Ukelady and Possum Explore the Shenandoahs
Ukelady here! Our blog posts may be a bit behind, but they’re full of our grand adventures and we are having a blast!
July 21 – 7.5 miles
Today we started the Shenandoahs! I woke up at our hostel in Waynesboro full of excitement and positive energy. I actively wanted to hike, which is not always the case, so this was a promising start to the morning. Things got better as I indulged in hostel luxuries: shower, laundry, and eating the caramel apple donuts I’d bought the night before while watching Zoolander. Finally, after packing and blogging and all that good stuff, we were ready to hit the trail.
The Shenandoahs were pretty immediately gorgeous. Big open fields full of bunnies and butterflies. Unfortunately we got slammed by rain for the first hour, but our spirits were unflagging and the sun came back eventually. Maybe it’s because we were just in town, or perhaps my bright mood was keeping me extra centered, but I really noticed the stillness and the quiet during the hike today. Just birdsong and insects and nice views… until we got to all the radio towers, anyway.
Possum was being a trooper while sporting some weird foot injuries – he rubbed a layer of skin off the top of one foot last night, and his other foot is half swollen from a bee that stung him through his sock yesterday. He gave them proper treatment when we got into camp, where a ton of people were already gathered. I guess this will be a busy section!
July 22 – 13 miles
Look at us, throwing down a thirteen mile day like it’s no big deal. When you start your day with a slammin’ breakfast of bagels with hummus and avocados, you are telling the world you are ready for great things. And so we were!
Today was gorgeous, absolutely beautiful – blue skies and a nice open path. To add some variety to our hike, we decided to listen to an audiobook together to give us something new to talk about. We’re eight chapters into Ready Player One and so far it’s just a self-congratulatory nerd boy fantasy buried under 1980s pop culture references. If nothing else, it’s giving us plenty to complain about.
We got to our shelter just before 7:00, making great time for us. Possum cooked up some hot dogs over a fire like a true camper, and we chatted with a family of section hikers who are finishing up their trip. So far the Shenandoahs are full of people, and it’s a nice change of pace – even if it does make good camping spots hard to come by.
July 23 – 11.5 miles
Getting to a leisurely start is kind of our signature move out here. Most hikers are up and out with the clockwork regularity of a morning commute, while we seem to think we exist in a perpetual Saturday morning. It’s far preferable, I’ll tell ya. So given our near-noon start today, it’s pretty impressive we reached our 13 mile destination in the end. We did this, of course, through some well-intentioned cheating.
The Shenandoahs are awesome and well marked, with many awesome blue-blazed side trails that lure you away from the A.T.s white ones. We unfortunately didn’t find out about the three-waterfall parallel trail in time, but we did follow shortcuts to a camp store and restaurant (they call these diners Waysides). It’s always a nice hike when you get sweet potato fries and blackberry ice cream in the middle.
We got to our shelter at sunset, exhausted but proud. We’re a bit of a hot mess at the moment: Possum’s feet are still painfully torn up, and my sleeping bag and liner have been soaked for days from rain, so I’ve been sharing his like a blanket. Plus my sleeping pad has a fast-acting hole in it, so sleep is rough. But despite the little issues, we’re still convinced we’re living like kings out here. Sleepy, sweaty, globetrotting kings.
July 24 – 8.2 miles
Another slow start, but this one wasn’t quite as victorious. We kept misreading each other and left camp fighting, but had settled things back to their regularly scheduled joyful state before too long. I’m not sure why mornings are our hardest point – we’ve been having various squabbles around leaving camp since this trip started that we still haven’t quite managed to eliminate despite significant creative thinking. I’m pretty sure it’s because we’re the most stressed then; instead of enjoying being in the moment, we transition to worrying about the day ahead. But that stress doesn’t serve us well, so we’ll keep working on it.
Our happy hike was punctuated by frequent stops for the sweetest wild raspberries, which are all over the trail right now, and a joyous arrival at the 900 mile mark. Go us! We listened to more of our audiobook (still dumb) to get us through the surprisingly steep climb to the shelter, and there met a bunch of awesome hikers (two from Australia!). Before we knew it, we were curled up in our tent falling asleep to the sounds of the Wood Thrush. Once we get moving for the day, it’s amazing how fast it all flies by.
July 25 – 2 miles
Alright guys, I need to confess something here: I’m falling in love. When I started this hike, my dreams were of finding a new way to live, of escaping routine and conquering something. It didn’t really have anything to do with the woods or communing with nature. I hoped to see some waterfalls, but that was the most of it. And for most of my trip, nature has been the secondary level to my adventures, the setting rather than the focus.
But something is happening here in the Shenandoahs. I’m falling in love, with these little mountains and this world. It’s not the big stuff – the expansive views – or the easy terrain that’s getting to me. It’s just a different feeling, a different beauty. Collecting handfuls of raspberries while you work your way down the green tunnel. Butterflies all around an open meadow. The trees, the flowers. Something here just feels intrinsically right to me. Everything does. It’s new and different – I want to live here. I’m already making plans to come back and hike more. I see the ‘help wanted’ signs and I’m tempted. I’m dreaming. I love it.
