The Shenandoahs Part I–Waynesboro to Luray

Posted from Luray, VA, 80 miles into the Shenandoahs

I had been looking forward to our hundred miles through the Shanandoahs because the terrain would be easier and there would frequent waysides and camping areas where we could get food and water, take showers and do laundry–a perfect place to hike! But, our first few days were unexpectedly rough.

Tuesday July 28

Waynesboro to Calf Mountain Shelter 

7.6 miles

Yellow Jackets!

We both woke up early at the motel in Waynesboro and worked quickly to get our stuff packed up because Backfire was eager to get ‘first breakfast’ at the motel before getting ‘second breakfast’ at Stella, Bella and Lucy’s in town. Kathy Johnson, our Trail Angel in Waynesboro, who had picked us up at the trail yesterday and had picked us up for dinner last night, was going to meet us for breakfast and then take us back to the trail head afterwards.


Our Trail Angel, Kathy, with us at Stella, Bella and Lucy’s in Waynesboro, VA

Kathy dropped us off near the trail head in front of the hot dog/caramel corn stand where Backfire bought a much anticipated hot dog–or ‘third breakfast’. This is how he loses 30 pounds and I lose eight!


Backfire with his third breakfast!

I expected our entrance into the Shenandoahs to be marked with a grand sign like ‘Welcome to the Shenandoahs!’ but there wasn’t even a sign marking the AT!  It was an inauspicious start to a grand adventure.

About two miles into our day, I must have planted my pole in a yellow jacket’s nest because I was surprised by a sharp sting on my lower leg!

“Owwww!”. I GOT STUNG!

To which Backfire yelled, “RUN!”

He immediately saw the yellow jackets swarming out of the nest when I hit it and I took off running, but running is not easy on a slippery, rocky trail while carrying a backpack,  two sticks and 68 years! Mel was running behind me yelling, “Ow!” “Ow!” “Ouch!” Run!! (I was!) The yellow jackets were still after us when I got to a tricky switchback with a two foot drop. While I was dithering about how to get down the rocks without breaking my leg, Mel kept getting stung and he just jumped over the rocks that I was still dithering about. In the end, Backfire got nailed 5 times, I got nailed once. Very painful even hours later.


An inauspicious start to the Shenandoahs!

The trail wasn’t hard and we didn’t have a long day, but it was very hot and extremely humid, plus the gnats were out in full force! Mel was dripping wet with sweat and we were both still traumatized by our encounter with the yellow jackets when we arrived at the shelter later in the day.

We got there in plenty of time to get water from the spring, cook and do our other chores before it started to rain. Because of the rain, we decided to spend the night in the shelter,  but I worried all night about mice running across my face or other exposed parts!

It was not a good start to our hike into the very pleasantly anticipated Shenandoahs!


Riding the tractor seat up in the hills!

Wednesday July 29

Calf Mountain Shelter to Blackrock Hut

13 miles

Jungle Walk

It rained into the night for quite awhile, but had stopped by morning–until we were ready to leave that is. We waited a bit for the rain to let up and then took off while it was still falling gently.

An hour or two into our walk, Backfire and I were startled by a young bear in the woods to the left of us about 50 feet! He started scrambling away from us as we made loud noises and hustled down the trail away from him. Whew!

Beautiful. sumac

The trail today was again relatively easy with gentle rolling hills. On a fall day, we might have enjoyed it, but the humidity really took its toll on us again. Even when it wasn’t raining,  it still felt like 100% humidity!  It was like we were walking through a jungle! Backfire was again totally dripping wet and I was still sweaty damp– and, did I mention smelly? What made the day even harder was the gnats. They were constantly trying to get into our eyes and ears and mouths. It’s very annoying and very tiring trying to keep them at bay.


beautiful views and rocky trails

We were really happy to get to the shelter and eventually into our tent so we could spend the rest of the night free of bugs!


A big ol’ nasty fly!

Thursday July 30

Blackrock Hut to Loft Mountain Campground

6.7 miles

Snakes and Rangers

The tent was muddy and nasty from all the rain yesterday and our clothes were still wet –even though we had hung them out last night to dry. Both of us were on the grumpy side this morning from all the heat, humidity and bugs.


