Whoa! We’re Halfway There!

You’re welcome for that Bon Jovi ear worm.

I’ve been singing it for days, following John Denver’s Country Roads, Take Me Home as I traveled through West Virginia. Prior to that, I was singing Oh, Shenandoah, I Long to See You as I trekked through the Shenandoah National Park.

Shenandoah National Park requires thru-hikers (and any hikers, cyclists, horseback riders, etc.) to register at the park’s boundaries. But unlike the Smokies, there is no fee.

Shenandoah National Park

Let me start by saying that SNP is an absolutely beautiful national park with stunning views… from the waysides along Skyline Drive. I found myself walking down (or up) from the trail to the road more than once so I could take in views that are not found on the trail. Still, the trail held its own charms.

Tenderfoot enjoyed his lunch on a tractor seat. Sometimes it’s nice to not sit on the ground.

The AWOL guide simply mentions “tractor seats” as an attraction. When I rounded a corner in the trail, well, there they were. Tractor seats. You won’t find this kind of fun on Skyline Drive.

Then there are the “gaps” which are typically where the trail crosses Skyline Drive. Sadly, there were no Beagles to be found at Beagle Gap. My hopes were dashed.

My first night in SNP was spent tenting at the Calf Mountain Shelter. I caught up to Lucky, Drewsicle, Bookworm, and BBQ. The weather was in our favor, and we built a fire to roast the marshmallows I had in my food bag.

Lucky was super happy to roast marshmallows. Bookworm made his own version of a s’more by squishing a roasted marshmallow between two cookies.

The next morning, I was on the trail early and never looked back. I did some of my biggest mile days through SNP thanks to the gentle elevation changes and smooth (for the most part) trails.

The Panda

Remember when you were a kid and you went to the fair or a carnival? You played the games in hopes of winning the giant stuffed animal but went home with a plastic trinket.

Back in Waynesboro, a handful of hikers went to the town’s carnival and played the games. They likely would have been happy to take the small trinket as a prize but one of them won a stuffed panda. Not a small panda, but a panda to make all the little kids jealous.

News of the panda made its way down the trail grapevine, and I first saw it at one of the restaurant waysides.

I’m not sure who was carrying it first but I know multiple people have had it strapped to their pack. Left photo, a wayside; right photo, the hostel.

I next encountered the panda at Open Arms Hostel in Luray. At this point it was being carried by Witchdoctor. I’m not sure it will make the journey all the way to Maine, but it sure looks happy to be along for the ride.

The weather turns bad

The first few days in SNP were absolutely gorgeous. Then the temperature dropped and the rain came. The first day of summer was foggy, rainy and cold, and the trail had turned to mud. Still, there were occasional views to be had.

A stunning view in spite of the rain.

Curious deer

Something I didn’t expect in SNP was that the wildlife seem accustomed to humans wandering through their home. One evening after I pitched my tent, I sat next to it taking video of a white-tail deer that crept ever closer and closer to me.

A few days later, another deer crossed the trail in front of me, then turned and paused to watch as I walked by. Thankfully, the only bear I saw was running in the opposite direction. Either it didn’t notice me or it didn’t care for my presence.

This deer paused right next to the trail to watch as I passed by.

One last thing about the Shannys

I appreciated the signage in SNP in that it was not about to become weathered as the typical wood signs one sees everywhere else on the trail. The signs were constructed of concrete and (I think) aluminum. These signs aren’t going anywhere.

Signs for the times in SNP.

The Roller Coaster

Yes, it’s real and it’s also a real pain. This section in northern Virginia gets its name from the PUDS (pointless ups and downs) where the trail gains and loses elevation over and over. The elevation profile in the AWOL guide looks comically like, you guessed it, a roller coaster. With the high humidity and temps in the 80s, it was a sweaty, salty ride.

About to embark on the roller coaster, I was wearing my bug net for the first time. I had had it with the gnats dive-bombing my eyes.

1,000 miles

Right amongst the ups and downs of the roller coaster was the amazing sign announcing that I had reached the 1,000-mile marker. I won’t lie, I cried a little when I realized how far I had come. And I cried a little more when I realized how far I still have to go.

Shortly after that, I reached the West Virginia state line (finally) after what seemed like an eternity in Virginia. Yeah, Virginia accounts for about one quarter of the entire trail, so the state lines will be coming much faster now.

“Almost heaven, West Virginia…Blue Ridge Mountains, Shenandoah River.”

I crossed the Shenandoah River and popped in at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy HQ in Harper’s Ferry. They took my photo and told me I was thru-hiker number 1,020 which is about 500 less than my starting number at Amicalola Falls.

Harper’s Ferry

As I wandered around historic Harper’s Ferry, I realized a few hours would not be sufficient to explore and become educated about the significance of the town. I’m hoping to talk my husband into a trip there in the future.

Right along the trail in Harper’s Ferry is this ruin of the Episcopal Church, destroyed during the Civil War. The Catholic church just down the street still stands as it flew the British Union Jack during the war, symbolizing neutrality and sparing it from the cannons.
See the white blaze? Harper’s Ferry does its best to maintain historic integrity while still allowing America’s most famous trail to cross right through the town.

More amazing monuments

This section of trail is rife with history. I found monuments, plaques, tombstones, an empty tomb (built but never used), and the first Washington Monument.

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the original Washington Monument.

Long before the enormous monument in Washington, D.C. was built, this monument dedicated to the memory of our first president was erected near Boonsboro, Maryland. A short spiral staircase allows visitors to ascend to the open-air platform and look down on the city below.

Finally home

Crossing the Mason-Dixon line into my home state of Pennsylvania was a rush. Even more of a rush was crossing the halfway point and, shortly thereafter, the 1,100-mile mark.

My feet are wearing down

After three solid months of hiking, both my human feet and my trekking pole feet are wearing down.

How it’s going… My feet (left) are feeling the effects of 1,100 miles. On the right, somewhere in the SNP I lost a foot to one of my trekking poles. My husband sent a replacement and I photographed them for a side-by-side comparison. I should probably get a new foot to replace the remaining worn-down foot. Too bad I can’t do that with my human feet!

Counting down the miles

Now instead of counting up the miles to the halfway point, I can start counting down the miles to Katahdin.

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