Tag Archives: Bear

What a bloody mess!

Friday August 8 – Sunday August 10. The Cobbles – VT9, Bennington. (Mile 1607.1 since Springer Mountain and only 578.2 miles to Katahdin)

I’m in Bennington with decent wifi, so thought I’d do a quick post to update the last three days, none of which have moved me on too far, though I’m set to get back on track tomorrow.

If you recall from the last post, I made a complete cock up of my exit from the mountain after the Cobbles and ended on the completely wrong side. Consequently, the following morning, after a wonderful breakfast from Eva, my hostess at the super Harbour House Inn, I was dropped at the place I should have emerged from the woods and retraced my steps up towards the Cobbles. On the way up, I ran into a guy called 3 by 5, a southbound hiker, who was also lost. It made me feel infinitely better that I wasn’t the only idiot in the woods. Eventually, I found the spot where I went wrong and hiked back down to start my day.

I then had something of a bizarre incident that I still can’t explain. I had been hiking for about an hour after my return to the trail when I turned over my arm to check for bugs or, more particularly, ticks. Neither were there, though the down-facing side of my right forearm was completely covered in blood. I was shocked and stopped to see where it was coming from, getting a sterile gauze pad from my medical kit. After wiping it away thoroughly, I was unable to see either a recent cut or even a re-opened old wound. I can only assume that I must have knocked off a scab from a previous cut (I’ve had many) and that it had bled then stopped.

Strange as that was, later in the day at the shelter, I had been speaking over dinner with a couple of girls section hiking and another southbounder, then went to bed, only to discover when wiping my face with a baby wipe (my only cleaning system), that I had dried, crusted blood on the left side of my nose. Nobody had mentioned it and, with no mirrors, I had no idea it was there. When I cleared that blood off, there was a small nick on my nose that had caused it. I only mention these things because they occurred on the same day and seemed a little odd to me.

Today was a significant day for us northbounders, as we were going above 3,000 ft for the first time since Shenandoah National Park, with the glorious Mt Greylock as our highest point. This meant a fair amount of uphill trudging on my part, so I took my time and trudged away.

I eventually made it, despite the apparent reluctance in that video, and was rewarded by the fact that there is a lodge at the top, serving soft drinks, several of which I downed gratefully. I also took the opportunity to recharge my phone and even dropped off to sleep for 20 minutes or so on a bench. A young child pointed me out to his father, asking him if “that man is alright.” I stuck my hand in the air and waved to reassure him. Mt Greylock is absolutely spectacular at the top, with panoramic views, shown below, though the sound is muffled by the wind. It is the highest point in Massachusetts and well worth a visit if you’re in the area. Of course, you can drive there, which I would heartily recommend.

I intended to stop at the Wilbur Clearing Shelter, so set off reluctantly from my somnolent position to reach my goal before dark and in good time for dinner. It had been a 13 mile day, so just a shade under my target. Given that I’d gone over Mt Greylock, I was pretty pleased with the day and tented just behind the shelter, cleaning the blood from my face before sleeping.

I set my alarm for 5.15 on the Saturday morning, intending to do the 3 or so miles into North Adams in time to find a place for a second breakfast of the day (silly not to) while I charged my phone and, hopefully, linked up with wifi to listen to my soccer team, the real Mighty Blues, play their first game of the season.

It couldn’t have worked out better, as I got into town, consulted Yelp on my iPhone to establish a nearby good breakfast joint, then pitched up to Renee’s Diner just in time to plug in, get onto wifi and order the Super Hungry Man breakfast, which, of course, I was. A plate full of eggs, bacon, corned beef hash, French toast and syrup, several coffees, plus a toasted blueberry muffin and a victory for my team, left me a happy man, as I waddled from the diner after a two and a half hour detour.

This now necessitated finding somewhere to stay for the evening, as the nearest shelter was too close, while the next one was too far away. There were more extensive climbs and, by about 6pm, I came across a father and his 2 young kids camping out for the weekend in a little clearing by a dried out pond. This seemed to fit the bill, so I spent a nice evening chatting with him while I prepared and ate a bowl of pasta. It had been another day a shade under my 13.3 mile target but, given the earlier detour, not too bad on the whole.