A bear box next to our campsite


The trail today was mostly pleasant (meaning fairly flat with no rocks) but the humidity was again quite high and backfire was totally soaked within a relatively short period of time. I was sweaty wet too, but not like him. He looked miserable. Add to that the flies and the gnats and you have two fairly crabby hikers.

Our plan today was to walk to the Loft Mountain Wayside and have a cold drink and a hamburger, then walk another 3 miles to the next shelter. But when we got to the campground much earlier than expected, we thought–why not stop at the Camp Store where we could take a shower and do laundry?? Then we thought, why not just stay at the campground and screw walking 3 more miles in this heat! So that’s what we did!

When we checked in at the ranger station, we had the best kind of trail magic ever from Ranger Bill Rodriquez. First, he offered to drop us off at the Camp Store so that we could take a shower and do laundry–as well as get drinks and snacks. Later, when we were walking back to our campsite (heading in the wrong direction), he offered to pick us up, take us to our site and then take us to the Wayside diner after we set up our tent. (The diner was more than a mile away!) When I told him about the rattlesnake curled up near our campsite (the snake I had walked by two or three times without noticing because it was sound asleep and not rattling), he went right over to our site and worked on relocating it by capturing it with a long hook and putting it in a bag– but the snake managed to slither away into the brush. Rats!


The sleeping rattler near our campsite


Ranger Bill to the rescue!

After Ranger Bill dropped us off at the Wayside diner, we ordered something for lunch and then hung around for quite awhile waiting for a storm to pass through. We had desperately hoped that the rain would cool things off, but as we walked the mile uphill back to the campground, there was steam billowing up from the road. It was like a sauna!

Friday July 31

Loft Mountain Campground to Pinefield Hut

6.5 miles

Relief at Last!

The temperature finally dropped last night–maybe even into the mid 60s or lower!  It was wonderfully cool and breezy all night long–perfect for sleeping. This morning, I actually had to start out with my wind jacket on because I was cold! Oh, blessed relief!


the reward at the top of a mountain!

 We packed up early and got down to the camp store so we could get a little something to tide us over before the Wayside further down the road a mile opened at 9:00 and we could get a real breakfast instead of eating beer nuts, Pop Tarts and granola bars!


Hanging our food on a bear pole in the Shenandoahs

The weather stayed pleasant all day! It may have gotten up into the 80s, but the humidity was low and there was often a breeze, so it was a comfortable hike. We also walked less than 7 miles and took a number of refreshing breaks! So, for a change, we weren’t dripping wet and exhausted when we set up camp. Small blessings!

Saturday August 1

Pinefield Hut to to an unmarked campsite past Skyline Drive

About 11.6 miles

900 Miles and Scooby Doos for Lunch

We left camp around 8:00 and got to Hightop Hut for lunch by 12:30–pretty good time for us for 8.2 miles! We were the only ones at the hut for awhile until ‘Blessed Wolverine’ arrived, a guy we had passed earlier in the day who was about our age and who had also started from Springer Mountain in April. Wolverine was going to keep walking the trail –but only until football season started at U of M!  He was a diehard fan from Monroe, Michigan!


We passed the 900 mile mark in this section!

After Wolverine arrived, two young guys showed up, Arkansas and Tourist. A little while later, three women showed up that we had run into yesterday. They had met each other through an  online group called ‘Trail Dames’ and arranged to meet up to  do some hikes together in the Shenandoahs.

While we were all sitting around talking, Arkansas and Tourist were making their lunch. I was particularly distracted by what Arkansas was doing. First, he pulled out a tortilla and laid it on the picnic table. Then he opened a small container of peanut butter and smeared it on the tortilla. So far so good. Nothing odd about that.  But then he picked up a packet of cinnamon/brown sugar Pop Tarts and proceeded to crush them in the package. When the Pop Tarts were sufficiently crumbled, Arkansas opened the package and poured the contents on top of the peanut butter and tortilla. Hmmmm. After the crushed Pop Tarts, he added a package of Scooby Snacks! The final layer was more peanut butter! Arkansas then folded  the tortilla up like a burrito and ate it! Not exactly my cup of tea, but it was great entertainment!


The Scooby Pop Tart burrito!


Scooby snacks–in case you want to buy some!

