Week 19 – Snickers Gap to Elkton, VA

The temperatures are still plummeting and we are starting to struggle our way through the woods.  Our little hiking family may soon part ways, but until then, our adventures will continue together, for a short ways at least.  For now, we will enjoy time with my family and make our way through the Shenandoah National Park, a beautiful section of the trail!


Day 127 (Time – still doesn’t matter, 0.3 miles, still way to cold degrees)

Today is the last day I get to spend with my family.  Until Christmas at least!  Flicker still had some mileage to make up today, so we decided we would drive her back to Harpers Ferry, we could walk around with my parents, then we would go to the Bear’s Den Hostel, pick up Flicker, and head back to our hotel.  Perfect!  Flicker could make up the miles she missed, Dad would get to hike with us on the small section of the AT we missed (from the AT Headquarters to the bridge we crossed over the Shenandoah River), and we would get to actually see the small town of Harpers Ferry, instead of flying through it like we did when we were hiking.  Today, we would be the tourists, like the ones I saw upon my entry into Harpers Ferry.

We gathered all our belongings and started the long drive back to Harpers Ferry.  Within a matter of minutes, we traveled a distance that took us days to hike through.  Stunning!  Flicker grabbed her gear and hit the trail, heading back towards the Bear’s Den Hostel.  Today, she gets to slackpack!  Meanwhile, we drove around, trying to find somewhere we could park.  We ended up parking far down the road, having to walk quite a distance into the little town.   We made our way through one shop, then on to the next.  After inspecting the town, I asked my father, “We missed about 0.3 miles of the trail the other day, would you like to hike that with us now?”

He was thrilled at the opportunity, and off we went, back up the stone steps that meandered up to the old ruin of a church and through the woods, like Ratatouille and I did a few days prior.  This time, however, we passed by the blue trail that would take us to the AT Headquarters and continued to follow the white blaze along the wooded path.  Dad was elated!  Here he was, hiking the AT, with two thru-hikers, through West Virginia.  We made our way along the path until down it went, heading towards the bridge that would take us across to Virginia.  Our car happened to be parked just before that bridge, so we regrouped at the car, now completing the 0.3 miles we missed a few days prior, and drove to the AT Headquarters.  Dad had to see this!

We pulled into the parking lot and climbed out of the car. As we crossed the threshold once more, another thru-hiker was just getting ready to drop his pack and enter as well.  I introduced ourselves, explaining that we were actually several days a head of him but came back to show Harpers Ferry to my family, and he introduced himself to use.  His trail name was Happy Animal!  I was actually friends with him through social media but had never met him in person!  We chatted a bit longer and I was sad to learn that he would be leaving the trail today.  He was going to delay the remainder of his journey until the weather grew a bit warmer.  Not that I could blame him at all!  Most of the hikers had done that same at this point.  The weather was getting colder with each day, regardless of how far south we were heading.  It was a decision that was crossing into all of our minds.


I wished him luck on his journey to come in the future, and we entered the Headquarters.  Lori, one of the staff that was there today, greeted us, and we chatted with her for quite a while.  She was one of the people that worked so hard on the AT tags that, for those of us that registered with the AT Conservancy, we received prior to beginning our adventure.  On these tags, there are guidelines regarding the Leave No Trace policy that so many of us thru-hikers live by.  We talked to her about these guidelines, letting her knew we do our part to clean up the trails when we can, educate those around us, and carry those tags with pride.  She was so excited that she had to get a picture of us all with our tags.  What a lovely woman!

After spending some time walking around the headquarters, showing my dad the maps and the hiker room, it was time to go get Flicker.  We stopped by the Bear’s Den Hostel, dropped off our gear for the following night, and waited for Flicker to arrive.  There was a good amount of action at the hostel today.  Lots of weekend hikers and guests roamed the facility.  We chatted with some of them, as they asked us many questions about thru-hiking and the experiences we have had.  We told them the following day we would be slackpacking back to this location, once more, and we learned they would be heading south from the Bear’s Den Hostel tomorrow as well.  Most likely, we will cross paths with them tomorrow!

