Then again: Elk Garden to Thomas Knob Shelter (and back)

I didn’t want to go hiking on Friday. Isn’t that funny? Sometimes I get so caught up in all the business of school and errands and just the *stuff* I have to do that the simple act of packing for a weekend in the forest stresses me out. Me, of all people! I pack all the time! I can pack my pack with my eyes closed! But it had been engineers week, and that came with so many activities on TOP of my usual work, and I was just done. 

Mr and Ms Mechanical Engineering ^
So it happens. I would have called it off or left Saturday morning instead, but Butcher and SarTec were waiting for me, and they didn’t have cell phone service; if I failed to show, they’d be worried. 
So I did my things and started the drive to Virginia, stressed and frustrated and not…really…happy. 
I missed the sunset. It would be a night hike for me. 

I’ve hiked from Elk Garden to Thomas Knob a couple of times now. I know the drill. 
It’s a great hike. And of course, as soon as I stopped to eat a quick dinner (tortilla, cheese, honeybun, fudge round — can you tell I’ve abandoned my diet?) and got a mile or two under my feet, I felt better. 


Night hikes get pretty lonely though. I like to listen to podcasts when I hike. If you are looking for suggestions, I can recommend History Chicks, Dear Prudence, Tom and Lorenzo, How I Built This, and maybe FiveThirtyEight. 


Anyways, I got to the shelter and delivered my goodies to the boys (brownies, Honeybuns, fudgerounds, etc). I met Biscuit, a past several-times thru hiker who, AS IT TURNS OUT, hiked with Dr Love shortly before I met him. 
It was warm and peaceful and I was happy to go to sleep. 
*****
I learned to make pancakes in the morning. Let me amend that: I learned to make pancakes ON A POCKET ROCKET. Of course I can make pancakes on a stove, but the boys and I decided to have pancakes for breakfast but weren’t ready to build a fire. Also it was raining. 


Sar tec tried but he ruined them. So I took over instead of backseat driving him, and by the end of the mix, I was getting perfect pancakes. It required much patience. 

In the mean time, the cold front moved in. The wind picked up into huge gusts, and we tucked ourselves into our sleeping bags and …well, I took a nap. 

The afternoon we spent cooking lunch- I had steak tips marinated in Dale’s, and cut up potatoes, squash, zucchini, jalapeños, onions, and bell peppers. The boys made foil packets for the veg and cooked the steaks on the flat plate and I…slept some more. It was a hard week! 

We ate. 


Some weekending girls came in to the shelter. They set up their stuff and we whispered to each other about how unprepared they were. Summer bags, with a predicted wind chill of 0F tonight. They’d be in for a rough night. 
As the temperature dropped further, and more weekenders filtered past, we bundled up inside. It wasn’t the air but the wind. I mean, it was chilly, but nowhere near my top 5 coldest nights. 


The girls decided to bail, and hiked out to their car. We were glad they did, for their sake. 
An early night, and more sleep. 

*****
Well, I say it was an early night. I woke up several times from the wind. It sounded like the roof was going to fly off. 
It was definitely cold in the morning. We saw two people walking by with an extra pack; we asked what was up, and they said a guy in their group had been evacuated. He’d gotten too cold. 
You can get away with a lot of stupid stuff on the AT, but pay attention to weather. 
We packed up and hiked out. 4 miles to my car, then another few miles for the guys to their next shelter. It was a windy, chilly walk, but the sky was blue, the sun was shining, and the ponies were waiting for us. 

It was worth the Friday stress, that hike. I’m getting a bit tired of the out and backs, and I’m itching for new trail. It’s not time yet, though. I’ve got some plans I’m mulling over, but nothing concrete yet. 
Anyways. I still love this section. There’s so much packed in to those short 4 miles. It’s one I definitely recommend if you’re looking for an AT section. I mean, clearly; I keep hiking it. 


