Days 66-73 (Southern Shenandoahs to Harper’s Ferry, WV)
Day 66 (Tuesday, April 20th, 2021)
AT Miles: 11.6
Pinefield Hut > Swift Run Gap (Elkton, VA)
889.9 Miles Down, 1303.2 To Go
We woke up, packed up, then headed down to the shelter to grab our food bags out of the bear box and have breakfast. Dahdi and Leaky Boots were already up and we enjoyed good conversation with them while we ate. We met two other hikers who had been camped near the shelter, Ezekiel and Woods Sleeper.
As we were getting ready to leave, a tall man with a very long white beard wearing overalls and carrying a sturdy wooden staff walked up to the shelter. His name is Larry and he is a volunteer who helps maintain this section of trail; but I still think he might be a wizard. 😉 He talked with us for a little while, and I came to find out that he had family from Coldwater – my hometown – such a small world!
We got on trail later than planned because we were talking with everyone, but we didn’t mind too much- it is always fun to meet new and interesting people on the trail. It did mean that we would need to push ourselves and hike quickly because we had a shuttle set to pick us up between 11am and Noon and we had to hike over 11 miles to get there. We also had three decent climbs today and the last one would be the biggest climb up to Hightop Mountain with over 1,200 feet of elevation gain. Just after the first hill, we hit the 900 mile mark near Simmons Gap. There was no marker, so Hero and I made one on the ground out of tree bark then took some pictures. It’s hard to believe we’ve walked over 900 miles!
We don’t stop much other than for snack and water breaks, so we get up to Hightop mountain a little before 11am. We check out the view and call our shuttle to update them on our arrival time. After essentially running down the trail, we get into Swift Run Gap just a little before noon. Jack with Appalachian Trail Outfitters pulls up a few minutes later. He greets us and helps us get our packs in the car. We all chat as he drives us into Elkton- we go to his store, Appalachian Trail Outfitters. We get there and Jack gives us the tour. The store is really nice and Jack is almost finished renovating the back room which he has turned into a substantial hiker lounge area complete with a shower, washer/dryer, big screen tv, and charging station. It looks awesome and it’s not even finished yet- there’s a kitchen in the works!
Ginny, who works at the store, had our food box waiting for us. We had talked with her on the phone the other day to make sure our box had arrived. She was so cheerful and helpful. They offered us a shower and anything else we needed and let us use the store as our home base for the day as we sorted our food and looked for lodging. We wanted to stay the night in Elkton but were having a hard time finding an affordable room. There isn’t a hostel in Elkton yet- it’s something Jack is working hard to advocate for, that and perhaps a place along the river for hikers to camp.
We made a few purchases at the store. I got some super feet insoles to try and give my bruised and sore arches a bit more protection from the rocks. We then went to get lunch. Ginny had told us about this burger place down the street that had a vegan burger. We got there, sat down, and ordered the Vegan Burger. While ordering, we asked if the fried pickles had milk or egg in the batter. The waitress asked the kitchen and let us know that they did have milk and eggs in them – bummer. Then she let us know that all of their bread had milk and eggs in it, too. Which meant we could get a vegan burger but no bun. So, that’s what we did, though we thought it was a little misleading that they advertised the Vegan Burger on the menu as being vegan with the bun…
After lunch, we came back to the store. We sorted through our food ration and re-packed our packs. We then decided to head to the Elkton Brewery. On our way, out we ran into Pilgrim (Stanimal’s hostel manager) in the store. We were surprised to see him but super excited- we hadn’t gotten much time to talk with him during our stay in Waynesboro. We invited Pilgrim to join us for a beer at the Brewery. He thought about it for a moment then said, “Sure!” Pilgrim offered us a ride, but we walked over since it was just across the street. We ordered beers and found a table outside so we could enjoy the rest of this beautiful sunny day.
We chatted with Pilgrim and enjoyed the beer. It was nice to get to know him a little better. He could only stay for one because he had to pick up another hiker off the trail. We said goodbye and thanked him for his company. We had been planning to have a couple drinks with Batman, but he was running a little late. His shuttle driver dropped him off just under an hour before we had planned to get a ride back to the trail. Since we couldn’t find a cheap place to stay, we had decided to go back to the trail tonight. We hung out with Batman for a bit but wanted more time. He wanted to hang out with us longer, too, and convinced us to stay and get a motel room for the night.
We let Jack know that we changed our minds and had decided to stay the night in Elkton. We invited him to join us at the Brewery and he did! A little later on, Pilgrim came back with the hiker he had picked up, Poppa Bear. He was surprised to see us still sitting where he had left us a couple of hours ago. He and Poppa Bear got beers and came over and talked with us for a while then headed out. It was nice to meet Poppa Bear- he very kindly interviewed us and put to the video up on his YouTube channel to help us get the word out about Hiking for Hunger!
We ended up closing down the brewery with Batman- it closed at 8pm, so it wasn’t like it was that super late. We then picked up a cheese-less pizza from Pizza Hut for dinner before getting a ride back to the Motel for the night.
