Week 18 – Waynesboro, PA to Snickers Gap, VA
In this part of my journey, join me as we make our way through not 1, not 2, but 4 states! That’s right, we are leaving PA, making our way through Maryland and West Virginia (including the legendary Harpers Ferry), and entering into the huge state of Virginia, where we will spend 1/4 of our adventure on the AT! We will finally get back together with our good friend, Flicker, meet a new friend, Legolas, and see my family once more! All this and more. . .
Day 120 (8:08am – 11:30am, 8.6 miles, 35 degrees)
Today, we get picked up by Margaret from the Burgundy B&B in Waynesboro, PA. I’ve never stayed at a B&B before. But at least we’ll be out of the cold! It is supposed to be VERY cold tonight! Flicker is going to try to make it to our location tonight, but she’s not sure she’ll get there. But we should be able to meet up with her sometime soon. She still has Legolas with her as well, but unfortunately, we won’t be able to have Legolas join us for Thanksgiving. Hopefully we’ll be able to meet back up with Legolas after the holidays though.
We got our gear together, made sure the fire pit was cold, and began our journey for the day. The terrain is not terrible today, just a few ups and downs, and the millage is short. We’ll finally be leaving PA today as well! We’ll be crossing the Mason Dixon line just before we get to our pick up location to spend a nice, cozy, night in Waynesboro.
Ratatouille made it out first, again, today. We planned on making sure we’d met up by the state sign, so I followed behind her shortly after she left. The sun shone bright as we made our way through the woods, heading for Maryland. There are some storms that will be rolling in later, threatening snow and cold weather. We’re still trying to run as far south as we can before the snow starts to hit.
Not too far into my hike, I passed another shelter. Deciding to stop and say hello to the two people that were getting ready to begin their hike for the day, I rounded the corner of the lean-to to take a break and drop my pack for a minute. Ratatouille was already there, chatting with the couple. They were a couple of flipflop hikers that would be completing their journey at the Mason Dixon line! How exciting! We chatted with them for a while before Ratatouille and I decided to head on our way.
We walked for a little while, meandering through the woods and crossing roads here and there, until we finally stumbled upon the Mason Dixon line sign. We didn’t have a lot of time before we needed to be at the Penn Mar Park to get picked up for our shuttle to the B&B, so we took a very quick picture and threw our packs on our backs and took off down the trail.
We are officially into Maryland and only have 6 more states to go to complete our journey! We’re creeping closer to the psychological half way point of the trail as well; Harpers Ferry! I can’t wait!
As time ticked closer to our pick up time, we both picked up the pace, almost running down the trail with our full packs. Finally, we rounded a corner and head up a gravel path following some power lines. We emerged at a beautiful opening over a valley, as we broke through the trees into the open field of the Penn Mar Park.
We made our way towards the buildings in view, with just minutes to spare, as we saw a white van pull up. The woman in the van rolled down the window.
“Are you Margaret from the Burgundy B&B?” I asked.
“Sure am. Are you Dori?”
“Yup! We made it just in time!”
We dropped our packs into the van and were off to town. We ran a few quick errands with Margaret, chatting and getting to know each other along the way, then arrived at the B&B in downtown Waynesboro, PA. What a beautiful B&B! I’ve never stayed in one before, but this one will certainly set the bar high!
We were greeted by her friendly, and very excited, dog, Sunny, as we walked into the B&B. While we were getting settled, Margaret mentioned she had been helping some other hikers with slack packing. Slack packing! Ratatouille and I had missed just about every other opportunity to slack pack, frequently learning about the opportunity well after it had passed. What a perfect opportunity to do that now!
For those who don’t know, slack packing is when you leave the majority of your gear behind, bring only the bare essentials with you, get dropped off further down the trail, and hike back to where you left off. It allows you to cover a greater distance with less weight on your back, and you end up in the same hostel/B&B/hotel that you stayed the previous night. This was perfect! We chatted with Margaret and made plans to do our first slack pack of the AT since we started in Maine! We were ready, too! Maybe my feet will feel better with less weight!
For the remainder of our day, we played with Sunny, took a look around the B&B, chatted with Margaret, and decided to end our day with a nice walk around town. Waynesboro was a quaint little town, with some small, local, shops, that also had a fantastic burger joint with amazing milk shakes. We even got to see a tree lighting ceremony! Well, we got to see them turn on the tree lights at least (we got there just as the lights turned on). Then we made a quick stop at a local bar, and enjoyed some beer and food. After a few drinks, and lots of questions from the locals, we walked back to the B&B and retired for the evening, snuggled in our warm bed for the night. Tomorrow, we log some bigger miles! I can’t wait! I just hope my feet can hold up!