As the sun started to drop below the horizon, and the sky grew dark, Flicker walked through the hostel doors.  She had a wonderful hike today and was ready to go back, shower, and enjoy a warm meal.  We loaded into the car and were off again, one last time, to Leesburg, VA.  We decided we would have dinner at the restaurant we were going to eat at the night previously, the La Lou’s Restaurant.  Mo, our host for the evening, cooked us the most fantastic meal.  I deferred my dinner choice to his better judgement, and he did not disappoint.  The food was delicious!  We had a wonderful meal and some great conversation with the fantastic man.  We thanked him for his hospitality and the delicious meal, and said goodbye.  Tomorrow, we will all start hiking towards Georgia once more.


Day 128 (9:38am – 5:30pm, 21.2 miles, 45 degrees)

We packed all our belongings this morning, ate our last wonderful breakfast at the hotel, and head back on our way towards the AT.  My parents dropped us off further south down the trail, at the Trico Tower Trail.  We would make our way back to the Bear’s Den Hotel and stay there for the night.  Then, tomorrow, a local would drive us back to this location, so we could continue on our way south to Georgia.

One of the big mile markers for today is crossing the 1,000 mile mark.  This means we will only have 1,000 miles to go!  We will have done 1,200 miles!  Every 100 miles we complete is another celebration, especially since 1/4 of the trail is in this state.  We need every little celebratory moment we can get to help us get through the mental hurdle we call Virginia.  But I must say, this state is truly stunning!  The views are gorgeous!


The three of us made our way through the woods, galloping right along with less gear on our backs.  As we went, I became separated from the two, stopping to have a snack break and rest my feet that were still giving me a hard time.  As I sat on a rock, enjoying the sun and nibbling on my snack, a large group of younger guys came trotting past me.  As the last of the young gentleman passed me by, I had started to pack my gear and was just about ready to continue on my way.  Alone once again, I started north down the trail.  After a matter of minutes, I had caught back up to the last of the crew of men.  I chatted with him as we hiked along our way.  He introduced himself as Hercules, someone that had done the trail as a NOBO a few years back.  He was out with his group of friends for few days hike.  His brother, Rise, was also a NOBO that had done the trail a few years ago.

On we walked down the trail until we met back up with the rest of his group.  I bid them farewell as I continued on my way.  As I was making my way through the woods, the group of men managed to catch up with me again.  I met Rise, and ended up hiking with the crew until they were at the end of their trail.  It was a lot of fun getting to hike with them all!  I also got to pass the women I had met the previous day at the Bear’s Den Hostel!  With such a beatutiful day today, and hiking with some great company, I had covered quite a good amount of trail.  I said goodbye to my short term hiking friends, as they made their way to thier cars, and I continued on my journey.

Shortly after saying farewell to my friends, I met back up with Flicker and Ratatouille.  It was nearing lunch time, so we all decided to stop at the Rod Hollow Shelter for a short lunch break.  We ate our meals, then head back out on our way.  The day light was growing shorter, and we still had quite a distance to go before we made it back to the Bear’s Den Hostel!

On we raced down the trail, pretending to be NOBOs for a day, as the daylight grew dim.  Ratatouille and Flicker were somewhere a head of me, and I was once again alone.  I took a quick picture at the 1,000 mile mark, then hurried along my way.


I was getting closer and closer to the Bear’s Den, but I still had a little while to go.  The sun was threatening to drop below the horizon as I picked up the pace, hoping to reach my destination before nightfall.  As I was within 1 mile of my resting place for the night, the sun finally dropped.  I was forced to take out my headlamp for the last little bit.  I made my way through the woods, surprised at how much the white blaze stood out in the dark, and eventually found the blue trail, leading me to the Bear’s Den Hostel.

The sun dropping below the horizon as I approached the Bear’s Den Hostel.

Flicker and Ratatouille were inside waiting for me, happy to see I had made it through the dark.  What a hike today!  We covered a great amount of miles and we were all feeling great!  My feet were sore, but they seemed to be getting a little better.  I think all the slackpacking we had been doing, plus the small break with my family, was doing my feet some good.  Another hiker, Jessie (also known as Better Way) was also staying at the hostel tonight.  We made arrangements to have a local trail angel pick us up the following morning to take us back to the Trico Tower Trail so we could continue our journey south.

We also completed the Roller Coaster today.  It really wasn’t that bad!  Of course, we did start with the toughest parts of the trail (Katahdin, Southern Main, and NH), so, perhaps, the Roller Coaster did not seem so bad because we had already been exposed to much more difficult sections of the trail.  Perhaps, as a NOBO, the Roller Coaster does seem like a lot of ups and downs.  For those who have not experience NH and Maine, look out!  You have more difficult sections ahead.  The Roller Coaster is a walk in the park compared to what is to come!  So perhaps, the Roller Coast is difficult, but to us, it was just a series of hills.

