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The Shenandoahs: 100 days & 1,300 miles

Day 97: Mountain Home Cabbin in Front Royal, VA to Gravel Springs Hut (13.7 mi)

We woke up to our host, Scott, preparing us a nice breakfast at the B&B. He made us vegan blueberry pancakes and we had fresh fruit, fresh apple chutney, homemade grape juice and homemade apple cider. So yummy!

We started out our day with such heavy packs (6 day resupply) and a lot of gradual uphill. This terrain should be my jam! But I was so slow and hurting a lot. I kept having so much pain in my left shoulder. I think it has been progressively getting worse as my body gets more and more out of alignment out here(?). My body asymmetry maybe causes me to carry more weight on my left side? I feel like my back is in a banana shape, squishing the left side of the back with my left shoulder being yanked down by the weight of my pack. I think the extra weight of today’s resupply really exaggerated the pain and I was getting a lot of referred pain down my whole back and through my entire left arm. We tried trouble shooting and decided to fold my pack towel and use it as a shim under my left shoulder strap. This gave me some relief, but later on in the day the pain was back.

I added a little bit more weight to my pack in PA when we flipped. I added a butt pad for sitting on (I cut part of my old z rest sleeping pad into butt pads for both Fresh Feet and I). I added a sleeping bag liner to the mix. I absolutely love it because most nights it is actually too hot to be in my sleeping bag, so I sleep in the liner and then use my sleeping bag as a blanket that can be on or off depending on how cold it is. I also added another long sleeve shirt (preparing for winter...) and a second pair of shorts (I had given my other pair to Red Stripe in Maine). I was anticipating it being a little colder than it is, so I probably don’t need the second long sleeve. I also added an umbrella, which I am super grateful to have because it keeps me much dryer!

We decided to call it a short day because of how much pain I was in on my left side. We met another SoBo, Lars (20 y/o taking a semester off from college) at the shelter and we ate our dinners super early. We debated for about two hours if we should hike another 2-3 miles and stealth camp or just stay here. We ultimately decided to stay at the shelter and once we arrived at that conclusion a bunch of other hikers showed up. Galaxy and Songbird (newlywed Flip Floppers in their mid 30s), Veto (SoBo, male, 30), Sugarglider and Pineapple (SoBo couple) and Highwater (SoBo, it was his 33rd birthday today!). We all hung out by a campfire and chatted. It was nice to be in the age group majority (yay thru hikers in their 30s!) and to have a fairly equal gender representation (1:2 women to men). Highwater told us that he saw a momma bear and cub just a few miles before getting to the shelter. The Shenendoahs are famous for having a lot of bears. One section hiker that the SoBos knew claimed he saw 47 bears in the state of Virginia! The dynamic of the group felt good and chill. We built a fire and hung out together and it was a nice kick off to the Shenandoahs.

The weather for the next few days could be kind of rainy and that would be super unfortunate as we are in such a beautiful part of the country.

Fresh Feet plans to carry most of my food tomorrow to lighten my load and see if I can get some pain relief in my left shoulder and back. I think I desperately need to get adjusted by a chiropractor so the next time we have cell service I’m going to check and see if that is possible in any of the upcoming towns.

Day 98: Gravel Springs Hut to Byrd’s Nest #3 Hut (17.5 mi)

We had some rain last night so we had a slow morning and a late start which we will chalk up to a rain delay.

We hiked about 6.5 miles to our first of the Shenandoah “waysides” - touristy convenient stores where they sell overpriced snacks and souvenirs and have bathrooms! We took a break there and then pressed on in the fog for another 5 miles until we reached a spring. We drank our lunch smoothies and then hiked on another 6.7 miles to the next shelter. Most of the crew from last night got off trail just after the spring to go into Luray, VA to resupply and then planned on hiking in the evening to end up at the same shelter as us.

