to his generational contemporary, Rabbit. I have no idea what he was thinking, but it seemed from his attitude that he had some unknown issue with this old man. As I set up my stove and pot on the table to boil water for coffee, this person decided the other end of the table was the perfect place to put his pack and cinch down all the straps on his pack and tie down his sleeping pad on top of his pack, shaking the table considerably in the process. Despite my holding my pot with one hand and my stove canister with the other, and emitting my best possible glare, he decided to do a double cinch-down to be sure his little pad was secure to his pack. He hoisted his pack, turned, and hiked away without a word. My tongue might still be sore a few days later from my vigorous bite.

Mountain Meadows and Shenandoah History

After raining most of the night, it really was a lovely morning. And later in the day, I was set to meet my wife at Rockfish Gap for lunch and a resupply; therefore, I was not about to let a youngster who might have his own demons to battle ruin my positive mood for the upcoming day. Not a drop of water was lost in the incident; so, I had two cups of coffee – this time, my usual Starbucks Via instant, as I did not want to spend time with the espresso machine before starting the day’s planned 12.5 miles. A Clif Bar for breakfast, a last bit of packing, and I was back on the trail by 7 am. There remained a bit more ascent towards the forested summit of Calf Mountain, but the trail soon entered a high mountain meadow. The meadow featured wild blackberry blooms, honeysuckle, multflora roses, buttercups, and a plant with which I was not familiar that later I identified using the iNaturalist app as an invasive plant called border privet. A large crabapple tree hinted that the meadow likely was the land of some former mountain homesteaders. But today, the only resident was another of the common laid-back Shenandoah white-tailed deer. Just before descending into McCormick Gap and the southernmost crossing of Skyline Drive, the trail entered another wide mountain meadow expanse with its own stand of crabapple trees. My mind wandered to the history of Shenandoah National Park and how the families living in these mountains and meadows were moved out by the U.S. Government under eminent domain to build the park in the 1930s. I even remembered how an episode of the old 1970s television series, The Waltons, depicted the turmoil this forced displacement caused these mountain people. Earl Hamner, the creator of the show, lived not far from this location, just southeast over the Blue Ridge Mountains. Of course, Native Americans, including Iroquois, Shawnee, Catawba and Cherokee peoples, among others, lived on this land long before the European pioneers themselves displaced the first inhabitants. I recalled how my home county’s archeologist back in Maryland found a quartzite stone tool among the oyster shell midden on my neighbor’s property along the Chesapeake Bay, explaining to us that the tool might have been an item of trade since the stone occurs in the Blue Ridge Mountains and not along the Chesapeake Bay. There can be no doubt that a Native American truly must have been the first long distance hiker through the Appalachian Mountains.

Little Calf Mountain Meadow, VA

AT Marker, Little Calf Mountain Meadow, VA

Border Privet, AT, Little Calf Mountain, VA

Border Privet, Little Calf Mountain, VA

White Tail Deer, Little Calf Mountain Meadow, VA

Chesapeake Bay Flavor

From across the meadow, about a mile away, I could see the communications towers atop Bear Den Mountain, the last climb I would make in Shenandoah National Park. My socks and shoes were soaked through from last night’s rain that still clung to the meadow grass. But that did not dampen my spirits and I stopped for a pack-off break in McCormick Gap along Skyline Drive to savor my last moments in Shenandoah National Park. A cool breeze blew across the meadows as I munched on my second breakfast raspberry Rx Bar. I texted my wife that I would easily make a 1 pm rendezvous at Rockfish Gap. I added a photo of the McCormick Gap sign and joked that I wished I had a bag of the Old Bay Goldfish Crackers sitting on our kitchen island at home. She joked back that maybe she would bring a crab cake for lunch today, but I made a take-out request for a burger or hoagie instead! I felt very grateful that my wife offered to support me on this section hike. In less than a week, we would celebrate our 40th wedding anniversary and I reminisced a couple more moments about the adventures we had together over those years. Of course, if I was going to make that agreed link-up time, I needed to get up and get over Bear Den Mountain.