My tenting companion had mentioned that the previous evening, when he had been camping in the same spot, he was sure that a bear had passed through the camp, yet he seemed sanguine about hanging his food in a tree. This is the normal practice when tenting, so I hung up my two food bags and went to bed. Sure enough, at about 2am this morning, I heard an animal moving about outside. I don’t think it was a bear, as it didn’t make much noise. Indeed, I thought it may have been the guy getting up to relieve himself but, when I asked him this morning, he had thought it was me for the same reason. Nothing happened, yet it affirmed my practice of placing my food outside of my tent, just in case an animal should decide to come and join me in my tent in search of food.

This morning, after another early alarm, the father and his kids left early and left me to have a deliciously quiet breakfast by myself. It really is gorgeous to wake and prepare your breakfast in silence with only the waking birds as company while the sun gradually and lavishly lights up the day. I shot this little video to show you my camp.

One of the toughest things to show in these videos is the depth and angles involved in our climbs, though I shot this early today to show you some of the obstacles that we have to negotiate in order to find the best way through our pathways. This is significantly tougher than it may seem, as the path shown is quite eroded and jumping down from the rocks often necessitates a leap of faith that the earth won’t give way.

Some of you may know that I am a big golf fan and may recall that I have been able to watch the last day of each of the major championships this year and today, the last day of the US PGA Championship, was going to be no exception. Another rocky, mucky Massachusetts hike got me to VT9 by lunchtime, with a hair-raising descent down to the road in the last half mile. These are spectacular downs that really stress your knees, with a combination of rocks and tree roots combining to cause havoc. Fortunately, I was able to negotiate the path and called a shuttle to get me to another rather sad motel that, at least, had decent wifi and a laundry facility. I should also point out that I passed the 1600 mile mark within my first two miles today, an achievement that I regard as awesome in itself yet, with the finish less than 600 miles away, only finishing at Katahdin will now do for me.

For some of my fellow hikers, the journey is what this is all about, yet, for me, while the journey is crucial, the destination has now taken on greater significance in my thoughts and it is only by reaching that destination that I will be happy with what I’ve done. It also signals my return to my lovely wife, a thought very much to the fore all of the time

With a rain delay in the golf, I was able to shower, do my laundry and get to the micro brewery pub before the leaders teed off. Once more, I ate like a man condemned to death and enjoyed Rory McIlroy winning his second consecutive major championship.

It has been a weekend of self indulgent sports watching and listening, so tomorrow, at the beginning of another week, I have set myself the target to return to a 100 mile week in order to pass 1700 miles by next Sunday. This is going to be difficult with the increasing height and severity of the mountains ahead, yet I’m sure, with all the encouragement that I get from readers of this blog and the visitors to my Facebook page for photos, I’ll be up to the challenge.

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Keep on Keeping On

Sunday July 20 – Thursday July 24. PA72, US206, Culvers Gap – NY17, Southfields, NY (Mile 1379.9 since Springer Mountain and only 805.4 miles to Katahdin)

There really ought to be a law that, when a motel or a hotel advertises that it has wifi, then it really ought to have a working version of wifi. The fact that it may work in the office of the motel isn’t really cutting it for me; I need it to operate in my room, not fade away with every step I take from the office. While I accept that a room for $41.45 a night isn’t likely to boast every modern convenience, the rash statement that it has wifi should be at least moderately accurate. You are probably getting the gist of my complaint that this particularly spiffing motel both boasted and lacked anything that could conceivably be regarded as working wifi. As luck would have it, the owner told me that it always works and that I was the only person who had ever been unable to get access to it. How unlucky am I?

Nevertheless, there I was on Sunday morning, trying to watch both the German Formula One Grand Prix and the last day of the British Open Golf tournament. There are few things that can really rile me, but I think I found one last Sunday. Every 45 or so seconds, just as Rory McIlroy was about to take a shot, or Lewis Hamilton was on the verge of pulling off a thrilling passing maneuver, the screen on my iPad would freeze and, once reset, the action had, of course, moved on without me. You will not be surprised to hear that my language became increasingly earthy and louder, so much so that I simply turned off the iPad, checked out and got the owner to shuttle me back to the steakhouse I’d gone to on leaving the trail the previous day. They actually had working wifi, so I got online until they opened, then got a seat underneath the TV, with the golf on, and spent several happy hours eating like a greedy hog and cheering Rory to victory. Happy Days!

