When You’ve Been Stuck in Shenandoah for a Year…
…it feels pretty darn good to reach Rockfish Gap and leave the park behind.
OK, so I haven’t actually been stuck in Shenandoah for a year. But considering I had to abandon my thru-hike attempt there last year, in my mind I’ve been stuck there for a year, trying to get out. That was the first milestone: to finish Shenandoah NP.
In its defense, SNP was a good training and testing ground. It is known for being one of the tamer sections of the AT, so while there were some decent climbs and descents, it wasn’t too extreme. There was also lots of wildlife, which was neat to see. I saw three bears, which, when added to the two I saw last year in the park, means I saw a total of five bears. Compared to zero bears in over 1,200 miles last year, that’s a lot of bears. I heard several more as they went crashing through the woods running away from me. I also saw several deer, heard a lot of barred owls and saw one, and saw hundreds of squirrels. The carred owls calling in the night always made me smile when I was lying awake unable to sleep.
The first week is always hard for me because I’m constantly asking myself, “Why am I doing this again?” I feel homesick, I miss my family, my dog and my birds, and the uncomfortable nature of backpacking contrasts starkly to the comforts of civilization that I’ve grown accustomed to again over the past year. The normal aches and pains of hiking mean my knees, feet, hips, etc., all hurt some, although luckily I have not had any of the same pains that drove me off trail last year. And just like last year, bam, first week on the trail coincided with my least favorite time of the month. Fellow women hikers, you know what I mean. With the humidity and heat and constant sweat soaking my clothes, I got by with a little help from duct tape. Thank God it’s over now.
Overall, the first week was hard, but there were good moments. I shared my lunch break with a hummingbird on the top of Hightop Mountain. There was a day when I was walking along a ridge, and the trees were all bare, so I could see over to a parallel ridge and beyond. It was one of those views that just couldn’t be photographed because it wouldn’t do it justice. The very next view was coming out onto a pull-off of Skyline Drive and there were just mountains everywhere. I stared down into this bowl of Appalachia and the mountainous sides just rise up out of it and spread out and ripple for miles. I got chills standing there taking it in. I also loved seeing all of the wildlife out here, from animals to colorful fungi to massive trees that I couldn’t resist fist-bumping as I went by. And as always, the hiker community is amazing to be a part of.
The first week was hot and humid. The next week is supposed to be rainy, rainy, rainy. Luckily I will be with a few friends, which means some slackpacking and hotel stays mixed in with days on the trail. I will also have company while I hike, which will be nice. So while the next two weeks will certainly not be easy with the predicted weather and bigger mountains to climb, I am glad to have friends to help me through it.
Thanks for reading! Until next time, I’m hanging in there—waiting to see just how much potential rain this hurricane is going to dump on me! ?
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