Shenandoah! I Love You!
Shenandoah National Park was nothing less than spectacular. After getting back from Trail Days I did just as I promised myself I would do after McAfee Knob and start hiking for myself and not the group that I was in.
Two Days Before Shenandoah
This day was amazing. I had already told the friends that I was hiking with that I was going to start making some more individual decisions. After taking so much time off that weekend for trail days I had my sights on a big day but wasn’t sure what I was doing to do. I didn’t really like any of the shelter options. One felt too near and another was near the bottom of a 3000 foot climb. I hate camping at the bottom of large climbs because it takes me awhile to get going in the morning. I like to start with a leisurely pace and work my way up to the big stuff. The next shelter was at 28 miles, would incorporate the big climb, and I had never hiked that many miles in a day.
But I was feeling great. I had gotten new shoes in Damascus and the weather was great and my body was feeling good. I flew through the miles and didn’t even realize it. Before I knew it, it was 12:30 and I had done 15 miles. I started to feel like going the 28 was what I wanted. I ran into Splat at The Priest and she said she was feeling the same. We separated again for a bit and then I ran into her again at trail magic in the parking lot before the 3000 foot climb. We decided we’d push onto the 28 mile shelter together knowing that our other friends were likely staying at the shelter at the bottom. We tackled the climb together. It was long, rocky, and involved a bit of scrambling.
The day ended up being really fun. I got some amazing views and we met some new people on the trail that we hadn’t met before. I also saw my first on trail bear! It was cute and scurried away when he heard us.
One Day Before Shenandoah
20.8 miles to Waynesboro, VA
I saw my second bear on trail. This one was a bit larger and also less scared. He moved off the trail when he heard me coming but lingered close enough that I waited for a few people to catch up so we could pass by as a group instead of by myself. He pretty much couldn’t have cared less about us, though he did give the air a sniff, wanting my pop-tarts no doubt.
Because of the bigger mile day the day before we were able to make it into Waynesboro, VA a day earlier than we thought we would. This town was an amazing hiker town; I was blown away by the support they give thru-hikers. When we reached the trailhead there was a sign posted with the phone numbers of trail angels to call and get a ride to town. We ran into another hiker there and the three of us called a number on the list and the trail angel respond with, “I’ll be there in ten minutes.” Then, when he picked us up and we started to make conversation, we asked him if he had ever hiked the AT himself. Nope. As a matter of fact, he told us, he didn’t hike at all. Just not his thing. What? Then why does he take his time to drive thru-hikers around? Because it’s part of a town run volunteer program. Yup, that’s right. The town decided that the road from the trailhead to town was too busy and had too small of a shoulder that they didn’t find it safe for hikers to walk or hitch on it and incorporated giving hikers rides into a volunteer program.
We were driven to a small, well kept park that was specifically for AT thru-hikers to tent in. For free. It included posts for people that hammock instead of tent, and had a picnic table, porta potty, and garbage cans. It was around the corner from the YMCA, which has showers that AT hikers are allowed to use. For free. I have been shown a lot of kindness and generosity throughout this hike so far, but how much Waynesboro embraced the hikers and incorporated it into their town was just amazing. It was as if they were proud to be a trail town instead of just accepting that they were one.
Shenandoah Day 1
20.7 AT miles / Waynesboro to Blackrock Hut
1.8 non AT miles: Turk Mountain
We entered Shenandoah and filled out our permits almost immediately after getting on trail again out of Waynesboro. There were so many downed trees and overgrown areas. I was surprised because National Parks usually have well maintained trails. Then, I passed a For Sale sign for a piece of land and I started to suspect that I wasn’t actually in the park. I don’t know, something just tells me that the National Park System isn’t selling off part of Shenandoah via a giant spray painted sign. I confirmed later that for the first half of the day I was weaving in and out of the park before entering the park for good.
I hiked alone for the day and it was overall pretty uneventful. I did one blue blaze to Turk Mountain which is .9 off trail. On my way up I had a nice couple stop me and tell me that I had taken a wrong turn and I was off the AT. I thanked them and explained that I was off trail on purpose. I’ve been so excited for Shenandoah I did the first side trail that I came across.
I reached the hut and set up next to Splat; the tenting area was pretty rocky but included a bear pole, which is awesome because hanging a bear bag is pretty much my least favorite thing.
