Shenandoah Shakedown Hike-Part 2

Day Six-11.5 Miles

So my pack is trying to kill me. Thanks to Ms. Joy, I realized my pack is too long for me and it’s pulling on my shoulders and neck causing neck pain. Also it weighs 5 million pounds. I keep adjusting it, and it works for a while but then back to pain. Ugh. I stopped at the Big Meadows wayside and resupply, get a huge burger, fries and Ice cream and take a wonderful long lunch. I also put on new clothes today. Within an hour they smelled exactly the same as the old ones. My husband texted me, he’s going to come see me tomorrow which is Saturday. My parents are coming to see me Sunday, since I only have 4.4 miles between shelters that day. I am very excited to visit with everyone!

I’m headed on the trail towards the next shelter after lunch and run across 2 tourists taking pictures of a bear. I’m only about a mile and a half from the campground, so no surprise. They are really close though, too close, so I hang back. Finally the bear has had enough and bluff charges them. They quickly high tail it up the trail towards me and inform me it’s actually a MAMA bear and she has her cub in a tree. Are you kidding me?! Crap. The trail goes right by her. She’s foraging, not looking like she’s going to move, ever. I give her about 15 or 20 minutes to calm down, bang my poles together, clap my hands, slowly try to go down the trail past her but she grabs a sapling, shakes it at me and growls. Double crap. I go back up the trail, give her another 20 minutes or so, figuring out what to do. I call my husband to tell him the situation, because I am really scared. I’m not going to lie. This is scary S**T. She is not budging, even sits down to scratch her ear. As I am trying to figure out what the heck I’m going to do, I hear some noise behind me. Guess what? Another Mama with a cub. All kinds of nope.  My heart is pounding and I bushwack around the trail, hoping there’s no rattlesnakes or copperheads, and turn around. I was done, one mama bear is enough but two?

Luckily I get a room at the Lodge, eat a nice dinner and get a bath. Divine Intervention? Maybe, but now my logistics are all screwed up. I’m almost 3 miles short of where I should be and I don’t want to go back down that same stretch of trail. Do I add an extra day? Hike super huge miles? What should I do?

Wonderful stay in Big Meadows Lodge

Day Seven-9.6 Miles

So I couldn’t sleep. I was in a nice, comfy bed after a warm, soothing bath. I managed to fall asleep at 9:00. You know, past hiker midnight. But raucous Lodge guests were being obnoxious outside until about 11:30. I got up and couldn’t stop thinking about my problem. I poured over my AWOL pages until 1:00am and realized I could do a 13 mile day on Saturday and still make it to where my parents were meeting me on Sunday.

When my husband got to my room, I ran my idea by him. He just looked at me when I told him and said, “Then you need to leave now. You can’t wait until checkout at 11:00 and expect to be able to knock out 13 miles.” He was right, and had just driven 2 hours to spend some time with me. Dang it. His suggestion? Drop me off 4.5 miles up the trail from where I turned around to give me a 9 mile day. That way we can still hang out with each other until 11:00. But then I haven’t hiked the whole AT in Shenandoah. I mean, I have already hiked the section I’m skipping, but not on this specific shakedown hike. But that’s just it, this is a practice session, not the real thing. Plus my husband looks super cute with his mountain man beard and green eyes. Fine, I’ll skip some.

We had a yummy breakfast and then I proceeded to pack up and pick out my resupply from the freezer bag and cooler of food my husband brought. I got dropped off at Hawksbill Gap and headed on my way. I made it to a picnic area 2 miles before the shelter and ate dinner. I was told by multiple people on the way to the shelter that people had seen a mama bear and cubs on the way to the shelter. Come on!! I’m so done with bears. I banged my poles the remaining 2 miles to the shelter. Never saw a single bear. Only one other hiker was at the shelter, so at least I wasn’t alone. Had fun talking to him, and we tented near each other for safety. And I got my food bag up on the pole the first try. Booyah!

Another beautiful, sunny day.

Day Eight-4.4 Miles

So I headed out at a nice, slow pace to make it the 2.2 miles to the parking lot where I was meeting my parents. I stayed a bit at the summit of Mary’s Rock to kill time, and then made my way down the mountain. When my parents showed up, my Dad gave me a huge bear hug. (No pun intended!) They brought homemade fried chicken, pasta salad with the peas removed, rolls, caramel brownies, coffee and lemonade.

