Day 88- Thursday, 6/7- Calf Mountain Shelter, VA- (7.7 miles) (870.7 total) Despite the allure of a zero day, Workhorse and I did manage to break the magnetic pull of the hostel and its comforts and got back on the trail. We went out and had a nice breakfast at a cafe down the road first. Really high quality food so a nice change of pace from last night’s dinner. I had the avocado toast, a great house salad, 2 big homemade cookies, and a latte. All were fantastic, although the avocado toast was way too small for the price. Workhorse had the breakfast sandwich which was also small and he was still hungry so we headed over to McDonalds so he could get a McMuffin. I copied his good idea by following him to Subway after that to get a foot long sub as tonight’s dinner. The veggies and everything will keep for the first day, so a good way to get some healthy food on the trail and avoid camp food for 1 night. We headed back to the hostel to pack up and get ready. I was planning to take one final shower, but went in there and ran the hot water tap for like 5 solid minutes but no hot water at all. I told Workhorse about it and he went in there and immediately got hot water. I have no idea, but by the time he was done I was already packing up and getting ready to go. I felt jipped of my second shower. Otherwise tho, a great hostel. Wearing my new hiking socks today. The previous ones were lifetime guaranteed, but I guess 860 miles on the AT wears out even the best socks. At $27 a pair, I hope these ones last a while. We got on the trail by about 1:15pm. Just a nero of 7.7 miles so not too bad. The owner of the hostel shuttled is back to the trail head, and he said the first 7 miles are a bit rocky and narrow, but after that the Shenandoah park section is a really nice wide trail. The elevation doesn’t look to bad either, so hopefully these next few days will be nice. One difference I have already noticed is that our shelter camp area is more crowded than usual. Some non-thru hikers here who are just camping for a few days. That may get interesting this weekend when more people flood in here, especially now that it’s summer break. I was trying to plan out my days ahead since I want to go visit my friends in DC once we get to Harper’s Ferry. The problem is that I’m probably going to end up there on a Monday when everyone is working and busy. I’d much rather be there on the weekend when they have more time. I’m thinking now that I might just stop in Harper’s Ferry for a day and then continue on for a few more days until the weekend. Then backtrack by bus or shuttle or whatever to DC. I know one friend can’t make it at all on a weekday, and it would be such a shame to miss seeing a friend out here, since I’m so rarely in this area. Hopefully I can work something out. As we were getting ready to get back on the trail, a lady at the parking lot came up to us and offered us ice coffees. We gratefully accepted and chatted with her a bit. She told us to take care in the woods and be safe. She said “Don’t forget your S.O.S...” She paused, seemingly for dramatic effect and we were wondering what the heck she was taking about with the S.O.S thing. Finally she finishes, “Don’t forget your S.O.S... is J.E.S.U.S.” Lol! That was a new one. Day 89- Friday, 6/8- Loft Mountain Campground, VA- (19.2 miles) (889.9 total) Wheew! Long one today. 19.2 miles. Thankfully the terrain was quite gradual, with no crazy steep ups and downs and not too many rocks. Some beautiful view points along the way and I saw 2 deer and a couple of rabbits. Got an early start knowing we had the big miles ahead of us today- took off at about 6:45am. We had a long stretch of over 10 miles without a water source today. I cameled up before leaving and had 2 liters on me so I was ok, but came across a park employee in a work truck with water coolers in the back. I asked him and he was very happy to let me refill my water. He said they always carry extra water for hikers. I pushed pretty long in the morning, just eating snacks when I got hungry. I didn’t break for lunch until 1:30pm, 13 miles into the hike. There was a shelter at 13 miles that I was aiming for. So much more comfortable to sit at a picnic table or in a shelter out of the sun or rain to have lunch. Several other hikers showed up while I was there to fill up water. This was the first water source after the long dry stretch. Was chatting with one guy and saw he was wearing a wedding ring. I said “Oh, you’re married. What’s your wife doing while you are out here?” And he said “Well actually my husband.” I apologized, but he was very mellow about it. That made me think about my choice of language. In this day and age, the automatic assumption of a man being married to a woman doesn’t always work. I suppose the better question would have been “What’s your spouse doing while you are out here.” It’s an adjustment and it’s not always what comes naturally, but I’m all for learning to use language that is more inclusive. The lunch break was a good 45 minutes to an hour. I don’t always take enough breaks, preferring to push on, but today’s break was crucial. Took my boots off to rest my aching feet and took off the pack and got some food in me. Made all the difference. Workhorse showed up and we chatted some during lunch. I