Intro to Virginia – People Are Awesome
Northern Virginia (Sept. 21 – Oct. 3)
219 miles, 13 days (The Roller Coaster to Glasgow)
Reminding you of my last post, which hosted eight consecutive, glorious nights of sleeping in Josie’s bed at the Wades’ house (thanks again, Josie!), the hurricane closure was over, and I officially was recovered from stomach nastiness and able to walk without pit-stopping every five minutes and headed back to trail…
The Roller Coaster
The Roller Coaster is how Virginia was introduced. It’s at least a 13-mile section of PUDS (pointless ups and downs). This term was introduced to me many miles back, but until the Roller Coaster I thought it to be irrelevant, because most ups are in someway rewarding. On the Roller Coaster they were agreeably pointless. They had no views due to tree cover and were pretty steep climbs. Up and down I went, with Dreamer probably a few miles ahead and Sun Chaser long gone. Sun Chaser left the Wades’ house a day earlier because he felt fine, as it was just me with my head in the toilet. I think it may be the last I see of Sun Chaser because he is at least 50 miles ahead at this point, but you never know.
Finishing off the Roller Coaster was a relief, but it’s the little sections like these that you look forward to—otherwise it’s just a 2,190-mile trail that would probably feel never-ending. Dreamer and I camped at a shelter and met Gizmo, a flip-flopper. Flip-floppers are mostly known to start in Harpers Ferry and hike north to Katahdin as a NOBO, then flip back to Harpers Ferry and hike south to Springer with the rest of the SOBOs. This is where I began to meet quite a few flip-floppers as well as more SOBOs.
The second day reentering the woods was refreshing. As much as I appreciated the bed, I was sure ready to be back roughing it on trail—dirty, smelly, and high on endorphins. Dreamer and I had an idea of doing 28 miles but that was cut short to 24 when we ran into Rabbit from South Korea, who was slackpacking while his girlfriend was at the hostel. We hadn’t seen him for a couple hundred miles, so we went back with him to where he was staying at a donation-based hostel called Wonderland Hiker Refuge. As much as I did want to be back on the trail in my tent, we couldn’t pass it up, so after a couple of beers and a night of good company, I mentally prepared myself to say no to anything else that may persuade me off trail.
It poured hard that night, and then it was noon—still at Wonderland Hiker Refuge–by the time we realized it wasn’t going to stop raining. Rabbit, plus his girlfriend, and Dreamer and I headed out in the rain (which happens more often than not these days) and set off for a shelter 13.5 miles away. We passed it by a mile and a half and had to backtrack. That was fun… not. Rabbit didn’t show (since his girlfriend has been visiting from South Korea his mileage has taken a hit) but I hope he catches up at some point.
It rained the next day, because that’s just to be expected, which meant the first day in Shenandoah National Park hosted no viewpoints. We walked all day in a foggy haze. Dreamer did at least, while I took a three-hour break in a really nice bathroom drying my soggy map and gloves under the hand dryer. The nice thing about official parks (besides the upkeep of the park) is the comfort of actual bathrooms and other amenities, such as lodging and accessible food. Real people pay money to stay in beds, and I’m convinced their entertainment comes from watching thru-hikers walk by, staring longingly at the idea of staying a night in such a place. The food buildings are always a nice sight because food is life. On this particular rainy morning we had a couple buy us some egg sandwiches, which were engulfed in seconds. I was sitting there on the bathroom floor in my sleeping bag that afternoon, but after three hours my guilty conscience got to me and I headed back out to walk in constant mist to a shelter, only to hear mice pitter-pattering around. I’m fairly certain one ran across me while I was asleep. The next day was the same; rainy and cold. We hung out at Skyland lodge to get a break from the weather and I bought two sandwiches to eat, conversing with normal people regarding this abnormal thing that is thru-hiking. We set up our tents in the dark, right by the lodge, and hoped we wouldn’t wake to rangers sticking us with fines. We planning to wake before dawn and pack up, and luckily we followed through with this plan, packing up in time to cause no trouble.
