The Best of Virginia

In the planning stages of our thru hike, we always talked with excitement about reaching northern Virginia because we knew we’d have a lot to look forward to our arrival there. Hailing from DC, we left for the trail with promises and plans of meet-ups and visits from friends when we got close. We have not been disappointed. “Spoiled” as a descriptor hardly does justice to the royal treatment we’ve received. After Mother Nature’s relentless pounding for days out of Daleville, our appreciation of the relief provided by friends and family grew by leaps and bounds.

For a four day stretch, it rained furiously. The first day we were spared. Having stopped at a shelter for lunch, we were still there when the skies opened up with the first of the many, many thunderstorms of the week. We waited it out for about two hours, going back and forth about whether or not to call it a day, which would have put us 10 miles behind plans, or push ahead to the next shelter, a quick 7 miles north. During a break in the storms, we decided to let fate decide. Paddington hid a spoon behind his back in one of his hands. If we guessed correctly, we’d hike. Fate was on my side because after two consecutive correct guesses, off the three of us went. The sky went from post-storm sunshine to pre-storm overcast as we hauled ass to the next shelter. We knew the next wave of weather was coming; the question was, would we beat it? In fact, we did. Not ten minutes after we got to the shelter, much relieved there were spots available for us, the storms rolled back in and stayed for the rest of the night. Technically, we didn’t get caught in the rain that first day, but we suspected we wouldn’t be so lucky in the days following…and we weren’t. We set off the next day with 24 miles in our sights. Fast forward 22 miles and we remained dry–from rain at least. Just two miles from our destination, the downpour came. It rained so hard that it was coming in sideways. Even more unlucky for us, we were summiting a mountaintop meadow, so we were without any leaf cover for protection. To make things worse, the trail turned into a river, with no feasible side-stepping option. Through the river we stomped, resigned to being soaked to the bone. Those were two of the longest miles we’d done in a long time. Thankfully, just when I was sure we would never reach our destination, the sheltered appeared.
One of the advantages of hiking with someone faster than you, in this case, Paddington, means that they get places before you. Paddington had arrived at the shelter before us, and bless his heart, had spread out his things so as to reserve two spaces for us. What a gem he is!! The close quarters made for nice and cozy sleeping, but for me, fear of accidentally spooning an unsuspecting neighbor made for a somewhat restless night’s shut-eye—all told a small price to pay for the opportunity to bed under a solid roof. Given the unfortunate weather, we changed our plans and decided to go into Glasgow the next day, a town we originally planned to skip. In desperate need of a good drying out and having access to a laundromat made the decision pretty simple. As long as we were headed into Glasgow, we decided we might as well stay there. We would have to alter the next couple days’ mileage targets accordingly. Normally this type of detour, something Rico and Paddington love to do to me, makes me crazy. However, my objections did not stand up under the weight of putting on soaking wet, smelly socks and shoes yet again. Fourteen quick miles and one hitchhike later, we were dry and comfy, sitting in an Italian diner which we had taken over, watching a Friends marathon on TV. There’s nothing like having free reign over the TV viewing to induce one to stay put for the duration, previous plans notwithstanding. Glasgow has a shelter and tenting area in town that is available to hikers. We graciously availed ourselves of the convenience.

In the morning, we headed back to the trail for a 22 mile day, our endpoint being the road crossing for Buena Vista. We planned on going into town and then zeroing the following day to enjoy a meetup with my sisters. You’d think the promise of a good night’s sleep on cotton sheets and some quality family time on the horizon would have been enough to buoy up my flagging spirits, but this was a down day for me. The rain quashed my intentions to do laundry, and my mood sunk ever lower. Rico has gotten pretty attuned to my moods, especially the bad ones, so he tried his best to encourage me, but mostly just let me be with my podcasts as I trudged along sullenly. During lunchtime at a shelter, we ran into our buddy, Adios, and offered him the other half of the extra bed in our room for the night; Paddington had already called dibs on another bed for the night.
Thoroughly soaked, our party of four finally got to the road for Buena Vista. We called for a shuttle, but the shuttle driver insisted he could only take three people, absolutely not 4.

Unfortunately, Plan B necessitated the shuttle making two trips, which would leave someone standing out in the rain for another 40 minutes. When the shuttle driver arrived, one person in a five person car, I sweet-talked him into letting us at least try to fit everyone in–after all, there were four seat belts and none of us were very large people. Thankfully that worked, and we soon found ourselves at the Buena Vista Motel. Although the motel left much to be desired, which is putting it mildly, we had shelter, a shower, a bed, and access to hot food that we didn’t have to cook ourselves. It was a win-win, all things considered.

