In October of 1989 I hiked 100 miles or so of the Appalachian Trail, mostly through Shenandoah National Park. I went by myself and carried all my stuff with me (which made for a heavy 65lb pack).
My friend Jay Safir dropped me off along route 522 near Front Royal, Virginia, just outside Shenandoah National Park. I strapped on my pack, said goodbye and headed off along the trail. I don't think he could conceive of heading into the wilds alone and was slightly amazed.
What follows is a transcription of the journal I kept.
The hunter's moon and my first night on the trail. The pack is very heavy and progress up onto the ridge was slow. Found a campsite very late - had to set up and cook in the dark (moonlight through the trees). I won't do this again. The campsite is on quite a slope.
Totally wiped. Today consisted of lots of climbing (interspersed with lots of descending). Stopped early (because I couldn't go much further!). Too tired to cook tonight (and not particularly hungry). I figured today and tomorrow would be the worst physically - I can hardly wait for tomorrow! Weather is clear blue skies, light winds and just a bit hot. Got up in the night, went down to the spring (I was thirsty and had no water left).
[here I wrote a few notes related to my work at the time].
Everything went well today. Made it to here (where I wanted to be). Felt pretty good all day - still very tired when I stopped. Ate lunch at Byrd's Nest #4 and for dinner ate some nasty freeze-dried chicken and rice thing. It's still hot - too hot for hill-climbing, but the weather seems about to change (clouds rolling in). I hope it doesn't rain.
I'm reading Hesse's Steppenwolf - it seems strangely appropriate on a trip such as this. Every now and again I find myself longing for some simple bourgeois pleasure!
[The Byrd's Nest shelters are 3-sided stone huts located in a few places in the park. They typically contain a picnic table and a fireplace. Unlike the AT huts, you can't camp at them.]
Today dawns with heavy, continuous rain and fog.
Everything is soggy but I'm resigned to it! It almost feels good. Mary's Rock wasn't too bad! Ate breakfast at Panorama - real food! Trying to decide where to camp tonight. Since it's supposed to continue to rain, I might try for accommodations at Skyland.
[The first backpacking trip I took in the US, in 1977 with my Dad and brother, was up Mary's Rock. We were in poor physical shape, didn't take enough water, etc. It seemed like a hellish climb and stuck in memory as such; it's actually a pretty easy climb.]
As the trail went on and the rain went on I became more and more convinced that a room at Skyland was the way to go. Then, suddenly (magically), as I came upon Little Stoney Man Cliffs, the weather cleared and I was afforded a glorious view of the valley with low clouds catching the peaks and high clouds breaking the blue of the sky. I almost decided to camp, but the summit of Stoney Man is about the only good site around here. So I dragged my weary bones to Skyland, got a room and luxuriated in a shower followed by a bath. Go over Stoney Man, the AT is a lousy trail here - up, down, up, and up into Skyland - nasty.
Whatever happened to the cold, crisp October mornings of my youth, when the sun burned the frost from the leaves and the wind thrilled to the bone? It's foggy and rainy and getting colder - a fairly miserable day. I have a fairly nice camp if only everything wasn't so wet.
It's still raining.
Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain. According to the weather forecast at Lewis Mountain, it's going to rain tomorrow only it will be colder (30 - 40 °F). I can hardly wait. I'm certainly getting lots of experience of wet-weather camping. The plan now is to camp tomorrow on or near the shoulder of Flattop Mountain south of Powell Gap and then Saturday at Loft Mountain Campgrounds (laundry and a Shower!). From then on: Sunday @ Riprap Area, Monday @ Calf Mountain, Tuesday @ a motel, Wednesday @ home!
I finished Steppenwolf and The Old Man and the Sea last night. Tonight, I guess it's Grendel - after that's gone I don't know what I'll do.
The weather this morning was fog and drizzle, but now it's sunny!! It still looks very changeable, but I live in hope. Ate lunch at Hightop hut after a hideous Old-Rag-Fire-Road-like climb. Off to Flattop Mountain.
["Old-Rag-Fire-Road-like" refers to a backpacking trip I took with my brother and a friend, Mike, where we ran out of food and then had to hike up the Old Rag Fire Road to Skyland. My brother took off and left Mike and I in his dust. We hatched theories that he had eaten the missing food since he had all the energy. We didn't enjoy the climb, although again it wasn't really too tough.]
It hasn't rained yet this afternoon. It's much colder and I think the rain is over. Actually got a chance to clean and dry the tent! The sleeping bags are still a bit damp but they may improve tonight. The Mountain House chilli mac I had for lunch was excellent. Buy this one again. I need to get a better-shaped groundsheet. The climb up Flattop was pretty hideous too!
Had a shower, did laundry, ate junk food, paid $8 for a campsite, Bought Skyland by Pollock, read, slept, good weather, lots of climbing, good day!
The weather is perfect! 30 - 40 °F, sunny, little cotton-fluff clouds! Eating lunch at Blackrock Hut. The hike this morning was quite easy and enjoyable unlike the climb up Loft Mountain yesterday. The campsite was very nice for an organized affair and might be worth a trip sometime.
Finished Grendel last night - a good book but somewhat over-rated, I would say. Ate Mountain House chicken stew - tasty. I think Mountain House may be the people to choose, not Richmor. Note that Richmor are selling under the moniker 'Natural High'. I've tried one of these (Beef Stroganoff) and it wasn't very good.
[This was a couple of years before I became a vegetarian. I carried freeze-dried food because I needed stuff that would last a week or two.]
Very enjoyable day, the only major climbs were after lunch and I cranked up them without a problem. Nice campsite; no view but a beautiful bit of forest. My only concern is water: I have about a pint and a half but I don't see a spring for another eight miles - could be tough. Tomorrow night at Calf Mountain shelter (outside the park).
What a strange and wonderful night. I got up to take a leak and the night was perfectly calm and perfectly clear. The stars shone brightly through the canopy of stark tree limbs.
Water at last! Ate "breakfast" and contemplated the very steep (albeit short) climb to the hut. It's still pretty early - probably just after noon - so I'll have lots of time to sit and contemplate at the hut. I finished Skyland last night so I have nothing to read.
A beautiful hut for my last night on the trail. No one here and it doesn't seem to be a particularly well-used hut. I guess many of the gnarly 'packers just cruise on through to Waynesboro.
Read the log - and actually, it is fairly well used. Went back to June 1988 - great reading, read 'til late.
I'm finished. A beautiful day. The last few miles from McCormick Gap were much harder than I expected - lots of little ups and downs, very rocky and rugged. Now to hitch a ride to the bus station.
Hiked down US250 into town because it was a beautiful day, downhill and picturesque (despite the cars). Found the bus station (closed until 2:15PM, it's now about 1:00PM) My bus leaves at 4:20PM. Had a burger, fries, pepsi, shake at Tastee-Freez (junk food again). It's kinda neat sitting here watching Waynesboro go by.
I took a bus to Charlottesville and then to Fairfax, then I took a cab home. I had met almost no one on the trail - it was late in the year. I still had about half of my food left. I probably took too much stuff, but I liked camping in a tent rather than in huts. It was a great trip, I wished I could have hiked the entire Appalachian Trail.
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