Day mileage: 18
AT total mileage: 863.5
Time: 6 hours
I slept like a baby last night. The temperature was comfortably chilly, with occasional strong winds blowing over the crest of Humpback Mountain where we were camped. With most of the hikers headed for town, everyone was up early. Packing up while eating breakfast, Pneumo and I were on the trail at just before 7. The terrain for the morning was relatively easy, a few small climbs, a descent to a shelter, then a final climb up to the road level of the Blue Ridge Parkway where we would surface and hitchhike into Waynesboro.
Flying through the miles at a good pace, we arrived at Rockfish Gap (where Waynesboro is accessible from) at 10:45. It's a rather cool section of road around this gap, centered around a bridge, with the southern side of the bridge marking the beginning of the Blue Ridge Parkway and the northern side marking the beginning of Shenandoah National Park. This is such a popular area for thru-hikers to hitch from, there's actually a list of local trail angels posted on a fence post giving phone numbers of people to call if you need a ride. Surprisingly, the list takes an entire printed page and includes two or three dozen individuals who are available to help. Pneumo found a cooler of trail magic and after enjoying a cold Coke and an orange, I got us a ride into town. The gentlemen who picked us up was a home inspector on his way to town, and hesitated at first before coming to a stop down the road a ways and waiting for us to walk over. Luckily the road was a slow one and there was no interference with traffic. The four mile drive into town took all of 8 or 10 minutes, during which I sat in the passenger spoke with the guy while Pneumo sat haphazardly in the back with a ladder and the gentleman's work tools. He and I talked about his travels through Europe, the housing market in Virginia, and how well his 'busy season' coincides with his wife's vacation times as a teacher. Following the recognizable first-world voice of Siri via his iPhone, he used those directions to drop us off at the YMCA where we had learned free showers were offered to thru-hikers. We parted ways, thanking him multiple times, and ventured inside to see what we could do about cleaning up a bit.
Asking for just a photo ID in exchange for a fluffy towel, bar of soap, and bottle of shampoo, the YMCA desk attendant pointed us towards their locker room and showers. I can honestly say I haven't showered in a prison-style bathroom arrangement like this since I took swimming lessons in elementary school at our local Y. Despite the nostalgic feeling, the water was free and hot, and I used the entire bar of soap scrubbing 200+ miles of dirt and grime from my skin. I must have shampooed my hair four or five times, and then just stood there under the hot water. It felt wonderful. Drying off and ready to change into my town clothes, a separate pair of NB shorts, shirt, and light socks, I took a moment to step onto their sliding-weight doctors office style scale. Initially in disbelief, I double checked that it was calibrated correctly, which it was. I'm down 20 lbs since leaving Boston 7 weeks ago. This isn't horrible, however, as I'm at a weight I was at through high school and most of college... I'm not going to shrivel up and die. Returning my towel and getting my ID back, we headed out to the slow streets of this small southern town to try and get a ride across town. After a few minutes with no luck on the road, I asked a woman leaving the Y parking lot in her seafoam green Prius about a ride. She smiled, saying she'd need to make room, then hopped out to rearrange things in order to accommodate us. Barbara, as she introduced herself, lives in town and has the job of spaying and neutering stray cats to try and combat overpopulation. A chemist by trade with many years of travel and teaching under her belt, she returned to Waynesboro where she now lives. Instead of just rushing us to where we needed to be, she took us on a wonderful tour through the small town neighborhoods, even bringing us to a Clemmer Gardens, a garden that's privately owned by a local family & available for anyone to walk through. There were dozens of manicured flower beds, bridges across a stream, and large stone fireplaces accentuating the luscious back yard of the exceptionally upscale stone home that the owners live in. Barbara then took us over to the Dollar General where we intended to resupply. Before leaving, she gave me her cell number and insisted I call when we were ready to get back to the trail.
The first order of business was to get food. $8 at Little Caesar's pizza netted me a large pepperoni and a side of breadsticks, which I happily carried next door to the laundromat to consume while doing laundry. The biggest concern for me today was to charge my electronics, as my big backup battery was nearly dead. Eventually finding an outlet behind some vending machines in the laundromat, we got laundry going and ate our food, complimented by a handful of $1 Gatorade from the Dollar General next door. It couldn't have been more perfect- all three stores were immediately next to each other. We hung out in the small shopping center until 1800hrs, resupplying, planning our next few days, and hanging out. I was also able to call Outdoor Research, a hiking gear company, about a pair of gaiters that broke on the trail. Comprised of waterproof fabric, gaiters wrap around my shoe and over my ankle to prevent sticks and rocks from getting into my feet. The strap that wraps under the shoe had broken after 600 or so miles of hiking, and I've not been able to use them. Mark at OR was quick to apologize and insisted on sending me what he thought was the best pair for my application. Exceptionally kind and helpful, they're mailing them 2-day Air to Harper's Ferry at no cost, asking only that I destroy the originals. I couldn't have asked for better customer service. Thank you again, Mark.
Barbara picked us up and brought us back to the trailhead, first taking us by a stone mansion that was built over 100 years ago atop a mountain overlooking town. The Swannanoa Palace is built from Italian marble and has basically sat in decay since the death of its owners. With sprawling upper gardens, originally decorated with thousands of statues, it's now an eerie but gorgeous reminder of a more upscale time in history and design. We walked through the property marveling at the design, taking some photos, and meeting neighbors before heading for the trail. Barbara was quite knowledgable about the property. Parting ways and thanking her endlessly for her assistance, Pneumo and I began hiking again at 1900hrs. The goal was 8 more miles up to a shelter in the Shenandoah's, but we wouldn't end up making it.
An hour and a half into our hike the sun set and shadows shifted I caught my foot in a really weird way on a rock, and hurt my knee and shin again. With it being tough to walk on, we pressed on at a slower rate, lead lamps on full power illuminating the trail. Passing the radio towers at the summit of Bear Den mountain, we were forced through acres of fields of tall grass. Once out at a road crossing I removed 8 ticks from my legs. It frustrates me that the "largest volunteer land maintenence project in the world" as the Appalachian Trail Conservancy prides themselves on, can't take a weed whacker and trim around the trail, especially with the huge threat of Lyme Disease. Regardless, I wasn't comfortable walking and decided I wouldn't try to make the 2 more miles to the shelter we were aiming for. We pitched our tents just off the roadbed and are calling it a night. The gravel ground made it hard to pitch the tent stakes, and so to combat the wind atop the ridge here I'm using the weight of my food bag to hold my vestibule out in position.
Tomorrow we'll do some decent mileage, in addition to the 2 missed miles to the shelter from today. All in all 18 miles with 6 hours of hiking and 7 hours in a town I think are still good numbers. I've also got more food now, and that makes me a happy guy. I'm excited to see over the next few days how the Shenandoah's are as a national park and area to hike. Hopefully I can stop this silly night hiking and keep my legs better.