We visited for about 3 hours, I told them my stories and showed them pictures. They said they couldn’t smell me but I think they were just being nice. I also think they were feeling better about me being out there alone. They can track me on the GPS device, and I think I’ve proven I can survive out here. Despite the bears. And despite my Dad’s text my first night. “Are you lost? The GPS has you way off course.” Um, no Dad, I’m at the shelter. The shelters are usually .2 or .3 off the AT. I’m not wandering aimlessly though the woods, even though it may look like it!  After a nice restful afternoon, I made it to the notorious Pass Mountain shelter. I had heard from two different sources that there was an aggressive bear here. He bluffed charged a group of people and destroyed someone else’s tent. No one was at the shelter, so I started to leave to maybe find a stealth campsite. I was a little nervous, because I didn’t want to stay by myself at the shelter, and I definitely wasn’t going to set up my tent there. But more thru hikers came, so I slept in the shelter. No visits from any bears.

View from Mary’s Rock

Day Nine-13.1 Miles

So I didn’t sleep great in the shelter, but I did hear two barred owls calling back and forth to each other. I have heard owls a few nights out here, and I absolutely love it. For some reason I wasn’t feeling it today. Just a mentally tough day. I’m sure the lack of sleep, crappy food and just physicality of the trail is wearing on me a little. I think knowing tomorrow is my last day doesn’t help. I’m feeling lazy and may sleep in the shelter again. I am meeting my husband at the parking lot .2 past the shelter in the morning at 7:30, so I need to be up and ready early. But somehow it never seems to matter. Regardless if I set up my tent or sleep in the shelter, cook breakfast or don’t cook breakfast, I always leave camp at the same time each day. So as I’m pondering my sleeping arrangements for the evening, I slide past a rock in the trail and OUCH!!!! My butt cheek is on fire!! Something has stung the crap out of my bottom. It hurts. I drop my pack, get out my hairbrush which has a small mirror attached and pull up the leg of my shorts. Yup, a huge welt is on my bottom. Probably a bee, because as I’m looking around, I notice these yellow flowers (Goldenrod maybe?) hanging low over the trail. And they are filled with bumblebees. I stomp up the hill, rubbing my butt, ready for this day to be over. I intent to buy sting/bite stuff at the next camp store, but by the time I get there to eat lunch the pain has subsided. One more day.

Thanks whoever did this. I needed it.

I get to the shelter, which has bear warnings posted everywhere. I’m alone, so I decide to sleep on the top bunk of the shelter. The left side has tons of mouse poop. The right side has poop too, but less poop, so right side it is.  I have all my stuff everywhere, all over the table, in the shelter. I sort of took over. Then I see a couple people coming down the hill towards the shelter. A woman who I sort of recognize. SHIVERS!!! And Shivers’ Dad!!! No freaking way!! It was really neat to see people I have read about. They were super nice, answered my questions and made me feel confident that I made the correct choice in a Flip Flop hike next year. More hikers came too, Obi Wan and some others that stayed to themselves. I realized this journey is so much sweeter at the end of the day when you can share it with people. My last night was bittersweet.  I wanted to cherish the sounds I heard as I fell asleep. Except for the chewing sounds in the middle of the night. The sounds that meant my almost brand new hiking shirt was being chewed to pieces by mice.

Thanks mice.

My last shelter, Gravel Springs Hut


The boundary, the end.

Day Ten-11.8 Miles

My last day. I put on my ruined shirt, holes and all. To quote George Weasley after he loses an ear: “I feel saint-like. I’m holey, get it?” So holey, smelly and happy I meet my husband in the parking lot. He brought me breakfast, tons of snacks and best of all my daypack. My wonderful, lightweight daypack. I start to put my backpack in the backseat, but he insists I put it in the trunk. I proceed to slackpack, and he meets me at all the parking lots the AT crosses for the rest of the day. I can sit in the car, eat snacks and just revel in the fact I’m almost done. I am floating over these last few mountains.

