More Virginia updates… some days, it really felt like we were never going to be out of Virginia! Hope you enjoy.
Day 88 – VA-43 to Bryant Ridge Shelter
Today was a day of scattered emotions and thoughts, one that lived up to the adage “the only constant in life is change.” A member of my bike club and his wife picked me up at my apartment at 7, and drove me the three and a half hours to Buchanan. But it was a tough morning. I didn’t want to leave, having just gotten used to the comforts of regular life. But I forced myself to go. I can’t quit like this. The trip was uneventful and I was walking up the trail by 11. Surprisingly, I made it the 3.4 miles to Cove Mountain Shelter in an hour. I don’t really remember that hour, though, as I was lost in thought. When I dropped my pack at the shelter, I broke down and cried like a little baby. Part of me was ready to text my ride and have them come back and get me. But as I turned my phone on, a text from my mom came through. And it rang true. I texted her back and thanked her, ate a snack and hiked on. I got to the swimming hole and decided to eat lunch. I wasn’t hungry, but I knew I needed the energy. To this point, I was feeling pretty good physically. The miles just seemed to melt away. But that all changed after lunch, when I started the 2 miles up Fork Mountain. Within half an hour, I was overheating and my heart felt like it was going to explode in my chest, not to mention that lunch wanted to come up, too. The uphill became very grueling for
me. And then I got stung by a bee on my ankle. No clue what I did to piss him off, but it hurt like hell for the rest of the day. Finally, I reached the top but as soon as I started the downhill, my right knee started sending sharp pains down my leg. But only when I was bearing on that leg and mostly when the leg was bent. I’m not sure if I twisted the knee or just overusing it on day 1, but the downhill, which is usually my best “event”, took forever and nearly had me in tears. I made it to the shelter to find a nice lady who only spoke German sitting there. I rested, hydrated some, and tried to get my mind under control. Needless to say, it was a quiet evening. We tried to talk a little but she had to use her pocket translator a lot and gave up on trying.
Day 89 – Bryant Ridge Shelter to Harrison Ground Spring Campsite
It was humid before I even left camp today, giving me an ominous feeling for the day. But as I hiked up the mountain, it seemed to cool off and get less humid, thankfully. Floyd Mountain, the first big uphill of the day, literally kicked my ass. I needed to take a good 1-2 minute break every 15 minutes the entire way up, with a longer “sit down” break every hour. Needless to say, it was a slow and unsteady climb up the mountain, but I made it, although there was nothing dry on me when I got there! I took a break at Cornelius Creek Shelter, to snack and get water, and then moved on. Apple Orchard Mountain wasn’t as bad, but it felt longer. At the top, there was a large FAA tower, but the fog was getting thick so it was hard to see it all. I had to force myself to eat lunch today, knowing I needed the energy but having no desire to eat. I’m not sure if I’m fighting some depression, or if simply being off-trail for a week has changed my palate, but I have no interest in trail food at the moment. Pretty much as soon as I started walking after lunch, it started to sprinkle, and didn’t stop for the rest of the day. Gotta love Mother Nature. I arrived at the campsite at 4, and while there was another campsite listed just 3 miles farther, I decided not to push things unnecessarily. I feel a little lazy about that decision but my knee hurts, my emotions are going haywire, and maybe a night alone will do me some good. I sent out a few texts during dinner and that helped some with the loneliness.
Day 90 – Harrison Ground Spring Campsite to Glasgow… To Waynesboro
I was up and out early this morning, and made the walk into Glasgow fairly quickly My knee still hurts on downhills, though. I hitched into Glasgow, catching a ride with a young gentleman who was on his way to a job interview and “needed all the good karma” he could get – sure hope the interview went well for him! I ate lunch in town, and then called my mom to discuss skipping ahead. I decided to join Bookie up in Waynesboro, figuring if I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t be on trail much longer. I called a local shuttle, and was in Waynesboro less than two hours later. And what a reunion it was! Bookie, Star, Moonlight and Moon Lover were all there, and we sat around socializing and catching up for most of the afternoon. We were all camped out in the community park, which offers free camping to thru hikers, so I set up my tent, and then we all cooked up some Indian food that the Moons didn’t want to carry with them and ate dinner as a group. Afterwards, I ran to do some laundry, and called home again to discuss the jump and how it changes my hike. Ultimately, I feel this was the best decision, finding myself already more comfortable than I was when I was hiking solo.
