Saturday, July 22, 2017

Pamola's Quest - Phase II-a - Shenandoah (Push 14)

Back to The Trail

After enjoying 30 zero days in a row, it was time to get back on the Trail.  It was time to start Phase II of Pamola's Quest.  All of the trail will be walked in due time.  We were no longer concentrating on hiking from the southern terminus to the northern.  We were just going to experience all the miles of the Trek, wherever and whenever we could get to it.

The Quest continues until it is complete.  There is no time limit other than the span of my walking life.  I will either complete the Quest, or be unable to walk for some reason.  

EarthTone and LoGear back on the Trail

Push 14: Shenandoah National Park

We decided to flip up to Rockfish Gap.  The beginning of Shenandoah National Park and proceed north 106.4 miles to a little road in the woods, just short of Rt 522 near Front Royal.  

Why were we stopping here, you ask?  This is where LoGear and I completed a 30 some mile southbound section back in 2012.  I have decided that I want to hike all new miles this year (after hiking no new miles in 2016), so I am now going to skip over the miles I have hiked (some of those miles, several times over), so I can experience more unique trail during this Quest.

The last Push I completed was Push 9 that ended in Damascus, VA.  Jumping up to Rockfish Gap, skips four VA Pushes (10 through 13). That is why this is named Push 14.  I also continued the day count from day one.  We would be getting back on trail on day 72 of the Quest.  

The plan was to complete the 106.4 miles in nine days.  We knew we had pretty much given up our hiker legs along with our Outsider badges, taking that much time off trail.  The workouts I did at the gym was most likely less energy expenditure than one full day of hiking, but it was better than nothing.  We would hike conservative miles, see how we felt, and move on if we felt like it.  We would finish the Push in eight days.

Day 72 - 7.7 miles - Calf Mountain Shelter
Day 73 - 13.0 miles - Blackrock Hut
Day 74 - 13.2 miles - Pinefield Hut
Day 75 - 19.8 miles - Lewis Mountain Campground
Day 76 - 12.3 miles - Rock Spring Hut
Day 77 - 15.3 miles - Pass Mountain Hut
Day 78 - 13.1 miles - Gravel Springs Hut
Day 79 - 12.0 miles - VA 602 - End of Push

This Push would require us to handle some of the challenges that Section Hikers have.  Since we were only coming out for this one Push, we had to figure out the getting to the trail and getting to the trailhead to start the hike.  We did the usual, drive and park at the end of the Push and get a shuttle down to the start.  We decided to park at the 4H Center near Front Royal where we had parked before.  You register with the office and they kind of keep an eye on the vehicle for you.  I had requested a shuttle down to Rockfish Gap from Stanimal, a local hostel owner and Hiker.  

We arrived at the parking after driving through steady and sometimes heavy rain all the way to the Trail.  When we parked, the rain had subsided.  We noticed another couple at the parking lot, getting their gear ready.  We quickly found out that we were both waiting for Adam to show up.  We were riding together.

We got to know Turbo and Hermit on the ride down to Rockfish.  They were very nice people and world travelers from PA.  They had decided to sample a bit of the A.T. to see how it was.  We learned about their other adventures on the ride, including their trip to summit Mt Kilimanjaro in Africa.  Their mileage plans were a bit more challenging as they had reservations at one of the Lodges in the park in a couple of days.  We would enjoy their company for the first couple of days though.


Hermit rests

Getting Back in the Groove

We arrived at Rockfish Gap, registered our back country hike with the ranger, ate our Sheetz sandwiches and hit the trail at just after Noon on a day that had turned sunny and humid at our start.  

As we started hiking, we immediately noticed a difference from when we were last on the trail.  When I got off in Damascus, it was the end of Spring.  Up here in northern VA, it was now high summer.  Heat and humidity would be our companion for this whole hike.  We actually were hoping for it to rain from time to time, but we had very dry weather for the whole Push.  We were covered in sweat in a matter of minutes as we headed into the woods.  We had planned an easy 7.7 mile day to get back into the swing of things and I was glad we did.

Stone pillars, with small writing on the metal bands.
A unique feature of Shenandoah.  