McCormick Gap, Shenandoah NP, VA

Bear Den Mountain, VA

A Minor AT Landmark

After crossing Skyline Drive a final time, I had one last meadow to meander through before starting the gradual ascent up Bear Den Mountain. As the trail started up, the meadow grass and wildflowers gave way to a wide swath of Christmas ferns and a few of yet another unfamiliar plant. This one looked like it belonged more in Florida than the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. This turned out, of course, to be another non-native plant called woolly mullein, interestingly introduced from Europe in the 18th century due to its widespread use in herbal medicines. The plant has quite an interesting history going back to its use by Roman soldiers and being described by Pliny the Elder in his Naturalis Historia. All this at the moment was quite unknown to me and my mind turned to the Christmas ferns. Like the Mountain Laurel earlier in the hike, the ferns seemed to quiet the forest, took my mind off the climb, and transported me closer to wilderness solitude and silence. Before I realized, I walked out of the forest into a clearing beside the communications towers I saw from the meadow below. But now, I could barely see the tops of the towers as the clouds seemed to descend lower from the sky. Actually, I think the misty shroud made for a more interesting image than simply a tower in sunshine. Below the towers, set alongside the trail, I found the minor AT landmark of the tractor seats impaled with posts stuck in the ground. Curiously, they all seemed to have a fresh coat of paint. While most hikers have no idea why the tractor seats are here, they actually have a very interesting backstory related to the creation of Shenandoah National Park and even sidetracks to Queen Victoria! That is, if you want to believe the internet!

Christmas Fern, Bear Den Mountain, VA

Woolly Mullein, Bear Den Mountain, VA

Comm Towers, Bear Den Mountain, VA

Tractor Seats, Bear Den Mountain, VA

My Own Personal Trail Angel

Shortly down the trail, I was farewelled by another Shenandoah white-tailed deer and I set my sights on Rockfish Gap. SOBO from Bear Den Mountain the AT is mostly a downhill rocky track. I was looking forward to meeting my wife and lunch; so, my pace quickened a bit. That is until the rocks became a bit bigger. And these big rocks were still wet and slippery from last night’s rain. Then came the falls; unfortunately, not waterfalls. I first slipped on a wide flat rock, falling backward onto my butt. No harm done, but it should have been an adequate warning. Not fifty yards later, I stepped onto another wide flat rock, this time falling forwards. I luckily braced myself for impact and avoided a true face-plant into the rock. However, my sunglasses hanging around my neck were totalled in the collision. Hubris sufficiently removed, I was much more careful navigating the remaining rocky AT in Shenandoah National Park, crossing the bridge over Interstate 64 right on time at 1 pm. I could see my wife waiting in the parking lot ahead; I was ready for a break of the more comfortable kind. My first task after a welcome kiss (you know it is true love when a wife will kiss an unshaven and smelly hiker husband on the trail) was to get off my wet shoes and socks. Then, sitting on the curb behind her Honda SUV, I started to devour the Italian hoagie she brought from Macado’s in Harrisonburg, where she stayed while I hiked. My wife noticed that she parked with one tire up on the curb and decided to pull her SUV forward. Murphy’s Law decided to go along for the ride. Her SUV would not start. I got up to investigate, although a mechanic I am not, and surmised it was probably a dead battery. However, since she had previously experienced a major electronic computer/software issue with the vehicle, I was concerned it may be something more technical. A trail angel was set up at the other end of the parking lot and I asked if he might have jumper cables, but no luck. My wife got on the phone to AAA for roadside service while I finished my hoagie and resupplied my food bag. I felt bad that she was dealing with this issue while supporting my hike, but she insisted I get back on the trail. To be fair, she had already done the only thing I could have done by calling for roadside service; so, I reluctantly kissed her and set off SOBO towards Paul Wolfe Shelter.

More Blue Ridge Mountain History

Within an hour, I received a text from my wife that roadside service was able to start her SUV, but she needed to get a new battery. She was already on her way back to Advanced Auto for the replacement. She also texted she had a nice time chatting with the trail angel, who gave her a beer, and a few thru hikers while she waited. They even suggested she should have a trail name since she had hiked a few miles on the AT herself and was now supporting her husband on the trail. She did not seem convinced, but the little wheels started turning in my head. With that little misadventure behind me, I let my mind get back into trail mode and I wondered how long it might take me to get to the shelter. The day warmed up and I stopped at a small stream to filter some cool water; I also dipped my Buff into a small pool and squeezed the water over my head and neck. Sufficiently refreshed, I set a goal of getting to the shelter by 6 pm. The trail was all downhill and thankfully not rocky. I passed the ruins of the W.J. Mayo homeplace and the remnants of the Lowe family cemetery, another reminder that these mountains had long gone residents. I could find nothing online about these pioneer families. But interestingly, one of the founders of the famed Mayo Clinic in Minnesota was named William James Mayo; unknown relationship, if any. About half way down Elk Mountain along the trail, I started to hear the sound of Mill Creek in the forested valley below. The sound of water always has a calming effect and my mind welcomed the wilderness solitude. The shelter is situated beside Mill Creek and I easily achieved my goal of arriving by 6 pm ten minutes early.

