Shenandoah Monsoons: Swampy Trails and Soggy Souls
Earworm of the Day: Our Lady of the Underground, Anaïs Mitchell
Towns love to ruin plans… Nothing you can do about it, but just roll with it.
It’s not like we didn’t wake up on time or got our shit in gear, we were just tired. Dreamsicle and I typically get our chores done as quickly as possible in town and to maximize our relaxing and exploring town time, but today we were lazy and fate was working against us.
We started out the morning being locked out of our hotel room because the door got stuck. Then we both wanted coffee from Farmhaus in Waynesboro. This is because real coffee that isn’t instant coffee will fix your soul. I also have found out that using a coarse ground coffee in a cold soak jar with a tea strainer makes amazingly tolerable trail cold brew. To do this I needed to buy a small amount of coffee, which Farmhaus was more than willing to sell me, as they are incredibly accommodating to hikers.
After our coffee run it took what felt like calling every trail angel to give us a ride. We were slow going to get onto trail. We managed to get a ride but still needed to go to the outfitter to fix my trekking poles, as they had become glorified trail maracas due to the tips getting stuck in the shaft of the pole itself (Note to future hikers: fix your trekking poles, they are useless when they don’t have tips and do not make great maracas.).
Once finished at the outfitter, we finally got to the gap at 11:30 a.m., where we managed to avoid being vortexed into trail magic. I felt bad because the trail angels were so nice, but we needed to get some miles in. The heat of the day was upon us as we started. From what I could tell, any miles we did were going to be long and rough.
The miles weren’t as tough as we thought, but the heat was stifling and we kept being stopped by trail magic and interesting people with interesting stories. We ended up meeting a really cool SOBO thru-hiker, Ear Swift, from class of ’90 who was telling us about his time on trail and his career as a journalist. He recalled to us the murder of Geoffrey Hood and Patti LaRue, two fellow SOBO hikers he had hiked with and what it was like to handle the fallout from the events on trail.
His experience put into perspective about the mental gymnastics we do to convince ourselves that “we are safe because we are different.” I don’t want to sound like I am fear mongering, when in reality we are all safer on trail than in society. Unfortunately, things do go wrong out here. Be vigilant and be aware.
We ended up at Calf Mountain Hut (Yes, hut. Not shelter, hut. Shenandoah is but a silly place.) as we were just too tired and had started too late to keep pushing. Also having fully loaded heavy packs didn’t help with the mostly uphill and waterless climb into the Shenandoah National Park. We decided to play it safe and stay where there was water and it ended up working out.
We had a great early evening at the shelter and it was nice to have a shorter day. It was nice to hang out with other hikers, both section and thru-hiker. There is something about bonding and being goofy with other like-minded (perhaps insane) individuals.
Earworm of the Day: Like the Dawn, Oh Hellos.
Today was great! Today may have been my favorite day on trail outside seeing ponies in the Grayson Highlands.
While being great, the day was hot and I do not like the heat, as I melt like ice cream. It appears we have entered the part of year that makes me a sweaty puddle of a person. My ancestors were not designed to be out in the blazing sun walking, they were on a chilly soggy island chasing sheep. As such, I am a sweaty drippy soggy useless mess when I am exposed to full sunlight.
But surprisingly, we did our fastest 20 miler to date and we got to catch up with Splash, Titus, and Stella, who kindly let us camp with them.
I had such a good time hanging out with Splash, Long Beard, and Titus. Splash was so kind to us and fed us and hydrated us with beer, it was so generous of them to share their space and trail home with us. We hung out around their camper, it was great talking about our “real life lives” and interests. I learned more about them, their hobbies, and their lives. It was so comforting to have heart to hearts and deep meaningful conversations about life with a group of like-minded people out of the trail.
The day was ended watching the sunset, it made me think back to the early days on trail. How everything was savoured and everything was so novel, that you tried to take in as much as possible. I miss that. I miss trying to take it in and really make the memories, I feel that I have been so caught up in the long days and long miles, I am not taking the time to really savour the moments.
Hi! This is future Lucky writing this. I like Gandalf, “I have no memory of this…” from what I can remember is it was a wet, long, and uneventful day. We have been plagued with wet, windy, and cold weather while in the Shenandoahs. While I am glad I am not sweaty, I am not happy about being soaked and wet. Only recently we found out that a storm in the gulf is making mother nature wet and unhappy. While Dreamsicle and I are accustomed to walking in the rain, it is a major morale killer.
There is not a lot to report about this day. No bears, no trail sillies, and nothing incredibly profound. To you guys at home my mundane boring day must be a treat, but many times my days are uneventful. Perhaps I need to relearn to savour the moments out here and not let the repetition take away the novelty of living outside, especially when the rain is this bad. The rain takes its toll on you. But you make it work. You get up and you walk, because you have to.
Hiking and camping in the rain doesn’t concern me. I have gotten used to keeping what I need warm and dry safe from the wet elements. I know how to keep myself safe and comfortable, but walking for 15-20+ miles in mud puddles and monsoon like storms just kills your spirit.
