Shenandoah Shakedown Hike-Part 1
It was time. I was at the Rockfish Gap parking lot which sits at the southern end of Shenandoah National Park. I had planned this 10 day shakedown hike for months and it was finally here. The plan was to hike from the southern boundary to the northern boundary, utilizing the shelters (or “huts” as SNP calls them) for my stopping points each day. As I buckled my hipbelt, I was shaking. It could be that it was a breezy 47 degree morning, but I was nervous too. I hugged my husband goodbye and headed into the woods.
Day One-6.7 Miles
It was a beautiful fall day with crisp air and plenty of sunshine. I planned to take it easy and slow, which made for a very enjoyable day. I stopped at Bears Den Mountain for a much needed lunch break. My pack was pretty heavy, so it felt good to sit down, eat, and feel the sun on my back. I took my shoes and socks off and wiggled my bare toes in the dry but somehow still soft fall grass. The kind of grass that is a mixture of green and brown, that season changing, in-between grass. My wonderful husband sent me a text: “You got this”. I made it to Calf Mountain Shelter about 2:45 and was the first one there. I found the perfect campsite but had to clean up dry dog food the previous camper left all over the ground before setting up my tent. Other hikers came strolling in and by seven all the tent sites were full. Due to being vertically challenged, I needed assistance hanging my Ursack bag on the bear pole. It seemed unnecessarily tall. The night went well, except the huge spider dangling in the privy when I went to go pee at 2:30 in the morning. Not cool spider, not cool.
Day Two-13 Miles
Got out of camp later than I wanted because I was sleeping pretty well. Oh well, I had all day to hike, right? The day started by climbing, climbing, climbing. I finally got to the top of a mountain and decided it was time for a break. Headed to an inviting pile of rocks to sit down and spotted a copperhead right behind the rocks sunning himself. No more sitting breaks near rocks for me! Found a really neat stealth camping spot to have lunch. I had to force my pepperoni and cheese tortilla down though, blegh. When I finally made it to Blackrock Hut, I was exhausted, but happy. I had just completed a personal best of 13 miles and felt like a badass! Since rain was in the forecast and I had an even bigger mileage day planned, I decided I would go outside my comfort zone and sleep in the shelter. I only got a couple hours of sleep, but it was nice not to have to take down my tent in the morning. Bonus, the huge furry spider we saw living in the shelter didn’t crawl across my face in the middle of the night. It could be because I had my sleeping bag liner wrapped around my whole head with just a hole for my nose. Just in case.
Day Three-13.2 Miles
Left camp and headed, you guessed it, straight up. I crossed Skyline Drive and stopped beyond a parking lot for a break before the next hill. There was a group of hikers meeting up in the parking lot, and one gave me an apple! My first trail magic! Little did I know that would be the first of many forms of trail magic that day. I felt undeserving, but dang that apple was delicious. I felt good, if a little tired and got to a beautiful overlook with a parking lot. I decided to take a break, and shortly after a man and his wife drove up. He started asking me questions, and told me he and his wife were car camping with their “children” who turned out to be four Chihuahuas!! Since I have two Chihuahuas of my own, I asked if I could see them and get a picture, because my husband is NOT going to believe this happened if I don’t get a picture.
Then, the third bit of trail magic came up in the form of a thru hiker. We had spent the night in the same shelter the night before, and had talked a little bit while we were there. He came up to the overlook while I was still grinning ear to ear from my Chihuahua experience. We talked a bit and decided we would hike together for a while. We talked while hiking, and I forgot how nice it is to hike with someone. You forget about your pains and exhaustion and the miles fly by. We had lunch together and had great conversations about books and many other things. Since he had been hiking since Georgia he smoked me on the hills, but waited for me at the top of each one. He decided to stay at the same shelter as me, even though he was planning to go further. Pinefield Hut was already crowded when we got there, so we decided to tent even though it was calling for rain. The rain started around seven, so we retreated to our tents early. And boy did it rain.
Day Four-8.2 Miles
It poured ALL night. My first night in the rain. I was stressing in the morning, worrying about dealing with wet gear. Then I decided, take it one step at a time. First step, go pee. Then after that I’ll deal with everything else. My tent did great but my Ursack food bag did not. It soaked up about 85 tons of water. Awesome. My hiking buddy was less lucky, his tent flooded. He had two leaks and tried to deal with it during the night, but it was just too much rain. Also, I kept smelling something horrible all night. I sniffed my pack, my sleeping bag, my pillow. And then it hit me. It was me. I was the horrible smell. At least if there is a Zombie apocalypse tomorrow I know they won’t eat me. Because I smell like death. So I’m totally safe.
The rain had stopped by morning, and it was just super damp and foggy. Also my friend had to hike 20 miles, so I knew we must say goodbye. We exchanged information and he gave me a wonderful book of poems called “Songs for the open road”. Now I was sad, and the damp dreary weather mirrored my mood. So I’m trudging along, being all lonely and self- pitying, carrying this stupid heavy pack with my 85 ton food bag, just having a crap-tacular day. I get to the shelter, set up my tent and try to call my husband. I get a few sentences in and service cuts out. Of course. The day I REALLY needed to talk to him I can’t. I don’t even want to be social with the two thru hikers who have shown up, but I have to eat. Turns out they were pretty great people, and I managed to cheer up and watched a beautiful sunset from my tent. Definitely a reminder of why I was out here. If it were easy, everyone would do it. I made it through this tough day, and I never wanted to quit. The sunset is beautiful, and I got my food bag hung on the second try. Fine, universe, you win this round.
Day Five-12.4 Miles
I actually slept well and dreamed! It was windy so my tent dried off. I ate 2 packages of oatmeal and had a strong morning. Someone even honked at me on the bridge as I was crossing over Route 33 and stuck a thumbs up sign out the window! That made me smile for a long time. I was able to finally talk to my husband during lunch which was awesome. It looked like it was going to rain so I hoofed it to make it to the shelter and totally missed my turn. I got to the top of the mountain I was climbing, which turned out to be Bearfence Mountain. NO!! The shelter is a mile BEFORE the top of the mountain! I pulled out my AWOL pages to check. Yup, looks like I missed it. I called my husband to see if he can pull me up on the Garmin GPS, just to make sure. It looks like it’s going to storm, so I don’t want to be on top of this mountain. He confirms it, I have missed the turn. I get a little emotional while on the phone with my husband, but that’s not going to help. I ran down the mountain and turned my 12 mile day into a 14 mile one. However, I got a great campsite and heard chipmunks and barred owls that night. I also met awesome thru hikers, again. Shout out to Ms. Joy who helped me with my pack. Oh, and it only sprinkled rain for like 5 minutes. Go figure.
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