Day 86- 6.15.15
Fancy Pants: We hiked 8 miles today (861.7-869.7). Since we are waiting to meet up with Katie this afternoon, we had a slow morning getting some town chores taken care of. Showers at the YMCA, grocery shopping, picking up mail at the post office and finishing a blog post at the library. Once we got the call from Katie saying she was on her way, we called and got a ride back to Rockfish Gap and started hiking into Shenandoah National Park. Our first backpacking trip on the AT was on this exact section, so we were excited to be here again.
We filled out SNP backcountry permits and headed into the woods. Miles went by quickly. Fuego and I were hiking down to Beagle Gap and saw Katie and Nick in the parking lot. Sweaty from the hike, we were excited to have some Gatorade 🙂 Katie and Nick joined us for the last 2.2 miles to Calf Mountain Shelter. As we hiked up Little Calf Mountain, I was definitely impressed with the pace we kept. This was Katie’s first time hiking or backpacking. We chose this specific section for Katie and Nick to hike with us because there is a view at the top and water and tent spots at the shelter.
After leaving the summit of Little Calf Mountain, we descended a little then started up Calf Mountain. Just before the summit, Fuego spotted a bear on the trail ahead of us! The bear ran to our left about 75 feet then stopped. Everyone was able to see the bear! Fuego and I have been on the trail for 86 days and are just now seeing our first bear. Katie has hiked less than an hour EVER and sees a bear! What luck!
We hiked down to the shelter, stopping to get water from the spring along the way. We had trouble setting our three person tent up on the small tent pad. Fuego ended up tying the guy lines to rocks and stretching the tent out. Our tent is not free-standing, meaning that without being staked out, it will not keep its shape (Tarptent Cloudburst 3 if you want to check it out). I warned Katie and Nick that everyone pretty much goes to sleep just before dark. We whispered for awhile, then decided to walk down the trail to the power lines so we could talk without disturbing anyone and get a view of the stars. Also, my first night hike on the trail (if you count .6 miles as a hike). We hung out for awhile then made our way back to the shelter. Nick slept in his hammock and Katie squished into our tent. Our tent is just barely wide enough for three sleeping pads.
Fancy Pants: We hiked 2.2 miles today, but they were southbound (still at trail mile 869.7)! Since we went to bed late, we slept in. Knowing that Katie and Nick were going to go back to Richmond and we were going to hike north sucked. For some reason, every time someone visits or we stop somewhere to visit, I don’t want to continue hiking. It’s not that I want to quit the trail. I think it’s a reminder of my previous non-trail life and I want to prolong that.
We were eating breakfast at the shelter when Katie said that she wished we could hang out a little longer. I think that’s where I invited myself to her house for the night. So instead of hiking north, we hiked 2.2 miles south back to Katie’s car and headed to Richmond 🙂 I’d say that we kind of snuck into Richmond. The only person we told was Ashton so she could come visit. We took showers, took a nap, Fuego sewed a patch onto his pack, we sewed the leg holes on our gaiters to make them smaller and I added a lot more music to my hiking mix on my phone. It was a nice, relaxing evening.
Day 88- 6.17.15
Fancy Pants: We hiked 10 miles today (869.7-879.7). We left Katie’s house around 11 to stop by REI to exchange some things. We had lunch at Panera then headed back to SNP. Getting back on the trail was tough for the first few minutes for me. Walking into the woods while family is standing there is just hard. We had Katie drop us off at a different gap, so we had to hike southbound to get to the power line, then turn around and head north (hardos don’t skip miles!). Even with our late start time (3pm), we were determined to at least do 10 miles. We wouldn’t pass any water on the hike, so we had to carry it all with us. The terrain was actually pretty easy today- relatively flat without a ton of rocks to slow us down. It wasn’t as hot as it had been recently, so that was nice. We stealth camped out of sight of the trail (SNP rules say that you need to be .25 miles from any infrastructure, including roads, and at least 20 yards from the trail, preferably out of sight. Additionally, fires are only permitted at the shelters).
The spot we set up in ended up not being very good. It was relatively flat a free from rocks, however there were a ton of big, fat, black ants. We sat down to eat and ended up scarfing down our dinner to get away from them.
Day 89- 6.18.15
Fancy Pants: We hiked 9.9 miles today (879.7-889.6 ). Today started out with me freaking out about all of the giant ants all over my backpack (Fuego and I keep out packs under the vestibule of the tent, so they are on the ground outside of the tent, but still covered from the rain). I was freaking out to where I would not even get out of the tent. There were at least 100 ants coming out of the nooks and crannies of my pack. After I was satisfied that they were mostly gone, we packed up, ate breakfast and headed back to the trail.
Just before Blackrock Shelter, we ran into trail magic. A cute old woman who has section hiked the trail had made some sandwiches. She also gave us chocolate milk and a fun sized Milky Way for dessert. After that, we ran into Fuego’s friend from high school, Josh (Two Puck) who had hiked the trail last year. I’m pretty sure we can give him a lot of credit for giving Fuego the idea that he wanted to hike the trail this year. Two Puck was hiking all of Virginia again with his girlfriend. He advised of of cheap beer prices at the campground campstores instead of at the waysides, so naturally, we went to the campstore at Loft Mountain Campground. After seeing other hikers come out of the restroom smelling fresh from their showers, we decided to shower and pay for a campsite. It rained a bit after we got into the tent, but nothing major.
