Wednesday, May 30, 2012


     I left Big Meadow campground with my father, this time with no hills for him to toil up.  Not that he toils, but the terrain was easy going so he stayed with me for a mile or so, then we went our separate ways.  I got a late start to the day, but still had an ambitious goal for my destination for the night.  I kept a fast steady pace throughout the afternoon only stopping for short periods of time to eat a little, drink some water and rest.  The day was warm, but not overly to the point of me being constantly soaked.

     A few hours before dusk I came to the shelter I was staying at for the night.  I was greeted by the sound of many voices all talking over each other.  The place was packed.  There were tents set up all over the shelter grounds and the shelter itself was almost full to capacity.  Luckily I saw some thru hikers I knew who said they would make room for me inside if I wanted it.  "No Trace", "Unbreakable", "Rainbow" were an older group who are a ton of fun.  They started on the Florida trail near the everglades and connected it to the Appalachian Trail.  With them were also "Mamaw B", a seventy one year old woman who seems to have taken a liking to me.  All the thru hikers were looking slightly uncomfortable with the crowd of weekender, but before long it was dark and everyone turned in.  I put my earplugs in as the nightly serenade of snoring began.

     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.

     I awoke to daylight and hot muggy weather.  When I started hiking I soon ran into a sign welcoming me to a section called "The Roller Coaster".  It is called that because it has thirteen and a half miles of tightly packed ascents and descents.  I quickly realized it was going to be difficult, not so much because of the hill climbing, but more because it felt like I was breathing hot syrup.  The air had gotten so thick with humidity that it made small tasks difficult let alone mountain climbing.  Mile after mile slowly passed and by late afternoon I reached a turnoff for a hostel called The Bear's Den.  I was so spent from the day that this place was a paradise.  It looked like a small castle and was owned and operated by the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club.  For a reasonable price I had pizza, ice cream, a shower, laundry and a place to sleep for the night.

     In the morning I had pancakes and coffee with other hikers and the caretaker of the hostel offered to take our extra gear to a place eight miles down the trail.  I jumped at the opportunity to not carry all of my crap, so I hit the trail with only food, water and few odds and ends.  It felt great to not be encumbered with my full pack and I started our making great time.  I ran into two girls "Rook" and "Fruit Loop" that I hadn't seen since I was laid up with stomach sickness.  They were part of the larger group that I had informally hiked around for hundreds of miles.  We spent the rest of the morning and afternoon hiking and catching up.

     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 caretakers made pancakes and coffee for us in the morning and when I left to resume hiking I felt like I was buzzing down the trail.  It wasn't long before I reached a milestone that seemed like it would never come.  The Virginia border.  I had just waked 525 miles through Virginia and was standing at the one thousand mile mark.  I would have been more ecstatic, but the heat was oppressive already.  I let out a little whimpering "Whoo-hoo!" and kept hiking.

    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.




  1. Wow nice legs. John and I were wondering exactly where you were, now we know halfway. Well done you are right on track, which is good as I need you to sort Rowdy out as soon as you come home, he is getting a bit wayward and needs a Matt fix.

  2. I love your video favorite part next to your awesome writing! Hope the north is being kind to you!
    ~Big hug from Tori and Ollie

    1. Yeah, I was wrong about the north thing, but now I'm in Pennsylvania, pretty sure it's considered the north.

  3. Replies
    1. I still got a little in the reserve tank, not much, but some.

  4. beard disrespect.

  5. Just curious, Frenchy - looks like you were NOBO thru hiker #275 going through Harpers Ferry. What was you start off number at the southern terminus?
    Really enjoying your videos, off the wall humor and gorgeous photos.

    1. I was 212 at Amicalola Falls. I think I'm plugging along at a pretty normal pace. Not too fast, not too slow.