AT Journals Day 5 & 6

*Nightly I would quickly type out a general summary of our day. Post trip, I have been editing them and filling in some blanks! Apologies for the late posts, heh…I have been busy and up to so much and I need to catch up here so I can share all of the other great things that have happened and that will be happening! Lots of doors opening. Can’t wait to share!

Edit: This is also the part of the trip where I started getting careless and quit logging the weather and mileage, oops!

Sunday October 1 – End of day

This morning we woke up before the sun. We packed everything last night so we could get up, eat breakfast (after yesterday’s hangry episode we decided it was for the best!) and get on the trail asap. For some reason I had it in my head that the dining hall opened at 6:30am. So when we got to the front of the building at 6:20 and the door said breakfast began at 7:30, I let an exasperated sigh escape me.

We figured we were up and we’re in no real rush so we waited. The cafe outside the restaurant was open however, so we got some hot coffee (which was very welcome on this 38 degree morning) and chatted with an older gentleman who informed us he wakes up every morning at 3am and this was his 3rd stay at Skyland Resort. He and his wife were on holiday with 2 friends and nobody was awake yet but him, so he had already taken a morning stroll, saw some wildlife, read a paper and came to get a coffee as the cafe opened. He told us he thought it was great what we were out doing and before he left he insisted we one day visit Switzerland. You got it!

Breakfast was an all you can eat buffet, and I stuffed myself full in one round with biscuits and gravy, bacon and grits with butter. I was appeased with a full stomach, a warm body, caffeine and an excitement for the day ahead.

Today we summited the highest point in Shenandoah National Park – Hawksbill Mountain.

We didn’t see anyone on the trail until we got to the lookout and found a family of three; a couple and their daughter (who happened to be a Jen, too!) Oddly enough the woman was from St. Louis! So funny how things line up and connect. While we’re standing there enjoying the view, we hear a deep beating sound…almost like an engine starting and then steadily thumping, until it stops. “Well, I haven’t heard a grouse in 20 years!” The guy says. “How cool is that!?” We heard that grouse 5 times standing up there for 30 minutes talking to that sweet family. We ventured off and continued heading to our next stop, Big Meadows Lodge.

About a mile and a half before we were done for the day, I spotted a piece of candy on the trail, still in it’s wrapper. It was a Fireball! This was funny to me because I had recently watched a JMT documentary, and the filmmaker brought Fireballs with him as a treat when the going got tough. (I wasn’t sure if it was a little blessing from the trail or an omen of things to come…) B thought it was hilarious when I decided to pocket it and save it for later. (LNT, right?)

Boy was I glad to have saved it! The trek up to Big Meadows Lodge was a slow, steady incline and exhausting at the end of this long day. I popped the Fireball in my mouth and it kept me on my toes. We stopped for 15 minutes or more on the way up however, to marvel in the half dozen deer just casually strolling along side us on the trail. They grazed and played a little, and a doe let B come within feet of her! It was definitely a Disney moment!

Finally we get to the lodge!

I sat on a rocking chair on the back patio and closed my eyes in the warm sun, while a cool breeze ran through me. I felt really great today and thought maybe I could feel a change in my pace.

I started to get chilly so we moved inside. We tried to check in a little too early but our room wasn’t ready, so I sat with our stuff while B ran to the Big Meadows Wayside and got us some sandwiches.

Soon, we were settled in to our room above the kitchen and B took a nap while I doctored my poor heel and pinky toe.

We ate dinner in the restaurant (not as good as Skyland, and the service sadly wasn’t very great either) and stopped in the gift shop before heading down to the basement tap room so I could get a hot cocoa and B could keep his draft beer streak going. He was super amped and ready to hang, all while I was fighting falling asleep at the table holding my warm drink. This place reminds me of Pere Marquette in a way. It feels nostalgic and cozy, but something about the way it’s staff works doesn’t really satisfy me. =(

Monday October 2 – End of day

By the end of today we had officially (according to Guthooks) put in 30 miles on the dot.

This morning was a little rough. I slept like a dead person at Big Meadows lodge, in our room above the kitchen. I awoke to the smells of breakfast wafting up. Bacon filling the air, I immediately wanted to eat. Luckily last night we got all of our stuff together so all we had to do was pick it up and leave after we ate. We had a warm breakfast and stopped in the gift shop for chapstick and Aleve.

Then off we went.

This was one of those mornings where my pack felt like it weighed 75 pounds. My feet wouldn’t pick up and I was dragging far behind B. My hips were aching. My blister on my pinky toe really hurt. I trudged on.

We saw 6 deer along the trail as we headed southbound out of Big Meadows and about 3/4 of a mile down, we saw our first black bear! B stopped in his tracks and turned to look at me. “BEAR.” He hoarsely whispered. I gasped…”No!” He nodded enthusiastically and got his phone out.

As soon as he did he began hooting and hollering at the bear, and spooked him across the trail into the woods on the other side. The bear sat and looked lazily over his shoulder at us as we made a wide berth around him and passed. B and I squealed and laughed and watched the video he took about 4 times before we settled down and continued on.

Any person we saw today, B made sure to mention we saw a bear. His excitement was adorable. All he wanted for this trip was to see a bear in the wild.

We eventually came upon a gentleman, about 45 yards ahead coming the opposite direction, “Good morning hello! How are you today? Where are you coming from?!” We answered his questions and he let us know his name was Thomas, or BCM (Bass Clarinet Man) a trailname his wife of 30 some odd years had given him. He was out for 2 weeks completing another AT section, (I believe he said he had hit 900 just recently!) Thomas was a treat to speak with. I hope he has a great trip!

The trail today was…slightly boring compared to what we’ve been doing. We weren’t walking on exterior trails exposed to the mountains anymore, so there were no peekaboos or overlook views. This was just a walk in the woods. Mostly flat and downhill (save for Bearfence Mountain, which posed us with an uphill rock scramble for about 3/4 of a mile that I FLEW up.)

It was our first challenge of the day and it invigorated me. (The headphones; blaring Röyksopp as well as the prior Snickers inhalation also probably helped.) My backpack, the one that felt like it weighed me down so hard this morning felt non-existent as I soared up that trail, barely breathing heavy and sweat pouring off of me. I passed two women day hiking that looked at me like I was crazy. “Hello!” I barked at them over the music in my headphones as I zipped up.

When I met B at the top I said, “That was really fun!” While descending, my left pinky toe blister finally popped (I felt the pressure building all day) and immediately sent a burning sensation screaming up my leg into my brain. It hurt, but I carried on. It was already painful, now it was just a new kind of pain to get used to walking on.

We hiked into Lewis Mountain campground and cabins today (by far the best stop yet – much less populated, just the way I like it) and I am lying with my tender feet and calves elevated, all of our clothes laundered (Hooray! I’ve been reluctantly washing and wringing out the pits, the crotch and all the socks in bathroom sinks all week), getting ready to start dinner. Despite the fact that we just discovered after calling, we left our debit card at Big Meadows restaurant (we’ll drive back to get it tomorrow when we get to our car…) today was a great day.

They’ve all been great days. I know I’m going to feel a tinge of sadness and longing for this simple grind when I get back to every day life. I am a little homesick – mostly for my dogs – but this has been the most rewarding “vacation” I’ve ever taken. It’s been hard. Really hard. And exhausting, and painful, but so worth every ounce of it. I have never felt more alive and more thankful to be so.

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