While walking in the rain might conjure picturesque romantic walking in the countryside. Like Pride and Prejudice, right? No, It is not. You are soggy, squishy, and soaking wet. Your socks squelch and you feel like you are mildewing. The hardest part about thru hiking in the rain is that you don’t get to go home and dry off at the end of the day. You don’t get to put on warm clean clothes. No, you set up camp in the rain, crawl into you tent, you make the same dehydrated food you have been eating for weeks, and you try to be as comfortable as possible as the rain blows horizontally. You pray to some god in the morning, that the rain will stop when you have to repeat this process in reverse in the morning.
Today was an improvement over yesterday. A friend of the family, Angie, came to visit me in the park. Angie brought me my much desired and coveted peaches and beer for Dreamsicle. She was also kind enough to take us to breakfast at one of the Waysides in the park.
It was great catching up on the goings on in the world outside the woods. It is weird being in the woods, you are so removed from the outside world. Your intake of news and social media is limited, all you hear is trail drama and gossip. It is a privilege being able to remove yourself from society for six months, but the downside is you wait on baited breath to hear about someone’s last town meal or who is hiking with who. It is funny, we all talk about how much we enjoy the stress-free life of being “disconnected”, but we are rabid for gossip. Anything to break up the monotony of the day to day. It could be gossip about gear choices or trail family and hiking partner fall outs, who has noro, or anything small and trivial in the grand scheme of things.
Besides the non-trail gossip, today was hard on me. Due to the cooler weather, I was bad about keeping up on water and only drank coffee at breakfast. This made hiking hard, as dehydration can trigger anxiety and stress. If you didn’t know, lack of calories, water, or being over stimulated can trigger stress responses. On top of being dehydrated, high winds were causing trees and branches to fall which were making me nervous.
With Dreamsicle ahead of me, I felt alone and vulnerable out in the woods. While I know Dreamsicle would never leave me in an unsafe situation out on trail, and we have both agreed we have each other’s back, but I wasn’t in a great headspace due to the dehydration and just the situation. While I made it safe to camp and only a little soggy from a little spat of rain, I was a little on edge from watching branches and chunks of wood being flung across the trail.
Out here, it is hard to know your limits or what is going to set you off. That limit changes every day depending on your baseline for the day. Some says you are on your game and can take on the crappiest of conditions. Other days, even on the most perfect of days, you just can’t. You feel off your game and unable to do the bare minimum. And that is okay. Every day is different and our “best” is going to look different. The most you can do is just do your best, whatever that is for the day.
Today was bad. Today should have scared me with its high winds, cold weather, and heavy rains. Instead, I was cackling like a madman with my soggy soul. Having the time of my life, a mad woman in the storm. Think Kind Lear losing his mind in the infamous storm scene (Dreamsicle was having none of this as he is the sane person in this hiking partnership). Adding to the insanity, today was June 21st, A.K.A Hike Naked Day. We did our best to participate given the day’s cold, wet, and not great naked hiking conditions.
While we were squishing our way up the trail, we bumped into a scouts group on a backpacking trip. Looking at them, they appeared miserable. Soaked through with overstuffed packs. Apparently, they were excited to meet thru-hikers and we happened to be the first ones they had bumped into.
It was so heartwarming to see young women backpacking out in the woods. I am so glad that it has become more socially acceptable and accessible for young women and girls to have a space in the outdoor community. When I was a kid, we didn’t have those spaces to seriously learn about recreating outside. That was a space for boys in boy scouts. If you were a girl, your options were girl scouts (from my understanding, not incredibly outdoorsy), adventure guides (which I was in and it was not as well organized as Boy scouts), or your parents were outdoorsy and took you out (honestly the best option).
Being from the Midwest, we didn’t have a lot of opportunities for young women and girls to recreate in the outdoors. Let alone have access to equipment that would allow us to be comfortable outside. The youth section in the one outdoor store we had was limited to boy scouts equipment. That was it. Not much else. So seeing increased involvement of women and underrepresented groups in the outdoors warms my hear.
During our interaction with the scout group, I noticed that a bunch of the kiddos were making some backpacking mistakes, that while not life threatening, are of bad practice. Maybe I felt that it was my place to say something as I have been living in the woods for 70+ days, like not wearing your down puffy in the rain or better ways to waterproof your pack other than a pack cover. Just there are things I wish I knew when I was a beginner.
To those of you who know me, you know I am chatty and swear like a sailor. This may not be the most becoming habit of me, but damnit, I will be taken seriously!!! So when I provide advice or a try to stamp out ignorance, I am blunt and fairly to the point and can come off as abrasive. I mean well, but so many can get defensive. While the scouts took my teaching moment in stride, you never know if it actually went over well.
After hanging with the scout troop and waiting for the weather to clear. Dreamsicle and I braved the tempest and pushed to the Skyland lodge, as they fortunately have a bar and there is no place better to wait out the rain than a bar. It was only a 5.5-mile push for the day, what could go wrong?
In fact, it would go wrong and get worse. Like, how dare I tempt fate. The weather would get worse. Winds would pick up, the rain became horizontal, and the temperature dropped. We ended up making it to the lodge and upon finding booze (and reason), that perhaps going back out into the storm was a terrible idea. Perhaps, we should go to town due to the risk of fallen trees and the conditions being terrible. So we did, we decided that going into Luray a day early to dry off and be less miserable. Honestly one of the smarter decisions we have both come to while on this trip.
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