Day 67 (Wednesday, April 21st, 2021)
AT Miles: 20.5
Swift Run Gap (Elkton, VA) > Rock Spring Hut
910.4 Miles Down, 1282.7 To Go
We don’t wake up as early as we should this morning, but we don’t sleep in a huge amount either. Neither of us showered last night when we got to the hotel, so we get cleaned up this morning before heading back out on the trail. We ate breakfast, packed up, and were ready to go when Jack showed up to give us a ride back up to Swift Run Gap. Once again, he refused to accept any payment for driving us up the road, saying that us coming to and supporting the store was all he could ask for!
When we started hiking, it was sunny and fairly warm, warm enough that we felt inclined to take our long sleeve layers off pretty quickly. While we were delayering, we looked behind us and saw someone coming down the trail. As the person approached, we realized it was Honeybadger! He stopped and we chatted for a bit. He let us know that he would be stopping at Lewis Campground to meet his parents who would be bringing food- we were welcome to join and grab some if we wanted. We thanked him but said we’d probably have to keep moving along- Lewis Campground was only 8 miles away, and we needed to make some bigger miles today if we wanted to be in Front Royal by Friday evening. Our goal was to reach Rock Spring Hut for the night. We said goodbye to Honeybadger and kept moving.
I felt lethargic for most of today’s hiking. I hadn’t slept well and was really feeling that as we walked. Starting out the day with low energy is hard- I rarely if ever find my groove on days like these. It feels like they have been more frequent lately, which is a little discouraging. Part of it I know is feeling physically tired, but a good bit of it these days has to do with the mental and emotional anguish that has been a looming dark cloud during this month of just trying to making it through Virginia.
At some point, the wind started picking up, and my tank top was no longer an ideal garment on its own. Around this time, we got to Lewis Campground, which was just off the trail. We decided to stop in for a snack break and promptly threw on some warmer layers. The wind was really whipping through here, but there were heated bathrooms on site which proved perfect for wind block and warming our hands under the hand dryers. I admit that I went in there more than a few times to warm up, ha! Not long after we got to Lewis, Honeybadger showed up and joined us for a bit at the picnic table we had commandeered. Soon after, a guy named Greg and his dog Goofy showed up with some trail magic! He had fresh fruit, so I grabbed a banana and thanked him profusely while petting a rambunctious Goofy. Greg mentioned that he’d just done a section and had gotten lots of trail magic, so he wanted to come out and try and pay it forward a bit. He talked with us for a while longer and then hiked out with his backpack full of trail magic for other hikers- how awesome! Shortly after Greg left, Honeybadger mentioned that his parents wouldn’t be getting in for another hour, and he was planning on going up to the general store while he waited. We decided we should push on so that we didn’t get to Rock Spring Hut too late. We said so long to Honeybadger- “we’ll probably see you further along soon enough!” – and hopped back on trail.
We were determined to get to Rock Spring with plenty of daylight, so we kick it into high power mode. Before we know it, we’d made it to Big Meadows. I swear I can recall memories of this place from my childhood, though they admittedly are fuzzy and missing big chunks of detail. I take in the lodge, the cabins, the tent sites, and I picture my six or seven year old self, face pressed up against the window of one of those cabins, scanning the world outside for animals. I can visualize my dad racing around behind me as I run all around the campground with that crazy little kid energy that no doubt exhausted my parents beyond belief. It’s funny and weird and nostalgic being back in this place- I slow my pace to take it all in. It’s a good thing I do- BAM! and I noticed that someone left a smoldering fire at one of the tent sites close to the trail. We look at each other and decide to investigate further as smoke rises continuously from the spot. We approach the fire pit and sure enough, someone clearly up and left their tent spot without bothering to put the fire out all the way. BAM! and I are both irritated by this. We take some of our water and use it to stifle the fire. We keep hiking, frustrated that someone didn’t take the time to properly put out the fire, but grateful that we caught it. Forest fires may not be as prevalent out East as they are out West, but they do happen and all too often it’s because people are being careless with fire.
The wind started to pick up even more as we left Big Meadows and continued on to the hut. I find myself hoping that the hut is located somewhere with good wind cover- the gusts were getting more intense by the minute! I was getting worried that with how windy it was and how much the temperature was supposed to drop that we’re going to have a cold night if we didn’t have good cover from the wind. We got to Rock Spring Hut and alas- there was no wind cover whatsoever. We debated staying in the hut, but it didn’t look like it was getting much wind block either. Because of this and because we tend to stay warmer in the tent anyways, we selected a tent pad and I got to work with setup.
And it took For-Ev-Er to set up that dang tent! The wind rivaled all other wind we’ve experienced thus far- at least that’s how it felt in the moment while I tried desperately to get the tent staked out and set up while all it seems to want to do is be a kite. It takes so much extra effort and so much extra time, and there are honestly moments where I feel like crying because of how frustrating it is. As if the crazy wind wasn’t bad enough, the tent pads in Shenandoah are too small to fully stake out our tent’s vestibule, so I once again have to jerry rig one of the sides- good grief! I don’t have a lot of stick options that are quite long enough, so I use the PVC pipe we use when we encounter challenging water sources and stick it in the ground. I stick one of the sturdiest small branches in the pipe with a little sticking out and voila- I’ve got my stake extender. I pile some rocks around the bottom of the PVC pipe in the hopes that it’ll provide a little more reinforcement.