We took another shower and snuggled into our bunks for the night.  Tomorrow is another long day.  We are hoping to cover more and more miles as the days go on.  The race is on to outrun the cold!


Day 129 (10am – 5:30pm, 17 miles, 50 degrees)

Today, we will be racing to cross into the Shenandoah Park.  We were planning on stopping at the Front Royal Hostel tonight, but have since learned that they may be closed.  Ratatouille made a quick call to see if Mike Evans, the host of the hostel, would be willing to take us in for the evening because tonight, it is supposed to be bitter cold and drop below freezing.   Fingers crossed!

As we were waiting for our ride to pick us up, Ratatouille made the call.  While he did confirm the hostel was closed, knowing there would be three women in the woods freezing half to death wasn’t something that sounded great to him either.  So he was more than willing to take us in for the night!  How wonderful!  He was even willing to allow us to stay in the heated side of the basement, instead of the hikers area, which was in the freezing cold!  Now elated that we had a nice warm place to stay, we loaded our gear into the trail angel’s car and were on our way.  He dropped us back off at the Trico Tower Trail and said farewell as we thanked him profusely and walked off into the distance.

The sun was shining down on us for now.  Tonight, it threatened to rain, so we boogied down the trail, eager to get the miles behind us before darkness fell with rain, and possibly slee, following.  As we went up and down the tiny mountains, the views continued to present themselves all around us.

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The temperatures were perfect for hiking today!  Warm enough to remove layers, yet not too hot.  Ratatouille ended up in front of the pack today, making mileage at a descent pace.  I followed behind her.  Flicker was somewhere behind me.  As the sky began to grow darker, I walked up what must have been the 30th switchback in the past two mountain ridges, and came upon a bulletin board.

Welcome to the Shenandoahs!

This was the northern most terminus of the Shenandoah mountains!  In the Shenandoah’s, you are required to fill out a ticket and attach it to your pack.  This way, they monitor how many hikers are in the area in an effort to keep the wear and tear down on the trail, as well as make sure no one is squatting at any specific lean-to.  I filled out my information as the light began to fade.  After I placed my tag in my pack, I only had a short distance to go before I would arrive at the Front Royal Hostel, where Mike Evans was waiting for us. Good thing too!  The sun had now set completely, and I was in the dark.  I pulled out my headlamp and navigated the trail until I arrived at an intersection.  I took the short 0.3 mile blue blazed trail to a residential area, where I found his home relatively easily.  Ratatouille was already inside, warming up from the cold.  The temperatures had plummeted significantly and the air was once again becoming crisp.

Mike greeted me at the door and gave us the tour.  We chatted with him for a while, sharing stories and adventures.  What an interesting man he is!  We eagerly awaited Flickers arrival as the winds kicked up and the rain started to fall.  I was getting worried about her due to the colder temperatures and the rain combined.  But soon enough, she came walking down his driveway, a little damp, but doing fairly well.  We ushered her inside where she was able to warm up and feel her fingers once more.

As we all set up our sleeping arrangements for the night, we hatched another wonderful plan.  Mike was willing to slack pack us further down the trail!  We could spend another warm night in his home tomorrow!  Excellent!  Every chance I can get to stay somewhere warm until these temperatures increase a bit, I will take it!  We took him up on his offer and picked a drop off location.  Warm, comfortable, fed, showered, and happy, we rested well that night.  Tomorrow, we’ll log some big miles and greet Mike once more.



Day 130 (8:13am – 4:15pm, 21.3 miles, 42 degrees)

We woke bright and early and took an early start.  We had a great amount of miles today and I wanted to avoid hiking in the dark if I could help it!  The weather was a little better today, but a little cooler as well.  Off we went onto the trail, starting today at Beahms Gap Overlook, bidding a temporary farewell to Mike.

“Hope you don’t see any bears,” he joked as we headed on our way.

NOBOs once more, off we trotted down the trail.  I could get used to this slackpacking thing!  It’s fantastic!  We had several decent climbs to make today as we went along our way.  Ratatouille ran off into the distance once more, but this time I brought up the rear.  I was enjoying my day.

