It’s 11pm, and I am wide awake in my bivy. Yesterday I realized Pinefield and Calf Mountain Shelters are exactly 26.2 miles apart, and so I hiked my first marathon day of this trip. I rolled into the shelter around 8:45pm, to a group of Spanish speaking men. Two were already busy snoring when I arrived, and the third sat awake at a table.
It took some time to convince him, with slowly articulated words, that I was okay. He seemed to think that I was a lost hiker, or somehow in duress. His inquiries continued, even as I inflated my Neo Air and and fluffed my down quilt. Finally I reassured him that all I needed was sleep, then I smiled and crawled into my bag.
Today I left that shelter before sunup. I waited just long enough for the others to wake, and then I was packed and gone within ten minutes. I found it both curious and wonderful that the men chose to sleep all three to the right side of the shelter. It was handy for me, I took the far left spot and had plenty of space. What is curious is that I have never seen another group of hikers do this before. Usually, even among friends, the sides of the shelter are filled first and then the middle. My past trail families have always spread out and taken over the shelters.
I just finished my second reading of Sebastian Younger’s book, Tribe. He delivers a very convincing narrative that we in Europe and North America do a splendid job of undermining our ancient tribal tendencies. This leads to a more disconnected way of life, unknown to humans until comparatively recently in history. We tend to sleep alone, or coupled in a separate room from others; for example. Historically, humans have always slept in groups. Soldiers always sleep in groups. Maybe this is why I took so much interest in the arrangement of men in the shelter last night?
Nevertheless I hiked on, and met a group of boyscouts a few miles from the Shenandoah park boundary. I thanked their adult leaders for getting those kids in the woods. Without my time in scouts, I probably wouldn’t be on this hike.
Somehow I still cleared the 101 mile Shenandoah section in five days, despite being sick. Rather than hitching into Waynesboro, I discovered a food truck with hotdogs, popcorn, and french fries. Rockfish Gap is a popular destination for weekenders, and I walked past them, smelling their recently shampooed heads from twenty feet away. I smelled that kettle corn a good .1 off though. They served up a massive plate of fries with my hotdog, and I ended up coming back for seconds about an hour later. In the meantime, I found a visitors center with outlets, so I charged my phone and spare battery.
Thru hikers are very rare in Virginia this time of year. Most people assume I’m homeless, but the ones who know what I am tend to seek me out. One lady announced to me, that when she decides to hike the trail, her trail name will be Zenobia. That became an interesting bookmark for further reading, as I love ancient history. The old lady running the visitor’s center assured me I was great company, despite my odor. I helped her direct hikers to the trail, and tried to remember notable spots in the SNP.
The questions continued, even after I got back on trail. A NoBo section hiker stopped to chat, and I let slip that as of that morning, I had hiked all 2192 miles of trail. This led to a twenty minute conversation about nearly every notorious or difficult section. Finally I looked at my watch, and realized it was two in the afternoon. I had gone eight miles.
“Isn’t hiking for six months basically a job?”
I’m asked this often. The answer is yes, absolutely. It’s the most amazing job you can possibly imagine. Hiking a long trail requires time management, budgeting, creative problem solving, logistics, inventory management, and excellent verbal communication. Afraid to talk with people? Hitchhiking is the ultimate crash course. Unless you use an Uber —real hikers do not use Uber. Uber is for lazy Millenials, most of whom need better social skills anyway. I encourage them to stick a thumb out, and start developing their prefrontal cortex!
Fact is, it is a job. I needed to do eighteen miles today, because I said so. Eighteen miles, followed by a pair of twenty two mile days, will make the best use of the food I have on hand. Pushing to Buena Vista, or even Glasgow for a shower and laundry is a budgetary decision. Opting for Glasgow is more time efficient, as both tasks are easier to complete there. Two meals at the food truck? Time Management. Hitching in and out of Waynesboro would have taken three hours, and I probably would have spent more money too. Avoiding the food truck would have meant eating out of my pack, leaving me too light on food to reach Buena Vista.
I spoke with Jelly today, and she seriously questioned my plan to go 150 miles without bathing. I see this as a benefit of hiking solo. I can push in all kinds of ways. Ways a hiking partner or a group would stifle. I sat at Humpback Rocks, and watched the sunset for an hour this evening. I sat and watched a massive storm blow in off the valley. I smiled as all of the college kids ran for cover. I sat there on the rocky outcrop and let it come, gusts and all. A free shower in the woods, while taking in a view? Time management. It’s also kind to the budget!
I night hiked to make my miles. Night hiking is another benefit to hiking solo. It’s also a really basic exercise for learning to control fear. When you can walk alone in the middle of the wilderness at night, and do it calmly, you’ve mastered a part of yourself very few people in society have addressed.
I walked a mile and let the storm fully pass. Then I found a nice clearing and set up in the dark. This spot avoids katabatic flows, and there will be zero condensation here in the morning. Have a mentioned that I love long distance backpacking? This is a typical day of it.