Day 97- Saturday, 6/16- Manassas Gap Shelter, VA- (10.7 miles) (981.5 total)
I know now that I have fully become “hiker trash” as we are called. Last night I woke up twice to pee. But although we were in a house with a fully functioning toilet upstairs that I could have used, I instead preferred to walk out the front door and pee in their yard. Even sometimes in town if I have to pee, my first thought for a split second is to just stop where I am and pee on the side of a building. Then I come to my senses and realize that I’m not in the woods and need to behave in a civilized manner. The transformation is complete. I’m a woodsman now.
Forgot to write this yesterday, but as we were sitting on the lawn waiting for the lady to finish making up the beds, a huge bear wandered through their yard. It looked over at me for a second, but otherwise paid us no mind and just kept on walking. The owner said this happens only about twice a year. Such impressive and beautiful creatures. I feel lucky every time I get to see one.
No sleeping in at this hostel, even on a nero day when I wanted to lay in a bit. My bed was in an area right off from the kitchen with no door, just a curtain. The lady asked us what time we wanted breakfast, and those who were getting up early to hike wanted to eat as early as 6:30am. So around 6 she was starting to cook and people were gathering in the kitchen. Oh well. Guess I had to get up then too. The breakfast was awesome tho! Some of the best French toast I have ever had in my life, along with some yogurt, fruit, granola, coffee, and OJ.
Since we were planning to nero out of town around mid day, we had her drop us off in town to wander around a little bit. The first thing we stumbled upon was a gospel fest at the park put on by the Greater Joy Baptist Church. It was a black church worshiping mainly through song and it was amazing. I am not Christian myself, but I am still spiritually interested and open minded, and I have to say that this was one of the most amazing and uplifting ways of worship I have ever seen. The talent of those singing and the power and intensity of their songs really created such a beautiful and spiritual vibe. I stood there mesmerized. Coming from Hawaii, this is something I have never experienced before and I really enjoyed it. I have been walking through the south for over 3 months now, but it has been almost entirely through small white towns in Appalachia. This was a nice change and some small exposure to the black south that I have seen far too little of up here.
After checking out the gospel fest for a while we wandered back to the same coffee shop as yesterday and then walked around the town for a while just taking in all the different neighborhoods and houses. We had found a soul food restaurant that didn’t open until noon, so we were killing time until then. When it finally opened, the food was fantastic. Pulled chicken BBQ, collard greens, potato salad, baked beans, and corn bread. Perfect fuel for the coming hike.
By the time we got picked back up and got ready, we made a very late start of 2:15pm to get back on the trail. We had over 10 miles to go, so we needed to push a little bit. Half way through, we came to a shelter that I wished we were staying at. Most shelters are very basic, but this one had a big deck and chairs in front of it, a covered separate picnic table area, and a solar shower. Shelters like this one, as rare as they are, show what is possible with these places. I think the other shelters need to pick up their game a bit. This is how it should be done. We didn’t get to our shelter until 7:40pm, probably the latest I’ve ever arrived. All the tent spots were full but no one was in the actual shelter surprisingly. I checked my app and read the hiker comments on this shelter. On-Step, a guy I hiked with for a couple days a bit ago, had commented on a black snake he had seen in the rafters and another snake under the shelter. Maybe that was why no one was in here. But we had no choice and Workhorse didn’t seem concerned at all. So this is where we will sleep tonight. Hopefully no snake encounters while we sleep.
Day 98- Sunday, 6/17- Unnamed campsite- (18.0 miles) (999.5 total)
Well, I’m camping tonight at mile 999.5. Just half a mile in the morning and I’ll finally get to that elusive 1000 mile mark. Can’t wait!
No snake or mice problems last night. Slept well and slept in until 6am. This morning as I was leaving the shelter, a guy was looking intently in the bushes. I walked up to see what he was looking at and it was a copperhead snake. The copperheads and the rattlesnakes are the 2 poisonous varieties that are out here. Glad that one didn’t come snuggle with us in the shelter last night.