Up ad down the mountains I went, listening to music at times, listening to nature at others.  As I walked along the well groomed trail, somewhere off in lala land, I suddenly heard a commotion off to my right.  I stopped dead in my tracks and looked down.  A black mass was galloping through the woods, seemingly on the trail, heading my way!  As my eyes focused, I realized, that’s a bear!  Knowing that loud noises scare them off, and unable to tell which direction the bear was running, I hollered with the best impression of my Dad’s booming voice I could muster, “I hope you’re running the other way bear!”  Off it ran into the distance as my heart settled a bit.

A little more conscious of what roamed around me I continued down my path.  The ground crunched below my feet.  The cold was causing the ground to freeze and expand.  With every step I took, I sunk into the dirt an inch or so as I broke through the ice.  Crunch, crunch, crunch I trotted down the trail.  Around one bend, then another, looking at this view, then the next.  As I walked amongst the varying hues of gray and brown, a sharp contrast emerged on the trail.  Something aqua was lying in my path.  As I approached, I realized it was a glove; Flicker’s glove!  I picked it up and placed it in my pack and continued on my way.  I’ll catch up with her eventually.


Ice expanding throu the ground.

As the day drew on, I saw Flicker in front of me in the distance.  I had finally caught up with someone!  But I was coming up on her quick!  As I approached, I realized she was moving much slower than usual.

“Flicker,” I hollered.  “I found this on the trail.”

“Oh.  Wow!  Thank you so much,” she said between huffs and puffs.

“Flicker are you doing ok?” I asked, realizing she was not herself.

“I haven’t been feeling good today,” she replied with a grimace on her face.  “I’m not sure what’s wrong but my stomach has been bothering me all day and I almost fell over before.”

Now I was worried about her.  We hiked together for a little while, as she insisted I did not have to wait up for her.  She was a strong hiker, I knew this, and I did not want her to feel as though she had to keep up with me, so eventually, I gave her space and moved on my way.  We didn’t have much farther to go anyways.

After I hiked on for a little while, I realized we were really close to our end point, within a mile in fact.  I could not get Flicker out of my mind.  I had sent her a text a few minutes prior, telling her to text me if anything went wrong.  I was not far away and could turn around quickly to help if she needed.  When I didn’t hear back from her, I made up my mind; I would wait for her.  I could not live with myself if I did not.  So I found a nice log to sit on in the sun and waited.  My feet needed a break anyways (yes, I was still battling the foot pain).

I sat on the log for almost 10 minutes until there she was, slowly making her way up the hill.  I greeted her once again and told her we were close.

“I just couldn’t leave you behind on your own. I’m sorry,” I said to her.  “Besides, I needed a break anyways.”

“I’m glad you stuck behind,” she replied with a smile on her face.

We chatted the remainder of our journey, sticking together as went, and she even got a little pep in her step as she went.

Tired from the long day, we entered Mike’s home once more and warmed ourselves in the heated basement.  Flicker and I had come up with a potential back up plan for tomorrow, since she still was not feeling great.  If she still felt ill the following day, we would either zero there, or have Mike drive us to the Open Arms Hostel in Luray, VA.  I made a quick call to Alison, the wonderful woman that ran the Open Arms Hostel.  As we were discussing our potential plans, another voice was shouting gleefully in the background.

“Skooch says hi Dori,” Alison informed me over the phone.

“Skooch!  OH wow! Tell her I said hello as well!”

Suddenly there was a different voice on the phone.  It was Skooch!  We chatted briefly and caught up.  We were so close to catching up with her!  She informed me she was going to head out tomorrow and most likely wouldn’t see us, but hoped that we would catch her soon.  We would certainly try!  Alison had already informed us that she could slack pack us, so that would help us make up any miles we would miss if we needed to zero tomorrow.

As Alison regained her phone, we discussed the option of dropping our gear off with her in the morning, then slackpack to her location from where we started today.  She was very flexible and agreed this could work.  But we would figure all of that out tomorrow.  I informed Alison I would touch base with her in the morning and we would plan from here.   I have not even met her yet, but she has already proven herself as a wonderful host and overly helpful person.  I look forward to meeting her in person soon!

We snuggled once more into our warm beds and retired early for the evening.  We all did great today, covering a good amount of miles.  Tomorrow, we will play by ear.


Day 131 (time for a zero, 0 miles, toasty in the home degrees)

We woke early this morning to find Flicker still was not doing well.  After some quick discussion, we decided our best plan of attack would be to take a zero with her at the Open Arms Hostel.  Then we can slack pack the following day to make up for any mileage we miss out on today.

