Day 82 – Monday, May 30: US 340 to Annapolis Rocks, 21.6 miles, 1,047.6 total AT miles.

I woke up early and noticed that my hiking buddies were a lot closer to me now than they were when I went to bed. The overnight rains had leaked down to the ledge in places and forced some minor relocations – I stayed bone dry. Savage wasn’t so lucky – her sleeping bag was soaked.

The five of us packed up and reviewed our options for the day. Savage was going to hitch back into town with Champa – she needed to dry her bag and he was going to meet another hiker in town.

Black Santa, McDoubles and I had decided to camp at Annapolis Rocks – we’d heard from a few hikers and locals that it shouldn’t be missed. Black Santa and McDoubles left early – I stayed behind and had breakfast with Savage and Champa.

After eating, they made their way up to the highway and I started hiking north. The AT quickly ascends to a ridge that runs north/south through western Maryland. It was rocky, but not nearly as bad as that descent into Harper’s Ferry.

I stopped at the Ed Garvey Shelter to use the privy and ran into McDoubles – he was having a quick breakfast. After I grabbed a quick breakfast as well, we both left at around 9:00.

Despite the rocky terrain, we were making great time. The trail eventually leveled off as we approached the Garland State Park. We paused by the bathrooms to refill water and saw a hiker napping in the gazebo in the distance. It was Black Santa – we walked over as he was getting up.


McDoubles pressed ahead – I hung out with Black Santa while he packed up. We decided that we’d definitely hitch into Boonsboro, MD to buy some treats for dinner.

Note: In Maryland and Pennsylvania, the AT crosses more roads and goes through many more towns than in the South. I’ll have multiple opportunities each day moving forward to make it into town if need be.

We hiked on along the ridge for three hours, eventually hitting the Dahlgren Backpack Campground at 1:00pm. I found Juan relaxing the shade – he told us McDoubles was just a few minutes ahead.

We found him at Turner’s Gap, the road crossing to hitch into Boonsboro. He was eager to make it to Annapolis Rocks – I caught a quick hitch into town with Black Santa, stopping at a local grocery store to purchase food for our Memorial Day feast.

An hour later we were back on the trail, heading towards the original Washington Monument. It was built by volunteers in 1827 and promised our first real view of the valley below. It was kinda cool. Black Santa and I found Juan (again relaxing in the shade) and the three of us took in the views. I climbed to the top – very steep stairs, but totally worth it.


Annapolis Rocks at five miles ahead. It was hot and getting late in the afternoon. I was also carrying raw meat and decided to push hard to camp. About a mile outside of camp, McDoubles texted letting us know he found a campsite. We arrived at 7:00 and quickly set up our tents.

Black Santa set up his brand new Big Agnes Copperspur 2 – the same tent I’ll be getting in a week. It’s really nice – I’m gonna like it a lot. I set up his old tent and the four of us headed to the rock outcropping to watch the sunset. It was easily one of the best views I’ve had on the AT.


We returned to camp and cooked by headlamp – I ate way too much and returned to my tent to write.

* * *

Tomorrow, I’ll definitely be hitching into Waynesboro, MD to hit the Walmart for a three day resupply – I need to buy things I couldn’t find at the local grocery in Boonsboro.

This will put me in Boiling Springs, PA by Friday and in Duncannon, PA on Sunday morning. I’ll stay in Duncannon at the “famous” Doyle Hotel Sunday night and will visit the post office Monday morning before leaving town.

I should have some packages arriving (including the one that’s presumably waiting for me in Harper’s Ferry). If anyone would like to send some food my way, get it in the mail this week. The address for the post office in Duncannon is:


Breakfast: two 20 gram Clif protein bars (chocolate hazelnut)

Snack: 6 PB crackers, raisins

Lunch: bag of beef jerky, one LD Oatmeal Cream Pie, 12 PB crackers

Dinner: three hot Italian sausages (no campfires allowed so I cooked them in my pot over my stove), Parmesan Pasta Side, dozen strawberries, four small French rolls

Day 81 – Sunday, May 29: Washington DC to Harper’s Ferry, WV to US 340, 3.5 miles, 1,026.0 total AT miles.

I was up at 6:00am and immediately hit the shower. This suite at the Hilton is one of the nicest rooms I’ve ever stayed in – the shower alone was bigger than my entire bathroom back in Seattle. I spent too much time in there for sure.

When I finally sites the bathroom, Black Santa and McDoubles were already packing. I went to the lobby and grabbed a cup of coffee, drinking it outside in front of the Embassy of Senegal. I made my upstairs and finished packing – we were checked out and on the streets by 8:00am.

