Saturday Sept 25th, 2021, 0625-1810 Rod Hollow Shelter to Shenandoah NP, SOBO AT mm 1227.7
7000 gain, 5220 loss
The coyotes were howling overnight. They have such a wide variety of sounds… these ones really could imitate wolves. It was kind of creepy. I slept fitfully too, tossing and turning a lot. I woke up with a migraine, probably because I smacked my head hard on the upstairs bunk while going to the bathroom in the middle of the night. But I didn’t let any of these factors stop me from pulling a big day. My goal was to get to Shenandoah National Park by the end.
What a delightful trail it was most of the day. Things started off a bit rough, overgrown and with several large blowdowns. But once I crossed Ashby gap to enter Sky Meadows State Park, the tread became really smooth. As hinted to in the name, there were a number of meadows to pass through, all filled with wildflowers. This was especially lovely early in the morning, with the sun just coming up to shine on all the dew. I love walking through meadows… but they dew get my feet wet.
The tread stayed flat and soft almost the entire day, giving my feet a break from the rocks. Another great thing about these southern parts is that most of the climbs and descents have switchbacks. I barely noticed the effort I put in to gain 7000 feet through the whole day. In Maine and the Whites, these kind of numbers were a killer. Here I can just steamroll the climbs in one steady gear.
Today was one of those days where I just really felt on my game. My energy was high, I felt supper fit, and I was on a roll. I made 17 miles by lunch. I stopped at an amazing shelter that had Adirondack chairs, a horseshoe pit and an outdoor shower filled by the spring. It was named the Jim &Molly Denton shelter. I just can’t get over how nice the shelters have all been lately. This one was clearly loved and looked after on a regular basis.
I shared the space with a nice family that were out for a day hike, complete with a baby and doodle. I’ve been enjoying pettings from all the doodles (a cross between a poodle and some other breed, usually a lab or golden retriever) I’ve met on trail… everyone has one now and they are all so sweet. I also scored a bunch of cliff bars that I found at a road crossing…a box of trail magic full of them. I’m not a fan of cliff bars but it’s hard to resist free food. Plus, this replenished my bar supply for the next couple of days. Thanks mysterious trail angel!
The end of the day brought a big climb into long-awaited Shenandoah National Park (SNP). The trail went up almost 2000′ over 6 miles, but the grades were pretty easy. With the cool weather, walking uphill felt even easier. I barely sweated all day. I passed by a shelter at 26 miles…probably would have been a good stopping point but I figured it would be crowded on a weekend. Plus, it was on the very outskirts of the park and I wanted to at least make it inside the park. I stopped at a kiosk to fill out my NPS backcountry permit at the border. Just like that, I was official. I always play by the rules (wink).
I walked for another few miles and even took a side trail to a lookout on Compton peak. It was well worth the effort, as the valley and sky were beautiful. I would have liked to stay for sunset but needed to find some water and a campsite. A few guys were hammocking at a trail junction and warned me about a weird guy that was camping near the closest water source. They had also wanted to camp there but said the weird guy asked them to leave. I couldn’t help but notice the whisky bottles lined up next to them and wondered to myself that I might have felt the same way, just wanting some peace and quiet. Weird guy sounded like my kind of guy.
I proceeded down trail, passing the campsite to first collect some water. The guy was laying in a hammock, thennhis tent by the time I came back. He asked if I was looking for a site and when I said yes, he said I was welcome. Of course a single female hiker is going to be welcomed by a guy….duh. I tried to put him at ease by saying I was going to make a quick dinner then go to bed…my SOP for every day, especially a really long one. He came out to chat while I set up and seemed very nice, if a little socially awkward. I wish the other guys hadn’t said anything because I like to form my own opinions of people. Still, after listening to a podcast called National Parks After Dark, all about murders and other deaths in National Parks, I’ve been a little leary of single guys. The first episode was about 2 women who were murdered while backpacking in SNP in the 90s. A suspect in the case also tried to abduct a female cyclist riding on Skyline drive. The murder case still has not been solved.
I know, it’s not a great podcast to listen to right now but it also doesn’t hurt to be more cautious of some people, especially when others warn you about them. Everything turned out fine as we both retreated to our tents early for bed. I did wake up around 10 pm when I heard someone walk by, coming from the trail into camp. I thought it was a newly arrived hiker because it sounded like they were unpacking and setting up their tent. But it was just the same guy, putting his rain fly on. Not sure why he was coming from the trail though…planning his escape route? I went back to sleep anyway…walking 30 miles a day will do that to you.