The Mountains in Virginia are Not My Friends

The vortex of Glasgow, Virginia almost got me.

Funny to think that such a small town very nearly had the power to pull me in, but small towns always seemed to have that affect on me. Between the pizza parlor we had feasted at and the ominous elevation gain ahead of us, I would have happily taken an impromptu zero day. But I knew we had goals to hit, and so I packed up my backpack and took off from Stanimal’s.

Spotter dropped us off in two separate trips—OG, Bad Bat, Pig-Pen and I all took off from the parking lot together. Cookie, Kamikaze, and Not Yet had already been dropped off earlier that morning. The climb out of the James River valley was steep and monotonous, and I struggled to keep pace as the temperature rose. It seemed like the uphills never ended, and when they did it wasn’t for long.

Left to right: Spotter, OG, Pig-pen, Bad Bat, Hellman.

Because so many people had all hiked out from the same spot that morning, we were all heading to the same shelter on trail. Being a little on the slower side that day, I arrived at the shelter around 7pm to find it completely packed. All of the good tenting spots had been picked over as well, and I made the tough decision to push on a little bit farther. I ended up camping on the side of a forest service road. Cookie showed up about an hour later. I hadn’t seen him since that morning when I first passed him, so I was glad he had pushed on as well.

The Priest

The next day we knew we would be climbing the infamous mountain, The Priest. The Priest was known for hilarious “confession” entries written by hikers in the shelter’s log book. I was giddy to read these confessions as a reward for the end of another tough climbing day. Around lunch time, we got unexpected and much appreciated trail magic from two previous thru hikers: Happily and Ever After. They had sandwiches, candy, and chips. We sat for a while and ate, talking to our newest acquaintances. I even discovered these hikers were from my area! Small world!

When Cookie and I finally got to the Priest shelter that day, we decided to push on and camp at the river below. But first, we would cook dinner at the shelter. We did this often, as water was easily accessible and it was very nice to have use of a picnic table for cooking. After filtering some water, I slowly opened this famous log book to find it nearly empty. Someone had switched it out for a fresh notebook just the day before, presumably because the notebook had run out of blank confession space. My heart was saddened, and with no good dirt on any hikers ahead of me, I sulked back to the picnic table to eat.

The Priest shelter.

Our descent off of the Priest was some of the toughest hiking I have ever done. It was long and steep, covered in slick, dried leaves and jagged, awkwardly shaped rocks. I fell once or twice and spent the entire time cursing about a pain in my left foot. Coming down off the mountain was worth it in the end, however, as Cookie and I ended up finding one of the nicest camping spots I had seen up to that point. We slept soundly next to the Tye River, ready to tackle our last tough climb in Virginia the next morning.

The Promise of a Beer

To call the climb tough would really be an understatement. Of all the steep, long climbs we had been thrown in Northern Virginia, this was by far the worst. The biggest problem that day was the heat—it was 8 am and already we were sweating. Admittedly, my main motivation for the day was our dinner destination: Devil’s Backbone Brewery. We planned to get celebratory beers there and camp out, then catch a ride back up to trail the next morning. Plus, I was excited for my first hitchhiking experience!

Once we got to the road, however, my heart was skipping beats. I was nervous to try to hitch on the side of this shoulder-less road. What if we didn’t get picked up? The brewery was pretty far off trail, and would probably not be worth the walk. I reasoned that I was being irrational, turned around once I heard a car coming, and stuck out my thumb. This white truck pulled over and told us to hop in the bed.

The truck bed was filled with mulch, which found its way to unsavory places during the ride. I had never ridden down a real road in a truck bed before, much less in these circumstances. I had to close my eyes for most of the ride, to avoid getting kicked up debris in my eyes. Once at the brewery, we hopped out and thanked the man who picked us up. We discovered that he worked for the brewery all along, and I felt slightly deceived. My first hitch had been successful, but this turn of events made it feel as though it had been done with training wheels on. Nevertheless, this would give me confidence for my next attempt.

Cookie and I set up our tents in a KOA style campground on the far side of the property, in an area dubbed “Tent City.” We expected some of our friends to join us, but we ended up having Tent City entirely to ourselves that night. It was conveniently positioned in front of the campground’s bathhouse, so ample foot traffic kept us from getting a lot of sleep that night. The food had been excellent, albeit overpriced, and we were just happy to have had the experience.

Our tents at Devil’s Backbone brewery.