took off a bit earlier than him to make the final 6.2 mile push. I saw Workhorse once along the trail just after I took a break, then I hiked ahead of him and didn’t see him again. We had made plans to meet at this campground, so I pushed ahead to get the campsite reserved and start setting up. When we were at the shelter earlier for lunch, there was a sign on the wall advertising trail magic at this campsite- dinner today and breakfast in the morning, so everyone was excited for that. When I got here, I immediately found the trail magic spot. They had gotten the camping space right across from the place the AT entered the campground. I reserved a campsite, and then came over here for chili dogs, potato salad, cookies, brownies, and sodas. Very warm and welcoming people who set this up. They said they got inspired to do it when their son hiked the AT. He is now hiking the PCT and since they can’t be out there providing the trail magic to their son, they do it for us instead. Was an awesome dinner! Unfortunately however, Workhorse never showed up. I told them he was coming and they saved him a plate, but he never got here. He hates hiking in the rain and we did get some rain for about an hour in the afternoon today, so perhaps he set up camp somewhere to get out of the rain. Bummer he missed all this tho. Day 90- Saturday, 6/9- Hightop Hut, VA- (15.2 miles) (905.1 total) Well that trail magic just kept on giving this morning when we got up. They prepared egg, ham, and cheese sandwiches for us, along with doughnuts, fruit, cookies, and hot drinks. They started the breakfast a bit late for thru-hikers at 8:00, but beggars cannot be choosers, so I went and got nice and full. Walked over to use the campground bathroom after breakfast. On my way over there I see this guy walking his dog a ways off. A few minutes later, as I’m sitting g on the toilet, the guy comes in the restroom with his dog. As they pass by my stall, the dog sticks his head under the door and wants to come say hi, until the owner yanks his leash and pulls the dog back out. Lol! I was sitting there laughing on the toilet. That was a first. Didn’t leave until 9:15. Just as I was about to leave, Workhorse finally shows up at the camp. I had last seen him at the previous shelter for lunch. He said after I left it started raining so he stayed to wait out the rain. The mistake he made was to blow up and lay out his sleeping pad while he waited. He ended up falling asleep and not waking up until 6pm when it was too late to keep going, so he just slept there last night. At least he got in on the breakfast part of it. He had already hiked 6 miles when he arrived, as I left to start my 15 mile day. I met a woman yesterday and again today who is probably in her 60s and is thru hiking the trail by herself. To make things even harder, she sprained her ankle back at Fontana Dam and has been hiking on her bad ankle for 700 and some miles. She just limps along very slowly, but hikes for over 12 hours a day so still makes good milage. She told me she has already hiked the PCT twice, and this is her second time hiking the AT. She has also done the CDT, making her a Triple Crowner. I told her I think mental perseverance is the single most important trait on the AT, and that she clearly has that in spades. What an inspiring woman. I interviewed her on video, so check Facebook. The biggest event of the day for me was crossing the 900 mile mark. That number is starting to get quite big, and I had to stop and take it in for a moment. There is a long way still to go, but 900 miles is still a very long way to have walked. It’s hard to believe sometimes. It’s amazing what a lot of small steps can add up to. A guy at the trail magic had recommended that we hike half a mile past this shelter to the top of this mountain and camp in some nice campsites up there with a really nice view. I was planning on that, and Shadow, his girlfriend, Taco, and Workhorse were all planning to meet there. But by the time I got here, late because of the late start, I was too bushed to hike any further, so I set up here. Shadow came by to fill up water and told me that Workhorse set up camp 3 miles back in a field, and the rest of them were headed for the top. Kind of wish I had made the extra push to camp with those guys, but that’s ok. I’ll see them up the way. I’m listening to a great audiobook while hiking right now. “The Help.” I heard the movie was really good but never saw it. The book has kept my mind well occupied as I’ve been hiking. Great read if anyone hasn’t read it. The only problem with a good book like this one is that I get so into it and listen to it all day, so they don’t last too long. Worth it tho for such a good story. Day 91- Sunday, 6/10- Elkton, VA- (11.6 miles) (916.7 total) Woke up this morning trying to decide how far to hike and where to stop this evening. Had absolutely no idea where I was actually going to end up after a very unexpected offer came through. I got ready and was just about to leave the shelter this morning, when a fellow thru-hiker tells me to call a guy named Max Factor and gives me his number. He said he met this guy the afternoon before and the guy is taking the first 10-12 hikers who call him back to his condo for dinner, a place to sleep, and breakfast the