Ironically, we didn’t hike today. We did two miles and then hitched through the park to a lackluster blackberry festival. Maybe it was because we have attended so many great events lately, but the thrill of adventure wore off quick today and Possum and I agreed we would rather have been hiking – a first for us. As we made our way back to the trail, we stood by the side of the road and watched a herd of deer run across into the huge open expanse of Big Meadows. They were jumping higher than I’ve ever seen, cutting through the fields with ease. It was like watching dolphins seamlessly pushing through an ocean current. I thought about the zoo where I used to work; I loved watching the deer streak across their pen first thing in the morning. And here I get to see them where they belong – still interrupted by roads and human interference, but still on their own, still doing their own thing. It was beautiful. I’m so glad we’re still out here. The world is full of surprises.
We tried to hitch back to trail but only made it halfway. The kindest people let us share their campsite tonight. More serendipitous magic.
July 26 – 3.5 miles
Today was one of those days that is close to perfect from start to finish. Being so near to the lodge and its facilities meant we knew a hot breakfast was tantalizingly close, and we knew we had an easy day ahead of us. Our waitress surprised us with some good news – “Have y’all heard about our breakfast buffet?” – and we immediately set to filling plates.
Since we had skipped more miles than we meant, we were weirdly ahead of schedule. This gave us the great freedom to go waterfall hunting! Our camping hosts had given us some tips on the best trails, so on their advice we went from Dark Hollow Falls to Rose River Falls.
The first was nice though crowded, but the second was stunning. It was much smaller with a perfect swimming hole at the base. We met a pair of day hikers who had already taken the plunge and encouraged us to brave the icy water. Possum had more nerve than me and made quite a splash, and I eventually followed. It was too pretty to pass up, and absolutely exhilarating once you were in.
Sometimes, the reality of being out in the woods for too long catches up with you and you just crave comfort. How you react to being totally overwhelmed is highly individual, which is how today found me crying alone at a Skyland Restaurant table like a complete weirdo.
To explain: I knew when I woke up that there was a possibility of a mushroom burger in my future. Food is a key motivator out here in the woods. Portabello promises were my driving force as rain poured down around us, making me feel miserable. I fought to stay positive until we got to the Skyland Resort and had a chance to dry off and use some wifi. Then came the struggle: to justify, while in a low mood, the need to go splurge on a sandwich. After much back and forth, we decided it was worth it and got a table. It took an eternity to be served, and when they guy came to finally take my order he laughed sadly and said they were out of all mushrooms. And also the vegetarian salads, for good measure. I ordered nothing, and as he walked away I started to cry. Because there were no mushrooms, and I was wet and tired and it is hard to watch old people spending money like their lives depend on it when you’re trying to spend only a dollar per mile. It was a lot all at once, and I felt dumb, but feelings are feelings.
July 28 – 4.4 miles
It’s our four-month trailiversary! Boy, have we been out here a while. We were coming past Luray, a town of many a school field trip, and decided to nearo there since the book promised a bowling alley and a movie theater. Kind of a bust, since the bowling alley looks to have closed up years ago and the sweet struggling movie theater only does nighttime showings, but we had a nice lunch and got a bunch of baked goods instead. Not a bad compromise.
We should say too that the people out here continue to be so kind – we were given rides by a cadre of nice women today, and we were very thankful. People off trail are super afraid of hitch hiking, but our experiences just keep reinforcing how genuinely good people still are.
Our time in the Shenandoahs is drawing to a close. None of the promised bear sightings yet, but deer lurk behind every corner. We stopped for lunch at the last Wayside because my body demanded hot food, and then Possum surprised me with root beer floats, with blackberry ice cream just like we had at the Blackberry Festival. So sweet!
July 30 – 13.4 miles
Another unhappy squabble this morning, but one that finally lead somewhere and helped us figure out some of the larger roots of the little problems we’ve been having. Knowledge is power! After hashing out our feelings, we got some serious hiking out of the way, sadly finishing the Shenandoahs.
Everyone had told us that we would see a bear somewhere in the park if we hadn’t already in our trip, but our bear count sat steady at zero. That is, until this afternoon at the edge of the park where we got a close encounter with a momma bear and her two adorable bear cubs!
They were so sweet and not bothered by us at all – about as tame as the deer we’ve seen, and hardly skittish. Watching them was awe-inspiring and the highlight of my day for sure.
We were making really good time in really high spirits, and when we finished our planned 10 miles we decided to push on to a nearby B&B. Mountain Home was a charming little cabin with a very sweet and enthusiastic owner. Beds and blankets were a dream come true, and it was an awesome way to end our Shenandoah adventure.
Now, time to get the hell out of Virginia!
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.