At this point, my body has started to stiffen because of how cold it is- setting up the tent isn’t movement enough to keep me warm. I stiffly get in the tent and start setting up the pad and sleeping bag, but I have to stop frequently to shove my hands under my armpits for warmth. I’m out of the wind, but it still hammers the outside of the tent, shaking the walls and making me feel like the tornado music from the Wizard of Oz is about to start playing and the tent with me inside it are going to be lifted into the air.
When I finally get done with the tent and go down to the shelter picnic table where BAM! has been working on dinner, I discover that he’s feeling equally miserable, so we scarf down dinner and hurry back to the tent. We burrow into the sleeping bag, trying our hardest to warm
up the bag with our combined body heat before the sun goes down. Big gusts continue to make us question the integrity of our tent, and at one point little tiny pellets of ice start to rain down on us- we can see them on the ground just beyond the periphery of our vestibule, looking like a layer of Dippin’ Dots ice cream on top of the dirt tent pad. The sun goes down and we try our hardest to stay warm, but we anticipate it’s going to be a long, cold night.
Day 68 (Thursday, April 22nd, 2021)
AT Miles: 14.1
Rock Spring Hut > US 211, Thornton Gap (Luray, VA)
924.5 Miles Down, 1268.6 To Go
Last night was one of the coldest we have been on trail so far. The wind was whipping around the mountainside and gusting up under our tent fly. This along with the low 20’s temperature made it feel in the low teens again. However, this time we didn’t have our puffy pants or our base layers. We sent all of those things home after the Grayson Highlands thinking we were done with winter. Well, the Shenandoahs had a little bit of winter left for us.
Needless to say we didn’t get much sleep. Maybe just a little bit between the gusts as we held each other tight trying to maintain some semblance of body heat. Morning came and we tried to convince ourselves to get out of the tent and start packing up so we can get moving. We know that we will warm up if we start hiking, but it’s still hard to get ourselves to face the cold wind outside of our sleeping bag and tent. The early morning right before sunrise is usually the coldest part of the day and taking down the tent, packing up, and eating while trying to keep your fingers from freezing is quite a challenge. Hero and I both had to shake out our hands several times in an attempt to manually pump more warm blood out to our extremities.
We finally got things packed up and scarfed down a little bit of food while talking with some hikers from Colorado. They had a rough night too and told us of their plans to go and get a hotel for tonight. It was supposed to be in the low 20’s again and a hotel was starting to sound like a really good idea. Hero and I said goodbye to the other hikers and got to hiking, trying to generate some body heat and warm up. We pushed a little over 5 miles to Skyland Resort and decided to hike in to the dining hall and see if they had any hot food or at least some coffee. They were in between breakfast and lunch and weren’t serving food, but we did get some hot coffee which hit the spot! We were also able to be inside out of the wind and in a heated building which we appreciated.
While there, we talked and decided we didn’t want to freeze our butts off again tonight. So, we decided to give Jack a call and see if he might be able to pick us up at Thornton Gap and take us into Luray, VA. He said he was available and could pick us up in a few hours. This was perfect- now all we had to do was crush out a little over 9 miles and then we could go get a hotel room. We called ahead to the Quality Inn and made a reservation.
On our way to Thornton Gap we only stop a couple times, once for Stoney Man Cliffs shortly after leaving Skyland. That turns out to be a really cool spot! We then stop to check out the view at the Pinnacle, and a little further along Mary’s Rock. Even when we’re in a rush, we always have to stop for the B.A.M. We got to Thornton Gap and accidentally passed the side trail to the parking lot and ended up at the road crossing down the hill. We were about to hike back up when Jack spotted us and drove his truck over to pick us up. It was a relief to see him and know that we would be staying somewhere warm tonight. We chatted on the way down to the hotel and thanked Jack again for all of his help. We got to the Quality Inn and settled in for the night. Food options were pretty sparse so we ended up ordering the Impossible Whoppers from Burger King. With full bellies and a warm bed, we passed out pretty quick.
Day 69 (Friday, April 23rd, 2021)
AT Miles: 27.7
Thornton Gap > US 522 (Front Royal)
952.2 Miles Down, 1240.9 To Go
We heed the siren’s call of the snooze button, fighting the inevitability of waking up and getting going. Somehow, despite sleeping on a normal, comfy bed with cloud-like pillows in a climate controlled space, we still don’t get enough rest. I think our time in towns must just be overstimulating at this point. Even while in a hotel room, there are bright lights and a tv and noisy cars driving by on the street and people yelling outside. It’s just a lot, and it can really infringe on getting a good nights rest when you’re used to the quiet of the woods. Anyways, we hit snooze way too many times, and soon we’re scrambling to get ready. We are getting a ride back to Thornton Gap from Alyse, one of Jack’s employees, and now we’re running behind schedule. BAM! texts Alyse to let her know we are hustling but might be a few minutes late.
