Days 10- 15: manassas gap shelter to calf mountain shelter 

Day 10: manassas gap shelter to my mountain cabbin 
We woke up and watched the sky change from purple to orange and back to purple again. As the rain started to come down, Ethan and Sartec ran to the bear pole to grab all of our food. I munched on a pop tart in my sleeping bag as the cold rain landed on the tin roof of the shelter. It sounded like rain on the dock in Rock Island…only colder. 
We caught a break in the rain, so we set off for the 9 miles to My Mountain Cabbin. I hadn’t intended on another hostel, but this was my only chance of getting another canister of fuel before the shenandoahs. I made the sacrifice. 

The walk was fairly easy, except for the heat. The day warmed up to at least the high 50s, and we weren’t prepared for that. 

We soon passed what used to be part of a Smithsonian zoo. Northern Virginia is full of weird things like this, and the rumors fly among the hikers. “This is where they took Dick Cheney after 9/11.” “There are listening devices in the woods.” “Homeland security is right nearby.” It certainly looked odd to see what appeared to be a brand new roof on an otherwise abandoned building. 

But the end of this road was My Mountain Cabbin, a small outbuilding of a larger B&B. Both houses are historic, and the cabbin was likely once the slave quarters for the larger house (it’s on the historic registry). We were served lemonade and cookies, then started the shower line. 

After we were clean, we headed to Front Royal for lunch (a soul food place) and a movie (Rogue One) and then resupply. 

I’ve had carmex with me, but those two super cold days absolutely ruined my lips beyond hope of carmex. I immediately searched out Vaseline– every time I smiled, my lips cracked and bled. Happy to report good repair in just a few hours. 

Back to the cabbin for a bit of downtime before bed. 

Miles: 9
MVP: French fries

LVP: cold theater
Day 11: my mountain cabbin to Gravel Springs Hut
It’s a lot easier to get out of bed and get moving when you’re warm, I’ll say that much. 

Some of us had a bit of a time getting the entire food bag stuffed into the pack, but no fear, little Ethan succeeded eventually. 

Lisa cooked a huge breakfast for us…so huge we all needed to sit for a minute and digest before we started the climb into the Shennies. 

But climb we did! Pretty much all day. And it was nice to have views again. I did manage to find what was, I believe, the only patch of ice on the entire trail in the park. I carefully pointed it out to the crew (I lead), and then stepped forward, the promptly slipped and ended up on my butt. So graceful. 

Everything about the day looked intimidating on the map, but it really wasn’t that bad. Which is how we ended up in camp so early. Unfortunately, the next shelter was 13 miles farther, which is a little too far, so we stayed put and froze. 

And watched another gorgeous sunset, and told stories, and laughed together. 

Miles: 13.7

MVP: hydroflask

LVP: cold 🙂
Day 12: gravel springs hut to Byrd’s nest #3
We were all awake for the sunrise, but no one said anything until it was over. It was stunning. 

We sat and ate until around 9:30, then headed out. We’d discussed skipping some of the AT in favor of road walking. You don’t really skip miles; it’s the same distance, but the views are way better. So we did it. 

It was worth it. 
We all met up for lunch, then got back on trail for the rest of the day (except Sartech who didn’t and beat us to the shelter by about 30 minutes). 

We were rewarded with a nice spring, close to the trail. It’s weird, walking on the trail in winter. A lot of the soil is frozen, and it crunches very satisfactorily under foot. It sinks down, sometimes unpredictably, sort of like crusted snow. 

Good conversation, as usual. And then a long, long climb up Mary’s Mountain to Mary’s Rock. We made it right as the sun was setting. 