We immediately headed south from DuPont Circle and walked (yes, with our packs on) towards the Lincoln Memorial. The streets weren’t crowded yet, but barricades had been set up in preparation. I stopped to use the privy.


I didn’t realize this until now, but Memorial Day Weekend is a huge holiday for motorcyclists – many of whom in attendance were veterans. I walked past rows and rows of motorcycles before entering a cool vending area set up for the bikers. I ended up buying a few patches and a breakfast snack before continuing to the Lincoln Memorial.


My mood was starting to change – it was never my intention to mark the unoffical halfway point in my journey by being in DC for Memorial Day, but I’m sure thankful I did.

I mean, here I am, backpacking in relative peace and security, crossing numerous state borders, without any real cares at all. I personally get wrapped up sometimes in all that’s wrong with this country – I often fail to recognize the things we do really well.

The Lincoln Memorial was a sobering experience – I wept.


I put my headphones in and made my way to the Washington Monument – I found Black Santa wandering around and the two of us walked over to a row of food trucks to eat.


After a quick lunch, I found myself hot and sweaty – the low elevation and high humidity were really getting to me. It was here that I decided the beard had to go. It’s been fun, but my beard is too thick for the heat. As we headed towards (another) restaurant that supposedly had good oysters, I kept my eyes peeled for a barber.

After our second lunch in two hours, Black Santa and I found a shady spot in a grove of trees and waited for McDoubles to catch up.



By this time it was nearing 3:00 – time to head back to Union Station. We boarded the train and soon found ourselves on our way back to Harper’s Ferry. We got off at 4:30 and walked into town. I stopped at the outfitter (finally found the place) and bought a few snacks to get me to Waynesboro, MD for my next proper resupply.

I backtracked to the ATC office and resumed my trek north on the AT. I got a message from Savage – she had gotten back in town hours before us and already was relaxing at a campsite a few miles up trail.

While Harper’s Ferry wasn’t the best town as far as hiker amenities go, it sure was beautiful. The AT crosses under the railroad tracks before hitting the C&O Towpath. This part of the trail follows the Potomac River – here I officially left West Virginia and entered Maryland. That’s five states down!
I met Savage, Black Santa and McDoubles at the campsite and sat to have a quick snack. Black Santa checked the radar and it looked like we had storms moving in – I noticed there was an underpass just a mile ahead. Black Santa and I jogged up to the underpass to make sure it would work – plenty of space!

We returned to the camp and relayed our find to Savage and McDoubles. In our absence, Champa hiked in – I first met him in Georgia and have enjoyed seeing him intermittently along the way.

The five of us suited up and made our way to the underpass. And just in time too – the rains started about 15 minutes after we arrived. I made a quick dinner and layed down to write.

* * *

I can’t believe I’m in Maryland. Virginia took what felt like an eternity to hike through.

Tomorrow, I might hitch into Boonsboro, MD and buy something nice to cook for Memorial Day.

I’ll also get to visit the original Washington Monument tomorrow – that’s two Washington Monuments in two days.

I need to shave my beard off now.

And I have some news – I fell today leaving Harper’s Ferry. It wasn’t bad. The reason that this is news is because of why I fell. I’ve been suspecting it for a while, but my double vision is starting to return. When I got to camp I privately asked Savage if she’s noticed anything going on with my right eye lately – she confirmed that it was starting to drift out again.

Crap. I’ve already had two surgeries over the course of a year and didn’t think I’d ever have this problem again. I’m calling my surgeon on Tuesday to let him know. The only thing that worked in Seattle to eliminate the double vision was wearing an eye patch. I brought it just in case and wore it this evening.

It’s back. I’ll still wear sunglasses during the day – they’re dark enough to make my right eye essentially go dormant, but will need the eyepatch indoors and during the early morning/evening hours.

Breakfast: coffee, jumbo hot pretzel

Lunch: Philly cheesesteak and fries

Second Lunch: half dozen oysters, again from Massachusetts. Absolutely delicious.

Snack: 6 PB crackers, Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pie

Dinner: Mountain House Pepper Steak meal covered in Dot’s Pretzels crumbs.

Day 80 – Saturday, May 28: Harper’s Ferry, WV to Washington DC, Zero Day, 1022.5 total AT miles.

I woke at 2:30am to laughter and “get up, Cool Dad” coming from outside my tent. I was groggy and confused. I recognized the voices instantly and saw three smiling faces – Savage and Black Santa had finally arrived, and they found Who Dat who decided to hike in with them.

They were exhausted and immediately set up their tents and passed out. I fell back asleep as well, but not before checking my phone. I originally fell asleep at 6:30pm – at 8:00pm McDoubles made it to HF and went straight to a pizza place. He was now tenting near us.

