Family backpacking weekend
My family came to visit us on the AT over Father’s Day weekend! I’m excited to share the weekend with you all from the perspective of my mom, Carolyn. Mom, thanks for coming to visit us, for being a trooper on your first backpacking trip, and for being our guest author. I love you! – Pepper
If you’ve read Kara & Nick’s blog – you will have seen that she has closes her blog entry with a section called Expectation vs Realty. Thought I’d share my 3 day AT Adventure from that same perspective, or maybe mine would be better stated as “The Plan vs Reality.”
The “Plan” was to backpack/hike with our packs fully stocked with a sleeping bag, sleeping pad, tent, minimal clothing, 3-days worth of food, toiletries such as sunscreen, toothpaste & toothbrush, chapstick & a mini deodorant.
Brian & I left early Thursday morning June 17 planning to drive directly to IAD airport to pick up Jason. His plane was delayed at MDW Chicago so we opted to go directly to Front Royal where we had reservations at The Mountain Home B&B to meet Kara & Nick who had arrived earlier to shower and do laundry. We unloaded the car and immediately went in search of food & beverages for our two hungry hikers. For those of you who don’t know – Nick has dropped around 30 pounds since he began the Trek back on April 6. They chose the local Front Royal Brewing Company which was known to cater to Thru-Hikers by offering a BOGO free pint 🍻. We met several of their friends – Ninja, Tapper and Easy-E – all happily eating, drinking and enjoying a respite from the hot weather outside.
The 4 of us then loaded into the Equinox to go grab Jason at the airport. I was now a Happy Momma – sitting in the backseat between my two kiddos- a sweet place to be smiling all the way to the grocery store to stock up on items we would need to sleep in the woods for 2 nights and 3 days. After dropping $200 – it was time to eat and drink again. The kids chose the Melting Pot Pizza place – we ordered 2 large meat covered pizzas and several pitchers of beer 🍺 of which EVERYTHING was fully consumed.
We returned to the B&B to now begin the arduous task of packing a Backpack. Kara was very patient with us as she taught and explained how to do it and why we couldn’t bring though “few items” we thought we’d need – after all – they were small and not that heavy. I never did weigh my pack – but I’m guessing it was at least 25 pounds. I was seriously starting to have doubt at this point – but had made up my mind to not complain and to enjoy the experience. We went to bed late – 11:30 – and woke up early so we could all take our last shower and make it to breakfast at 7:30 with our amazing hosts Scott & Lisa at the B&B. We enjoyed their stories through breakfast hearing about the history of their home from the 1700s and savoring our home-cooked meal of pancakes, french toast and hot coffee.
It was finally time to go – we went outside – took a family picture – we were all smiles – then at 9:30 we began our trek to the AT.
It was uphill (seriously) for a good mile or two – maybe more. My heart was pumping. It was hard to have conversation. The plan was to hike 10.4 miles. Before the hike – privately I was thinking 10 miles seemed a bit too little. After all – I’ve run marathons. I’m in shape. I’m fit. I’m healthy!! Needless to say – at mile 8 I was counting down, praying I could finish the last 2.4 miles and that there would be no more downhill! My knees and ankles had been rattled and jostled, my toes were blistered and going numb.
We made it to the Manassas Gap campsite around 4:30. We set up our tent. I immediately took off my shoes and socks and put on my sandals- walked to the spring and began the first of many treks that evening down to spring to soak my battered feet. It felt SO GOOD to have that cold water pouring over them.
The plan was to walk 13+ miles the next day – and I was seriously wondering if that was going to happen. We enjoyed a fun & beautiful evening together eating dinner, telling stories, laughing, and meeting several hikers who were settling in at the same shelter for the night – Obi-Wan, Nocs (for binoculars) White Cap, & Gretchen. We headed off to bed about 8:30 as rumor had that a big storm system was heading our way and we’d need to get up early to hopefully out pace the storm which was supposed to hit at 2pm.
I dipped my toes two more times in the spring, put on my shoes and socks, and our team of 5 were on our way at 8am. The plan was to hike the first 10 miles – check the weather – then make a decision on what to do next in the event of the storm. Nick’s dad had also sent him a text telling him about the severity- so needless to say – I was a bit worried about hiking over slippery rocks in a thunderstorm when it was hard enough to hike over dry rocks!