Unfortunately, this didn’t do much for my hiking for the day and I limited my ambition to the first shelter, Gren Anderson Shelter, at only 3 miles away, as it was the only shelter that offered water for about 15 miles. As you’d imagine, getting water, whether from a stream or a spring, is one of the critical reasons for being at a shelter, and New Jersey has been a little lacking in water. Happily, several Trail Angels continue to go out of their way to provide water at road intersections, so we’re getting by.

As I say, it was only supposed to be a 3 mile hike, yet I managed to turn it into more like double that distance, as I completely missed a change of direction (double white blazes) and ended up going down a precipitous descent that landed me on a road which shouldn’t have been there, according to my guide. I instantly knew I’d gone wrong and also knew that I’d have to slog back uphill just to get back to my missed blazes. Eventually, I found the right route and got back into top gear, only to completely miss the blue blaze that indicated the shelter and I hiked at least a mile past the entrance. Realizing I’d messed up yet again (I used stronger language at the time), I had to turn round once more and waste yet more miles and calories in getting to the right place. I was thoroughly ticked off when I eventually got into the shelter and couldn’t even shout at anybody, as the place was deserted. I couldn’t be bothered to cook, so made myself a wrap and cup of tea, only to drag the entire cup into my lap. Not having anybody to shout at, I made do with the forest and unleashed a few choice words.  Shouting at trees can be marvelously restorative.

Despite my outburst, it was eerily quiet and I started to prepare myself for a lonesome night and found a spot to pitch my tent. A few people came in a little later, though just to collect water. As a consequence, and I’m sure it was because I was alone, I needed to use the privy at about 3.30am, so donned my camp shoes, my fleece, my underpants and my nightlight. I must have looked like Wee Willie Winkie, carefully padding over the rocks and trying to identify the path to the privy. With nobody else around, the darkness and the quiet eat into you and I made it back to my tent, now fully alert and listening to every noise that assaulted my ears for the next hour or so. Happily, there were no incidents and I fell back into a deep sleep, before gloomily waking and drinking my coffee and chomping my oatmeal in silence.

I was on the trail at 7.45, planning a 20 mile day, as I needed to make up for the measly 3 miles (6 walked, but only 3 official), the day before. The plan was to get to the High Point State Park HQ for lunch, charge my phone at their office, then move on to Unionville, where the mayor has started to allow thru-hikers to stay in a local park. Everything worked out as planned and the state park even had free sodas for thru-hikers. A cold Coca Cola Is always welcome. The hiking was still fairly tricky, with several rocks to slow our progress, but I found, as I often have, that the further you plan to travel, the easier it is. If you know you need to do 10 miles before lunch, then 10 miles after lunch, then that seems to be more achievable than having no real plan or aiming low. I even had time to shoot a short video at the High Point Monument.

Earlier, after about three hours on the trail, I saw my 9th bear and my first in NJ. It suddenly ran through the undergrowth to my right, it’s thick fur gleaming in the intermittent sunlight. Bears don’t worry me now and each sighting is a bonus gratefully received and enjoyed.

I made the road crossing into Unionville by about 6.30 and walked towards the town, which was only about 0.4 of a mile off the trail. Going past one of the gardens, I spotted Spider, one of the guys I’d been hiking with recently, sitting in a chair, talking with the owner as if they were life-long buddies. The owner, Blake, motioned me to join them and I could tell straight away that he was several Jack Daniels on the wrong side of the optimum amount. That said, he was perfectly affable, introduced me to his wife, Joy and young Blake, then divided their grilled meat into five, as opposed to their anticipated three. Once more, generosity seems to come to hikers out of all proportion to the normal actions of folks.

