Big Meadows to Skyland Resort and then Luray Va. 8 miles. This was another disappointing change of plans that in the end made sense. I ha d been told to take only 2 or3 days food into Shenandoah. The idea being that there were restaurants along the way to supplement and resupply opportunities at the campgrounds. The reality was the resupplies were limited and geared to car campers and not hikers. Also they were spaced approximately 20 miles apart. The restaurants usually weren’t in close proximity to the camp stores. Most of the hikers had 8 or 900 miles at this point. They were hiking 20-25 miles a day. It worked for them but not me. On top of that Big Meadows was closed except for the Lodge restaurant.
This put us in a quandary because after the Loft Mtn. store it was 60 miles before the next chance for a resupply and not a good one to say the least. After that you exit the Park and Front Royal Va. is 20 miles away. I was taking advantage of any cooked food I could get but had lost 3 maybe 4 inches off my waist. I hadn’t been able to weigh but could tell I was significantly thinner. My legs felt strong and I had high energy in the mornings but by late afternoon I bottomed out. I just wasn’t getting enough calories.
Today’s anticipated 14 mile hike would provide more views than any other day on the trip. Lunch was only 8 miles away at Skyland Resort. After an initial 500 ft. down and 600 ft. up we ridge walked up and down for 2.5 miles. Along the way there were views at Franklin Cliffs and Crescent Rock. Skyland Resort had an excellent if not cheap dining room. I loaded up with over 2000 calories. while eating, Jed had come up with a plan to shuttle into Luray and get a new pack. His shoulder strap broke a week ago and was causing back issues. Steak N Shake and I looked at the plan he had prepared for the last week of his section hike. I noted he planned for long miles on a couple of days. At least one day was 18 miles. He had only been on trail 3 weeks and I convinced him of an easier option. If we all went to Luray we could restructure his timeline more reasonably and still arrive in Harpers Ferry on schedule. We could get a needed resupply and a shower at the Luray Caverns Motel. In reality the resupply turned out not to be that good. Stopping for the night did help me though because I was beginning to wear down. Though I was hiking better, my foot injury had begun to involve my arch and the trail was getting much rockier the last few days. I wasn’t able to increase miles because of lack of energy throughout the afternoon even though my pace had picked up. I needed a rest and started to think of when that might be. Steak N Shake had made a proposal and I debated it in my mind. More on that later. The next day we shuttled back to Skyland Resort and started for Front Royal Virginia at 10:30. Front Royal is the northern boundary of Shenandoah Park. 37 miles away. Pass Mountain Hut was our first stop 11 miles away. There were at least 4 views along the way of the Shenandoah Valley. The weather was comparatively cool to what it had been. I had lunch at the Pinnacles picnic area. Tuna fish on a tortilla with cheese and mayo, chips and some energy bars plus a mix of nuts and raisins. Later I stopped at the Byrd’s Nest Hut for a break and snack. I’m trying to eat something every few hours. Afterwards 3 miles from Pass Mountain Hut I negotiated a really rocky section up to Mary’s Rock overlook. An impressive rock formation. Then it is steeply down 1200 feet to US 211 and Thornton Gap. Followed by a 500 foot climb to the Hut. What I have found is anytime you climb to the top of a mountain or ridge there is a reason why those areas are higher than the surrounding areas. They are made of rock! Inevitably the last up or down is going to be littered with rocks upon rocks. Not complaining just a fact. I have learned to not expect anything else. I keep moving forward, often dividing the climbs into shorter sections which helps my attitude because I can measure my progress. It helps to know that I’m half way there or just 200 feet more to climb. Once at the Hut I set up my tent and had dinner. I rested well though bears were seen and heard around camp that night. I slept through it. Must of been tired. A deer wandered into camp during breakfast.
Gravel Springs Shelter was 13.1 miles away. More picture opportunities and not so many rocks today. I had a good hike because I was able to eat a cheeseburger and chili fries for lunch and a blackberry shake at the Elkwallow Wayside I also had a mountain dew and candy bar. Those calories make the difference for me. I also got a few resupplies for the next day. After lunch I climbed a 1000 feet with relative ease. At the shelter there were reports of bear activity around the shelter. I decided to stay in the shelter.
Gravel Spring Shelter to Tom Floyd Shelter 10.5 miles. Had several steep climbs 750,550,600 but these climbs seem routine now. A storm was brewing so I double timed it to Tom Floyd Shelter. The skies grew darker and the winds picked up. When the temperature dropped I knew it wouldn’t be long. I arrived at the Shelter only to find a crew of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club replacing the roof and some rotten boards. They were mostly finished and said they would be out of there by 5:30. They too sensed the storm and were in hurry up mode. I pitched in and handed tools or held ladders. These volunteers bring in the materials by hand as well as carry out any boards, metal roofing, trash etc. My thanks to them for all they do. Finally the crew chief told everyone to get into the shelter as the storm was upon us for real. We gathered all the tools and moved to the back of the shelter. My hiking companions arrived just in time. The rain and wind was pretty bad. Trees were bending toward the ground and then snapping back to bend the other direction. Within 10 minutes a nearby tree top snapped and came crashing down almost hitting the new picnic table the guys had built the day before. Within 45 minutes it was over and worked proceeded for another hour. They left and we settled in for the night. several more hikers showed up and though I wanted to be one of the first to try out the newly remodeled Tom Floyd Shelter I decided to set up my tent before the good spaces were reserved. I sleep better in my tent and the chance of a storm seemed small so I vacated the shelter.