We had quite a bit of climbing in the last section today and I was definitely slowed down by this. We had a long 2 mile climb at the very end of the day but the weather totally cleared up on this side of the mountain and we were able to get some nice views from some cliffs. We set out our tent, rainfly and footprint to dry. Fresh Feet had the tent and rainfly secured, but the footprint was at the edge of the cliff in a nice sunny and precarious spot. We were getting too hot in the sun so decided to slink off into share about 10 feet away from the sunny cliff area. Then it happened... a tiny gust took our footprint clear off the cliff edge! We both started running towards the cliff edge to try to save it, but it was gone. Fresh Feet decided to go around and down and he bush whacked a little and was able to recover the footprint. Phew. That could have been more disastrous!

My back pain is still present and pretty acute. I definitely think I have a rib out in my left side. This has happened before and is something I’ve had to deal with in the past. I was super grateful that Fresh Feet took some of my weight though because it made it easier to adjust my straps and take some weight off my shoulders.

When we got to the shelter there was a huge group of Asian men camping out and having a Saturday night festivity, beer and music and cookout. They were super friendly and told us they do this every weekend!

We were able to find a tent spot with a little privacy and we ate dinner and set up camp. Before long, Veto, Highwater, and Lars showed up. Lars decided to push on a few more miles that night but the others set up right next to us. Pineapple & Sugarglider and Songbird & Galaxy (the two other couples) also set up camp here tonight.

Day 99: Byrd’s Nest #3 Hut to Lewis Mountain Campground (23.2 mi)

We got an earlier start this morning knowing we would have a big day ahead of us. I left camp first and cruised to Skyland Resort where I had a semi-sink-shower (wet paper towels and soap), brushed my teeth, rinsed my water bottle and threw my trash away.

When Fresh Feet arrived we charged our devices a little, he got a coffee and twizzlers and I got a large chai latte with almond milk. It hit the spot!

Fresh Feet told me that when we started hiking this morning he wasn’t getting any water from his hose, so he stopped, and plugged the hose in to his resovoir and then STILL wasn’t getting any water. I had watched him the night before fill up the 2L resovoir and we had a whole conversation about how he planned to put water from his hose into his smoothie as he was walking (because we usually don’t carry more than 1L at a time). He stopped and looked in his pack and the resovoir was TOTALLY empty...(?!) He chalked it up to ghost activity in the night because he couldn’t find an explanation to the mystery of the missing water. The hose wasn’t even connected to the resovoir, so it couldn’t leak out of the bite valve overnight (plus his pack would have been wet, which it wasn’t). The resovoir seams weren’t leaking because he watched it closely the rest of the day and it never leaked at all. SO ODD! Luckily there was a picnic area only 2.5 miles away from where we camped so he didn’t have to go far without water this morning.

We got lightly rained on last night, but it was just mostly windy and we were in a cloud so a light drizzle here and there. We walked in pretty foggy conditions for a long time this morning, but it was quite beautiful.

After we had our mid morning break at the Skyland Resort, we pushed on another 8 miles to Big Meadows Lodge for lunch. We had a very quick pace as we wanted to make sure to get there while the restaurant was serving lunch so we could get some additional food to supplement our “smoothies”. We crushed 3 MPH and even did some running in the downhill sections. The trail was quite manicured and easy. The sun finally peaked out and the weather was perfect for a few hours!

When we got to the lodge I set out the rainfly to dry, FF cleaned up his powder bag (which is a gallon ziplock bag with all of his various drink add-ons: chocolate and original Soylent powders, PB powder, chia seeds, coconut water powder, coconut milk powder, & instant coffee). His coconut water powder bag had stopped zipping shut and spilled and stuck to all the other bags, making it a sticky mess whenever it was drink-making time. We sat in the lounge area and charged our phones and ordered some food to go (thinking it would be faster). It took a little longer than we expected and when our server came back she apologized and informed us that the flatbread couldn’t be vegan so she gave us extra picked veggies instead and didn’t charge us for the entire order! We feasted on sweet potato fries, a ton of delicious pickled veggies and hummus and our soylent drinks. We were quite full in a really satisfying way when we left the lodge.

