Silkworm Chandeliers and Skyline Drive Sunrises: Days 75–79

I post these blogs on a slight delay, partly for safety reasons, partly because after a long day of hiking, I usually just crash right after dinner. But sharing my daily experiences on a delay also allows for some distance and reflection. So here are some quick thoughts as I review my notes from this section of trail:

Between the heat and homesickness, Shenandoah National Park was a real challenge for me. At times, hiking the AT started feeling more like a job than an “experience,” which was an unanticipated revelation. I had to revisit my “whys” multiple times. Because of this, my writing most days was brief and to the point. Fortunately, things started to turn around toward the end of Shenandoah, as you’ll read later on in this blog post. But to start, here’s where we are in the journey:

Day 75: Sawmill Run Overlook to Pinefield Hut

I’ve been struggling the past couple of days. The heat and humidity tire me out, which leads to more volatile emotions.

Anyway, this was a no good very bad day, and that’s just how the cookie crumbles sometimes.

Day 76: Pinefield Hut to Tent Site at Mile ~910

I woke up feeling better today and tried to get an early start. Reflecting on my sour mood yesterday, I decided it was time to change up the routine.

But once again, noon rolled around and I felt lethargic. Though the terrain in Shenandoah is relatively gentle, my face and back are slick with sweat on all the climbs. It all evaporates on the descents just to repeat again during the next ascent. I’m drinking lots of water and mixing in electrolytes, but I still feel like shit. 

Smiling through the pain

I’m grateful for some afternoon trail magic. Grilled cheese and watermelon. It’s the little things.

In the afternoon, I escaped the humid leaf canopy of the forest by walking for a while on Skyline Drive. In hindsight, it probably wasn’t the best idea with the constant sun, but I did catch some views of the valley below. 

Somewhere on Skyline Drive

Today ended up being a shorter day than planned because everyone was feeling the effects of the heat. We decided the best move to combat the heat and bad vibes was to head into Elkton for some cold drinks and AC. Sparks is the best and got in touch with a shuttle driver named Pastor Wayne who fit all seven of us in his church van and drove us to Elkton’s brewery. The brewery has a pizza truck and a partially shaded patio next to some active train tracks, but we also spent lots of time inside and out of the sun. 

A few hours later, Pastor Wayne returned to the brewery and drove us back to the park. We walked a short distance uphill on the trail before coming across a large stealth site. With most of us being a little tipsy turvy from an afternoon relishing in AC and — in my case — hard cider, it seemed like the perfect place to sleep for the night.

Once our tents were set up, we gathered to make dinner, play cards, and listen to Banjo play until sunset.

Day 77: Tent Site at Mile ~910 to Skyland Resort Stealth Site

My Garmin started vibrating on my wrist at 5am. “We’re doing this to avoid the heat,” I reminded myself. I pressed snooze.

It buzzed again at 5:10. “I hate the heat. I love sunrises.” I pressed snooze one more time.


5:30. Okay I should probably wake up now if I’m going to be hiking by 6am. Why is this so hard?

I’ve been getting more efficient at packing up my gear, but I still move like a sloth in the pre-dawn hours. Before trail, I loved seizing the day. I still do, but I prefer to rise slowly with the sun.

Good morning

These days, I’m quite food-motivated, and our group had some good food to look forward to today. We’d be passing a campground store for a morning snack, and would aim for Big Meadow Wayside for a late lunch. If we really pushed, we might be able to have dinner at Skyland Resort. Word to the wise: If you want to carry a lighter pack through the park, you can probably plan to eat at least one meal a day at a wayside or campground store the entire time you’re hiking through.

This photo sort of encapsulates Shenandoah for me: thru-hiker backpacks lined up outside the waysides.

Since our group started hiking so early (6am isn’t that early, I know, but we’re working on new routines here!), we hiked 12 miles by 12pm. I know a lot of folks do “10 by 10,” but that isn’t for me yet… or maybe ever.

At Big Meadow wayside, I ordered macaroni and cheese, green beans, and a chocolate milkshake. Once I was sufficiently stuffed, I went to a picnic table and took a brief nap. I love napping. So much. I think of my sister as I drift off — she loves a good nap too.

Back on trail after lunch, I made my way to Skyland Resort for dinner at the lodge. When I arrived in the evening, I saw Squeeze Cheese setting down his pack outside. A little girl was asking him a bunch of questions about thru-hiking and it made me smile.

For dinner, I ordered a burrata salad, black eyed pea chili, and two hot chocolates. While eating, a folk duo performed right next to our table and we all sang along to “Big Rock Candy Mountain.” It’s sort of become my anthem for this section of trail.