I woke for the second time at 7:00am having slept 12 hours on the night. I felt great! I was about to take the train to DC. It hadn’t even dawned on me that we’d be making this trip over Memorial Day Weekend until Black Santa mentioned it as we were packing up.

Who Dat decided to cowboy camp last night (sleeping under the stars with no tent). Savage relayed that he got eaten alive by bugs and left to seek shelter at around 5:00am. While the three of us were packing, McDoubles walked over. He was all smiles, happy to be heading to DC as well.

The four of us suited up and hiked over to the ATC office so they could get their photos taken as well – I decided to head back to the post office to check on my missing package. It wasn’t there, but Black Santa’s were. He got a new tent in the mail – the one he was getting for me hadn’t arrived.

I had been planning on visiting an REI in DC to return the Quarter Dome 2 and buy new camp shoes – I lost one somewhere in or near Front Royal. Without my new tent I’d have no real business making the side trip to REI. Black Santa knew how much I disliked my tent and offered to let me use his old Big Agnes until I got my new one. What a relief – problem solved.

After purchasing our tickets online, the four of us made our way downtown. Savage was excited as well, but for different reasons. Later in the afternoon, her mother and grandmother were to arrive and spend the night with her near HF. While she wouldn’t be coming to DC with us, at least she was about to spend some quality time off trail.

I ate a quick breakfast in the diner and made my way to the Amtrak station. Black Santa and McDoubles were already there – in minutes the train pulled up and the three of us boarded.

It was a short ride, only about an hour and a half. While on board, I used my hotels.com app to find a hotel – ended up getting a great deal at the Hilton in DuPont Circle (good job, Cool Dad). The three of us exited the train at 1:00pm and walked into Union Station – we had arrived!

First things first, I wanted to walk over to the White House and get a picture with my pack on before checking in. Black Santa and McDoubles thought it a cool idea as well and the three of us set off.

We made our way through the busy crowds – our packs really made us stand out. It took some time, but we fought our way to the front and got our pictures.


While we were heading towards the hotel, I ran across a squirrel essentially begging for food. I pulled out a granola bar and shared a snack with him – he even let me pet him. Pretty cool!


We checked in to the hotel at 3:00 and found our room wasn’t ready yet. I chatted with the manager, explaining we had just gotten off the AT and that this was a special occasion for us. Not a problem – he ended up upgrading us to a suite! I left my dirty laundry with the guys and headed back outside (pack in tow) to catch a cab to the REI in Rockville.

Two hours later, I was back at the hotel and getting hungry. I had already eaten nearly all of the Dot’s Pretzels and was ready for a hearty meal. We settled on Chinese – I ran next door to sample some East Coast oysters from a gastropub. The oysters were great – having worked in an oyster house in Seattle, I’ve been trying to find them on the menu in every town I stop.

After dinner, we decided it best to go to bed early so we could hit the streets first thing in the morning.

Breakfast: chicken sandwich and Cajun fries

Lunch: 3/4 of a bag of Dot’s Pretzels

Dinner: seaweed salad, pork spareribs, chicken wings, 6 Virginica oysters from southern Massachusetts.

Day 79 – Friday, May 27: Night Hike to Harper’s Ferry, WV, 48.8 miles, 1,022.5 total AT miles.

Note: I’m writing this from the Amtrak back to Harper’s Ferry from DC.

* * *

It was just after midnight and I hiked on. I was hoping to find McDoubles – maybe he had a few extra batteries for my dimming headlamp. I stopped just after crossing the stream at Spouts Run Ravine.

My headlamp was nearly dead. I took it off and pulled out my solar light. I’ve never tried using the solar light outdoors – I usually clip it inside my tent so I can type late at night or pack early in the morning. It really worked great – for about ten minutes.

It was time for Plan C – my iPhone flashlight. I unzipped the front pocket on my Mammut hiking shirt and slid my phone in. It took a few minutes to adjust to hiking with my only source of light shining from my chest, but I got used to it. I hiked on with a renewed confidence in my decision.

Then it happened – bears. It happened to Savage just outside of Vandeventer Shelter and it was now happening to me. The bear was big and standing squarely in the middle of the AT. I clicked my trekking poles together a few times in an attempt to scare it away – it didn’t budge.

I froze. For a second, I didn’t know what to do. My heart was racing and I could feel the adrenaline rushing through my veins. I took a deep breath and screamed at the bear from the top of my lungs – I’m pretty sure I told it to “get away from me”, making sure to use every curse word I knew.