We had 8.7 more miles to go until we reached Lewis Mountain Campground. The campground store with the showers inside closed at 6:00 pm so we hauled as fast as we could to get there in time. We arrived around 5:15 and took showers and got a campsite. The 5 minute coin operated hot shower WITH TOWELS rocked! I even squeezed in an armpit shave and got 98% of the grime off my toenails (the mud pits stain the tops of toenails and gets stuck in the corners and it’s pretty hard to get it off!). I didn’t wash my hair because it is dipping down into the low 50s tonight and there is no way to dry it. It is supposed to pour rain all night.

We went to our campsite, made beans and quinoa with roasted pumpkin seeds and dehydrated veggies and made burritos with the tortillas we had. It hit the spot and totally filled me. FF is starting to experience the hiker hunger again and cannot eat enough. He claims he can eat endless tortillas.

We set up our tent in the parking spot because there was no flat tent spot at our site. It felt like such luxury to have the bathhouse so nearby and a bear box of our own at our site! We were able to fill up with water easily, wash dishes in the utility sink and even charge phones in the bathhouse outlets. We were expecting some rain so we put practically everything inside the bear box.

I got all warm and cozy in my sleeping bag AND the liner and all of a sudden my legs and arms were on fire. All the bites that I’ve ever had out here (things just do not heal out here) started to itch. I resorted to taking a Benadryl and it helped some.

Day 100: Lewis Mountain Campground to Pinefield Hut (20 mi)

It started to pour rain at about 12:30 am. I was in and out of sleep until about 4:30 am when I realized the entire top and right side of my sleeping bag was absolutely soaked. My side of the tent was completely soaked, and the top of the tent was dripping on my face and sleeping bag. The rainfly vestibule was a total joke as my crocks had puddles of water in them and my butt pad (which also served as a “welcome mat” to the tent) was totally soaked. The bottom of the tent and footprint was also completely soaked through. I pulled my extraneous items into my sleeping bag liner with me (phone, jacket, socks, headlamp and earplug baggie) so they wouldn’t get wet and pulled my sleeping bag to the center of the tent so it wasn’t touching the side anymore. I tried to lay there for as long as possible to stay warm and give my body more rest. Water was continuously dripping on my face, so I turned on my side inching toward Jamie’s pad (his side of the tent was totally dry!) Eventually, the face drip made its way to his side and for the FIRST time on trail he was up and out of the tent before me! He let out the air in his sleeping pad indicating the point of no return, grabbed his sleeping bag and went to the bathroom in bare feet to begin using the hand dryer to dry out his sleeping bag (which was mildly damp unlike my totally soaked down bag!). I was awake and figured 5:36 am wasn’t too early to get out, so I put all my clothes on (wool long sleeve, puffy jacket, then rain coat and used my headband, fleece beanie and wool buff around the neck. I trudged up to the bath house and began drying out my stuff. My sleeping bag dried up instantly! Yes! Sleeping pad took a bit longer (it was totally soaked from the bottom of the tent). Socks dried up pretty quickly but the tent took a while (and never really got dry but ended up in an acceptable state of damp).

I made smoothies for us in the bathroom and packed up my bag. Luckily we had left pretty much everything in the bear box, so my pack wasn’t drenched (it would have been if it had been in the vestibule like it normally is!)

The rain started to let up and there was no longer a downpour but rather a light drizzle. I was packed up and ready to go at about 7:10 am. I looked around and couldn’t find FF anywhere! I finally found him sitting on a bench staring into space under the store porch roof with all of the contents of his pack sprawled out on the bench. He was totally having a meltdown. It sucks when it rains. Everything is wet and has no chance of drying which means it weighs more and it’s just a downer. I encouraged him to pack up his pack and get going since we were up and our stuff was as dry as it was going to get. Eventually I left at 8:05 am and he caught up to me on trail in about 3 miles.

It was a very wet and drizzly day. The temperature was also quite cold, mid to low 50s. When hiking, especially uphill, I was comfortable, but occasionally I would get chilly on the downhills. I was ahead of FF again as he was struggling a bit this morning. We walked together during some of the flat and downhill sections but then we had a longish climb out of Swift Run Gap for 3 miles up Hightop Mountain and I dropped him (which is quite rare these days).