My Mom Visits Again
We were supposed to be doing bigger miles but weren’t because we had apparently turned into wusses in the rainy/cold days that seemed there to stay. My mom and her friend Cheryl had driven down from Canada to visit my brother who lives in Nashville, so they decided to drop in on the way back north (sort of on the way). Dreamer and I hitchhiked out of the park and met them in Harrisonburg. Our hitch was in a Range Rover, which was cool, and we then downgraded to a city bus in attempt to get to the hotel. We took the wrong bus, so we didn’t make it to the hotel. The idea was to meet them there, shower, and go out to eat. Instead, we met them at the Olive Garden (a nice restaurant that clean people go to when they want to enjoy a night out) and hoped for the best. Dreamer put his rain pants on over his short shorts in attempt to blend in, and I donned my vest, thinking it may help with the hiker stench. Sorry, everyone! The food was amazing and it was great to see my mom again, almost as fun as it was to see Cheryl’s reaction to our smell. My mom had the pleasure of familiarizing herself with the thru-hiker scent when she visited in August, so instead of making Cheryl pass out she put us up in the next room. Thanks, mom! She also brought me my MEC rain jacket, because it was warmer than the one I’d been using lately, and I added a Patagonia fleece back to my pack weight. After a filling continental hotel breakfast we piled into Cheryl’s two-door BMW (windows stayed open even though it was raining) and waved goodbye at the trailhead, heading back in to finish off the Shenandoahs.
Back in the Shenandoahs
I talk about rain a lot but where are all the rainy photos? I’d prefer not to ruin my phone by pulling it out in the rain so you’ll have to take my word for it. It rained again all day so when we arrived at a general store in the park that also had a laundry room, we weren’t too keen on leaving the roof over our heads. Holed up in there were Field Trip and Penny (the dog), whom I’ve been seen a lot of lately, a new face named Dandelion, and Turtle Man and Hummingbird, whom I met when I was sick and lying in the middle of the trail a few days earlier. The meeting was different this time as we all purchased a few beers and spent the night in the warm laundry room.
It rained all night but stopped for us in the morning. About time! Apparently a park ranger was on their way because sleeping there was prohibited, so we all went on our merry way in the promising sunshine.
The Shenandoahs turned out to be beautiful and I’ve made a mental note to come back one day. The park is huge and has a road winding throughout, with lookouts every few miles. It’s beautiful when the weather is nice—who’d have thunk it. Twenty-two miles of pretty views and a nice sunset later, we found ourselves cowboy camping (sleeping without a tent) in a parking lot. It was a clear sky and the stars were our for us—even some shooting ones.
I learned a valuable lesson that night… dew is a thing to be feared. With no tree coverage and maybe a high humidity, I woke up in the night and the outside of my sleeping bag was wet. I went back to sleep pretending I’d wake up and it would be dry. Unsurprisingly, it wasn’t. It progressively soaked overnight as well as all my other belongings. Thank goodness it was a mere four miles down the trail to Waynesboro, where I could dry the down feathers. Sleeping bags can be easily ruined, and the last thing you’d want is a sleeping bag that doesn’t retain heat anymore. Nearly three months out here and I’m still learning things.
Waynesboro is a well-known trail town among hikers. Its main attraction is Mings, an all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet. It opened at 11 so we wanted to be there then, fresh as can be, starved as usual. First things first. The YMCA let me throw my sleeping bag in the dryer and I waited around the corner at the town library. Blogs are easy to fall behind on so in trying to keep up with these I’ve made libraries a must-see in most towns I’m in. Once those duties were done and 11 o’clock came, we went to devour the legendary buffet at Ming. We didn’t eat to where we couldn’t walk—because walking afterwards is what we had planned—but we sure ate a lot. I don’t think they profit much from hikers.
Next stop was the grocery store to resupply before getting back on trail. We took so long there that we decided to camp there in town. After a while of unsuccessful wandering we found ourselves at Basic City Beer just down the road from Ming. They let hikers shower and camp out back free of charge. To my excitement they had a ping-pong table. Dreamer and I had been on the lookout for one, each thinking the other would win. In case you were wondering, and in case you weren’t, I won. I’m a huge fan of this brewery, so if you’re around Waynesboro, check it out. The beer was great and the food looked good. Brewery food is usually pricey so I ate a jar of peanut butter out back in my tent and called it a night. Four-mile day; how did that happen?
Devils Backbone Detour
Remember how I mentioned mentally preparing myself to say no to anything coming up that would tempt me off trail/to spend money? Ha ha, I am so funny to think that was possible.