The bear took off running, crashing through the woods like some giant drunken toddler. Man, I felt ALIVE. I wasn’t scared at all – it was as if I reached a level of understanding with nature right at that point. The bear was just doing his thing and I was simply doing mine. We only met for a brief instant and, in that moment, I did what it took so I could continue doing my thing. No harm, no foul. With a renewed confidence, I hiked on.

I was nearing the end of the Roller Coaster and was still moving slowly. At 3:00am, I crossed into West Virginia. There was a small sign commemorating the event – my phone was too fogged up with sweat to take a photo.

Shortly after crossing the border, I found myself at Raven Rocks. The moon was a little more than half full, just enough to illuminate the valley below. I sat on the rock overhand and ate a snack. All of the stars were visible – the skies were that clear. I sat on the rocks for nearly and hour, counting satellites and lost deep in thought.

I noticed the skies to the east ever so subtly start to brighten and decided to hike on. It was a little after 4:00 and I had covered just under 30 miles for the day (well, day and night).

A mile later the Roller Coaster ended and the terrain leveled off – but it stayed rocky. My feet were really starting to hurt. If this rocky terrain is any indication as to what lays ahead, I’ll be looking at some low mile days in the very near future.

At around 6:30am I reached the side trail for the Blackburn AT Center – I thought it too early to visit and bypassed it. He sun was just starting to rise – I was finally able to switch off my iPhone light and dry it off, snapping a quick picture of the pink morning skies.


At this point in my trek, I had to substantially slow down. My feet were killing me. Every rocky step shot pains through my feet and ankles – I’m just not used to all this uneven terrain.

Two hours later, I paused at the David Lesser Memorial Shelter for  quick breakfast – it was empty. I guess the promise of reaching Harper’s Ferry had everyone excited and up early. I was starting to get a little excited myself. I guess that’s why I didn’t check to see how much water I had – I left the shelter not even realizing my Platypus was bone dry. It wouldn’t be until 9:00am (at 40 miles on the day) until I figured out my error.

I checked my map – there were no other water sources between here and HF. There was a road crossing ahead with quarter mile walk to a gas station – that would have to do. I felt what might be my second (or third) wind and hiked aggressively towards Keys Gap.

After a quick detour for water and Mountain Dew, I made my way back to the trail and hiked on. It was nearing 11:00 and HF was only four miles away. I stopped at a campsite to rest and watched as three or four other hikers passed by. After chugging my last Mountain Dew, I decided to make the painful hike into town.

I hit Loudoun Heights not even realizing that, as I made the rocky descent towards the Shenandoah River, I was leaving Virginia and officially entering West Virginia – there wasn’t a sign (or if there was, I was too tired to pay attention).

Before I knew it, I was crossing the Shenandoah and heading into HF. I had a huge smile on my face. Not only was I close to finishing this crazy hike, but I’d soon be visiting the offices of the ATC and receiving my new hiker number.


The trail leading up to the ATC as rocky and steep. I stumbled blindly over sharp rocks – I stopped caring about where I planted my feet. I was ready for two things – food and sleep.


I entered the offices of the ATC at 1:45pm and was met by smiling volunteers eager to give me a tour. I hung out in the hiker lounge for a little while, meeting folks I had never seen before – I had night hiked clear into a completely new bubble of hikers. I got my photo taken and received my new hiker number.


I started this thing on March 10 as number 534 – it was now May 27 and I was surprised to hear I was the 344th northbound hiker of the year. I’d really moved up!

I left my pack at the ATC and walked down to the post office – I knew I had a few packages waiting on me. Sure enough, I picked up a few boxes (new rope, my extra camera battery, and my base layers from Granny, a huge bag of Dot’s Pretzels from Mom) and headed back to the TC to repack.

There’s not much to do in HF. I was hungry, but wasn’t willing to spend $15 on a cheesburger from the pub downtown. I couldn’t find the outfitter and ended up walking back to the ATC to secure a tentsite for the night. I decided to cook my emergency meal at camp.

The town of Harper’s Ferry had very recently opened a tenting area in the city park – it was a very nice gesture. I set up my tent and ate a quick meal. Finally satisfied, I checked my phone. McDoubles was still planning on making it to town tonight – Savage and Black Santa were hiking with Who Dat just a few miles behind him.

I told them not to expect much (or anything) if they were planning on arriving that late. I layed down in my tent and started to write (I didn’t finish – totally fell asleep mid-sentence, I’m finishing much of this post from the Amtrak).

* * *

Let’s see: 48.8 miles over 30 hours – I’m pretty proud of that accomplishment. When asked by other hikers where I started today, most couldn’t believe it when I told them I last slept at the Denton Shelter almost 50 miles away.