Shenandoah Day 2
25 AT miles / Blackrock Hut to stealth campsite
Today was another awesome day. Shenandoah allows stealth camping as long as you’re in an obviously well used spot but, even so, Splat and I agreed that if we were going to stealth camp in the park we were more comfortable doing so together. Neither of us liked the hut options for that day so we agreed to meet around one of the entrance stations around mile 25 and hike together until we found a spot.
Early on in the day I passed one of the campground stores that is only 70 yards off trail. I got a piece of cheese and a propel water that I poured into my water bottle and could treat myself with periodically throughout the day. It was awesome.
Then, I was just hiking along, and about a mile shy of mile 900 on the trail I passed a man working on the trail painting the white blazes on the trees. I said hello and thanked him, as I always do when I meet a trail worker, and he asked me if I wanted to paint a blaze. Uh, yes! I painted my very own white blaze. I was so excited. You’re welcome SOBO’s.
An afternoon thunderstorm came in but luckily it passed quickly and I still made it to the entrance station by 4:45. I was able to fill up on water and get a map there. Then, Splat and I were literally laying on the side of the road drying off when a woman drives up and tells us that her husband is hiking the AT, she’s currently slack-packing him, but he won’t be there for at least another half hour, and did we know there is a Dairy Queen six miles down the road? Because, if we wanted, she could drive us there while she waited for him.
Well, yeah. We would like that very much. So I had a blizzard for dinner. Then, when we returned, we found a perfect stealth spot only .2 miles further up trail.
Shenandoah Day 3
31.2 AT miles / stealth campsite to Byrds Nest #3 Hut
2.4 non AT miles: Hawksbill Mountain / Stony Man Summit / various overlooks
I woke up early because I was looking at a ton of miles, not to mention additional blue blaze miles. I started hiking around 6:15; it was peaceful and quiet. I started to think I was going to see another bear because no one was out yet. Sure enough, I saw two. The first ran away and I barely saw him, mostly just his butt bouncing off in the distance. The second one was much braver and, because I was busy looking at the ground because it was a bit of a rocky section, I actually got way too close before I noticed him. I could tell right away that he wasn’t aggressive; he was just checking me out before wandering off.
I skipped the camp store that the trail passed today mostly because I was concerned about time with all the miles I was doing. It was the first time I was attempting an over 30 mile day. Then, as if that weren’t enough, I tacked on 2.4 additional miles to see stuff off trail. My trail name, Sidewinder, comes from the fact that I do so much additional hiking. I was tired at the end of the day but Hawksbill Mountain and Stony Man Summit were well worth the extra miles.
Shenandoah Day 4
28 AT miles / Byrds Nest #3 Hut to Tom Floyd Shelter
Today was an okay day. Parts of it were good and parts were less good. I met Splat at the Elkwallow Wayside and I got one of the famous blackberry milkshakes. It was quite good. It was also the last day we’d hike together; I had to go into Front Royal to resupply and she didn’t. I had made the conscious choice to start hiking for myself, as did Splat, but the fact that the miles that the two of us wanted to do lined up for a few days after we were separated from the rest of our friends was nice; it’s intimidating to backpack alone. I had kind of hoped that it would last a little longer; I was hoping to cross the halfway point with a friend.
In the late afternoon I was hiking alone and was about to be passed by another hiker until he stopped and asked who I was because he thought we’d met before. As it turns out, we met on our very first night on trail a couple of months ago at the Stover Creek Shelter a couple miles past the Springer summit in Georgia. After those first two days on trail I have not seen him. We were headed to the same shelter and hiked the last handful of miles together. Another thunderstorm was rolling in and I was hoping to make it to the shelter before it hit but no such luck. We were .5 miles from the shelter when it started torrentially down pouring. I ran into the shelter completely soaked and had to wait awhile for it to pass before I could set up my tent. I met a bunch of really nice people there though that I could chat with while I waited. I hated the tenting at this shelter, I was way down a hill alone; I couldn’t see the shelter or any of the other tents from where I was. It put it into sharp reality that I would be backpacking alone starting the next day; which is both exciting and scary. I felt a little extra homesick that night, alone in my tent, with another thunderstorm raging. But I woke up feeling good and ready for the next leg of this trip.
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