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.


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