The Rest of Virginia: Glamping in a Minefield of Bears
From Atkins to Harper’s Ferry, I’ve had the chance to experience the rest of Virginia. I haven’t felt particularly blue in any of this time (so no “Virginia Blues” for me) but I’ve definitely had my own set of trials thrown into the ridiculousness that is hiking the AT. These snippets from the last three weeks should explain why.
1. Quitters Club
Although we’re still very much in the game (me, Beast, Click Clack!) I’ve heard of or seen quite a few people either leave the trail of their own accord, or be forced off by injury. It seems Virginia is where dreams do go to die. Sadly, of the group of three guys I caught in Atkins, two had to get off due to serious injuries. The Gainesville Gang became a party of one. Now we’re considering calling ourselves Two Chicks and a Click, since it’s me, Beast, and Click Clack. We’ve also caught up to an awesome bubble and even caught Six Strings today (the speedster from Germany).
2. Murder Shelter
Before we caught Beast, Click Clack and I ended up sleeping in Wapiti shelter without knowing it was the “murder shelter,” where Randa Lee Smith brutally killed two hikers. In retrospect we should have known something was up when literally NO ONE else showed up at the shelter the night we were there.
About a week later Click Clack, Beast and I pushed a 25 mile day to Sarver’s Hollow Shelter, which is located 0.5 miles off trail. Now it may not seem like much after 25 miles, but if it ain’t the trail, few hikers want to do an extra half mile, especially when it’s all down hill, but this shelter was going to be it, since it was also the only water source for miles around.
Click Clack and I showed up first. There was a couple we had leapfrogged with on trail and a lone guy who didn’t say much already there. As time went on it became pretty clear that the lone guy was either on some serious drugs or otherwise out of it and would not talk to anyone. He even ripped a page out of the shelter log for some reason and threw it on the ground, then started whistling repeatedly and incessantly. Click Clack and I looked at each other. We were both feeling the bad vibes off this guy, and after some eye signals decided to move on. So, we filled up on water and pushed out the 0.5 uphill climb, caught Beast on our way up and hiked another 4-5 miles until we found a stealth site on top of the ridge, turning an already long day into an exhausting 30 mile day. Maybe it would have been fine, but after sleeping unknowingly near the site of two murders, none of us were willing to risk ending up future victims of a disturbed mind.
3. Rattlesnakes Galore
I’ve almost stepped on two rattlesnakes. If you listen to music on headphones, keep one earbud out. Trust me on this.
4. The Minefield of Bears
By the time I got to the Shenandoahs I’d already seen two bears. Both were on their lonesome, and both ran like the devil were chasing them when they saw me. So, when I got to the Shenandoahs, I’d heard there were a lot of bears, but didn’t think much of it. I was so so wrong. Not only did I see bears as promised, I saw mama bears and their cubs, which are a whole different sorta bear. Where lone bears head for the hills, mama bears want to whup your sorry little hiker ass.
I saw a mama bear with three cubs charge another hiker as he tried to sneak by on the trail, clicking his poles together frantically (not a smart move on his part).
A few days later, Beast and I rounded a corner in a section with tall brush on trail, and I saw a bear cub shoot up into the tree next to me, said “oh shit that’s a cub.” Another slightly larger bear stared at us from the bottom of the tree trunk. Beast screamed. Mama bear was huge, angry, and five feet away from us on the trail. She stood up on her hind legs, and hit her fore paws on the ground, snorting and moving her head side to side. We retreated back up the trail quickly, and, blowing our whistles, advanced again, hoping to scare the bears away. The huge bear got up on her hind legs again, and then ran at me in a charge. Forgetting everything I knew about bear safety I turned and ran away, with Beast in tow. Shaking, we stopped once we lost sight of the bear, and decided to just wait for awhile. After awhile, I saw a deer in the area that the bears had been, tentatively took the lead, and we inched forward on trail, waiting for the bears to pop up from the tall brush. Finally, after sneaking for a mile, we returned to our usual clip, knowing that this particular set of bears was gone. We were badly shaken, though, and honestly, I don’t need to see anymore bears.
The trail goes on and on…
Aside from my few tales of terror, I’ve enjoyed Virginia a lot. MacAfee Knob was awesome, as were Dragon’s Tooth and Tinker Cliffs. When the gentle rolling hills of Southern Virginia gave way to rocks and steep PUDs I thought Virginia had betrayed me, but a combination of nice weather, good friends, and lots of food has made for a good time. Being on trail seems like a habit now. Taking down camp, hiking, eating lunch, getting to camp and setting up all happen without real effort. I can set up my tent in one minute flat. I know exactly where everything in my pack is. It’s kind of magical when you think about it.
Well, that’s all for now. Life is good! I wish I could describe all the stupid fun we’ve been having, but there’s only so much I can write at a time.
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