Hiking with Family (5/15, 5/16, 5/17)
Day 79, 5/15: Rocky Run shelter -> Raven Rock shelter (20.6 miles)
I didn’t sleep well on the shelter floor. Louis and I shared his earbuds and listened to music as we fell asleep so I didn’t hear the mice last night, but sleeping on the floor was uncomfortable. I woke up sore and not well rested. It’s been a while since I’ve slept in the shelters (not in a hammock) and I don’t miss it.
We made breakfast and I enjoyed the time with Louis. We packed up and were on the trail by 7:45. It was a short 2 mile hike to his car, and we stopped 0.2 miles before at a campground to use the bathrooms. We found my mom sitting on a rock waiting for us. We got to Louis’s car and my mom resupplied her food and left. Louis and I sat in his car for an hour, talking, enjoying each other’s company. It’ll be 6 weeks before we see each other again.
Louis and I said goodbye and I hiked up the trail, glad to be hiking at my own pace. It was nice hiking with Louis and my mom, but I also missed the peaceful solitude of hiking alone. I passed Chick-Fil-A and his dad, who were planning to go into town to dump some gear. I stopped for a photo at the Washington Monument on the trail.
I crossed over the highway and watched the cars zoom by. It didn’t take long to get to the shelter, and I found the hiker I was leapfrogging with. He’s on his second year of section hiking. He talked about blowing his whistle because he heard grunting noises outside his tent last night, so I named him Whistle.
I gave my mom instructions to stop at the shelter for lunch but once she was done to move on and not wait for me. I went to get water from the nearby piped spring and found my mom sitting on a rock. She had just finished washing her hair and was eating lunch. We finished lunch together and hiked out. I told her where to get water (it was far away at the shelter) and told her to try and hike fast to make it to the shelter before dark.
The day was mostly flat but had stretches of large rocks to climb over. Those were painful to navigate. We had a few stream crossings but I found rocks to hop across instead of taking off my shoes. I left my mom signs in the dirt and on rocks about which direction to take when it got confusing. The last mile before the shelter was a steep climb, and I stopped halfway up to get water from the cascades and carry 2 extra liters in my dirty bag for the next day. I left my mom a note in sticks so she wouldn’t miss it.
It was a painful remaining climb with 2 extra liters of water, but I finally got to the shelter at 7:50 and was relieved. I expected my mom to show up soon, so I hung my hammock between 2 trees and got food out to cook. When she didn’t show at 8:20, I started to get worried, so I took my headlamp and started hiking south to find her. I figured I’d find her 1/4 mile or so down the trail. I made it all the way down the mountain, a little over a mile, before I saw her headlamp. I was yelling “Marco!” and she responded with “Polo!”. She had just come from the road and couldn’t find the trail, so she was walking through the woods off trail when I found her.
It was getting dark quickly, so I took her pack and she carried the extra 2 L bag (which she had filled at the previous river). We made our way slowly up the mountain and finally got to the shelter at 9:30. Having my mom do 20 mile days right off the bat was obviously a mistake. We cooked, hung out bags on the cables, and decided to hang our hammocks in the upstairs part of the shelter since no one was sleeping there. There were 4 hikers in the bottom level. We ate dinner with our red lights, and it was late when we turned in.
Day 80, 5/16: Raven Rock shelter -> Tumbling Run shelter (13.2 miles)
Since we went to bed so late, I didn’t wake up until 8. Mom was already up drinking coffee, and had gotten both our food bags from the bear cables. I could tell she was proud for helping out. I started packing up and went down to eat my leftover mac and cheese I didn’t finish last night. Mom had just finished her coffee which she said was very strong, and said she felt sick. As I ate breakfast, I heard her go to the side of the shelter and throw up. I gave her a Zofran, and told her we should take a look at our hiking itinerary. Instead of trying to drag her along on 20 mile days and be miserable, I thought it’d be best to have her hike 4 miles to Pen Mar park and get a hotel. My dad was coming to join us in 3 days, and they could hike together at a slower pace which would be more enjoyable for them.
She felt a little better after the Zofran, and we started our 4 mile journey to Pen Mar. This particular journey was filled with rocks and steep descents. It was very slow going and hard on our knees. The trail was very poorly marked and we lost our way several times. Thank goodness for Guthooks. A few times the trail opened up into a field of rocks and it was near impossible to find which way to go. There were a few red flags in the ground which followed the trail and those were helpful. I stopped and made a reservation at a nearby hotel for mom, and after I hiked on, I found mom sitting on a rock because she lost the trail again.
We finally arrived at Pen Mar park, which is a huge, beautiful park with dozens of picnic benches. As we sat and ate lunch, a man pulled up and offered us a shuttle. Mom finished her lunch, we said goodbye, and she headed to the hotel. I texted Rash and Piñata, who were still 45 minutes away, so I headed on. I came to the Mason Dixon line (I renamed it the Mason Dixie line) and read the 4 state challenge entries in the log that was placed in a mailbox next to the sign.
The weather seemed to heat up so I shed some layers and put on shorts which were in the bottom of my pack. I wore my new no sleeve shirt for the first time and slathered on the sunscreen. It was a beautiful day, and I was listening to The Moth podcast and enjoying the hike. I stopped to get a bug out of my eye and thought I heard something behind me. It was Rash and Piñata! We hadn’t been apart for that long, but 2 days feels like an eternity when you spend every day and night together. I teased them that they smelled strongly like day hikers (laundry detergent). We stopped for water after the first shelter and continued on.