Those seven miles would leave us tired and sore as our bodies asked us what the fuck we were up to again.  Of course, we both kept asking ourselves once again what we had gotten ourselves into.  One redeeming character of this part of the Trail, is it seemed a little less challenging, elevation wise than what I had last hiked on down in SW VA. 

We pulled into the shelter area and saw hikers everywhere.  The camp was full of a group of southbound hikers who had come out for the holiday week to hike the park southbound.  We had no problem finding places for our hammocks and enjoyed the great conversation around the table that I had come to miss while being off trail.

After a good night's sleep back in my hammock, we did our morning evolutions and were on the trail pretty early.  Today would be a longer day and we wanted to be able to take our time as we still adjusted to being back on the Trail.  The night's rest had rejuvenated my body as it usually does and we had a good day of hiking.  It was still hot, but a nice breeze and some overcast skies helped get us through the day.

Today we wouldn't have any decent water sources for the whole trek of 13 miles, so we took what we could and hoped that we would make it without becoming too dehydrated.  We took plenty of breaks during the day.  This would be the theme of this Push.  Break often.  Take your time.  We were in no hurry and felt no pressure to do long miles.  It was liberating actually, to not have to worry about getting in decent miles each day.  As long as we continued moving north, we would be fine.  Once we discovered the camp stores and Waysides, we would perfect the art of the "long break".  

Setting up camp at Blackrock Hut

Along with Turbo and Hermit, who hiked fast and didn't take as many pack off breaks, there were a couple other Hikers who were moving along with us at a similar pace and daily distance.  At first, we thought they would move well ahead of us, having their trail legs and all, but we would end up stopping at the same places or nearly so each day of our Push.  They were Huck and Hazmat.  They were both very interesting in their own right.  Huck had started back in March and gave me a cool, bushcrafter vibe.  He carried a couple knives and had a wool blanket in his kit.  We had some good discussions about the flora and fauna of the forest.  Hazmat, had started in Damascus at Trail Days, taking up where he had left off the year before.  Hazmat refined his breakfast beers and drunk night hiking skills while in the park.  They were a crazy group, that's for sure.

Along with those two were some other we came to know along the way.  Snake Eater, Chipmunk, Tunnel Rat and Casper.

After the second day, we had rekindled a bit of our trail legs somewhat and were able to complete the day's miles without too much trouble and pain.  Of course, the terrain in the Park is really mild compared to the south, so we got spoiled quickly. 

Camp Stores and Waysides

On day three, we discovered the magic of the camp store.  We arrived at the Loft Mountain camp store just around lunch time.  We spent the next couple of hours, drinking very reasonably priced 24 oz Yuenglings, eating lunch, taking a shower and charging our electronics.  There was a well stocked hiker box that provided some of our resupply and we picked up a few other things to top off our food bags.  We had purposely started with around four days of food, as we knew there would be plenty of opportunity to get food along the way.  

When we left the camp store we set our sights on dinner at the Calf Mountain Wayside which was another mile down the trail and then .6 off trail.  It was totally worth it.  On the way down the old forest road, we saw a mother bear and her cubs.  After a decent (but somewhat overpriced) dinner, we walked back up the road and saw the bears again.  She showed no fear of us, and basically just ignored us, but kept her body between us and the babies.  It was a very cool experience.  We would notice that the deer and bears in this park are very used to us humans being about.  They usually would ignore you as they went about their business.  

Our Longest Day

The next morning, Larry, the Hut maintainer came in and told lots of stories.  This day was planned at a short 8.2 miles and we were pretty sure that we would be ready to move on beyond that, but not quite sure we could da a 20.6 day.  Larry told us about a nice camping spot that would be about 17 miles or so.  We made a mental reminder to maybe try getting that far for the night.  

Today, there would be no Waysides to delay us and the water situation was much better throughout the day.  When we stopped for lunch at the Hightop Hut, LoGear was at first ok with calling it a short day and recovering some.  She was still having trouble on the uphills.  They would sap her strength and energy, but after a nice lunch and a rest at the shelter, she decided that she felt better and we should move on to that fabled camping spot.

We arrived at the spot late in the day and either I remembered the directions wrong, or Larry had "mis-remembered" the way.  We saw nothing at the milepost he had mentioned and besides, we were pretty near Skyline drive and it is against the rules to camp that close to the road.  We decided to continue on until we either came to a decent (and legal) dispersed campsite or maybe we could make it to the campground that was ahead a few more miles.  After a few half hearted attempts at finding a campsite, LoGear announced that we were making for the campground.