I could wax on about my frustrations or explain why I’m doing what I’m doing but what’s the point? We all get stuck doing some hikes we don’t really want to do just because we need our forest fix, but we can’t fly to new trail all the time, and we can’t afford a shuttle every trip. And to be frank, I miss summer days and more daylight for longer miles without a headlamp. 


So a few more out and backs and low, low miles. And then? Happy trails ahead, my friends! 

Trip total: uhhh 8
MVP: steak and veg fajitasssss

LVP: that wind!

1-3: Partnership to chatfield to Partnership 

It’s been a terrible week. Homework, quizzes, meetings, a presentation, a paper, and on top of that, a test that no one in my class of 130 even finished. 
I had told Sar Tec last week that I wanted to come out this weekend and hike with him and Butcher, a NOBO he’d met up in New Hampshire several months ago, who was now out on trail to hike with Sar Tec for a few months. I’d gotten a tentative schedule earlier in the week, but I really wasn’t sure how well it had held up. 
So on Friday, after my terrible week, I took a stab at where I thought they would be and started hiking. I didn’t get started until dark, and I started south, to give me a better chance of running in to them (I could check two shelters this way), so at 6:30pm I set out on a 6.8 mile night hike. 


Y’all, I’ll be honest. I was exhausted. A mile in I regretted the decision not to just stay at the shelter where I parked. But I pushed on. 3 miles in I ran out of water. There was snow in spots; there were rocks; there were hills that felt like mountains. 


And I didn’t even know if they’d be there. 
At 9:06 I got to the shelter. There were people there. A tent was set up on one half and two people took up the other half. I switched to my red light and tried to be quiet, stealthily trying to see if there was room for me. I hadn’t brought a tent. I was standing just outside, letting my eyes adjust to the dark, when a voice yelled out, “LINDSEY?!” 
I squealed! It was Sar Tec and butcher! They made room for me, and we furiously caught up on the past few days. They hadn’t had any service. I’d taken a guess. They’d hoped I’d come but hadn’t expected it. I hadn’t expected to actually find them, but had hoped I would. 
We eventually settled down, still catching up. Sleep didn’t come until 2:30 for me. 

MVP: not having to sleep on the ground!

LVP: running out of water. Do better, birthday girl. 

*****
And morning came early. Well, not too early, but earlier than I would have liked. We sat around and had breakfast, and then started packing up. 


“Guys. I can’t do it. I have no energy.”
“Well, you hiked 7 miles in the dark in 2.5 hours. And I know what kind of week you had– I’m sure you haven’t slept at all this week. Why don’t you take a nap and then we’ll leave. It’s just that same 7 miles back to Partnership.” 
Well, Sar tec sounded like the smartest man alive to me right then. I laid back down while the boys played rummy. I was asleep in no time. 
I woke up to nightmares. I hate naps. But THEN we hiked out and that was just as bad. 


For various reasons I’ve decided to do some sort of diet that involves not eating much of anything that’s conducive to backpacking. This lead to me sitting down on a rock after dragging my dead weight up some stupid hills and devouring all the snacks I had left…and some of Sar Tec’s. I felt better. Well, a little. It’s still been well over a month since I’ve hiked seriously. I’ve lost my trail legs. 


But we made it in to Partnership eventually. There were people there. A group of older sectioners and a NOBO. We got our spots claimed and went to get water and order pizza. That’s the great thing about Partnership- you can get pizza delivered. 


The section hikers decided pizza sounded good but they wouldn’t make the $35 minimum on their own, so they offered to buy our food if we covered the tip. DEAL. 
I ate a salad. It was good, but it wasn’t pizza. 


We three played rummy and then settled in to sleep, another night in the woods. 
*****
Morning came sooner than I’d like. The NOBO had a NOBO brother who was doing a 30 into the shelter…but evidently didn’t start until 2pm. So he came in at 6am Sunday morning. The section hikers started getting up then, and as hard as we tried to stay asleep, it just didn’t work out. 
I made tea. And oatmeal. Gone are the days when I could eat half a loaf of Hawaiian bread. I am devastated. 