I’m a little concerned about my feet – every step kills me. I don’t have any blisters or hot spots so I think I’ll be fine.

And everyone caught up to me, but since I had been sleeping for hours when they got in, I’ll save that for tomorrow’s post.

I’m glad Black Santa and McDoubles committed to making it to HF before Saturday morning – the Amtrak for DC leaves at 11:30 and I still needed to hit the post office – I’m missing a package.

I can’t remember what I ate. Sorry.

Day 78 – Thursday, May 26: Jim & Molly Denton Shelter to Night Hike, miles TBD, total AT miles TBD.

Note: I’m writing this at 3:00am on Satuday from my tent in Harper’s Ferry – I just woke up, presumably for the day.

* * *

I woke at 5:30 to the sun rising – the birds were chirping and it was cool (not cold) outside. I felt great – I mean ready to go. I finished packing at 6:15 and walked over to Black Santa’s tent to see if he was up. He was already slowly packing – I sat and we talked about our plans for the day. We both knew that if we wanted to arrive in Harper’s Ferry by Saturday, we’d need to put up some more big miles.

Savage was awake as well. She likely would only be hiking with us as far as the shelter 18 miles away. Her mother and grandmother are driving in to see her and she’ll be off-trail for a few days in HF.

I felt great – my feet, my legs, everything. I sat in the covered pavilion in front of the shelter and munched on granola while Black Santa and Savage cooked breakfast. We took our time – it really is a treat to eat a meal with a roof over your head.

By 8:30, we were ready to go. For once, I took the lead – and I was moving. My original plan was to hike past four different shelters today and tent at mile 1,000 – that’d be 25 miles for the day. Doing so would put me in a good position to make it to HF as early as Friday night.

I paused at a bench two miles in and sat. It was shaping up to be a beautiful day – it was already getting warm and the sun was starting to break through the cloud cover.


I sat on the bench, listening to the birds and feeling the warmth from the sun hit my face. I felt great. A few minutes later, Black Santa hiked up joined me – it really was a great spot.


Savage caught up to us and Black Santa and I decided to hike on. We passed the Manassas Gap Shelter (McDoubles did end up staying here last night) and continued on our gradual ascent to the Trico Tower Trail. We found ourselves in dense forest before making it to the clearing at the top.

I hiked on, ready for lunch. It was really warming up and I was starting to sweat a lot. I’m really thankful I got this button-up Marmot hiking shirt – it pretty much stayed unbuttoned all day.

Black Santa and I stopped in front of Dick’s Dome Shelter for lunch – I ate a hot meal and relaxed before pressing on. We had easy hiking ahead until we hit the Roller Coaster, but that was six miles ahead. We left Dick’s Dome and headed for Big Meadows State Park, having only hiked 12 miles by 2:00pm.

Big Meadows was beautiful – the trail was relatively flat and the trees were grand. I don’t remember seeing so many tall oaks since leaving the Smokeys – even the Shenandoahs paled in comparison.


While we were hiking, I saw a flash in the bushes to my left. I froze just in time for a little rabbit to shoot out of the bushes, land on my boot, and subsequently hop onto the trail. It froze. I’m sure it was terrified, but it was pretty darn cute.


The rabbit eventually hopped off and we headed north. It was 5:00pm by the time we hit Rod Hollow Shelter, having covered 18 miles on the day. We paused to have a snack – as we did, Savage hiked up.

She was planning on tenting at the shelter. She’s been hiking big miles lately to catch up – there was no real need for her to push it considering she didn’t have to be in HF until Saturday afternoon. Black Santa and I pushed on.

It was around now that I started toying about with the idea of hiking into Harper’s Ferry. I wasn’t tired and felt great. I mentioned the idea to Black Santa – he said he’d be lucky to make to the 1,000 mile mark.

At 6:30, having hiked 19 miles on the day, we reached the beginning of the Roller Coaster.


And we immediately started hiking up. It was as if the Trailboss Crew was handed a cluster of mountains and told to make the trail as difficult as possible. I hated it from that first ascent.

The trail was rocky and steep – there were virtually no switchbacks. I struggled on the rugged terrain.


I stopped to change socks and Black Santa hiked on. It took longer that expected, but I finally caught up with him at the second summit. He was done for the day. His tent was set up and he was starting to make dinner.

I set my pack down and cooked a hot meal. I was still on the fence about hiking on. I knew McDoubles was probably tenting at the 1,000 mile mark as planned. Black Santa assured me he’d be in HF by Saturday to take the train to DC – he was too tired to press on any further.