There were 3 shelters within 3-4 miles, and instead of going the 6.5 miles past them to the shelter we had planned on tonight, we camped at the last of the 3. It was after 5:00 when we got in, and if we pushed on we would’ve gotten in just before sunset. The shelters (2 of them) were in immaculate condition with a pavilion between them, lots of perfectly flat staked out tenting areas, a well marked and fast flowing stream, and a privy with nice toilet paper in it. It was a hiker’s dream shelter. We found a man tenting with his 4 month old pit bull puppy named Piglet who was so sweet, so we loved on her for a while. A man with a day pack walking a chocolate lab came by and said his family maintains this shelter, and since they live nearby they check on it almost daily.
Rash using his Goldfish bag for a pillow
We enjoyed a leisurely dinner. Rash made Mountain House mac and cheese but it turned out watery. I told him he couldn’t leave the (picnic) table until he drank the rest of his mac and cheese, and we decided those words had never been uttered together. Rash and I hung our hammocks while Piñata set up in the shelter, and we turned in before sunset.
Day 81, 5/17: Tumbling Run shelter shelter -> Birch Run shelter (19.6 miles)
I got up early, before 6:00am, and made breakfast. Rash and Piñata got up after me and followed suit. The man with his dog Piglet were already gone. We were trying to leave early to hike before it got too hot, then take a long break/nap during the hottest part of the day, and finish the hike afterwards. We said goodbye to the luxurious shelter and started up the steep climb. I hung back behind Rash and Piñata to hike on my own. I started in a long sleeved shirt and shorts, but I didn’t make it far up the hill before I had to put on the no sleeved shirt. The sun was barely up and it was already warm outside.
The morning hike was really enjoyable. It was warm but shaded enough where it wasn’t unbearable. The trail had a few areas of rocks but nothing like the past few days, and was mostly flat. I stopped 5 miles in, sat on a log, ate a Snickers, and texted Louis.
I had another 5 miles to a park and 2 after that to the shelter we were meeting for lunch. I struggled to get into a hiking groove when I met 2 ladies with 2 black labs going southbound who warned me of a huge snake up ahead. They said it had a diamond pattern and hissed at them but didn’t rattle. They weren’t sure what kind of snake it was but they said it was big and sitting on the side of the trail about 100 yards back. I was thrilled at the opportunity to see a cool snake, so I kept my eyes peeled. Unfortunately, the snake had already booked it after their encounter.
I met a nice grandfather, mother, and daughter family hiking with 2 adorable greyhounds. They lived nearby and hiked this area a lot. We talked about the upcoming ice cream half gallon challenge and they gave me tips on where to carry extra water. The little breaks talking to day hikers was nice.
I came to Caledonia park which the trail runs right through. I was really hoping there would be an ice cream truck or a gift shop with ice cream for sale, but I didn’t see any in the immediate vicinity. If an ice cream truck parked itself trailside during a hot day like today, they would make a killing. I sat at a picnic bench at the park for an hour, resting and trying to get the energy to hike the 2 miles to the shelter. I went to the water fountain by a pavilion which was broken, and a couple taking a walk told me there was water by the pool (a good ways across the park). I thanked them, and after they left, I took my Sawyer bag and filled up with water at the river running through the park, which was a mere 20 yards from my picnic bench.
I finally get the energy to move and climbed the hill to the shelter. It wasn’t even a big hill, it was just hot outside which made it seem 10x bigger. Before the shelter, I walked by a river under a rhododendron tunnel and it felt like walking into a house with AC on during the summer. It was glorious. The one issue is the bugs decided that was a good hangout spot too, so gnats were flying in my face. I got to the shelter and found Rash and Piñata asleep on their mats in one of the shelters.
The shelters were beautiful, and rivaled the Jim and Molly Denton shelter and Tumbling Run shelters. There were hanging baskets with purple pansies, a sundial, and remnants of daffodils and other landscaped plants. There were board games, a doodle book, and raised flat platforms for tents. The walkways were covered in the soft white and beige gravel found on playgrounds. The two shelters (becoming common in Pennsylvania) were sandwiching a covered pavillon with a tarp you could extend for wind. It felt like walking up to someone’s house rather than a shelter.
I hung my hammock under the shelter to get away from the bugs and rested. Just as we were packing up, a normal looking man not dressed like a hiker and smelling strongly of alcohol came up with a cute short dog named Smokey. Shortly after Van Grizzle showed up! He had to take some time off for shin splints and was taking it slow. We were excited to see him. The man with the dog offered us instant coffee which Van Grizzle accepted and the 4 of us hiked out together.
It was around 7 miles to the shelter, and Rash in the lead was booking it. We had a few steep short climbs, and I was barely able to keep up. Van Grizzle brought up the rear and we had a great time hiking and talking as a group. We came to a cabin (which faked me out thinking it was the shelter), and Van Grizzle stopped for water while we continued on.
We finally got to the shelter and immediately got water at the stream. I was pouring sweat up the climbs and I was dead tired. Rash and Piñata have 1 L bags since their 2 L bags sprung leaks and that’s what they’re using for the time being, so they stayed at the stream longer to filter both bottles. Back at the shelter we made dinner and were interviewed by Crazy Tree for his YouTube channel. There was a previous thru hiker from 2012, Nomad, who was section hiking the north half of the trail again. We talked with him at length about the trail, and then Rash and I went to our hammocks. Piñata, who initially was going to join our hammock party, took it down at the last minute and decided to stay in the shelter.
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