next morning. Wow! Luckily we had cell service there so I call immediately and reserve my slot. I was #3 on the list. Then I text Workhorse who I later found out got kicked out of an illegal campsite last night by the rangers and so had to night hike a ways and so was a bit ahead of me. Told him to call the guy as well. Then I hiked the last half mile up to the top of the mountain we were on to tell Shadow and Taco about it. I was supposed to camp with them on the top last night, but was too tired when I got to the shelter so just stopped there. I let them know and they called too, and then I hiked on until I met Workhorse at a parking lot area eating his breakfast. He had met and invited Used Crock, a missionary lady I haven’t seen since Georgia. They had called the guy and arranged to meet him at a campground at 3:30 pm. I hiked quickly to make this meeting point and got there around 2:30pm. I thought I could hike on to the next parking area or two and get a few more miles on my day before the guy picked us up, but figured I’d take a break at the campsite meeting point for a while first. 2 guys car camping there saw me and waved me over and offered me a seat in a camp chair. I started chatting with them and the chair was so amazingly comfortable that I stayed a while. Then the thunder started and the skies began to darken, so I finally decided to call it a day and dashed for the camp store to avoid the rain that was imminent. Max Factor was already at the store when I got there. We waited for everyone to arrive, then headed out to pick up a few others at other locations off the trail. Turns out this guy has 2 timeshare condos. He dropped me off at the first one at the 4 Seasons Resort to join Taco and Shadow and Shadow’s girlfriend, and took the others to his second place. We got a couple hours to shower, do laundry, and rest a bit. These places have huge jacuzzi tubs and saunas in them as well. Then he came and shuttled us over to the second place where the others were to have dinner. He had prepared salad, fruit, and pulled pork BBQ sandwiches with coleslaw, and 8 different boxes of ice cream for dessert. We all ate very well. During dinner, Max Factor tells us his story. He was a heart surgeon before he retired and lost a son back in 2010 or so. After his loss he decided to hike the AT in his son’s honor- his son was named Max and the main factor for why he was hiking was his son, so hence the name Max Factor. He made it as far as Fontana Dam, but then slipped on a wet rock and tore his quad muscle from where it attaches to his knee and had to be transported out by medics and get off the trail for surgery. That ended his thru hike attempt, but he is keeping his son’s memory alive by doing this trail magic every year. And he doesn’t just do this once. He is doing this for the next 6 days or so. Everyday he brings in a whole new group. He just drives up to the Shenandoah Park, passes out some Gatorade and invites the first couple of hikers he meets, then lets the coconut wireless kick in and accepts the first 12 people who call. Such an amazing guy! It’s gonna be hard to get back to trail life tomorrow. My standards of luxury and comfort are pretty high now after growing accustomed to life here at the 4 Seasons Resort. I might just quit the trail and move here for a while. The kindness of strangers. Day 92- Monday, 6/11- Elkton, VA- (0) (916.7 total) Well, my wish came true a little bit. We did get to stay here a bit longer. Max Factor was planning to have 2 different shifts of us this morning for breakfast and the drive back to the trail head. Our condo was to be the second shift, but one of the guys in the other condo apparently slept in way past the time to get up and have breakfast, even tho he had been told and woken up. Then he took forever to get ready, so delayed everything. By the time we would have had our breakfast and gotten back to the trail it would have been 1pm or later, so Max Factor invited us to stay another night instead. It has been such a pleasant stay so we all just decided to make this a zero day and just hang out. Max Factor didn’t have time to go up and recruit more hikers today, so it was just us. We had a fantastic breakfast of English muffins, eggs, fried veggies, etc. After that, some people went to the rec center to swim and use the jacuzzi, while others of us just chilled and relaxed. I spent most of the day on the couch eating ice cream. Used Crock used to be a massage therapist for many years and she was giving massages last night, so I got in on one this morning on my feet and shoulders. Just what the doctor ordered. It was fantastic! Very relaxing and healing. Dinner tonight was a roast, sweet carrots, fresh bread and butter, salad, and sweet potatoes. We all got stuffed yet again before Max Factor drove me and another guy back to our condo. A few stayed, but I’m exhausted and ready for an early night. After this morning’s fiasco, we will be making an extra early start tomorrow for breakfast before getting back on the trail. On the way back here in the car, Max Factor told me that he is also going to donate some money to the charity. What an amazing and heartfelt person he is. All this food, hospitality, and beautiful accommodation, and a donation on top of that. Overwhelming. Day 