Day 121 (8:27am – 3:30pm, 18.4 miles, 55 degrees)
This morning, I performed minor surgery on my feet to try to address the blisters that had lodged themselves deep below some callouses. Sparing the gory details, lets just say I was finally able to resolve the problem. We’ll see how well my surgical procedure and the Leuko tape holds up with our 18 mile sprint today!
We collected our belongings and joined Margaret and Sunny downstairs for a wonderful, home cooked, breakfast. After we were fed, we gathered our slack packs for the day and hit the road. We drove almost 1 hour to our drop off point; the intersection of I-70 and route 40. We bundled ourselves up, as the wind was whipping and biting, and bid farewell to Margaret; at least until she picks us back up at the Pen Mar Park later today.
I threw my pack over my shoulders and was ready to go. I had removed just about everything from my pack, except for my warm gear, my rain gear, my food, and, of course, my first aid kit. Since I was a child, my father always trained me to be prepared for the worst case scenario. Since that time, I cannot go on any hike, whether it be only for a few hours, or a few weeks, without a first aid kit. So my slack pack was more of a “half pack”, I suppose. Ratatouille was putting me to shame with her stellar slack pack!
She had placed the few food supplies she brought with her carefully in her rain coat, then carefully wrapped it and managed to strap it around her shoulder. Perfect! I don’t think I would ever be able to reduce my gear to her extent. My hat tips to you, my friend.
We walked from the parking lot, heading towards the trail. Suddenly the trail bent to the left. But wait! We’re supposed to be going right! We have to head north, not south! We looked over our map and apps for a little while, trying to figure out where the northbound section of the trail was. After a bit, I realized that while this trail bent to the left, and there seemed to be a large highway blocking our way north, there was another quick turn we originally didn’t see that would lead us north, as we needed. So off we went.
We sauntered down the trail, Ratatouille quickly disappearing into the distance, as we traversed over one mountain ridge, then the next. As we neared the end of our day, with only a few more hours to go, we crossed a major highway and climbed up one more ridge; Raven Rock Cliff. The sun still shone brightly and the wind was gentle. The temperature had even warmed a little, allowing me to remove some of my layers. Ratatouille and I joined back up just in time to take a little lunch break together at the top of our climb up the cliff. I found a large rock, and sat myself on top, taking in the sun, and watching the local group rappelling and belaying down the cliffs we just climbed. What a beautiful view!
Ratatouille and I chatted for a little before she took back off down the trail. We were making excellent time, and I was not in a rush, so I decided to remain behind a bit longer, watching the climbers, and enjoying the sunshine. Basking on the rock like a lizard, I sat, until the sun slowly vanished and the clouds started to roll in. Time for me to pack up and roll out! I quickly collected my gear, threw another layer back on, recognizing the clouds as those that would soon try to drench me to my bones, and flew down the trail.
As I raced across the mountain ridges that came, I passed several campsites on either side of the trail. With every step I took, the winds increased their strength, until they were howling across the mountain tops. I watched the trees sway and the storm rolled in. I neared our pick up point, now jogging down the trail, soon to break into a full run with the impending doom starting to rain down upon us. I raced through another campsite, with campers on either side of me battening down their hatches. Some were fighting to set up their tents, their floor prints flapping in the breeze as they fought to keep them firmly set to the ground. Others were trying to maintain fires, some even trying to keep them contained! I hope I don’t read about any more wild fires in the area tomorrow morning! Some campers, the smarter of the bunch, had built themselves a wind wall made of whatever materials they could find. As I quickly trotted past each camper, all I could think was how thankful I was to be indoors tonight. Even though the rain was now pelting me in the face, I would still have somewhere warm and dry to stay tonight. It was going to be ok.
I was now running down the trail. The rain was falling harder as the trees cracked and creaked overhead from the winds. The clock was ticking and I knew, soon, Margaret would be waiting for us at the pick up point. With only 0.1 mile to go, the skies opened and the rain poured down. I rounded the corner and saw Margaret pull up in her white van. Ratatouille was under a gazebo with another person. Who is that?
Ratatouille saw me round the corner, so she and the other hiker headed towards me as I dodged the rain towards them. It was Flicker! We caught up briefly then parted ways. Poor Flicker had opted to stay outside tonight. Gosh I hope she stays dry and warm tonight! Ratatouille and I greeted Margaret once more and climbed, slightly soaked, into her car. Off we went, back to our warm bed, at the B&B.
Now warm and dry, snuggled back into our bed, we relaxed the remainder of the evening. My feet survived the day! They felt so much better, now that those darn blisters were addressed, but that pain in the balls of my feet still remains. It was not as bad today, but continues to be a problem. I think I need to consider getting new boots sometime in the near future. I’ll see how long I can tolerate this for, but I know I’ll have to make a change soon.
