I set out the next morning with the motivation that in seven miles was a little road side stand the trail went near called a "Wayside". At this wayside it was said they served an amazing blackberry milkshake. So when I got there that was what I ordered, a nice thick blackberry shake. It was good, not like the shake I got at Wood's Hole, but still good.
As the day wore on it slowly got hotter and hotter. I made my way through a pass where there was a big fluffy white cloud moving from one side of the mountain range to the other. I sat at an overlook and watched for a bit and then moved on.
I slowly neared the pickup point twenty miles from the shelter I started from. I heard a rustle up in front of me and when I looked there were three bears coming down the trail. Two of them were smaller and one was enormous. They looked at me and I swear they wanted me to move off the trail. I clanked my hiking poles together to scare them off, but the big bear just shook his head and lumbered a few feet off the trail in no hurry. I briskly walked by them with my head confidently held high because I didn't want to let on that I was scared, but I am sure the stink of fear was reeking off my body. That was a close encounter that I was not happy about.
When my dad met me at Jenkins gap for a our final rendezvous of Shenandoah I relayed the story of seeing the bears. He said he had seen one on the side of the road not far away. As we drove back to Big Meadow campground we spotted another only feet from the roadside. I think that he was gnawing on the bones of an unfortunate hiker.
Memorial Day weekend was in full swing at the campground and throngs of vacationers were everywhere. They must pay the wildlife to make appearances because I was seeing them everywhere. I saw this deer right in front of the lodge where we were going to have dinner.
The next morning I was dropped off at the same place and started my final day of the Shenandoahs. I got a late start, which seems to be my habit when I don't sleep on the trail, so I felt like I needed to push a little to make up time. The trail was easy going, following high ridge lines with not much elevation gain or loss. As I approached the border of the park I spotted two day hikers stopped along the side of the trail. For some reason I was fixated on them, I think I thought they had food they wanted to share with me. As I neared them I walked past a large fallen tree and heard, "Pstt-tss-tss-tss-tss-tss". It sounded like a sprinkler system on a lawn and I jumped out of my skin.
This rattle snake was huge. It reminded me of the snake from Conan: The Barbarian. The one that James Earl Jones slowly transformed into and Governor Schwarzenegger cleaved in two with his sword. This snake was only slightly smaller, but I wasn't about to try to slay this beast, I had no sword, plus there wasn't even any half naked vixen to rescue that was standard in all 80's movies.
It wasn't long before I reached the norther border of the park and the trail descended sharply. The temperature was steadily raising along with the humidity. It got so hot and steamy that it looked like the earth was sweating. All the rocks were wet even though it had not rained in a few days. It was really hard going, but I pushed on.
I arrived at the shelter and met up with the same group from a few nights ago, "No Trace", his wife "Unbreakable", "Rainbow" and "Mamaw B". We ate dinner and settled in as the locals hopped around like we weren't even there.
When I reached the turnoff at the eight mile mark where I was going to pick up the rest of my gear the heat and humidity had set in and I again felt drained. I walked a half mile downhill to the Blackburn Trail Center where I supposed to meet my gear. When I got there I found a large empty looking cabin on a big plot of land. I looked around a little bit and eventually was greeted by a caretaker who offered me a soda. She said that they don't advertise, but if I stayed they make a spaghetti dinner for all of the hikers who are there. I made my mind up to stay the night right then and there, besides it was miserable weather to be climbing up and down. Slowly more hiker showed up, even another guy "Indiana" from the group I had once been hiking with. He is carrying a Martin trail guitar strapped to his backpack and is actually pretty darn good with it. It turned out to be a real pleasant day and an unexpected surprise.
The day droned on under ninety degree heat and it was made even more difficult by endless miles of dancing around rocks on the trail. I had my motivation though to make it to the ATC headquarters in Harpers Ferry before the day was done.
This was a day full of big milestones and it puts this entire trip into perspective as I am within a week of the halfway mark. My father somehow managed to arrive at the ATC center right as I did and we spent the night outside of town.
I am heading back out on trail now and next time I can write I will be officially in the North.