Aquablazing!

Aquablazing!

Hello! I’m writing this post from James Fry Shelter in southern Pennsylvania. It’s been a little while now since I left Virginia, and West Virginia and Maryland flew by in only a few days. As you may have seen in my last post, I decided to canoe the last 40 miles of Virginia on the Shenandoah River instead of hiking on the trail. It was such a fun experience that I figured it was worthy of its own post!

I had been debating whether or not I wanted to aquablaze (A.T. term for padding a section of the trail) for quite some time. I was pretty sure it would be an amazing time, but I just wasn’t sure I wanted to miss any of the trail. Many people rent boats and aquablaze up to 100 miles, bypassing the entirety of the A.T. inside Shenandoah National Park. I knew I wasn’t interested in this option since I was looking forward to hiking through the park. I had been thinking however that it might be nice to canoe a smaller section of the river, after hiking through the park. I had actually decided against it, when I got a call from Barnum while lunching at a shelter. He told me that he was in Front Royal, VA, and he was setting up an aquablaze trip through a local canoe company. He filled me in on the details, and told me that our friends Sunshine and Moonshine were on their way into town and would also be joining. It didn’t take much convincing before I turned around and hiked 3 miles back to the last road crossing. I stuck my thumb out and got picked up by the first car that passed. A few minutes later I was hopping out of the car in a motel parking lot, where Barnum, Sunshine, and Moonshine were all waiting. We hit the grocery store for some provisions, then split a room at the Super 8 Motel. Our shuttle would pick us up there at 7:00 am the next morning and bring us to the boat launch. 

The plan was to paddle 40 miles in two days, and spend one night camped somewhere along the riverbank. A nice local man who had given the girls a ride into town lent us big plastic cooler for the trip, and we had it stuffed to the gills with 70 beers and a few snacks. Our shuttle picked us up right on time, and we were on the river about twenty minutes later. We paddled pretty leisurely most of the day, sipping cold beers and listening to tunes on a small speaker that Barnum picked up at Dollar General. After cruising about twenty miles, we pulled the boats ashore and set up camp at Watermelon Park Campground, in who-knows-where, Virginia. We woke up early the next day and shared a watermelon before heading back out on the river. Another twenty miles of paddling, floating, and soaking up the sun put us into Harper’s Ferry W.V., where the shuttle was waiting to pick up our boats. We arrived at the ATC headquarters shortly after, all of us sporting a solid sunburn for our half-way photos. 

The trip was an absolute blast, and I’m super glad I decided to do it. The two days we spent on the river were some of my most fun days on the trail so far, and if I were to thru-hike again I would definitely make the same decision. It was great to get a little change of scenery, and it was the first actual rest my les had gotten since I started. Don’t get me wrong though, it wasn’t as easy as you might think. Paddling a canoe 20 miles is actually pretty tough! For anyone interested in doing a similar trip on the Shenandoah, or for any of my thru-hiker friends south of me who may be considering an aquablaze, the company we used was Skyline Canoe in Front Royal, VA. They were really easy to work with, and they offered a reasonable price compared to the other outfitters in town. 

After getting off of the river I stayed a night at The Towns Inn Hostel/Hotel in Harper’s Ferry. The place had actually been featured on the television show Gordon Ramsey’s Hotel Hell. A few other hikers and I got a real kick out of watching the episode on YouTube while we were there. The next morning I took a train into D.C., where I met my girlfriend Emily, who had flown in from Colorado for the weekend. We spent a day visiting the museums, and then a couple of days lounging poolside eating pizza and sipping mixed drinks. We also met my sister for dinner one night at one of my favorite restaurants. She let us stay at her apartment one night, and even stocked her fridge with some delicious brews for us (sister of the year award!). It was a little rough transitioning back to the trail after three days in the city, but I got back into the swing of things quickly.

Since getting back on the trail I have blown through West Virginia and Maryland, and am now making my way through Pennsylvania. PA has been a breeze so far, but there are some really rocky stretches ahead.

That’s all for now! I’ll try to post another update sometime next week.

Peace love and pizza.

-McLovin

Why I Loved The Shenandoah

Why I Loved The Shenandoah

Greetings! I’m writing today from Front Royal, Virginia, just outside the northern boundary of Shenandoah National Park. I’ve been in the park for the past five days, hiking the 102 mile section of the A.T. that stretches from north to south. Between the beautiful trails, access to real food, and abundance of wildlife, I found it hard not to love the Shenandoah.

Sunset at Franklin Cliffs

The trail follows a ridge line throughout the entire park, which makes the climbs and descents much more manageable than what we’ve been seeing further south. There are still ups and downs, but they’re mostly minor. The trail itself is also really well maintained and easily traveled throughout the park. Think wide, level, dirt trails, mostly free of rocks and roots. It’s a walk in the park, so to speak, compared to some of the terrain further south. A lot of thru-hikers put in their highest mileage days on this section of the trail. Well made trails throughout the park make the hiking easy on the legs and lungs, and its many vistas make it easy on the eyes as well.