We watched the sun set through the trees as we approached the campground and walked into camp as dusk settled on all the car campers.  After talking to one of the campers, we found a spot, registered, paid our fee and set up camp.  As we were doing so, we saw an owl flying around the campground.  This owl was soon joined by the rest of his family and they screeched and squawked at each other for at least an hour.  I could hear one or two of them all night long as the parents most likely were training their babies how to hunt.  

We had just hiked our longest day of this Quest.  19.8 miles.  

More Waysides and an AYCE Breakfast

The next three days would be highlighted by the Big Meadows Wayside, an awesome breakfast at Skyland Resort and the Elkwallow Wayside.  We spent over five hours at Big Meadows.  Eating, drinking, charging and just hanging out with the other hikers.  We got to meet Turbo Turtle and Cheese another couple team.  We finally broke away from the whirlpool of the wayside and headed to the next shelter.  We heard the others coming in after dark when we were all snug in our hammocks. I remembered saying to myself as I lay in my hammock, that these are the kinds of days that make me want to stay out here for a very long time. I really enjoy this simple, honest lifestyle. I was very happy to see how quickly and comfortably we once again fell into the role of the Outsider.  The Long Distance Hiker, enjoying the Trail.  

The next morning, we started out as usual, with a possible plan to get some breakfast at the resort.  We took a break at a horse shelter and noticed that we had about 30 minutes to get their breakfast.  We hurried on and arrived to be seated.  I think they seated us in the corner to reflect our ripe odor.  We have finally stopped apologizing for our odor.  They know who and what we are and secretly envy our adventure cloud of stink that we travel in.  No worries, we learned that they have an all you can eat buffet and we quickly filled our plates with just about everything they offered.  The made to order omelettes were the highlight of the meal.  We continued on with full bellies and sated appetites.  

On day 78 we stopped at the Elkwallow Wayside, the last we would visit in the park.  We stayed once again ate, drank and recharged.  I went over to listen to a park ranger present a talk on bears in the park.  It was interesting.  We were getting everything together to head out when Chipmunk came in for a break, trying to entice us to stay longer.  We broke loose of the whirlpool and headed to camp.  

Bears and other Fauna

After that first sighting of the momma bear and her babies, either LoGear or I saw at least one bear the next three days.  We saw a lone bear moseying along below Big Meadows Campground.  We had just walked past a guy with a big telephoto lens.  I guess he was filming him.  The next day, I apparently walked right past a bear (also maybe a mother with cubs) sitting on a rock about 20 feet from the trail.  LoGear was behind me and she spotted it and talked to it while she took a photo.  I was far enough ahead that I had no idea what was going on.  The day after that, I was ahead again and I heard a ruckus in the woods behind me and saw the head of a yearling bolting away from us.  

I swear that dark area is a bear

The deer would totally ignore you unless it was standing in the middle of the trail.  If it was on the trail, it would stand there and stare at you, as it if was telling you to get off the trail instead of stepping off.  I also had a nice eight point graze behind my hammock all the while we were setting up.  

Doe grazing at the edge of the clearing at Pinefield Hut
Eight point wandering around our campsite at Pass Mountain Hut

Apparently I also walked past a frog hunting snake.  LoGear reported that she had seen a snake that appeared to have its head stuck between some rocks.  It was writhing and grabbing a nearby sapling trying to pull itself out.  Another couple that were hiking in the area, later reported that it was hunting a frog and was trying to get it out of its hidey hole. 
A young black rat snake soaks up the heat of the trail

Finishing Strong and Trail Magic

On our final day in the park, we only had 12 miles to go to get to our truck and complete this Push and Phase II-a of the Quest.  Our packs were the lightest they could be with almost empty food bags and only a liter of water.  We knew showers lay ahead of us on this day after six days bathing only in our own sweat.  

An overlook, overlooking an overlook

The whole camp had started stirring earlier than usual as they were all heading into Front Royal to do various chores that a hiker must do.  Post office, resupply, maybe a shower somewhere.  They all had a subtle urgency about them as the got ready for their day.