Good hike today, although it was a long day. Towards the end we entered something called “The Rollercoaster.” It is 13 miles of about 14 500 foot peaks, one after the other. I just did the first 4 today and will get the rest tomorrow, but they are pretty challenging. Luckily I had service on top of one of them and could call my dad for Father’s Day. His hearing isn’t great these days, so I rarely get to talk to him on the phone, but today it was pretty good and we were able to talk for quite a while. At one point he started talking about my hike and saying how excited everyone was about it. How many of his friends are checking my blog and website. Then he says, “This is so exciting, and I’m so proud of you for doing this.” It’s funny. I’m a grown man of 43 years old, but hearing that touched my heart. I guess you never get too old to hear your dad tell you he’s proud of you.
The original plan was to hike 16 miles today to a stream with some campsites next to it. But the app said that the sites there were not very level, and showed a better campsite 2 miles ahead so I decided to push on. Sleeping on uneven ground really sucks if it is too angled. The best way to set up is to keep your feet downhill. You do end up sliding down in the night, but it is tolerable and you can still get some sleep. A couple of times I have had to set up so that the tent slopes to the side, and that is just awful. You can’t stay on your sleeping pad and are always trying to stop yourself from rolling sideways in the night. Not much sleep on those nights. Workhorse was beat at that point so stayed there. I hiked on with this father and 2 teenage boys who are doing a section hike out here. Jason, Jake, and Josh. We met them last night at the shelter and they are great, so nice to hang with them tonight. Late arrival tho because of the later start this morning and the longer miles. Got here at 8pm and it is now 10pm. It was funny cooking dinner with them. Josh is around 14 and didn’t know how to cook ramen noodles, so I was telling him how. Then when he started eating them, he goes yuck, these things are so bland and tasteless. Their dad asks him if he put the flavor packet in, and he was like oh, is that what that was? I thought it was one of those moisture absorbers. I threw it away. Lol! No wonder that ramen was plain. Ok, bed time now. Big day tomorrow.
Day 99- Monday, 6/18- David Lesser Memorial Shelter, WV- (16.0) (1015.5 total)
Big day today with a couple of different milestones. First, just half a mile into the day, I finally passed the 1000 mile mark. Been aiming for this one for a long time now. That’s a crazy number. Can’t believe I’ve walked that far in this hike. Feels like I’m really starting to get somewhere.
I hiked on from that landmark and came upon an AT run hostel just off the trail. It was this huge stone building with beautiful lawns all around it. It reminded me of buildings I saw in England. The sign on the front door said closed until 5pm, but it directed hikers to go around the back. I walked back there and found another door that was also locked. This one’s sign said the hostel was for hikers only and said the passcode for the door was the exact number of miles from Manassas Gap road to this hostel. I had to open my guidebook and lookedit up. It was something like 25.3 miles, so the 3 digit code was 253. I let myself in and there was no one there. Lights were all off. I turned on the lights and looked around, hoping to find a typical hiker hostel fridge with pizzas and ice cream inside. The room had a few bunk beds in it, a couch, big screen TV, bathroom, and a small fridge on the side. I was disappointed to find only sodas in the fridge, 50 cents honor system. Oh well, I figured I’d just eat my boring peanut butter bagel and honey, enjoying the cool room and comfortable couch. So I eat and drink a couple Mountain Dews, and then suddenly a guy from upstairs comes down and offers me some ice cream from the upstairs area. The kitchen is closed so no pizza, but when I open the freezer it is packed full of Ben and Jerry’s! I went back down to the couch and enjoyed my Chocolate Therapy for a while before hiking on. Weird place since it is closed all day, but must be much nicer when it’s open in the evenings.
