Day 49 – Waynesboro, Virginia – Blackrock Hut – 20.7 miles
It was nice waking up in a warm bed this morning and I got a really good nights sleep. I was in and out of sleep until about 8 and then went downstairs to make a pot of coffee. Ernie was already awake and he ended up making me coffee and some eggs and toast. We ate together and had a nice conversation before I went back upstairs to get my things ready. Before I went back to the trail, I walked down to the Krogers and got my food resupply. Even though it’s a good amount of weight, I ended up packing out 4 avocados and 6 bananas so I could have some fresh food in my life. Ernie ended up picking me up at the Krogers and first drove me to the outfitter in town so I could get a new spoon. After all the errands were done, Ernie dropped me off and I was finally back on trail by 12:30. Since I’m now hiking in a National Park, I had to fill out a registration form before I started hiking. After that I was on my way and the trail wasn’t too difficult to start. About a mile in I stopped and talked to two section hikers, Regina and Lee. They were some of the nicest people I’ve met on the trail and we talked for five or so minutes before I started hiking again. I didn’t know how far the first shelter was until I passed a hiker named Smoke and he told me it was about 5 miles away from where we were at. I picked up my pace a little bit because I heard there were going to be thunderstorms in the afternoon starting around 2 o’clock and before I knew it, it was 2:15 when the wind started picking up and a dark storm cloud moved in. I started to feel raindrops so I stopped and took my bag off so I could put my pack cover on and a couple seconds later I started to hear a rattle. I looked over and 3 feet away was a rattlesnake that coiled up and stared right at me. Needless to say I got the hell out of there and left it alone. I got to the first shelter 7 miles in around 3 o’clock, ate some cheese and crackers, and waited to see if the rain would pass. Eventually it did and I decided to hit the 13 miles to the next shelter even though it was late. I knew if I left I had no choice, but to make it because there was no water source between shelters. The sun came back out and the terrain was fair so I was making a good pace. About 8 miles in out of nowhere I heard some rustling in the bushes and 20ft away from me was a black bear. I yelled at it and hit my poles together, but it didn’t move and was just staring at me. I slowly backed away making sure not to turn my back and waited down the hill for 5 minutes. I went back up and the bear was still there just watching me, so I ended up road walking until the A.T. crossed over the road again and got back on trail. All was good until I was just a mile out and a huge thunderstorm rolled in. The rain came out of nowhere and I was soaked within minutes. The thunder and lightning was so loud it sounded like it was going off right next to me. I eventually got to the shelter and the rain persisted all night. I made some mac and cheese and I can’t wait to get some sleep.
Day 50 – Blackrock Hut – South River Picnic Area – 27.9 miles
My sleeping bag is rated for 19 degrees so usually when I sleep I open it up and stick a leg out because it gets so hot. The downside to that is now the mosquitoes and flys are out and they take advantage of me while I sleep. The bugs ended up waking me up at around 5:30 this morning and were so bad I got up, packed my bag, and was on the trail by 6:05. Right away there was a little climb up Blackrock, but once I got to the top I was rewarded with an incredible view and a young sun risen sky that made me sit there and appreciate it for about 15 minutes. I eventually got back to it, really enjoying the cool sunny morning. About 6 miles in I heard something in the woods, looked over, and saw two bears about 30 feet off the trail. I yelled at them and hit my poles, but they didn’t move and stared right at me. I backed away about 20 ft and waited to see if they’d walk away, but after a few minutes they didn’t move so I took a detour up to Loft Mountain Campground and hit the camp store and then the Wayside and got a second breakfast. Shenandoah National Park has “waysides” throughout the Park which have food and drinks. After getting fueled up I hit the trail hard and a few miles in I met a through hiker named Onion from upstate New York. We hiked for the next 5 miles or so, passing the 900 mile mark, and then I went ahead a hiked on my own for the rest of the day. Around 4 in the afternoon I passed a southbound hiker named Penny and was warned that there were a mama bear and her cubs about a mile up the trail. Turns out she was right. I walked with my head down up a pretty steep climb and when I got to the top of the hill to take a break I literally looked over to my right and the mama and her cubs were 20 ft off the trail just looking at me. I said “oh shit” as the cubs ran up the tree and the mama bear got on her hind legs standing about 7 feet tall. I backed up down the hill I just climbed about 100 feet and waited ten minutes for the bears to walk away. Thankfully they did and I hiked on and hit a shelter just after that for lunch. I met another Japanese thru hiker named Sunrise and he told me that there were 4 thru hikers from Japan including him and Masa. We talked for a little and I decided to push on, which ended up being a mistake, because I was hit with the worst rain since I’ve been out here. Within minutes the trail became rivers and I was walking through water up to my ankles. I couldn’t believe it. I walked for 3 hours in the rain making it 6 miles to a picnic area which had bathrooms with the doors unlocked. I was so wet and cold and didn’t want to set up my tent in the rain, so I decided to roll out my sleeping pad and sleeping bag in the bathroom and sleep in a warm dry space. The bathroom is relatively clean and doesn’t smell. I never would’ve thought I would be in a situation like this, but nonetheless, I am and I’m warm, dry, and oddly relieved that I’m here.
