Day 84

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Another day, another early start. After a bit of a climb, we spent most of the morning descending a knee crushing slope. By the time we got to the bottom, Brown’s comment was “my dogs are barking”, but in an adorable southern accent. (mk: apparently this means “my feet are sore”.) We had lunch in a giant shelter, shared with a weird section hiker. He had apparently scared a woman so badly she called the police, and he claims he didn’t actually do anything… So I guess he’s just… creepy?

Megan has a huge toe blister, so she’s not noticing her pulled hamstring as much. Hopefully both will be under control soon. We pushed on the last 6 miles to make it to Bobblet’s Gap Shelter and a 27 mile day. No flat camp spots so we’re at up on a slope. We are headed into town tomorrow, and may stay an extra day if needed.

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Day 83

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We got going by 7, and as we left, two young guys in the shelter were up as well. We had chatted with them last night and they had said they usually start hiking by 11. I guess we inspired them? We got going a bit slowly so Megan could test her hamstring, which seemed to be OK. We climbed a mountain and got a view down the next river valley, then descended down into it. After about 10 miles we hit a road and hitched into town. Brown actually got us the ride, since we had gone up the road a bit to give him space to hitch. We hit town, ate some subs and calzones, resupplied, and got back out to the road. Once again, Brown got us all a ride back to the trail. (Ryley and Brown rode in the box as the fellow had his Orbea road bike in the back seat – that’s a nice Canadian-made bike!)

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We crossed the river on a long footbridge, then followed the river awhile along the valley floor. Virginia trail continues to be really nice. Eventually we climbed up a ridge, with very cool views towards the ridges we would climb next.  We spent the rest of the way climbing ridges til we hit a campsite, stopping at about 22 miles.

Ben and Jerry’s blog: shared Half Baked

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Day 82

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On the trail by 7 with a much gentler day ahead of us today than yesterday. We tanked up in water first thing for a 15 miles waterless stretch. We were still up on the ridge after our climb up the Priest and we walked along the ridges in windy cool weather most of the morning then descended a good way down to a road crossing. Stopped for lunch at 13 miles then walked along the bottom of the valley and alongside a creek in the afternoon before climbing up above a dam and continuing up 1200ft of climbing to Punch Bowl shelter. The hiking this afternoon reminded me of home, actually – dry pine forest and trail cut into the sidehill as we climbed up. Brown is fast on the uphills and he and Ryley took off chatting the last few miles. I went my own pace nursing a bit of a sore hammy, maybe strained it? I have it tensored and hopefully it’s feeling fine by morning.

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Day 81

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Big climbing day today, starting with 3 Ridges Mountain straight out of camp. After we got up that, we had to drop down 3000 feet to a river, then up 3000 to the top of The Priest, our first 4000 foot mountain since New Hampshire. This was all done by early afternoon, so the rest of the way we just stumbled along the ridges until we hit camp early at 5pm. We hung out with Brown for a couple hours then went to bed.

Mk: we did see many animals today! A deer with a small set of antlers coming in, a box turtle looking very out of place on trail well away from the water (?!), a salamander swimming in a creek we got water from, and lots of frogs jumping out of our way on-trail. I really like the frogs – some the size of my first and some as tiny as my pinky finger nail! These little ones were all over in Massachusetts. But, the best are the fatter ones who try to jump the “bank” off the trail, but are too fat, so they flop upside down we back onto the trail instead… I usually stop in my tracks for these ones so Ryley won’t step on them (and to laugh…)!

Other “wildlife” we’ve seen on the hike has included: many grouse (always waiting until the very last minute to use their tried, tested and true defence mechanism of waiting until you’re right on top of them to fly all of 4 feet away and scare the bejesus out of you!), bunnies!, jack rabbits (a really mangy and unafraid one at a shelter in Maine), a moose cow and calf, lots of deer, 4 bears, turtles, a wild turkey, newts, salamanders, a rattle snake, many other snakes of varying size (~4″ -to ~4′) and scariness, many birds including herons (Ryley wants me to include loons, apparently they are novel to him), mice :/, and squirrels and chipmunks galore. A squirrel scared me today in fact – rummaging around under the footboards of the privy. Also – things we’ve heard lots of but haven’t seen include owls, coyotes, loons, cicadas, songbirds, crickets, and whatever make the weird dolphin/goat noises at night (probably also crickets). Apparently bobcats aren’t uncommon but we haven’t seen one, and there are wild ponies in Virginia that we’ll hopefully be seeing soon!

