We would see two more bears the next day once we got down from Hightop Mountain. Both of them were much more skittish than the other two and ended up running away instead of challenging us.
I was in a lot of pain 15 miles in, and although I was only taking the pain pills in the morning to conserve what I had, I needed to take a second dose to get me through the day. I panicked when I thought I had dropped my pill on the ground and couldn’t find it, but eventually did.
I was getting really frustrated since I had the stubbornness required to get through the hike to Maine, but I feared that my condition was worse than predicted. Frisbee even questioned whether or not I should finish, and I was getting worried. I cried because I wanted to conquer the trail in its entirety so badly, and was afraid I might not be able to. We passed a cemetery which symbolized my current mood.
Our spirits were lifted up when we saw some familiar faces, Shake, Bake, and Storm Crow, who we hadn’t seen in ages! Bake’s girlfriend decided to join them on the trail too, and we stopped to chit chat a bit before making our way towards the Big Meadow Wayside. We ate, grabbed some beer, and hiked back out to stay at Big Meadow Campground with a group of new hiker friends, Karma, Bombay, and Lightning.
The next morning, we broke down camp in the rain and hid out in the campground laundry room until it died down. Then we took off for the Skyland Resort and Restaurant, to dine and drink some brews. As soon as the lounge opened up, we all gathered there and ended up dragging in a couple more hikers (Casper, Argonaut, and Brother Blood) for drinks!
Bombay decided to hike on even though the weather called for thunderstorms. We later would feel bad for him when the wind picked up and the sky started dumping. There were a few scatters of hail in between, and we were all feeling nice, cozy, and dry watching it from the lounge. After the storm passed, we weren’t feeling too motivated to hike anymore, so we managed to get a cabin (a very small one at that), for 5 hikers (the two of us, Karma, Argonaut, Casper, and Lightening).
Karma convinced some tourists at the bar to take us on a beer run to the Big Meadows Wayside, and they were nice enough to cover the cost! We stopped at some nice views on the way back, which made us all a little sad. The original Appalachian Trail took you along the same route as Skyline Drive. Today, the trail through Shenandoah National Park keeps hikers in “the gutter” and you miss out on a lot of the nice views the park has to offer.
We enjoyed a performance from the Skyland Cloggers, then tried to find our cabin. This took us a while, and I was hurting pretty bad, so I was close to tears as we wandered around in circles. We had gotten in touch with Refill over the phone and told him to sneak in, and he miraculously found the cabin in the dark with no trouble. We crammed into that little place like Tetris cubes!
We ate breakfast the next morning at the Skyland Restaurant and worried about the dark clouds in the sky. It drizzled a bit, but stopped, and so we rambled on passed Thornton Gap which a lot of hikers stopped at to hitch into Luray. We decided to just get our fill of food and snacks at the Waysides instead of hitching from the trail to get resupply. It was likely pricier inside the park, but we figured it wouldn’t be too much better in the tourist towns right outside.
After stopping at Pass Mountain Hut for the night, we continued on to the Elkwallow Wayside. A bunch of hikers gathered there to drink beer out by the picnic tables and to eat burger and sandwiches. We would pass over Skyline Drive many times before making it to our final stop at Gravel Spring Hut, but we enjoyed the nice views along the way.
Total AT Mileage: 941.3 miles
Number of Hiking Days: 70
Number of Zero Days: 17
Average Mileage per Day Total: 13.4 miles
Average Mileage this Chapter: 13.1 miles (4 days)
Longest Hiking Day: 26.2 miles (Groundhog Creek Shelter, NC/TN to Hot Springs, NC)
Shortest Hiking Day: 3.5 miles (mile mark 802.6 to Buena Vista, VA)