I should go backwards more often. It's the best way to see the other NOBO
Yesterday I decided to stop about eleven miles short of my goal of thirty
miles because my progress through all the rocks on that section was so slow. I'm
glad I made that decision.
Instead of taking a "zero" mileage day today, I used the shorter mileage as a
rest day and thoroughly enjoyed my run with Cody. There's not much to tell about
the Trail today, so I'll concentrate on the hikers I met. They made my day!
Since Jim and I are boon-docking for two days, we have to take the camper
wherever we go (can't just leave it in a campground and drive around in the
truck). Jim wanted to run on the Blue Ridge Parkway while I was on the AT. He
liked the spacious Humpback Rocks parking area where he waited for me yesterday,
so I made that my end point again today.
That meant running this short section from north to south, the opposite way
I've been going.
I did this once before in North Carolina when one of my quads hurt going
downhill; I chose to do that section backwards so it would be predominantly
uphill - more time-consuming, but less painful. Nothing hurts this time (thank
goodness!). Going south today had more gain than loss, but it wasn't
What was significant was the number of thru-hikers I got to meet this
The number of thru-hikers is probably down to 25-30% of those who began at
Springer Mountain this spring, if this year's stats are similar to prior years.
The last two years, only 22% of the northbounders (NOBOs) finished the whole
trail. Most of the folks out here now will finish, but they are spread out over
several hundred miles by now. In fact, some like ultra runner Robin Kane are
Unless a thru-hiker is walking with someone fairly consistently, s/he isn't
going to see other hikers much during the day when they're going the same
direction. They may end up in the same shelter or camping area, but they leave
at different times in the morning, take days off periodically, go different
distances, and walk at different paces. It can get lonely out there by this
point in the journey.
It's a little different in my case because I'm going faster and longer than
most of the hikers. I "run into" them a little more often. But there are days
when I see only one or two thru-hikers. While I love the solitude of solo
running/walking, I enjoy short conversations along the way with other hikers,
especially the ones who are going to Katahdin.
So today was a bonanza for me, hiker-wise. I knew I had plenty of time to run
the section (yes, much of it was runnable!) so I spent over an hour talking with
ten thru-hikers. Eight were folks whose names I'd seen but hadn't met yet. What
"SPIRIT" AND "SWINGIN' JANE"
Jim dropped Cody and me off at Rockfish Gap at the southern edge of
Shenandoah National Park and we began running down the smooth trail towards
Humpback Rocks. It was overcast and cool, there were lots of little creeks for
Cody to play in, and we were just rocking along when we encountered our first
Spirit and Swingin' Jane met on the Trail about four weeks ago and decided to
hike together as long as it was practical for them. Both are women in their 50s
or 60s (I'm a terrible guess of age) who are experienced back-packers but
first-time AT thru-hikers. Spirit lives in Chattanooga, TN, Jane in eastern
Ohio. Jane is hiking with her five-year-old black dog named Simon the Wonder
I asked Jane about her name (I just love how some of these trail names
originate!). She explained that two years ago on the Buckeye Trail she got a
little wild and crazy and took a big swing on a four-inch grapevine hanging from
the hillside (not over water). Unfortunately, the vine broke and she seriously
damaged one knee; she said it looked like a basketball. Her doctor had to
aspirate the fluid several times, but she didn't require surgery.
After that incident, her friends started calling her "Swingin' Jane," as in
Tarzan and Jane. Although her husband thinks the name is questionable, "Jane"
wears it with pride. It shows her sense of adventure and perseverance. My kinda
Spirit needs to see a chiropractor in Waynesboro tomorrow so she's taking one
or two days off. I probably won't see her again. Jane is doing twenty miles in
Shenandoah NP tomorrow and will see her daughter and grandkids while she's in
the park. I should see her at least once more.
"GET-ER-DONE" AND "NOONAN"
Remember Get-er-Done? Graham and I met this pleasant 30-something fella from
Hendersonville, NC near McAfee Knob/Tinker Cliffs on Day 42. He's keeping a good
pace, so hopefully I'll keep seeing him a few more times as we proceed north. He
lamented the fact that he has seen so few thru-hikers on the trail, although he
chowed down with several Saturday evening at the best Trail Magic event I've
ever heard of.