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Day 80

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Us with Brown and Emil

Started the day right with Megan’s leftover ice cream at 7am. Then we got dropped off at a busy breakfast joint in town with Brown and Emil. While we ate a lady came by and offered us a ride up to the trail, she just had to go home and get a bigger truck to fit us all.

We got up to the trailhead at 9:30, wished Emil bonne chance, and hiked off with Brown. We are now in a section of the trail where we criss-cross the Blue Ridge Parkway, and since it’s a weekend, there were a ton of day hikers. We got warned about a rattlesnake, wasps, and bears, none of which materialized. I did manage to get stung by a yellow jacket right as we were discussing how you couldn’t trust day hikers though… Instant karma?

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We hiked a nice few miles with Brown, then pulled away from him on a bigger climb. We chatted, Megan updating me on what all our friends are up to. We hit the top of Humpback Mountain and got some beautiful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains. We stopped for lunch mid-afternoon and Brown quickly caught up. He’s a funny guy and kept us well entertained! After lunch we hit 3 “reliable” water sources in a row that were dry, to the point where we all ran out of water 2 miles before we were planning on stopping for the night. (mk: Ryley left out the part where I gave him 1 of my 2 litres I carried out of town 9 miles into our day). I was feeling touchy about drinking lots of water post-cramping/heat stroke, but there wasn’t much to do except push on and hope the shelter’s stream was flowing. We actually stopped and debated sending someone to hitchhike down a road we crossed to find some. Then we ran into a guy who offered us all his water, since he was just finished his hike, so that got us to the shelter. It had a decent trickle of water, which we were totally relieved to see. We all guzzled a couple litres before dinner, and felt pretty decent. Very lucky it wasn’t super hot today. It was especially weird to have the water sources dry because in the morning we had passed tons of streams and springs that were flowing fine.

Anyways, our first real water scare of the trip. Glad it wasn’t a real problem!

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Day 79

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Hiking just after 7am with 12 miles to go till Waynesboro and an afternoon off and resupply. We hiked over calf mountain (no view), little calf mountain (with a view) and up and down about 4 “gaps” to cross the road. We saw some cyclists heading down Skyline Drive and decided that seems like a nice way to visit the park. Skyline Drive is 104 mile paved road that winds from end to end of Shenandoah National Park. Apparently in the fall when the leaves change it can actually get backed up – very popular.

The last few miles down to Rockfish Gap (our exit to Waynesboro) were kind of rocky and tedious, so we were glad to pop out around noon and call our ride to the hostel. We were picked up by a fill-in driver – a lively coot who just said his name was “truck”. He drove us to the hostel and gave us a quick run down of town.

We arrived to a deserted hostel so let ourselves in, found a Coke in the fridge, a shower, put a load of laundry in and vegged in the cool basement for a bit to mentally prepare for a hot walk to the grocery store about 1/2 mile. Not one sidewalk in the residential area and no pedestrian crossing at the lights to cross the 4 Lane highway – we just had to kind of time it and wing it. We decided this was a new low for impeding walking and increasing physical inactivity. I was unimpressed.

Back at the hostel we had a surprise – Brown! We had met Brown in the 100 Mile wilderness in Maine but hadn’t seen him since Monson, 9 days into our hike. It was awesome to spend the afternoon exchanging stories about the trail, towns, food, storms, interesting characters we’ve both met, and to get updates on some other SOBO’s we haven’t seen in a long time – Aussie, Vanilla Thunder and A-Town, Robin, Banner, Rabbi, etc! Ryley got a new, cooler hiking shirt in the mail along with new boxers. We were also joined by another guest for the night, Emil. Ryley said “oh, you’re French Canadian!” and Emil said “not French Canadian, I am Quebecois”. Haha. Really nice guy who is doing a section hike of Shenandoah NP heading north. He has food for 10 days – his pack was really really heavy!

I got a chance to make some phone calls and catch up with some friends and hear some highlights from Canadian Ultimate Championships (which were in Winnipeg this year). Went to bed a bit late but nice to hear from home. :)

Ben and Jerry’s blog
Ryley: Half Baked
Megan: Karamel Sutra (not my favourite)

DBB
This is probably embarrassing and shouldn’t be included – we shared a Yeungling Light (supplied from the hostel for $2) while I gave Ryley another haircut. Not very good.

