THE FIRST SIGN OF SPRING
Miles 916.5 to 993
Shenandoah National Park to Rod Hollow Shelter, VA
When I first crossed over the boundary and into Shenandoah National Park, I was guided by the light of my headlamp. The wind howled as I looked for a place to cowgirl camp, and a few stray bits of gropple perked my curiosity. Earlier that day, I could see the brewing of a winter storm on the western horizon. Fortunately, where I was headed, the weather forecast called for a 1% chance of precipitation that night, followed by days of sunshine. For all of those who prayed for my safety and warmth, I can’t thank you enough.
The hike through the park was no doubt beautiful, but it still bewilders me to walk along a footpath that is so intimately intertwined with Skyline Drive, where license plates as far as Colorado drove along its scenic curves. Nonetheless, no matter how I made my way north, be it by trail or tempted by the ease of the paved surface, there is something very special about visiting the park in winter. The views are vast, unfazed by the haze and humidity that is so ubiquitous in summer.
Two highlights of the park stand out the most. First, was a blue-blaze trail along Bearfence Ridge, where a short rock scramble takes hikers past rocks piercing out of the earth and angled toward the sky. I was suprised to meet two women perched on the rock, being that it was just after sunrise, and I was glad for the conversation. I took several minutes to sit down for breakfast with them, and they kindly offered me bananas, trail mix and beef jerky. The second highlight was The Pinnacle, where I stood on a cliff at sunset, looking north toward the lovely Mary’s Rock. The terrain along the Appalachian Trail in this segment is fairly gentle, and the rocks are what caught my attention, unique outcroppings compromised of behemoth boulders, or odd and peculiar rock that lay in disbelieving fashion.
I wish I had a few more images to show the scale of these rocks, but I had to conserve my camera’s battery as it seems the Braven Powerbank’s ability to hold a charge may have been permanently zapped after the last cold spell. I’ll pick up a new one in the next week.
After four days in the park, and just as I had entered the park, I crossed over the northern boundary guided by the light of my headlamp. I hadn’t done much night hiking in a while, especially because the last time I had, I sprained my ankle two switchbacks from a shelter. (Which, after enough tumeric and vitamin I, it seems to have healed over just fine.) Personally, I just don’t like hiking in the night, and would much prefer getting an early start in the day, where the light of dawn will inevitably greet you, warm you, and encourage a good day of miles. But the night leaving SNP, the night was warm and owls who-who-who-whoooed as I walked by. It was a wee bit past 7pm when I arrived at the Tom Floyd Wayside, a nice shelter that overlooked the twinkling lights of Front Royal and neighboring communities. I made dinner, caught up on my journal, and soaked up the luxurious warmth of the spring-like night.
The next day, I nearly got a sunburn. It was a great day, kickstarted at 5:30am. I truely thrive when I fall rhythem to waking an hour before dawn. I just feel so much more relaxed and productive when I can wake unrushed, and enjoy coffee and oatmeal while the light begins to slowly, and then almost instantaneously, coat the outside world. I’d hike 27 miles that first day of March, and although Spring was still weeks away, there were plenty of signs for the warmer future. Songbirds, whose melodies I very much missed, greeted me around many a corner. Then, at the Jim & Molly Denton Shelter, I spotted a small patch of crocuses, beautiful purple flowers that are almost always the first to poke their heads out. I also saw a lone butterfly, drifting joyously in the air, and then a rabbit, with a white cotton tail.
The final highlight of the “first day of spring,” was meeting Dennis, a 66-year man who is a volunteer with the PATC (Potomac Appalachian Trail Club), and whose stride and speed easily kept up with my own. It’s rare to have company these days, being the leader of the pack and a NOBO who will cross the halfway point before most hikers set off from Springer Mountain. So spending a few miles walking with someone was a treat, and Dennis and I shared stories about trail maintenance, thru-hiking and neat facts about migratory birds. He was kind enough to give me a canister of fuel, and energy bar and a good book to entertain my usual nights of solitude.
UP NEXT: 1,000 miles.
Also, for all those who are following along and have sent me kind, encouraging words, or who have offered to send little care packages, or who have donated to the hike, I just want to thank you for your generosity and kindness. I’ve been busy hiking as you know, and I often get caught up in chores or having a conversation with another human being when I get to town, so please know that I am truely grateful for your support. This is a really big year for me, and I wouldn’t be able to do it without your help. So thanks to each and everyone of you.