We bid the hotel room adieu, race down the stairs and head towards the truck waiting for us. We hop into Alyse’s truck and who do we see in the front seat- JB! He must be the other person Jack mentioned was already being picked up by Alyse this morning. We all talk for a bit during the car ride back up to Thornton Gap. JB doesn’t hop out of the truck when we get there, so he must be getting dropped off at another spot. We thank Alyse and say goodbye to her and JB and watch as the truck pulls away. We get ready, making sure everything is strapped down and get our packs situated. As we do this, another car pulls up and Aspinock hops out- he, Tenacious, Pippin’, Halo, and Zoomie must have wrapped up their aqua blaze. He lets us know that the others camped a mile or so ahead at the nearest shelter last night to avoid paying for a night at a hostel. He indicated they’d be hiking 13 or so miles today, and we let him know we’d be pushing into Front Royal. Then we said goodbye to him and started walking.
For the morning portion of the days hiking, we just focused on getting to Elkwallow Wayside where we planned on some serious snacking and taking advantage of the restrooms. We were motivated and made it there in good time. A few other thru hikers were arriving at Elkwallow around the same time we were- a couple of younger guys who were moving real fast and had started in Georgia several weeks after us. We sat at the picnic table and chatted with them for a bit while we all munched on overpriced Wayside food. I’m not complaining too much- I was pretty exited for the Pringles and other snacks we found there! Eventually, BAM! and I got going again.
We enjoyed views on South Marshall Mountain just a few miles north of Elkwallow- some of the last good panoramic views we’d get in Shenandoah. After that, we were feeling ready to get into town, so we started to push our pace more. We threw on some music and started to cruise.
In less time than we had expected it to take, we’d pushed the 27.7 miles and had arrived at US 522. And there at the trail head we found a cooler full of Gatorade! Just what we needed after all of that, especially since we were just about out of water- how serendipitous! We called a cab to come pick us up- someone will be there in 15 minutes they tell us. Then we plopped down in the grass and enjoyed our well deserved Gatorade’s. In what seemed like no time at all (certainly not 15 minutes), the cab had arrived and we were on our way into town. The driver was super nice and completely amazed by the fact that we had walked to Front Royal all the way from Georgia. “Woah!” he kept saying. It made us feel proud and accomplished, and was a great moment for us to really feel just how far we’d come.
Our driver is super speedy and we’re at the Super 8 in no time- we understand now why it took a lot less time for him to get to the trailhead than we were told over the phone, ha! We thank him and say goodbye, then we walk into the Super 8 lobby. Immediately, as the strong, skunky scent of marijuana assaults our nostrils, we realize that this Super 8 is not going to be as nice as the one in Daleville, VA was. The guy at the front desk is one of the least enthusiastic people I’ve ever encountered, the kind that just doesn’t respond positively even when you beam at them. Guess I can’t blame him too much- I don’t know that I’d be in a great mood if I worked at the Super 8 in Front Royal, VA. He passes us our room key and we head towards the elevator and up to the 2nd floor. As the doors of the elevator open, that skunky smell hits even stronger, and I can’t help but crack a joke about the very real possibility of a contact high. We walk to our room down at the end of the hallway, slide the keycard in, and turn the handle. It’s not that it’s completely disgusting inside, but it ain’t great either. Though the carpet is dark with lots of crazy patterns (no doubt an attempt to help conceal unsightly splotches), it’s no match against the countless stains made by who knows what, courtesy of previous guests. We suspect, too, that the bathroom hasn’t been thoroughly cleaned when upon closer inspection I find leftover hairs in the bathtub. Oh well.
We’re getting ready to head out to find dinner when I see it. As I reach for my fannypack on the desk, I see movement- a cockroach skitters across the surface of the table towards the wall it’s positioned against. I jump back a little- I’m fairly certain it’s a cockroach I just saw, but we need to confirm it. BAM! and I both crouch down and direct the light from my phone towards the wall. Yep, there’s no question about it. We snap photos for evidence- we better get a discount for this, we exclaim! Then we grab a napkin and squish the roach. We may be vegans, but we draw the line at cockroaches. We take the napkin with the dead bug in it down to the front desk- Mr. Unenthusiastic is suddenly a lot more excitable and immediately offers to switch our room. BAM! and I look at each other, reading each other’s minds. BAM! turns to front desk guy and asks him what difference switching rooms would make- if there’s a roach issue in one room, we assume there must be roaches in other rooms, too. Front desk guy is insistent that no no no, it must just be the room we were in, and they’ll have the room sprayed in the morning. This solicits raised eyebrow looks from BAM! and I, as we really don’t believe that the cockroaches are somehow miraculously only in that one room, but we decide to accept the room change for now.
After getting set up in our new room, which does turn out to be a bit nicer (faux hardwood floors in lieu of the crusty carpet and slightly less ragged furniture, a win in my book), we start walking towards the Thai restaurant. It’s over a half a mile away, and we are hurting after the hike we just did, but it is well worth it to us for some Thai food. We get our food, and because we are so ravenous we stop and plunk ourselves down on a park bench and scarf down our appetizers before getting back to the hotel. Once we’re back at the Not-So-Super 8, we get settled in and flip through the channels for something to watch while we eat. To my delight (and perhaps BAM!’s dismay) the original Bring It On! movie is playing. It’s more than halfway over, but nothing better appears to be on, so we relive the gloriousness that is this hot mess of a late 90s/early 2000s film. The credits roll and our eyelids start to droop- we hit the power button, turn off the lights, and promptly fall asleep.
