Day 68: A Miles on Trail Day

I’ve Been Everywhere, Man

We live in an amazing world. I watched the sunrise light up the Pacific, got on a plane, flew 3,000 miles to the Atlantic, drove back inland a few hours, and watched the sun set over the Appalachians. Or we would have, if the clouds hadn’t rolled in and started spitting rain on us as soon as we left Baltimore.

Impure Hiking Plans

Last week, I finished walking outside Waynesboro, at the south end of Shenandoah National Park. Today, I started hiking again outside Front Royal, at the north end of the Shenandoahs. For logistical reasons, we decided to skip the Shenandoahs and come back to them next week.

Basically, I have three possible days of hiking between our San Diego trip and our upcoming Indianapolis trip. I’d prefer to not break up the Shenandoahs, but I think I can hike from Front Royal to Harpers Ferry in three days. We’ll hike a few days around Harpers Ferry with friends after the Indy trip, head back to Waynesboro for the Shennies, then back north to wherever we left off with our friends. After that, I hope to be done with flip flopping, backtracking, and yellow blazing.

Rain, Rain, and More Rain

The AT punished me for my impure hiking by sending rain. We arrived at our boondocking site along US522 in a light rain, just hard enough that we had to close all our vents and windows, making for a hot, clammy night in the van. Add that to the trucks air-braking 20 feet in front of us and we had a perfect recipe for a sleepless night. Welcome back to the trail.

According to the forecast, I should expect six more days of rain. I started hiking this morning in a light drizzle, which continued on and off all day. The thick tree canopy caught most of the drizzle, so I didn’t need rain gear, though my clothes were damp. The brush and low branches caught enough rain to make them lean over the trail, making me bend, twist, and dodge in a mostly futile attempt to keep them off my face, arms, and legs. I walked under gray skies, drizzle, and wet branches all day.

Walking Again

Despite the rain, it felt great to be walking again. The first two miles of trail bordered some kind of US government facility bounded by an eight-foot chain link fence topped by three strands of barbed wire. A 15-foot swath inside the fence had been cleared of vegetation mechanically as well as with some kind of defoliant that turned every plant brown. I didn’t see any cameras, but it definitely gave off the “we’re watching you” vibe.

It looked military, but I didn’t see any soldiers or army equipment. I did see an old barn and heard pigs squealing. Pig warfare? Bovine missiles? I have no idea. I started looking it up on the internet but got distracted by a thick patch of ripe blackberries and did a little defoliating of my own. I even put a couple of handfuls in a ziplock bag for Northstar, though they were a little smushed and warm by the time I got back to the van.

A few portions of today’s trail had some of the best walking on the entire AT so far. The trail was well-groomed, smooth, level, shady, and wide. And had blackberries. Goodness. If the entire trail were built like that, it’d be packed with thru-hikers. Fortunately, today’s walk also included some nasty rocks and roots, steep climbs, overhanging poison ivy, overgrown wet vegetation, and mud.

A Miles-on-Trail Day

Mostly, today was a “miles on trail” day. I watched a YouTuber last season named “Energizer” who used that phrase to describe days with no significant geographic features or milestones. On such days, you just log the miles and get on down the trail. The trail didn’t offer much besides miles of long green tunnel, dense underbrush too thick to see through, drizzle, and grey skies.

The trail didn’t even provide much company today. I saw fewer than ten hikers all day, and half of those were day-hikers and runners going the other direction. Have you ever noticed how if hikers (or cars) ahead get a glimpse of you behind them they’ll accelerate and hold you off as long as they can? And then, as soon as you pass them, they totally drop off and disappear, and you never see them again even if you stop for a long break.

Friends, Furry & Otherwise

I got texts from Chopstix and Wheels. They’re two days ahead of me in Harpers Ferry, but will be two weeks ahead of me by the time I go back and finish the Shenandoahs. Alas. I doubt I’ll see them again.

I did share the trail with some wildlife, probably because there were so few hikers. I spotted two black snakes crossing the trail, my first of that species. I also saw two decent-sized box turtles and some deer. I may also have seen a bear drop out of a tree. I caught something black in my peripheral vision that broke a branch and landed with a thud, but I didn’t see or hear it run away after that. I didn’t see enough of it to add it to my bear count though. And I spoke with Early Riser, who said she saw a red fox this morning. Northstar has seen a fox near the trail, but I haven’t yet.

Seeking Quiet Lodging

I logged just over 20 miles today. I’d planned a little less, but when I got to Liberty Lane, the parking area was right next to a steep downhill along US50/17. I didn’t think Northstar would be up for another night of air-braking, so I hiked another half-mile up to a quieter spot along Blue Ridge Mountain Road. We have the parking lot to ourselves, and our fingers are crossed.

Daily Stats:

  • Start: US 522 (Mile 972.1)
  • End: Blue Ridge Mountain Road (Mile 992.2)
  • Weather: Drizzle, Grey skies, ~100% humidity
  • Earworm: I’ve Been Everywhere, Man (Johnny Cash version)
  • Meditation: Mt. 13:44
  • Plant of the Day: Wine Berry
  • Best Thing: Blackberries
  • Worst Thing: Humidity

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Comments 6

  • Wanda Hale : Jun 22nd

    The area with tall fence is part of “the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute (formerly known as the Conservation and Research Center) has been located in Front Royal, Virginia, since 1974. Acquisition of the property to support the Smithsonian’s National Zoo’s wildlife conservation programs follows a rich history of activities.” They used to have large animals there but I haven’t seen any for years now.

    • Jon : Jun 22nd

      I just met a guy on trail today who said the same thing. I didn’t know the Smithsonian did that. Thx!

  • thetentman : Jun 22nd

    Gaiters and identification skills are good things to have when PI is around.

    • Jon : Jun 22nd

      Welcome back, Tentman.

  • Mike Nixon : Jun 24th

    Welcome back!

    Stay safe & strong!

    • Jon : Jun 25th

      Thanks, Mike!


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