The sun was starting to set as I ate. I still felt great and surprisingly alert. I reviewed my options. I could either tent now and get an extremely early start tomorrow or I could hike on and catch up with McDoubles – maybe even continue from there depending on how I felt.

Leaving now would mean that I would be night hiking. My headlamp was almost out of batteries and I didn’t have a second set. I had backup options: there was my solar light and I always had my iPhone flashlight. It was settled – I told Black Santa I’d see him in HF and hiked on.

The sun set as I was hiking – in the dense forest, it got dark quickly. In the dim light from my headlamp, I could barely see the trail. I slowly pressed on – hopping from rock to rock on the rough terrain. It was very challenging. It was 10:00pm – I was still four miles from the 1,000 mile mark.

I hiked on stopping only twice – once to change socks and again to take off my underwear.

Note: This is important. I had been sweating all day and was starting to chafe between the legs. Rewind to a week ago in the Shenandoahs. I ran across a hiker named Who Dat who instantly recognized I had fresh ink (Blue Wolf). He suggested I hike with diaper rash cream – he swore by the stuff. And it worked – Blue Wolf is looking great (sort of, I’ll explain later). So, as I’m stripping down at 11:00pm in the total darkness, I remember I have diaper rash cream. It saved my life.

I kept checking my GPS app as I neared both the 1,000 mile mark and midnight. I knew I was close – I was also sure McDoubles was expecting me if he was still tenting there as planned. I didn’t run across anything or anyone for a while. I paused to take a sip of water and checked by GPS app – I had somehow missed the campsite and the 1,000 mile marker. I took a picture of what the AT looked looks at 1,000.2 miles to semi-commemorate my achievement.


And it also happened at around midnight so I’ll end this post here. No wildlife yet – I’ll get to that soon.

And the tattoo is healing nicely. But I (finally) caught poison ivy. It’s all over my right arm and on Blue Wolf. What was once a clean tattoo is now peeling and covered in pock marks. I’m treating the poison ivy with alcohol pads and calomine lotion.

Breakfast: Two 20 gram protein bars (blueberry and peanut butter), dried cranberries, coffee, Nature Valley protein granola

Snack: 2 blueberry cereal bars, 1 granola bar, half a bag of beef jerky

Lunch: Stroganoff Pasta Side with 10oz can of BBQ pork, 1 everything bagel.

Snack: 2 sleeves of whole wheat and cheese crackers, 1 granola bar, 1 blueberry cereal bar

Dinner: Kraft Mac and Cheese with 2 tuna packets, 1 everything bagel, the rest of my beef jerky

Day 77 – Wednesday, May 25: Stealth Camp (Front Royal, VA) to Jim & Molly Denton Shelter, 4.9 miles, 974.3 total AT miles.

Note: I’m posting this from my tent at Harper’s Ferry. Sorry for the delay – you’ll see why tomorrow.

* * *

I woke up at 7:00 and began uploading journals to my site – I was enjoying consistently good cell coverage for the first time since leaving Waynesboro.

After quickly packing, the three of us backtracked to US 522 to hitch back into Front Royal for a proper resupply. Again, we caught a ride surprisingly fast.

Note: The locals have been noticeably more accommodating to hikers starting in Buena Vista and continuing here.

I got dropped back off at the Food Lion and walked inside to grab enough food to last me the three days to Harper’s Ferry. Black Santa headed for the post office while McDoubles and I shopped.

After organizing my resupply next to firewood display on the sidewalk, I walked over to the Goodwill and dropped off my sweats and yoga pants – I’ll be getting my lightweight base layer in Harper’s Ferry and, with the forecast calling for temps in the the 80s, I think (hope) I’ll be fine until then.

It was hot and I was already starting to sweat – it was time for the floppy mohawk to go. I found a beauty salon and stuck my head inside to see if they cut men’s hair – it was empty and stylist quickly sat me and started shaving away.

There’s not much you can do with a floppy mohawk – I kinda have a normal haircut now (depending on the angle you view it from). I left the salon and headed back towards the Food Lion to wait for Black Santa and McDoubles.

It was only 11:00 and I was getting hungry. I walked across the parking lot to the Front Royal Diner and grabbed a booth. I ordered too much and ate it all. While I was eating, McDoubles shuffled in – he ordered a quick breakfast as well.

We ended up spending about two hours in the diner, charging phones and drinking coffee. Black Santa returned from the post office and the three of us left. (I got great service at the Front Royal Diner – highly reccommend eating here).

McDoubles needed to stay in town to make phone calls so Black Santa and I headed over to the side of the road to start hitching – in about ten minutes, we found ourselves back at the trailhead at 2:00.