Day 122 (10:35am – 4pm, 12.1 miles, 37 degrees)
With no new wild fire reports in the news today, thankfully, Ratatouille and I once more gathered our belongings, this time with full packs, and joined Margaret for our last home cooked meal for a while. We should be able to catch up with Flicker soon! She’s not too far behind us now!
After breakfast, we said goodbye to Sunny, making sure to give him lots of scratches and playing with him one last time, then we climbed into Margaret’s van and were off, once more, for the I-70/route 40 intersection. Now knowing how the trail bent, and needing to continue our journey south today, we quickly took off down the trail. The winds howled and pushed against us, trying to slow our progress down the trail.
As we made our way through the woods, we came upon the Washington Monument.
I braved the winds for a brief moment to put my pack on the bench and make my way to the top of the monument. I kept myself crouched down low as I neared the top of the monument, while I got my camera on my phone ready for some good pictures. It was so windy out, that I had to grip my phone tightly as I quickly stood up and took a picture. As I spun around, a gentleman was standing around the bend.
“Hello,” he said. “Windy today isn’t it!”
“I’d say! How are you doing up here?”
We chatted, rather loudly as we attempted to speak above the howl of the wind. I learned he was watching the hawks, keeping track of how many there were and how they were all doing. He gave me a little history of the area before I could not longer stand the strong wind and said goodbye, wishing him the best of luck. Today did not seem like a great day for bird watching!
I made the climb back down the monument only to find my pack had blown over! I carry anywhere from 43-55 pounds on my back. That gives you a fair idea of how windy it was today. With the temperatures hugging in the mid 30s today as well, it was quite cold! My buff was pulled up over my nose as I made my way back down the trail.
I caught back up with Ratatouille at a small park. As we refilled our water at a spigot, she informed me of a nice little restaurant that had a buffet today. We decided that would be an excellent place to stop and have a break from the cold and wind. We head back down the trail, now eager for a break from the weather. Nearing the restaurant, we passed by an old church. I could not pass the photo opportunity!
Finally, we came upon the road we needed to cross. To our left, the trail continued on. To the right stood a rather fancy restaurant, the Old South Mountain Inn. Is this where we are heading? Are we going to be ok with our sweaty, dirty appearance? We entered through the front doors and searched for somewhere to place our packs. The greeter informed us the packs had to remain outside, but we were welcome to come in for lunch. We quickly dropped our packs, dug out our wallets, and ran back into the nice, warm, building.
Now warm and able to see clearly, without the blistering wind blinding me, I walked into a Christmas wonderland! Ornaments and snow flakes hung everywhere, with scenes of winter mistresses, snow men, and woodland creatures all around. We found ourselves a table, removed our cold and slightly damp layers, then began our eating adventure.
The food was absolutely delicious and the decor was stunning. We sat and enjoyed the warm meal, some hot drinks, and allowed our gear to dry a little before we started to get ready to leave and brave the sharp winds once more. After paying our reasonable bill, we were on our way. The sky was clear outside, but it was misleading. The winds still stung on our exposed skin as we donned our packs as quickly as possible, eager to hit the trail and pick up the pace so our body heat could keep us warm.
As we made our way through the woods, pushing against the blistering wind as we went, little white specks started to appear before us. One after another they fell and hovered in the air. It was snowing! We hiked as fast as we could to keep our body temperature up, as the snow pelted us in the face, threatening to freeze our skin if we stopped moving. I was stuck between an odd combination of hot and cold as we continued through a few more historic sites, stopping only briefly to take a look at monuments and plaques. My body heat was getting trapped beneath my layers, making my skin and clothing damp with sweat, but it was too cold out to remove any layers. As soon as I stopped to admire a historic site or view, my skin began to freeze slowly. Thawing and freezing I continued my journey, like Frosty the Snow Man walking through a line of heat lamps, until at last, I arrived at our destination, the Crampton Gap Shelter.
I will absolutely be staying in the shelter tonight! I have learned recently that tenting in the wind is MUCH colder than staying exposed in a shelter. At least that’s what my experience has been. I plan on trying to cover the front of the shelter with my tent floorprint, and tent rain cover as well, just to help keep more of the heat in the lean-to. As I made my way down the meandering 0.3 mile path towards the lean-to, I saw a family with two dogs in the distance. This lean-to may be packed tonight! I may HAVE to tent!
