Day 79: Chin Art & Advice from a Feral Santa

AT Beards

I’ve seen a thousand miles of trail so far, but I wonder how many miles of cumulative beard I’ve seen. Mine gets a regular trim to keep Northstar from bolting for home or locking me out of the van, but given the heat, humidity, and tick population on the AT, I’m surprised that so many beards survived this far north. Of the types of chin art I’ve seen, the following are the most prevalent and my favorites:

  • Feral Santa. The Mason-Dixon line between Santa and Feral Santa is volume. Both have long, white whiskers, but St. Nick’s feral followers rock beards that stick out in all directions, could hide raptor nests, and haven’t been combed since Earl Shaeffer walked the trail.
  • A subset of the white beard crowd (grey is allowed in this category), the Gandalf beard is straight, long enough to cover their clavicle, and shows signs of being thoughtfully pulled on when pondering the lack of white blazes at a trail junction. Extra points carrying a wooden hiking stick or wearing a tall pointy hat, both of which I’ve seen. These guys are tough to pass.
  • Hiker Trash. Basically, a younger version of feral Santa. Bearlike, except smellier and less friendly.
  • Wannabe Hiker Trash. Has the trash attitude but not the testosterone. Their beard looks like they tried eating brown cotton candy without using their hands and didn’t have time to clean up yet. A thin patchy mess.
  • Girl Beards. A.k.a. leg hair. Personally, I respect girl beards. Rock on.

Feral Santa Speaks

I started musing on AT beards after easily passing (therefore, not a Gandalf) a feral Santa (FS) on the steep climb up Compton Peak, just before reaching a nice stream crossing. Gus needed water, so I sat down to give him time to drink his fill. That turned into a lunch break, which gave FS time to catch up.

Most FS I’ve met, and there have been a lot, are as jovial as their namesake. This one, however, had an edge. He spied my purple thru-hiker tag and asked if I was hiking all the way from Georgia to Maine. That question usually precedes a friendly chat about the trail, but I could see judgment in FS’ eyes. Had I been a good hiker or a bad hiker this year?

“Yes, sir,” I replied, “I’m hiking northbound.” “Well, then,” he said, “You’re pretty far behind everyone else, aren’t you? Do you think you’ll make it to Maine in time?” Ouch. Actually, I think about that all the time. Doesn’t everyone? Still, ouch.

Thinking FS had some sage advice for me, I asked when he’d completed a thru-hike. “Well, I haven’t, but I’ve hiked all over the world back when you didn’t need permits to hike.” Huh? I guess I can cross sage advice off my list of expectations from FS. He didn’t ask when I’d started, what kind of daily mileage I logged, and had never thru-hiked himself, but still felt qualified to render an opinion of doom about my chances.

Lots of snarky replies passed through my head, but fortunately not over my lips. I just asked him what hike his world favorite was. He replied, “The Canadian Rockies,” but didn’t provide any more details. He and Pete (from yesterday) should get together and not talk.

Closing the Gap

Today’s hike was all about closing the gap we left between our San Diego and Indianapolis trips. I walked out of the Shenadoahs and north to US 522 where I’d flip-flopped to between our travels. Expecting more heat and humidity, and possibly some afternoon showers, Gus and I were out the door by 6:30 a.m.

Once again, we passed no major landmarks or milestones except the northern Shenandoah National Park boundary. We caught some nice views from rock outcrops on ridges, saw plenty of deer, and stopped to chat with some day hikers, but saw no other thru-hikers. Maybe FS was right, and we are way behind everyone else. Except the 32 Feet Up crowd, who we saw one last time as the younger ones crawled out of their tents and waved as we passed.

At one trail overlook, we walked up to the edge for a peek and saw Northstar drive past below us on Skyline Drive. I tried to call her, but she must not have had coverage. So, I left a voicemail explaining the coincidence and hiked on. Unfortunately, a few minutes later she got the call notification but not the message and assumed the worst. Which led to a few panicked moments and a flurry of delayed texts. Note to self. Do not call Northstar unless something really bad happens. And maybe not then either.