On to the Rainy Bits

The next morning, an employee from the brewery offered us a ride up. She even stopped at the Exxon on the way so we could buy a few snacks and some breakfast sandwiches. We got up to the parking lot and sat in the grass to have breakfast, then set off for a short, 15 mile day. Almost immediately after we started hiking, the skies opened up and cracks of thunder shook the ground. I realized this was my first time hearing thunder while on trail, and was slightly surprised by this. The storm only lasted about an hour, maybe two. Soon enough, the sun was peeking through the cloud cover and we were beginning to dry out.

We stopped at a shelter about 5 miles out from Rockfish Gap that night. I ate an incredibly underwhelming Backpacker’s Pantry meal and some chips I had picked up from the Exxon. One of the weekend backpackers at the shelter asked Cookie and I if we were thru hikers and offered to take our trash. We found this offer so kind, but politely declined as we were headed into Waynesboro that next day. By the time I retired to my tent that evening, my feet were screaming. I had been dealing with some foot pain for about 50 miles at that point, if not more, and intended to get new shoes.

In the morning, we noticed some of our gear was still wet from the thunderstorms the day before. We sprawled our stuff out in the early afternoon sunlight for a few hours before even taking off. We only had 5 miles between camp and Rockfish Gap, where we were getting off trail to spend some time in Waynesboro. Some friends of mine from home were coming to visit me, and I was ecstatic to finally see them after 2 months.

When we made it up to the Blue Ridge Parkway at Rockfish Gap, we were immediately flagged down by a lady giving out trail magic. She called us over to her van, where she had a cooler filled with lunch meat and cheese, loaves of bread, cookies, and drinks. Cookie and I immediately got to work making sandwiches for ourselves. Shortly after, my friends arrived and took us into town.

Zeros are Essential

Typically when we get to town, our first priority flips back and forth between showering and finding food. It depends on the hiking we did that day, how much food we had left, and how badly we smelled. Considering the trail magic sandwiches, bathing was my top priority. My friends, Eric and Vici, had gotten us a room in town, and my wife had even sent along a fresh set of town clothes. I was happy to put on something other than trail clothes, but it certainly felt foreign.

A hiker with new shoes is a happy hiker indeed!

After cleaning up, we went for a delicious meal at Outback Steakhouse and got ice cream for dessert. Seeing friends from home brought me so much joy. The days on trail had still been very exciting to me thus far, but talking to the same people everyday can feel stagnant. I had reached a point where I began to wonder about my friends, family, and coworkers. I reminisced about times at work, both good and bad, and the connections I had made there. Would I still feel miserable? I didn’t know, and sharing updates and good memories made it more difficult to answer that question.

We spent the next day with Eric and Vici as well. I was able to get some off trail chores done in the morning, then in the afternoon we all went to Chipotle for lunch. We took a nice trip up Skyline Drive and got to see some of the views we would be denied on trail. I was in awe at the beauty of the Shenandoah Valley, and remembered how much I had loved my first visit to the park. Dinner with my friends that evening was bittersweet, as I knew we would be parting ways that next morning. But I was excited to set off into Shenandoah National Park and experience the joy I knew the park had to offer.

Enter: Shenandoah

My first steps into the park the next day felt incredible. This was probably because of the new shoes on my feet, but I was also excited to catch up with some friends. Gummy Bear had informed us he would try to push to Blackrock Hut, where Cookie and I planned to stay. We got there around 6:30, and sat down by the shelter to eat dinner. Gummy Bear was there, and we all got to catch up after not seeing each other for a while.

The station to fill out Shenandoah National Park backcountry permits.

Knowing that the national park was basically my last stretch of Virginia made me quite happy. I had thoroughly enjoyed Virginia up to that point, and hoped I would enjoy the next 150 miles of it as well. I hadn’t suffered from the “Virginia Blues” as of yet, but trail life monotony had set in a little bit. I wasn’t aware of just how out of the ordinary the next stretch of trail would be for me.

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Comments 4

  • erin : May 6th

    Good luck! Shenandoah is practically my back yard, and have enjoyed hiking almost every inch of it for years. We (my buddy and I) just finished the triple crown today, and ran into a few thru hikers (little bear was cool).
    Hope you have a safe trip

  • Sparks : May 7th

    Your blog is most helpful and interesting, am looking forward for more!
    My hike is next year.

  • thetentman : May 7th

    I hope the new shoes work out. Good luck.


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