Day 69 – Tuesday, May 17: Harper’s Creek Shelter to Waynesboro, VA, 27.0 miles, 861.3 total AT miles.

I woke up at 2:00am again, shielding and cold. I could feel a frigid draft rising from between the planks of the shelter floor. I curled up in a ball, trying to fall back asleep. It didn’t happen. At 3:30, I started silently packing, trying not to wake Savage and McDoubles.

It was still dark when I put on my pack at 4:30 – McDoubles asked where I was going. I told him I was hiking into Waynesboro tonight and started hiking.

I slowly started making the 2,000 foot ascent of Three Ridges Mountain in the dark. The trail crossed numerous rock slides – this made staying on the right path very difficult. I learned a quick trick while navigating the rock slides. Even though there weren’t any white blazes, I stayed on track by looking for stones that had the moss worn off the tops (by hikers) – they stood out in contrast to the stones still covered in green or white moss.

I was making terrible time for the first hour – by 5:30, the sun started to peek out over the horizon. I was nearing the summit at 6:00 when I was finally able to turn off my headlamp. The trail was still very rocky, but ruggedly beautiful in the early dawn light.

The rising sun also brought fog and rain. The temps were in the high 50s when a light rain began to fall. I took off my cotton sweatpants and put on my rain jacket. The wind picked up and the temp dropped noticeably. Thankfully, I had already crossed the summit and started booking it downhill towards Maupin Field Shelter.

I made it to the shelter by 7:30 and took off my pack to have a quick snack. Just as I was beginning to stuff my face, Black Santa turned the corner. I was genuinely surprised to see him. He rented there the night prior and was getting ready to leave.

He also spent another night in the cold – and he got pretty wet before he could break camp. It was decided (rather quickly) that camping at the YMCA in Waynesboro just wouldn’t cut it tonight. We decided to get a hotel room in town, just 20 miles away. We hit the trail at 8:00.

Hiking in the cold rain stinks. It’s not fun – I have to keep moving at a fast rate just to stay warm. We said little as we hiked. Thankfully, the trail ahead was flat until hitting the gradual ascent of Humpback Mountain.

We stopped for a quick snack and water at 10:00. The fog was really starting to roll in and the rain kept coming down. It reminded of Seattle.

We kept hiking. The trail up and over Humpback was rocky and wet, but we pressed on, summiting at noon. After another quick snack (under a rock ledge), we started making the gradual descent to the Paul C. Wolf shelter seven miles away.

The rain was driving hard by now. I was getting very hungry – I had been hiking for almost eight hours without a hot meal. The problem was there just wasn’t anywhere to stop and cook. We looked for another ledge or maybe a forest service info sign to cook under. I eventually quit looking and just focused on making the remaining to the shelter.

We arrived at 3:00 and started making a hot lunch. I had eaten the last of my snacks – I was down to two dinners (plus and emergency meal). I ate a huge pot of food and changed socks. We started hiking again at 3:30.

The last five miles were extremely difficult. Not sleeping well for two nights in a row was taking its toll. I was moving sluggishly and my brain wasn’t working right. I felt foggy – like I couldn’t keep a linear thought going in my head. I wasn’t paying attention to time or speed like usual. I guess that’s why I was kind of surprised when I looked up to find Black Santa standing at a road crossing with his thumb out. I made it to Rockfish Gap from the shelter in just over two hours – I was ready to get to town.

After a quick hitch, we were dropped off at the Quality Inn. I immediately took a hot shower – it was one of the best I have ever had. We left the hotel room headed to the laundromat to do laundry. While we were waiting, we were able to resupply at the Dollar General next door. I ended up buying a pair of women’s yoga pants to act as a base layer – I cut off the pretty tassels that were attached at the ankles.

We made our way over to Ciro’s and ordered some pizzas to take back to the room. I had been texting Savage, inquiring when she would get into town. She texted back – her and McDoubles were staying at the Paul C. Wolfe shelter five miles from town.

After stuffing my face, I made my way over to the desk to write.

* * *

I’m beat – my muscles hurt. I can’t wait to fall asleep. The plan is to meet up with Savage and McDoubles at the post office or Kroger tomorrow morning before heading to the trailhead.

Push is in town and will be leaving first thing tomorrow. While I won’t catch her tomorrow, we should be seeing her in the coming days.

I’ve had a few folks ask if they can send me food. The answer is absolutely. I’ll be in Harper’s Ferry, WV in about ten days and will need a major resupply. The address is:

Please include everything to ensure I get it. Many thanks!