Our plan was to hike 13 miles to the Manassas Gap Shelter, but we were moving slowly. Yesterday’s 30-miler left me feeling stiff and sore today. I knew I’d be stopping at the Jim & Molly Denton Shelter for a break – I’d read about it for years. Apparently it had a front porch with chairs and a solar shower – I was looking forward to that shower.

The trail was well-graded, but overgrown – I could tell I wasn’t in the Shenandoahs anymore.


I was still moving slowly when I finally came to the Denton Shelter. I peeled off the AT and took the side trail down. Black Santa had spread his tent on the grass to dry in the sun and I sat on the porch to have a snack. He came over and said he wanted to stay here for the night.

Hmmm. I still wanted to take a shower and it was getting late in the afternoon, but I remained unconvinced. Then I saw it – a horseshoe pit. I don’t know why (I’ve never been much on horseshoes), but I was instantly excited to stay.

I quickly set up my tent and ran a clothes line to dry my sweaty shirt and socks before playing a few games with Black Santa. It was a real treat – we had a great time, even challenging Juan and McGuyver to a game or two.

I played horseshoes for about three hours – I almost ran out of daylight to take my shower. We stopped playing at sunset to make dinner – I packed in fresh veggies from town and wouldn’t be cooking tonight.

After a quick meal, I walked over to my tent to relax and ended up falling asleep. I awoke to darkness and a familiar laughter echoing across the camp. It was Savage – how in the hell did she already catch up to us?

I jumped out of my tent and walked over to her, now chatting with Black Santa. I didn’t expect to see her until Harper’s Ferry – good job, Savage!

Black Santa relayed a message from McDoubles – having left town hours after us, he stuck to the original plan and made it to Manassas Gap. Too bad – the Denton Shelter is the best I’ve seen so far.

After catching up with Savage (she ran into a bobcat), I returned to my tent to write.

* * *

There’s nearly 50 miles in front of me before I reach Harper’s Ferry. I need to arrive Saturday morning at the latest so I can visit the post office and ATC headquarters before hopping on an 11:00am Amtrak to DC. I’ll need to get an early start tomorrow.

The elevation profile looks tough in the days ahead. I hope to hit the 1,000 mile mark tomorrow night, maybe even tenting at the campsite located at 1,000.1.

If I do that, I’ll be starting the Rollercoaster tomorrow afternoon. The Rollercoaster is a series of pointless ascents and descents that follow each other in rapid succession for about 13 miles – it’s supposed to be tough.

And then I’ll hit Harper’s Ferry, WV, the unofficial halfway point of the AT, before hopping a train for DC. Hopefully, my tent will arrive in Harper’s Ferry before we depart – that way, I’ll be able to return my Quarter Dome 2 to REI.

Breakfast: Leftover fried chicken and fresh bread.

Lunch:


Dinner: two apples, bag of carrot sticks, one bell pepper, one bag of beef jerky

Day 76 – Tuesday, May 24; Byrd’s Nest #3 Hut to Stealth Camp (Front Royal, VA), 31.4 miles, 969.6 total AT miles.

I was up early, jogging to use the privy (with a “defensive” trekking pole in hand) at 5:00am. On the way back to my tent, I grabbed my bear bag and ate a quick breakfast as I silently packed up.

The sun was just starting to rise – it was bright enough to break camp without a headlamp. I walked over to Black Santa’s tent and asked if he was up – he told me he’d be ready to hike in 20 minutes. McDoubles was still sleeping.

Sure enough, by 6:00am, just as the sun was starting to peek over the horizon, Black Santa and I set off. His plan was to make it to the Front Royal Hostel, but he didn’t intend to stay – he needed to pick up a mail drop. (Most hostels will accept packages for hikers – if they don’t end up staying, there’s usually a small holding fee involved).

I felt great – before leaving, I told McDoubles to meet me in Front Royal. I was ready to push 30-plus today.

We hiked out of camp at sunrise – what a beautiful (and warm) morning.


As we made our ascent out of camp, we took the short side trail to the summit at Mary’s Rock, hoping for a decent view. It was hazy, but still a great way to start the day.


Black Santa and I descended into Thornton Gap before climbing Pass Mountain to have a quick snack. As we were finishing, McDoubles hiked up – I’m pretty sure we were equally surprised to see each other. When I left camp just hours ago, he was sleeping in his tent.

The three of us agreed to meet at the Elkwallow Wayside eight miles away for our next break. I hiked quickly, but soon fell behind (although not as far as usual). The trail was relatively flat and very pretty. I followed a ridge line and enjoyed views of the Skyline Drive all morning.