As I neared the shelter, eager to see if there was any space available, Ratatouille informed me she would simply tent up by the tentsites. Ok. Fair enough. Hopefully she stays warm enough tonight! I still wanted to see if there was enough space for me, since my tent seemed to be colder than Ratatouille’s and the winds were still howling and biting. The two labradors that were with the family ran up to greet me. I stopped to pet them for a bit before I approached the family. After some brief introductions, I saw they had already beaten me to my idea of covering the front of the lean-to; they had spread a tarp across the entire front. The two young girls, Lilly and Faith, came bounding from behind the tarp. Their eyes shone brightly as I dropped my gear and introduced myself to them. I chatted with the parents, Ron and Lisa, for a while, explaining that Ratatouille and I were southbound thru-hikers. The girls were elated! They asked me question after question and I could not help but see my 7 year old self in each of them. The two young girls truly loved being outdoors, braving the harsh weather, and dreaming of the day they could hike the entire Appalachian Trail! I had two little budding hikers on my hands. They were fantastic!
As their questions kept coming, I happily answered all of them. “You know. Since you did all that mileage today on the AT,” I told them with a bright smile, ” you can be considered section hikers of the AT right now!”
Their eyes grew big and bright as they hopped and jumped around the shelter. They started to come up with trail names for themselves as I shared a good giggle with their parents.
Ron and Lisa had made a warm fire and invited me and Ratatouille to join them. We all sat around the fire and shared stories and adventures, and ate our warm meals together. I told the girls and the family about some rather young hikers we had encountered in NH; a small family of 4 children, the oldest just out of high school and the youngest 12. The girls quickly asked their parents if they, too, could hike the Appalachian Trail and be thru-hikers like us. They smiled and replied that, one day, they certainly could. I also told them about my youth, how when I was their age, I, too, was hiking with my Dad in the mountains, learning what I could from him as we braved what the White Mountains had to throw at us. They loved every story and their courage and excitement grew with each word. I showed the girls my gear and explained how I got water, did my cooking, and so on and so forth, as they were starving for more information. Their parents tried to allow me some breathing space by encouraging the girls to let me do what I needed for the evening, but I did not mind their questions and excitement. I knew exactly how they felt! I was happy to share any information with them I could. Who knows, maybe one day they will take an adventure of their lifetime as well!
After dinner, I was welcomed to join the family in the shelter (it felt like being welcomed into their home for the evening). Another SOBO, Don, also set up camp in the little lean-to. All of us would be close tonight, but that’s ok. Hopefully our body heat will keep us warm through this cold night. We got ourselves settled for the evening as the sun dipped below the treeline and the temperature started to drop. We sat around the fire for a bit longer, the warmth protecting us from the cold that was closing in around us. As the fire dwindled, and the cold sunk in, I shivered my way into my sleeping bag, ready for a warm nights sleep. Or at least that was what I was hoping for. I shivered for a little while, snuggled into my bag, and it took a while before my legs finally warmed up. But after a few hours, my body heat was going strong and I was nice a toasty. I was ready to sleep in my little cocoon, warm and snuggly, until the morning light wakened me in a few hours from now.
Day 123 (7:58am – 12pm, 11.5 miles, 35 degrees)
The sun shone brightly in the sky as I started to wake for the day. I was a little slow to get moving this morning, not eager to step out into the cold air just yet. The labradors were getting eager to get moving as they started bounding around in the lean-to; two fuzzy alarm clocks waking their family for the day. Today, Ratatouille and I will arrive in Harpers Ferry! Harpers Ferry! The psychological halfway point on the AT! I can’t wait!
Ratatouille was already packed and ready to go when I emerged from the lean-to. She hit the trail immediately, as it was too cold to stick around and wait. No big deal. We decided to meet at the AT Headquaters in Harpers Ferry, where we would have our picture taken and find out what number SOBO we are for the year. My excitement was starting to boil inside me!
We would also be meeting with a few friends for the night in Harpers Ferry; Jen Rynda (a college soccer teammate and friend of me and Ratatouille’s) and Ratatouille’s friend and college teammate, Hayley. I never got to play soccer with Hayley, but I was eager to meet her as well. They would be joining us for the night in our hotel and would send us on our way the following day.
I went through my morning routine as the girls were busy trying to get their gear ready as well. I collected my belongings and bid the family farewell. Perhaps we’ll meet again. They, too, would be heading for Harpers Ferry today. That is where their several day adventure will end, for now. I took off down the trail, a little behind Don, and far behind Ratatouille.
The winds were not much better today. They still beat at us, making our exposed skin crisp and bitter cold. It seems like this is what is going to be like in the mountains for a little while. Hopefully, as we head south, the weather improves! The trees creaked and cracked overhead. With every step I took I watched for any branches or weak trees, making sure the winds did not make me a casualty on the trail. It was cold enough that looking for rattle snakes was not necessarily a concern, but they do enjoy hunkering down in thick beds of leaves. As I made my way down the trail, I walked through layers of leaves that were knee high! I will never see a rattle snake coming in this! I used my trecking poles out in front of me to, a.) make sure the ground was there before I stepped blindly into the leaves and b.) make sure if there was a hidden sleeping rattle snake, it was awaken by my pole and not my leg!
