May 5, 2018
Destination: Rock Spring Hut Today's Miles: 17.90
Start Location: Stealth Campsite at mile 911.1 Trip Miles: 929
When I woke up on this fine Cinco de Mayo, the rain had largely stopped, except for a fine drizzle. I got up at 6 and organized myself a bit, and then went out to retrieve my food bag.
Just as I got within sight of my hanging bag, I heard a crash and a huge deer leaped across the road and ran skillfully through the underbrush away from me. I was startled, but also amazed by how quickly it could move through thick brush. I almost cleared the entire road with its leap, leaving only one hoof print in the dirt. I walked back to my tent with my food bag. I decided I would have a quick morning to get on the trail and not boil water for coffee. It started sprinkling again and I didn’t really have a covered vestibule to cook in - my vestibule was pointing directly into the hill in front of me. I downed my oatmeal and pop tart in my tent, and the. Through my gear together. Whitewater was up and almost ready; Tarzan and Happy Feet were still in their tents. I took off down the trail, hoping for some good morning miles and maybe even a bear sighting. I was also hoping to reach the Big Meadows Wayside for lunch. In the Shenandoah National Park they have camp stores and waysides that are varying distances off the trail. The camp stores have some resupply items and food you can microwave, or some prepackaged sandwiches (like a racetrac gas station). The Waysides have that, but also a cafe where you can sit down and order food. The Waysides are known for their blackberry milkshakes, so we were all obsessing over getting one.
I walked along in peace, listening to birdsong and the hustle and bustle of squirrels and chipmunks. It rained off and on, but softly such that I wore shorts and a t-shirt but never put on rain gear. I climbed up Bearfence and Hazeltop Mountains. The trail was quite easy terrain and I made good time. I passed a group of ATC volunteers with trash bags who were collecting invasive species off the trail. They were focusing on Mustard Weed, which they said kills butterflies. Apparently it secretes some kind of toxic oil, the butterflies land on it and then die. I always thought it was beneficial for plants to have butterflies and largely symbiotic, so I am not sure why Mustard Weed would do this, but apparently it does.
I passed a tour group getting some kind of lecture from a ranger. They were nice and wished me luck on my hike! I kept my eyes peeled all morning, but I made it to the wayside without seeing any bears. I did, however, make another chipmunk scream. He was busy messing with something in the leaves and hopped up onto a log as I walked by. He turned around and realized I was right beside him. His face almost looked like some kind of Disney animation. His eyes got wide and his little hands spread out and he screamed and hopped into the leaves. Sorry little guy - I know I smell....
The wayside was a half mile uphill off the trail, but well worth it. When I got there it was hopping with tourists. I saw Wallace and Peewee inside. I dropped my pack outside and went into the cafe to sit with them. Wallace had already been there since breakfast, just cycling through mone! eals. It reminded me of when I did the same thing at Mojos back on my first day in Damascus. Today I was super hungry, so I ordered a pulled pork BBQ sandwich with fries, a side of Mac and cheese, a blackberry milkshake and a cup of coffee. It didn’t take long to polish all of that off, and then I ordered a second blackberry milkshake. Suddenly, I heard someone call my name and Nate was standing there, only he was all clean cut/shaven! I hadn’t seen him since after Mountain Harbour. Apparently he had taken some time off trail to meet with his wife and was just about to get back on. It was good to see him again! He’s still just Nate - no trail name yet!
I downed my next milkshake in record time. They were so good that I took a photo of one! Peewee left to hike on, then Whitewater arrived and sat with Wallace and I. Wallace decided he’d been at the wayside long enough and said he was just going to walk 5 miles to the next Hut. When Whitewater finished her food, we both headed out. I thought I was going to push past the next Hut, but it was already 4 and Wallace said he heard that stealth camping options were bad to nonexistent in the next stretch. It started raining a bit heavier and the temperature was dropping, so I decided to just call it a day at the next Hut, Rock Spring Hut. I wanted to tent despite the rain. I like sleeping in my tent the best. After getting set up, I walked down to get water and noticed a cabin rental just down from the shelter on the way to the water source. It had a lovely covered porch setup and a picnic table there with a view of the valley. No one was in the cabin and it was locked up, so Whitewater, Wallace, Nate and I went down there to have dinner and chat. It was awesome!
Today I was actually grateful for the rain. It cooled things down but stayed relatively light. I was also grateful for the smooth terrain, the wayside food and good company. Tomorrow it is supposed to rain as well. I hope it stays light of it does, but we will see!