93- Tuesday, 6/12- Rock Spring Hut, VA- (12.2 miles) (928.9 total) 3 months on the trail today. Wow, hard to believe it has been that long already. I spent so long talking about how the trail would take me 6 months, 6 months, 6 months. And now suddenly half that time has flown by. It seems like forever and it seems like the blink of an eye all at once. Good to be getting there tho. We all got up early this morning. Nobody wanted to be that guy like yesterday who jammed up the whole works by being late. Max Factor arrived at 6:45am as promised and we had a nice breakfast waiting for us at the other condo. After we ate, he took us all back to wherever we each got off the trail and we continued on. Admittedly, it was a bit tough to transition back to how the other half live after a couple nights at the 4 Seasons. Lol! Still blown away at how lucky we all were to get this opportunity and at how generous and kind Max Factor was. The best part was that aside from the weird late guy who left after one night anyways, the rest of us had a really good chemistry and all got along really well as a group. Fun time. Today Workhorse and I stopped at our first “wayside” in the park. Waysides are basically diners and souvenir shops in the park, and some of them are close to the trail. We have been hearing about them for a while, especially about the blackberry milkshakes. But anywhere we can get restaurant meal right off the trail like that is going to be a popular place with hikers. I had a burger, onion rings, and a side salad, plus a blackberry sundae. Honestly, none of it was anything to write home about. It was all very average diner food, and the service was very average uninspired diner service. But it was still nice to be able to sit down and have a meal along the trail like that. After we left, Workhorse was hiking a bit ahead of me and as I approached him he was suddenly waving me to quietly come quickly. He had come across a bear on the trail and I got to see the bear walking away from us down the hill in the forest. So I did finally see my first bear which was awesome. But I’m still waiting for that moment when I am the one who comes around the bend and unexpectedly gets to see a bear on the trail like that. Nothing too close or dangerous, but that would be a cool moment. I’m at Rock Spring Hut tonight. Taco is here, but Workhorse was feeling good when we arrived and decided to push on a couple more miles and stealth camp. I’ll catch up to him tomorrow sometime. Taco is a super fast and strong hiker and she likes to do 20 mile days a lot. She has been taking it slow recently with some zeros and low milage days and is feeling ready to get back on the grind again, so she will probably leave us in her dust. But as the trail works, I’m sure all of us from the past couple days will cross paths again at some point. Day 94- Wednesday, 6/13- Pass Mountain Hut- (15.4 miles) (944.3 total) Taco asked me to go by her tent and wake her up at 6am this morning. She said she always gets up late and wants to be an early person now. So I went by at 6:15 and woke her up. When I left at 7:20, she was still in her tent. Lol! There was a restaurant just off the trail 4.5 miles from where I camped. I rolled in there around 9:30 and saw Workhorse’s pack sitting outside. I joined him and another guy for breakfast. I read on the app that they had a breakfast buffet for $14 so I ordered that. The buffet line was tucked away in the back so the other guys didn’t know about it. I think they were a little jealous. Haha! Got a good feed there and talked to a few people outside who saw our packs and wanted to know more about thru hiking. It’s fun to meet the tourists here who don’t know much about it. It does put things in perspective for me. Thru hiking for 2200 miles has become such a normal thing for us to do that we all forget what a big undertaking it is. But when we meet people who know little to nothing about it, their reactions are priceless. They almost fall over when we mention 2200 miles and it reminds me that we all are doing something pretty big. Probably the same reaction I had when I first heard about it. Soon after breakfast I rounded a turn on the trail and saw a really big bear walking through the woods just off the trail. Got a really good look at it and was able to take a picture. It didn’t pay any attention to us at all- just wandered slowly away. I didn’t see any bears for 3 months, and now 2 in 2 days. So exciting to see them up close like this. Bears are amazingly beautiful and powerful creatures. There is a whole troop of boy scouts at our hut tonight. They are doing a 60 mile section of the AT through the Shenandoahs. Fun talking with them over dinner. They also had a lot of questions for us about thru hiking. Workhorse showed up a bit after I did. He was planning to push on a bit further, but all the rock sections on the trail beat up his feet so he decided to stop here. Taco also showed up. She was planning to do a 20, but told us she stayed in her tent watching Netflix until noon, so only made it 15 miles to this hut today. She said her show kept ending on a cliffhanger so she had to watch one more. Her 20-year-old-ness cracks me up. Well, planning on a 19 mile day tomorrow so time for an early night. Day 95- Thursday, 6/14- Compton