Sar tec and butcher were going to zero at Partnership that day, which was nice, because that’s where my car was parked. The section hikers left, and then I drove butcher and the two NOBOs in to town since the shuttle wasn’t running. 


Sar tec and I spent the morning talking to random hikers who passed through (another NOBO! This one had met rabbit, happy pants, and Popcorn Hat, who is now calling himself Dutchess [sic], a name that I kind of think I also gave him. It definitely came up my last night on trail). We also built a fire and took a little blue blaze loop around some ugly ponds. It was nice. 


In all, the girl who went out to the trail stressed and exhausted and frazzled and worried ended the weekend relaxed and happy. I don’t know, y’all. Even when it’s a hard hike and I’m really struggling, it’s still good. 
I mean, the company may have had something to do with it. 


I left, saw Butcher walking back up the road, so I picked him up and drove him back, then left again. Just hiker things. 
I’ll work on getting prettier pictures next time. These woods were not the best. 
Trip total: 14!
MVP: chicken Caesar salad, I guess. 

LVP: Friday afternoon migraines. 

Days 4-9: deer lick shelters to manassas gap shelter

4: deer lick shelters to ensign Cowell shelter
I’m writing this one a day late. I was bored and lonely all day so I listened to the soundtrack to “Anything Goes” and the an audiobook, and then I got to the shelter and realized my phone was on 6% and my battery charger was dead. So, that was the end of my phone usage. 
As it happened, I ran into 5 dogs this day. 3 assorted labs and one big, steady, floofy thing all being walked by a man. And then I saw a young guy with a huge boundy St. Bernard-Akita mix. His dog is one year old and already 110 lbs! I like seeing dogs on the trail. It’s fun for me. 
I left Deer Lick Shelters in the freezing rain and headed south to the Mason Dixon line, and also Maryland. There was supposed to be water at Pen Mar, but it was all shut off. I sat at an overlook posting my blog entry when an overseer drove up. We chatted and he gave me a bottle of his water. Always unexpected kindness. He said Pen Mar is his favorite park that he takes care of. 



I hiked on, and eventually the day warmed up and dried out. Sometimes the trail was smooth and wide, clearly an old road bed. Sometimes there were boulders. 



The day warmed up enough that eventually I had to take off one of my layers! 


It was a a good day, overall. 


But sitting in the shelter in the dark (my head lamp batteries were low but I couldn’t use my phone flashlight to change them), no pen and paper, no book except the ones on my phone, I decided that the next day I would charge my phone in town and buy a real book. And change my headlamp batteries. 
Miles: 14.5

Trip total: 66.8
MVP: dogs

LVP: batteries
*****
Day 5: ensign Cowell to Boonsboro to Ed Garvey Shelter
This was the best day ever. 
I woke up and headed first to the Washington Monument for water. I passed some dayhikers and an interstate and walked through a neighborhood real quick. I always like when the trail goes through a neighborhood like that. It’s like a yellow brick road or pied piper, calling us to follow into the woods, to go to the mountains. 
But all the Washington Monument could offer me was enough battery power in my phone for a quick picture, and then some water that I didn’t have to filter. It was a quick few more miles down to the road to Boonsboro, Maryland. 


I tried to hitch, but no one was stopping so I started walking. A woman pulled over when I was about a mile from town, so I hopped in and she drove me in. We chatted, and she said she always tried to pick up hikers. She mentioned that there was a bookstore owned by Nora Roberts just down from the pizza place I was going to. I decided that was perfect, and I’d stop by before I left. I thanked her, and we said goodbye. 


I went to eat pizza and breadsticks and soon received a phone call at the restaurant, from my ride. “I know you said you hadn’t had a shower in a while, and I don’t want to mess up your schedule or anything, but I just feel like I should offer if you need a place to stay or just dinner and a shower or whatever you want, just let me know.” I was so surprised and touched by her generosity. I thanked her profusely, but told her I needed to hike another 10 miles today. 