Once we’d had our fill of steak and chicken, Spider and I left Blake and his family and made it to the park, where several old friends were already set up, including Naturally Hob, along with his wife, Dos Lekis, Yeti Legs, Flea and several others, including a newcomer, Rogue, who I’d met earlier in the day. There was a very cordial feeling in the park, with all of us grateful for such a good facility (port-a-loo, free water and free tent site), so it was a little sad to hear the youngsters call a “safety meeting”, inviting the older hikers as well, before they sat around strumming a ukulele and relaxing fragrantly once more. Given the public circumstance, I thought that was a little thoughtless and could have jeopardized the park for future hikers. Nothing happened, but it could have. Funnily enough, this video the following morning mentions the event but I don’t appear to be too unhappy about it. I suppose I’ve thought more about it since.

As always, the park cleared out quickly in the morning and I was the last to leave, once I’d charged my phone at the general store, eaten two donuts and had two coffees, all of which was after I’d eaten my regular breakfast. I retraced my steps, listening to a podcast on my phone, and, yet again, totally missed the trail head, going a good 300 or 400 yards past. Cursing at myself again, a reasonably regular occurrence in the last couple of days, I got on track at last.

The 20 mile day I’d had the previous day had really sapped me and, in conjunction with some very tricky rocks, I stopped for lunch after only 5 miles, completely resetting the day for me. I had intended to get to the lusciously named Wawayanda Shelter, some 17 miles away, but settled instead for the church hostel in Vernon, NJ, after only an 11 mile day.

For a suggested donation of $10, you get a shower, laundry, a bed (or Tent site) and a recreation room. I found several fellow hikers, but only one, Senator, wanted to go for sushi. We had a great meal and finished off with a Blizzard ice cream at Dairy Queen. Guilt-free eating is going to be a tough habit to kick!

However, the day wasn’t over, as I showered and laundered my clothes back at the hostel and we had a late visit by a lovely couple, Dori and Tom, who asked if 3 of us would like to join them in the morning for a swim in their local lake, followed by breakfast and return to the trail. Me, Spider and Voodoo shot up our hands, so we arranged to be ready for 7.15 the following day…….

………which we were. Dori came to collect us and took us to her lovely community, giving is something of a guided tour on the way. She was utterly charming and everything was as she had suggested. The lake was gorgeous, though unveiling my new, fat-free body was a little embarrassing for me! We all swam for about 20 minutes and then headed back to Tom and Dori’s log cabin home. Ever the teacher (her profession) Dori gave everybody a task and put together a wonderful breakfast that included eggs, bacon, toast, fruit and yoghurt. We were back on the trail by 10.30 and marveled once more over the kindness of others.

Usually, I hike pretty much on my own, but Voodoo, Spider and I started the day together and eventually ended the day together, meeting up with the Maine Sisters, Navigator and Toots, along the way. Once more, the rocks slowed everybody’s pace, allowing us to trek as a team. This was the largest group I had hiked with since starting and it certainly helped the day as we chatted throughout.

I briefly left them to try to join a board meeting for the Family
Partnership Center, hoping to FaceTime the board for a quick chat, yet, while my signal in the mountains was fine, they couldn’t muster more than a single bar between them, so we had to make do with a telephone chat! By the way, please consider my Last 2000 Mile Challenge on this site, as I’ve only got about 800 miles to go and you can join in at any time.

It was getting a little dark in the forest by the time I restarted, so I chased down the group I’d been with and eventually caught them at NY17A, where they were heading for the creamery, a local ice cream shop. $6 each and huge banana splits later, we set up tents on the parking lot nearby, hopeful that this wasn’t a teeny bit illegal. The rain was coming and we hoped that might work in our favor if somebody spotted that we shouldn’t have been there. Nothing happened, other than rain and fairly spunky winds, so everybody got a decent night’s sleep.

Today, I got out fairly early and hiked alone for quite a while, though ran into a few new and one or two old faces. I also wanted to record my impressions of NJ and NY.

I was aware that I was running low on certain supplies and, with my speed still rather slow over the rocks, I asked Diane to book me a motel room after only about 11 miles. I’d just spoken with the cab company who was going to pick me up, telling them I’d be at the pick up point in 5 minutes, when I realized that the descent was very severe and over sharp rocks. Stupidly hurrying, I fell and, fearing the worst, I shouted out in an effort to mask the pain if and when it came. Amazingly, despite being virtually upside down on the rocks, I was relatively unhurt, with just a few scrapes and the odd laceration on my arms and legs. I got myself the right way up and continued on my way. I was very lucky.

