Entering Shenandoah, I fill out the self registration permit. Ripping it on the perforated lines and attach part of it to my pack as I deposit the other section into the metal collection box. I decided not to blue blaze, take a canoe down the river, and continue walking through the National Park even with the condition of my feet.
It’s starting to get really hot, wet and humid. I have ordered a hammock and tarp to replace the bivy I am currently carrying as my shelter from the now constant rain storms. The bivy also lacks ventilation and storage space for gear. Crawling into a shelter that has the size and feel of a coffin and trying to organize and change clothing is not just extremely difficult but impossible. Luckily for me, most of the storms have occurred in the evening, so I can avoid being soaked by the rain, unfortunately it is so humid I am soaked regardless. Sometimes, however, I relish hiking in the rain, the cool water washing away the dirt and grim of the trail and giving me a reprieve from the heat.
The roughly 100 miles section heading north from Rockfish Gap, VA to Front Royal, VA. This section of the AT for me was one of the most enjoyable. I loved New Hampshire and Maine, but Shenandoah was great. The trail was virtually flat in comparison to other sections allowing for big mile days. There were way stations a short hike from the trail where tourists in cars would stop to eat while they drove through the park at a fast pace stopping at overlooks and eating food …ah nature! Not only could I eat an endless supply of greasy burgers at these oases, but every once in a while a tourists or two would venture down the trail a few miles. They were very interested in the thru hikers and would ask questions, then offer what food they had on them. Like any other wildlife I suggest you don’t feed the cute, skinny looking hikers no matter how much you think they need the food! I had become habituated to the extra calories from the tourists. I carried less food at resupplys because of the extra food provided by the well-meaning tourists. I started approaching every tourist I could striking up a conversation so they would feed me. Later when I left this promise land, I quickly realized I didn’t have enough food. I was forced to eat the random gummy bears that fellow thru hikers had dropped on the trail and luckily I came up on what tasted like a bag of Bisquick before I made it to my next resupply and increased the amount of calories I was carrying again!
I stayed in shelters more than normal in Shenandoah so I could try to spread my gear out to dry. I noticed that the local bears much like me had become used to easy food. In the evenings they would investigate around the dumpsters possibly shaking down tourist for food. I remember one such instance years before I hiked the AT and I was in the park. I was hiking around one of the campsites when I heard a grunt, looking to my right there was a bear on his hind legs looking at me with another one on all fours a few yards from the one staring me in my eyes, it really felt like a shakedown. The person I was with says in a panicked voice, “I just ate pepperoni and cheese and the leftovers are in my bag!” “Do you think they smell it?” Later that night with this memory in my head, I would watch from the shelters while the bears would examine the bear hangs to see if any easy food was available before putting more effort into finding their dinner.
Arriving at Front Royal, I called my old high school friend Ben who now lived there. He picked me up in short order and with my smelley bag in the back of the pickup and the windows down, we drove to his house. Where I met the newest addition to his family before showering and doing laundry. Later I would get a text saying he kept telling his teacher about dad’s smelly homeless friend!