Sunday, June 26, 2016

Day 61: Froggy tunnel

6/19: Ashby Hollow - ridge 3 miles before Harper's Ferry
Mile: 995.9 - 1019.6 (23.7 miles)

I thought I was pretty happy in the tilted spot I was nestled in with some cooler temperatures last night but a good nights sleep was not to be. I have no idea why but I think I woke up once an hour all night. So it was a groggy muggy start.

The day started out with more of the roller coaster, ups and downs and a whole lot of sweat. But for all the heat it was a morning full of frogs in the dry leaves. More fun than just staring at my feet all day.

The amount of rocks have been increasing and about 7 miles in the trail reached Bears Den a popular area for sure. There are people everywhere along with some good views from a rocky cliff.

Looking out from Bears Den

Fun milestones this morning, officially 1000 miles in and now in the state of West Virginia. Goodbye Virginia, you sure were a long one.

I'm trying to look excited about the border but really I'm just so very hot and tired. No breeze and almost 90 degrees has me pushing and whiny.

As a side note today is not only a Sunday but also Fathers Day. I've counted over 100 people by noon, I stop counting after that because I can't even pretend to keep track. The most people I've ever seen in a day on trail I think.

The roller coaster eventually ends and while the people don't disappear they at least decrease in number. Miles are crawling by, I perk up a little but it never lasts long.

It would be easy to make it to Harper's Ferry tonight but with no cheap places in town except a perhaps full hostel it sounds nicer to pull up short tonight and sleep in tomorrow so I can get to the Appalachian Trail Headquarters while they're open. It's a diet of tradition to stop in and get your photo and your number (the number of hikers who have officially come before you).

20 miles into the day it's blazing hot and 0.3 miles off trail from Keys Gap is a convenience store. Since I'm in no rush a break sounds great. Soon enough I'm yet again overwhelmed by people but I'm happily eating a popsicle and drinking chocolate milk. I'm thrilled.

Camp is just a few miles away on a ridge line with a nice breeze. Tomorrow is the unofficial halfway point and an exciting milestone, I'll admit I'm pretty excited.

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Day 60: Rollers

6/18: Front Royal - Ashby Hollow
Mile: 969.1 - 995.9 (26.9 miles)

Microwave burritos, cheap motel coffee and a banana have me ready for the trail. Three of us end up hitching back and we shortly have a pickup truck ride heading our direction. Then it's back to business. It's all green and so much cooler under the canopy.

The Jim and Molly Denton Shelter is so nice you have to take a break there, solar shower, a pavilion, even a horseshoe court.

After second breakfast and idle chitchat it's back to mellow terrain. Some surprisingly open sunny spots and flowers are a nice treat.

Crossing under a freeway and finding the trail near a parking lot it's more nice surprises, trail magic! This day is full of unexpected breaks.

The storm seems to have knocked a lot of trees down, it's the most blowdowns I've seen this whole trail. Nothing compared to the other trails but a lot for me out here. The trail maintenance on the AT is pretty superb.

Widow makers aren't as annoying as climbing over poison ivy covered blowdowns but they are fun to stare at.

The terrain changes and I feel like I'm on a ridge top but in a literal ivy covered tunnel. There are flowers everywhere that smell like jasmine and a little spring hidden in the grass. All in all totally different and kind of magical feeling.

The trail crosses through an amazingly signed and nice state park. It's short but pretty neat.

Then back to covered forest and finally towards the end of the day the much hyped "roller coaster." A section of trail proclaiming its difficulty with this lovely sign.

The hills seen just like the normal rollers but since it has a name everyone talks about it. On the second climb Rest Stop sees a large bear and seconds later a second one.

2 adult bears during mating season are just as bad as a mama and cubs according to a recent ranger chat so we don't stick around. It's a little early but with nice dirt campsites and a large creek at the base of another mile or do if climbing to a road Ashby Hollow seems like the perfect home for the night.