It was the perfect time. 
1.3 miles left to the shelter, where we met up with Rabbit, another SOBO, and another guy who’s evidently been living (and peeing) in the shelter for a month. 
I quickly ate an entire Knorr’s side (the cheesy pasta with broccoli, if you’re curious) and cleaned my bowl with kings Hawaii bread, and the we all piled in to our bags to snuggle close together for another cold night. Last night was around 20.4F when we got up, according to Doc’s fancy gadget. Tomorrow should be warmer. 
It’s always a little unsettling to find drifters who live in the AT shelters. You’re never quite sure if they’re stable (don’t worry, this guys seems fine)…but a lot of places lack the sort of resources people need for mental care, or maybe shelters are too dangerous (I met a lot of people at the church who really didn’t want to go to a large shelter). 
I suppose, all things considered, some of these AT shelters aren’t bad options, although the wind can be brutal. 
I don’t have a point. It’s just something to consider. 
Miles: 18.8
MVP: sunset

LVP: turned my ankle 

 Day 13: byrds nest #3 to bear fence hut
I got up first and was rewarded with a spectacular sunrise on my way to the privy. 

Yesterday was, no joke, a hard day. My ankle/foot was still bothering me. I managed to sort of French braid my hair while hiking. Skills. 

We passed a graveyard and then started on to what should have been the easiest hiking of the day…

But the ground rises up with the frost (expands) and now, since its warmer, collapses under our steps. It’s like walking in sand, with a pack, only you never know how your foot will land. It’s exhausting. 
We got to the shelter eventually, and I made another Knorrs side (I’m living large with my jetboil stove!) then settled in for another night. 

Miles: 22.4
MVP: dinner

LVP: ankle
Day 14: bear fence hut to pinefield hut
We didn’t have a sunrise today, and the day was still hard. 
Today just hurt. I asked the guys what there was to say about today and they said, “It hurt,” and “It sucked.”

I have to agree. The woods aren’t that pretty. The views are ok. Controversial opinion: the smokies are way better than the shennies. If the waysides were open and I could buy hamburgers and milkshakes every day, perhaps I would have a different opinion. Instead, my big treat is just icicles. 

Winter is hard. It’s dark so much of the time; everything is closed. It’s cold and it’s hard to do anything when it’s cold. 

I was short tempered today. I miss hiking alone sometimes but I know I’ll be alone forever if I leave this group, and I’m not sure I’m ready for that. 
But dinner was excellent. Sartec gave me a package of Spanish rice. As I was eating it I mentioned that it would be delicious on a tortilla with cheese. He said he had a whole extra package of tortillas, so I took one and cut some of my spicy cheese to put on there. Oooooooh wow was that good. 

I wish I had some cookies though. 
Waynesboro and a Chinese buffet for Christmas Eve. 5 miles to get back on the trail Christmas Day. I think we’re packing out hot dogs. 

Look at this though: here you can see the edge of the shelter and waayyyyy up on the hill is the privy. Ugh. 

Miles: 20.6
MVP: dinner

LVP: ankle/foot

Day 15: pinefield hut to calf mountain shelter
We woke up late, mostly because we were only going to go 13 miles today. We had two options: 13 miles or 26 miles. There’s always a third option: tent somewhere, but I hate tenting, and there weren’t any tent sites marked on the guidebook, so it seemed a little risky. 

The boys had some rough looking feet after the last day, so we’d all decided on the 13 mile shelter, then the next day we’d get up early and do 20 into waynesboro. For Chinese food. And resupply. 
So, morning came, and we sat around and slept super late. Doc decided, I suppose, not to wait, and headed out while we were sleeping. 
Around 9 we slowly started waking up. We made coffee and hot chocolate and ate breakfast, then eventually left the shelter. “It’s only 13 miles! What’s the rush?” I think we were on trail by 10:30. 
So, we’re walking and hiking and having a grand time, the three of us, when we stop and I check the weather. 

Rain in the morning for our 20 miles into waynesboro. No one wants that. 
We made an executive decision to turn our 13 mile day into a freaking 26 mile day at 2:30 in the afternoon. Yes, we are morons. 

So we started booking it (mostly). 

“Chinese food! Come to me!!”

And we made it to camp in the dark just before 8, which is pretty good time for some tired hikers. Doc was there. We made dinner (I traded sartec a Reese’s cup for a tortilla full of chicken fried rice, so I didn’t have to cook), snuggled up closed, and slept like the dead. With occasional moans of pain for our poor feet and legs. 

Next: just 7 miles to waynesboro for Christmas Eve 🙂
Miles: 26.2
MVP: dancing to Justin Bieber with the guys while hiking
LVP: seeing the town so far away 😦

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