Shenandoah National Park Part One

April 4 Day 16 Gravel Spring Hut

Possible came over to the Cabbin around 7am to make breakfast for myself and Don, an older gentleman who arrived at the Cabbin around 9pm last night. Don is not a hiker, he just likes to get away, he says. Turns out Don’s parents and my great grandmother were at Whittier College in the 1920s. Did they know each other? We both pondered this as we drank coffee and ate French toast.

I had such a great time at this place; good conversation and good people. It’s nice to meet folks who are down to earth and not competitive with something to prove.

I’m happy to be hiking by myself again (I have been for the last few days), and I set off for Gravel Springs Hut in the Shenandoah National Park. In the Park shelters are called Huts. Cute.

It was cloudy and rainy for the first four miles and then the wind picked up and blew the weather away. I felt like I was climbing all day, and in a sense I was. I got to the top of Marshall Mountain and it was clear and windy. Gorgeous.

The Appalachian Trail follows the Skyline Highway through the Park. I crossed it several times and saw the sign for the Hut. A lovely little spring runs next to it and so far I have the place to myself.

It looks like tomorrow is going to be nice weather so I’ll try for the Byrd’s Nest Hut about 18 miles down the trail.

Good night!

April 5 Day 17 Byrd’s Nest #3

What a day. I left camp before the sun came up and hiked on frozen trail for 6 miles to the Elkwallow Wayside. Waysides are little stores along the trail in the Park. I walked inside and immediately felt the relief of hot air. Then I saw the short order breakfast bar. Hot coffee, eggs, hash browns, toast and sausage made this hiker happy. The bathroom had hot water! Heaven. I washed my face and hands and headed back out to tackle the rest of my 19 mile day.

The trail was nice all day, gentle ups and downs, some section hikers to chat with and a nice big climb up here to the Nest. A lovely spot I am sharing with father and son section hikers. There is a fireplace in the shelter and I got a fire going when I got here. Helps keep critters away and I like the ambiance.

I feel great, it is nice to get a good day in before the weather comes in this weekend. Tomorrow evening I’ll be at the Big Meadows Campground; there’s a wayside there as well as a lodge. A good place to be in a storm. It’s not supposed to be s big one like the last storm! Thankfully.

April 6 Day 18 Big Meadow Campground

I hiked 15 miles in about 6 hours to get here to the campground. Usually I don’t like campgrounds because they are loud but I figured that since the weather is going to turn tomorrow that there wouldn’t be too many folks around. I was right. I found the ranger station and the helpful folks showed me the hiker/biker campsite behind the station for $5. Not bad. Right next to it is the showers and laundry. I know what I’m doing this evening! I thought to myself.

But first I walked down to the wayside to get a burger only to find that they were out of burgers. How can such a thing happen, I wondered as I ate my chicken sandwich. At least I still got French fries.

I did a quick resupply at the expensive wayside store and returned to do my laundry and take a long, hot shower. Ten minutes, exactly. I even had soap, shampoo and conditioner. What luxury.

So here I sit in the laundry mat trying to plan out the next four days and it all depends on the weather. To an extent. It’s gonna get cold and I guess I’m ready for that. I am just tired of the cold and really ready for some warmer temps. I’ll take what comes, as any hiker does, and make the most of it.

Now I have to go eat my salad because it is there. And I need my greens.

April 7 Day 19 Bearfence Hut

The forecast called for rain starting around midnight, high winds and then snow. When I woke up at 5am my tent was dry. Sweet! I got up, packed my things and walked over to the laundry room. It’s open 24 hours, which is nice. It was warm. I ate breakfast and made a trail mocha outside. I sat around and tried to decide what to do. Should I hike 8 miles to the next hut or 22 miles to the one after that? I decided to go for the easy day, and I’m glad I did, even if I feel like a lazy hiker for doing so. I got here around noon and made a fire just as the snow started coming down. I used the rainfly from my tent and made a little cubby inside the shelter to protect me from the wind. So far it’s working great! The fire is too far away to keep me warm but that’s ok. Whenever I get up to pee I warm up over the fire and jump back in my little cocoon.

A day hiker stopped by for a bit and asked me why I didn’t hike to the hut 4 miles down the trail, and I told him that that hut requires a reservation and there is a fee. He didn’t seem to believe me and kind of chided me for only hiking 8 miles. As he got up to leave he told me that he hiked 19 miles today and still had 3 more to go. Okay, day hiker dude. Do your thing and I’ll do mine.

There’s maybe a half inch out there now and the snow is suppose to taper off the evening. Hopefully. I’m tired of being cold, but I know that further down the line the trail will reward me with nice weather and easy miles.

April 8 Day 20 Country View Motel, Elkton, VA

What a day! Last night I slept in 2 hour bits; deep sleep for two hours, awake listening to the mice scurry around for a half hour; repeat until 5am. I was packed and ready to go by 6am. It was cold. Not just cold, but frigid. The low was 18 degrees but the wind made it much, much colder. I figured that by the time I got going I would warm up.

Two hours and 5 miles down the trail I was still shivering. I had a nice sizable ascent and thought that would do the trick. And it did! I followed coyote tracks up the hill and at the top I stopped to pee and drink water.

And then the wind really picked up. I was sweating and shivering. I picked up my pace and hoped for the best but I just couldn’t get warm again. The sun was out and melting the snow and the wind was blowing snow off the trees; it was lovely. I knew tonight was going to be another frigid night so I made the call to go get a motel. I knew I could not get warm enough to be comfortable, let alone safe, as I was.

The forecast is calling for some snow tomorrow morning with clearing in the afternoon. Temps will slowly get warmer over the next few days and by Friday highs will be in the 70s. I’ll play it by ear and see how things are in the morning.

I feel relieved that I am here in this toasty warm room. And grateful that I have the resources to get myself to a safe place.

I got to Swift Run Gap and some hikers gave me a ride to town. I wanted to get a few things at the 7-11 to munch on in the room. A woman walked up to me and asked if I was an AT hiker. I said I was and she offered to give me a ride wherever I needed to go. So she drove me a couple of miles back to towards the trail where this motel is. The kindness of strangers never ceases to awe me.

I finally feel like my brain is thawing out so I’ll post this with photos. I am so happy to have finally gotten my trail legs, grateful for strangers, in awe of unconditional kindness, pleased to see the weather finally starting to turn, and finally, grateful for all my loved ones for their support. I love you all.

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