14.2 miles, 950 overall (Gravel Springs Hut)
Happy Memorial Day, and a big thanks to all those who are serving or have served!
I wake later than usual, a side effect of being in a comfy bed. Christy and I have breakfast at the hotel’s continental offering. It is standard fare but I pack away a couple bowls of corn flakes, a bagel, and several danishes. Then I finish packing up and Christy returns me to the trail. I already know that with the late start I won’t get the 20 miles done that I had originally planned. Instead I aim for getting 15 miles in. That will keep me on pace to get to Harper’s Ferry in the next few days. I notice that I plan to arrive in Harper’s Ferry a few days ahead of what I had planned and wonder why I am so far off – something I’ll have to examine at a later date.
The trail today is once again boring. I can see why people both love and hate the Shenandoahs. On the one hand the trail is perfectly maintained, with even the grassy areas being cut back in some places. I have caught myself on more than one occasion cursing the tall grass and wondering why it isn’t cut back. I have to remind myself that it is a luxury to have the grass cut back and that the maintainers can’t possibly keep all 100+ miles of trail in the park cut back all the time. So with great trails we are able to make miles quickly. On the other hand the views are pretty pedestrian compared to what we have already seen, and each view tends to be incredibly similar to the last. The Shenendoahs definitely aren’t the place for beautiful vistas or, in some places, beautiful trail either.
The redeeming piece of today is the wayside that is perfectly timed to coincide with the hot part of the day. Elkwallow Wayside is about 9 miles into my hike and I plan to stop there to get my elusive blackberry milkshake. You’ll note that I have had an opportunity previously to purchase one on my marathon day but opted for beer instead. I will make no such mistake this time. I reach the wayside just after 1:00 and find a group of hikers there. Two of them are thru-hikers who I haven’t met before: Domino and Froth (I think). The others are section hikers from PA.
I enter the wayside and order a hot dog, fries, and a blackberry milkshake. Pretty soon I am outside stuffing my face. The milkshake is everything I hoped it could be and the hot dog is better than expected. While I eat I talk to the other hikers. I ask the ones from PA what I should be looking forward to in their state. Unfortunately rather than dispelling my worries they confirm them, telling me that there isn’t really anything to look forward to. PA, you’re officially on notice.
Just after this group of hikers leaves a section hiker names Matt arrives as well as Opie and Parmesan. I have finished my food but have gone back for a Sobe and a soda. I sit and talk to them while waiting for the heat to pass. It is busy at the wayside with all of the tourists out for the holiday weekend. We kill time until almost 4:00, watching the tourists and talking about random stuff. At that point we finally start the last 6 miles to the shelter.
The 6 miles go by quickly. I leapfrog Opie and Parmesan the whole way but I wind up arriving first. It is crowded. All of the tent sites are already taken. The shelter has space but I’m reluctant to take it. I look around briefly but the number of people makes it extremely unlikely I can find a suitable tent spot. I eventually settle on the shelter.
I don’t mean to harp on the difference between thru-hikers and non-thru-hikers too much, but it must be said that this group is particularly bad. There are several section hikers who hang out at the shelter and, for the most part, section hikers are good. They understand rules like not doing laundry or cleaning your dishes in the spring that people get their drinking water from. The other groups who are here tonight, not so much. The main culprits are a family-type group of about 10 and a group of Boy Scouts with Philmont 2012 tshirts on. I’m especially disappointed in the Boy Scouts who should know better and who also make tons of noise until almost 10:00.
Overall it was a good day. I had a great breakfast with my wife, didn’t have to do too many miles, and spent some good time with good people at a wayside. A good night’s sleep doesn’t seem likely, but we’ll see. At least tomorrow I’ll be leaving Shenandoah so there’s a chance there will be fewer people at the shelter tomorrow night on the Appalachian Trail.