We packed all our gear and loaded into Mike Evens’s car.  He was very kind and drove us all the way to Alison’s place at the Open Arms Hostel!  As we left the warmth of his home, we were surrounded by thick fog, making it nearly impossible to see as we crept down the road.  Slowly, we lowered in elevation and emerged from the fog.  The rain was lightly falling as we pulled into Alison’s driveway.  We thanked Mike again for taking us in, slack packing us, and driving us all the way to see Alison.  He really did not have to take us in from the cold.  We could not thank him enough for his fantastic hospitality!

We were greeted by Alison, unloaded our gear and got the grand tour of her hostel.  It was beautiful!  She had 3 cats, Hamster, Molly, and Socks, and one very energetic dog, Hank.  She had tons of movies, food in the fridge we could purchase if we wanted, books, loaner clothes, and coloring books!  What a great place to take a zero at!

Once we were all settled in, and had our beds and belongings in place, Flicker snuggled onto the couch and we popped a movie into the DVD player.  Hank was super excited to meet new people, so he greeted each of us, then hopped onto the couch with Flicker.  As she snuggled on the couch, he lay on top of her and started to nibble on her ear.  We all laughed and she giggled and squealed with Hank’s silly antics.  Eventually, he relaxed and slept with her on the couch.  What a big baby!


Hank snuggling with Flicker

I went around the home and greeted all the cats in the house.  Hamster, the little orange kitty, who happened to be the oldest kitty in the house as well, sat on the sink, waiting to be fed.  It didn’t matter that it wasn’t breakfast, lunch, or dinner time.  She sat there, mildly patiently, still waiting.  I pet her a little, before she began to protest, then walked around looking for the other kittys.


Hamster waiting for a drink, or food, or something.

After taking some time to organize my gear, figuring out what supplies I would need to get later in the day, Socks, another kitty living in this hostel, came and followed me around. I pet him for quite some time, missing my fuzzy baby, Smokey, at home.  The two had a striking resemblance to each other!  Once I had my supply list ready to go, I made my way downstairs where I ran into the last kitty of the household, Molly.


Socks getting some loving

I sat on the rocking chair downstairs, with a coloring book in my hand, joining Ratatouille and Flicker as they watched a movie.  Molly followed me into the room and sat next to me, staring longingly at my lap.  I cleared the book off my lap, and up she jumped!  She snuggled in, purring and warming my lap, for several hours.  I could not be happier!


Molly’s comfy!

After a while, Ratatouille and I decided to make a few trips.  The rain had cleared a little, and was only supposed to grow worse as the day went on.  I still had to go to the post office and the grocery store, so now was the time.  We bundled up, rain gear and all, got a list together for Flicker’s supplies, then left her bundled on the couch as we stepped into the rain.  We walked about a mile or so down the road, as the rain began pelting us in the face again, until we parted ways; I went to the post office while she left to search for something else.  After running our errands, eventually we met again at the grocery store.  With our supplies purchased, we made the walk back to the hostel.  At least we had somewhere warm and dry to stay tonight!

We spent the remainder of the evening relaxing in the nice warm home, watching movies and TV shows and chatting with Alison, enjoying her animal friends, and coloring!  That’s right.  Coloring!  I had a blast!


My completed colored picture (I did not draw this).


Ratatouille’s colored picture.










We had a great zero today, staying warm, taking care of business, watching movies, snuggling with pets, and chatting with Alison.  Tomorrow, Alison will slack pack us and we will get to spend another cozy night at this fantastic hostel!  Hopefully Flicker is feeling better by then.  For now, we slept warm and cozy!


Day 132 (7:48am – 4:20pm, 23.5 miles, 45 degrees)

Flicker is feeling a little better today, so we packed our slackpacks and were on our way!  We drove through the entrance to the Shenandoah National Park and wound our way up the mountains.  Hank ran back and forth in the back seat with Ratatouille and I.  He was on the hunt for bear and deer!  Eventually, we reached Milam Gap, where Alison was dropping us off for the day.  It was pouring out!  But that’s ok.  We’ll be warm and dry again tonight!  Alison wished us well and took a quick picture of us determined SOBOs, drenched to the bone already.


Photo taken by Alison Coltrane

Off we treked into the cold and wet forest.  The clouds hung below the mountain tops and the rain poured down on and off all day.  Sometimes, it was just a sprinkle.  Others, the rain poured down in buckets.  Occasionally, we got a break in the clouds and the weather cleared, allowing for some quick photo opportunities. 