The next day would be a transition day. Steak N Shake’s car was at the 4H campground only 1.2 miles away. Jed was going into Front Royal to get a mail drop. He decided to spend a couple of zero days in town. Steak N Shake and myself needed food so we hiked to his car and he drove us to town where we had a good breakfast of eggs, pancakes, bacon and sausage with real coffee and orange juice. we then went to resupply before dropping Jed off at the Quality Inn. Steak N Shake and I then went back to the trail parked his car and headed out. I should mention something that happened earlier on the way to get the car. I was hiking light leaving camp that morning having no food except one pack of cocoa. I motored from the shelter ahead of everyone else. Soon I checked the APP on my phone which listed the 4H Center. It showed me near the Center but I saw no side trail. I thought maybe I had passed it so I backed up a little. In a minute a man and his niece Determined (Her trail name) was coming down the trail. They said my hiking companions had taken a side trail about .5 miles back. Sure enough about then I received a text from Jed wondering if I missed the turnoff. It was not marked and not on my APP. I had to hustle back uphill 300 ft. on a muggy morning. I was out of breath and hot but made it back in 15 minutes. Good thing I didn’t have any food in my pack.
I had been hiking with Jed for almost 200 miles. I will miss him and wish him good luck on the rest of his hike. Steak N Shake had grabbed a sandwich for lunch at the resupply store. I needed more than him and in the rush I forgot to get mine. Later Trail Magic would come to the rescue. After bringing the car back I had to repackage my food in the 4H parking lot. There was a camp for young students going on a hike and the Counselors asked if we would answer their questions about thru hiking. We gladly agreed and then they went on a short hike of their own. I finished packing my food while Shake ate his lunch. I wasn’t at all sure what I would eat but felt the need to get hiking first. We only had 5 miles to the next shelter and it started out down hill. The terrain was not very pretty and it was miserably hot. Thick vines were crowding close to the trail. You could tell we were passing through private lands. I could se a tall fence on both sides through the thick underbrush. Mosquitos swarmed around whenever you stopped. I hadn’t eaten yet when I came to a wide path of grass and at the end of it appeared to be a road with a parking lot. I saw what I thought was a picnic area and decided that’s where I would stop for lunch. When I got closer I realized someone was giving out Trail Magic. Another hiker from last year had set up a grill and had cold drinks in a cooler. His house was actually on the other side of the brush I had been walking through and he had cut a path out so he could give hikers lunch as they passed by. I had two hot dogs, two Mountain Dew’s and a bag of chips. Thanks to Flip for the kindness! It changed my attitude and restored my energy for the day. I crossed US 522 and climbed 850 rocky ft. before another rocky steep downhill. On the way down my knee locked up and I almost hyper extended it as I stumbled forward to the Jim and Molly Denton Shelter. This was a special shelter. It had a solar shelter, horse shoes, Adirondack 3 person bench/chair, a covered deck and a pavilion over a large picnic table. Later General Lee arrived as would Galileo, Unicef, and Hercules(2014 thru hiker) bringing more Trail Magic! I immediately took a shower and set up my tent. It had ben a good day but the rocks had once again destroyed my feet. Now both seem to have the same issue. At times they seem ok but never better and slowly they seem to get worse. Sadly I have to weigh all my options. I thought about my goals for this journey, my health, what I missed back at home. I knew I needed time off but wasn’t sure how long. I have to figure out how to carry enough calories. I was hiking better but for how long? I also had been scheduled for dental surgery before I left. I had planned to go back 200 miles ago but put it off. That wouldn’t wait much longer. I’ve decided to suspend the hike for the summer months and during the time off answer these questions and come up with a plan for the rest of this year and then finish next year. More on that in the next post. I will go on to Harpers Ferry and Steak N Shake will drop me off in Roanoke on his way home to Savannah. My friend Paul lives there. At that point I will rent a car to Chattanooga and regroup, rest, rehab, take care of the dental issue, but most of all reflect on what I learned and hopefully a strategy to make this work. I still want to see each of the states. I’ll be a section hiker but I don’t have much time so they will have to be long sections. Hopefully I can complete this next year. It’s 50 miles to Harpers Ferry West Virginia. That is the home of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy. I’ll stop by there and tell them of my plans. Maybe they will have some ideas. I’m disappointed but not quitting or giving up. The journey will continue… Stay tuned for the finish of this part and news of my plan!