Saying "see ya later" to our latest Tramily
Cheese, Tunnel Rat, Old School, Turbo Turtle, Chipmunk, Lightweight and Hazmat

We were still the first out and we thought that at least some of the faster hikers would overtake us during the day, but that never happened.  We hiked along, crossing the road as happens a lot in that park.  Ate lunch in a parking lot and then followed the trail along a nice old forest road as we exited the park proper and then descended down some steep, rocky switchbacks to the last shelter before the road, Tom Floyd Wayside (not really a wayside).  We decided to take one last pack off break at the shelter before finishing the Push.  
Crossing the yellow blazes

At the shelter we met Wanna b and his son Flashback.  They had just started a nine day southbound traverse of the Park and had been hit squarely in the face with reality as their way too heavy packs weighed them down on the previous day's hike.  They had conducted a pack shake down and had a bag full of stuff that they had decided they didn't want to carry for another eight days.  We hung out for a while and when it was time to go, I asked if there was anything they wanted us to carry out, implying that it would be either hiker boxed or used by us.  I thought the bag had nothing more than extra food and a few extra cooking items that they didn't need.  I only took a quick look and saw coffee and a small frying pan.  

Wanna b was super grateful that we offered to carry it out and he handed over the bag to me which I put in my pack.  LoGear carried the pound of coffee.  We said our goodbyes and wished them a more pleasant hike with their slightly lighter packs.

On the way down, LoGear said that we should have gotten their address to send the stuff to as we were pretty sure we didn't need any of the gear.  I already had plans for the coffee as the cost of being a sherpa, but I agreed that we should have done that.

We finished our hike and went into the pool area to get a soda and some ice cream before heading to the nearest Pizza Hut Express for some pizza, my eternal craving when I am out on the trail.  I took my phone out of airplane mode to check for signal and saw I had a Facebook Messenger notification from someone I didn't know.  I accepted and saw a picture of, wait for it...  Wanna b's contact information.  I was blown away.  It seems he had left a satellite hot spot in the bag and had forgotten.  Our wish had been granted.  The trail had provided (along with Sprint and Facebook).  I got Wanna b's address and assured him I would send his stuff along as soon as we got home.  

When we got home I went through the 7 pound bag and was amazed.  Along with the hot spot (which was big and heavy), there were all kinds of electronic things.  One thing looked like an antenna extension for your phone.  There was a remote shutter switch for an iphone a carrying case for your arm, all kinds of stuff.  I took all the stuff that wasn't food and put it in one of our priority mail boxes and sent it out the next morning.  

After our traditional pizza fest at the end of the Push, we left the trail once again.  We now have things to take care of at home and have planned another visit to the Jersey Shore.  I will take another 16 zeros and then will once again head back to the Trail.  This time LoGear has elected to stay home.  She had fun on this Push, but is ok with taking a longer break and maybe coming out in the fall, when we maybe do one or two more Pushes somewhere, before the winter weather arrives.  

Taking some zeros at Exit Zero

Phase II-b of Pamola's Quest

This time, when I head back to the trail, it will be at the other end of a long stretch of trail that I have already hiked in the last five years or so. After we go see Tom Petty in Philly, LoGear will drive me up to Lehigh Gap, just outside of Palmerton, PA, where I completed a 77 mile Section back in 2014.  From there I will continue north to finish PA and then try to complete NJ, NY, CT and maybe MA.  

From there I can either return home once again or maybe catch a ride from LoGear's cousin, who will be heading up to Monson around that time and maybe I will go do the 100 mile wilderness and head up to Katahdin herself.  If I do that, I probably won't continue on over the Knife Edge to Pamola Peak, as I need to finish all the trail before I can do that.  I will be content to gaze over to the next peak to see my final goal and promise to return.  

I have come to really enjoy the way this Hike, this Quest, has turned out.  I have found a way to keep getting to the trail and walking the miles, but I have also found a way to intersperse other things that I like to do in the summers.  I'm in no hurry to be "done".

The Quest is always on my mind.  I continue to plan on where to go next and will continue to do so until I have done as Pamola has commanded.  To walk all of the trail, gathering the items for the Talisman of the Storm and once I have done all that, to then go to Pamola Peak on Katahdin and present the Talisman to Pamola for his judgment.  

Stay tuned...

EarthTone and LoGear

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