Tuesday October 3
We woke up before the sun again today and left our cozy cabin at Lewis Mountain Campground around 7:15am. Before we got on the trail I had to stop at the bathrooms because I was feeling…a little rumbly. Heh.
We carried on but something didn’t feel quite right. Something wasn’t sitting well in my stomach this morning.
Then I remember, I took 3 bites of B’s Mountain House granola which has powdered milk in it.
I discovered in June that I was lactose intolerant, especially to milk, ice cream and powdered dairy.
I walked about 2 miles before I couldn’t take it anymore. Cramping and sweats and chills…
Thus the first time I have ever…had to walk 200 yards from the trail and any water sources and let things happen. It wasn’t as traumatic as I had thought it would be. In fact, it was pretty great.
Poop in the woods. Check.
After that brief interruption, we walked another almost 3 miles before it struck again, this time at least within tolerable walking distance to the South River picnic area which had some decent bathrooms.
There we met a NOBO LASHer named Jeremiah, who was hiking with his pup. He started in Grayson Highlands at the end of August (the day of the eclipse) and took his time up through Shenandoah, and planned to quit outside of New York, where he was moving to. Super nice guy! We gave him a few of our left over protein bars and packets of fruit snacks and said goodbye.
I looked at my Guthooks app and saw we only had 3 miles left until we ended up back at the car. It started to sink in how quick our hike had gone, while at the same time I relished in how laid back and relaxed our days had been. I started feeling kind of emotional. I went ahead of B and got back on the trail, making a game of stabbing as many leaves as I could with my right trekking pole, like I was picking up trash. B snuck up on me in no time, “What are you doing?!” He admired my leaf stack, told me I was weird and then cut back in front of me. We hiked the last 2 miles today by ourselves. I breathed in the last of the Shenandoah air on the trail and felt exhausted and relieved when I saw B waiting at the car for me.
“We did it!” We hugged and high fived and took a breather, took our shoes off and drank some water. The day was far from over. We had to go to Big Meadows to pick up our debit card, stop in the visitors center to get my national park passport stamped, and then drive 2 and a half hours to Kringle’s house. (“Who is Kringle?!” I will get to that shortly!)
The drive to Big Meadows was odd. Riding in a car after being on a trail with 30lb backpacks on for 5 days felt strange. We passed many of the places we hiked through in less than 30 minutes, as opposed to days.
Long, long story short; we arrive at the lodge around 1:30pm and speak to the front desk where they cannot find our card and insist they don’t have it. “But I called yesterday afternoon and it was here, the girl I spoke to said she’d hold on to it. We were hiking the opposite direction so we couldn’t come until today.” B said. The woman at the front desk collected a manager. The manager then informs us that our debit card was destroyed. Uhhhh, what? Apparently they have a 24 hour rule. Card isn’t collected, it gets destroyed. NOBODY told us that yesterday when we called. If that had been the case, we’d have booked it 16 miles back to the car, picked up our card and then just drove back to Lewis Mountain for the night. Needless to say, the situation on Big Meadows behalf was not handled well. They didn’t inform us that this was a possibility, they didn’t apologize, nor did they act as though they cared. There was nothing we could do now, what’s done is done.
We are never careless with our belongings and especially not our cards like this, but now we’ll be extra attentive to make sure it never happens again. It was our fault for not noticing we left it on the table in the restaurant. However, not having a debit card while traveling is probably going to prove very difficult. We still have 3 days in Virginia left, very little cash and (thankfully) a credit card I didn’t want to use. I guess that’s what it’s there for. Sigh.
We started the drive south to Catawba, where our next adventure began.
I “met” Kringle on Instagram (@athikerinva) over the course of a few months. You know how it goes, you find a neat account, one follows the other, then you’re following each other, you comment and banter.
Well, dear Kringle lives a mere 15 minutes from the McAfee Knob trail head, and when he saw that McAfee was part of our itinerary he messaged me and invited us to stay for a night so we didn’t have to sleep in our tent in a hostel yard.
We ended up taking him up on his offer and I am so glad we did because let me tell you, we had a GREAT evening after a crazy stressful day. He greeted us with craft beer, homemade salsa, and promises of steak being thrown on the grill. B and I each grabbed a shower, changed into real human clothes, and relaxed while Kringle shared trail stories and life experiences.
He bought his home in May and one of the main reasons for the location was to house hikers. He has past experience with bed and breakfasts (and you can TELL!) his house is charming, full of character and he knows how to host like no other. We are so grateful for everything he’s done for us today! Dinner was incredible and after drinks, stories and full stomachs by a fire we decided to head to bed. We are getting up at 4:30 to catch a sunrise at the top of the Appalachian Trail’s most photographed location. McAfee Knob.
*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.
Saturday Sept. 30th – End of day
Temp. Hi – 66* / Lo – 45*
Miles hiked so far – 16
Nobody hiked in to the shelter or vicinity last night. It was just us and we were being shaken by wind consistently throughout the night until morning.