Fancy Pants: We hiked 25.3 miles today (889.6-914.9)! Yes, over 25 miles! We were hoping for a marathon, but fell short. It will happen eventually 🙂 Iron Jen and Muskrat were in SNP doing trail magic for a few days. We handed off our gear and headed out for a long slackpack. We decided to have lunch at the rock outcropping at the top of Hightop Mountain. Beautiful view and I also made friends with a butterfly. The climb down from the mountain was pretty easy and we kept our quick pace. Nothing makes you feel fast on the trail like not carrying your pack all day!
We crossed 33 then had one more big climb up Baldface Mountain, then met up with Iron Jen and Muskrat at the Pocosin Cabin parking lot. And in true awesome fashion, they brought DC Brau beers for us to drink after our long hike! Totally hit the spot! We hiked another 1.2 miles before I decided I could not hike another step. Slackpacking 24 miles and then putting on your 30 pound pack make it feel so much heavier! We made dinner then went to sleep before it was even dark outside.
Day 91- 6.20.15
Fancy Pants: We hiked 18.8 miles today (914.9-933.7). We woke up early today so that we would have enough time to hike to Big Meadows Lodge and have time to do laundry and shower before going out for lunch with Dad and Kathy. I was glad that there weren’t any good camping spots near where we would have completed the marathon last night! Makes me feel better for stopping so close to the goal! We arrived at Big Meadows around 11 and got cleaned up. We had lunch in the dining room at the lodge. The food there was fantastic! They had a blackberry vinaigrette that was probably the best salad dressing I’ve ever had!
After lunch, we decided to drive on Skyline Drive for awhile to check out some of the overlooks. The AT used to be located along the path that Skyline Drive now occupies, so it was nice to see some views for a change! When at Skyland Lodge, Fuego and I realized we had the opportunity to slackpack. We asked the check-in office to hold our bags and then headed south in the car back to Big Meadows. It looked dark and stormy when we arrived back at the Big Meadows campground. We were warned about the storm coming, but missed the part where it was the end of a tropical depression, meaning it would not be a quick passing thunderstorm! Storm or not, we live outside now, so we said our goodbyes and headed back on the trail. Like when Katie dropped us off, I had a hard time. I was pretty sure this would be the last time we see Dad and Kathy before we finish the trail. Even so, I realized I was very fortunate for being able to see my dad for Father’s Day weekend. A lot of other hikers that aren’t from the east coast don’t get to have any visitors on the trail.
We started hiking fast. It was getting windy, the pressure changed and it was definitely going to storm before we made it back to Skyland. There are about 7 trail miles between Big Meadows and Skyland. It rained really hard for a few minutes at a time, although between the bursts of rain, we were still getting wet from the water on the trees. Thankful that we didn’t get caught in the worst part of the storm!
We arrived at Skyland and picked up our packs. When I had phone service, I received some panicked texts from my mom (this is when we realized it was not a passing thunderstorm!). To stay out of the impending gale force winds, we stayed at the bar at Skyland.
Another hiker, Crackers, came in and we waited out the storm together. There was a break in the rain a little after 11 and we quickly got back in the trail. I wanted to camp at the first available spot, but with heavy fog and only headlamps to see, it was hard to find something suitable. We found a flat-ish spot and set up camp just as the wind and rain started again.
Day 92- 6.21.15
Happy Father’s Day! We are very thankful and fortunate to have the support of both of our dads as we are hiking the Appalachian Trail!
Fancy Pants: We hiked 16.6 miles today (933.7-950.3). After leaving the tent in the morning, we realized our tent site was on the side of a steep hill and was right next to a parking lot and Skyline Drive. It looked much better in the dark. And dare I say it was cold when we woke up! We stopped to fill up on water at a parking area just before ascending The Pinnacle. There was a large group of older Asian folks (over 30 people) having lunch and preparing to hike up. We saw some nice views on the climb. We then went to Mary’s Rock, which is on a side trail just after the summit. There were a lot of families there, out for Father’s Day I assume. When climbing down from the overlook, I was surprised that some many small kids made it up the hill to Mary’s Rock. It was a few miles of continuous climbing on a rocky trail. Not big rocks, but the small pointy ones that could make you two at your ankle and hurt your feet. Fuego and I stopped for lunch at work Gap. After the gap, we had a relatively flat, uneventful hike out of Shenandoah National Park.
We stopped at the Tom Floyd Shelter for the night. We met a nice day hiker couple that stopped at the shelter before turning around to head back out. We decided to stay in the shelter. For awhile, it looked like we may have the shelter to ourselves, but others filled in after awhile. At dusk, two of the other hikers saw a bear in the woods behind the tent. I was the closest to the opening in the railing on the porch. Glad I didn’t get eaten!