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With our packs nice and lite, we raced through the trees.  The miles flew past us and every clearing produced a beautiful view.  As we neared our pick up point, Ratatouille in the lead, I made the call to Alison to come and get us.  Flicker was a little ways behind, but she should make it to our pick up location when Alison does as well.  As the miles neared an end for the day, the sky, once again, opened, and down came the buckets of rain.  I scurried to our pick up location, quickly passing another hiker.  He chatted with me briefly and gave me an odd expression when I told him I was a SOBO.  I quickly said goodbye, as the rain started coming down even harder, and ran to our pick up point.  Alison had just pulled up!  Great timing!

I loaded my wet gear into her trunk and quickly climbed in the car.  Not too much later, Flicker showed as well.  She was feeling a little better today and had a great hike, despite all the rain.  We arrived at the hostel once again, only to find that same SOBO hiker I met on the trail at the hostel as well!  It finally hit me.  He gave me an odd expression because I was hiking North today, yet I told him I was a SOBO!  Of course he looked at me odd!  Ha!

We chatted with our new friend, did our wash, showered and got warm, and snuggled into our beds for the evening.  We made up some GREAT milage today!  Tomorrow, Alison will drop us at the Milam Gap once more, and we’ll make our way south once again.


Day 133 (8:40am – 3:56pm, 17.9 miles, 45 degrees)

We once again packed our gear, this time not leaving anything behind us, and we said goodbye to all our new friends; Molly, Socks, and Hamster.  We piled back into Alison’s car and were once again on our way.  We wound our way back up the same road we started on yesterday, as Hank danced back and forth across our laps, looking for the bear and dear again.  We arrived at the Milam Gap and climbed out of the car.  After collecting our gear, and watching Hank run at top speed around the area, we thanked Alison profusely for all her assistance and hospitality, said goodbye to Hank, and were on our way, SOBOs again.


Photo by Alison Coltrane

The weather was much sunnier today, but the wind still blew and the temperatures were cold.  Tonight, the temperatures are supposed to plummet even farther!  It is really becoming a challenge to stay warm enough during the day, yet not so warm as to sweat and get your layers damp, so you don’t freeze when you stop moving!  

We stayed together for a little while today, chatting through the beginning of our trek, until our paces separated us and we were once again hiking, individually, down the trail.  Tonight, we will meet up at the Hightop Hut.  I am planning on staying in the shelter again tonight since the winds are supposed to be whipping and the temperatures are going to drop once more.  I have a feeling I’m going to be spending a lot of time in shelters as the days go on!

We had some gorgeous views again today, with multiple clearings as we hiked back and forth across Skyline, the road that winds it way through the Shenandoah National Park.  I took as many pictures as possible as we made our way through the park.  Soon, we will be out of the Shenandoahs and on towards the Blue Mountain Ridge.

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We made our way through the forests, occasionally walking through some sections that had been burnt from wild fires.  Some, it seemed, had been burnt within the past few years, others, it was clear, were burnt earlier that year.  My heart sank as I made my way through the now crispy forests.  But I reminded myself, from the massive destructive force of a wild fire, is born new life.  Like a phoenix, born from the ashes, new, green, life was springing forth through the blackened ground.  I took in everything I saw around me, torn between sorrow for the loss of growth and wildlife around me and the joy for new life, as I heard a loud thud off to my left.  There was still life here!  The wildlife was returning!  The thud I heard, while I never did see it, was the sound of a large black bear dropping down from a tree and running, somewhere, off into the distance!  My heart was lightened once more and I moved on through the new woods.

For whatever reason, the last 1-2 miles of my journey today were a littler harder.  Perhaps it was because of the weather.  Perhaps it was because we had been slackpacking so much recently.  Whatever the reason, as I finally arrived at the shelter, I was ready for a break!  I unloaded my gear, and set up my sleeping arrangement for the night.  Ratatouille had decided to set up her tent, instead of staying in the lean-to.  She prefers to sleep in her tent, and her tent seems to be much warmer than mine.  Eventually, Flicker joined us as well.  We were all eager to get into our sleeping bags for the night, as the temperatures were already starting to drop.

As we sat on the edge of the lean-to, getting ready to cook our meals, Ratatouille started to discuss the upcoming days with me.

