Day 69: Rollercoasters, Naked Hikers, and Other Myths

A Quiet Night (& Gus Sleeping Happy)

We made the right call on parking spots last night. Other than the poison ivy garden on all four sides, the site was perfect. We couldn’t hear the highway, caught a little cooling breeze in the evening, and slept like babies. Do babies snore? I can’t remember. If so, we definitely slept like them.

I got out early and had the trail to myself as usual. Gus stayed with Northstar because of the rain forecast but wasn’t happy about it. The last time I looked, he was sitting in the front seat with his nose pressed up against the window. Northstar said he barely moved all morning.

Poison Ivy, My New Friend

As I headed up the first climb of the day, I saw a notice from the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club that they were spraying to kill some invasive plants and that we should not eat any plants with blue dye on them. My first thought was to wonder if they really expected that to happen. My second was to wonder if I could convince them to overspray and knock out some of the poison ivy.

And that got me wondering if poison ivy has some useful role in the ecosystem. Well, according to the infallible internet, birds and deer eat poison ivy fruit. Who knew it had fruit? Also, its leaves are used to make medicine, including one to treat itchy skin disorders. Hmm, but I thought… never mind. Speaking of the internet, thank you to several of you who pointed out that the fenced-in area I saw yesterday was a Smithsonian Biological Research Station. Supposedly.

The Rollercoaster

Today’s hike had two big milestones. The first was “The Rollercoaster,” a 14-mile stretch with 13 climbs (depending on how you count) and descents that intimidates a lot of thru-hikers. But none of the climbs are bigger than 600 feet and there’s only 4,600 feet of total climbing over the entire section. Anyone who’s hiked from Springer Mountain has done many tougher, longer, steeper, higher climbs.

That’s not to say the Rollercoaster was easy. The rain, the slick pointy rocks, the lack of views, and a few steep spots had their challenges. But it just wasn’t anything we hadn’t seen or done before.

Still, its reputation can mess with your head. On the second climb of the day, I passed a young man struggling with the climb. He moaned, cussed, and groaned with every step, and said he didn’t know if he could make it. I asked if he needed anything, but that just initiated another stream of invective. Honestly, he seemed to enjoy the misery and the prospect of the gruesome story he’d no doubt tell when he finished.

A Thousand Miles

Just after the third hill of the Rollercoaster I walked up to the 1,000-mile marker. A thousand miles is huge. Or would be if I had completed the 107.9 miles in the Shenandoahs before I got there. My impending flip flop took some of the shine off reaching the 1,000-mile post, but didn’t stop me from snapping a few pictures with Retro and Scout, a father-son duo doing their annual week-long section hike.

Seconds after hiking on from our photoshoot, the rain really started coming down. It had drizzled on and off all morning and was forecasted to hold off the serious stuff until early afternoon. Nope. I was drenched in minutes.

I had just started thinking about hiking another eight miles to the Blackburn Trail Center, but the harder rain and the increasingly rocky trail put an end to those dreams. I’d gotten permission to boondock in the Bear’s Den Hostel parking lot and walked in there soaked through and shivering, ready for a change of clothes and a hot meal, and happy to have a long afternoon looking out the van door at the rain.

Hike Naked Day

As I sat in the van, I realized that today was Hike Naked Day (summer solstice). I think the cold rain put a stop to that, fortunately, given that everyone I saw was an old man and/or overweight.

I’ve been doing field work in lonely places for 40+ years and have stumbled across more than my share of nudists. Once, while doing a study on desert wash north of Phoenix, I walked into a nudist camp volleyball court. From a distance, I absent-mindedly thought it was a bunch of retirees in tan jumpsuits. As I got closer, I realized they were quite tan (very uniformly, and all-over), but weren’t wearing jumpsuits. Whatever they were wearing, it didn’t fit like it did when they were younger.

Based on years of similar experiences, I developed what I call “The Fundamental Law of Naked People in the Wilderness.” Imagine the last person you’d want to see naked. Your elderly dentist (that actually happened). Your kid’s Vice Principal. Your Great Aunt Edna with the skin condition. Mitch McConnell. Your boss. That’s pretty much who you’ll see out there letting their freedom flag fly. Never fails.

The Ever-Changing Plan

Tomorrow was supposed to be another 20-miler, but with the rain forecast, I’m thinking of lopping off the last six miles because rain hiking really slows me down and I want to get an early start on the eight-hour drive to Indy. Plus, after a “meh” experience at the 1,000-mile marker, I think I’d like to walk into Harpers Ferry after really finishing Virginia.

Daily Stats:

  • Start: Blue Ridge Mountain Road (Mile 992.2)
  • End: Bear’s Den Hostel (Mile 1005.5)
  • Weather: Drizzle, Rain, More Rain
  • Earworm: Hosanna (JC Superstar…back to that one)
  • Meditation: Mt. 15:11
  • Plant of the Day: Poison Ivy…the helpful medical kind.
  • Best Thing: No naked hikers
  • Worst Thing: Rain

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Comments 6

  • Chris K : Jun 23rd

    I got a chuckle out of this blog entry… I definitely don’t want to see Mitch McConnell naked or my imaginary aunt Edna. Come out to the Southwest and it will be an aging mystic with dreadlocks and terrible bo but he’s also guaranteed to be friendly.
    It sounds like Gus made the right decision.

    • Jon : Jun 25th

      Thanks, Chris.

  • thetentman : Jun 23rd

    Wait. You are not supposed to eat the blue plants…Uh ,oh.

    That would explain a lot.


    • Jon : Jun 25th


  • Mike Nixon : Jun 26th

    “Whatever they were wearing, it didn’t fit like it did when they were younger.”


    Stay safe & strong. Safe travels to & from Indy. I know this is a tough weekend. Prayers for you and your family.

    • Jon : Jun 27th

      Thanks so much Mike.


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