Day 71 – Thursday, May 19: Waynesboro, VA to Blackrock Hut, 20.7 miles, 882.0 total AT miles.

I woke up at 6:00 and started silently packing up – I didn’t want to disturb the other hikers sleeping in the Grace Lutheran Church hostel. I went upstairs to use the restroom and grab a cup of coffee. Other hikers were mulling around in the lounge, planning out their entrances into Shenandoah National Park.

I was excited. Shenandoah is like the Smokeys for me – yet another awesome park that I’d read about for years before attempting this hike.

I went back downstairs to finish packing and put away my cot. The four of us left a donation, thanked the caretakers and walked outside at 7:30. While we were still standing in the church parking lot, an SUV pulled up and the driver asked if we needed a ride to the trailhead. Couldn’t be easier!

The four of us hopped in and we took off for Rockfish Gap. Waynesboro turned out to be one of the nicest little towns on the trail. Folks here go out of their way to help hikers – and the hostel at Grace Lutheran really shouldn’t be missed.

I jumped out of the SUV and grabbed my pack. I backtracked a little ways to make up for the small section of road and parking lot that I just missed while in the SUV. I made my way to the entrance of the Shenandoahs and registered. I finally started climbing at 9:30.

The park itself is beautiful – a drastic departure from forests we were just hiking in. The trails are well-graded and rarely reach 3,000 feet in elevation. The forests are much more dense, with a greater number of large, old trees than I’ve seen in quite a while. A dense fog settled in as I hiked towards Bears Den Mountain.

As I approached the summit, I started paying attention to two things. First, my pack was very heavy. I was carrying six days of food – heavy food at that. I’ve taken a liking to canned chicken – at ten ounces a pop, they add up pretty fast.

Second, my feet were starting to hurt. I had thoroughly broken in those Merrill trail runners when they split on the sides. These new Merrill’s are more like a lightweight boot than a trail runner – they’ll take some time getting used to.

The fog remained thick as I summited – I ran across a series of radio towers at the top.

I admittedly wasn’t making great time – just a little over two miles per hour. I bypassed the Calf Mountain Shelter and headed for the next available open spot to eat lunch – it was just after noon and I had covered seven miles on the day.

Shenandoah is unique in that the forest is so thick, there are few places to stealth camp – and the only option to spread out and have lunch seems to be at road crossings. But they’re not uncommon here. The AT crosses Skyline Drive over 20 times while traversing the Shenandoahs.

I found Savage, Black Santa and McDoubles having lunch on a gravel road about 9 miles away from Rockfish Gap. They were actually finishing up as I arrived. Savage and McDoubles took off ahead while Black Santa relaxed as I ate. It was 1:30 by the time we started making the 11 mile hike towards Blackrock Hut – our intended campsite for the evening.

Black Santa took the lead as we headed up an unnamed 1,000 foot ascent. I need to learn not to get fooled by the seemingly gentle elevation profiles in the AT Guide and on the app. The trail here is rocky in parts and the gains, while short (maybe 300 to 500 feet at a time), are frequent.

After a short break five miles from camp, we really took off. It was 4:30 and, having finished our ascents for the day, we took advantage of the easy grade and hauled. I met McDoubles at the entrance to Blackrock Hut at 6:30.

Undecided as to whether he was going to stay, I made my way to the shelter to make camp. I had already set up my tent when Savage and Black Santa walked over from the shelter. They had every intention of moving on – miscommunication on all fronts. I was tired and hungry and decided to stay.

After a quick dinner, I settled down and started writing.

* * *

There’s 88 miles left in the Shenandoahs. I plan on being in Front Royal, VA Monday night or Tuesday morning.

My back and shoulders are very sore today. While my new pack is very comfortable, it’s gonna take some time getting used to (like my new boots).

Tomorrow looks to be a cool day. I’ll have an opportunity to shower at the Loft Mtn Store, just seven miles from here. Two miles ahead of that is the Loft Mtn Wayside, the first of many roadside grills that dot Skyline Drive and the AT. I’ll finish the day tenting near Hightop Hut, 20-plus miles north of here.

A hut is the same thing as a shelter – it’s just what they call them up here.

Push has seen four bears in the two days she’s been hiking in the park. She’s about 20 miles ahead – some people have all the luck.

There’s this bird screaming in the tree above me right now. Another hiker a few tents over just screamed at it to shut up.

The tattoo is doing just fine.

And I finally have decent cell service – it hasn’t been this good since north GA. I hope it sticks around.

Breakfast: 20 gram strawberry yogurt protein bar, orange juice, coffee

Snack: 20 gram mint chocolate protein bar, one Little Debbie Oatmeal Creme Pie, 4 fun size Almond Snickers, one small sleeve of PB crackers, almonds

Lunch: Bag of Oberto Buffalo Chicken jerky, one tortilla, one LD Oatmeal CP, one mini banana Moon Pie, almonds

Snack: one LD Oatmeal CP, one banana MP

Dinner: Alfredo Pasta Side with a can of chicken and instant mashed potatoes, one LD Oatmeal CP, one tortilla, almonds