Days 93-100! The Virginia Cruise Part 2: The Shennies

After saying our final goodbye to Charlotte, we walked back into the woods. We only had 4 miles to hike to our next family rendezvous – this time Bryces cousins, Karen and Clarke, were meeting us to hike 5 miles, then take us into a hotel for the night! Thanks to all our family and friends, we would only spend two nights on trail over the span of a week!

Entering Shenandoah meant we had to stop at the kiosk to fill out our free back country camping permit. The box was a mess and it took several moments of digging before I found an unused permit. Then it was a challenge to fit the required page into the overstuffed drop box. That done, we officially walked into the park!

Since we live just 2 hours from Shenandoah I have done a lot of hiking in the park. But, I’ve never managed to cover the entirety of the AT within it. These first 4 miles were completely new to me! They are not very exciting miles. We cruised along, stopping briefly to chat with Betty and to text Karen that we were on track to meet them at noon.

We arrived a bit early at the road crossing and sat down to wait. We were absolutely shocked when they not only pulled up in my old Rav-4 (we sold it to Karen before we left) but Pinky’s mom Christi jumped out of the back with close friend Bonnie!!

I slightly suspected that a surprise family member might tag along but Christi and Bonnie were not on my list of possibilities! We were thrilled. Everyone cried a bit and we hugged a ton.

In preparation for this visit Karen got into the AT thru hikers Facebook page and did tons of research into trail magic. She came prepared with snacks, bags of home made cookies, drinks, first aid and other miscellaneous supplies. It was amazing.

She was also more up on the current trail gossip than we were. She told us our friend Glamazon’s pack was stolen from outside a grocery store in Waynesboro! We were shocked and so sad. We had just seen her at Weasie’s on Saturday morning! (Everything worked out just fine for her. Thanks to the generosity of the hiking community we saw her on trail, with all new gear, just 3 days later!)

After enjoying some cold Capri Suns and a few snacks, we threw our packs in the back of the Rav and got ready to hike. Betty also threw her pack in the car, excited by an opportunity to slack pack. We took too long to herd all the cats onto the trail and she jetted off ahead of us, with the plan to meet us at Jarman Gap.

The 6 of us had a great hike. We got a few great payoff views

Saw some columbine flowers (thanks to Christi for her great plant ID skills!)

And took immense pleasure in each others company and the beauty of the mountains.

We enjoyed ourselves so much it took us about 4.5 hours to make it to Jarman Gap. As we were nearing our destination I realized I didn’t have Betty’s phone number and she had almost certainly beat us there by an hour or two. I hoped she didn’t feel we’d wasted her time.

When we got to the car we found her there, very distressed because she thought her pack would be there waiting for her! She had misunderstood our plan and was afraid she was in the wrong place but did not know how to get to the right place!

Once she saw us, all was well. We apologized for the confusion, got her pack back to her and made sure she had enough water to continue on. We felt so bad for leading to a few bad hours for her. But all’s well that ends well, and ultimately we enjoyed getting to spend a bit more time hearing stories of her adventures biking around the country.

Betty squared away, we met back at our starting point where a handful of hikers were finishing off the cold drinks and snacks. Just as we were pulling out to head to the hotel, Pinky and I spotted our friends, Luke and Terri! We had to get out and talk to them.

You might remember that we met them on our very first day on the Approach Trail!! We keep running into them every few weeks. The last time we just saw Luke on his own, we were excited to see Terri this time. We caught up for a few minutes and topped them up on water (there is no water for the first 8 or so miles of Shenandoah and it was very hot.)

We had a wonderful evening in town with our family. We ate a ton. We laughed a ton. It was just great.

In the morning it was raining. After one of our more efficient Walmart trips, and repacking our food bags in the rain in the parking lot (that was a sight, I’m sure), Christi and Bonnie drove us back to the trail. The night before we had convinced them to hike up to Turk Mountain with us before heading back, but the rain had them feeling a bit intimidated. All the way back they went back and forth about what to do, and seemed mostly decided to just drop us off and head home.

It was raining steadily when we got back to Jarman gap. We pulled our packs, rain covers and rain jackets on. Christi and Bonnie decided to at least walk back up the fire road to the trail with us… then they walked a little more and a little more! They spent almost an hour walking through the pouring rain with us! When it started to thunder they decided it was time to turn around. We hugged and cried and waved goodbye through the rain.

Pinky and I walked on. We were so impressed with Christi and Bonnie, few people would walk through that much rain with such high spirits! Later, we saw Lightfeet and Bigfoot, some hikers we’d met the day before at Karen’s trail magic, and they told us they’d seen Christi and Bonnie on their way back to the car, having a great time!