I made it safely through the leaves, without disturbing any sleeping rattlers and I quickly caught Don in an opening in the woods. Another beautiful historic site with an old ruin of a building. I took a few quick pictures, then continued on my way. The cold was not allowing any lengthy breaks for now.
After a while of traversing another windy ridge, I needed a break from the cold, and my stomach was grumbling, requiring a brief snack. There was no way I was going to sit in the open cold, so I plodded along until I reached another shelter. As soon as I walked around the side of the shelter, I had instant relief from the wind. I sat in the sunlight, enjoying the warmth, as I nibbled on my snacks. I heard footsteps approaching as Don rounded the corner. As he looked up at me, he jumped back, startled, not expecting anyone to be at the shelter. He had the same idea as me; a break from the wind!
We chatted for a little until I was once again ready to move on. I said goodbye, unsure if I would see him again, as I bundled myself up once more, ready to brave the winds. Off I pushed into the wind, eager to get to Harpers Ferry. As I got within a mile of the epic halfway point on the trail, my emotions started to run wild. I was beyond excited, as tears started to form in my eyes. This was it! I was halfway! I had made it this far! Already I have made it farther than most. Yet, I still had almost half my adventure to go! Every step I took closer, the tears came and went. I eventually found myself on a nice flat trail that followed between the Shenandoah River and an old canal. I raced down the path until, at last, it broke before me and there stood a bridge I would cross, with historic Harpers Ferry waiting for me on the other side!
I made my way, alone, across the bridge, hundreds of thoughts crossing my mind; thinking about hiking in the whites with my Dad and my uncle, and my Dad’s dream to walk where I was now standing. I could see the tourists on the other side, bundled in their warm coats and hats, reading the signs about the Appalachian Trail and the thru-hikers as I came into their site. They looked at me with awe as I came across the bridge and made my way down the old streets of Harpers Ferry. I had made it! So few have made it this far! I can’t believe I am here already! I am officially in West Virginia and tomorrow I will be in Virginia! I read every sign I could as I walked towards the beautiful old town. As I approached the old cobblestone street, a solo street lamp stood tall, bearing the epic white mark; the white blaze that I have come to follow and trust with my life.
But where was the next white blaze? I did not see one in site. I made my way through the little town streets, the tiny shops closed for the day. Where was the AT Headquarters? I pulled out my phone and opened my AT app. Looking at the tiny map on my screen, I was able to find my way. There it was, another white blaze, leading me up a old winding stone staircase. I followed as I passed one tourist after the next, each with that same look of awe in their eyes, as I lugged my gear past them. I passed a few old buildings, including an old church and a ruin of a church, until my path lead me along a wooded ridge line.
After roughly a mile, a blue trail emerged to the right. I took the short trail that brought me back into town, leading towards the AT Headquarters. The winds were still nipping at my face as I approached an old white building. There it was! The AT Headquarters! I walked through the front door and was welcomed by the warmth and the joy of an older gentleman.
“Welcome!” He smiled at me as I entered the building. “Are you a thru-hiker?”
“I am, and I believe my trail mate may be here already.”
“She sure is. Are you Dori?”
He gave me a very jolly tour around the facility and showed me to the hiker’s room. They had a room dedicated to the thru-hikers; a place for us to sit and relax, use their computers, have a snack, resupply, and look through the books that held the thousands of other hikers that had crossed that same threshold over the years. Ratatouille was already going through her package and organizing her resupply. She was almost ready to go to the post office and the hotel. We made plans to meet at the hotel later, as I still had some things to do. Before she left, we made sure to get our pictures taken.
It is official! Ratatouille was number 250 and I was number 251. That means only 249 SOBO thru-hikers had crossed that threshold before us, out of the roughly 500-600 SOBOs that had started their adventure back at Katahdin! What a journey it has been to this point already! And we still have so much farther to go! I wonder what our numbers will be when we get to Georgia?
Ratatouille left to meet her friends while I stayed behind to gather myself and my belongings. As I ate my lunch and organized my resupply, a tall, blonde haired, woman walked through the door with an enormous pack on her back.
“I’m assuming you’re a SOBO?” I asked as she walked into the thru-hiker’s room.
“Yea, and you are too?” She asked.
“Yea. I’m Dori.”
“Legolas! I’ve been dying to meet you since Maine! It’s so great to finally meet you! Where’s Flicker?”
She wasn’t sure where Flicker was, but she assumed Flicker should be showing up soon. Legolas and I chatted for a while, with various people coming and going, some tourists, and some thru-hikers. Finally, the door chimes went off once more, as Flicker walked through the door!