Day 68 – Monday, May 16: Hog Camp Gap to Harper’s Creek Shelter, 21.9 miles, 834.3 total AT miles.

I did not stay warm last night. I woke up at 2:00am shivering and cold. I tried putting more clothes on, putting extra clothes under my mattress pad, sitting up in my sleeping bag and leaning against my pack – I didn’t get much sleep from then on.

I totally regret sending any of my winter stuff home. My Patagonia base layer weighed next to nothing and I got rid of the pair to shave a few ounces from my pack weight.

I eventually started packing at 6:00am – I truly had not been that cold in a while. I moved quickly, trying to warm up. I collected water from the spring before leaving Hog Camp Gap at 7:30.

I knew the elevation profile called for an easy start to the day – for the first 14 miles, I was to enjoy a relatively level hike at 3,500 feet. I’d then quickly ascend The Priest before making a difficult descent to the Tye River four miles later.

It was cold and windy as I hiked. I moved as fast as I could on the easy grade to stay warm. I paused a mile outside of camp at Tar Jacket Ridge to snap a picture of the sunrise.

I stopped for a quick snack an hour or so later, then again at 10:30 – it was finally just warm enough to shed my rain jacket and sweat pants and hike in shorts and a t-shirt. I checked my GPS and was surprised to see I had already covered 10 miles. I was making really good time. It felt great to be hiking hard.

I hiked on eventually summiting The Priest at 1:30. I took the side trail to the shelter – I needed a break and a hot lunch. As I was approaching the entrance, Savage and McDoubles were packing their packs. I wasn’t expecting to see either of them until hitting Waynesboro.

They both threw their packs down on the picnic table – they tented six miles ahead of me last night and got a late start in the cold. They relayed Black Santa was pressing for big miles today as he wanted to hit Waynesboro as soon as possible for cell reception – I’m in the same boat.

I made a hot lunch and read from the shelter log. It was funny – other hikers confessed their sins to “The Priest”. I wrote my confession about accidentally pooping too close to the AT (and not caring).

The three of us left the shelter and headed for summit. After taking in a nice view I began the four-mile, 3,000 foot descent to the Tye River. The trail was rocky and steep, halting the momentum I had gained so far.

I eventually spilled out onto VA 56 and sat down to have a quick snack. McDoubles was already relaxing in the parking lot – Savage showed up just a few minutes behind me. They quickly left to make the three-mile ascent to Harper’s Creek – a potential camp for the night.

I left the road crossing at 4:00 and crossed the Tye River suspension bridge on my way up to camp. I made good time too – I arrived at Harper’s Creek to find Savage and McDoubles setting up in the shelter.

It was just after 5:00 when I set my pack down on the shelter floor. I was surprised there were no other hikers either in the shelter or tenting nearby. It was decided – this would be the second time I slept in a shelter (third if you count the abandoned Lindamood School).

I made a quick dinner and hung an amazing bear bag over Harper’s Creek before settling down to write.

* * *

Trail rumor calls for rain all day tomorrow with a high near 60. I should be just fine (probably uncomfortable though) hiking in that weather. Good news is I’ve got a change of dry socks and underwear.

I need to get an early start if I want to make it the 27 miles to Waynesboro. After a quick hitch into town, I can tent and shower at the YMCA for free – if I get into town early enough, I can go ahead and take care of my food resupply. I need a good four to five days to get me through the Shenandoahs and into either Luray or Front Royal, VA.

One benefit to sleeping in a shelter is that I can pack very quickly in the morning – no tent to mess with.

I’m looking forward to the Shenandoahs – I’ll more than likely get to see a bear for the first time. As the AT follows the Skyline Drive for a large section, I’ll get to stop at wayside grills and convenience stores from time to time.

Breakfast: 20 gram Powerbar protein bar (peanut butter flavored), third of a bag of dried tropical fruits, Sierra Mix Clif Bar

Snack: third of a bag of dried tropical fruits, one everything bagel, beef jerky, almonds

Lunch: almonds, beef flavored ramen with tuna and instant mashed potatoes, one everything bagel

Snack: the last of the dried tropical fruits, half of an everything bagel, beef jerky

Dinner: pad thai with tuna and a squirt of Savage’s Velveeta cheese, the other half of the everything bagel

Day 67 – Sunday, May 15: Damascus, VA to US 60 (Buena Vista, VA) to Hog Camp Gap, 6.3 miles, 812.4 total AT miles

.I woke up ready to go. I mean ready. Trail Days really took a lot out of me. Instead of relaxing as much as possible, I was constantly on the move for two days straight. I stretched out on my new inflatable sleeping pad and started packing up. 

