Days 100 + 101
Day 100: Mile 958.4 | Stealth Camp on Cliffs
We got up around 6am and packed up. Inside the hostel we ate a breakfast of cereal and coffee. I went through my pack before we left and got rid of some stuff. Eventually, everyone was ready and piled into the van to go pack to the trail. The 30 minute ride was filled with complaints from the other hikers and commiseration from the hostel owner. I’ve really started noticing the negativity of others, how it affects me, and how to avoid it. We tried to stay out of the conversation. Once at the trail head we thanked the hostel owner and went off into the woods. We saw a bear early in the day with a few of her babies! She was further away, this time, and the babies showed us their tree climbing skills.
Around noon we went down to a shelter to get water. Another hiker told us she was going to the next wayside to get some cold drinks. We decided we’d go, too. It was hot and this was the very last wayside. On the way we ran into Mark. He hiked with us to the wayside. Just before the trail to the wayside we found Josh and Murdock hanging out on the side of the trail. Mark came with us to the wayside while Josh waited for Tang, the last of their group, to make sure he didn’t miss the side trail.
At the wayside we set up at a picnic table. Miles got a burger and a drink. I got a beer and a snack. We set up the chess board and played while talking to Mark.
Mark told us that he and Josh and Tang had been eating mostly fresh food for the past couple of weeks (a concept largely unheard of in the thruhiking community). Most hikers eat ramen, Knorr rice sides, tuna, jerky, and junk food)! He showed us his food bag set up. Two bags: the first with meats in vacuum sealed bags (mostly beef or pork) and the second with some veggies. He told us they’d been carrying some copper/nonstick pans they got at Walmart and each person in the group carries a part of the meal. Josh carries one pan, Tang carries a pan and mostly veggies, Mark carries the meats. It’s heavier, he told us, but worth it for the fresh meal. This got some wheels turning in our heads... more on that later, though!
We hung out at the wayside for most of the afternoon. Josh told us about some cliffs coming up that were supposed to have a great view and a campsite nearby. We’d been following the shelter rule thus far, but if there was a campsite that was already created where we wouldn’t be doing damage, that sounded much more interesting. They said we could join them if we wanted. So we sat and drank a few more drinks with them at the wayside. While we were there the newly dubbed Cactus Club (Big Bunny, Sherpa, Autumn, and Hannah) showed up! I’d seen on Instagram that they’d gotten some cold cactus shirts for trail days and named their tramily after them.
(Go follow Sherpa on Instagram to see their adventures! ^)
They told us they were actually behind us in the trail but their parents had come to visit and wanted to drive on Skyline Drive. They decided to drop off a resupply package at this wayside for later so they could carry less food. They’re catching up, though! We bid them adieu and they drove off. After we saw them we headed out.
On the way to the campsite we stopped to get water at another shelter. There, we met Battle Lion again, the girl we’d met at the last water source, and her friend Stellar were there, too. We talked about salt chafe and remedies because Battle Lion just got some for the first time. We headed out of the shelter around 5pm and climbed up the mountain. A view point appeared on the way and we stopped to look.
We saw Rambo there with Tanner and their friend. Rambo told us he had gotten a ride into Luray the day before and got a new food bag and more food to replace his raccoon destroyed one. Tanner noticed that Miles was carrying a chess set on the outside of his pack. He asked if they could play. They played and eventually got to a Bishop-Pawn end game. Miles blundered a move with his king and Tanner pulled off a win after what looked like a draw. It was a close game.
When we arrived to camp, we set up Miles’ tent to share and went out to the cliffs to make dinner and play chess.
Mark arrived around 7:30pm and Josh arrived shortly after. They are both hammock campers and they realized there weren’t any good trees to hang hammocks from. They decided to move on. Tang ended up moving on with them. So we had the whole campsite to ourselves! I set up my tent next to Miles’ and we went back out to the cliffs to watch the sunset and the oncoming storm:
Day 101: Mile 972.4 | Mosby ‘Primitive’ Campsite
When I woke up in the morning it was drizzling. I packed up quickly and realized after I’d packed up that we had used my poles to set up Miles’ tent last night because we had planned on sharing it. He was still asleep... I debated whether I should wake him up or just hang out in his tent while he got his sleep and leave later. It was 6am. I went to his tent and asked if he wanted to get up. He sort of grunted, sleepily. I asked if he wanted to hang out. He grunted. I took of my shoes, covered up my pack, and climbed in his tent. I fell back to sleep. We woke up a few hours later and it was still raining. Neither of us felt like moving.