The rest of the day was wet. We started off the day thinking we might do a longer day but we quickly decided we were just going to do the 11 miles to the next shelter. By the time we got there the rain had cleared up and it stayed clear the rest of the night. We had a fun evening chatting with mostly new to us hikers and a few people, like Bongo and Hot Mess, that we had met before but never spent this much time with.

The next day we tried to get out of camp quickly. We wanted to hike 22 miles that day! It was not a fast morning though. We got caught up chatting over breakfast. Typical.

Despite our late departure, we made pretty good time all day. We crossed Black Rock, one of my favorite views in the park.

The clouds were amazing and brought me so much joy.

Next we hit Loft Mountain, the first of the camp stores/waysides. Shenandoah is famous for the waysides. If you plan your days right you can get ice cream every day in Shenandoah!

While we were eating our ice cream snack Hot Mess told us Big Meadows was only 20 miles away from the shelter we were heading for tonight, and the restaurant is open till 9 or 10. We had not considered the possibility of dinner there but now that it was out there… we had to do it.

We truly cruised through our longest day yet. We felt great for most of it. The trail in the Shennies is nice and easy. The last mile was the most challenging, as it usually is. We were ready to be done and had a solid climb to get through. I had my headphones in with the perfect playlist going. I kept telling myself “Finish strong! Almost there!” and made myself keep up with Pinky the whole way.

Finally, we were there! We decided to set up our tent, even though it looked like rain. We were in a cloud and it had been exceedingly humid all day. We were so soaking wet we felt like we had gotten rained on but it had never rained. We had some serious ass chafe going on from the wet pants and wanted some privacy so we could air out a bit….

We finished dinner in the dark. We did not sleep great that night, it was very hot and stuffy all night. In the morning we had to pull our still soaking wet clothes back on. The humidity prevented anything from drying out.

We got out of camp a little earlier this time. We were pretty motivated by dinner at Big Meadows. But then we found an awesome viewpoint at the top of the mountain and took a very long break admiring the clouds.

Despite how tired we were from the day before, we managed to keep up a pretty good pace all day. Plus, we hit 900 miles!

We got to Big Meadows around 7, just in time for dinner. In talking to some folks about the pros and cons of the restaurant vs the bar downstairs we met a lovely woman named Bonnie. Bonnie asked if we were thru hiking then said she wanted to be our Trail Angel and buy us dinner!!! She insisted and treated us to the most delicious dinner. Our favorite parts were the Shenandoah themed beers from Basic City, the mushroom ravioli, and the blackberry ice cream pie. We thanked Bonnie profusely and felt incredibly blessed.

Our luck didn’t stop there. While we were waiting to be seated, we saw Gummy Bear and he offered to share his campsite with us for the night! We had planned to just stealth camp somewhere nearby but this was too generous and perfect to pass up. He came back later with a map and showed us where his site was.

Sunset from Big Meadows Lodge

We got there after dark and set up  under a clear, starry sky, surrounded by fireflies. The wind had picked up and we had a super comfortable night.

The wind continued the next morning. We were so grateful to be putting on dry clothes for the first time in 2 days. Those dry clothes had a surprise in them- caterpillars and earwigs!! They were in our clothes, our shoes, all over the tent… just everywhere! I did a lot of squealing.

The fuzzy boys were EVERYWHERE

Just as we were leaving camp, around 10:15, we saw Bacon coming towards us. We hadn’t seen Bacon since Damascus! We greeted her happily. She told us she’d had a rough night- a bear stole her food! Luckily a friend was meeting her that night and would bring her more, but she didn’t have more than a pop tart to get her till then. We immediately offered her some of our food. We chronically have way too much and were happy to share.

Bacon hiked with us for the first mile or so. We took a long break together at an overlook. It was fun taking our time together.

We decided to stop at Skyland for lunch. Just before arriving we paused to pet the horsies at the stable!

When we made it to the next road crossing we realized we had missed the turn down a gravel road to the Lodge! We managed to get there via the back way through the employee housing… woops.

Skyland was so lovely we stayed about 2 hours. We drank sodas, cheap beer, ate snacks, wrote postcards, and enjoyed the view. Some scary clouds blew around us and the wind stayed heavy and constant. We were lucky and never got rained on, we just saw some way down in the valley.

Eventually we convinced ourselves to move on. It was a tough decision. The porch was so so nice and my right big toe was really hurting. We were very tired from our previous big days. But we wanted to get a little closer to Thornton Gap where we were meeting my dad and his girlfriend, Sabrina, the next day. So, we moved on.

