24.1 miles, 974.1 overall (Manassas Gap Shelter)
My suspicions about the quality of my sleep are sadly confirmed. Throughout the night I wake constantly. Something about the shelter floors just doesn’t let me sleep well. Compounding the problem is the fact that I can hear the mice scurrying and squeaking around the shelter all night. In the morning I am grouchy and apologize in advance to the other hikers.
Due to my restlessness and the early starts of the section hikers I do get out at a reasonable time. By 7:00 I am hitting the trail, heading north. On the way out I notice that the large family group has coolers in their campsite. I first wonder if they bear-bagged their food (I’m guessing no) and second wonder how they hiked a cooler in. I get an answer to the second question when I pass a parking lot where I notice some of the people from the family-type group. This lot is only about a half mile from the shelter, which explains how they got the coolers in. I realize that either these people couldn’t get reservations at one of the Shenandoah campgrounds because they are all full for the holiday weekend or they wanted to camp for free so they decided to park here and camp at the shelter. This really bothers me since it is a blatant misuse of a backcountry shelter area and I consider calling a ranger to come check for backcountry permits which I’m sure they don’t have. I decide against it but plan to let a ranger know if I see one.
I don’t see a ranger though and after a couple hours of hiking and a short snack break I am out of the park. Just outside the park is a sign for Tom Floyd Wayside. I get somewhat excited thinking perhaps there is a wayside that the data book has missed. It lists a Tom Floyd shelter, but nothing about a wayside. It turns out they both refer to the shelter. I curse the misleading sign for making me think about blackberry milkshakes. It does make me think about food for a while though and I decide that it might be fun to eat a whole pan of Cinnabons next time in home, just because I can.
The shelter has a spring so I go to get water. This puts me in a worse mood. The spring is way down the hill and it turns out it is the same one I could have gotten to by hiking a bit further on the AT. To make it worse, it is hard to pull water from this spring and I’m only able to get about a liter. I return to the shelter having perhaps sweated out as much water as I retrieved. Fortunately there are some weekenders there who lift my spirits some by being impressed with my thru-hiker status and asking me some questions about the trail while I treat my water.
Opie and Parmesan pass through while I’m at the shelter. They are heading to Front Royal today to spend some time with Opie’s uncle who lives there. I probably won’t see them again for a little while so I say goodbye for now.
As the trail leaves Shenandoah and goes by Front Royal it gets uglier. The forest is filled with a dense understory that seems to trap the heat. Periodically it takes me through fields where I am directly exposed to the ferocity of the sun and these fields always seem to be incredibly humid to boot. For a while I walk along fences that seem to indicate some sort of government installation – not exactly scenic trail. I pass the road to Front Royal and head up the hill to the next shelter. This one is supposed to be really nice. The data book actually says “excellent shelter” and it has a solar shower. I decide to stop there for lunch. When I arrive a dayhiking couple is there also eating. They finish soon after I arrive but on the way out ask me if I want some of their leftover vegetables. I graciously accept and end up with a bag of some cucumbers, spinach, red bell pepper, and a bit more than half of a perfectly ripe avocado. What great trail magic! I add the spinach and pepper to my typical fish tortilla wrap and they make a huge difference. Then I eat the avocado by itself and really enjoy it.
I plan to move on but don’t know how much further to go. There are shelters 5.5 and 10 miles ahead and it is 3:30 already. I haven’t taken my afternoon break today either, but two things push me onward: one, I want to get to a hostel tomorrow and two, I need to get to a shelter in time to claim a spot. It is still a holiday weekend and I anticipate shelters still being full even outside of Shenandoah. I decide to simply hike to the next shelter and see how I feel, although I know on the way how this will turn out.
Once I arrive I find a spot for my tent and make camp. I decide to save the other 4.5 miles for tomorrow rather than pushing late today, especially after getting such poor sleep last night. There are only a few other hikers here tonight: one thru-hiker and four section hikers who are in a group. After I finish cooking dinner a thru-hiking couple who I don’t seem to recognize arrives and also sets up a tent but they keep to themselves. The other thru here is Gato, someone I met a while back around Damascus but haven’t seen since. We talk a bit about food, plans for the next few days (he doesn’t seem to have any), other hikers we’ve seen lately or passed (among those mentioned are Biscuits, Animal, Provisions, and Mr Wrong who I haven’t met yet). He informs me that he saw Einstein et al in Front Royal doing a resupply and they are paddling to Harper’s Ferry. We also talk a bit to the section hikers and learn that one thru-hiked in 2007. They are all from NJ and one gives me her information so I can call when I get near the area. They inform me that Delaware Water Gap is a great spot in PA and I get a kick out of the fact that my one spot to look forward to in PA is the border that I use to exit it. I turn in early, hoping to catch up on some of the sleep I missed last night and to get an early start tomorrow. It was incredibly hot today and tomorrow is supposed to be at least as bad. As I get ready for bed the wind picks up and I can hear some thunder in the distance. It appears it may be a wet night on the Appalachian Trail!