Day mileage: 24.3
AT total mileage: 976.3
Time: 10 hours
I was woken up rather early by a rowdy group of young college guys yelling back and forth across the campsite as they got ready for their day at 5:30 AM. I put my ear plugs in and went back to sleep. Knowing that Pneumo and I were only hiking 24 miles today, and having arrived late after a 34 mile day yesterday, we decided to sleep in a bit. It was so incredibly nice to get out of my tent at 7:45 and hang around the shelter until almost 9 before hiking. We ate breakfast with two retirement-aged guys from Kentucky who have been section hiking together for a few years. It was great conversation, and we learned that they'll be hiking from Harper's Ferry to the Blue Ridge area over two weeks. Pneumo and I hit the trail after some encouraging parting words, and began our day.
Crossing Skyline Drive we began the climb up to the two peaks of South and North Marshall Mountain. No more than 20 minutes into our hike we ran across 6 different black bears. I'm thoroughly convinced that the Shenandoahs saved all my bear sightings for the very end, alike a fireworks show saving the best explosions for the last minutes. A lone male bear, a mother bear with her infant cub on her back (poorly pictured below), and a mom with two larger cubs, all separated by a mile or so. What an amazing experience and sight. As we came across the mother and baby cub we looked to make sure there weren't others around (don't want to get stuck between a mother and her cub) before I started taking photos. After 30 seconds or so she bolted away and the cub fell off her back, landing in the soft ferns below. He quickly climbed up a tree as the mother bear looked back, at which point we hurriedly hiked away so as to not appear as a threat to the mom. The trail descended from the Marshall peaks and dipped down before climbing up to the summit of Compton Peak and again descending to Skyline Drive. It was at the Compton Gap parking lot that we crossed over Skyline Drive for the final time during this Appalachian Trail thru-hike, at Skyline mile 10.4. It's amazing to think that in just 3 and a half days we hiked through the Shendandoahs. Entering back into the woods and following along the A.T. as it shared its path with the Compton Gap trail, we passed by the last day hikers we'll see for a while. We also met a group of a half dozen guys who were on their 30th thru-hike reunion. After completing the hike together in 1984, they come out every few years and section hike an area. It was great to meet them and talk about how things have changed. One guys remembered hiking in corduroy pants, and another remembered calling home every two weeks at a payphone to let his family know he was alive. Things certainly have changed. Splitting left the Appalachian Trail was on its own again, and the trail was decorated with sign posts marking the end of the Shenandoah National Park property. It became immediately evident that we had left a maintained area, as the trail quickly became rocky and uneven, unlike everything within the 100 miles of Shenandoah.
About a mile down the trail after exiting the park, Floyd Shelter was located just off the trail. Due to our late start, we got there around 1330hrs, and aimed for a quick lunch. Despite all good intentions, I left before Pneumo nearly two hours later after taking a nap on the picnic table. With 13.6 miles to go at this point including two rather decent climbs, I was frustrated with my delay and hiked quickly. A few miles down the trail I came across a large field with tall grass, surrounded by a vine-covered barbed wire fence that was nearly 10' tall. A residential home next to the trail and field offered trail magic of camping, relaxing on the porch, and cold water, of which I took them up on the latter. After filling my water bottle I knocked on the door and met Mark, the father of a girl who thru-hiked in 2012. I thanked him for the water and inquired about the fields, which he informed me are government property where "the government plays with nearly extinct animals". If you're imagining something along the lines of Jurassic Park, you're not alone. Mark told me I might even see zebras, and to keep my eyes open. I thanked him again for the water and hiked on. Pneumo caught up to me am hour or so later and we carried a good pace forward, stopping for a quick bite to eat at the exceptionally upscale Denton shelter. With room for 8 hikers, a front porch with deck chairs, a cooking pavilion, and a solar shower, it would have been the perfect place to stay. Unfortunately we had to press on another 6 miles due to Pneumo meeting his mom tomorrow morning. We hiked on, and arrived at our intended shelter just after 2100hrs, only needing our headlamps for the last half hour or so. The shelter was only occupied by two hikers, Jugs and Huckabee, recent University of Marylamd grads who are on a two week backpacking trip southbound from the Mason Dixon line to The Priest mountain. We conversed as Pneumo and I cooked dinner, then I set my tent up off to the side. It's humid and clear, so I left my rain fly off the tent for the night.
With a sky full of stars and the blinking wing lights of commercial planes flying over, I'll sleep well. Tomorrow will be a 24 mile hike to the 1,000 mile mark, and we'll be spending the night in a hostel operated by the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. I hope you all enjoyed your long weekend!