Keep on keeping onTonight in my room  I had Chinese delivery and thought I’d share the fortune cookie with you. Believe me, sometimes you really appreciate a fortune cookie and this one couldn’t have come at a better time!

Bear Necessities

Monday, June 16 – Monday, June 23, VA664, Reid’s Gap, Waynesboro – US522, Front Royal (Mile 965.6 since Springer Mountain and only 1219.7 miles to Katahdin)

It’s been about a week since my last post and it’s been a week dominated by the Shenandoah National Park. I’ll return to the park later, as I had to re-trace some ground after my stop in Waynesboro and actually hike from Reid’s Gap to the normal stopping off point for Waynesboro, which is Rockfish Gap. Billy Goat, with his mom and his aunt, had kindly dropped me off and I’d had a lazy Sunday in Waynesboro, gorging myself, before returning to Reid’s Gap last Monday morning.

I’d arranged a price with a cab company the previous evening for the trip and had various quotes of between $35 and $75. When the young guy came to pick me up that Monday, 20 minutes late, he started on about the cost per mile and I stopped him right there and told him it was $35. He thought about it for ten seconds and said “ok” but didn’t speak to me again for the entire journey. I wish I could use that trick on London cabbies.

The day started well, with a delicious bottle of Powerade left in a cooler by a Trail Angel at the start of the Trail, so I knew I was in for a good day. This improved when I ran into Rip Van Winkel, a nice guy (chemistry teacher) I’d met previously at another shelter. Being of roughly the same vintage, we hiked moderately well together at a fairly similar pace and fell into a chatty day.

Before I bumped into RVW, I found a lovely overlook and shot this video.

I’d planned to do about 15 miles, stopping about 5 miles short of Rockfish Gap, at the Paul C Wolfe Shelter. However, as RVW and I were coming down the steep descent from Humpback Mountain, we both heard voices below. More disconcertingly, these voices were many, loud and predominately female. Arriving at the shelter, the entire place had been overrun by a group from the Church of the Latter Day Saints, with three adults and 27 girls between about 13 and 15.

To be fair to the leader of the group, he had told the girls to leave the shelter free but there wasn’t a single tent site to be had. As far as I’m concerned, getting youngsters out on the Trail at a young age is a terrific thing to do, though leaders should consider the impact upon others and limit their numbers accordingly. Consequently, RVW and I moved on, now accompanied by Aussie, a young guy who had already walked 22 miles and was nearly out for the count.

We made Rockfish Gap, where RVW was being picked up by an old friend! while Aussie merely moaned and groaned in the rear. Having already spent a few nights in Waynesboro, I really wanted somewhere cheap and easy to stay the night, as camping in the vicinity wasn’t available. I spotted the Inn at Afton on the top of a hill and RVW’s friend kindly dropped me off. It was dreadful! There was no wifi, no laundry, the wallpaper was literally peeling off and the furniture had some clear and current termite activity. After sitting there for ten minutes, I found an alternative nearby and got a refund. A kindly local guy saw me walking and stopped and asked if I needed a lift. When I told him where, he said “that’s even worse than where you’ve just come from.” Fortunately, there was wifi and laundry, so, for me, it was almost the Ritz compared to the other place, so I stuck with it. However, it’d you ever find yourself at Rockfish Gap, don’t sleep local – go into Waynesboro!!

The following day, I was really looking forward to hitting Shenandoah National Park, though you can see from my first video in the park that I was really underwhelmed by my immediate first impression. It was so darn scruffy and unkempt and very disappointing.

You can see that it was a very hot day and we spent quite a bit of this day in the sunshine, leading to something over an over-reaction of my sweat glands, as I became completely drenched within thirty minutes. Not nice at all. It was also my second consecutive 20 mile day that ended with a lung bursting climb into Blackrock Hut. Indeed, I was anxious to start seeing some of the famed Shenandoah bears and thought one was chasing me up the hill, as I heard a pounding going on nearby. Imagine my disappointment, not least also my concern, when I realized that the pounding was my own heart, beating rapidly and noisily.