Day 91 – Waynesboro
The Moons left early today, jumping up to New York. It was painful to say goodbye, especially since I had just caught back up with them, but who knows, our paths may cross again. Bookie and I decided to stay in town today, to celebrate the Fourth of July in town. We caught a ride into the main portion of town, and walked through a historic district and into a farmer’s market, where we picked up some fresh fruits. We meandered through an art gallery, mostly for the air conditioning, and then headed back towards the park. Most stores were closed for the holiday, but it was neat to see the town a little. Most of the day was spent in the park, relaxing, reading, and planning the next couple weeks of hiking. Bookie showed me a few yoga poses that would help stretch out my leg and knee, and then we ran to the grocery store for some dinner supplies. Nearing dark, we walked to where the farmer’s market was, to watch the fireworks from the next town and to use the power plugs to charge battery packs. When we got back to the park, though, we found some of the locals setting off fireworks right over our tents. Drunks with fireworks is always a sketchy situation, but they went away shortly after, thankfully.
Day 92 – Waynesboro to Calf Mountain Shelter
We slept in this morning, and spent a lazy morning, journaling and doing some gear repairs. We wanted to hit a local restaurant for breakfast before leaving town, but they didn’t open early. After breakfast, we caught a shuttle to the trail head and officially entered Shenandoah National Park. The hike was decent today, not causing a ton of knee pain. We took a short break at the “tractor seats” – a site where a few vintage tractor seats have been planted in the ground and provide a nice rest spot. Bookie also surprised me with a bottle of Pepsi and some cookies, which certainly brightened the day. We got to camp around 6, and it was a full shelter. We set up camp, cooked dinner and hung food from the bear pole – apparently bear bags aren’t as efficient in the Shenandoah’s! It started raining just as we were headed to bed…
Day 93 – Calf Mountain Shelter to Blackrock Hut
It rained all night, with water pooled under my tent and soaked up. It wasn’t real wet but bad enough that I hope I can dry out stuff tonight. We got a late start today, mostly due to the wetness, but the hike was ok – the ups and downs didn’t kill me but they were enough to know my knee is sore. We got to our intended shelter just before 4, and debated on whether to stay or hike on, and decided to stay and dry gear out. There are thunderstorm predicted for tonight too, but so far, none have come. We spent a pleasant evening, catching up on journals and chatting with other hikers. Someone said there was a bear on the other side of camp. I didn’t see but we checked our packs for stray food again anyways.
Day 94 – Blackrock Hut to Pinefield Hut
Today was some more monotonous Virginia trail. One day is the same as the next lately. We did see a momma bear and her cub just before Brown Gap, but they walked into the woods as soon as they saw us, so still no bear pictures. And today had a nice lunch… we stopped at a campground store that had coin-operated showers. We were able to eat deli sandwiches and take hot showers, which was a welcome change. The day seemed to turn into a long day, for no other reason than the trail was boring me today. The weather was beautiful for hiking today, warm with a cool breeze. My knee pain didn’t get bad until the last mile or two, which was nice, and gave me hope that maybe it’s healing. We arrived at the shelter, and were all alone for a very long time. While we were eating dinner, we noticed another bear and her two cubs at the top of the hill in front of the shelter, but again, as soon as they caught wind of us, they turned and left. And to think, we weren’t even stinky hikers!