We fell asleep at 8 o’clock last night and didn’t wake up officially until 8am. We both were awake to pee at 6 and it was so cold out we just snuggled back up and dozed off again. My Enlightened Equipment quilt is SO warm. We slept for 12 hours!
It was very windy today.
While we were packing up this morning, another section hiker walked up and chatted with us. He was from upstate New York and heading to Springer solo, beginning at Harper’s Ferry and said he planned to be there by Thanksgiving. His massive section made ours look nothing like a section, but a casual stroll in the park.
He got a huge kick out of the fireplace in the shelter. He told us he packed minimal clothes and was enjoying our company but to keep warm, he had to keep moving. We said farewells and finished breaking down our campsite.
We got on the trail late, around 9:20am and continued south. Tonight we are lodging at Skyland Resort. From the shelter to the lodge it’s about 7 and a half miles.
We didn’t eat breakfast today and I was feeling it. I was dragging super hard and was getting anxious because we opted out of refilling our water this morning. A few miles in however we came upon the Pinnacles picnic area parking lot and lo and behold – there was a water fountain AND restrooms! We sat and ate some energy bars and cameled up on water. Propel Raspberry Lemonade drink mix saved my life today, y’all.
I was in my head a lot today. B hiked ahead of me while I found my pace. I could feel my left pinky toe forming a hot spot. It started to become a little annoying.
Oh my god, Stony Man. Let me tell you about the busiest day hike location I think I’ve personally encountered yet. I was overwhelmed with the descending people-traffic and tried to take my time so I didn’t trip, yet get out of there quickly while trudging up jagged rocks and what seemed like a hundred switchbacks.
(If I was going to cry today…or at all, this was it.)
But I didn’t. We carried on and I felt miserable and it was only day 2. I began wondering what we were doing and why we were even doing it. Did B feel this terrible? If so he wasn’t really showing it. Skyland was so close, but so far. The climb to the lodge was killing, and me and B bickered most of the way up. It was the worst. We were starving, it was freezing, and I found myself craving a cold, sugary Pepsi the last 2 miles.
Finally the trail opened up to a fire road. This was apparently the back way up to the lodge. I started to feel relief until we came upon another intersection and blindly chose which way we should go – up. Again.
Luckily it was the correct choice. We finally made it to the office which was next to the dining hall, where we picked up a couple sandwiches and chips and felt 110% better almost immediately.
(We were just hangry the whole time, who knew?)
We ate on the patio overlooking the mountains (it was freezing), then checked in to our cabin. It was so welcome after a pretty mentally hard day. Today is our second short day. If only 7.5 miles was this hard, what do the 10 and 11 mile days have in store?! We have ended up hiking MORE than what’s listed on trail signs & on Guthook’s, due to side trails and anything we want to see out of the way. Sigh.
We both took warm showers and an hour nap, setting the alarm for 5pm so we could make it to dinner at the dining hall at 5:30. I wanted to eat and then go back to bed.
Dinner was delicious. I had a Thanksgiving style turkey and dressing dinner, with an appetizer of crab and corn chowder, while B chose the bison meatloaf and a salad. Then we shared the blackberry ice cream pie which was AMAZING.
(This is the part of the trip where I am beginning to feel like we are cheating a little.)
Sleeping in a warm bed tonight and eating an incredible dinner. However, we wanted this experience to be part vacation and part work. It is living up well to the expectation so far. Hiking 9 miles tomorrow to Big Meadows is on the agenda, so I’m going to sleep well and warm tonight after this cold exhausting day so I can focus better. If this whole week is a repeat of the way I felt today we’ve got a long road ahead, hah!
All in all, it WAS a beautiful day when I stopped to realize what I was doing and where I was, and why we even began this trip. Our goal is to complete the AT in time, in sections. This is the easiest part of the AT according to past thru hikers, and a great introduction. We are lucky to be here and I’m going to enjoy it even when it gets hard. I am here to grow and challenge myself.
My daily journal entries while en route and on trail! No photos for these posts. If you’d like to see pictures you can find them on our Instagram page! All mileage includes AT & side trails and is read according to our Garmin GPS tracker. This part of the trip was comprised of Shenandoah’s ‘Inn to Inn’ Southbound hike as well as some backcountry camping. Thornton Gap to Swift Run Gap.
Wednesday Sept. 27th & Thursday Sept. 28th
Yesterday (the 27th) was B’s 33rd birthday. We both worked all day knowing we had a long drive ahead of us.
Last night we left home around 7:45. Drove 5 hours east to Frankfort, KY – (ironically the home of the distilleries of 2 of B’s favorite bourbons, Buffalo Trace & Woodford Reserve.) We were so tired. I booked a cheap hotel (Bluegrass Inn) from the road and we showed up 30 minutes later to check in at 2am. I slept so heavy in that hotel room and 7:30am came quickly.