The following morning, I headed out from the shelter (referred to as huts in SNP) and up to Blackrock itself for an early climb. This was a gorgeous lookout that allowed me to pause and eat more food, a new and increasing habit of mine, while I shot another little video.

Young Amber, who you saw briefly in that clip, is married to a military man who was deployed seven times to Iraq and Afghanistan. When I asked here if he had got through it all ok, she said that he’d been shot several times but nothing too serious!! The fortitude with which our military families, both in the US and the UK, take their responsibilities, is nothing short of astounding.

My plan for the day was to get to Pinefield Hut, only about 15 miles away, as I’d read of the various waysides that exist in the park. These are basically places where the general public can eat like normal human beings, while hikers can fill their boots with abandon to assuage their ravenous hiker hunger. To reach the Loft Mountain Wayside necessitated a one mile detour (half there, half back), yet I felt it was worth it, along with Amber and a young guy called Gator. It certainly was worth it, so much so that I slept for about an hour after my blow out on the grass outside. Marvelous!

I still hadn’t seen a bear and I was hearing reports of them as if there were a hundred bears to every person in the park; it was starting to get a little embarrassing. Indeed, that morning, after Black Rock, I had stopped for a break when Amber caught up with me and commented that I must attract animals as I pass through. She said, “Did you see the two piles of bear” and here she hesitated, “excrement?” back there, she continued, having decided upon the mot juste and certainly the first, and only time I’d heard it referred to in this way. “A bear was right next to the first pile, only ten feet into the bushes. I’d missed it again, as I did later in camp, when somebody called out that a bear was on the hillside overlooking our camp. I was already in my sleeping bag and simply shrugged. If it wasn’t meant to be, then that was ok.

The following day was just an eleven mile day, as I had to get into Elkton to pick up a food delivery from Diane. On the hike, I stopped to record my second, revised impressions of Shenandoah and broached the subject of yellow blazing, the practice of taking short cuts on the trail and not sticking entirely to the proscribed trail.

I’ve had a chance to re-think this position, as I’ve spoken with a number of the lads and lasses out here and they are all here for the adventure. They may not necessarily be hiking “every flippin’ inch” like yours truly, but they are certainly hiking their own hike, many of them with issues that they need to resolve. While it wouldn’t work for me, I can see that they don’t stop overnight in motels as much as I do, so they are likely having it even tougher than I am. So my revised view of the Shenandoah’s remains, but I’m revising my view of yellow blazers. Just hike your own hike and don’t pay attention to what others want to do. After all, it is the journey and not the destination that counts.

In Elkton, I also hoped to be able to catch the England v Uruguay World Cup game, though had no idea how I could achieve this latter objective. Luckily, I hitched a ride from a friendly truck driver and he dropped me right by a Mexican restaurant, which is a big fave with hikers. Filling my face with fajitas, guacamole, tacos, nachos, all washed down with a couple of beers, I got into a conversation with a young waiter who liked football (soccer) and told him that I had an iPad and could watch the game on it if I could have access to wifi somewhere. He asked his boss and I was set up, with a complimentary beer, with more nachos and salsa, to watch the game. Even with this kind gesture, England still lost and exited the World Cup.  Again!!

It was now too late to return to the trail, so I found a cheap little motel and left my return till morning.

The motel owner shuttled me back to the trailhead the following morning at 7am, along with a couple of section hikers. It was a gorgeous, crisp day and I hadn’t been hiking for more than about 30 minutes when I saw and heard a disturbance off to the right in the trees. I could see a bear, about twenty five feet up in the tree and starting to move down. I quickly got my camera out and took a lousy still picture, then turned the video on. Imagine my delight when not one, but four bears jumped out of the tree in quick succession and ran further into the undergrowth.

You’ll notice that old big-mouth here doesn’t say anything at all on this particular video; I was an exhilarating combination of mesmerized and scared at the same time. This turned out to be quite the morning, as about twenty minutes later, I ran into a deer on the trail (below), then, when filling my water bottle at a stream, another bear, a big beast, simply emerged from the bushes only twenty yards ahead of me on the trail, didn’t notice me and waddled off down the trail before turning off. This was my clearest encounter and I couldn’t get to my camera, as my hands were wet.