After a long lay over at the Hightop Hut, we hiked a few more hours and set up camp about 6:00 at some random campsite. Tomorrow,  we only have 8 miles to Lewis campground where we will shower, get snacks and drinks, and do laundry. Yay!

Sunday August 2

Campsite near Skyline Drive to Bearfence Mountain Hut

9 Miles

Pigs or Ants
Our campsite was near Skyline Drive and US 33 so we heard car and motorcycle noises for quite awhile, but things eventually quieted down. It was a cool, pleasant evening and we both slept fairly well–cosidering we were both sticky with sweat!

Today’s walk was probably as easy as it’s ever been and the weather was pleasntly cool–a perfect combination. Add to that, we stopped at Lewis Mountain Campground for showers, laundry and food–a perfect ending to a perfect  day!


A very rocky road!

Being together 24/7 for months on end, Backfire and I sometimes run out of intelligent things to talk about so we wind   up ‘arguing’ about stupid stuff–like the lyrics to childhood songs. Today on the trail, Backfire started singing…
Would you like to swing on a star

Carry moonbeams home in a jar

And be better off than you are

Or would you rather be a….pig

A pig???  “It’s an ‘ant’,” I corrected.

“No, it’s a pig!” said he.
“I’m positive it’s an ant!” said I.

“I’m sure it’s a pig!” countered Backfire.

In the end, we  decided that there were probably several verses to this song, one of which might have been about a pig and one of which might have been about an ant. We also knew that when we had wifi again, we could settle this very, very important ‘argument’ once and for all!

(When we finally did have wifi, I found out that both Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby sang this stupid song and that the lyrics included a pig, a mule, a fish and a monkey, but no ant. GeeezI had  a big wager resting on that one! I was sure it was an ant!)

Backfire could barely take this picture because I was so close to the edge!

By noon, Backfire and I had already completed 8 miles and had reached our first destination, Lewis Mountain Campground (a former “separate but equal” campground for “Negroes only”) where we ate, took showers, did laundry and relaxed on the front porch all afternoon. It was an exceptionally lovely afternoon!
After we had finished all our ‘chores’ and eaten our fill of ‘real food’ (microwave burgers, sandwiches, ice cream and pop), we had another mile or so to walk to Bearfence Mountain Shelter where we would set up our tent nearby. It was still delightfully cool and, for once, we wouldn’t have to go to bed stcky! It was the best day ever!

Monday August 3

Bearfence Mountain Hut  to mile point 930.2

14.1 miles

A Walk in the Park…and then

It was a wonderfully cool night for sleeping and a wonderfully cool and breezy day for hiking. The trail was so easy it was like a walk in the park!
After 8 miles, we came to the Big Meadows Wayside where we had a tasty, sit down lunch of BBQ sandwiches, soda, salad and fries (the usual fare from a limited menu). We relaxed outside at the picnic tables for awhile and then decided we needed ice cream cones to make our meal complete! We were happy campers!


On top of the world!

And then…we left Big Meadows around 3:00 and headed to the Rock Spring Hut which was only another 4.4 miles away. We figured since we were well fed and well rested, we could probably go past Rock Spring Hut until we found a camping spot, but the  day had gotten much warmer and the trail had gotten much steeper and much rockier. After awhile on the rocks, my feet were really starting to scream, especially the baby toe on my left foot that has been tender for quite some time. I also had a tender area above my left ankle that I accidentally whacked with my pole! OMG that hurt!

We ended up walking for hours before finding a flat enough spot away from the trail to pitch our tent.  It was a tiny little spot in the middle of a very woodsy woods. By evening, the wind is blowing so hard that I kept thinking a limb or a tree would surely blow down on us and we would be squished dead. I wasn’t quite ready to for that and, even though I couldn’t do a thing about it, I lost a lot of sleep worrying!


A raspberry very similar to our Michigan thimbleberry –yum!

The good news is, our longer walk today  meant a very short walk into breakfast tomorrow morning!

Tuesday August 4

Campsite in woods to Thornton Gap (and Luray, VA)

11.5 miles

Backfire felt something crawling on him while he was talking to Matt on the phone in the tent tonight. It was a big, ugly spider (aren’t they all?) and it had to go! Later when I got back in the tent (after  my evening foray into the woods), another ugly spider got in! But it ran under my mat  and we couldn’t find it even though we looked everywhere. We were both edgy about a spider lurking in the tent all night and  about the  the wind throwing giant limbs down on us! It was a worrisome night.