“Flicker!” I hollered with a big smile on my face. “Welcome!”
We chatted and caught up for a bit until it was finally time for me to head to the post office and then the hotel. I told Flicker where we were staying, but her and Legolas had plans to stay somewhere else. So we decided we would meet up in the next few days before my family would be picking us up for Thanksgiving.
I said farewell and made my way through the historic streets, making a quick stop at the post office, then walked to our hotel. Rynda and Hayley were already there. Rynda had so many questions for us! She wanted to know all about where we slept, what we were carrying, what we ate, how we were doing this, and all the other questions you could imagine. She even got to try on our packs. Lets just say, she had a MUCH easier time with Ratatouille’s pack than mine!
“So where do you sleep?” She asked as I was unpacking my gear and getting comfortable.
“In our tents or in lean-tos.” I answered.
“What are lean-tos?”
“Often three sided buildings with the front open. Sometimes we sleep on the floor. Sometimes they have mini bunks. But pretty much, it’s a roof over our head with a few walls to protect us from the winds and elements.”
“You guys sleep in a birdhouse for people!” We all laughed and continued chatting and catching up for hours before we finally decided on somewhere to eat. We found a local bar/restaurant and had ourselves a few delicious glasses of beer and a warm meal. After dinner, we returned to the hotel, reminisced about our college years, and eventually fell asleep in the soft warm beds. Tomorrow, we’ll have to say goodbye, once again, and we’ll be walking into Virginia!
Day 124 (10:58am – 3:40pm, 12.2 miles, cold enough degrees)
After a nice warm bed and some good sleep, we woke this morning and had a quick breakfast. Tonight is promising to be another cold night, so Ratatouille and I plan on heading to the Blackburn center; a closed in cabin that we can stay in. We gathered our belongings and said goodbye to our friends. But not before a quick picture of course.
I was said to say goodbye to Rynda and Hayley. It was fantastic to catch up with Rynda, and I felt I had made a new connection and friendship with Hayley, the two of us having more in common then we originally thought. But it was time for us to continue on our journey. All Ratatouille and I had to do now was cross this bridge, and we would be in Virginia! We made our way across the bridge, walking over the Shenendoah River, and arrived in the one of the last 4 states on our journey; Virginia!
This would be the longest state of our journey! With roughly 550 miles to walk through Virginia, this covers almost 1/4 of the trail! This would be our next big mental challenge. We would have to focus on smaller milestones, such as making it through the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoahs.
We made the climb up to the top of the ridgeline, ready to start our journey through Virginia. As we walked through the sleeping brown mass of trees that surrounded us, a vague outline of the mountain tops encircled us from every direction. The sites were stunning! Virginia has started off with some beautiful views. I hope the entire journey through this state will continue to grace us with such beauty.
The windswept skies opened above us as we made our way from ridge to ridge. The trail was wider with less rocks and roots to climb over. Our walk through the woods rose and fell before us as we made our way towards our warm cabin for the evening. Boy will we need it! These winds are brutally frigid!
As we neared our destination, a glimpse of green appeared before our feet. A soft green moss covered the ground surrounding the trail. Small outcroppings of boulders hung on either side of our ridge, overlooking the valleys below. To get to the Blackburn Cabin, we would have to make a steep descent down one of those bouldery overlooks. Not too bad for today, but tomorrow’s climb back up will be tiresome.
We made our way down the steps, luckily only 0.2 miles off the trail, and arrived at an enormous cabin. It was beautiful! Behind this large building, which was apparently the caretakers building, was our little cabin in the woods.
There was no sign of anyone here, so Ratatouille and I made our way to the little cabin. We pressed gently on the door to see if it was open. Sure enough, the door swung open and we made our way inside Inside were four little wooden bunks and a wood burning stove in the middle of the room. A wood burning stove! Fantastic! We would be warm tonight! It’s a good thing too! The temperatures are supposed to drop into the 20s tonight.
That night, we unloaded our gear, picking one bunk each, not expecting anyone else to be joining us, and I got a fire going in the stove. The stove was just like mine at home, just a little shallower. After a short time, I was able to get the stove cranking. The temperatures climbed in the cabin to a balmy 70 degrees, a wonderful contrast to the crisp 20s only 10 feet away from us. We hung our wet gear through the cabin, close enough to the stove to dry, yet far enough away as to not burn to a crisp. We chatted and sat in front of the fire, enjoying the warmth for quite some time.
After a while, Ratatouille realized someone had given her some color cubes for a fire. “Can we try them here?” she asked.
Knowing they would work better in an outdoor fire, but not sure we would get that opportunity, since there were many fire bans along our journey to come, we decided to try one here. It was beautiful!