I get to the last parking lot. It’s 2 miles to the park boundary, and another 2 miles back to the car.  The path is pretty flat and wide, easy peasy lemon squeezy. I reach the boundary and tear up a bit. I did it!  I came out to prepare for the Appalachian Trail next year and made it 10 days on my own. I had so many great learning experiences. I know I can make it next year, at least I believe I can. And even though I had tough days I never wanted to quit. I know I need to do less miles in the beginning of my AT journey, those 13 mile days were rough. But I still did them. I got blisters the first day, but I managed them and they didn’t get worse. I fought loneliness sometimes while hiking during the day only to find kind, caring, fun people at the shelters at night.

So that’s it. My first shakedown, the major shakedown is over. My husband treated me to a bacon cheeseburger with cheese fries and a coke at the wayside after I was done. As I’m sitting there in my chewed up shirt smelling like death, shoving the burger in my mouth as fast as it will go, I let out a HUGE burp. My husband and I start laughing hysterically as an older woman walking by looks over and shoots me a dirty look. My husband looks at me smiling and says “hiker trash”. He’s not wrong. And I’ve never been more proud.

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Comments 11

  • Nettie Montieth : Oct 7th

    You are GREAT, as a writer and as a hiker!

    • Sarah Southard : Oct 8th

      Awe, thanks Grandma!

  • Jimmyjam : Oct 8th

    Nice job and very good writing. A Flip-flop is definitely the way to go. I did a partial one in 2015 hiking Harper’s Ferry to Killington VT before an injury sent me home.

    • Sarah Southard : Oct 8th


      Thank you so much! I am really glad I chose to do a Flip Flop. I think it’s the best way for me to enjoy my hike. I’m sorry about your injury! Hopefully you can get back out there.

  • WV GANNIE : Oct 8th

    I enjoyed both of your shakedown articles. I wish you the best in 2018. And Happy early Birthday Wishes!!!! I plan on a thru hike in 2023. I will be 68 yrs old then. I look forward to reading more of your articles. I know you can do it. Happy Hiking. And HYOH.

    • Sarah Southard : Oct 9th

      WV Gannie,

      I’m so glad you enjoyed the articles! And thanks for the early birthday wishes. I’m excited you are planning your own thru hike. Planning and preparing is SO much fun! I’d love to follow along with you on your AT adventures, are you planning on blogging as well? I plan on giving back to the AT community during and after my thru hike. Happy hiking to you!

  • pdf : Oct 9th

    They can t help it anymore that the ladies have hard nipples.
    For me it took years.

  • Cricket : Oct 11th

    Sounds like you did great on your shakedown! Congrats! Your bear encounters were crazy so you’ve got more experience and gumption than lots of people starting a thru hike. Best wishes next year!

    If you want to rack up some trail karma before next year, consider checking out your local trail club. I’m with ODATC and we maintain the 20 miles just south of SNP the 3rd Saturday of each month. (Oct and Nov before we break for winter.) You don’t have to join to come out for a work trip either!

    Happy Trails!

    • Sarah Southard : Oct 11th


      Thank you so much! The bear encounters were nuts, but that’s Shenandoah for you. I know the trail only has a few bear activity spots, so hopefully no more scary encounters in the future. I have talked to a PATC trail maintainer in SNP named Larry a couple times, so I think I may join them or help them in some way since Shenandoah has my heart. I definitely want to help out in a more impactful way than moving the occasional branches and twigs off the trail. Happy Trails to you as well!

  • Chris Guynn : Oct 11th

    I saw several bears early on in my thru hike this year in SNP. All of mine were mainly just interested in looking at me for about 2o minutes sometimes walking parallel to me on the trail and then they found something more interesting and walked their own way. Happy to hear you saw Shivers and her dad I have been following them the whole way and they are very nice folks. If you want to take a few million pounds off your pack some folks post their gear on here and get comments from people who have carried too much weight for thousands of miles(raises hand). But anyways, good luck next year!

    • Sarah Southard : Oct 11th


      Yeah the bears are mostly nonchalant. I loved hanging out with Shivers and her Dad. They were so nice, and shared lots of advice. Everyone I met was really nice, I enjoyed spending my evenings with those fantastic people. And I have already changed my pack, and possibly my food bag. Hopefully that will help. I will post my gear list too. Thanks for commenting and happy hiking!


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