Virginia, oh Virginia. How will I ever get you all down in writing. 554 miles, almost a month of hiking, it is by far the longest state on the AT. That means that this will be a post of many words (yay!). So many that it’ll have to take it”s course through several entries.
I had heard the stories from weary northbounders; Speaking grimly of the 21 day non-stop rain and state that never ended. I will admit, I was nervous going into Virginia. Nonetheless, a new state is always exciting.
As you may recall, prior to this, Spirit, Sun Chaser and I had been waiting out hurricane Florence. After over a week of not hiking it was finally time to get back out there. Angela had been nice enough to slackpack us to get us started, and BOY did we need it. As we got to the trailhead at which we were getting picked up, prior thru hikers Hopeful and Redwing, who we’d met through Angela, were there with cupcakes and lemonade! We also ran into Rabbit, whom we hadn’t seen for months!
You would think that after hiking for months, it’s just always easy. That’s a hard NO. Especially after not walking for that many days, getting back into the grove was a struggle. Spirit and I even stayed an extra day at Angela’s house because we got sick. Now I can only speak for myself, but I think it was mostly laziness and tiredness acting as placebo for me feeling sick.
Sun Chaser had gone ahead to meet up with his family who flew up from Texas! We would desperately try to catch up to him in the coming days.
Virginia started out really well. On a long and difficult day, Spirit and I ran into Rabbit again, this time with only a small sports bag. He was slackpacking with the help of a couple of hostel owners. He made a call to them and fixed us up with a spot there! It’s the best pick-me-up whenever you think you’ll spend the evening looking for a campsite that sometimes ends up being shitty, and instead you get food and beds and beer!
We waited at the road to be picked up. One of the owners (I’m terrible and can’t remember his name for the life of me) of the hostel brought us back with him. It’s called the Wonderland Hiker Refuge and is a donation based hostel run by Lyric and her husband. They invite hikers into their home and make all vegetarian meals(!!) Hikers stay in a separate bunk room and it’s the perfect setup. Can’t recommend it enough.
In the morning we were fed breakfast and had planned to leave right after. But it was raining and was forecast to do so for another 4 days. A warm house seemed like a much better option. Finally we caved and Lyric took us back to the trailhead. We thanked her greatly and were on our way.
Towards the end of the day we entered Shenandoah National Park, a supposed highlight along the trail. Despite the weather, I was mighty excited!
Spirit and I stopped in at a shelter, but not before passing it by 1.5 miles. Always a fun little thing to do at the end of a rainy day. Even though it was cold and wet I managed to get dry and fall asleep somewhat comfortably (sleeping on a 1/8 foam pad is surprisingly not the best idea I’ve ever had).
The great calling of Shenandoah, other than the lovely nature of course, are the waysides. Essentially they are kiosks/gift shops spread along the National Park where one can acquire food and drinks in exchange for currency. A good deal if I’ve ever heard one.
During a cold and somewhat miserable morning we had the good fortune to come across one of these famed establishments. We bought breakfast and were disappointed at the lack of indoor seating. Instead we walked around inside, pretending to look at the souvenirs when we were actually just trying to hog some of the warmth. A lovely couple bought us some more food before we headed out into the cold, harsh world again.
Did I mention that it was cold? Cold and wet. My favorite state of meteorological condition. No pictures are taken when fingers are too numb to press the shutter and the constant downpour puts anything electrical at risk.
We stopped in at another shelter, as they are life savers in suboptimal weather. One slight issue is that everyone else has the same opinion and shelters often get crowded. As much fun as sharing bedrooms with strangers can be, alone time is also nice. At least we got a spot out of the rain.
In the morning it was still raining. We stayed in the shelter and were the lousy hikers that were last to leave. Oh well, as long as we get there in the end, it doesn’t really matter. Excerpt from my journal that day: “Putting on wet socks was the absolute worst. But we got going nonetheless”.
It FINALLY stopped raining for a bit and we got some good views and picture opportunities.
We stopped in at Skyland resort for coffee and ended up spending an hour or so there. Spirit got two sandwiches despite her pledge to buy less food in order to save money. I don’t blame her though; Food is often the only thing I can think of while hiking.
Shenandoah is actually very pleasant when the weather is good. Even and well maintained trail, up on a ridge with solid views and a good bit of wildlife. Mostly deer, but they count too.
We kept walking, just as we normally do. The day came to an end at Big Meadows Lodge. We went up to the actual lodge around sunset hoping for some kind people with a little extra food and kindness to trail magic us. When no one did, we ended up walking over to a wooded area searching for a place to camp. We found some acceptable, albeit slightly bumpy and uneven sites and set our tents up. Probably not entirely legally. But hey, a hiker has to sleep.
We got up really early the next day, afraid that someone would call us out on camping in a questionable spot. We passed a strange little graveyard and got to a road right as the sun was rising. It was eerie in an otherworldly and beautiful kind of way.
That day was a short one, because Spirit’s mom was visiting from Canada and we were meeting her in Harrisonburg. We got to whatever road (seriously, the trail crosses so many roads, it’s hard to keep track) we needed to be at and started hitching. After trying for about 15 minutes a car pulled over, asked us where we were going and told us we were hitching in the wrong direction. I can’t remember why, but I blame that one on Spirit.
Hitching in the right direction was a much better idea. A guy in a Land Rover picked us up and drove us to a coop in town.
We bought food and sat down to eat when a guy came up to us and introduced himself as “Little Joe”. He hiked the AT in 2015! We chatted with him for a while and he bought us beers and pastries.
Just as we left to catch the bus, the sky dumped as much rain as it possibly could on us. We took the bus to get more food before Spirit’s mom would meet us for dinner. We ended up at Wendy’s. For those who don’t know what Wendy’s is, good. You don’t need it in your life.
We waited for Spirit’s mom (if you’re reading this, I’m sorry, but I really can’t remember your name!) outside Olive Garden. Although a chain, it’s still a little too fancy for a hiker who has yet to shower.
We had dinner with Spirit’s mom and her friend. All the bread and cheese and pasta was a dream come true for a hungry hiker. She was even nice enough to pay for a room for us to stay in. Yay for showers and clean beds! Thanks Spirit’s mom!
After some phenomenal sleep we headed back to the trail. Our things had decided to finally dry. The AT provides no rest however; it was of course raining.
We stopped in at a shelter to escape the rain and warm numb fingers. An older gentleman by the name of Red Pepper was bunkered down in there. It’s a strange phenomenon on the AT, a lot of shelters have older men in them. Hikers that is, not just strange old men. They are nearly always kind, but have a tendency to either talk A LOT or snore in a frequency that perfectly penetrates your ears no matter what earplugs you have. There were still several hours of daylight left, so that meant more miles left.
At the end of the day we made it to the Loft Mountain Camp Store. They have a laundromat and it’s heated! It’s a big deal! We obviously stayed in there as long as we could. Field Trip, Dandelion, Turtle Man and Hummingbird were also there. They made for great company as we went back and forth to the camp store, buying beer and snacks.
It got late and the last thing any of us wanted to do was go out in the miserable cold. So we asked Susan, who was working, if we could stay the night. She answered with a cryptic “well, I won’t kick you out”. Good enough for me!
We set our pads and bags out on the floor, happy to camp in the warmth of a fluorescently lit laundromat.
The following morning, someone had called the rangers on us. We had to get going.