AT Week 12-13 _ Northern Virginia

You will have to excuse me for the long pause in updating this AT blog.

“This spot will do.”
Shenandoah River in the morning sun.

Waking up dazed and confused after a monumental day, I slowly gathered myself together and lumbered the two miles back into Harper’s Ferry for a much needed Zero (minus all the walking of course). Checked in and showered up, I headed towards the ATC headquarters to get my obligatory ‘half-way’ photo taken. While there, I perused the selection of maps, and checked out the sparsely adorned museum, which was under repairs during my visit.

#127 for SOBO’s in 2021. So much for a late start.
It looks so much easier on the map.

Walking through town afterward, having missed my usual Second Breakfast, I stopped by a local bakery that was listed on the map. Lights were on and shelves stocked, but the door was locked at Bolivar Breads. Hungrily eyeing the loaves, I dialed and the owner answered. I explained how I was passing thru to Georgia and longed for nothing more than fresh bread. Katie, the owner, welcomed me in saying how the new shop was due to open the following day but she graciously gifted me two beautiful loaves and a quart of fresh butter. Yes please and thank you.

No crusts left behind.
Sun rays and cliff edges. What’s not to love?

Ready to see what Northern Virginia had to offer, I left town the next morning and restarted my southbound journey. Still feeling the beating from Pennsylvania and the more recent Four State Challenge, my swollen feet slowly acclimated to my trail runners while weaving back and forth over the many switchbacks now forming the trail.

Now that is a switchback!
Only 1000 more…

One day I was passing the 1000 mile remaining sign and the next I arrived in the magnificent Shenandoah National Park(SNP). It was a Sunday evening when I setup camp beneath a massive tree. I had found a barely trickling stream nearby which was my only water source for miles. Thirsty and tired, I remembered a technique taught to me by Poet back at the Shaw’s Hostel. Using a small tent repair tube held down with rocks I was able to collect and filter enough water for dinner and breakfast.

Similar but different. Think smaller.
Walking towards the sun.

Overnight an incredible wind storm blew through. Autumn hadn’t taken full hold in this area leaving the majority of leaves attached to their limbs. Extraordinary sound was produced by the flutter and dancing of the deciduous canopy. I awoke thinking a jet plane was preparing for take-off and in an instant the chaos would cease like crashing waves.

Stay rooted.
So fresh and so clean, clean.
I figured Tarzan would be close by.

Intending to capture this for the future, I started a recording on my phone…closed my eyes and waited. I opened my eyes, looked at the screen, shockingly realized the sound had lulled me to sleep, and that I now had a 38 minute and 24 second voice memo of wind noises from October 25, 2021 at 4:18 am. Science!

The signage in SNP..a little hard to read sometimes.
Golden hour, all day.

Although the Shenandoah is a hugely popular tourist spot, the time of year I arrived, and getting there during a workweek, meant I had the park basically to myself. The season also created a constantly morphing colorscape that brightened every vista and view. Trails throughout the park are wide, well groomed, and free of many tripping hazards, allowing visitors plenty of opportunities to look around at the glorious wilderness and soak in the beauty.

Hey buddy.
I could almost pet them.

Solitude in one of the busiest national parks during autumn was a dream come true. Most days I would encounter more deer than people while spending hours alone exploring the “backcountry”. One morning after packing up, I noticed a family of deer, mother and two fawns, grazing a few feet away. They weren’t startled by my motion or presence and I felt a kinship with my wild brethren.

Which way to go.?
End of day reflecting.

The foliage is pretty but goes hand-in-hand with colder temperatures and less daylight. My warmer gear was back home and needed to be in Virginia, so I made plans for my next resupply to include more layers, gloves, and a jacket. All things that were sorely needed a week earlier as the weather shifted starkly cooler during my trek through SNP.

Head in the clouds. Feet solidly planted.
Dang it! Now what? I’m hungry.
Slippery when wet.

To avoid the chilly blowing fog, I dunked into one of the many trail/roadside stores, known as waysides, and happened to bump into a couple of friendly Mainers. Stan and Lou-Anne from Damariscotta were most gracious and made me hot coffee in their RV. We chatted for about an hour as I ate my lunch and answered all their thru-hiking questions while I dried and warmed my clothes in the wayside’s coin-op laundry room. We said our goodbyes and I was back on the trail all “carbed up” on sodas and snacks, thanks to my home state trail angels.

Feeling these colours looking over Three Ridges Wilderness
Let it all hang out.
This was a good day.

Fall happening in front of my eyes kept the excitement high and helped to fend off the dreaded ‘Virginia Blues’. The Appalachian Trail spans well over 500 miles in the state and the lack of border crossing milestones makes this section feel endless for weary hikers. Thankfully, there is something about dying leaves that is absolutely beautiful and gets me gears turning. Call me weird.

Sun’s a blazin. Leafing me speechless.
Leave no trace_Only
embrace this wonderous place.
Silhouette in space.
These are lemon trees right?
Mother nature’s palette on full display.
Free wet water. Get your wet water here!

Halloween came and went with little to no tricks but the spirit elevating treat of having some of my writing featured on Hyperlite Mountain Gear’s blog. I encourage you to take a look. No Room For Elephants was my story to the world describing aspects of life that have driven me to hiking. Writing a little each day on my cell phone, often early in the morning, laying in my tent, I tried to piece together how my past is helping the shape the course of my future.

Not candy. “Don’t eat the spider.”
Oh boy! Did we have a good laugh or what?
Groot on Halloween. What are the odds?
Old pancakes anyone?

Long days can become monotonous but music or podcasts were my choice for zoning out during less inspiring sections of the trail. Fittingly, the Green Tunnel podcast was a favorite of mine. It was brand new in 2021 and featured episodes that illuminated and informed my travels. I actually camped at the Brown Mountain Creek shelter and stopped by Ottie Powell’s memorial, both sites are mentioned in Episode 2 (Super excited to announce I was selected in spring 2022 to be an ambassador for the podcast!) You should check it out as well.

Camping next to the Brown Mountain Creek shelter.
Toys left for the lost boy. Ottie Cline Powell

Soaked to the bone and shivering, I couldn’t have been happier to hear the endearing New England accent of Charlie, the caretaker of Stanimals in Glasgow, as he arrived to shuttle me to the hostel. I shared a bunkroom in the quaint ranch turned boarding house with a friendly traveler Chris and a literal water closet. We made a gentleman’s agreement that neither one of us were to use said closet. We both kept our word.

An actual WATER CLOSET
Well when you put it that way.

Two other SOBOs staying at Stanimals, Bluebs and Tadpole, joined me for the $6 all-you-can-eat spaghetti in town(not worth it). Unsatisfied, we then hit the Five Dollar General for glutinous trail rations, and all later gathered around freshly baked brownies à la mode back at the hostel, courtesy of Charlie.

Thank you Charlie. I felt right at home.
Longest foot bridge crossing the James River. Undercast in the distance.
James River Valley filled by undercast on a cold morning.

The temperature dropped over night and thick undercast filled the low valley near the James River the following morning. Charlie’s fresh blueberry pancakes fueled me up the 6000 feet of climbing. I was glad to have received my warmer gear back in Glasgow, as later that day, I got my first glimpse of frost and icicles on trail just before barely surviving the spectacular Guillotine.

Organic, gluten free, grass-fed, ice pops.
It’s about to get chilly down here.
Don’t want to be under that when it decides to fall. The Guillotine.

Northern Virginia is an imaginary concept since the state is unified and contiguous without a dividing line but a guillotine seems like a good place to wrap up this section… So. Cut!

See you back here real soon.

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