Feasts, Felines, and Formidable Climbs in Northern VA on the AT

As a foreword, I wrote all of these journal entries at the time they took place on trail, but I fell behind on keeping up with the blog. The date listed at the top of this page is the publishing date and does not correspond to my current location on trail. I’ll be upping the number of days listed as well to better catch up.

Day 50

The famed Blue Ridge Parkway

I woke up today finally not in pain, just a bit sore. I made the call to Anna that I was good to roll, so after our sad Super 8 breakfast, we packed up our things and hit the trail. Right off the bat, the trail was absolutely gorgeous, mostly flat, and incredibly soft underfoot. Also of note, most of the trees had finally leafed out, so we were finally out of the sun and into the green tunnel! We had a few gently sloping climbs as we wove alongside the Blue Ridge Mountains Parkway, but it was gorgeous and we had perfect weather. In the early evening, we stopped briefly at Bobbits Creek shelter for dinner, and then cranked out another 4ish miles to take advantage of the day, and to catch up to The Alchemist and The Masochist. We both agreed that today was probably the nicest day, weather wise, that either of us had experienced on trail!

Day 51

The Bryant Ridge Shelter

After a lovely Benadryl coma sleep, Anna and I started early at 6am and cranked out an easy, but slow 3mi to the next shelter, where we had breakfast. We made sure to warm up slowly and to stretch in an attempt to help with my IT band. The shelter (and every shelter we’ve seen in this section) had an absolutely gorgeous privy, that was remarkably graffiti-free! We then moved on, and completed our first climb for the day, before stopping for lunch at Bryant Ridge shelter, which was easily the nicest shelter we’ve encountered so far. We then took our time up the large, 2500ft climb, admired the very awesome dual-pole doppler weather radar and the guillotine rock formation, before sliding into camp at Thunder Hill shelter. Originally, we were going to press further after dinner, but due to the cold temps, running into familiar faces in camp, and a lack of stealth sites ahead, we called it a day and made plans to depart early. We’re looking forward to catching the Alchemist and the Masochist tomorrow who will pick up our resupplies for us!

Day 52

The James River Footbridge where we reunited with Masochist on the opposite end

Anna and I awoke early, but because of the cold, we ended up not rolling out until 7ish. We quickly knocked out our only climb for the day and completed a quick 5mi. We stopped for a quick break, and I noticed that my bites/rash were itching more than usual. I tried to ignore it and powered on as we had planned to meet the Masochist and the Alchemist 15mi away at 2pm. Along the way, we got a text that the Alchemist was hoping off trail for a few weeks to deal with some unfortunate water damage back at his house. Around the same time, it finally started to warm up, so Anna and I increased our pace. I noticed she seemed to be quieter than usual, so I gave her a short “guest lecture” on thunderstorms and basic meteorology, and we quickly knocked out another 6 or so miles. By now, we had reached our long downhill, so we quickly hoofed it down to the river where we met up with the Masochist, who brought us our resupplies and fresh subs from a restaurant! It was around now that my itching became unbearable, so I ripped off my sun hoodie to the sight of tons of new bumps! Out of desperation, I coated myself up in picaridin, and trudged on. We called it early after another 3mi, as the ridgeline ahead had no water for 9ish miles. Hopefully, we can knock out the ridgeline, and the following climb tomorrow which would leave us only 1 more climb before our break in Charlottesville at my friend Katie’s house. I may have to stop into a different town though to address my bites/welts if they keep spreading. Fingers crossed I can get this annoyance sorted out!

Day 53

A happy Masochist after a tough day

We woke up early at Johns Hollow Shelter to crest the first of our major climbs. I was in a bit of a Benadryl coma at first, so packing up took longer than planned. That being said, we made up our first 2000ft+ climb in a little over an hour and managed to catch the trailing edge of golden hour. We then hit the peak and ran into Taylor and a few other hikers we knew, before descending down into the valley between ridgelines. Unfortunately, the downhill ended up being a large mix of up and downhill, so it was easier said than done. Along the way, we passed a gorgeous lake and the remnants of an old Freedman settlement of sharecroppers, which was pretty incredible to witness. We then took one more break before slogging up our last, nearly 3000ft climb of the day to Bald Knob. I was dragging, so I put on some podcasts to help zone out. Finally, we rolled into Cow Camp Gap shelter, which we had all to ourselves! Most likely due to it being .5 mi off trail and downhill. It may rain tomorrow, but fingers crossed it holds out until it gets warmer. Also, hopefully we’ll have less elevation to tackle tomorrow as the nearly 8000ft up and 5000ft down killed me.