A bad picture of a delicious salad, apparently worth documenting.

Banjo, RBT, Digit, Squeeze Cheese, and I stealth camped at a site near the resort so we could wake up early for Starbucks and real flush toilets before another long day in the sun.

I set up my tent on a bed of moss and slept like a baby. Today was better than okay. Was it the early start?

Day 78: Skyland Resort Stealth Site to Tent Site at 954

A light rain blew through early in the morning and woke me up. I really didn’t want to carry a heavy, wet tent around for 18–20 miles today, so I got to work packing everything up as quickly as I could, then backtracked to the resort.

I took the scenic route (I got lost), but eventually made it to the Starbucks counter and ordered an iced mocha. Such luxury. Before trail, my partner would make me Starbucks-inspired chocolate cold cream cold brews — a little gift each morning. 

Over my coffee and into my day, I reflect on the experience of hiking the Appalachian Trail single and starting it alone:

After a couple months on the AT, I’ve proven to myself time and again that I’m self-sufficient and can keep myself company. My friend Digit recently told me what a triple crowner shared with him about successful thru-hiking: All it takes is piss and vinegar; it takes grit. And turns out, I’m quite gritty. 🙂 It just took upending my life and making my way to Georgia to see it within me.

But I also see the positive and healthy side of relying — sometimes heavily — on others (it’s really hard to be willing to ask for help when you need it!). I think our society values romantic relationships over friendships, so it’s been a beautiful experience to continue nurturing my platonic friendships on- and off-trail in this season of life. I treasure my chosen family out here and am in awe of the selfless trail angels and my fellow hikers sharing in this journey. 

At the end of the day, though, when I’m all snuggled up in my sleeping bag and winding down for the night, I do think about how coming out here single feels very lonely at times. But then I listen to the birds sing their evening songs and I feel like part of something so much bigger. Like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be in this very moment.

That counts for something, right?

Day 79: Tent Site at 954 to US Route 522 (to Front Royal Motel 6)

The animals were partying last night. Besides a whippoorwill, I heard coyotes and barred owls in the distance. I thought about how the sound of faraway coyotes would probably have set me into an anxious spiral in the past, but now, I feel safer when I hear animals rather than silence. 

We wake up early enough this morning to have spider web-clearing duty. Except today, we’re hiking through hundreds and hundreds of silkworms — every tree a silky chandelier of worms, lighting up when the sun hits them just right. I was more intrigued by them than grossed out, but they were unsettling to some of the crew I was hiking with. When RBT, Banjo, Sparks, and I came to a Skyline Drive road crossing, we decided to walk along the road for a bit and take a break from the worms.


RBT looking into the valley

It was still early enough that the road was empty and cool. Around seemingly every corner was another view, and we drank in the golden morning light that illuminated the valley below in awe. Ramen Bomb and I started listening to the song “Rivers and Roads” by The Head and the Heart at the same time on our phones and the experience had me tearing up. He laughed, “She’s crying and it’s not even 7am,” as if that was some kind of new record for me. 

Back on the trail, our path was soft for most of the day with few rocks. I noticed lots of friendly day hikers as we neared the edge of the park and man do they smell good. Once again: I used to smell that good and didn’t even realize it?!

One man let Ramen Bomb and I pass and said, “You two sure do look happy.”

I replied, “It’s a town day!” Though my experience of Shenandoah has certainly turned around since earlier this week, I’ve been looking forward to sitting in an air-conditioned coffeeshop for a few days now. I’m so close. 

After passing by the official boundary of the park, RBT, Banjo, and I followed a series of switchbacks down to US Route 522 and hitched a ride into Front Royal with some hikers we’d chatted with earlier in the day. Our room at the Motel 6 was clean and looked recently remodeled. After a hot week without a shower, it felt so good to be clean and laundered. 

Digit was also staying at the Motel 6 with his parents, and they treated us to dinner and drove us to a store to resupply! Feeling grateful for a night to relax and make plans for the rest of Virginia.

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Comments 3

  • Shannon : Jun 16th

    I love how you both learned how gritty you are and how much you can handle, and that also sometimes you don’t need to be able to handle it all and can lean on friends. I love you and I’m insanely proud to be your friend

  • Xine : Jun 16th

    You’re a talented storyteller and it’s a pleasure to virtually share this experience with you. Thanks for the blog!

  • jhony : Jun 16th

    Well written. Exceptional. And you scarf Black-eyed peas too!
    Truly I enjoyed this posting very much. Thank you


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