We took one break 11 miles in at Hightop Hut to make our afternoon smoothies, but it was a short break. I knew the longer we were stopped, the colder we would get. It took me a while to warm up after that break because we had about 3 miles of downhill. I bundled up with rain jacket, hat, and buff around my face. The warmth of my breath helped tremendously. Eventually we started to climb again and I shed the rain jacket, hat, and buff.

The day didn’t feel hard. It was cold and wet and I think if it had been any longer I would have needed to change out my socks. The umbrella made a big difference in keeping me dry, which kept me warmer. I’m quite grateful to have it! Just as I was nearing the shelter I saw a buck on trail. He was way too tame for comfort as we were pretty close to one another!

When we got to the shelter there were 5 section hikers and 2 dogs (along with FF and Lars) and I knew Highwater and Veto would be rolling in later. The section hikers had ALL of their stuff out everywhere and were hanging their things to dry in the shelter even though they planned on sleeping in their hammocks. Seeing all the people and stuff overwhelmed me a bit, but once I changed into warm clothes and settled in we chatted. They told us that they had seen a mama bear and two cubs earlier that day. They also started complaining about all the slippery rocks. A few of us thru hikers looked at each other and were like.... ummmm... “what rocks?!” The trails out here are mostly void of rocks! Having flipped down from Maine, the stark contrast is unexplainable. I’m just BEYOND grateful that there aren’t a ton of slippery rocks in VA!

FF and I set up in the shelter, Lars in the loft of the shelter and Veto and Highwater set up in hammocks right behind the shelter. Since our rainfly and tent material seems to not be as waterproof anymore after last night’s downpour and rain is in the forecast for the whole next week, we are bound by the shelters. It’s a bit tricky because the shelters are oddly spaced in the Shenandoahs. Tomorrow we have a shelter at 13.2 miles and another one at 26.2 miles. We are all 5 gearing up to do the marathon tomorrow. 

It is forecasted to be rainy like today, UGH. My main concern is wet feet and not having dry enough socks for such a long day. It is also hard with such cold and wet weather because you can’t really take breaks without risking hypothermia. 26.2 miles with wet feet and hauling a heavy pack is a long time with no breaks. My back/rib still aches but it isn’t as acute. I’ve loosened the load from my shoulder straps and put most of my weight on my hips, which helps. Also my pack is a little lighter now. I still plan to see a chiro when we get to Waynesboro, VA (south end of the 100+ mi stretch of the Shenandoahs).

Day 101: Pinefield Hut to Calf Mountain Shelter (26.2 mi)

Marathon Monday - phew!

Woke up at 5:40 am and was on trail by 6:25 am. It was still dark for about half an hour so I hiked with my umbrella and headlamp. After I put my headlamp away my umbrella kept getting caught in the wind and I couldn’t get it to stay in the correct position so I quit trying to fight it. It wasn’t really raining hard, just a light constant drizzle like yesterday. Once I put my umbrella away I got totally soaked. My rain jacket just doesn’t really work anymore and the grass blades that hang over the trail were the worst culprits for soaking my shoes.

We stopped at a camp store for about an hour and put our socks and shoes and a few other items in the dryer for 20 mins at the little laundromat. We hung out in a dry space out of the elements while the dryer was running, sat in chairs and ate oatmeal a bag of chips.

We then walked another 7.4 to the hut for lunch which was about 0.25 mi off trail down a long hill. Ugh. We ate lunch at a picnic table at the shelter out of the rain with Highwater and enjoyed some good conversation. After finishing my smoothie I really started to get cold, so I needed to keep on moving.

The next 13 miles were a straight shot, no stopping. I listened to some podcasts and just pounded away the miles. I even peed with my pack on and never took my pack off. Back and rib hurt. Neck hurt. Form wasn’t great either due to the awkward holding of the umbrella. It was hard to figure out a way to attach it to my pack because it was so windy.