Day 95 – Pinefield Hut to US-33/Elkton
For some reason, I didn’t sleep well last night. We were up and on trail early this morning, and it was a long day. My knee pain started real early and was a constant reminder to not push too hard. Unfortunately, we had three big hills to conquer today, which we aptly named Little F’er, Medium F’ed, and Big F’er, all of which were just pointless ups-and-downs (PUDs), offering no views or any reason to really climb them other than mindlessly following some white blazes along a trail. We did cross the 900 mile marker today, which was a nice moment. When we got to the exit point for Elkton, we found out there were no hotels available – there were only two, and one was closed down. We hitched into town to get Star’s new harness from the post office, and sat at Pizza Hut for a while, charging batteries and figuring out what to do. We walked across town to the Food Lion, about 2 miles of road walking, so we could resupply, and thankfully found a nice lady named Jane to drive us out of town to a campground. We set up our tents just as it was getting dark, but at least we had a place to stay.
Day 96 – US-33/Elkton to Bearfence Mountain Hut
My sleep was very broken last night, probably because the campground was near a loud highway. I still feel very stressed since the jump up, and this was not a good town visit. We showered and packed up, and waited for Jane, who said she’d shuttle us back to trail. She finally showed up half an hour after our agreed upon time, but she brought goodies for Star in the form of dog food and snacks. We were still back on trail by 10. We stopped for lunch at the South River Picnic Area, and took an extended lunch to relax in the grass and sun for a while. We’ve always been very goal-oriented, so taking an extended lunch like this was different, and different isn’t always bad. We were still able to get to the shelter at a decent time, and had a nice relaxing afternoon break. When we made camp that night, I spent most of the spare time reading and writing post cards before bed.
Day 97 – Bearfence Mountain Hut to stealth site
Today, my stress got the better of me. I snapped at Bookie for taking too long and made her cry. We had a real quiet walk this morning, but had worked out most of it by the time we got to the Wayside at noon. We enjoyed lunch at the Wayside cafe, then went to the Byrd Visitor Center. We spent way too long at the Wayside, especially since we had to walk a mile out of our way into the campground to make a phone call, trying to reserve a hotel room for tomorrow. These small town stops just stress me out way more than they are worth. The afternoon hike was very quiet, neither of us talking much. We stopped at Crescent Rock Overlook and cooked dinner while talking to some tourists on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Just after dinner, we saw two bears standing just off the trail, both of them paying us little attention. We hiked for about an hour, until it was starting to get dark and looked like the hill was starting to get steeper, before finding a stealth site to camp. We quickly set up tents, hung bear bags, and retreated to our tents to escape the bugs.
Day 98 – Stealth site to Thornton Gap/Luray
It rained overnight, but I still was able to get decent sleep. Up and on trail in rain, which can speed the process up if you have no place to hide. I’m feeling irritable today for some reason, and worked hard to keep it in check. We didn’t stop at Stoney Man Summit due to fog and rain but heard it has a great view. We did stop at Little Stoney Man Cliffs for an amazing view. It felt like a long day, for some reason, even though it really wasn’t. Two trail angels on top Mary’s Rock offered us a ride into town, which helped with my stress level. We got to our hotel but there was a long delay getting room. We walked down to the outfitters to see about swapping out my leaky air mattress (third time!) but they didn’t sell Big Agnes. We stopped at Gathering Grounds, a cafe serving amazing foods, for dinner, and our waitress offered us a ride to Walmart when her shift ended shortly after. Not only did she give us a ride there, she did a little shopping herself and waited for us, and gave us a ride back! We did laundry, and I made calls home, then got ice cream on our walk back to the hotel. I packed some and tried to relax a little, but it was already a late day in town.
Day 99 – Thornton Gap/Luray to Gravel Springs Hut
We slept in a little, which is becoming our “town normal”. I ate breakfast while packing. We had arranged for a Trail Angel to pick us up at 9 to shuttle us back to the trail, and they were right on time. We were at the trail head by 9:30, but we needed to fill water and finish packing, so we didn’t get on trail until 10. About half an hour into our hike, we had a “heart to heart” about what is stressing us out about each other, and while it dragged on a little, the tension seemed to be less once we were done. The morning seemed to drag on, though. These Virginia trails really are the same day to day. We stopped at the next Wayside and ate lunch, sharing a picnic table with a bunch of other thru hikers. After lunch, we saw a momma bear and three cubs, with the cubs climbing a tree. It was so cute! Then about 15 minutes later, we saw a momma bear and two cubs walking through the woods foraging. Seven bears in 15 minutes… I think I’m “over” seeing bears. We got to the shelter later than usual, set up camp and ate dinner. There was another dog in camp barking late into the night, which was really irritating – and the reason a lot of hikers don’t like dogs on trail. Eventually, the owner quieted his dog down and I was able to fall asleep.