Day 54

Instigator and I happy with the knowledge that we’ll soon get town food

When we checked the weather forecast this morning, the quantity of rain had increased to 2in or more tomorrow, and an inch or more tonight, so we made the call to hop off at the VA 56 gap and catch a ride into Waynesboro. We started slowly due to being completely beat up from the day before, but after we finished off the summit of the first climb, we had fairly easy terrain. Unfortunately, Anna’s feet were pretty beat up though, so she was having a tough time of it. At lunch, we stopped off at a shelter and ran into Near Miss, Sriracha, Troy, and the boys. They were also hopping off at the same gap and staying at a hostel there. We talked roughly about plans and decided that we would all hit up the local Buffalo Wild Wings for half price boneless wing night. That being said, my group still didn’t have transportation lined up. At the next shelter after that, the famed Priest Shelter, we stopped off to have a break and to sort out our evening as there was finally reception. We ran into Near Miss again, and he called his shuttle and managed to add us to the list of riders! We then hustled down the 3000ft downhill before the storm hit, and we were whisked away to town. After checking in to our Super 8, we met up with everyone at BWW and had a great time. Apparently Near Miss has a ton of points saved there, so he ended up covering most of our order! Troy also refused to let us pay for the shuttle as well. Once again, incredibly kind people had taken care of us, and I am infinitely grateful for their generosity! Post dinner, we rolled through Walmart to kill time, and then returned to our hotel and watched the Martian. Anna had been wanting to have a movie night, but she fell asleep halfway through. Masochist and I enjoyed the whole thing though! Also of note, Anna finally got a trail name! She is the “Instigator.”

Day 55

Katie treating us to ice cream!

Today was amazing! We started off by sleeping in, and then Masochist left to go make the rounds at various hotel breakfasts. Instigator and I had coffee and hot chocolate in bed (respectively), before braving the heavy rain to hit up the nearby Waffle House. After our early breakfast, we watched MASH and napped at the hotel, before we checked out and headed over to the Walmart again to do our food resupply and to kill time. My friend Katie, from college, lives in nearby Charlottesville and she was coming to grab us later in the day. After Walmart, we refilled our Fireball stash, and I had a second breakfast at Sonic. A bit after this, Katie arrived and drove us around town to complete a few more tasks. I finally got new shorts that didn’t have a hole in them, Instigator bought new shoes that wouldn’t destroy her feet, and we bought food to cook a family dinner. At one point while running errands, some college kids boxed Katie’s car in, which was incredibly frustrating to navigate, but we ended up being able to resolve it. Masochist, Instigator, and I then made blackened salmon with roasted potatoes and carrots for dinner, which was absolutely fantastic. We then all passed out, as it was way past hiker midnight!

Day 56

Masochist and his new best friend, Patty

We started the day early because we needed to drop Katie off at work as she was kindly loaning us her car for the day. After we dropped her off, we began our day of gluttony by first ordering multiple bagel sandwiches for breakfast. From there, we drove around town for a bit before returning to Katie’s house and exploring the surrounding area on foot. Of note, we received free kombucha from a local outfitter (which Masochist said smelled like pee), Anna thrifted/second handed an outfit for our evening plans, and I secured a half gallon of Texas Blue Bell dutch chocolate from a local grocery store! From there, Masochist and I took Instigator to her first ever Raising Cane’s, which was the first fast food we introduced her to that she actually liked! We then swung by and picked up Katie, and returned to her house where I polished off the rest of the half gallon. That night, we all collectively made a large chicken taco spread, and Katie’s friends came over. We were introduced to the infuriating games “Johnny Whoop” and “Big Blue Moon,” which were made all the more difficult by the fact that we were actively pregaming… After about an hour of being told “you’re completely wrong” we headed out to the “Big Gay Disco” at Umma’s for a night of dancing and fun. Funnily enough, this was Masochist’s first time at a bar and his first time at a dance party! We had a great time, but because we were on our hiking schedule, we were ready to pass out when we left around 10:30pm. Needless to say, I passed out as soon as we got back. 

