Hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT) July 4th weekend ended with my naked body on the floor of my best friend's room as she spot-checked every inch and crevice for ticks. This being my first experience of section hiking the AT in the summer, I didn’t know what I was in for. My past summer section hiking has been on my home turf the John Muir Trail in the High Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. Two things these trails have in common are strong through-hikers and trail magic.
Section-hiking the AT requires advance planning. My friend Deb planned the 47-mile, four-day trip to knock off the section of the “Roller Coaster” south of the Bears Den Hiking Hostel. We completed the North end in
early spring a few years earlier. We stayed at the Bears Den, and after a comfortable night sleep, morning shower, and a quick sip of coffee, Rhonda (our ride) picked us up at 7:30 a.m. This allowed us to leave our car for the return trip.
It was an hour’s drive to Snickers Gap. I requested a quick stop for more caffeine and sugar to fuel my tank. Rhonda is retired and makes extra income shuttling section-hikers near Harpers Ferry. She shared stories with us as she drove. In the 70’s, she hiked the AT alone at 17 years of age. She was homeless at the time and living in a cave. She trapped her food along the way and sustained herself on horse feed. Her story left me wishing the ride was longer so I could hear more. At the trail head she sent us off with a traditional Cherokee Blessing, hand-carved AT wood, bead, leather, and string bracelets, a spray of bug repellant, and some electrolytes.
We climbed up to a beautiful rock outcrop and one of two spectacular views of the beautiful Shenandoah National Park. We spent a good portion of the day trekking through weeds as high as our heads. The humidity, heat, and bugs were taking its toll on me on the lower land and climbing up again was a relief as we came upon the only water of the day. At the very light stream, I filled my water bottles, treated my water, soaked my feet, splashed my face and soaked my buff. Unlike the ice-cold glacier water in the Sierras, this stream was warm and not the relief I was hoping for - but water is water.
At the end of the day a storm was brewing. It was an uphill climb to the shelter, and once we arrived, we then had a long, steep downhill to the spring to refill our water supplies. We went through liters of water on the 10 miles that felt like 13! To beat the storm, we quickly made our dinner of couscous with dried onion and homemade tofu jerky. Thank god for the Jet Boil. Finishing just in time, thunder sent us scrambling for cover. When lightning started striking overhead and the rain started to come down in sheets, a quick decision led us to stay in the shelter as opposed to pitching a tent. This was my first experience sleeping in an open front shelter with strangers, although they didn’t stay strangers for long. As we watched mother nature’s version of fireworks, we shared stories of our adventures. Everyone slept side-by-side, squeezed in like sardines, and smelling like them too!