Day 70 (Saturday, April 24th, 2021)
AT Miles: 0
Front Royal, VA
952.2 Miles Down, 1240.9 To Go
We woke up early in the Not-So-Super 8. We wanted to get our laundry done before Tim and Janis came so we could hang out without having to worry about doing our chores. There were two laundromats in town, one was right next to the Super 8 but they didn’t open until 11am. So we walked the 0.6 to the other laundromat because they opened at 7am.
We got there and threw our clothes in the washer. The person working there stared at us as we came in but didn’t say a word. I walked around through the building looking for the detergent vending machine and passed the employee twice, they didn’t say a word to me even though I clearly was looking for something. I found the detergent and purchased a box of tide. A little later Hero walks through the building looking for a bathroom and before she even gets to the employee they say, “can I help you with somethin’ honey?” All around, we were getting some weird vibes at the laundromat so we decided to go to the coffee shop around the corner while we waited for our wash to finish.
The Happy Creek Coffee and Tea company was a wonderful little spot. We walked in and the baristas were super friendly, and they had cool artwork and stickers for sale. Hero ordered a London Fog with Lavender and I ordered a Dirty Chai. We also got a couple of punny stickers. Mine said “Hikin’ it and Lichen it”- I put it on my ukulele. The drinks were delicious and the atmosphere was calm and refreshing. Hero’s timer went off signaling that the wash was done. I walked back over to the Laundromat and again the employee stared at me as I walked in, I realize this time that it may be because I have a mask on. I look around and there might be one other person with a mask on and it’s not the employee.
I grab our clothes from the washer, take them to the dryer and start it up. Then I went back to the coffee shop. I ordered Hero and I each a cup of coffee. I watched as the barista ground the coffee we requested, heated the water in a metal kettle, put the fresh ground coffee in a pour over filter, and poured the water over the ground beans. The coffee dripped into the cups and the toasty aroma filled the air. I had expected them to just pour some already brewed coffee out of a carafe, but they make each cup of coffee this way. It was delicious!
Hero and I sit sipping our coffee and doing some writing, and a little while later the alarm goes off again. The clothes are finished in the dryer. Hero offers to go get them and I am grateful- I don’t really want to go back in there. Hero gets back with the clothes and then her Dad and Janis arrive. We are so excited to see them! We hang out outside of the coffee shop for a while just talking. Then they let us know that they have a couple packages that came for us in their car. We go and check them out- they are our Hiking for Hunger bandanas screenprinted by our friend Mallory, and our new Hiking for Hunger trail shirts. We are so excited- we finally have some H4H gear to wear on trail!
After geeking out over our new gear, we all decide to go get lunch. Janis had done research ahead of time and had found a spot that looked nice- the Blue Wing Frog. We get there and they aren’t open yet, but we only have to wait about 20 minutes. We hang out in the parking lot chatting until we see someone unlock the door. Inside, the atmosphere is cozy with lots of space, and we discover they have some tasty vegan options. We had a wonderful lunch and were so grateful to have this time with Tim and Janis.
Afterwards, they took us back to the Not-So-Super 8. They had also brought us our whole food resupply, so we didn’t have to go to the store. This was amazing and we really appreciated it. Unfortunately, they couldn’t stay too long and before we knew it, it was time for them to head back to DC. We don’t say goodbye, just see you later- we’ll see them again in about a week. They drive off and we go back to our room and sort our food and get semi-packed for tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Batman has gotten to town and asks if we want to grab drinks. We are excited to grab one or two with him, but don’t want to stay out too late. This works well because Batman wants to be back before Spelunkers closes so he can get a burger and some frozen custard. We all head over to the Beer Museum, a cool eclectic little space with quite the selection of beer on tap. We have a couple drinks and chat for a while then head back to the hotel. We get back just minutes before Spelunkers closes and Batman runs over and grabs some food. Hero and I get back to the room and finish our Thai leftovers before crashing out.
Day 71 (Sunday, April 25th, 2021)
AT Miles: 16.4
US 522 (Front Royal) > Random Campsite (south of Sky Meadows State Park)
968.6 Miles Down, 1224.5 To Go
It’s a late start for us getting out of the Not-So-Super 8. We’re not feeling terribly motivated to do anything quickly this morning, so we don’t. We do call for and schedule a cab, but time is on our side so we putz. Eventually, it’s time to make moves and we say farewell and good riddance to our home for the past two nights.
The cab is waiting for us out front when we walk out with our packs on. We throw our packs in the trunk, hop in, and we’re off. BAM! asks the driver if we can stop by the laundromat quickly on our way out of town so he can see if his missing gaiter has shown up. The driver is super kind and heads over to the laundromat- BAM! runs in, but soon he’s back outside and climbing in the cab. No luck- poor BAM! is just gonna be a one-gaiter kinda guy until we can get him a new pair.