We had an absolute blast with my sisters the next day. Paddington and Adios hit the trail in the morning, but we zeroed to experience some of Virginia’s finest microbrews. I should pause and say that we realized that this was our last time hiking with Paddington, as he had to continue on to meet his Dad in Waynesboro. From there, he’d push on to Harpers Ferry before taking a train to NY, enabling him to walk home to Vermont before college started. We were sad to part ways. Having a hiking buddy for 800 miles was awesome. We became a steadfast trio, and whenever we didn’t hike together (there were two small hiking sections during which we were separated), we always looked forward to meeting back up to swap stories. It’s the end of one era of our thru hike, but we’re hopeful to see him in Vermont before he hits the road for his next adventure– dorm life in college.
A zero day with my sisters provided a perfectly-timed excuse to recoup and regroup. Hours of relaxing and having fun, enjoying lots of laughter, along with mood-enhancing food and drink, proved to be a great escape after the crappy several days we had had. The sisters have been absolute champs, crisscrossing Virginia to visit us and cheer us on; I am so very grateful for their unflagging support and comforting presence.
Saying goodbye to them was really tough, even though I was going to see them in just over a week. The only consolation on what would have been an otherwise terrible day was that we had to get on the trail to get to our meeting point that afternoon–dinner with Rico’s parents! When we got to the agreed upon meeting point, there was a slight panic because it was a road that was completely impassable by car. Hoping it led to a parking lot or better road, we descended down the road until we found them, indeed at a parking lot about 1.5 miles further along the way. While we weren’t too pleased about having to hoof extra miles, it’s amazing what we’d do for a hot meal. We planned to go to dinner at Wintergreen Resort. Afterwards, the parents would drop us back off by the trail and we’d pitch our tent. Fast forward a couple of glasses of wine, and we had secured a condo at the resort for the night. Total win!! An awesome dinner, great company, and a comfortable, king-sized bed waiting for us at evening’s end was pure luxury.
From Buena Vista, we were just two days from Shenandoah and relatively close to home. We decided that there was no way we could pass up an opportunity to touch base with friends and family on familiar turf. The prospect of a two day trip into DC once we got to Front Royal was all the motivation we needed to propel us through the next several days.

Here are some highlight of the next few days:

Waynesboro, VA, may officially be the nicest town on the trail thus far. Perhaps it was the free, donation-based hostel at the Lutheran church that boasts cots, showers, and fully functioning computers, or the legendary Ming’s Chinese buffet that has hibachi, sushi, and all the Chinese dishes you could want, or the four people who pulled up beside us as we ate a snack, asking us if we wanted a ride. To weather-worn, walk-weary hikers, it was all of the above combined that made it such a pleasant experience. Icing on the cake, we also got to check in with Paddington one more time, as he was slack packing with his dad.

The Shenandoahs have a less than stellar reputation on the trail, partly due to the tourists and the expensive waysides. However, simply put, we loved them! Just loved them. Maybe it’s because we knew we were getting closer and closer to home, but SNP might be my new favorite part of the trail so far. The moderate terrain made it easy to do 22+ mile days, and the waysides along the trail meant that we only ever carried one day’s supply of food with a planned stop each day for burgers and must-have blackberry milkshakes. We also had incredible trail magic one day. Lunch was served by Just Sue at a gap where we had fried chicken and cold cokes. Then later that day, after we had our burgers, we ran into a hiker, Wheaties, whom we’d met a while back. Turns out, it was his birthday, so he had a cabin reserved at Skyland Resort, a resort just off the trail. He offered to share it with us– an offer we couldn’t refuse! We had much needed showers and a super nice and fun birthday dinner at the resort restaurant. It was wonderful. We capped off our Shenandoah stint with a night camping by ourselves just past an overlook. We had bought wine juice boxes at the wayside and brought those to the overlook to watch the sun go down. The weather was perfect–breezy and cool, but comfortable. The sky was blue and purple with hints of pink, and we could even see lightning far off in the distance. It was one of the best nights out here.

The other notable highlight of the Shenandoahs include ten bear sightings in four days–three cubs and seven mommas and adults. Other than the one bear we heard walking around our campsite, close enough to where we heard him breathing (!!), all the others were safe distances away and none of them caused any trouble. Needless to say, we can go the rest of the trip without seeing another bear and I will be just fine!

The last few days we’ve been living the high life between DC and Front Royal. My friend’s parents live in Front Royal, the northern terminus of the Shenandoahs, so they picked us up and let us shower while we waited for our friend Lauren to pick us up and take us into DC. DC was filled with friends, amazing food, and non-stop fun. We even treated ourselves to a movie, which is something we’ve been talking about doing for weeks. Gathering with family and friends was awesome. We loved seeing everyone and enjoyed every minute. The time went much too quickly.
I don’t think I realized how many people are reading this blog, which has given me renewed resolve to keep it updated and hopefully somewhat interesting. We rounded out our time in DC by going to our favorite local bar in our old neighborhood, which made me incredibly nostalgic. Always good to know that DC isn’t going anywhere, if we decide we want to come back after finishing the trail.

We headed back to Front Royal to Pat and Debbie’s, where we were treated to a delicious dinner, sat out on a porch stargazing, and even snuck in a vineyard tour in the morning before we got back on the trail! Huge thanks to them both for taking us in and treating us so well.

As you can see, I am not exaggerating when I say we’ve been totally spoiled the last few weeks. We’ve even joked about how soft we’ve gotten. But rest assured, we are back on the trail, ready to get back into the swing of things. That is, after one more treat in Harpers Ferry where we’ll  see my friend Allison who is coming up for the day.
All good things must come to an end…but only to make room for others on the horizon, or up the trail as the case may be. Half-way point in view, we’re keeping stride with a smile!


PS: I’m having to do this post from my phone and inserting pictures isn’t working. I promise to post some the next time I’m at a reliable computer… whenever that may be.

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