May 17 – After a great zero day including a visit from my parents in Waynesboro I was rested and ready to get into Shenandoah National Park, where the trail will parallel Skyline Drive for 100 miles. The sky was cloudy but it was impossible to let it get me down once I entered the park. The terrain instantly got extremely easier as many people said it would. Even when we were climbing a mountain the trail still remained flat somehow, perfectly maintained with little to no rocks getting in my way. Everything was even greener than it has been as I walked through meadows and forests of low shrubs. The sun began to peek its way out only to hide again behind dark clouds during the first rainstorm I’ve experienced in over two weeks. I thought it would pass quickly so I didn’t bother with my rain gear, but quickly regretted this decision as it turned into a downpour and got me completely soaked. After all of my clothes were fully saturated, it let up again and the sun brightened everything up, making the forest glow with a bright fog. Before I knew it I had gone twenty miles and would have done more if it didn’t look like more water was going to fall from the sky. Planning to wake up early tomorrow to get a long day in, this is definitely the section to do it in.
May 18 – I probably would have ended up staying asleep until seven or eight, but before the sun even rose me and everyone else at the shelter was woken up by the most annoying birds I have ever heard. More and more of them began to pitch in until Blackbear got so fed up with it that she ran out of the shelter and into the woods screaming like mad in an attempt to scare them off. By this point I was wide awake and had myself packed up and ready to go before 6, a new record for me. It was a quick half mile to finish our climb of Black Rock Mountain and at the top I was amazed at the geography of the summit, it was unlike anything we’ve encountered so far on the trail. The entire mountaintop was nothing but huge boulders pile atop one another. It was exactly what I picture the mountains in New England to look like and if I’m correct then I’m in for an absolutely amazing final stretch. The trail skirted the summit but I took a break in order to scramble my way to the top, where an amazing 270 degree view was laid out before my eyes. Around the corner it looked like some sort of landslide had accused causing a builder field to form down the side of the mountain. It was hard to leave such an awesome spot but I pressed on knowing that there will be many more on the rest of my journey.
Once at the bottom of Blackrock, I met up with Blackbear and her husband who was down for a visit and slackpacking her for the day. Slackpacking is where someone takes your pack for the day and drives it to a road crossing for you so you can walk without weight for a stretch. I quickly got on board with this and before I knew it I was flying down the trail feeling weightless. It was a humid day with lots of ups and down so it was a perfect one to be packless. After about ten miles I came to the first of many waysides on Skyline Drive, basically just a restaurant and camp store. I was too early for lunch but still got to enjoy a pretzel and bag of chips while I let my socks dry out a little from yesterday sogginess. The sun was shining bright and it didn’t look like the forecasts of rain would come true. Many great views broke up the green tunnel and eventually we came to the 900 mile marker, after which another view popped up rewarding us for the milestone. So close to a thousand!
It wasn’t until about two miles before the shelter that the thunderstorms started and made me hustle to get to the shelter without getting drenched. Full house here tonight and the wind is starting to pick up. They say after tomorrow morning the sun will be shining again for the next 5 days so I’m definitely looking forward to that. Can’t wait to see what Shenandoah had in store for me tomorrow.
May 19 – Another early morning was necessary as I planned to do 24 miles today. It definitely paid off when I had already done 13 by lunchtime and had a great break at Bearfence Mountain before heading back on my way. From here I climbed Hazeltop Mountain, the highest mountain on the AT in Shenandoah. At the bottom there was a man putting up a sign for trail magic 3 miles down the trail so I booked it with hotdogs on my mind. When I got there, an even better surprise than food was waiting for me. I finally caught up to Typo, one of the original group I was hiking with before I got sick in Erwin. The others aren’t far now! After another great freak with typo, Blackbear, and Why Not, I set off to finish my last three miles to Rock Spring Shelter, where I saw my first deer of the park up close and personal and also got a great sunset to end the day. Sleeping in my hammock for the first time tonight. Already got a rip in the bugnet but man it’s comfy. Short and rushed entry today but it’s late, I’m tired, and we have another long day planned tomorrow.
May 20 – Sleeping in a hammock is SO much more comfortable than a tent. The wind rocked me perfectly all night, pretty relaxing out here in the mountains. Still it got pretty cold last night, and it remained chilly into the morning. There was a restaurant at Shenandoah’s resort five miles from the shelter where we all planned to get breakfast. On the way there I rain into a great bag of trail magic that allowed me to get through the park without having to do any resupply. A perfect way to start the day, only made better by the eggs, sausage, home fries, and toast I got at the restaurant. With All the calories I needed to get push for bigger miles I set off and soon came to Little Stony Man Cliffs, a really cool spot where the trail was a cliff walk for about a tenth of a mile. The terrain of Shenandoah has remained extremely easy but it’s easily one of the most beautiful sections so far, especially at the time I’m hitting it. The green tunnel is so thick it’s unreal, I walked along ferns that were near as tall as I am on the way to birds nest shelter for lunch. I recently discovered how good ramen is if you put tuna in it and I couldn’t wait for it today. Dehydrated peas and corn added to the mix, I’ve been eating a lot better recently. Still not too fond of peanut butter anymore but hopefully that won’t last much longer as it’s such a staple out here.
After lunch I made my way over Pass Mountain. I felt like I was in Jurassic Park as I hiked alongside giant boulders and a thick understory of ferns. I watched a young buck forage for a good 15 minutes and then soon after a doe followed me alongside the trail. Five miles later I found myself a good spot and set up my hammock again for the night after a 25 mile day. Not bad if I may say so myself. Last day in the park tomorrow, and then it won’t be long till I’m out of VA!
May 21 – I was rudely awakened by rain at about 5 this morning and while I normally would have slept right through it its a bit more noticeable when you’re sleeping without a rainfly. I frantically pitched my tent in the dark to get my sleeping bag under cover, that’s the one thing you never want to get wet out here. After about an hour of contemplation I threw on my rain gear and went outside to brave the elements. 3 mountains stood between me and the hostel in Front Royal where I had made a reservation for the night so I put in my headphones and got to it, a little disappointed that I was going to miss my last views in Shenandoah due to the extremely foggy conditions. The rain was cold and it was honestly pretty miserable, my shoes and socks were completely soaked but I powered through it with oven bake pizzas and a warm shower in mind. The miles went by quickly, before I knew it I came out to my Compton Gap and crossed the Skyline Drive for the thousandth and final time. 100 miles through the Shenandoah National Park and I’ve got to say it was pretty amazing. Easy terrain, great views, and for the most part sunny weather made for an amazing stretch. From this point I really have no idea what to expect, uncharted territory is all that lies ahead. Words cannot explain how thrilled I am, only two more days and I’ll be exploring states that I’ve never done more than drive through. Once at the hostel I was rewarded with my pizza and shower plus an awesome box of food from my grandparents. Ready to head off tomorrow and make my way to Harpers Ferry and then onwards to Katahdin. I’ve got a good feeling about this next section.