When we got to the shelter it was quite full with a lot of older men section hikers. There was a man smoking a cigar in the shelter when I arrived. I asked him to please move down wind and he argued with me and told me it was blowing the other way. Then he said “they all were smoking pot in there so I figured I could smoke my cigar”. (Gesturing to other guys in the shelter). Ummm.. what? 1. Has nothing to do with the fact that the CIGAR SMOKE INSIDE a tiny shared space out of the rain was bothering me. 2. I had just arrived and obviously didn’t care about what happened at the shelter before I got there as it had absolutely nothing to do with my request. After such a long day it really irked me. I feel like people forget that the shelters are a tiny shared space.

In general, the section hikers seem less aware of being considerate in the shelters. They tend to take over with all their stuff. This same combative guy also didn’t want to make room for us on the bottom level saying there was maybe only room for one more person (and there was easily room for three more!) Um, it’s raining! And there is PLENTY of room for others, it will just require you to move next to your neighbor! Ay.

Quite a ranty finish to my day. I felt annoyed and like I wish I could have eloquently stood up for myself better. I did speak up about making space in the shelter and glad I did because two more hikers showed up later.

Day 102: Calf Mountain Shelter to Waynesboro, VA (7.7 mi) Near-o Day

We did not get the greatest sleep last night. The shelter was full of section hikers whose air pads creak and croak because they are still so new and some of them don’t know to use the red light on the headlamp, so there was a LOT of white light at many different hours in our small shelter. I had also seen a mouse as I was cleaning up from dinner last night so I was pretty uneasy about the possibility of a mouse feeling curious and scampering over my sleeping bag, eeee, I can barely even write about that thought without squirming! I then was ESPECIALLY anxious about it because I had reached up as I was laying on my sleeping pad ready to sleep and shoved my fleece beanie into the side pouch of my backpack and ::GASP::(!!) I realized I had totally forgotten my leftover bars in my pack and didn’t put them in the bear bag to hang!

When I had arrived at the shelter last night there were so many section hikers and so much stuff everywhere and FF had finished well before me and so he offered to make dinner so I could change (which I make dinner 100% of the time), so I was out of routine. Usually when I get out the food to make dinner I sweep my pack for wrappers/trash and leftover bars to stow away in my odor proof baggie to be hung in our dry bag away from rodents and possibly bears. While I was grateful that FF offered to make dinner, since he wasn’t exactly used to it he used way too much water and kept the flame too high so the mac’n’chz burned to the bottom and was super runny and not cooked all the way. I swooped in because I was SO HUNGRY after a 12 hour day that I was not going to let dinner be ruined. I was able to salvage the dinner and used coconut milk to thicken it and held the pot over a small flame to cook it a little longer while scraping the burnt pieces off the bottom.

ANYWAY - all the shelters in the Shenandoahs have bear poles which involve a long metal pole that you can use to hang your food bag on a hook at the top of the pole. Both of our food combined with our kitchen stuff was a bit heavy and cumbersome for me to hold so far above my head, so FF usually hangs our food. I begged him to please hang my leftover bars when I discovered them. It was only 9:00! But since he was “already in bed” (in his sleeping bag) he didn’t want to and so he put the bars in his pocket and said if he got attacked by mice then he would get up to hang the bars. Needless to say, our sleeping pads were RIGHT next to each other and anytime his hand brushed against me or I felt something odd I woke up and turned on my dim red light to see if there were mice crawling on me.

There was no mouse incident, luckily, and everything was fine. Lars (the young 20 year old who is taking a semester off college to hike the AT) asked if he could stick with us because he needed to head into town as well. Veto rolled up and said he was also headed to town, so the four of us all agreed we would call the hostel for a ride when we got to the road so we could ride together. Highwater was pushing on one more day to the next town where he was planning to meet his girlfriend and take two zero days to visit with her. I bid him farewell and was off.