While I was lying awake, I saw a bright light in the distance in the woods coming towards us. It was the middle of the night in the middle of the woods. Who was out there? Backfire was sound asleep, but I thought a strange light in a strange woods was reason enough to wake him up. Then we both watched the light coming closer then fading back and tried to figure it out. Eventually, it faded away and we decided it was probably campers setting up camp from an access road or another trail.

Shortly after dawn the next morning we  left camp and headed to the Skyland Wayside Resort less than two miles away where we would have a real breakfast on real plates!

A silly selfie!

While we were at the Skyland Wayside and had a phone signal, we called the South Court B&B in Luray to see if we could get get a room for two nights. It was going to be a special treat to ourselves to celebrate our 27th wedding anniversary.

After securing a room for two nights, we still had to walk 10 more miles to get there– up Stony Man Summit and Little Stony Man Cliffs, up and down the Pinnacle, up and over the ‘hill’ with Mary’s Rock and then back down again along an  extremely rocky, foot crunching trail to US 211 where we hoped to get a hitch into Luray to our B@B. It was a long hike in, partly because of all the beautiful overlooks we stopped to admire and partly because of the last few miles of rocky downhill.

At one point early in our day, while I was in the lead, I heard what sounded like a million cicadas suddenly coming alive! Very strange. Then I realized that the noise I was hearing was a rattlesnake –and there it was slithering across the path in front of me about 10 feet away! Backfire and I both stepped back and watched the snake disappear into the woods –all the while rattling its tail. Yikes!

We got to the road that would take us to Luray around 5:00. We had been told that Luray was a very hiker friendly town and that it would be easy for us to get a ride. It wasn’t. As old and as tired as we looked, nobody picked us up. So, we called one of the people on the shuttle list and within 15 minutes,  a man named Jim picked us up, drove us nine miles into Luray, gave us a quick tour of the town, and dropped us off right in front of our B&B! When we asked Jim how much we owed him, he said, “Nothing.” Even when we tried to give him money for gas, he wouldn’t take it! What a delightful surprise after being so discouraged trying to hitchhike.

Breakfast at the South Court Inn, Luray, VA

  The South Court Inn is a large, lovely home run by Adelheid and Mike Osmers. When we arrived all sweaty and tired, it felt like Mecca! Our bedroom had complimentary chocolates waiting on the bed, snacks on the dresser, cold drinks in the fridge and a jacuzzi to soak in! We were definitely feeling the need for some serious R&R! It’s been delightful!

South Court Inn, Luray, VA


from The Spider Diaries

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Comments 5

  • Nancy Camden : Aug 5th

    Oh you kids! I am so in awe with this last post telling about several days. I could not do what you have been doing. Rattle snakes, a bear, yellow jackets, spider in bed, light in the night, etc. So, you have to lay awake and worry all night ( I would) and then, walk all day. Oh, my. I thought it was a flat dirt path through the woods. Look at the rocks! You have my admiration. Maybe you were thinking of ants and the rubber tree plant. I was with you on the ants. P.S. I can almost smell you from here in Wisconsin. Sorry.

  • slovakiasteph : Aug 6th

    I enjoy reading your posts! I used to live in MI as well.

  • jill Foster : Aug 6th

    I love the tractor seat! Just sitting on top of a mountain so hikers can stop and enjoy the view? At last you are hitting some cooler weather; you must be getting north at 900 miles.
    Great wildlife, except for the spiders in your tent. I would have spent hours looking for the second one!

  • Marietta Jones : Aug 7th

    I met Wolverine very briefly! Way back in Tennessee! He was having trouble setting up his tent and so I helped him a bit. I’m from Michigan as well, wearing a Tiger’s hat, so we talked for a bit. I just remember feeling so strong that day! I think it was close to Laurel Falls. Anyways, it’s always neat to hear who’s still out there and how they’re doing =]

  • Bill Rodriguez-Cayro : Aug 9th

    It was a pleasure meeting you both. Happy trails to you.

    Ranger Bill LMCG


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