We hit the road this morning at 8:15 and made it to Swift Run Gap to meet trail angel and Open Arms hostel owner Alison by 4:30pm. She drove us about 36 miles north to Luray where we checked in to our hotel and ordered some pizza. We also realized when we dropped the car off at the trailhead we are exiting from later this week, that we forgot the USB wall plug for our phone charger. We did have our solar panel but the wall plug is much easier when lodging. We asked the front desk at the hotel in hopes of left behind extras or one we could even just use for the night and the attendant gave us his to keep! Thanks so much front desk guy.
I am beat! We will probably go to bed in the next couple hours (after I take a hot bath and then organize our packs accordingly) I think I’ll get our breakfast and water ready to go and then just relax.
I want this trip to go slowly. I want to take our time and relish in the experience. So far it’s been beyond great and pretty seamless. I’m so excited!
Tomorrow we get picked up at 8am, hike from Thornton Gap to Mary’s Rock and are camping at Byrd’s Nest #3 shelter. It’s a very short first day with a pretty big climb. We plan to get to the site fairly early. I have big hopes of napping and reading some of the book I have downloaded on my Kindle app. (Stephen King’s ‘It’.)
Friday Sept. 29th – End of day
Temp Hi – 73* / Lo – 46*
Miles hiked so far – 6.2
This morning we woke up at 7:30 and waited in our hotel lobby for Alison to pick us up and drop us off at the Thornton Gap Trailhead entrance. Before she arrived we perused the free continental breakfast and found an old timer reading a newspaper and a woman with a fairly talkative kid. (Among the people, a selection of some cereal, muffins and fruit.) I grabbed an apple and realized before we went outside to the parking lot that I wasn’t even hungry. I was nervous! My stomach was in knots. I took a couple bites of the apple which was piffy. I still wasn’t sure what to expect out of all of this.
Alison texted me and let me know she’d be a few minutes late. We were in no rush. We hung out in the parking lot, watching some dew glisten on a spider web.
In the van with us was a guy and his pup, and a woman called Ladybug and her friend (I forget her name!) Ladybug attempted a thru hike last year but had to stop after 600 miles. Now she’s picking up sections. She was so pleasant to talk to! I love meeting hiking women, and these two were heading NOBO – the opposite direction of us.
When we arrived at the trailhead we all said our goodbyes and good lucks, I sat on the shoulder of Skyline Drive to put my boots on and adjust my trekking poles and then off we went, beginning our 40 mile hike back to the car at the Swift Run Gap entrance.
We started with the climb to Mary’s Rock – lots of elevation gain within the first mile, mile and a half. Not the most encouraging way to start a trip, but we had to venture forth to get to our camping spot for the night. The views at Mary’s Rock were incredible. We ran into “guy and his pup” once again and we parted ways for the second time. I made a Cup-a-Soup, and we also tried to eat a Mountain House Eggs with Bacon and no.
Then we chatted with two section hiking ladies from Pennsylvania, one of them telling us the story of how a bobcat crossed her path that morning. The other woman began laughing as she opened her Pop Tarts and told us she woke up the entire camp last night yelling “There’s a bear!! There’s a bear!” In her sleep. She said she felt so bad waking everyone up, as we all laughed together. Bear anxiety is real, people!
We continued on to the shelter, Byrd’s Nest #3. We arrived early in the day. Around 12:30pm. We explored the area, hiked half a mile down to the piped water source, had a snack and then returned to the shelter/campsite and set up our tent. I was feeling a little sleepy so I took a nap in the shelter while B gathered some wood for the fireplace. Byrd’s Nest #3 used to be a day use area, and then was transitioned into an overnight shelter for hikers.
We ate tuna wraps for lunch.
When it started to get chilly and a little windy, B started a fire and then I boiled some water for dinner. We made and shared a ramen pack and a rehydrated sweet & sour chicken. It was warm and filling. We hung our packs and bear canister behind the shelter. We decided to call it an early night after watching the sun go down and are now lying in the tent. It’s 7:40pm.
Tomorrow we have about a 7.5 mile day.
And just like that, we were back home.
In the wake of returning to normal, every day work life tomorrow – I find myself with no energy, sighing loudly every few minutes and trying to avoid thoughts of the overwhelmingly busy reality that’s about to hit.
I have a few things I can cling to in the coming weeks. Blog posts, video editing; a beginners backpacking trip I’m fronting in a couple weeks. Another Mountain Chicks weekend outing in November. Lots of van camping and our 4th wedding anniversary next month.
I won’t lie, I was missing my bed and my dogs. I had thought and hoped maybe I’d be on a crazy high when I came home but it seems to be the opposite =( I guess I’m just feeling emotional. It’s only been a few days and I already feel so detached from it all. This trip took forever to get here and then, it was just…done. While I will never forget the mere week and a half Virginia was our home, where we met wonderful like minded new friends and the trail was always certain, and the white blazes led the way…
I needed more time.
More days, more miles. More memories. This was only just a taste of one of the best experiences of my life. I need more.
This isn’t over yet!