As we both sat and enjoyed the fire, I looked through the log book that was left for the thru-hikers. Our friends, Rainbow Mama and Captain Planet, had been here the day before us! We were catching up to them! Maybe we’ll get to see them again soon!
I kept the fire going through the evening, making sure the freezing cold from outside did not penetrate the walls. I closed my eyes and imagined myself sitting in front of my wood burning stove at home. The only thing missing was my loving man and my two fuzzy babies. My heart missed them but I knew I would see them in just a few months time. We have made it through 10 states, and have only 4 to go!
Flicker shot us a message, letting us know she was staying at the same place she was last night, so we knew she would be warm tonight as well. Tomorrow, we will be meeting my parents. She will have to catch us then. But it was not a long distance for us, so she should be able to meet us at the Bear’s Den Hostel.
As the sun dropped outside our windows, I threw a few more logs on the fire as Ratatouille and I hunkered into our sleeping bags for the evening. I would wake later in the night to make sure the fire was still going, keeping us warm until the morning light woke us for the day. Tomorrow, we make a short hike to the Bear’s Den Hostel and we’ll meet up once more with our good friend, Flicker. My parents will pick us up from there and we will spend a wonderful Thanksgiving break with them! For tonight, we sleep warmly.
Day 125 (10:28am – 12:21pm, 8.4 miles, 45 degrees)
We slept soundly and warmly through the night. In the wee hours of the morning, I started to feel the cold seeping into my sleeping bag, so I woke to throw one more log on the fire. That was enough to keep us warm until the sun greeted us this morning. We gathered our belongings and made ourselves breakfast for the morning. The fire had just enough wood to keep going until it was time to leave. I made sure the fire was broken down and out before we cleaned and closed up the cabin.
We stepped into the crisp air, but the temperature had risen slightly from the previous day. The clouds hung in the skies above us as we made our climb back up to the ridge line. We meandered up and down the trail for several miles, taking in some of the gorgeous view that surrounded us. As the hours passed us by, the skies cleared to show the bright blue hues above.
We cross another epic landmark today; the Roller Coaster! The Roller Coaster is a section of the trail that rises and falls in a short period of time. We have heard so much about this section of trail from all the NOBOs we have crossed. Let’s see if it lives up to its reputation. As we neared what would be the beginning of our adventures on the Roller Coaster, a sign emerged in the center of the trail. It read:
WARNING: You are about to enter the Roller Coaster. Built and maintained by the Trailboss and his crew of volunteers. Have a great ride!!!
But below the typed message, emerged another message that had been scrolled with a sharpy. It read:
You must be this tall to ride!
As I stood next to the sign, reading the text that was spread across it, I realized, I was not tall enough to ride the ride! Hanging my head in disappointment, a thought occurred to me. But wait, I can make myself tall enough. I stood on a small root and stretched as far as I could. Just made it!
After a quick snack break, Ratatouille and I giggled our way down the Roller Coaster. Up and down we went, following the meandering path, heading towards the Bear’s Den Hostel. I raced up the hills and crested the ridge, the drop looming below me as I galloped down the hill with my arms in the air, pretending that I was riding an old wooden roller coaster. But after a few hills were crested, the excitement wore off, and Ratatouille and I made our way through the woods, looking for the section of trail that would take us to our destination.
We arrived at a road that we would have to cross, only a little less than a mile from our destination. But this was no back country road. This was a 2 lane highway! We found a break in the traffic and like a couple of dear, sprinted with our packs across the road, arriving safely on the other side. Just before we started up another hill, we came across an AT board. On this board were several drawings and pieces of paper with text that were created by some local children. We stopped to read the many jokes and admire the artwork they had created. We had plenty of time before my parents would arrive to pick us up from the Bear’s Den Hostel. After giggling at the jokes, we made our way up one of the last hills for the day.
After a short distance, the blue blaze emerged to our left, signaling our turn toward the hostel. We walked through two stone pillars, marking the beginning of the Bear’s Den property line. Before us, loomed a castle! We had arrived! We walked around the gorgeous structure, trying to find where the hiker’s entrance was. After inspecting the property, we found a sign that pointed us in the right direction. We had to enter a doorway that lead to the basement of this great castle.
On the door was a little sign, giving us instructions on how to enter. We needed to enter a code to unlock the door, allowing us to enter into the warmth and comfort of the hostel. We needed to figure out how many miles rested between two locations on the AT, information that only a thru-hiker with an AT guidebook would know. We did the math and entered the information. Nope, that didn’t work. We tried again. Still no luck! Ratatouille tried, then I tried. No entrance! Finally, we heard a void overhead. A man was watching us fail, one attempt after the next, through a window on the first floor. He shouted the code to us and finally, we were granted entrance into the hostel! Thank you! Obviously, math is not our strong suit!
