Shenandoah Bears Hike Sobo
A local volunteer named Miss Lady drove Pumpkin Butt and me back to the trailhead and immediately the Shenandoah National Park (SNP) was smooth hiking. I covered 20.1 miles to Blackrock Hut. Though beautiful in sections, weaving over the ridgeline above scenic Virginia, the SNP trail intersected the famous Skyline Drive road every two miles, making me feel very much not in the wilderness. In fact it became a joke reading the “Caution: You are now entering backcountry” signs ten times a day. But still beautiful.
At Blackrock Hut (they call shelters “huts” here) I attempted to help an older Russian traveler fill out his SNP camping permit. The man spoke almost no English at all, so it was tough going. Eager to test out my new chess set, I asked if anyone wanted to play, eyeing my new Russian friend. He jumped at the opportunity, I think, without English, having had limited interactions for a while, and despite not having played in 30 years I could tell from the opening that he knew the game. An epic 2.5 hours later we ended in a stalemate (I was up a bishop and a pawn, but the wrong ones to end the game). Both of us were thrilled to have played such a great match; he shook my hand, said thank you, and had Hawk take our picture. The whole experience made me absurdly happy.
Day 70 I covered 21.4 miles, feeling strong. I ordered some ice cream and a barbeque sandwich from one of the Wayside restaurants all along Skyline Drive. Did I mention the SNP didn’t feel much like the wilderness?
Day 71 I lazed around in my tent until noon. Just one of those days. However I still managed to cover 18.4 miles before nightfall, setting up camp in a secluded patch of mossy forest, the cars humming faintly beyond the hill.
The next day I stopped for coffee at Skyline Resort, called my mom and talked with Copperhead there. That night the shelter happened to be teaming with good company. Firestarter was there along with Hawk, Obselete, Caboose, Copperhead, 5 (another 5, this one a guy), a German named Ravioli, a retired couple cruising the country in an RV, and a couple hiking 400 miles with a year-old baby! My harmonica playing was well received.
Day 73 I stopped at another Wayside, but rather than buy an expensive sandwich I proposed to Pumpkin Butt that we split a carton of eggs and spam and I scramble them on my stove. Turns out twelve eggs fit in my pot at once. Delicious.
I hiked with Pumpkin Butt a ways and learned about the time he spent in Kiribati teaching Kiribatese as a part of his LDS mission.
Not long after I left him I turned a corner and gasped, and as I gasped a full grown black bear walking down the trail looked me in the eyes and leaped into the brush. Finally I’d seen a bear! And it turns out they’re SOBO. Who knew? I also realized my daydreams about fighting off a blackbear with my walking stick were highly inacurrate.
Another 20.1 miles and I camped on Compton Peak.
And just like that the next morning I was out of the Shenandoahs. I resupplied in Front Royal, VA, charged my phone at McDonald’s, and spent a fruitless hour hunting isobutane fuel for my camp stove. I resigned to cooking on fires for a few days.
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