We’re back at the US 522 parking lot where we got picked up a few days ago. We see Hawk in the parking lot chatting with a woman- he must be getting dropped off right now, too. We jump out of the cab, grab our things, and wave goodbye to the driver. Then we walk over to Hawk and the woman who must have given him a ride back to the trail. We recognize her as someone we ran into while in Shenandoah! She’d been day hiking when we passed by her. What a coincidence that we ran into her again. We’re ready to get going, so we say to Hawk “see you up trail” and tell the woman it was nice to meet her- then we’re back to hunting white blazes.
We’re hiking at a lower elevation today, which means we are surrounded by lush greens and lots of new flowers that are starting to pop up. BAM! takes pictures of the ones we haven’t seen yet so he can identify them later with his plant identification app. It’s still the weekend, so we also run into a lot of day hikers. Some are really friendly and want to chat and/or cheer us on when they hear that we are Maine-bound. Others might mutter a curt hello or nothing at all and blow past us as we step to the side of the trail.
Near one road crossing, we encounter some trail magic! There’s a cooler full of sodas, and we help ourselves to one each. The trail angel has tied a garbage bag to a tree, which we greatly appreciate. We’ve seen some spots where trail angels have left trail magic but no way to dispose of leftover trash, and unfortunately some folks just leave empty bottles and such on the ground. It’s disheartening whenever we see this, so I’m grateful for the trash bag. Admittedly, I’m also glad we don’t have to carry our trash with us. As we’re sipping on our sodas, a flip flop hiker who introduces himself as No Bad Days shows up and he partakes in the trail magic. Then Hawk appears, and we realize he must have known this trail magic was here. In fact, as it turns out, the reason this trail magic is here in the first place is because of Hawk. According to Hawk, the person who left the trail magic follows him on YouTube and asked if he could leave Hawk some food by the road. Hawk said okay, but told them that they should really do some trail magic for other hikers, too. So, this is how the nice little trail magic surprise came to be- maybe we should try to keep up with Hawk, ha!
After a nice little break at the trail magic spot, we continue on, and we soon realize that we are not really feeling up for the 23.6 mile day we had planned. We’re both still feeling sluggish and unmotivated, and we just can’t imagine pushing those miles. We’re trying to figure out what we want to do when we catch sight of Hawk just ahead of us. Weird, we thought we’d been ahead of him. He must have passed by us when we were eating lunch ever so slightly off trail- how’d we miss him? We come up behind him as he’s recording a video on his phone. We say “hi” and he turns around, clearly surprised to see us. He says “Stranger Danger” and then turns off the video. “When did I pass you guys?” he asks. We explain that we were just wondering the exact same thing. He asks us where we’re staying for the night and we tell him we’re trying to figure that out- we just know we’re not going as far as we originally intended. He mentions a tenting spot that’s not too far away, just about a mile past the shelter- we’d all heard from day hikers that the shelter was already super overcrowded, and none of us were keen on that situation.
We wound up going to Hawk’s recommended spot, and the three of us all stay there for the night. BAM! and I go about our routine while Hawk goes about his. We talk and hang out, and I really appreciate hearing about Hawk’s experiences on the trail, how he wound up being a professional thru hiker, etc… He refers back to earlier that day when he said “Stranger Danger” as we came up behind him while he was recording a video. “That became my tagline- I say it whenever I’m recording and someone approaches me on trail. People tend to be different when they know they’re being recorded, so I try not to record people a lot.” An interesting and very honest observation of human behavior, I thought.
After saying goodnight to Hawk, we retreat to our tent and work on writing before bed. At one point, we hear Hawk recording a short video to wrap up the day. We also think we hear someone walk past the tenting area, but they don’t say anything and we don’t hear anything else after that. As darkness takes hold, we wrap up with what we’re doing and snuggle up for bedtime.
Day 72 (Monday, April 26th, 2021)
AT Miles: 21
Random Campsite (south of Sky Meadows State Park) > Random Campsite (North End of the Rollercoaster)
989.6 Miles Down, 1203.5 To Go
Hero and I woke up at dawn and started packing up. As I step out of the tent, I see Hawk put his backpack on and do a final sweep around his camping spot. We exchange greetings and then he starts hiking. We finish packing up and scarf down some breakfast. We aren’t usually hungry yet this early in the morning and we are less than hungry for the same old breakfast we’ve been having every day, but we know if we don’t eat something we will be exhausted in an hour or two. We do our final sweep to make sure we have everything and hit the trail.
Less than 50 yards down the trail, right where the side trail for the camp spot joins back with the AT, we see a tent without a rain fly on it and someone moving around inside. They are literally right next to the trail and camped under a wooden sign that has a tent symbol on it- this was the sign pointing to the tent sites where we had stayed. As we pass by a voice calls out and says, “Oh! Hey Guys!” We recognize the voice immediately. “Tenacious!?” We both exclaim. He then lets us know how he got in late and got frustrated because there were people camping in the tent sites where he was wanting to stay, so he came back and just set up at the intersection. We told him we were the ones camped up there and that there was room enough that he could have set up. He hadn’t known it was us and felt awkward packing into the space with strangers. We chatted a little bit more and it was good to see him. We said we would see him down trail and continued hiking.