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Day 57-58: Front Royal Rain

Miles: 0

I'm going to stop rationalizing these days off to myself. I remember town days as being incredibly stressful and more exhausting than hiking days on the PCT and full zeros and extra days off have become my favorite. They are stress free and I actually feel like I get a break

The first day off is laundry and other small errands but mostly sleep. I fell asleep at 7:30 the night before and sleep almost 12 hours. Guess I'm as tired as I actually felt. There are rumblings about rain and after another 3 hour nap but no resupply a second day off seems only logical.

In the evening a tornado and heavy thunderstorm warning overtakes the tv. I ask the hotel clerk and apparently the official warning is just to the north but we should still get walloped. Rest Stop and I head to the grocery store to finally resupply hopefully before the rain. The power goes out twice while I'm trying to check out and you can hear the rain from inside. It's pouring out, heavy wind and continuous lightning. A crowd of people stand under the store overhang just watching. It's fun, a little nature theatre as the wind whips and streets and sidewalks flood.

It eventually lets up a bit and we head back to the hotel. I sleep another 10 plus hours and decide a second day off might be good for me. Small chores and not much else and the day is already gone. Back to real life tomorrow.

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Saturday, June 25, 2016

Day 56: Bye Bye Shenandoahs

6/15: Hogback Overlook - US 522 (Front Royal)
Mile: 952.8 - 969.1 (16.3 miles)

Around 2 am something large circles the tents. It's just checking us out but needless to say I'm desperately peering through the mesh trying to decide deer or bear. It sure sounds like a bear but after awhile it must decide we aren't interesting enough or not worth the trouble and lumbers away.

The trail is mellow and it's only a short way to the Gravel Springs Hut and a beautiful spring. Lots of people and time flies chatting with a section hiker, but it's a town day so we all get ours acts together eventually and pick up speed.

It's easy miles and eventually the trail turns to old fire road and we've officially left the National Park. The last few miles have unexpected water and the smallest climb has me hot and bothered. I'm not sure I'm ever getting used to the humidity but at least I have plenty of water to drink.

There are pretty flowers and then it's the last descent to the road along a chain link fence as houses pop into view. I'm pretty excited to get to the road, and there's even trail magic beer and a bench when we arrive.

A car pulls in and offers a ride before we had even started to hitch and we're on our way. Our ride likes to check for hikers during his lunch break and gives us a tour of the whole town before dropping us off. Food, hotel room and sleep, a good town afternoon.

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Monday, June 20, 2016

Day 55: Wayside Away

6/14: near Rock Springs Hut - Hogback Overlook
Mile: 928 - 952.8

It gets cooler overnight and it's a good start to the morning. The overlooks on Skyline drive crossings mean I actually see a little sunrise and the clouds are blowing in nicely.

It's only a few short miles to the first wayside. Only Skyland isn't a wayside it's a fancy pants lodging, dining room, and gift shop. I feel nice and dirty next to all the folks staying there. It's a delicious breakfast but there is some ugly behavior around us, politeness seems far away and I'm happy to grab snacks and hit the road. Although somehow 3 hours has flown by. Good thing Maine isn't going anywhere.

A few minutes later Rest Stop spots this guy. He gives us a quick look and then it's back to munching leaves.

Then it's long hot miles. This heat makes me drag but the flowers pretty and the walking isn't too bad.

3 more Bears to add to the count, although these guys were speedier getting away.

We manage to get Elkwallow Wayside an hour and a half before it closes which is the perfect amount of time to wash up in a sink, eat some snacks and air my feet out. Even though the miles haven't been hard I'm beat.

A few turnouts and hiding from traffic during the day.

At the Hogback Overlook I intend to keep walking but instead collapse into a sweaty puddle and watch the sun set. Both Beast and Rest Stop are there and eventually we all peel ourselves from the ground and find stealthy campsites for the night. I'm going to keep blaming the heat for my tiredness for now, hopefully the breeze picks up and it's a good night.

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Friday, June 17, 2016

Day 54: waysides!

