Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Shenandoah National Park, A.T. Thruhike 2012

     Waynesboro proved to be a very hospitable and hiker-friendly town. The local YMCA has a nice grassy area set aside in a park for thruhikers to pitch their tents whilst visiting the town. They also provided me with a care package with soaps and whatnot, and allowed me to use their showers. It was my first shower in weeks, and I can not tell you how wonderful it felt.
     The town also has a "trail angel network", which basically is a long list of names and numbers you could call for a free ride to town or back to the trail. These folks were undeniably angels, as they brought me where I needed to go out of pure kindness, and were so absolutely friendly in the process. I appreciated their help so much!
     As of Waynesboro, I have lost 45 pounds. This was a little shocking, I knew I would lose weight but I didn't expect to lose so much, not even half way in!
     I have what is referred to as "hiker hunger" in full force now. What this means is that my body has burned through much of its reserves, and I now burn much more calories then I can possibly consume. The result is a consistent hunger, and the ability to eat ridiculous amounts of food while still losing weight.
     In fact, eating becomes crucial at this point. My ability to eat and consume calories directly impacts my energy level throughout the day and following days. Waynesboro fortunately is home to a number of good, yet inexpensive, restaurants that I enjoyed.
     The weeks of rain and hail finally subsided for a few days, perfectly timed as I prepared to return to the trail. A trail angel gave me a ride back to the A.T., and I returned to my long walk.
     Within a few miles, I entered Shenandoah National Park. This park is beautiful to say the least. The trail runs along Skyline Drive, intersecting with it numerous times. This offers some unique conveniences that a thruhiker doesn't normally get. Passing picnic areas, campgrounds and campstores, restaurants, and the like means for a hiker easy access to potable water, bathrooms, trash barrels, meals and food.
    I took a side trail to conquer Tunk Mountain, and then followed the A.T. over Black Rock Mountain. I had hiked here previously with good friends just over a year ago, and I was immediately immersed in fond memories. The mountain summit itself is a fun little rock scramble, essentially a pile of rocks and boulders offering nice views. I sat and thought of time spent with friends, fun and joyous moments past.
     I also thought about the fact that prior to my thruhike, this was the southernmost section of this long trail I had set foot on. I remember seeing the white blazes, thinking of how this is the same trail I walked on regularly in New England; I was so excited and hopeful to walk it in its entirety. I talked my friends' ears off on the topic of the trail for the rest of the trip. And now, here I am, thruhiking... I am really, truly living out my dream.
      After passing by Loft Mountain Campground, and utilizing the store for resupplying, I came to some breathtaking vistas atop Loft Mountain. I decided to pitch my tent nearby, and I sat on my rocky perch and enjoyed the panoramic sunset while eating dinner. It is moments like these that I feel complete, that I truly appreciate the privilage of being on this long journey.
     The trail over the next couple of days has been nice and well graded. Honestly, this is the first time I can honestly say the trail has gotten easier since I started.
     Even though the trail isn't quite as difficult, I have chosen to take my time here. I have made good time thus far, and I don't feel I need to rush. I am enjoying this forest so much. It is refreshing, like cleansing myself of modern society, if even just for moments.
     The wildlife has been abundant. I have seen more deer than I can count. They don't run away immediately like the deer back home; here they seem to hang around, almost posing for my camera.
     I have startled a couple of bear. As I walk alone, quietly down the trail, I will catch a short glimpse of black fur as they dart away into the woods. They leave behind many signs that they are very present, where they dug for grubs, claw marks on bark, and scat along the trail.
     Last night, the threat of thunder led me to call it a day a little early, as I ducked into an old chestnut shelter. I was joined by 3 section hikers. They turned out to be a friendly bunch, and we sat around the fire sharing stories and laughing all evening. I had a great time, enjoying the simple pleasure of good company, and nothing else aside from the natural world abound and all around us.
     Today I made it to Skyland, a resort catering to guests of Shenandoah National Park. I could not pass up the opportunity to sit and enjoy a good meal, and I am glad I did. I enjoyed a delicious, filling meal by a window with gorgeous views. I was joined by a fellow thruhiker named Salt Bomb, and we talked a lot about woodworking, which is his trade.
     Getting back on the trail, blessed with nice weather, I am looking forward to the rest this park has to offer. Today the trail passes close to Stony Man Mountain, and I may just chose to climb to its summit.
     This adventure is made even more amazing in that I am free to do and roam as I please. These woods and mountains are calling for me, and I have every intention to remain within them until I am home.

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