I hiked into the Elkwallow Wayside right at noon – I’d already covered 14 miles on the day. Not bad, but if I wanted to make it to Front Royal, I’d need 17 more before day’s end. I grabbed some snacks from the wayside and set off by 12:30. McDoubles took the lead, only out of an abundance of caution – he was still a little leery to push 30 miles in a day (he’d come close many times, but hadn’t hit that milestone yet).

Leaving Elkwallow, the AT ascends 1,000 feet to the Hogback Overlook before making a gradual decent to the Gravel Springs Hut. I hiked steadily, eventually reaching the hut at 2:00. McDoubles and Black Santa had just arrived and were gathering water when I hiked in.

After a hot lunch, I set off again – I had 14 miles to cover before hitting the road crossing for Front Royal. Thankfully, it was all downhill. I started flying down the trail – at times jogging when the terrain suited me. My pack was light – I was only carrying my emergency meal and the snacks I had just purchased at Elkwallow.

I cleared Compton Peak at 5:00 (a tough little push – maybe I was just tired though) and officially left the Shenandoahs at 6:00pm. I only had four miles to go, but I was starting to slow considerably. It was my unofficial goal to make 30-plus miles today in the daylight only. I started hiking this morning at sunrise and wanted to see if I could make it to Front Royal by sunset, right at around 8:00pm.


As I was hiking by the Tom Floyd Shelter, I heard a “Cool Dad?” come from within. I stopped and spoke with another hiker who informed me McDoubles was just minutes ahead and I could probably catch him if I tried.

I hiked on and caught him about two miles from VA 522 – the road crossing for Front Royal. I heard the ping of emails coming in to my phone and checked to see if I had service – sure enough, I did. I also had a text from Black Santa – he was at the hostel picking up his package and would be leaving shortly. I told him we’d grab him something to eat from town before hitching back to the trailhead to camp. He told us he’d find a campsite.

While we were hiking over our last little ascent for the day, we saw a bear – or rather, got to see it as it ran away from us.

After a short walk over a nice boardwalk, McDoubles and I emerged from the woods at 7:45. We immediately crossed the street and starting thumbing it west to Front Royal. In time, a local picked us up and dropped us off at the Food Lion.


It was difficult to stay focused – I was really hungry, but knew I only needed dinner for tonight. It was too late to do a full resupply and I knew we’d be in town tomorrow morning. I went to the deli and grabbed a few things before checking out.

McDoubles and I walked through the parking lot and across the street to try to hitch east again. It only took a few minutes, but a nice lady (and avid section hiker) picked us up and dropped us back at the trailhead.

By this time it was dark – no sign of Black Santa. While I was shopping, he sent a text with cryptic directions telling us how to find camp. McDoubles and I hiked north along the AT, eventually finding him in a small clearing just off-trail.

I quickly pitched my tent and the three of us sat down and feasted. We were all tired and made our way to our tents as soon as we were full.

* * *

I feel great about today. I’m a little sore, but really like knowing I cranked out another 30-miler. And I did it during the daylight hours – no night hiking required.

There’s a few things I need to accomplish in Front Royal tomorrow before hitting the trail. It’s only a three day hike to Harper’s Ferry, so my resupply will be light.

While Black Santa’s at the post office, I’ll be at the barber (and McDoubles will be at the McDonalds next door). Today was warm, not even hot, and I was still sweating a lot. It’s time I let the floppy mohawk go. It’s treated me well – it will be missed.

I’d like to be up early tomorrow, but no promises.

Yesterday’s encounter with the bears was awesome. I, and it seems like a lot of people, thought that black bears might be aggressive or super-protective when their cubs are around. While mama bear did start acting a little hostile when her cubs came out of the woods, she was far from aggressive. For the most part, she was skiddish. I wasn’t even that close (maybe 30 or 40 feet), when she bolted for the woods.

I think the setting had a lot to do with it. She came into OUR camp and the ten or so hikers standing around taking photos probably kept her from getting too close.

I know how this sounds, but I’m not as afraid of bears as I thought I’d be. They’re kind of like giant mice. I’ll still be cautious – I promise. I’m not going to be the hiker that gets attacked because he wanted to pet a bear or something dumb like that.

Breakfast: 20 gram mint chocolate protein bar, one Nature’s Valley Sweet and Salty almond bar

Snack: one apple, handful of peanuts, eight peanut butter crackers

Lunch: Mac and cheese with luncheon meat (I grabbed the meat from the wayside) and instant mashed potatoes, sour gummy bears

Snack: two NV S and S almond bars, 8 peanut butter crackers, sour gummy bears

Dinner: three pieces of fried chicken, fresh baked bread, Sriracha hummus and pretzel chips, Gatorade