It was a beautiful morning to hike through Sky Meadows State Park. The early morning sunlight was filtering through the trees and it was pleasantly cool. We saw several day hikers out enjoying a morning stroll as well. We got to Rod Hollow Shelter just in time because I needed to stop in for a brown blaze. We hung out there for a bit to work on some videos and content. While there, Pippin stopped by and we chatted for a bit. This is the last shelter before the 13.5 miles of the Rollercoaster, and we were all kind of dreading it but knew we needed to get going.
We pushed out of the shelter and to the sign marking the beginning of the Rollercoaster. This section is notorious for its succession of steep climbs and descents with hardly any switchbacks. It was built by a man they call “Trail Boss.” We started up the first steep hill trying to keep our spirits high by pretending we were on a real Rollercoaster. “Fasten your seatbelts – here we go!” “Where are the coaster cars, and aren’t we supposed to get pulled to the top by a chain before we drop down the other side?” Nope – this coaster was all human powered, so we trudged up one climb and slowly went down the other over and over again. I noticed that on the peak of each hill we had an additional obstacle – poison ivy was everywhere! I am highly allergic and was tiptoeing across the rocks trying to avoid it.
In the middle of the Rollercoaster we hit the 1,000 mile mark – that gave us a boost! A thousand miles! We are feeling pretty good about that. A little later, we came to Snickers Gap where we have to cross VA 7 and 679. It is a very busy highway and we had to run across to avoid getting hit by a car. It felt a lot like the video game Frogger if you have ever played that. It was one of our scariest road crossings so far.
We knew we were getting close to the end of the Rollercoaster and our day when we got to Raven Rocks. We saw a Tramily group called the Trobos setting up camp there. We took a brief moment to enjoy the view in the late evening light then pressed on. Just a little later, we come to a creek with a few flat tent spots nearby. It is right before the final uphill of the Rollercoaster. We decided that this is good enough for us for the day and we set up camp. While we are eating dinner, Tenacious walks into our camp. We are both happy to see him and offer him a tent site near ours, but he lets us know that he is just here to get water. He wants to finish the final push out of the Rollercoaster tonight and told us he would sleep right under the sign marking the end if he had to. We believed him and figured that’s where we would find him the next morning especially since we did find him right under the camping sign this morning. We chatted while he filtered his water and then said goodnight as he left to push up the hill.
We were exhausted and wanted to go to sleep as soon as possible. Doing the Rollercoaster in the heat today wore us out. We brushed our teeth, hung our bear bags, and went to the tent just as darkness settled on the forest.
Day 73 (Tuesday, April 27th, 2021)
Random Campsite (North End of Rollercoaster) > Harpers Ferry, WV
1,005.4 Miles Down, 1187.7 To Go
I am so ready to be done with this rollercoaster. Good grief, yesterday was a hard day. It shouldn’t have been so hard considering all that we’ve already been through in terms of terrain and elevation gain and whatnot, but man the heat really took it out of me. I went to bed last night hoping that sleep would help me to feel a little better, but when I wake up this morning I still feel as exhausted as I did when I shut my eyes hours earlier. With how I currently feel, I just can’t imagine how I am going to get through this day.
I get up though, and BAM! and I start packing things up in the tent. Then we pack up the tent. Then we grab our food bags and shove down some breakfast. Everything is just one thing at a time this morning. We get our packs on our backs and get going- we just have one more climb left before we’re out of the rollercoaster- I can’t wait. Not long after we get going, we’re taking off layers because we’re getting too hot going up this hill. As we do this, we look behind us and see a northbound hiker approaching- he gets closer and we realize that it’s Honeybadger! He stops, we all say hi, we all can’t wait to be done with this crazy rollercoaster. We tell him to go ahead and pass us- we are moving slow this morning. He does so, and we fall in behind him. We’re all close to each other when we reach the top, and we all rejoice together. BAM! and I stop for some water- Honeybadger keeps truckin’. We somehwat expected to see Tenacious camped out near the sign, but he’s nowhere in sight.
The ridgeline is fairly flat, with some occasional little ups and little downs. We plug along, at one point stopping when we recognize Tenacious’ backpack at an intersection- he must have run down the other trail for some reason. BAM! takes a few sticks and fashions a wonky “HI” with them on top of Tenacious’ backpack- a note for him to find when he gets back to his pack. We keep going, trying to make it to David Lesser Shelter for water. We get there and our guide tells us it’s about .2 down to the source. BAM! takes our bottles and starts heading that way. There’s a swinging bench seat at this shelter (so luxurious!) so I take a seat and enjoy a few gentle swings in it. I eat a few snacks and enjoy the time off of my feet. As time goes on and BAM! still hasn’t returned, I worry that I might completely lose motivation to finish hiking today. I realize as the minutes pass by that this water source must be further than the guide indicated. Sure enough, BAM! corroborates my theory when he returns- the look on his face says it all. Poor guy.