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Day 78

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Despite the late arrival last night, we were both up before dawn. So, we went with it, hiking by 6:30am. We saw a bit of the sunrise, but mostly were just happy to get the miles done in the cooler hours of morning. It was a bit of a roller-coaster, with a couple neat views back the way we came. At 10 we hit the last wayside in Shenandoah NP, combining for 3 breakfasts, 4 coffees, a milkshake, and a side of toast. Thanks to the cook, John, from St Catherine’s, ON, we didn’t even have to pay for it all!

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We hit the trail again on a much flatter section and burned through another 8 miles before taking a “lunch” break, mostly just to air out some wet gear and rest our feet. The last part of the day, we cruised through more flat trail, getting to about 25 miles on the day, by 5:30pm too.  Now, we are well setup to hit Waynesboro tomorrow to resupply and do chores.

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Day 77

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There was a nice bright overhead light near us last night, along with a smoky fire next campsite over. Neither of us slept well. We didn’t rush out camp, opting for the cheaper of two available breakfast options, followed by a very expensive resupply. National Park’s campstores are about double the price of a regular grocery store. Good thing we only need a couple days food to get to the next town. 

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Anyways, we hit the trail by 9:30, not bad. We spent much of the day cursing spider webs and killing deer flies (sorry Judy!). Otherwise, much green tunnel, only really popped out for one view right before dinner. After dinner, I suggested we push on for a couple miles. We watched the sun set beautifully, but didn’t find a spot to camp til we had climbed the next mountain. So, we are perched in the trees atop a little peak tonight. I brushed my teeth watching lightning strikes in the distance. We got swarmed by noseeums as we got into the tent though, so we’ve been fighting them as a reasonably fitting end to the day.

My cramping muscles seem to be better, although continuing cooler weather makes it somewhat hard to tell. Fingers crossed.

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Day 76

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The trail in Shenandoah NP is very nicely maintained. Even though I haven’t loved all the climbs, it’s been smooth sailing all the way. Today, rain threatened all day but never materialized. For me, another day of relief from the heat, and I’m feeling noticeably better. We climbed a bunch, fully in the clouds and dense forest, but just before lunch we got out of the fog on Stony Man Cliff. Turns out we were in a fog bank and the cliff was just out far enough to give us a lovely view down into the valley below.

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Above the cliffs, we climbed some more but also started seeing hordes of day hikers. Always a sign of a nearby trailhead, we soon reached Skyland Wayside for burgers, coffee, and blackberry ice cream pie. We savoured our coffee on a nice cushy couch and people watched for a bit before throwing on our wet hiking clothes for more humid hiking!

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View from Big Meadows Lodge

The afternoon was quick though, we chatted away and got to our destination by 5. Big Meadows Lodge and Campground has laundry, showers and a restaurant, so we spent the evening taking advantage of it all. We even tried some Virginia wine with dinner (how civilized!).  Clean and full, back to the campground for a dubious quality sleep near the busy entrance.

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Day 75

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I did end up cramping a fair bit last night, but not full on “aliens trying to escape from my legs” cramps. I still wasn’t feeling very well this morning but the weather was very cloudy and cooler. Still hot and humid but manageable.

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Notice how sweaty I am!

We filled up water and met 2 very odd guys. Between them they had a half filled backpacking pack, and a full day pack. One of them was carrying both though, while the other carried a thick bamboo pole and a katana! They offered us a pair of Crocs to help lighten their packs… We declined.

Once we got going, a couple 1000 foot climbs told me I wasn’t doing as well as I thought. I was having trouble concentrating and quickly overheating. I stopped often and hydrated, but was ultimately saved by a thunderstorm that cut the heat way down.  We eventually draged into a Wayside, which is Shenandoah code for gift shop, snacks and a grill all rolled into one. We sat under the overhang by the washroom and ate burgers and blackberry milkshakes, and all seemed right with the world again!

After lunch, I was cramping badly enough that I could barely get my shoes on, but somehow once we got hiking it was more manageable. We didn’t have too far to go, and the rain continued on and off all afternoon. We got to a shelter and called it a day, possibly our earliest stop of the trip. Megan is currently babying me while I try to move as little as possible, hoping to skip another round of cramps tonight. We shall see!

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