We rolled over and went back to sleep. Around noon we stirred again. We got up and ate in the tent. Played a game of chess. Read our books a bit. Still raining. Around 3pm we decided we didn’t want to take a full zero in the tent because we had made the consistency rule. We got up and packed up. By then it was just sprinkling. The clouds made the daylight dim.
We hiked out of camp around 4pm we crossed Skyline Drive one last, foggy time and walked over the last peak of Shenandoah National Park.
As we walked out of the park the sky darkened more. We climbed down some wet rocks and into a lush, green forest with private property on both sides.
As we walked we had the deepest conversation we’d had yet. We talked about childhood, regrets, emotions, family, our trail beginnings, and so much more. At one point a doe and her baby ran out on the trail in front of us! In the foggy, evening light the doe froze in her tracks and looked at us for a moment. Just about 10 feet away. After a pause she leaped back into the woods and her dawn followed. It felt almost magical: the fog, the proximity, the dim light, the few crepuscular rays of the hiding sun in the background. It was beautiful.
We stopped at a flowing creek up the trail a bit to refill our water. It was about 7:30pm. It was still light enough to see without our headlamps. As I filled my water I had this revelatory feeling. Like I hadn’t noticed yet how amazing it was. I felt this deep gratitude that I hadn’t noticed before. Even soaking wet in the rain, I was happy to be walking. It had been 100 days, most of which I’d felt home sick or comfort zone sick. Most of which I’d longed for my bed, and my cat, and running pure tap water, and fresh food that was too heavy to carry, and cleanliness.
But in this moment, I realized I probably have less than 100 days left. I’d already hiked over 900 miles! I’d learned so much and grown immensely. Why wasn’t I more grateful? Why wasn’t I comfortable in the woods and in my skin yet? It was in this moment that I truly decided to appreciate this opportunity that I’d chosen more. It was this revelation that changed my hike. I left my first slump.
This rain and wetness and dirtiness and smelliness, it was all temporary. Temporary discomfort. I could take this on, I already did. And I didn’t know why I hadn’t noticed before.
We finished filtering our water and started hiking again. I thought about Bonnie and Clyde, my cats. I missed them deeply. But I knew they were in good hands and happy. But I just wanted to bury my fingers in Bonnie’s fluffy fur and cuddle with Clyde. He always used to lay across my neck like a scarf. I missed their purrs. I’d see them soon I reassured myself and pushed on.
Eventually the sun went down. The rain and fog continued. We reached the road crossing that led to Front Royal, VA. Just before the road crossing we started passing a long, tall fence topped with barbed wire. You couldn’t see anything on the other side in the dark and rain. It was sketchy and it felt weird but we kept going past it. As we approached the road (the fence bordered it), we saw two eyes on the other side of the fence. Animal eyes. I shakily shined my headlamp through the fence and saw a deer. My quickly beating heart slowed with relief. I don’t know why, but I imagined something much scarier would be looking back at us.
We stopped and ate snacks in the pouring rain next to the road. We were wet and uncomfortable. It was getting colder as the night went on. We mentally prepared ourselves for this campsite to be taken and maybe have to hike on. We crossed the road and followed the creepy fence into the dark woods. I turned my headlamp on and hiked as fast as I could toward dryness.
We made it to the campsite a couple of hours later and, shockingly, no one was there! We set up the tent as fast as possible. I got inside while Miles guyed out the ends of the tent. I took off all of my soaking wet clothes and put them in the vestibule. I sat there naked for a few minutes and let my skin breathe. I was wet and sticky and had chafe on my back. I dried off with a camp towel and got into my PJs. We pulled out our dinners, Mountain Houses our moms gave us, and Miles boiled some water to cook them. I set up my bed, which miles kindly blew up most of the way for me. I was a bit miserable but trying to be more positive because of my epiphany earlier. Mother Nature (or MaNay as we call her) was already challenging my new resolve.
I ate my dinner as fast as I could and cozied into bed. I listened to the rain on the tent and eventually fell asleep.
1. Rain (crazy I know)
2. Mother Nature and her challenges/gifts
3. A home to miss