Dreamer and I left Waynesboro intending on passing right by Devils Backbone Brewery because it was only 12 miles down the trail and personally, I wanted to save my money as well as crush a few more miles. I was totally prepared to pass up this wel- known trail tradition… but then Woody happened.
She was out for the day, running down the trail for some casual exercise in our direction and I stopped to give her space to run on by because thru-hiking is hard, but trail-running I imagine to be harder. She stopped to talk to Dreamer and me, explaining she thru-hiked last year, hence her trail name Woody. She was so nice to talk to, someone who was exactly in our shoes this time last year. She reminded us that Devils Backbone was coming right up but we mentioned our sad little budgets and we talked some more.
Coming out of the trail where the road leads to Devils Backbone, we found a bag hanging on a sign with our names on it. The bag contained snacks that any thru-hiker would appreciate, plus $30 with a note where among other writing read, “Enjoy the snacks and hopefully no one has stolen the $, I demand that you use it for fun!” – Woody
That was that. On we hitched to Devils Backbone. Many thanks to Woody for getting us to check out this tradition. The food was delicious! We found a SOBO gathering of Hummingbird, Turtle Man, Dandelion, Redwood and Hazmat. We all tented (free again) out back of the brewery and I crashed early, falling asleep to familiar sounds of a group of friends drinking around a campfire. We all had a $5 hiker breakfast in the morning and shuttled back to the trailhead. The brewery is super hiker-friendly!
The Blue Ridge Mountains
Blue Ridge Parkway was like Skyline Drive in the way that it weaved through the Blue Ridge Mountains. It’s a popular road because it’s so scenic, especially for motorcycles! Hint: It’s faster to bike through than it is to walk.
The rain actually held off for us as we walked along the ridges and up Priest Mountain. It was a constant climb, with elevation gain that I hadn’t felt since New Hampshire or Vermont. It was hard, but the climb was made easier thanks to Bill and Christina, whom I met in the parking lot right at the base of the mountain. They’re from the area, taking some time off to camp, and they had everything in their car. They love thru-hikers and helping out wherever they can, therefore, whatever I could fit in my pack—they wanted me to take. Energy-boosting snacks like dates, apricots, chocolates, peanut butter… packed. They even had me chugging water to keep hydrated. Christina broke out a bottle of wine and poured some into the water bottle I’d emptied, explaining how good it would taste at the top. They were so kind! Summiting the Priest was rewarding and I was asleep early in anticipation of a potential sunrise.
Sure enough, the sun rose without any cloud coverage. Hummingbird, Turtle Man, Craig, Dreamer, and I watched the fog roll in and out as the day got increasingly brighter and it was time to pack up and get walking. A mile to a shelter for the daily coffee break, where we found Redwood, Hazmat, and Dandelion. Sadly, I haven’t seen any of them since as they are somewhere behind, but happy trails to you guys. It’s comforting to know there are groups of caring people in every which way, it seems.
These days I’ve been looking more homeless than ever, with river-washed laundry constantly drying on the outside of my pack. At one point I passed a woman trying desperately to find reception to contact her husband. When I got to a dirt road I met the husband waiting to surprise her. His name is Gabe and he was fully stocked with anything a hiker could need/want. He even had a bag of McDonald’s, and I washed down a couple McChicken and McNuggets with a few wine spritzers. I sat and talked and watched the surprise across her face when she saw him, and that had me flying 22 miles (in on and off rain) up and down to where Dreamer and I camped.
Just a thing about trail magic here… we hikers really appreciate it. We don’t expect it because why should we be given things over another person, but we are ever so grateful – trust me!!!
I had a package of food at the post office in Glasgow 20 miles away, so when I woke up, I knew I had to book it. With my food bag completely empty, my pack felt light, and the trail was downhill, so I took advantage of it and I ran like the wind. When I got to the road leading into Glasgow I was fortunate enough to be picked up by a big white van containing paint. She was a painter, and paint is all I could smell—a welcome smell from myself. I got to the post office with time to spare, and when Dreamer showed up we decided to stay in the shelter that was actually right in the middle of town. Glasgow was a funny little place with one restaurant, a gas station, and a general store.
And that’s the story of the last 219 miles, in so many words. Quite a few words, as it’s my longest post yet. I try to keep them short and only point out the major details, but Virginia seems to be built on small details and kind gestures. As for the rest of Virginia, we will see…
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