I was having a terrific time and decided to stop and have a peaceful lunch at Bearfence Hut, only to be joined by a very friendly deer who had no objection to being filmed. There is good and bad about this as deers are carriers of deer ticks, possibly the most dangerous animal on the entire Appalachian Trail. These little ticks embed themselves in your skin and can transmit Lyme disease unless you remove them within about a day. Regularly checking yourself for these little blighters (ticks, not deer) is one of my new daily tasks, having found about four or five in Shenandoah.

You can tell I was happy about the day’ event, as I even stopped in front of another view to talk about it later in the day.

I had decided to camp at Big Meadows Campsite and turned up there as several of my new hiking buddies, Nobody, Lumberjack, Doctor, Tomahawk and a few others were leaving the campsite after a shower and laundry. I luckily ran into the camp host, Eileen, and her husband and she seemed to take a liking to the British accent, offering me a free camp spot on her own site. Perfect! The next morning, she came out of the huge RV that they share and offered me coffee, a banana and even some Off, to keep the ticks at bay. Being a Brit in the states is such a bonus sometimes!

I planned a 19 mile day on Saturday, ignoring Luray, a regular stopping point, and hiking on to Pass Mountain Hut. Leaving the campground, however, we got the first sign that we were in for a change of weather, with cloud drifting into the valley below us. It was a lovely sight, though I knew that the day was going to get a little more difficult.

I had yet another restaurant in mind, Skyland, and I was put in the corner when I arrived there. Nobody really wants to sit near us when we are hiking and I’m similarly happy with the arrangement. After all, who wants to be the source of a bit of nose sniffing halfway through a meal? We smell and we know it; why subject others to it if we can be tucked away? Mind you, once seated, they certainly didn’t mind taking my money and I woofed down some chowder, a huge burger and their specialty, a baked ice cream pie. This must have come in at about 2500 calories, which pretty much allowed me to breeze through the afternoon with my new found power. It really is a case of calories in and calories out and Shenandoah is certainly helping out with the calories in.

Bear number six became apparent when I caught up with Lumberjack, who was hanging out on the trail with no particular plan to move forward. He’d seen a bear in his path and the bear, similarly, had no particular plan to get out of Lumberjack’s way. Of course, I pulled out the camera to record this stand off.

At this point, the rain that had threatened had started and I was soaked to the skin, though there was no real alternative to simply putting in the miles until camp. Fortunately, the rain had subsided quite a bit when I got to camp and I was able to set up, albeit in rather damp conditions. The dampness pervades everything and it can be a miserable task to try to warm up and find something dry to wear. So far, we’ve been extraordinarily lucky with the weather. Quite what people do with, say ten days of consecutive rain, I really can’t imagine.

I knew that I’d like to dry off in Front Royal but that I couldn’t attempt to do it in one day, as it was 26 miles ahead and, with the way in which the huts are set up, two thirteen mile days beckoned. The first took me, as well as the little group I mentioned earlier, to yet another wayside, though I shot this great view while on a stop with Nobody. The wind was up and it would rain later, but it was a gorgeous morning.

At the wayside, we all charged our phones and basically hung out and were going in and out of the shop grazing, with burgers, candy bars, milkshakes (I had two) and fries. The camaraderie between the hikers is wonderfully friendly and, even though we all look like we need a wash, and we always do, all the visitors and bikers would stop and chat and were genuinely interested in our adventure.

Leaving the others behind, as I wanted to get to the shelter before the threatened rain, I ran into yet another bear, my seventh, up a tree. I filmed it but you can hardly see him, so it’s not included here.

Another soggy night and yet another bad choice by me for a site to pitch my tent, left me with a fairly sleepless night and I got up this morning very pleased with my choice to spend the night out of the woods. It was an easy 13 miles today, though I saw yet another bear shoot out of the undergrowth and simply cross the path in front of me.

It has been a joy to see these bears and my initial fears have been entirely removed by the clear indication that they are even more frightened of me than I am of them. Whatever I may have written previously, when I may have seemed a bit blasé, I have been bloody desperate to see a bear and now my count is eight in four days. They are stupendous creatures and I feel honored to have had the chance to see them on their turf, and not mine.