I had a tough time getting my groove this morning. I kept fussing with my umbrella, then my hat, then my rain jacket and headphones and the continuous morning pee stops because I chugged my Soylent right before leaving. I eventually decided to not wear my rain jacket or use my umbrella because it just wasn’t as cold or as rainy as it had been. It was totally fine. I used my dry pair of socks today, which of course were pretty wet by the end of the 8 miles to town, but it still felt like a luxury and they were dryer than the other socks! The dryness actually may have caused some new friction and I developed a pretty painful blister on the bottom of my right toe under the knuckle. Ouch. It was tender. But I’m pretty familiar with the blister cycle now. They tend to only last for 2-3 days in their most painful stage and then turn to callouses. FF, Lars and Veto had all passed me. Then I caught up to FF as he was tending to some foot blisters as well and he was sitting on the side of the trial putting body glide on the blister.

The trail was more technical today, so I was a bit slower and more careful. I slipped twice but didn’t fall. It was a reminder that I still need to be careful. With about 1 mile left Highwater caught me and we hiked together until the road. We saw FF just ahead so the three of us finished in the parking lot. We bid farewell to Highwater and just as I was getting my phone out to call the hostel for a ride a car pulled up with the hostel owner, Lars and Veto in the car. PERFECT timing! We hopped in and went to Waynesboro, VA - the biggest hiker town of 30k people.

We arrived to the hostel and got a nice king size bed in a private room for the same price as two bunks, which was super nice. I was first in the shower and as I was turning around in the shower to adjust the temperature I slipped and completely fell in the shower. I hit my head on the wall and hit my leg, knee and arm and the whole shower curtain came down with me. It must have been loud because FF came running in and asked me if I was ok. I was crying a LOT. It was probably my MOST traumatic fall on the AT! Hitting my head was the worst. I had an instant headache and was shaking so much I couldn’t stand up to shower. So I sat in the shower and took my shower sitting down.

The hostel is situated in between fast food joints, a Walmart and a Dollar General. Hmmm... we really needed lunch and so we walked to an Italian restaurant which was closed due to a death in the family. Bummer. We decided to go to Walmart and get groceries and make lunch and dinner because the options within walking distance were a no go.

We stocked up on probably too much food (we shared with Lars and Veto) and headed back to make lunch. I was actually pretty impressed with Walmart’s vegan food selection! For lunch we had kombucha and toasted Dave’s everything bagels with avocado, veggie burgers, and melted vegan cheese. We also got some frozen sweet potato fries and Jamie of course got two bags of chips and a 6 pack.

I was able to make an appointment for later that afternoon with a chiropractor only 7 minutes away waking distance from our hostel! Yes! I was also able to get a new tent and rain jacket sent to our next trail town (Glasgow, VA) under warranty! (Thank you Big Agnes and REI!)

The sun came out for the first time in like a week (of course - now that we are off trail!) and so we were able to put our shoes, wet dry bags and tent outside to dry off (FINALLY!!)

At the chiropractor office I was able to get a massage first and it was DECADENT! She used lavender and hot compresses and the scent and warmth felt like such an incredible luxury! I thoroughly endulces in the pleasure of this massage and did not want it to end!

Then I saw the chiropractor and she told me a few things. She said my low back is flat (not arched like it should be) and that the curve is meant for shock absorption so I’m stressing other parts of my body out since I don’t have a good shock absorption mechanism. She then noted I have upper back scoliosis and that putting pack weight on my curved back won’t distribute the weight evenly and can cause pain and discomfort over time. She also said my left rib was out in multiple places. She told me to stretch, not to bear too much weight (or gain weight), and to just adjust my pack straps to comfort. I did feel quite a bit of relief, but not feeling super hopeful about the pain and inflammation going away since I’m battling structural issues.

When I got back to the hostel we ate a nice family-style dinner. Jamie made pasta and red sauce with “Beyond Meat”, Lars made garlic bread, and Veto made his own dinner.

As we were finishing, another SoBo, Hansel, joined us. He was eating a quart of ice cream for dinner!! we gave him our leftover pasta and garlic bread so he could have a real dinner. He said he had been married for 25 years, was recently divorced and doesn’t know how to cook so he only eats GORP (trail mix) on trail (no meals!!)

We had a very late night packing up. Then in middle of night, I got pretty severe period cramps and luckily was able to take a warm bath which really helped. I got hardly any sleep so we decided to sleep in.

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