May 22. My first day back on the trail on my own at my own pace. After 4 nights staying in town and 3 relaxing hiking days I was worried that my trail legs had suffered. I spent the night in my tent despite the forecast of rain, but in the morning I was mostly dry. I was up shortly after 6 and on the trail before 7 AM. I hiked 8 miles to the next shelter by 9:30 and spent some time talking with a nice couple doing a day hike. I pushed on and had lunch in a picnic area and changed out of my wet socks. I made it to the Lewis Campground Store by early afternoon and bought food to resupply for a few days. While I shopped I laid my tent out in the grass to dry. I also picked up a great IPA and enjoyed it with my second lunch, a honey bun. The next shelter was within a mile, and the following shelter was 11.5 miles further. I wasn't worried about the distance, but the weather report called for nasty storms in the afternoon and all night...could I make it there in time? I decided to try and started pushing hard. I heard the thunder rolling in as I passed Big Meadows Lodge and considered getting a room for the night but I pressed on. The last 3 miles I walked/ran to get to the shelter before the rain and I made it by 7:30 PM, a total of 32+ miles for the day! With the threat of a storm I slept in the shelter and as the sun went down I could see a fire red sunset from the upper bunk of the hut along with the flashing lightening above. I was happy to be dry!
May 23. Woke up dry in the shelter, and the mice didn't even bother me. As I packed my bag one mouse did run behind it. I planned to hike 29 miles today but a few miles in I joined a group of hikers at the Skyland Resort for a big pancake breakfast. The thunderstorms were rolling in and I readjusted my schedule so I stayed for awhile and filled out post cards and made phone calls before I got back on the trail. Just as the rain started pouring down another hiker came running in for shelter and lunch so I stayed for lunch as well. When it was all said and done and I was ready to hit the trail it was 2 PM. A nice long break! Now the plan was to hike another 10 miles before the rain started back up. I took off and started pounding out the miles. At one point I caught up with a few other hikers standing very quietly beside the trail. There was a tiny fawn just a foot or so off the trail, frozen in place. They said they had rounded to corner to see the mother and baby deer and the doe tried to get her new Bambi to follow her but it stayed still, frozen in the "you can't see me" pose. I was the 3rd hiker to arrive and it still didn't move. We all walked on after taking pictures to let the mother come back to it.
From there we had a tough rocky downhill to conquer before hiking back up out of the gap to make it to the shelter before it started raining. I pushed hard and even did some trail running to make a faster pace. It was a tough stretch and as I ran uphill to the shelter the rain sprinkles started falling. For the second day in a row I was lucky and made into the shelter before the rain really started falling!
On a side note; I smell bad. I mean really bad. Several days of tough hiking, humid air, rain, and sweat...it is really bad. I think my backpack is the worst...the straps and back pad are on me all day, everyday and never get washed. I take that back, my socks are worse...but they at least get washed. I am looking forward to a shower and laundry!
Another side note: I will find more toilet paper soon...I have been going to the bathroom a lot lately. I'm not sure if it is because I stopped treating my water or because I am pushing harder and hiking bigger miles, but the last thing I want to do is run out of toilet paper!
May 24. Woke up dry in the shelter, success! I did see one mouse scurry around the roof line of the shelter as I packed my gear. I was on the trail shortly after 7 AM and hiked hard to the next wayside. I arrived at 9 AM, just as they opened. I got a great egg sandwich and coffee and planned my food resupply. I did my grocery shopping and packed my bag. It was almost 2 hours at the wayside and before leaving I made sure to "borrow" a little more toilet paper from the wayside bathroom. I hiked on with another hiker, Biscuits, we needed to do 15 miles to make it to the Front Royal Terrapin Hostel. We made it there around 4 PM, and for the 3rd day in a row my luck got me inside just before it started raining! I got a shower, threw my clothes in the washer, and opened my mail drops. I got my 3 ounce wind pants, a silk long sleeve shirt and long pants for sleeping, and a package of food from my mom. We headed into Front Royal for dinner at a pub and our team won the weekly trivia competition! A couple of section hikers even picked up my meal tab for me! I enjoyed hanging out with everyone and had a fun evening.
May 25. We all woke up at the hostel around 6 AM. Once people start moving around there it is hard to sleep any longer! I packed my bag and hit the trail with Biscuits, we had plans to hike 28 miles today, 25 tomorrow, and then 4 miles into Harpers Ferry on Sunday. As we hit the trail I realized how much food my mom had shipped me. I had already purchased a full supply of food the day before to get me 3 days into town. I took what my mom sent and added it to the food bag, and my pack felt pretty heavy! Before leaving the hostel we checked our weights...my backpack with 3 or so days of food and some water weighed 30 pounds! Yes! Sort of... This was a great weight compared to my 48 pound pack back in Georgia, but in the Shenandoah Park I had been keeping my food weight so low that 30 pounds felt like a ton! We started out and as the clouds cleared the day turned into a hot muggy mess. It rained so hard the night before that the trail was a mud puddle making forward progress very difficult. The heat was close to unbearable when added to the hill climbs. I was having a tough day! Early on I came across some trail magic, sweet tea and cookies! Later I hiked with a guy who was out on a day hike testing gear for a thru-hike next year. I also started seeing a lot of weekend hikers...holiday weekend coming up! Around lunch I caught back up with Biscuits and realized I was making great time! I tried Ramen Noodles in my water bottle for the first time and that didn't work so well. Yesterday I did the Cup Of Noodles and it was perfect so my next resupply will be back to those, and couscous of course! In a state park we hit some grassy areas on the top of the mountain. They looked like they had been mowed and I was thinking "I wonder who gets the mowing job at the top of the mountain" when I rounded a corner to see a bright orange tractor mowing the grass. The commotion must have shook up the wildlife and right in front of me on the trail I watched a 5 foot long black snake make its way to the tall grass. Later I approached a 4 lane highway and before I crossed the road, Frogger style so I didn't get hit, I crossed an old stone wall that looked like it had been there for ages. It was an interesting mix of the new and the old American eras. The forest today was the most dense and think I have seen it. I cannot even imagine what it would have been like to forge through it with no trails. Around 6 PM I finally rolled into camp, set up my tent for the first time in several days, had dinner, and hit the sack. It was a tough day...the heat, the hills, my pack weight and body, I was happy to be done and looking for a better day tomorrow! Only thing is...we kick off the day tomorrow with the "Roller Coaster". 14 miles of all ups and downs...