Day 51 – South River Picnic Area – Pinnacles Picnic Area – 26.2 miles
I woke up to a knock on the door this morning with someone trying to get into the bathroom around 6 am. I rushed to get my things packed up and while I was doing that I met Billy Goat and Baby Gap. They were in their tent last night and it ended up getting flooded so all of their stuff was soaked. Literally one minute into my hike a mama bear and her cubs were 20 feet off the trail. The cubs bolted up a tree while the Mom stood in front to protect them. The bears can climb high and fast! I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve become less nervous with seeing bears now that I’ve seen quite a few. They’re not aggressive, so I feel like as long as I stay on trail and respect their space, they’re not really going to do anything. Of course they’re exceptions so I’ll always be cautious. The trail for the first 5 miles to Lewis Mountain Campground was like a river. It was completely flooded and I was walking through water up to my ankles. My feet were wet and cold and there was nothing I could do about it. It was a slow trek, but eventually I made it to the campground and hit the camp store. I think the guy at the register felt bad when he saw me because he commented on my rain soaked appearance and let me have my cup of coffee for free. There were a few hikers already there, F Word, Buddha and Budapest, and a few others I just forget their names. All of them had long, cold nights with flooded tents and wet gear so I was happy with my decision to stay warm and dry last night. After my cup of coffee I decided to road walk the next 9 miles to the Big Meadows Wayside and Campground. It was rainy and foggy so there were no views really, but the road was a nice change of pace from the muddy trail. I stopped to change into dry socks about halfway and that really helped. I ended up getting to the Wayside around 12, but it was closed because of a power outage so I walked a mile down to the camp ground where I used the dryer for my socks and shoes. I also took a hot shower which helped with my morale. I talked with a family from West Virginia while they dried their wet stuff too from camping the night before and the lady who worked at the Campground gave me her chicken salad sandwich. Once that was all dry I walked another 9 road miles to Skyland where they had a restaurant and cabins. It was a bit touristy and I was the only thru hiker (it was mostly families on vacations), but I got some chicken tenders with biscuits and the gourmet burger and I was happy. By the time I was done eating and ready to hike, it was about 9:30. I ended up meeting Sarah and Mackenzie, they both worked there, and Sarah offered to give me a ride a couple miles down to the picnic area. I caught a second wind at the picnic area and decided to hike through the night, but a quarter mile down on the road I looked ahead and could see two pairs of eyes staring at me. One of the pairs walked across the street, looking at me the entire time. Honestly, it freaked me out, and I walked a quarter mile back to the picnic area and set up my tent for the night. Looking to push it hard tomorrow and get out of the Shenandoahs!
Day 52 – Pinnacles Picnic Area – Front Royal Hostel – 29.2 miles
The rain lasted all night, but when I woke up at 5:30 am it was somewhat clear and the sun made an appearance. My tent was soaked, but I was dry and I wanted to get an early start on the day because I planned on walking pretty far. I ate breakfast and brushed my teeth and by 6:30 I was on the road. It was nice to see the sun and I felt refreshed as I made my way north on Skyline Drive. I stopped at one of the first overlooks and admired the clear skies and mountains. I met Eric and Felicia who were from Pennsylvania, but on vacation in the Shenandoahs. They asked me a lot of questions about my they hike and they told me they wanted to do it next year. A few miles down I met a dude from Australia who stopped to talk to me. He told me he came all the way here to see a bear and after I’ve seen so many I told him he most likely would. I hiked all morning, 11 miles, and hit Elkwallow Wayside. There were a bunch of hikers there already and I got a Gatorade and blackberry shake as I chilled for about 30 mins. I got back into the woods for the first part of the afternoon. The sun dried up some parts of the trail so other than a few muddy sections where the water couldn’t drain, it was a nice change of pace from the road. The trail was busy today. I stopped a lot of times to let hikers going southbound go by. A lot of people were curious about thru hiking and would ask a lot of questions and cheer me on. About 4 in the afternoon, storm clouds came in out of nowhere and heavy rain got me soaked once again. I hiked another couple miles through the woods and then hopped back on the road when it crossed so I didn’t have to walk through puddles. It took another 3 hours to get to the hostel and by the time I got here I couldn’t wait to lay down. It was a hard push through the Shenandoahs, but full of great views and bear experiences. I’m less than 40 miles from reaching 1,000 miles on this journey and I can’t believe I’ve walked this far. It gets me pretty fired up thinking about it and I can’t wait to crush the second half.