So the Shenandoah’s are now behind me and my last impression was that it was great to see the bears, but that the green tunnel was too prevalent and the best views to be had are often on Skyline Drive. It is certainly a magnificent park and one that I’m glad I’ve walked, though you can see in the video that I nearly got lost.

Separation

This is really it, on the plane, with the rather symbolic separation of Diane and me, as we are located in seats on the plane one row apart.  It seems appropriate somehow as we ease into this 6 month separation and I’m glad she is coming to Atlanta and beyond with me, delaying the final farewell for a day.  She has been nervous all week as the day has approached and now is keeping as brave a face as possible under the circumstances.

Temporary separation has rarely, if ever, been an issue in my life.  My separations until now have been permanent, willfully walking out on two marriages, never to return.  This is different, though, as I will be coming back joyfully to this marriage in six months time, though I’m sure Diane and I have two different perspectives on the time apart.  I’m going off to have my, probably, last great adventure, while she is the one left behind to keep the house running, preparing me food and looking after her folks.  I’m certainly going to miss her; indeed, home sickness is probably a greater fear for me than bears or injury.  However, I’m not letting the impending distance between us get in the way of embracing this journey to its fullest extent.  I’m ready for the rubber to hit the road or, in this case, the trail.

I had to leave my pepper spray behind in the car, though Diane will mail it to me in about a week or so.  However, irony of ironies, when we went through security, Diane’s bag must have alerted the security team to something and they found her own, smaller pepper spray in her bag.  Naturally, they confiscated it.

Since I had my head shaved, I’ve really felt a calm fall over me, with a quietness of spirit I didn’t know I possessed.  I have talked about this peripherally for years, researched AND talked fervently about it for the past three months and, now that I’m about to walk into the woods for the first time in my life, the talking has to stop and the research is done.  It’s now going to be a case of putting my research into action and simply planting one foot in front of the other 5,000,000 times, which is apparently the number of steps that it takes to complete the Trail.

Tomorrow, I’ll send my first pictures from the Trail itself, so follow along with me and let the fun begin……

Why am I doing this?

Now that the hike is drawing closer, (less than  5 weeks away) I thought I’d try to give you an idea of why I’ve chosen to be uncomfortable, exhausted, hungry and smelly for about six months.  It has to be said at the outset that I am a man of home comforts.  Frankly, give me my remote control, my sofa, my TV and my wife providing me with endless snacks and I’m pretty much good to go.  Why, you may ask, would somebody willingly give that up for 6 months of lonely, hard work and discomfort?

When put in those terms, the answer is not immediately apparent, even to me, but I’d like to share a couple of moments that conspired to put me on, and keep me on, this path. Continue reading Why am I doing this?

Animal Crackers

This blog post contains an admission that speaks to my woeful lack of experience of “the wild.”

Last week, I continued to wear in my new boots, with a 6 mile trek around my neighborhood.  There is a very pretty gravel track that goes by a lake and I really enjoy the walk.  Just as I joined the path, I noticed a snake about 30 feet away, in a different direction to the path I was taking.  It was coiled and not moving, so I pulled out my phone, took a quick snap, then zoomed in on the snap and posted it on Facebook.  I asked my friends if they knew what the snake was and, after a number of unsure responses, with a rat snake, a garden

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snake and a damifino (whatever that is) snake as options, I started thinking back to the moment I saw it and I think the clue should have been that it didn’t move – at all.  As a consequence, and to my eternal shame and blushing embarrassment, I believe it was the well known snakius rubberis, routinely purchased for a buck at Dollaris Generali.

Yes, that gruesome looking beast, coiled and ready to spring, was probably no more than a mass of rubber, painted for effect and no more likely to spring at me than the Statue of Liberty.  Exactly why it was in the path I have no idea, though I suspect it was there for precisely the effect it had; it was put there for some mug to come along and I happened to be the mug who saw it and fell for it.

This doesn’t bode well for my upcoming trip, as I’ll likely mis-identify all sorts of animals on the trail.  So, when I tell you that I’ve seen a mountain lion, read cat.  When I report a bear sighting, read raccoon and any talk of moose should be downgraded to Bambi immediately.

This is indeed a step into the unknown; I just hadn’t realized that identifying live from inanimate objects was going to be yet another issue to watch out for.

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