Mountain Laurel on fleek!
Mile 900
Green Tunnel

Since the trail stays relatively high on the ridge line throughout the park, you’re awarded with views pretty frequently. Getting great views without working too hard seemed a little too good to be true, but I was fine with it. The Shenandoah valley is a really beautiful part of the country, and I really enjoyed getting to see it from so many different vantage points. A couple of my favorite views were Mary’s Rock where I climbed up a fun little rock scramble, and Franklin Cliffs where I caught an awesome sunset after enjoying a blackberry milkshake at one of the park’s waysides. 

Mary’s Rock scramble
More Mountain Laurel…

WAYSIDES. These were one of my personal favorite parts about hiking through SNP. They definitely do have their drawbacks (Griswald-esque tourists, day hikers, and everything else that’s wrong with the world), but I think that the good far outweighs the bad. The waysides are restaurant/gift shops located off Skyline Drive throughout the park. They cater towards the masses of tourists who come to drive through the park every year. Nothing works up an appetite like a full day in the seat of a car! Anyway, they’re spaced out so that the average thru-hiker will pass one each day in the park. The restaurants have burgers, sandwiches, beers, and milkshakes. They are super pricey, but they were pretty much impossible for me to resist after hiking fifteen or twenty miles. Mmmm cheeseburgers and fries…

Blackberry shake at Loft Mtn. Wayside

My favorite part about hiking the park was being surrounded by wildlife everyday. I saw several deer with tiny fawns, and A LOT of black bears. Sixteen black bears to be exact. They are everywhere in the park, and it’s really cool to run across them. They all seemed to be pretty well behaved too, unlike the one who tried to steal my food bag in southern VA. I even saw a few cubs, which was a little scary but super exciting. I had been hearing about how many bears there were in the park and was hopeful that I would see some, but I never expected to see so many!

Lil cubber!

All in all, the Shenandoah was a blast. If there’s one downside to hiking in the park, it’s the trail’s proximity to Skyline Drive. The trail stays pretty close to the road throughout the park, crossing it some 40 times. This means road noise and motorcycles can be heard pretty regularly, but it didn’t really spoil the experience for me.

One of the many overlooks onn Skyline Drive

I’ve decided to aqua blaze the next 40 miles of trail. Three friends and I have rented a couple of canoes, and tomorrow morning we will launch them into the Shenandoah River for a two day trip into Harper’s Ferry, where the trail intersects the river again. Some people will bash paddling a section of the trail and say that it’s not a true thru-hike since I’m not walking every mile. I don’t get hung up on that though. I’ve hiked every mile of the trail up until now, and I’ll hike every mile from Harper’s Ferry to Katahdin. You’ve gotta hike your own hike, right?

Our hitch into town today gave us a big cooler for free, and we’ve got it packed with cold beers and delicious chilled snacks. It’s going to be a nice break from ramen noodles and instant mashed potatoes. We’re staying at the Super 8 Motel in Front Royal, VA tonight, and we’ll head out early tomorrow morning. I’m pumped to be on the river for a couple of days!

I’m planning on taking a train into D.C. from Harper’s Ferry and spending a few days eating and relaxing there. Harper’s Ferry is the “unofficial halfway point” of the trail, and my body is more than ready for a few days off. I figure D.C. will be a fun place to hang out and be a tourist for a few days. I’ll post another update once I’m back on the trail and out of Virginia!

Cheers,

McLovin

Brewpub Camping

Brewpub Camping

Good morning! I’m writing today from a fantastic Adirondack chair in the sun at Devil’s Backbone Brewpub. Barnum and I got here around 6:00 yesterday evening, and we’ve had an awesome stay. It’s a huge property that feels more like a resort than a brewery. They have indoor and outdoor restaurants and bars, many fire pits, a big grassy field, and a stage for events. The coolest part is that it’s all surrounded by Virginia’s Blue Ridge mountains. 
They sent a free shuttle up to the trailhead to pick us up and drive us the 5 miles down the mountain to the brewery. We headed straight into the pub for beers and dinner. I had a Vienna Lager and a pulled pork sandwich with fries, followed by some really delicious chicken wings. It was all top notch. We paid our checks and refilled our glasses before playing a couple games of cornhole.

Once the bar was shutting down and most of the other customers had gone home, I set up my sleeping pad under a nearby pavilion. It had outlets to charge my phone, a faucet with potable water, and lightning fast wifi. I joked that it was the best campsite I’d had all trip. I even streamed a movie before falling asleep!


They also offer a hiker breakfast in the mornings for only $5. I’ll hang here until breakfast is served, then I’ll catch another free shuttle back to the trail. In my opinion, this place was well worth the stop. All of the staff has been incredibly nice. I caught a few funny looks from some of the other patrons who had clearly showered this week, but some others were really friendly and interested in the trail. If I’m ever in the Roseland, Virginia area again I will definitely stop by. 

I’ll be back on the trail in a couple of hours, and it’s only twentyish more miles to Waynesboro. I haven’t yet decided if I’ll get there tonight or tomorrow morning. Either way, only a couple more days until Shenandoah National Park, and not much longer until West Virginia and the halfway point. 

More soon…

Cheers,

McLovin