“Well, something just told me I needed to offer, I don’t know.” I smiled. It was something I needed to hear, maybe. I’d been feeling lonely. 
I finished my pizza and headed down to the bookstore. I chatted with the woman working once the other customers were gone. I told her I’d never read Nora Roberts but always wanted to. She suggested a few, but I decided on one set in Boonsboro. Seemed appropriate. 
She told me they usually offer rides to hikers, but she was the only one working today. Her son was still in school or she’d have him drive me back to the trail. I told her not to worry, I thought it’d be pretty easy to hitch back. She offered the couch if I wanted to sit inside for a while. I told her thanks, but no, I was going to try to head back. 
I stood on the sidewalk and stuck out my thumb. A few minutes later, a guy going the other way stopped. “Where you going?” He asked me. “Back to the trail,” I replied. “Do you mind a quick detour?” I decided I didn’t. We drove down to the pharmacy to pick up a prescription for his dog, and chatted about life. He shared a quote from Joseph Campbell with me. Now, Campbell could be some horrible neo-nazi writer for all I know, but I did like the quote:


We had a nice chat, and he drove me back to the trail. I set off for my night hike in high spirits, then encountered two more super friendly dogs which made it even better. A hunter and his wife taught me how to identify golden eagles, which migrate down this corridor of the AT, and gave me a can of mace (evidently bobcats are an issue), and eventually, in the cold and dark, I passed the Gathland war correspondents memorial and then came to the shelter. And here I am, snug and with a wary eye on a mouse I spied. 





Miles: 24.8

Trip total:91.6
MVP: Boonsboro 

LVP: mouse
*****
Day 6: Ed Garvey Shelter to Harper’s Ferry to Blackburn PATC Cabin
I had a beautiful sunrise through the attic window this morning. I watched the sun come up and then got myself out of bed. That’s probably the hardest part of my day, deciding when to get up. It’s the hardest part off the trail too, so my life is consistent. 



I stopped off at Weaverton Cliffs


And then walked under an Interstate 


And soon I was walking along the C&O Canal. The trail was flat and easy, so I called mom, dad, macy, kelsey, and Bent. We chatted and caught up on news. It was nice. 


Bent and I talked as I came in to Harper’s Ferry. It was good we were on the phone, because otherwise I may have gotten a little lost. The town was cute though. 


I took the side trail to the AT Conservancy to get my picture taken. I joined as a member, too. Gotta do my part to keep the trails up! 


I looked through the book and found some familiar faces, too!


I cried a little when I saw Wilson Wilson and Bent 🙂


I grabbed some wings and a Coke at the Italian place, then headed back. The climb out of Harper’s Ferry was…fun. 


Also, I’m definitely in West Virginia and the rocks have NOT ended. 


I do wonder what my geologist friend Alessandra would say about them though. 


And now I’m in Virginia!


I went down a steep .2 side trail to the Blackburn PATC cabin for the night. Ethan, a SOBO, is here with me. We stoked up the wood stove and I’m feeling warm. 8 miles to the hostel tomorrow, but it’s a steep .2 back up to the trail, unfortunately. 
It’s my first night sleeping with someone though! Weird, huh? 
Miles: 18.8 (+.4 +.2=19.4)

Trip total: 111
MVP: sunrise

LVP: side trail
*****

Day 7: Blackburn Cabin to Bears Den Hostel
As I was walking in the freezing cold today (seriously, it was in the 20s with an incredible windchill- huge gusts all morning), the thought hit me, “wow, it’s really hard to see when my nose is running this bad.”
That’s when I knew I was cold, hungry, and ready for a nearo. 
I woke up early in the cabin- the wood stove was cold to the touch and I had to pee. I’d forgotten that the problem with having company in a cabin or shelter is that you can’t just get up and start making noise. I tried to be quiet and pack up outside, but I kept dropping things. Oh well. 
I was on trail by 6:45. As it turns out, I accidentally took the southern side trail back up to the AT and it was much easier than the other one. Pro tip, right there. 
It’s been beautiful, these clear mornings, with the brilliant sunrises to the east and the full, bright moon still hanging low over on the west. Most of the time the AT has been going exactly straight, so I’m walking between the sun and the moon. If you haven’t caught the moon this week, make a point to catch it soon. It’s gorgeous. 
My phone was at 2% (if you’d like proof that cold weather drains batteries, last night I didn’t sleep with my phone; it started at 20% and when I woke up it was at 2%) so the only picture I took was at the start of the roller coaster. 