We walked into a small mud room, full of boots and other gear. We dropped our gear and removed our boots, then entered into the hostel itself. Who did we find, but Flicker sitting on the couch waiting for us!
“What’s up!” I greeted our old friend. “How did you beat us here?”
She informed us she had been dropped off by the people she stayed with the night previously. She was concerned she would not be able to meet us here before my parents arrived. She would make up those miles at a later date. No big deal. At least she made it here safe!
Inside was a medium sized room with its own bathroom and shower, a couch and a chair, a TV with tons of DVDs and videos, a refrigerator, and 3 bunks. The next room over held two more bunks with a computer for hiker use. On the walls were posters with thousands of signatures from hikers that had entered this same room over the years. We quickly added our signatures to the poster for this year’s group of hikers and inspected the poster for those we had met along the way. I found a few familiar names! The refrigerator was full of sodas and drinks that one could purchase for a small price. We deposited our money and helped ourselves to a sweet drink or two, and sat and chatted in the warm room for a few hours.
Eventually, the caretaker of this wonderful facility came down to great us. By now, Ratatouille, Flicker and I had come up with a brilliant plan. What if we left some of our gear here, and had my parents drop us off further down the trail in a few days so we could slackpack back to the Bear’s Den Hostel? This looks like such a great place to stay, and what better way to cover more mileage with less weight on our backs! We asked the pleasant caretaker about this as a possibility and he agreed it was a wonderful idea. So a few days from now, my parents will drop us back off at this location to deposit the majority of our gear, then they will drive us further south down the trail so we can hike back to this location. Perfect!
After a few hours, my parents arrived, ready to take us to a small town nearby. We had reservations at a small hotel in the center of Leesburg, VA. We packed our gear into my Dad’s truck and were on our way. When we arrived at the small hotel, we were shown to our rooms. It was just like staying at a B&B. My parents had their own small room and the three of us shared another one. We had a small cot delivered to our room, which Ratatouille opted to take, unpacked our gear, started our wash, and shared a nice warm meal and some drinks with my family. Tomorrow, we will celebrate Thanksgiving with my parents at a local restaurant.
Day 126 (time who cares, 0 miles, whatever degrees)
Today, we walked around the small town of Leesburg with my parents, looking at the local, old, shops and enjoying the sunny day. The temperatures were still chilly and the wind still biting, but it was not so bad in the small village. After our small walk around the town, we quickly discovered there was not much to do. We returned to the hotel and I finished our wash. We rested and chatted for a while as the hours passed us by. Eventually, our dinner hour arrived.
Now showered, warm and clean, we gathered in the bar below the hotel, the King’s Tavern Bar, to make our walk to the restaurant we would be celebrating Thanksgiving at. My Dad has been talking about this buffet dinner for the past day! As we neared the restaurant entrance, which had posters all over the front of it advertising this famed buffet dinner, we realized quickly the lights were out and the restaurant looked closed! What happened? We made our way back to the hotel to see if, perhaps, we were at the wrong place. The owner of the hotel also owned the restaurant and quickly realized a huge mistake had been made. They only had a handful of people in the restaurant the hour previous, and had overlooked our reservation. Thinking no one else was coming for the evening, they closed early!
The restaurant owner felt terrible, so the hotel and bar staff and the owner of the restaurant threw together the most delicious, wonderful, dinner for my family and fellow hikers. They went above and beyond to make sure we had everything we wanted, and more. The two bartenders for the evening, Jewel and Karri, brought us drink and joked with us for the hours to come. It was fantastic! We went from a potentially disastrous Thanksgiving dinner, thinking we would have to make due with pizza (which would have been perfectly fine as well), to having a smorgasbord of Thanksgiving foods put together by the most accommodating and wonderful people we have ever met! Well fed, we left the table, allowing the local musicians to take the stage, and we enjoyed the company of each other and the bar tenders for a few more hours, drinking and laughing the night away. Tomorrow, we will have one more day with the family until we start back on our journey towards Georgia. For tonight, we rest well once more.
We have made it to the last halfway point on our adventure; Harpers Ferry. My emotions are running high and it is starting to hit me that I am getting closer and closer to the end of my journey. I have a long way to go still, but the miles are melting off and I am now in the last of 4 states left of this adventure. Continue to follow me as I make my way though the Blue Ridge Mountains and the bear infested Shenandoahs of Virginia, through areas recently burned by wild fires, now open once more, and head towards Georgia! There are more friends to make along the way, and more stories to come. Until then. . .
Jamie Marsden (and the hiking critters – don’t worry, they have made it this far as well!)
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