The four of us were ready to go by 8:30am. We cleaned up our small camp and took the trash over to Tent City before heading over to the rental car. On the way, we ran into Push – she was also ready to go and waiting for her ride to pick her up.

She’s about a half-day ahead – we all planned to meet up sometime after reaching Waynesboro. And that was it – Trail Days was officially over for us. The four of us hopped in the car and Black Santa started driving north. I fell asleep in the front seat.

We stopped twice, once for gas (and a sandwich) and again in Roanoke to mail my winnings home (McDoubles also sent his new pack home). We arrived in Lexington, VA at noon and dropped off the rental.

I walked over to the Food Lion to buy a few snacks for the days ahead and eventually met Black Santa and Savage at a Pizza Hut (McDoubles chose to go to McDonalds). The three of us charged our phones and ate.

At 3:00pm, the four of us headed outside to hitch the 10 miles to Buena Vista. It took about 20 minutes, but we finally caught a ride. We were dropped off just outside of Buena Vista and immediately caught another ride to the trail head. We started hiking at 4:30pm.

We were all ready to be back on the trail – it felt like I was coming back from a vacation of sorts and ready to get back to my normal life (of hiking on mountains and sleeping in the woods).

The trail continued with the difficult little ascent of Bald Knob I started four days ago before hitching into Buena Vista. It was brutal – my legs were killing me. I could tell I hadn’t been hiking in a while. It took me two hours to climb the four miles to the summit. I stopped at the top and enjoyed a snack.

Savage had been hiking in the lead all day – she’s getting off trail for a few days next weekend and wants to get ahead of us before doing so (it’ll make it easier on her to catch up when she gets back). Black Santa and McDoubles were also ahead of me as well. I made the quick hike over to Cole Mountain all alone.

Cole Mountain is a bald – the first I’ve run across in quite a while. The weather was nice – maybe a little cool and breezy, but with nice blue skies. I slowed my pace and really enjoyed hiking through the tall grass.

I eventually made it down to Hog Camp Gap. I had been hiking well ever since summiting Bald Knob and felt like I wanted to press on. I walked down to the campsites and didn’t see Savage, Black Santa or McDoubles – they must have pushed further. It was already 7:00 and starting to get colder. I decided to stop there and set up. I didn’t want to get caught hiking in the dark with the temperature dropping like it was.

I quickly set up my tent and pre-hung my bear bag before cooking dinner. After dinner, I chatted with a small group of hikers by the campfire before returning to my tent.

* * *

Tomorrow, I’d like to put up some big miles. I’m 49 miles outside of Waynesboro and would like to arrive Wednesday morning for a quick resupply.

I like my new pack a lot – the Osprey AG is a lot more comfortable than my Gregory Z65. And I’m beginning to enjoy my tent. It’s a little heavier, but is a lot roomier. 

Right now, I’m wearing my Walmart sweatpants and my rain jacket over my hiking shorts and t-shirt – I’m typing all bundled up in my sleeping bag. The forecast calls for high winds and temps in the mid-30s when I wake up. I’m plenty warm now – I hope this new sleeping pad works out.

The next few days should be interesting. While the majority of hikers got off the trail for Trail Days, many didn’t. I didn’t recognize a single hiker on the trail or at camp today. I suppose I’ll have an opportunity to meet some new folks.

I’m really happy to be back on the AT.

Breakfast (Kroger): Ham and cheese sub

Lunch (Pizza Hut): one “giant slice” with pepperoni

Snack: Sierra Mix Clif Bar, one everything bagel, smoked almonds

Dinner: Mac and cheese with two tuna packets

Day 66 – Saturday, May 14: Damascus, VA, Trail Days, 806.1 total AT miles.

Note: I’m writing this from camp on Sunday night. And thanks to McDoubles for sending me his pics so I could use them here.

I woke feeling refreshed. A light rain had fallen and I was dry. It was pretty cold outside. I checked my phone – it was working fine, but the screen was a little foggy. I put on the awesome sweatpants and sweater combo I bought from Wal-mart and set off for the toilets.

I returned to camp and found Shaggy and Black Santa mulling around. I ate a lot of food yesterday – there was so much I couldn’t remember it all. It seemed like every couple hundred feet I’d run into someone cooking something.