Finished the “Rollercoaster” section today. It was very tough, mostly because of the humidity and heat today. It was truly one of the hottest and most humid days I have had so far. Crazy. I was sweating buckets all day. Clothes totally soaked. When I finished my 2 liters of water, I filled up in a stream and chugged a full liter as soon as it was purified. It was intense. I only hiked 16 miles today, but the terrain and humidity made it feel much longer. Worse than then elevation profile was the rocks. The Rollercoaster was full of rocks to slow us down all day. I considered stopping at a shelter at 13 miles, but forced myself to push the full 16. Makes tomorrow shorter. This shelter is one of the nicer ones with a big deck on the front. Most people are tent camping and all the sites looked full, so I jumped in the shelter for tonight. Only me and one other girl in here, so tons of space. While I was having dinner, Workhorse showed up. I didn’t think he would make it this far today, since he started 2 miles behind me today, but was glad to see him. So we are back on pace.
The other big milestone for today was crossing the state line out of Virginia and into West Virginia. Finishing Virginia is a huge accomplishment for us. It is the longest state by far on the AT- 550 miles or 1/4 of the entire trail. They talk about hikers getting the “Virginia Blues” from such a long stretch with no state borders to cross to make you feel like you are making progress. From here up north the state line crossings will be much more frequent. Thank God.
Day 100- Tuesday, 6/19- Harper’s Ferry, WV- (9.0 miles) (1024.6 total)
Finally made it to Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia today. While we are not quite yet to the exact milage half way point, this town is considered the spiritual half way point as the Appalachian Trail Conservancy is located here and we are only around 70 miles from the actual half way point. At the ATC, they register us as having arrived and made it this far from Georgia and take a Polaroid of us that goes in a book of this year’s hikers.
As much as it is nice to have made this big landmark, I was really not in the mood to feel much of an accomplishment when I arrived. The past 2 days I have just started hitting this wall of exhaustion. I’m thinking it might be because of all the big landmarks I have just hit. Like perhaps I was just driving myself to go, go, go in order to reach the 1000 mile mark and to get out of Virginia finally. And now that I have, I’m just out of gas. The miles these past 2 days have felt very forced and I’ve found it harder to get into that hiking groove. It hasn’t helped either that the terrain has been tough with the Rollercoaster and all the rocky areas that slow us down and kill our feet. In addition, the weather has been crazy humid and hot which really saps the energy. I don’t know. Lots of factors. Whatever the case, I feel in desperate need of some rest and so the nero day today and the zero day tomorrow will be crucial. Also will be taking some days off in DC this coming weekend to see some friends, so that should help too. Mid way break.
I didn’t realize Harper’s Ferry was such a historic town. I just knew it for the ATC. But walking in here, I saw several walking tour groups and lots of signs marking historical sites and events. Sadly, I may not have time to explore and learn enough about this town, but from the little I gathered walking through yesterday, there is a lot of civil war history here as well as the first college for freed slaves in the south. Wish I had more time to explore. Maybe I’ll check out a few things tomorrow if I have the energy.
I ran into Taco again at the ATC and ended up having lunch with her. Workhorse showed up later and we are sharing a room down in the historic district. We decided against a bunkhouse and splurged for the private room to get better rest and more privacy. Didn’t do much after arriving except eat and sleep. Just need the rest.
Day 101- Wednesday, 6/20- Harper’s Ferry, WV- (0) (1024.6 total)
A nice, relaxing, well-deserved zero day today. Just what the doctor ordered. Slept in a bit and then walked over to the coffee shop across the street for breakfast with Workhorse. Got nice and fueled up there on some coffee and pastries, and then wandered over to the outfitter for some resupply. My biggest project for the day was figuring out how I’m gonna spend the next few days with the DC trip and all. Everyone in DC is free on the weekend only, so I need to fill the time. I talked to the outfitter people and they run a shuttle and offer slack packing. So after a few different plans and ideas bouncing around, I decided to do a slack pack of 18 miles tomorrow. I’m in half-time rest mode right now, but I still need to make some miles. So tomorrow they will drive me 18 miles north to where the trail crosses a road, and I will hike south, back here to Harper’s Ferry with only a light day pack. Save the legs a bit. Then the next day, Friday, I will catch the 11:30am train down to DC. My friends won’t be home from work until 6:30pm, so I’ll check some stuff out in the city to fill the time. I’ll spend Saturday and Sunday in DC, and get the 4:30pm train back to Harper’s Ferry on Monday evening. Then on Tuesday morning the same shuttle lady will take me the 18 miles back north, and I’ll head north from there. Good to have the plans all set. Lots of rest days to get the body, mind, and spirit ready to go for the second half.