When I met Noonan coming down The Priest on Saturday afternoon, he mentioned
he was killing time on his high rock-perch-with-a-view so he could enjoy dinner
down at the river. He'd heard there was some good trail magic there. We got
talking about other things, and I didn't ask him to elaborate.
I should have. This is some trail magic I would have indulged in!
By the time I ran down the last three miles to the truck, I'd forgotten about
the trail magic. I didn't see anything in the parking lot, so we left. It
started pouring down rain about the same time.
Yesterday morning I crossed the Tye River at 7 AM and saw a note on the
bridge about trail magic, pointing right. I looked, and saw what looked like a
building far off in the woods. I figured it was a hostel or something, but
didn't investigate because there were several hikers asleep in their tents
nearby. And besides, who would be up offering trail magic at 7 AM?
Turns out, it's a previous thru-hiker who has set up a large tent for the
last several weeks and serves up delicious near-gourmet food to other thrus
every night! The makers of Goretex gear foot the food bill, but this guy gets
and prepares the food. Get-er-Done said it was a full spread, and everyone was
so full that night they all camped in their tents by the river instead of going
Included on the menu were barbequed chicken, shish kebobs, hamburgers, hot
dogs, baked beans, corn on the cob, other veggies and fruits, and several
desserts. The spread was completely free, but hikers were asked to complete a
survey re: Goretex products.
That's the most elaborate "trail magic" I've heard or read about, and I'm
sorry we missed it. Would have been fun to talk with other hikers more. What a
win-win for both the Gore company and the hikers!
Get-er-Done also scored well with the trail magic we all found in the bags
near the Maupin Field yesterday. He helped himself to a tasty blueberry muffin
and one of the beers, saying it was the first time he's ever hiked while
I don't like beer, so I didn't indulge. If there had been some wine, I
probably would've taken that! Maybe I wouldn't have minded the blasted
rocks so much the rest of the way!
Get-er-Done also told me some funny things about how Noonan has the useful
ability to blend in with any group and is a "yogi" artist. In hiker lingo, to
"yogi" is to receive something nice (usually food or a ride) without actually
asking for it. Noonan recently made friends with both a group of Methodists
and Boy Scouts who were camping, and came back with food not only for himself
but also his buddies.
Get-er-Done is quite impressed with Noonan's social skills!
"TRAMPAS" AND THE "OFC" GROUP
While I was talking with Get-er-Done, up walked "Trampas," an older gentleman
from San Antonio. He enjoyed petting Cody and hearing about other hikers on the
Trail today. Neither man has met Spirit or Swingin' Jane, but they were close
enough to catch both women.
Cody and I spent some time at the only shelter in this short section, the
well-situated (next to a large creek) Paul C. Wolfe shelter. I spent several
minutes reading the shelter register to see who's ahead of me by several days.
These are folks I'll soon be meeting, most likely. Warren and Terry Doyle's
group is still four days ahead. They're smokin'! That's the group of crewed
hikers, including "Singapore" and "Miss Wiggy." "Sawbuck" is with them now, too.
After Cody had his fill of Mill Creek, we moved on. He totally ignored a
large turtle in the middle of the trail, and several of those cute little
red-orange salamanders. This is the third time I've seen them. Jim told me later
he saw a bunch of them on the Blue Ridge Parkway today. Unfortunately, most of
them had been flattened by vehicles and were in various stages of crispness from
the sun. He moved a few live ones off the roadway so they didn't meet the same
As we started up Humpback Mountain in earnest we could hear a group of
hikers on the switchback above us. Down came four happy hikers who introduced
themselves as the "OFC" group - I'd seen their signatures in trail registers,
but didn't know what the acronym meant. It's the "Over Forty Crowd." "Gumby"
(male) and "Pokey" (female) are married. "Red Wolf" (male) and "Hitch" (female) are
the other two members of the group. They're having as much fun as they can in
this adventure. I hope I'll see them again.