Day 57

Saying goodbye and getting back on trail

After our big night out, we ended up sleeping in until 7am! I was awoken a few times throughout the night by Patty, Katie’s adorable and affectionate cat, but otherwise slept like the dead. We then dropped by the bagel shop to grab more breakfast sandwiches, and then returned to Katie’s to pack up. This ended up being a pivotal moment on the hike as I was swapping out my winter quilt and pad with my summer ones, but more importantly, Instigator and I were moving into my Durston X-Mid 2 Pro, from our respective Durston X-Mid 1 and 1 Pro! We had already discussed this previously and had mailed the gear to Katie in advance. Because of our gear swaps, we were both able to drop a couple of pounds, which made returning to the wet trail much more palatable after our fun weekend in town. Once we were done, we said our goodbyes to Pattie, and Katie very kindly drove us back to the trailhead in the middle of nowhere. From there, we crossed an awesome suspension bridge with a raging river underneath it (thanks to the recent heavy rain), and immediately started a tough climb, in normal Virginia fashion. The day then progressed on, business as usual, until we stopped at Maupin Field shelter for the night, where we ran into some familiar faces, Price is Right and Muskrat. The 3 of us were still pretty drained from the previous night, so we called it an early evening and hit the hay, with Instigator and I cozily tucked into our new 2-person home.

Day 58

Masochist taking a chance to hydrate before diving in for more punishment from Golden Corral.

We started the morning at Maupin Field shelter, with Instigator and I being a bit tired due to not pitching our shared tent on a flat spot. Blissfully, the temperature had dropped a bit since the day before, and the weather had blown off, so after a quick wakeup we hurried off, excited to reach Shenandoah today! We had a few tricky water crossings due to the recent heavy rain, but overall, it was a fairly easy section. We stopped off at the Paul Wolf shelter for a quick break, and I was able to easily pitch a quick Waynesboro trip just for dinner to Masochist and Instigator. It was a new month, so my credit card Uber credits had hit my account, and I was craving town food. As it was Masochist’s turn to choose, we ended up heading to Golden Corral. Instigator and I were not impressed by the food, but we both ate our share as we tried to recoup our $20 entry fee. Masochist, however, was absolutely in heaven. He ate 4 loaded dinner plates, 2 loaded dessert plates, and a huge bowl of ice cream! I was so entertained by his antics that I cried from laughing twice! After dinner, we grabbed 700 from a nearby hotel and ubered back to Rockfish Gap, where we hiked in a few miles until we found an abandoned forest road to throw our tents on. Instigator and I couldn’t get a decent pitch due to the slope and site size, so we did the best we could and passed out. Hopefully the tent doesn’t fall over!

Day 59

After our terrible night on the old abandoned forestry road, we woke up all a bit cranky and sleep deprived. It didn’t help that the tent had partially collapsed on Instigator and I, or that it was once again very windy and cold. We made a beeline to the nearest road crossing hoping that there would be a picnic table, but we were sadly let down. After that, we passed some porta potties in a field, and one had been blown over by the wind! From there, we made our way to the first shelter for a break, where I massively stubbed my toe on a rock, bad enough to cause it to bleed. After the unplanned extended break, we slowly made our way on to our target shelter. On top of my toe, Masochist was having horrible allergies, so spirits were a bit low. Thankfully, Instigator kept the conversation flowing to keep us going until we reached Blackrock Hut, which was our goal for the day. All of the tent spots were full at 5pm, so we thankfully found a few spots in the shelter. Not optimal due to it being full and next to a smokey fire, but it is what it is. I’ve been struggling to get enough sleep, so hopefully I’ll be able to get more than a few hours tonight. Also annoying is the lack of water and campsites in Shenandoah NP. It’s sort of like the Smokies where everyone is forced to cram into the shelters. We did see our pals, Slinky, Pinky, Scratchums, and Deets, which was a nice surprise. Hopefully we can hike with them more here!

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