Day 16: calf mountain shelter to Stanimal’s hostel
Also: Christmas Eve and the end of the Shenandoahs!!
What’s it like to spend Christmas Eve on the trail? Well, I woke up, and the boys immediately made fun of my hair.
They were right to do so.
We had breakfast. Sar Tec gave me some weird oatmeal/ vanilla carnation instant breakfast combo drizzled with honey that was pretty good, and I had that with my tea. I made Popcorn Hat some hot chocolate, and then once the rain tapered off for the most part, we three hikers set off.
Doc was going to get a hotel and leave a little later, so we said goodbye to him.
We had some good walking and some not so good walking. Considering the 26 miles we’d done the day before, we were all feeling great. The trail was ok.
We summited Little Calf Mountain (lol ok sure it’s a mountain). Off in front of us was a bigger mountain with all of these comm towers. “Hope we don’t have to climb that!” I said, stupidly. “We do,” replied Popcorn Hat.
And then suddenly we were 105 miles away from Front Royal and that theater where we’d watched Star Wars.
We stopped at a popcorn and hotdog stand to tide us over while we waited for our ride to the hostel (have you ever seen someone make kettle corn? It’s amazing! And also warm!!) and then we were off!
Before the shower
Feasting on Chinese AYCE buffet
Popcorn Hat doing laundry (he could not BELIEVE that I just tossed my pee rag in with all of the other clothes, as if I would do an entire load just for that. And then he touched it to move it to the dryer, lol)
And then we ran to Kroger for some snacks and sat and ate and watched movies. And looked at our feet. And that, my friends, is how you wait for Santa when you’re on the trail.
MVP: Chinese buffet
LVP: Not a great movie selection. We really struggled after Zoolander.
Day 17: Stanimals to Paul c Wolfe shelter
Sar tec woke popcorn hat up with a quiet “coochie coochie coo, good morning buddy.”
I should say, popcorn hat (Ethan) is 18 and hates being reminded that he’s younger than us. He’s also incredibly capable and looks like a mountain man, and hikes with a giant knife strapped to his leg, so that makes it even more fun. He also hates the trail name Lil Popcorn Hat, so I’ve been writing it everywhere.
It was too freaking hot last night. I woke up sweating. I never thought I’d wish for a nice 30*F night with a cool breeze, and yet here I am.
I’d been threatening the guys with the Justin Bieber Christmas album, so I bought that in anticipation of the 5 mile hike to the shelter. We walked 2 miles to Waffle House (a. Just a quick 2 miles and b. The things we’ll do for food!).
As I sat with my trail family and ate a chocolate chip waffle, large order of hash browns, and a side of bacon (with a Coke), I looked around. This was the only place open on Christmas Day. It was us, some single older men, and a few families. Some older couples, some younger families without children. The staff were overwhelmed by the number of people, but they said Merry Christmas to everyone who walked in, greeted the regulars with the same banter they always do, had the same patience for the man with Alzheimer’s… it was hospitality for people with no where else to go on Christmas morning. There were people who held hands and prayed over their meals before eating; a guy with tattoos who took his food to go; a couple all dressed up in a velvet blazer and a silk dress. And us, showered, but in borrowed, mismatched clothes.
We walked back and stopped at CVS and a 7-11 to resupply. It wasn’t ideal.
We packed up and stopped at a Sheetz for food to pack out for our Christmas dinner. Back on the trail, I carried a Big Gulp with one hand and balanced a ridiculously heavy pack for 5 miles to Paul C Wolfe shelter. We laughed and joked the whole way.
We got to the shelter and gathered firewood. Sar Tec spent time trying to get it to light, and eventually did. I warmed up my cheese sticks and fries (I’d eaten a giant pretzel and popcorn chicken cold) and sipped Coke from my hydroflask. We made s’mores over the fire, then tucked ourselves into our little pile of sleeping bags, giggling and laughing about things together.
It wasn’t like any Christmas I’ve ever had. There were no presents to open, there was no hurry or stress (except a little about where to buy food when everything was closed, but we could have just zeroed and made up the time the next day). I called my older sister and talked to her for a few minutes, and I texted my family, but I was present with my friends, and spent time being grateful that, once again, the trail provided me a wonderful group of men to spend Christmas with.
Having spent so much time growing up in the church and then working at a church myself, this is the only Christmas I’ve ever skipped Christmas Eve services (that I know of). But I’ll say this much- there was grace at waffle house. And joy around our campfire. And compassion from the employees at CVS and 7-11 who helped me resupply. And hope and love and everything we’re meant to find in the Advent season.
MVP: falling asleep to a waterfall, cozy between my trail family, smelling like a campfire
LVP: bad resupply
Day 18: Paul C Wolfe Shelter to Maupin Field Shelter
I told popcorn hat once that I would never become acclimated to the cold. It just wouldn’t happen- I was a cold natured person and I was always going to be cold. And it’s true- I’m usually more cold than the guys. But waking up in 30- something degree weather just felt…right. It felt good, sleeping on the shelter floor with just my foam pad again (if it’s not low 20s or teens I don’t bother with the inflatable pad). I didn’t need gloves while we sat around wasting time today (until 11!!) eating. I didn’t even zip up my down jacket. I just sat and ate an entire bag of powdered donuts like that’s what you always do in 35*F weather.
We were supposed to go 22 miles today, but we didn’t leave until 11am, and then Popcorn Hat fell and bruised his knee pretty bad, and then Sar Tec opened up the skin on the back of his heel again, and the weather was just so wet and gray that we decided to go 16 and get up at a decent hour tomorrow.
The day wasn’t terrible or anything, and there weren’t really any bad climbs, just some really slick rocks made trickier during our brief night hike- most of the day, and into the night, we were hiking in a cloud or mist or fog or Devils vapor or whatever. And all of the rocks were coated with water and slick, and the light from our headlamps barely reached the ground. It was treacherous.
But we did get sun for an hour or so, and it was so nice and lovely.
And I had an amazing lunch of some salami wrapped around mozzarella that I had the genius idea to stick in a tortilla. Tasted like cold pizza.
Of course, after all of this food (over 1000 calories of powdered donuts, salami and cheese and chips and I don’t remember what else for lunch) I got to the shelter and ate an entire box of velveeta shells and cheese for dinner. Plus a tortilla to clean the pot. Plus a granola bar while it cooked. Plus I finished off Sar Tec’s sweet and sour pork.
I guess you could say Hiker Hunger has hit.
Trip total: 280.5