Our water replenished and snacks eaten, we start back up again. We are so ready to be at the VA/WV border, so we start to motor. Eventually, a backpack we think we recognize is bobbing just ahead of us. Sure enough, as we get closer, we see that it’s Tenacious. He must have passed the turn off for the shelter while we were getting water from the far away source- that water run did take us about 50 minutes when all was said and done. We say hi for a minute and then pass him: “we’ll see you down in Harper’s Ferry, Tenacious.” But we see him again a lot sooner than that because we reach the VA/WV border! We all three take pictures before moving on. I point out while we’re all there that the three of us shared our first ever state crossing together back when we left Georgia and entered North Carolina.
We step into West Virginia and absolutely relish the fact that we’ve made it this far. Virginia was such a loooooooooooooong state- we were ready to say goodbye! But crossing into West Virginia today wasn’t really the final goodbye to Virginia. We still had to come back to the border for the Four State Challenge in a few days, and we also had about 20 miles north of Pearisburg to go back and get (the section that was closed when we went through because of downed power lines). Still, we were feeling stoked in this moment knowing that Virginia was essentially in the rear view now.
We start descending the mountain and we both can feel that we’re getting very closer to Harper’s Ferry. The exhaustion I was feeling earlier today has lifted as nostalgia floods my senses- I am beyond excited to be getting to Harper’s Ferry, the place where I first encountered the Appalachian Trail. We start to hear the sound of cars and trucks rushing across the bridge over the Shenandoah River. I can’t see it yet, but I don’t need to to know that it’s traffic on the bridge we’re hearing. We keep on descending, and finally we are walking under the bridge, then following the path up onto the pedestrian walkway on the bridge. And as we walk across the Shenandoah, Harpers Ferry starts to come into view. Tears start to well up in my eyes as it all hits me at once- I can’t believe, after so many years, that I am here- that I walked here, the place where my dream of hiking the AT first began to take shape, all the way from Georgia. I walk until I’m about halfway across the bridge and centered over the river. I breathe deeply and take it all in for a moment while I wait for BAM! to catch up. Then we walk the rest of the bridge together, and follow the AT up into the hills that skirt around the town.
We leave the AT and take the blue blaze path to the ATC headquarters. The trail takes us on a section that goes through the upper part of the town. We get to the ATC- it’s closed, which we anticipated. Pippin is there and she offers to take our photo, and we offer her the same. A few minutes later, Tenacious rolls up. We’re all so hungry and trying to figure out where we can get something to eat when a truck slows to a stop in front of the ATC headquarters- Hawk is in the passenger seat! He asks us if we want to go get some food and we excitedly say yes. His friend Scott (the driver of the truck) helps us pile our backpacks into the bed, and then we’re off.
We drive into Charles Town and eat at a restaurant there. Miraculously, BAM! and I are able to find some options to eat. I down several sodas while we’re there (thank goodness for free refills) and devour everything on my plate when it comes out. We all talk about the trail while we wait for our food, and I find out that Scott is hoping to hop on the trail himself next year. He’s a really nice guy and I enjoy talking with him.
Eventually, our bellies full of food, we head out. Scott is super kind and offers to give us a ride, which we take him up on. Our Air BnB is only a couple of miles down the road, which works out perfectly. When we pull up to the spot, we grab our things, thank Scott profusely, and bid Hawk farewell- we hope to see him again further up trail! We get settled into our Air BnB, which is located just above Abolitionist Ale Works and is owned by the owners of the brewery- can’t beat having a brewery downstairs, right? Once we’re settled in, we get ready to go to the Casino, where we are scheduled to get our first dose of the Pfizer vaccine!
We start walking to the Casino to go get our COVID shots. When we scheduled our appointment a few days ago, I noticed that it advertised the event as a drive thru- I find myself hoping and praying that we don’t get turned away because we’re on foot. It seems crazy that we would, and BAM! is certain that they won’t turn us away, but now I’m worried. We get to the Casino and see that not only local police but also the National Guard are on site to help with the drive thru. We approach one of the officers directing traffic, apologize for the fact that we are on foot, and ask where we need to go for our vaccines. He looks us up and down, raising his eyebrows slightly at my galaxy leggings, shakes his head a little, and then directs us to go see a couple of National Guard members sitting in a golf cart a hundred or so yards away. We approach and they hand us clipboards- we read the paperwork, fill out some info, and sign. When we’re done, one of the NG members says into the walkie talkie “Two Pfizers on foot,” and points to where we need to go. When we approach, two nurses walk towards us quickly. They are the very definition of efficiency, and yet they also manage to make time for small talk, asking us kindly and without a hint of judgement why we’re on foot, and then getting excited when we tell them that we’re thru hiking the AT. They were super nice, and before we knew it we had both received our first dose of the Pfizer vaccine! We thanked the nurses and they wished us good luck, and then we were on our way back to our Air BnB, stopping for a few snacks along the way.
We were crazy hungry when we got back to our place, so we ordered some Thai for dinner from the restaurant two blocks away. BAM! picked it up, brought it back, and we proceeded to curl up on the couch and watched (you guessed it) Schitt’s Creek until our eyes could no longer stay open.