I hoped today would be similar. We left camp heading in the opposite direction of Mellow Camp, crossed a few streams, and wound up in Riff-Raff, another hiker camp. These guys were great – they pretty much pulled us off trail to bring us over to their breakfast spread. I stuffed myself. We left with a parting gift – Riff-Raff wristbands (we’re Trail Days “Royalty” now).

After breakfast we wandered over to the gear vendors, hoping to enter more contests. I renewed my subscription to the ATC and bought some baked goods for a snack. Shaggy and I tagged our spots on a giant elevation profile posted for hikers by the folks from the AT Data Guide.

I was able to make a few calls when, on my way back to camp, my phone slipped out of my hands – and right into a small stream. I grabbed it quickly and turned it off just to be safe. It went back in the couscous.

Note: I really can’t believe I haven’t had worse luck with my phone – today was certainly an exception. Lots of hikers are on their second phones already. Black Santa just cracked his screen and will be on his third phone in one month.

I decided to head downtown. Leaving the vendor area, I turned north on the main street in town, once again following the AT. I was looking for Push and Savage – they were headed to the hiker parade. I made it to the staging area and wandered through the crowds of hikers looking for a familiar face.

The staging area was kind of neat. Different classes of hikers lined up under banners proclaiming the year they through hiked. I still couldn’t find anyone and decided to leave before the parade itself got started.

I started heading back to camp when I ran back into Shaggy. He had been at the library charging his phone. He told me he made a decision – there were too many Shaggy’s on the trail and he wanted a new name. I had been telling him he should be called “McDoubles” for a while now and was pleased to hear he wanted to start going by that.

As the two of us walked down the street, we noticed more and more people were lining the sidewalks. Police officers had starting blocking traffic for the parade – we took advantage of the clear streets and kept walking along.

Pretty soon, it became evident that the parade had started several blocks behind us – I could see flashing lights and could hear cheering. In a way, Shaggy and I ended up in the parade after all, just at the very, very front.

We turned off the road and headed over to the gear vendors once again. We ran into Black Santa – he was waiting near the Backpacker magazine raffle. It was the last raffle of the day and one of the best by far.

The three of us sat behind the tent with Champa and Get Wierd (apparently they’re tenting near us). The sales rep starting calling hiker names – he was giving away some awesome gear. He held up one of the grand prizes – a new Deuter pack stuffed full of free gear.

At first I was confused – he called “McDoubles” and Black Santa started screaming. Then it dawned on me – Shaggy, I mean McDoubles, just won! I was pretty happy for the guy.

The three of us started tearing through his pack when I heard the sales rep call out “Cool Dad” – I was the next winner. My prize wasn’t nearly as cool as McDouble’s, but it felt pretty good to win.

The three of us headed back to camp to check out our stuff. Earlier in the day, the sales rep from Gregory (that same guy I met on Max Patch) gave me a Gregory day pack. I had piles of stickers and small hiking stuff (carabiners, Chapstick). I played around with the water filter, titanium poop shovel, dehydrated meals, and pocket knife I won from the Backpacker drawing.

It was getting late and I was starting to get hungry. I walked over to the food vendors and bought a pound of pork and a sleeve of buns. I also grabbed a small pizza from a food truck and headed back to camp to eat.

After dinner, the three of us walked downtown with another small group of hikers tenting near us. We made our way to the pub and thoroughly enjoyed watching drunk hikers sing karaoke – it was well worth it.

We made our way back to camp to relax before tonight’s festivities got underway. I emerged from my tent to find Black Santa eager to explore. I told him all about getting lost last night and he assured me we’d stick together.

We wandered from camp to camp, hanging out at Riff-Raff and in Billville for a while. The owner of the Four Pines hostel had just gotten married and was having a huge party to celebrate.

There’s only so much Trail Days one can take. By 11:00 or so, the novelty had worn off – I was having fun for sure, but was getting a little tired from all the constant stimulation. I made my way back to camp and went to sleep.

Trail Days was overwhelming. I’m really thankful I went – I won a lot of free stuff. But it’s massive. I didn’t even visit half of the camps or have a chance to hang out with half of the people I wanted to. If I do return to represent the Class of 2016 or grill burgers for hikers, I’m definitely taking more than two days.

Breakfast: Blueberry pancakes stuffed with chopped ham

Snack: small loaf of banana nut bread

Lunch: grilled pork with homemade pickles

Dinner: one pound of barbecue pork, 2 buns, 8 inch pizza