The holiday multiplication

May 26

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.

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Categories: VA | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “The holiday multiplication

  1. Kory

    My fiancee and I did an overnight in northern SNP to Gravel Springs huts Sunday night. Saw your poem in the trail book. Here’s my question for you– we hit a vista spot on Mt Marshall and took a good 30min break to enjoy it. While there at least 2 thru-hikers blasted past, said hi, but didn’t even think about taking it in. It made me realize something I came to experience on my own college-Eurail trip… after a while, you’ve seen it all before. For somebody not used to SNP (we day-hike the Maryland AT almost exclusively), the AT in SNP is like the Disneyland of trail. I’m sure in Georgia you were like us- stopping at every bald, taking pictures of every millipede, marveling any time you saw flowing water. But after a while you are saturated. Okay, here’s the quesiton– at this point, seasoned and professional hiker, what things do you do, see, etc that is impressive enough to make you stop and say “wow”. What on the trail is still capable of impressing you?

    • Excellent question Kory. I think I’ve already addressed this a little bit – the views in Shenandoah are definitely not as good as in the south. This was interesting to me because I had always considered the Shenandoah to be so beautiful but looking at it from a thru-hiker lens rather than a weekend hiker lens it simply doesn’t compare to what I’ve seen in the last 2 months, especially with the haze that was there over the weekend.

      As for what makes us stop to say “wow,” I asked Mouse for some input and I think we came to a similar conclusion. We are impressed by things we haven’t seen before. The fawn I saw laying in the middle of the trail. New wildlife that we haven’t seen yet (e.g. bears). Views of mountains more impressive or somehow different than those we’ve already seen. Perhaps as we move up the trail the things that become more important to us are special moments with friends. That might be why so many people say that their best memories on the AT are of other hikers – because when the views become monotonous and we’ve seen all the wildlife and vegetation it is the people that provide something new and refreshing each day. So while we may pass by a few views now and then I don’t think it is because we are ignoring them but rather it is more of a prioritization of what we consider a “wow.”

  2. I like Kory’s question! I hike about once a week, all over Virginia, but I never get tired of the views in Shenandoah – even the ones from the AT! I’m also curious about what it takes to impress a thru-hiker at this point in their hike.

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