I hope you all had lovely Memorial Day weekends. I know I did, what with hanging out in Shenandoah National Park and all. I’m going to tell you all about it, but first let me back up to Waynesboro.
About a mile outside of town, Lentil and I were hiking along and were greeted by a clean shaven man sitting by a stream. After exchanging the standard greetings, Lentil did a double take because he realized this guy was his friend Sharky. Sharky thru hiked the trail last year, and last Lentil saw him, he was sporting a thick mountain-man beard. We thought we’d be meeting Sharky at a road intersection by town, so his arrival was a cool surprise.
You’re probably wondering why I included a photo of a buffet above. Well, this isn’t just any buffet, no. This is Ming Garden in Waynesboro, which is fully stocked with enough sushi for two monster plates…and more.
After carting us around town on errands (including some quality time at Ming Garden), Sharky was super gracious and invited Lentil and me to zero at his house. (He’s raising chickens. Aren’t they cute?)
On the afternoon of the day we zeroed, a heavy thunderstorm came through, which was pretty awesome. It’s funny how much I’ve come to appreciate the simple pleasures of a roof when the alternative is soggy boots. Oh, and also hot tubs. Did I mention I really appreciated Sharky’s hot tub?
The following morning we headed into Shenandoah National Park. Fair warning that from this point forward the photos are pretty random. I hate to say it, but I’m at a point on the trail that’s not as picturesque. I’m still enjoying the beauty that surrounds me; it just doesn’t seem to warrant as much photo-taking.
Before heading into the park, I had planned for four days worth of food. 100 rolling miles? Yeah, four 25s sounds about right. But when we started hiking I realized, “Wait, it’s Memorial Day weekend. It could be fun to putz around a national park. Why should I rush?” Luckily, Shenandoah is full of waysides (food stops) and camp stores to accommodate the throngs of weekenders that pass through.
That first day out Lentil and I slack packed 20 miles to a road crossing where Sharky was generous enough to drop our packs. We then hiked the last mile to the following shelter where who did we see but Techie! As many of you know, Techie had been trailing us for over a month. Well, he had to get off trail for a graduation and decided to jump ahead to hike with us again. He plans to go back and hike the miles he missed, but in the meantime we get to enjoy his company again. 🙂
The following day Techie and I made a little side trip to one of the waysides and managed to spend over an hour sitting around people watching. I know we had some hiking to do, but they had sweet potato fries. Sweet potato fries! Need I say more? And, hey, we still managed a respectable 21 miles to the next shelter that night.
And then you know what happened? The temperature dipped to 35 degrees. At the end of May. A week after I’d sent my winter gear home. Blissful, the ridge runner we came across at the shelter that night (and who I’d met at a thru-hiker workshop last November), said it was the coldest Mem Day weekend she’d experienced in 25 years. And my sleeping pad had sprung a leak, so I was sleeping flat. Awesome.
The following morning when I called the Lewis Mountain cabins and by some miracle they still had one cabin left (on a holiday weekend?!), I didn’t hesitate to snag it. Lentil, Techie, and I hiked a lazy 12 miles that day, stopping en route to take a nap, people watch, and socialize with other thru hikers in our bubble. We were joined that night by B Rocket and Chin Music in our toasty warm cabin, which made it more economical and…cozy.
Also that evening we were fortunate enough to come across trail angel Roger, who shared fresh deli sandwiches, fruit, chips, desserts, and beverages. And here I thought I’d be eating marshmallows from the camp store for dinner.
The rest of our five-day hike through Shenandoah proceeded in a similar vein: hike a little, lay around napping, chat up the weekenders. Since the park is built for car traffic and not foot traffic, many of the water sources were at picnic areas and other highly trafficked spots…so we had to hang out there really. And remember what I said about four days of food? Yeah, it wasn’t a problem (“Hey Boo Boo, is that a picnic basket?”).
Many of the people we came across were excited to talk to thru-hikers (I’m not sure why. From the outside looking in, hiking for 8+ hours a day seems pretty boring, right?) and happy to share food for the chance to chat (although I can’t say we charged for the conversation…). One guy thought to give me a banana, another bought me a blackberry shake, and a third offered up a six-pack of Pepsi and half a honeydew. And then there was the family passing out bottles of Gatorade. Yeah, I didn’t starve.
Speaking of which, let me jump ahead on you a bit. I made it out of the park, stayed the night in Front Royal long enough to go to the movies for the first time in three months (the movie itself didn’t matter. I just wanted to space out in a dark theater), and hiked onto Manassas Gap Shelter the next day. That evening Progress, who thru-hiked last year, hiked up with a regular old backpack. Out of it she miraculously pulled a rotisserie chicken, half gallon of chocolate milk, a Tupperware of diced cantaloupe, cookies, and Almond Joys. I was in awe both of her generosity (thank you, Progress!) and her bottomless backpack. And don’t you worry: not a morsel made it out alive. Fatty (who is skinny), Gumby, and I (mostly Fatty and I) laid waste to the feast. It was a sight.
All of the trail magic has been wonderful. It’s amazing to me how much the AT community supports thru-hikers with gestures big and small. On the day that I hiked past the 1,000 mile mark, I was thoroughly wilting in the 90 degree heat until I came across two separate coolers on ice, the first with soda and the second with fruit and snacks. Each one provided just the energy boost (and mental boost) to keep me going to the next shelter.
You like how I subtly threw that in there about reaching the 1,000 mile mark? Isn’t that exciting? I’ve hiked over 1,000 miles. 1,000 miles! I’m pretty excited about it. AND I made it to Harpers Ferry and got my number at the AT Conservancy HQ. I was the 274th thru-hiker to get there this year. I’m pretty stoked. And tired. And feeling a little beat up by the last few days of terrain. I think it’s time to celebrate with a weekend visit with friends and family in the DC area. Yeah.