Thankfully- the day 2 hike was much gentler on our feet than the previous day – so we actually completed the 10 miles by 12:15. The storm was still on the radar to hit at 2pm – so Brian, Jason & I opted to hire a driver to take us back to the B&B in Front Royal to get our car, and Kara and Nick were going to continue on without their packs (called Slack-Packing) for an additional 13 miles through an area called the Roller Coaster. This is also where they hit the 1000 mile marker!!
The 3 of us made the decision at this point to also get a hotel for night. This is the place in the story when we deviated from the plan – thank goodness! We found a hotel in Charles Town WV, showered, napped, and treated our toes with moleskin. Kara & Nick said they’d be hiking out around 6:15 at Snickers Gap VA, and to pick them up and to bring their “clean” clothing – which really means just a little bit less stinky than their hiking clothing 😂. We also learned that communication travels up and down the trail just like days from 100 years ago – and that Snickers Gap, which is just 1/2 mile off the AT is a great area known for lots of Craft Breweries and Restaurants. We chose Bear Chase Brewing, called my cousins Mike & Cindy to join us, who happen to live nearby, and had another fabulous evening out on the huge backyard of this beautiful brew house. Another thru-hiking friend Cy joined us and we spent several hours sharing more stories together.
Sunday morning, which was also Father’s Day and our Anniversary rolled around a bit too early so we requested a noon checkout so Jason & Nick could enjoy the hotel hot tub, and we also hung out in the free breakfast area, again meeting a different hiker friend, Craig, who had just finished his hike of thru-hiking the State of Virginia in 32 days. He had been in a group of 7 people, and he was the only one who finished! His wife, 3 adult children and several grandchildren will all there to celebrate with him. He was on Cloud 9. Recently retired from the mining business, he was beginning his new life with a grand adventure!
The plan today was for Brian & Jason to continue hiking with Kara & Nick. At 12:30 and already 91 degrees in the shade, it was going to be a hot hike from Snickers Gap through the remaining 3 Roller Coaster miles and an additional 4, while I as their shuttle driver, opted to hang out in a beautiful small town called Purcellville. I was asked to pick up the hikers at 3:15 anticipating a quicker hike as they were all slack packing today since I could keep the packs in the car with me.
Two things went wrong here. The pin drop I was provided as the pickup location was up a one-mile stretch of unmaintained road and me and the Equinox weren’t brave enough to challenge the road. Cell service out in these areas are spotty at best as I was attempting to call any one of the 4 who would answer. Turned out Brian and Nick weren’t even carrying their phone. Kara did finally answer as I explained my predicament. She also informed me the terrain had been rocky and challenging and their estimated finish time was closer to 4:30, which now was going to include an extra 1 mile walk down a steep hill. Thankfully they found me waiting at the bottom with cold beer in the cooler. Hopefully it helped eased some of their pain.
It was time to celebrate again – and off to Monks BBQ we went, waiting in line with all the other Dad’s celebrating Father’s Day. It turned out to be worth the wait – the beer was cold and the BBQ was outstanding. Nick enjoyed a full rack of ribs that he shared with us all – it was fall of the bone delicious! From there we went to the Tipped Cow for ice cream.
Kara and Nick, very much enjoying this new luxurious lifestyle, decided rather than going back to the trail – as the “plan” had been to say our goodbyes, and the three of us head toward Dulles to load Jason back on the plane early Monday morning, they’d like one more shower and a night in a bed. So off the five of us went to the Holiday Inn.
We said our goodbyes to Jason as he left on the 5 am airport shuttle, and then all went back to sleep until 8am.
Kara and Nick had their farewell breakfast and we left the hotel around 9:30.
Brian, being much braver than I, did manage to get the Equinox up the one-mile of up-hill stretch of road to Nick and Kara’s delight – and there we left them – 10 miles from Harper’s Ferry as they trekked into their 5th state of West Virginia (only 9 states to go)!
Brian and I are now on our way back home with big smiles on our faces and a whole new level of respect for what Kara and Nick have accomplished. Plus how often does a Mom get to spend three 24/7s with their adult children. These last few days will seriously be remembered as the BEST of TIMES 🥰
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