Ran into the British girl Caroline in town today. The last couple of times I’ve seen her, she has been struggling a bit. She is on a 6 month visa so needs to be moving a bit faster, but her body and mind are tired and not up for the extra heavy miles with the tough terrain. Tough predicament. She is exploring just getting off at some point and coming back another year to finish, and using the rest of this visa to travel around different parts of the US, but is still debating what she should do. I felt her stress with the whole thing so bought her an ice cream and we sat and talked about it all. Commiserated with each other which always helps. Was good to catch up with her and I hope she finds what’s best for her.
Spent a lot of the day just laying on my bed relaxing which was good. Then went out and met Caroline and Bear Claw and her family for dinner. Bear Claw is the Thai lady that I met a couple of months ago who is hiking alone but is being supported by her family. She has the twin 5 year olds who are hilarious. I sat down wearing my hat, but then took it off a bit into dinner. The little girl looks up at me and says, “Put that hat back on. You look weird.” Lollll! The strange thing about this town is that all the restaurants close by 7pm or earlier. We got there at 6:30pm and were kind of rushed to order and eat. Many tourists here and the place we went to was also a bar. Seems like they are losing a lot of evening business. Weird.
Day 102- Thursday, 6/21- Harper’s Ferry- (17.5 miles- slack pack) (1042.3 total)
Got picked up by this lady Laura who owns the outfitter in town. She shuttled me up the 17.5 miles north to start my slack pack this morning. Today is the summer solstice, and also the famous “hike naked” day on the AT. I damn sure wasn’t going to hike naked, but I figured I’d see lots of other hikers doing it and it would be a good laugh. Surprisingly tho, I only saw one and of course it had to be a guy. He was wearing a loin cloth type of thing over his groin area, but otherwise was stark naked. There were some picnic areas coming up when I saw him and he said he was going to get dressed for those. I don’t suppose the police make exceptions for public indecency just because it is hike naked day. Lol! I also passed Taco as she was heading north. She had been talking forever about how excited she was to do it, but when I saw her she was fully clothed. She told me she had heat rash all over her body, plus had been hiking near a couple of strange guys, so decided not to do it.
I guess the light day pack made it a little better for hiking today, but it didn’t feel as light and awesome as the first time I did it. I think part of it was all the damn rocks. Really doesn’t matter how light your pack is in terms of hiking speed if you are picking your way around rocks all day. Feet killers. I was supposed to run into Workhorse as he came north today but never saw him. He must have been resting in a shelter when I passed by him. I was supposed to check each shelter, but wanted to make time and get my miles done so I didn’t stop. I’m heading into DC tomorrow for 4 days, so will get behind him a ways. But he is meeting friends in Pennsylvania, so I should be able to catch up with him in a couple weeks.
I moved out of the place I was staying the past 2 nights. The bunk house there was $40 which I thought was steep for a shared room with other hikers. Harper’s Ferry is expensive anyways, but luckily I met a guy at the ATC who was offering his place. Him and his girlfriend have a downstairs space with bunk beds which they offer to hikers for a suggested donation of $20. They can’t set prices because they don’t have a business license yet. Really nice young couple. It’s just your basic backpacker dive, but a friendly place to crash, get a hot shower, and do some laundry. They drove all of us to Walmart last night to resupply. I bought my food for after DC, so I don’t have to hassle with all that when I’m there. They also said I could leave my pack with all my camping gear here so I don’t have to lug all of it to DC. Great people.