Elk Mountain, VA

Stay Off of My Cloud

There were already several hikers in the vicinity of the shelter, but no one had set up inside the shelter itself. I was somewhat surprised as the Paul C. Wolfe Shelter is in excellent condition. One young thru hiker said she had already been bitten by several mosquitos and was going to tent, but I had not noticed a single insect. I already decided I was going to sleep in the shelter since I had 16 miles planned for the next day. Wanting to get an early start, I did not want to spend time breaking down camp in the morning. So, I happily claimed my preferred spot in the empty shelter, towards the front and away from the sides. I do not like being near the sides or in a loft, imagining these to be the usual mouse highways. I also sleep with my head to the outside front edge of the shelter because I am certain the back wall is a mouse racetrack. I never saw a mosquito (nor mouse) all night. Still, only one other hiker opted for the shelter, while there must have been close to a dozen tents/hammocks set up around the shelter. While I was getting situated in the shelter, a couple young thru hikers came up to start a fire at the shelter’s fire pit. I offered some dryer lint I carry as a fire starter, but one young lady scoffed quite condescendingly at my suggestion, preferring her wood shavings. I shrugged it off and left them to their endeavor, at which they were eventually successful. I still felt full from the delicious hoagie my wife provided at lunch; so, I mixed up a Sonic cherry lemonade drink and sat on a stump near the fire pit. I said hello to the now assembled five or six thru hikers around the fire eating their dinners, but no one acknowledged my presence. From their conversation, I surmised they were a trail family and did not want an outsider even close to their sphere. I texted my two sons about the state of affairs and we shared a few quippy opinions about the group. I decided to exhibit the better side of my trail name, Quiet Man, and not say a word to the exclusive trail family. I moved to the shelter steps to finish my drink, listen to Mill Creek flowing below, quietly reflect on completing the Shenandoah National Park section and contemplate the next day. My longest day up to this point has been 13.3 miles and I just finished two 12+ mile days. So, I was feeling a bit uncertain about how tomorrow would play out. Fortunately, the trail family dispersed back to their tents/hammocks by 9 pm and I slipped into my sleeping bag for the night.

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Comments 6

  • Holly : Jun 13th

    Wow this was such a great read and a fun way to start my day. I really enjoy hearing about the history and plants. If your wife has a Honda CRV they are famous for their battery issues and in fact there’s currently a class action suit regarding that.
    You might want to consider premedicating before bedtime, to help your aches. Tylenol or Ibuprofen or aspirin or something like goodys headache powders, which allow aspirin and acetaminophen to be dissolved right through the tissues of your mouth and bypass the gut, and while they do contain a very low dose of caffeine that caffeine actually enhances the pain killing effects of those two meds.
    Ah. A mid day hoagie. ! You know you can’t get a good one outside of PA! 😊

    • Rick "Quiet Man" : Jun 13th

      I will keep hiking and writing for my appreciative audience! 😎 Thanks for the meds suggestions; I actually have a couple Rx from my primary that are much better. 😉 But that extra dose of caffeine is tempting! And you are right about hoagies. But this one was still pretty good. 😋

  • Holly : Jun 13th

    PS. What is up with those rude thru hikers…. what about HYOH? don’t understand why they’re so rude to section hikers. I followed two other section hikers who met up with their spouses intermittently and thru hikers treated them in a similar manner. Sigh… Too bad for them, I bet they never watched a single episode of The Walton’s.

    • Rick "Quiet Man" : Jun 13th

      To be fair, this day was the exception. All the other thru hikers I have met over the years have been fantastic. For example the other three NOBOs I met at Calf Mountain; they were so upbeat, especially Sunshine! I debated including that part of the story, but I really wanted to highlight that I wasn’t going to let them kill my vibe.

      • Tina Louise Dailey : Jun 13th

        Sounds like you are having the time of your life , if you ever get the chance hike thru KY my state is gorgeous,the AT goes straight through the middle of my beloved KY, but beware they say we have a Bigfoot in our lovely state,lol be safe ,God bless

        • Rick "Quiet Man" : Jun 13th

          Tina, thank you for the comment! Unfortunately, I did not see any bears in Shenandoah National Park and I think my chances of seeing Bigfoot anywhere are slim and none. And slim left town. 😃 And I am fairly certain the AT does not traverse KY; you might want to check your map. 😉


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