Day 100 – Gravel Springs Hut to US-522/Front Royal
What a miserable night. It started to rain at 3am. It was pouring buckets by 4am. And my tent was leaking and wet by 6am. I got up, went to the bathroom, packed up everything and moved to shelter to stay dry and wait for Bookie to wake up. It was still raining at 9:15, when we got on trail, and it was a rough hike today. My right knee started hurting after the first big hill, less than hour in, and got worse as the day went. We got to the road crossing at 4, and a trail angel gave us ride into town. We checked into our hotel room, spreading gear out to dry, then made a dash for the post office to get our resupply boxes. We had an amazing burger dinner at Spelunker’s. The burgers are ground on-site, the buns are baked fresh everyday, and they are simply to die for – fast food speed and prices with quality burgers. Back at the hotel, we cleaned up and made our calls home, trying to relax in the process.
Day 101 – US-522/Front Royal to Manassas Gap Shelter
We got up early to pack and grab breakfast, before catching the hotel shuttle back to the trail. It was a warm day, but a decent hike with a beautiful cloudless sky. We made it to Jim & Molly Denton Shelter by 1 and enjoyed lunch there, talking to a mom and her daughter out section hiking for two weeks. The afternoon was hot and humid, though. We arrived at an empty shelter around 5, and cooked dinner as it started to rain. Bookie wasn’t feeling well, saying she felt very light-headed and dizzy and wasn’t able to eat. She laid down for a bit, and felt better enough to finish her dinner and drink some water. I am guessing she is fighting dehydration issues, with the heat the way it’s been lately. Another hiker came in just after the rain stopped, around 7:30, and we had a lot of good conversation with him. It rained on and off all evening, so we just stayed in the shelter.
Day 102 – Manassas Gap Shelter to Morgan Mill Stream campsite
I was able to get decent sleep last night, which helped. It rained on and off all night, and we slept in, since we were really tired. The trail was really muddy and slippery but the clouds gradually cleared to a nice day. We stopped at Dome shelter by 11, took lunch at a random bench on a hilltop, and stopped at Rod Hollow Shelter around 3:45. We decided to push the first two hills of the roller coaster, to lessen tomorrow’s pain and still made camp by 6:30. We set up camp and cooked dinner as darkness fell. It was a long day, but a good one, too. My knee hurt a little all day but really spiked during first big hill of the roller coaster. I am a little worried about tomorrow.
Day 103 – Morgan Mill Stream campsite to Blackburn AT Center
We made sure we were up early and on trail as soon as we could, to start tackling the roller coaster before it got too hot. And it was not an easy task! We took a short break at Sam Moore Shelter, and then passed the 1,000 mile marker! My knee was really hurting today, especially on the downhills. We stopped for lunch at Bears Den Rocks, which let the knees rest some. Shortly after lunch, we crossed into West Virginia – goodbye VA!! My knee got worse as the day progressed, and was giving me shooting pains up and down my whole leg by the time we got to the Blackburn AT Center at 7. Most definitely the most painful day I’ve had on trail yet. When we tried to check in with the caretaker, we were told there was a meeting of Ridge Runners taking place, and that there was leftovers, if we were interested. Umm, thru hikers are the human version of garbage disposals! He offered us a soda and a plate and we piled the food on. Such an unexpected gift! We stayed in the “hiker cabin”, a rustic cabin with some bunks in it. While there are no amenities, it was dry, and had windows with screens so we had a breeze with minimal bugs. Great accommodations in my book!
I hope you’ve enjoyed following my posts. I know I am really far behind in them, but if you’d like to stay more “up to date” with where I am, follow me on social media – Instagram and Facebook are usually the most current. Thank you for your continued support and encouragement as I push through the final miles and complete this hike! And remember to always Spin the Compass!
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