Day mileage: 29.2
AT total mileage: 891.6
Time: 10.5 hours
Today is my fiftieth day on the Appalachian Trail. In that time I've hiked in five of the fourteen states the trail traverses through, trekked over countless mountain tops, and met immeasurable numbers of amazing, unique, and sometimes abrasive individuals from all corners of the world. It's been pretty neat so far, and although I'm not half way or anything of that sort, I thought that day 50 deserved some kind of introduction.
Despite being camped on the side of a road, I slept well. It was exceptionally windy but my poorly placed tent stakes (tough to drive into the ground due to the gravel below me) held in place. Pneumo and I both woke up just before 6 and as I finished up yesterday's blog, he audibly complained about the chill of the wind as he packed up his sleeping bag. If you've ever experienced not wanting to get out of bed during the winter due to it being cold, imagine the same sensation amplified tenfold due to 40 degree ambient temperatures, wind, and no hot shower waiting to take the chill off the morning. It can be quite tough waking up. Regardless, we were packed up and on the trail by 7:20 this morning. Gentle traverses with a small climb brought us the 2 miles we would have had to hike last night to make it to our original destination, the Calf Mountain Shelter. Upon arriving at the sign, which oddly enough was wrapped in barbed wire, we decided not to make the 1/3 of a mile trip each way to visit the shelter itself. Pushing on, we continued to hike along the Shenandoah's unique terrain. While Virginia so far has included ridge walking and some exceptionally steep climbs and descents, this National Park has terrain that's a lot more manageable. I'm not by any means saying it's easy, however there are lots of areas where it's level or only slightly pitched, followed by climbs and descents that are kind on the knees. It's exceptionally pleasant hiking.
We stopped in a parking lot about 8 miles into our day and talked with a local Appalachian Trail Club volunteer and his wife who works for the park. They were out to do some trail maintenence by cutting down trees that had fallen in recent weather storms. We were warned that the park would be very full this weekend, and when I inquired why she informed me that it was Memorial Day weekend. I suppose it shows how disconnected I am that I thought Memorial Day was next weekend. Regardless, she wasn't wrong. This place is packed, and I thoroughly believe I haven't seen this many people on the trail since down by Springer Mountain 49 days ago. Pneumo and I hiked on, with our sights set on the Blackrock Hut. For clarification, 'huts' in the Shenandoahs are the same as 'shelters' everywhere else. We arrived at the shelter around 1300hrs and after meeting a third trail volunteer, we ate lunch. Reading through the shelter log I learned about the Loft Mountain Wayside, a short order restaurant in a park gift shop that's famous on the trail for burgers and milkshakes. It was 10 miles from the Blackrock site and closed at 1730hrs so we cut lunch short and hurried off to make it there before the wayside closed.
The afternoon hiking closely resembled the morning, climbs of 500' drawn out over good distances with switchbacks, and many meandering level areas that simply wandered through the lush green forest. Every mile or so the trail crosses over Shenandoah's famous Skyline Drive road before ducking back into the woods. We passed dozens of day and weekend hikers, including one mother and her two very young children who asked me where they should go to see a bear. I couldn't help but think how... safe... that scenario sounded. Regardless, Pneumo and I hiked on hurrying for the 1/3 mile side trail to the Wayside. We got to the Frazier Discovery Trail at 1650hrs and eagerly rushed down it, knowing that greasy food and made to order milkshakes waited for us at the bottom. It was a steep trail that to me seemed a lot longer than 1/3 mile, causing me to doubt that we'd found the right trail, eventually dumping us out by a visitor center on Skyline Drive. Heading for the restaurant we learned the famed milkshake machine was broken (and had not been working all season) but that didn't stop me from ordering food. I ate a cheeseburger, large order of chicken tenders, a grilled cheese, and two scoops of black raspberry ice cream. We were there for about an hour, and I felt like there was a boat anchor in my stomach as I very slowly re-climbed the Frazier trail back to the A.T. at a mile an hour.
The remaining five miles to the Pinehurst shelter where I planned to spend the night went by quickly, and I arrived just before 2015hrs. Despite lots of bear scat on the trail and many many reports of sightings amongst hikers, I saw none in that hour before dusk. The shelter has a large group of short term hikers tonight. They're eagerly talking about how long and stressful their scattered 20 mile days are, which caused Pneumo and myself to chuckle to ourselves. I don't ever push the mileage I do on people, only answering questions about it if I'm asked. Regardless, I listened to their plans, pulled a half dozen ticks off my legs from the last bit of hiking, and reviewed the Guide with Pneumo about our plans for tomorrow, then got into bed around 2100hrs.
I've been woken up many times throughout the night by a kid who I assume has Noro, constantly vomiting into the brush nearby to my tent. It's been obnoxious, and although I understand being sick I think I'd try and move away from the sleeping groups of people if I was going to audibly gag and throw up. Despite my frustration, I sympathetically asked if he was ok and if there was anything I could do to help before I put my ear plugs in and put some music on to drown him out. We'll see how he is (from a distance) tomorrow. With plans to do another 27 miles or so the weather should be beautiful, and the trail packed with weekenders and holiday hikers. It's different, but certainly entertaining. Hiking a trail that I've had to myself for days, through remote wildernesses and mountains, to then hike along and see campers and RVs and massive pop-up tents litter the side of the trail.
Quite the experience, this Appalachian Trail is.