Chasing Soco

My other goal for the day was to catch Soco, who I guessed was hiking with Pete and the other nameless old guy I’d seen the past few days. But either he slept in, left early, or just plain outhiked me, because I walked 17.7 miles without a rumor of him.

North of the Park, the trail returned to the rocky, steep, root-covered, single track I’ve come to know and love. Gus turned wistfully and looked back at the wide, smooth, groomed trail in the park, and then soldiered on behind me as he always does.

Yelp Review of the Shenandoahs

The trails were fantastic and uncrowded. We caught some fantastic views and saw lots of deer, though the long, green tunnel became a bit too long and green in places. But to be fair, the rain, heat, and humidity probably made the tunnel more oppressive than it would be in other seasons. Unfortunately, the famous Shenandoah bears stayed out of sight.

The Waysides let me down a little, as they were fewer in number and harder to get to than I expected, though I did get to nearly all of them. Also, the Park rules against boondocking, which are perfectly reasonable, complicated my original plan to meet Northstar more frequently and park right on the trail.

Overall, I’m glad I didn’t skip the Shenandoahs, enjoyed my hike through them, and am glad I’m done.

The End of The Incident’s Shenandoah Gap

We walked up to US 522 tired and footsore and saw Northstar at the far of the parking area. And then I noticed Soco and Pete sitting on the north side of the highway with their packs off. So, I dodged the traffic and crossed over to chat, getting viciously honked at by some old guy in a rusty Toyota. I think he was angry that Gus followed me across traffic.

Sometimes, people can’t see the thin parachute cord leash I use on Gus when we’re near roads or in populated areas and they lecture (or honk at) me about dog safety and leash rules. In other places, I have Gus on an electronic training collar to make sure he doesn’t wander off, chase disrespectful critters, or approach dog-haters. Most jurisdictions allow off-leash training if you use an electronic collar. Plus, Gus is very chill around other dogs and people, especially after hiking a few hours takes some of the bounce out of him.

Soco and Pete were done for the day, waiting on the 2:15 shuttle into Front Royal to resupply. Since they had an hour’s wait, we gave them a ride and got a bit more of the story out of Soco about camping next to 32 Feet Up. But basically, I discovered, it was “okay.” Turns out Pete was right.

Daily Stats:

  • Start: Matthews Arm Campground (Mile 954.4)
  • End: US 522 (Mile 972.1)
  • Weather: Cool, cloudy, & breezy. Brief afternoon drizzle under a blue sky.
  • Earworm: Project Hail Mary
  • Meditation: Mt. 26:42
  • Plant of the Day: 1.5-foot diameter fungus, couldn’t ID it but it was fantastic
  • Best Thing: Finished the Shenandoahs
  • Worst Thing: Humidity


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Comments 6

  • Scott Layman : Jul 6th

    Jon, I think at least once while reading every one of your updates I chuckle if not lol. Except for the one about your brother passing and the two guys that caught up to you to pray. Thanks for taking us along.

    • Jon : Jul 9th

      Thanks for reading Scott…and for getting the jokes!

  • thetentman : Jul 7th

    July 23 or so works for me. My GF grew up in Wykoff. Her family owned the Barn restaurant. You should also know that there is a lake 750 ft from my house that you are welcome to use. We’ll talk.

    Nice post.


    • Jon : Jul 9th

      Got it! Thinking about that lake.

  • Charlotte : Jul 9th

    Good afternoon. FYI, just read an article on the 8 statess with the lowest humidity, Nevada was number at 38.3%, and Arizona came in 2nd with 38.5% …California, my state was 8th with 61%…nothing east of Montana was even mentioned. I am curious, if it’s raining, but isn’t cold is there a benefit to wearing rain gear now?

    • Jon : Jul 13th

      Posted the rain info yesterday. Thx for the question


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