Just out for a “short hike”

We had a very blustery but still comfortable walk. We got a few good views along the way. We decided to eat dinner at the peak of The Pinnacle and maybe camp up there if we could find a spot.

Unfortunately, there were no good campsites at the peak. But we did have a perfect spot for dinner and watching the sunset. It was our first time eating dinner before getting to camp and our first big open sunset view. We’d packed out a beer each from Skyland. It was perfect.

We wound up walking the whole mile to the Byrds Nest shelter in the growing dusk, there were no good stealth sites on the way. The shelter was extremely poppin when we arrived. The shelter was full, someone had even made a fire in the fireplace, and just about every tent site was taken. We set up on a rather rooty spot right next to the bear box and almost right on the trail.

It was a cool, breezy, clear night. We watched the stars and the fireflies as we fell asleep.

The next morning we slept in and took our time getting out of camp. It was cool and I kept my sweater on till we started walking! We just had 3 miles to go over Mary’s Rock and down to the road.

The summit of Mary’s rock was SO windy!! We almost got blown over! It might have been even stronger winds than those on Standing Indian- we thought those were 30-40 mph gusts.

The way down was full of day hikers, more than we have seen so far, since the parking lot is so close and Mary’s Rock has such an amazing view.

My dad scooped us up and took us down to Sperryville for a visit to one of our favorite breweries, Penn Druid. We drank some delicious beer and ate tons of food. My dad spoiled us! Then he took us to Front Royal where we did laundry and took showers at the “Base Camp” organized by the brewery, outfitter and bakery down town. It was a sweet set up and we loved how easy it was!

I also bought a new pair of shoes from the outfitter! I hadn’t really planned on it but my left foot has been hurting pretty badly and I wanted to take the opportunity to talk to someone and try on a few pairs. I wound up with a pair of Altras so we are an Altra family now.

After a lovely, and very productive, afternoon together, Dad and Sabrina dropped us off at our poolside hotel room and went home.

In the morning, Pinky’s brother, Andrew, and his girlfriend, Annie Rae, picked us up and took us back to the trail! They hiked 9 miles with us to the Elkwallow Wayside! They were amazing hikers and kept up with Pinky the whole time!

We were all highly motivated by the promise of Blackberry Milkshakes at the wayside. Alas, when we got there we were told they weren’t doing milkshakes!! We got straight up ice cream scoops instead. It was the best ice cream I’ve ever had! I wish it was an option for the half-gallon challenge! We also got huge sandwiches. It was a good meal.

After getting Annie Rae’s car back we drove to the Gravel Springs parking lot and walked the 0.2 miles down the fire road to the Gravel Springs shelter. Andrew and Annie Rae wanted to camp with us for the Full Experience!

Our tents set up, we went over to the shelter and chatted with the other hikers until we got cold and went to bed. Unfortunately for our new hikers it was a much colder night than they planned for. They were not quite bright eyed and bushy tailed in the morning.

After returning us to the Wayside and hanging out for our leisurely breakfast, Andrew and Annie Rae went home, too tired to hike any more with us that morning.

We set out to hike 20 miles, which would put us outside the park! We had a beautiful day for hiking. We ate lunch at the last good overlook in the park. It felt bittersweet to be leaving. Shenandoah has such a special place in our hearts, plus finishing it brought us closer to the end of Virginia, another bittersweet milestone.

We acted like we weren’t hiking 20 miles by taking another long break at a water source. The family we had met at the last overlook stopped too and we had a long chat with them. While we were talking, Bacon walked up! We hadn’t seen her since leaving Skyland a few days ago. We laughed because we had told Hoops, Outlaw, and their daughter Katie about Bacon’s bear bag incident and here she was!

At one of the last trail intersections in the park Pinky paused to wait for me. I was talking to him and noticed a large black shape a hundred or so feet up the other trail. I looked more closely and at first thought it was a dog, then it moved and I realized it was a baby bear!! It ran off into the woods before Pinky could turn and get a good look at it, but we both vaguely saw two black shapes running through the trees! I was so excited by my bear sighting!!! I’d been sure we’d see bears in the park and was disappointed to be leaving without a sighting. But the trail provides!

Finally, we made it to the road crossing that leads to Waynesboro. There was a cooler with a few cold Pepsis inside. We are firmly Coke fans, but dang that was the best Pepsi I’ve ever had. Our campsite for the night was less than two miles past the road. We were so happy when we got there. Bacon pulled up just after we set up our tent. We ate a quiet dinner and went to bed, we had another 20 mile day ahead of us in the morning…

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