Springs Campsite, VA- (19.8 miles) (964 total) Got out early this morning for the long day and promptly went the wrong way. There was a dirt road leaving the hut and I just started following it, thinking that was the trail back on to the AT. After not finding the AT in probably 0.3 miles I got suspicious and checked my Guthook App. Sure enough it was the wrong one. When I went back to the hut I saw the proper trail that I had walked right past. So much for that early head start. We hiked nearly 8 miles this morning, motivated to move faster than normal by the knowledge of a wayside up ahead. We all stopped there and had a nice big breakfast. Eggs, toast, hash browns, biscuit, French toast sticks, a cinnamon roll, coffee, and Gatorade. Plenty of fuel for the long day ahead. When Workhorse arrived, he told me about the raccoon this morning. At the hut he had called me over by the stream and showed me this raccoon that has zero fear of humans. He saw us and paid us no mind at all. It was my first time ever to see a raccoon, so that was pretty cool. Later a ridge runner along the trail told me that is a famous raccoon that knows how to climb the bear poles to get to people’s food bags. Apparently just after I left, this raccoon grabbed one of the Boy Scout’s food bags. The Boy Scout also grabbed the food bag and a tug of war between him and the raccoon ensued. Must have been hilarious. Wish I had been there. I’m all set up at this stealth campsite just past a stream, waiting to see if the others arrive. Workhorse said he’d meet me here. Taco said she wants to hike extra miles today to make up for her smaller day yesterday. But what people say they plan to do and what they actually do are certainly not always the same. Depends on how the day flows. Sometimes people get too tired and can’t make the distance they thought they could. Other times they feel strong and there is still daylight left, so they push on further. It doesn’t get dark until around 9pm or a bit later, and some people like to make use of every minute of it. I heard about a guy today who is planning to start at midnight and do a 50 mile day. Not my cup of tea, but hike your own hike. Day 96- Friday, 6/15- Front Royal, VA- (6.7 miles) (971.1 total) Nero into Front Royal this morning. Taco did hike further on yesterday evening as she had planned, but she stopped by my camp site and hung out for a bit to take a rest. And Workhorse did eventually show up, although fairly late. He said he took a nap for an hour at the last shelter. We got out just after 7 am this morning to maximize our time in town. On the way down we passed the shelter where Taco and 2 other guys stayed last night. One of the guys was Steady, a guy I camped with for one night a few weeks ago. He is right out of college and is a licensed teacher. I had told him about the CELTA course and international schools overseas when we met before. This morning he told me that he has decided to get off the trail for this year and try to do the second half next year. He also said he is now planning to get 2 years of teaching under his belt at home so he is qualified to apply for international schools, and do the CELTA. He wants to teach overseas. Cool how chance meetings and conversations along the trail can influence or change life directions. We decided to stay at a bed and breakfast right off the trail here. It’s about 3 miles out of town, but very convenient and easy to get back on the trail tomorrow when we leave. It’s a nice big beautiful property with huge lawns and an old historic main house which was built in 1847. The hiker hostel part is in a separate red brick house on the side. When we arrived and called the lady, she was out getting her hair done, so we had to wait on the lawn for about 40 minutes and then wait for her to finish making the beds after that. We were getting a bit hangry as it was lunchtime, so when she was finished we had her drive us into town to an Italian restaurant that is famous for its big portions. I had some stuffed eggplant, spaghetti, garlic bread, salad, and jalapeño poppers. Awesome! Then we walked down to Main Street to a coffee shop for some coffee and ice cream. Next it was time for the usual errands. I actually had to buy a new pair of hiking pants this time. My original ones are not worn out, but they just don’t fit too well anymore. When I first bought them, the waist just barely fit. Now, I have to pull the built-in belt so tight and they are way too baggy. I’ve just lost so much weight, so I had to get something smaller. Crazy. I guess that’s what hiking 970 miles will do to you. Did our grocery shopping as well, and I spotted a barber shop nearby. Went in there and got my beard trimmed up nicely, head and neck shaved, and nose, ears, and eyebrows trimmed. Felt so much cleaner and more human after that! Came back and just chilled and relaxed all evening finally. It was hot today and so exhausting running all over town. Like most hostels, they have frozen pizza and other foods in the refrigerator for sale. We were too tired and lazy to go back into town for dinner so we just stayed here and cooked a pizza. There is a movie theater in town and we had talked about trying to watch a movie, but we were too tired in the end. Time to get some sleep in a real bed now!