"PIZZA/SUEY" AND "NATTY BUMPO"
Soon after this, I ran into one of my favorite hikers, Pizza the Hut (Josh),
who I met 'way back on Day 25 in Tennessee. He's the nice young man who is a
marathoner and is fast-packing the Trail in about five months. At this rate,
he's going to finish in four! We were both happy to see each other again. I knew
he was still in the game because he's been ahead of me and I've seen his notes
in the trail registers. But he had no clue if I was still out here. The last he
saw me, I was in agony with a sore quad.
(BTW, it's so much more fun to be running without any pain now. I'm finally
off Celebrex and Naproxen, at least until the next injury.)
Pizza says that Noonan has another trail name for him now: "Suey." If
you stretch it out real long, it sounds like the pig call. Turns out Pizza was
active in 4-H when he was a teenager and won several prizes at local fairs for
his hogs. He told Noonan this over several beers. I can imagine the hog-calling
that was going on with a bunch of beer-drinking campers!
Natty Bumpo was with Pizza. I'd seen his name two days ago in a register and
got my hopes up that it was an e-mail friend, Nat Stoddard, who goes by "Bumpo."
It's not, but another 60-ish fella who's a big fan of James Fennimore Cooper's
Leatherstocking Tales, especially the book, Pathfinder. Natty
Bumpo is the series hero. Natty-the-thru-hiker recited his two favorite (and
lengthy) quotes from this book having to do with his passion for walking alone
in the woods.
Natty is also a marathoner, trail runner, and triathlete. He and Pizza "get"
why I'm doing the Trail this way.
One of the most interesting things I got from talking with these ten hikers,
besides their sense of fun and adventure and appreciation of nature, was their
disdain for all the rocks in the previous section.
I'm not alone!!! Even the hikers hate the rocks!!! We're all looking forward
to an easier time of it in the Shennies this week.
Most of the hikers I talked with are going into Waynesboro today. It's a
convenient town for grocery shopping, eating, getting mail drops, seeing a
movie, etc. before the 101-mile trek through Shenandoah National Park.
At the end of this AT segment, I took a short hike to Humpback Rocks and took
the photo you see above looking west toward the Shenandoah Valley. Then Cody and
I boogied down the 1.3-mile access trail to the Humpback Rocks parking lot on
the Blue Ridge Parkway, where Jim and Tater were sitting in the grass in the
shade of the camper. Too bad this isn't where we're boon-docking!
On Jim's 12-mile parkway run this morning he noticed an interesting recreated
1800s mountain farm across the road, so we walked down there after I ate lunch
and took a shower. If you're interested, it's at the Blue Ridge Parkway Visitor
Center at milepost 6 and it's free. This is a photo of one of the barns
and a rock wall similar to many I've seen along the AT:
No hikers needed a ride when we reached Rockfish Gap so we drove on back to
our home-away-from-home the last two nights: the Wal-Mart parking lot in
Staunton, VA! Camping fees are eating us alive, so Jim decided we'd boon-dock
here to save some money.
We've stayed at Wal-Marts across the country maybe five times before. We
spend a lot of money at this chain and appreciate their largesse to campers
(and truckers). We always ask permission, although most of the stores allow
discreet camping in their remote lots overnight.
(The ones that don't/can't tend to be in localities where owners of private
campgrounds get legislation passed to prevent free parking at stores. So much
for free enterprise. Sorry, another "political" comment. It shouldn't surprise
you to know my favorite novel is Atlas Shrugged.)
Wal-Mart is not exactly a destination campground; travelers going from Point A
to Point B, especially on freeways, are the most common campers. Last evening we
were part of a group of eight rigs; tonight there are nine, plus a semi. Jim
just took this photo showing some of the RVs:
What's really interesting is that the campers were all out talking to each
other like in a real campground! We've never seen that in a parking lot before.
Jim was out fiddling with our (quiet Honda) generator and a man came over to ask
him if it runs our air conditioner. No, but Jim took it over to this guy's RV
and it runs his. So he's probably going to get one before he and his wife drive
on to hot Arizona.
Jim's a good trail angel and camper angel.
Next up: 101 miles in Shenandoah National Park. In six days,
I'll be out of Virginia. In seven days, I'll be through West Virginia and into
Maryland. I'm starting on a new map set, and I've done 39% of my total distance