“I don’t think I’m going to stay in Waynesboro when we get there,” she said with an air of disappointment.

“What?  Why!”  I asked, surprised as we had only decided to stay at a motel a few days prior.

She stated she was interested in staying in the nearest lean-to and really didn’t want to stay in town.  I was shocked with the news, and could not understand her situation, at first.  The conversation grew a little tense.  Things just weren’t making any sense.  I could not figure out why there was this sudden change of plans.

“I may actually get off the trail after Christmas,” she admitted.

Ok, now things were making a little more sense.  It occurred to me that, perhaps, over the past few COLD days, Ratatouille had been struggling with this ultimate decision; to get off the trail.  The tense moments we had been having as of late, could possibly be explained by her potential struggle with this VERY difficult decision, and, not to mention the fact, that two very different people had been spending every waking hour together for the past 5 months.  I was sad to hear that she had made the decision to get off the trail.  But I now understood her quick decision.  I accepted her decision to get off the trail, and started changing my thought processes.

When we started our adventure together, I had a set dollar amount in mind for my journey, knowing I would be splitting the cost of sleeping arrangements, when needed, with someone.  Now, I would have to readjust my funds.  I had to plan for the possibility that I may be going this completely alone.  Yes, Flicker was with me for now.  But I was not sure if she would stick with me or not.  No big deal.  I’ll figure this out.

As we sat, silently, digesting the conversation that had just taken place, two head lamps were dancing up the trail to us.  I wonder who this could be!  As the two hikers neared the hut, we quickly recognized Skooch and Legolas!  Elated to see the two of them, we had a quick reunion as everyone set up their sleeping arrangements for the night.

Everything seems to happen for a reason.  Just as my trail partner of the past 1000+ miles informed me she would be getting off trail in only a few weeks, two other hikers present themselves; another SOBO (Legolas), and a flipflopper (Skooch).  I would at least have some company on the trail for a little while.  And what good company they were!

We all settled for the night, and climbed into our sleeping bags to try to brave the cold.  Wearing all of my layers, I quickly drifted off into sleep, warm for now.  The others in the lean-to were not far behind me.

Scratch, scratch, scratch.  Scratch, scratch, scratch.  The distinct noise we knew to be a mouse trying to get into, or out of something, woke me, Flicker, and Legolas, sometime in the middle of the night. The headlamps came on as we all checked our foodbags and packs, looking for the little culprit.  Legolas and I eventually determined the sound came from Flicker’s direction.  She, too, had put on her headlamp and was searching for the source of the sound.

“Guys!” she wispered.  “There’s a mouse stuck in my water bottle.”

“What!” Legloas and I shouted in surprise.  We expected the mouse to be trying to get into or out of our packs, not a water bottle!

Flicker held up an empty water bottle that she had forgotten to place the cap back on, and there, terrified inside, was a tiny little field mouse, caught in the act!  As Flicker attempted to get a quick picture, it jumped, trying to free itself from it’s damp trap.  She screeched and dropped the water bottle, but the poor little creature still wasn’t free.  Laughing, and needing to get up anyways for a quick bathroom trip, I offered to free the little critter. We were all laughing as I braved the cold and took the water bottle from Flicker.  I made my way through the pitch black woods, until I was a little ways away from the lean-to.  I tipped over the bottle, trying to free the scared little critter.  After some encouragement, he finally crawled out of the bottle and sat on the cold ground, his little black eyes looking up at me.

“It’s ok,” I told the mouse.  “You’re free now.  Go ahead.”

The little creature would not leave.  I went to use the restroom as my little fuzzy friend followed me.  “It’s ok.  Go away.”

Eventually, the little mouse ran off into the dark and I made my way back to my sleeping bag.  I snuggled back into my bag for the night and drifted back off to sleep.  As the night drew on, occasionally, we could here the scampering of four little feet.  I think my little friend made his way back into the lean-to.  It’s probably warmer here anyways.



We have made it through the Shenandoahs and are making our way towards the Blue Mountains.  Ratatouille is going to be parting ways soon, hoping to finish her adventure on the AT in another year.  We will not bid farewell yet, but my heart is heavy knowing my hiking buddy will not end this adventure with me.  We have been through so many good times, and some rough times, but she will always be my trail sister.  She will be missed as I summit Springer Mountain.  But for now, I will enjoy the rest of our journey together, as well as enjoy the company of our new hiking family!   Until next time. . .


Happy Hiking


Jamie Marsden

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