6/13: amphitheater trail junction - near Rock Spring Hut
Mile: 888 - 928 (some miles shaved on the road)

The wind is fierce overnight but nothing falls on me and if a curious bear passed by I certainly didn't hear it. It's actually chilly when I wake up and I'm beyond excited. Even if it's only for an hour under 80 degrees is fantastic.

I take a side trail past the amphitheater and campground so I can stop at the Loft Mountain Camp Store. It has trash cans, power outlets and running water. Always joyful things. Unfortunately it's also 6 am and 100% closed. My resupply was not very well thought out and I was counting on these stores and waysides to supplement the few snacks I grabbed. So now I have a dilemma, wait 2 hours until they open or try to hit the next one before it closes? I figure it's perfect hiking weather right now so after a short breakfast break it's back to walking and a push to hike as far as I can before 7pm.

It's a few hours before it starts to heat up. Mornings are hands down my favorite right now. It's a quiet morning, I don't see many people other than resting at trail and road crossings. I decide it's my hike and I'm going to walk the road for a bit, it's mirroring the trail pretty closely anyhow. And magically I find hikers, at least 8 others apparently feel the same. It's nice to know other people have been staring at the road thinking the same thing.

There's trail magic and hopping back and forth between the trail and the road to help get to the Big Meadows Wayside before it closes. I have food but with the next wayside over 25 miles after this one I really need to make it on time. It's a crew of familiar faces the last 10 miles. Pie, Funsize, Rest Stop and Beast along with a few others make it with time to spare. Ice cream and burgers along with restrooms, running water and trash cans, I'm one satisfied happy camper.

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Day 53: Shenandoahs

6/12: Waynesboro - amphitheater trail junction
Mile: 861.4 - 888 (26.6 miles)

I sleep terribly and realize my dreams of a lazy start today are not to be. I dawdle, enjoying the continental breakfast and making friends with tourists in the cramped space. At the grocery store I find more hikers and do a very haphazard resupply. This next section is 108 miles but Shenandoah National Park is apparently full of waysides which sound like grocery stores with short order grills. Even the guidebook I use suggests a minimal resupply to take advantage of the on trail options.

I decide it's probably time to hitch since it's just getting hotter, and the next 5 days are all supposed to be in the 90's. I'm dreading the heat but there's no real avoiding it, I'm just praying for shade and a breeze for now.

Trying to get back from urgent care was a failure but getting back to the trail took only a few minutes. I had just gotten to the road when a local trail angel who already had three hikers squeezed me in. And just like that it was back to the trail and less than half a mile later I filled out a quick permit and was officially in Shenandoah National Park.

Nothing magical happens when the trail enters National Parks, mostly I just get new cement sign posts. It's rolling climbs with lots of radio towers and what feels like a bajillion road crossings. What was the Blue Ridge Parkway has become Skyline Drive and the trail seems to mirror the road for much of the park. I've heard this park was really built for the motorists and it definitely feels that way. But a lot of the road crossings are near big view points which is cool. At the end of the day I count road crossings/parking lots and come up with 15. Okay so not a bajillion but still quite a few.

Picturesque right?

It's breezy and there are a few unexpected streams the first few miles but there are plenty of more exposed sections and I'm pouring sweat. It's a dry 13 miles the second part of the day and I'm more than happy to head 0.2 miles off trail to Blackrock Hut and it's lovely spring. It's 6:30 and I'm tempted to stay but it's very crowded and I decide I'd really rather not.

It's getting cooler and windier and as I climb I'm happy with my decision to push on despite the liters of sweat still pouring off me. Cooler is relative out here. Unlike the Smokies it is legal to camp not at shelters as long as you meet some conditions (away from established facilities, water etc). Initially I think I might head to the nearby campground but it's late and I don't feel like camping near RVs. The ridge runner at the last hut warned about a nuisance bear that's troubling the few miles around Ivy Creek which is just past the campground. I have no desire to tangle with a bear and end up finding a spot under some power lines instead. It's not one of my more picturesque campsites but I think it meets official criteria and as the wind whips through the trees I'm actually pretty excited about my little clearing.

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