Oh, Shenandoah!

For the past several weeks we have done far more traveling on highways than on the AT, which quite honestly is terrifying after having traveled at an average speed of 2.5 miles per hour for the last four months. Riding in a car moving at 70 mph feels like traveling at the speed of light in comparison!
My family picked us up from Boiling Springs, PA in the last week of July for us to accompany them on their summer vacation- a vacation from our vacation, how lucky are we?? We went to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, and then to Deal Island, Maryland, where we rented a house for the week and toured the small beach towns of the Chesapeake Bay. In the span of a day, the three musketeers found themselves plucked from the seclusion of the forest and suddenly facing the enormity of the ocean. What a world we live in, eh?  


Rehoboth Beach


Playing bocce ball at Dogfish Head Brewery


We rode home, crossing the border into Ohio for the first time in months. We visited with friends and family for a few days, until “visiting” and “resting our bodies” turned into settling back into our old routine of watching Netflix while slowly melting into the couch, and we came to the conclusion that we’d better get out of there before we got too settled in. So we loaded up my car and headed back down to Virginia, planning to complete the remaining 250 miles between Glasgow and Harper’s Ferry by slack packing.
Slack packing seemed like such an easy idea before we actually tried it. Our plan was to decide on a section for each day, then Shane and I would drop Travis off at the northern end, leaving him heading south. Shane and I would then drive to the southern end, park the car and hike north, meeting Travis halfway and handing over the keys. Travis would end at the car and drive back to the northern end to meet us at the end of the day, then we would find a camping spot nearby the road and start again in the morning on the next section north. 

This seemed like a great idea until we drove for over an hour on gravel roads to get to the first drop off point. It hadn’t occurred to us that, while the trail takes shorter miles up and over mountains, roads meander around them, often taking us for miles on single-lane forestry service roads carved into steep hills, without guardrails or road signs. We wasted hours just getting to the starting point on the first day, and to add insult to injury, Travis ended up hiking in the wrong direction when we dropped him off! Shane and I tried to call and text him to turn around, but there was no service in the mountains. We waited for him at the next road crossing, which was four miles away by trail and over thirty miles by road. By the time he realized the mistake, he had gone three miles in the wrong direction, then had to turn around and repeat the same three miles before continuing on in the right direction. We quickly realized that slack packing in this method was far more complicated than we had imagined.

Another unforseen problem: this road just ended abruptly into the woods, right after the GPS said “Continue for two miles!”

We decided to move north to Shenandoah National Park, which has about a hundred miles of the AT, and only one main road throughout the park. Skyline Drive runs north to south, parallel to the trail and crossing it every few miles, which makes it easy to navigate both on foot and by car. Slack packing here was a breeze! 

In between days of hiking, we visited a few places of interest along the way… We’re considering renaming this adventure The Great Appalachian Trail/ Brewery/ Mini-golf Tour of 2015.


A beer flight at Seven Arrows Brewing Company in Waynesboro, Virginia


Just when we were starting to get the hang of slack packing, it was time to head home again briefly, to work on our favorite food truck, Steamroller Bagel Sandwiches, for the Columbus Food Truck Festival. We were so busy over the weekend that we didn’t even have time to take any pictures of us working (or eating lots of sandwiches)!

We also stopped in Pittsburgh on the way home to bid farewell to my college roommate and friend Alice, who is currently on her way to start her own adventure in Madagascar!

More putt-putting, this time with Alice and Steve!

After much running around, we returned to finish Shenandoah. We experienced both sunny and foggy days here, which are characteristic of the mountains. We got our fill of beautiful vistas, and even saw a few more bears. Our closest sighting was actually in the car, when a small bear stood in the middle of the road and refused to let us pass!


The views in Shenandoah speak for themselves!


As we near September, we see fewer and fewer hikers, especially ones who are backpacking. Shenandoah has a few day hikers left who are finishing up their summer vacations before kids have to go back to school, but otherwise the trail is pretty lonely these days. As the days go on, the trail changes completely in the wake of disappearing visitors. It’s quieter, with more time alone and not as many friendly hellos and how-are-you’s throughout the day, which can be serene in certain ways. One of the ways it’s not so great is that there’s no one to clear the spider webs out of the way in the mornings! When we are the first people on the trail, we take turns walking in the lead so that no one has to endure walking face-first into webs suspended across the path all day! By the end of the day everyone is frantically grasping at their hair and arms, feeling like the invisible strands will never go away.


Trail Foe: Face Spiders


Hiker 101: Foggy days make webs easier to navigate because the dew clings to them, making them more visible before you plunge into them head-first. If it’s not foggy, simply swing your arms/ trekking poles in front of you like a crazy person in hopes of knocking them down.


Trail Friend: a velvet-antlered young buck, maybe ten feet from me on the trail


As the hot summer days are quickly fading into chilly nights foreshadowing fall, our trip is also waning. September has come upon us so quickly! It seems like only yesterday we were in Georgia, being novice hikers and learning the ropes of backpacking. Now here we are, a thousand miles wiser and looking toward our final week of the trail. We wanted to reach 1,500 miles, but we’ve run out of time and money for this year, so we’re settling for half of the trail instead and will be concluding our trip in Harper’s Ferry sometime next week. It’s disappointing to fall short of our goal mileage, but I keep telling myself that we’ve still made an accomplishment by coming this far. I look forward to pondering the many up and downs of these last five months as we wind down this week, and I’ll write one more post upon our conclusion. It’s been a great adventure, and it’s not over yet!