At least the physical exertion sort of kept me warm. I mean, ok. I got in to the cabin last night and didn’t eat dinner. And then this morning I just drank some water and brushed my teeth and left and never ate breakfast, and then it was too cold to eat or drink. So I was hungry and tired and cold and not even my ski gloves kept my fingers from going numb. 
But after playing frogger across a busy highway, I climbed up Bears Den and took an easy side trail to the hostel. Sartec, a SOBO, was inside already. We chatted, and I soon hopped in the shower to warm up. We tried to find a ride into town but eventually the caretaker offered a ride. I stocked up at the store and popped in to chick fil a and more than made up my calorie deficit. 

Before shower

After shower 

When we came back, Ethan and Dr John were waiting for us. Ethan, of course, from the night before, and Dr John is a lasher going from Harper’s Ferry to Georgia. We all watched movies and ate and hung out. It was a great night. 


I got along particularly well with Dr John, a geologist. We talked about a lot of stuff- he’s thru-hiked the AT 4 times, I think, and the PCT and most of the CDT. He’s lived in Norway and done fieldwork all over and we just had a lot of science and trail things in common. 
And there’s a puppy. 
Tomorrow I’m slackpacking with Sartec and maybe Dr John and Ethan, and then I’ll leave the hostel the day after. It feels good to be full and warm and clean 🙂


Miles:8
MVP: shower

LVP: no McDonald’s 

*****

Day 8: slackpacking ashby gap to black bear den
We woke up and made pancakes. With full bellies and trepidation for the cold hike ahead, we piled in the car and headed for ashby gap. 
The day was cold, but without the cutting wind of the day before it didn’t actually feel that bad. We merrily tromped through the woods, us 4, at a pretty quick clip. 


Dr John and I covered a variety of topics, from calculus to caving. His specialty is rock mechanics which isn’t that different from mechanical engineering in a lot of ways. 
The streams were mostly frozen, but beautiful. 


And our 13.4 miles, including the rest of the roller coaster, was over. We were back at Bears Den, curled up on the couch with a movie and cokes. 


Cooking dinner, the caretaker told us 4 more hikers were 3 miles away. They came in 3 hours later, a bunch of Virginia Tech students out for the weekend. Our little group made room for them, but we went to bed soon (after Sartec made us 4 mugs of sleepy time tea). 


miles: 13.4

 

MVP: slackpacking the roller coaster

LVP: hurt my dang knee
*****
Day 9: ashby gap to Manassas Gap Shelter
After coffee and pancakes again, we sat and waited for the ice to melt a little before we got a ride to ashby gap. 



Although it was 28F outside, it felt noticeably warmer. We found the trail and headed south again. 


We decided to go 9 miles, since we got such a late start. The snow and ice was beautiful, but a little treacherous. 


Talking with the guys while we hiked was great, though. I kept guessing that we had 4 miles left but then we were at the shelter. The time went so much faster. Community and fellowship is so important to have. 


We got to the shelter and built a fire, ate around it, and laughed together. And now we’re snug in our beds at 6:30pm, ready for another 9 miles tomorrow. 
Miles: 9

Trip total: 141.2
MVP: kings Hawaiian sweet rolls

LVP: knee

Then Again: Elk Garden to Thomas Knob Shelter to Elk Garden

I met Keisha in college…the first time. We were both English majors, and Keisha also took French with me. After we graduated, we lost touch, I guess, but we both ended up in Nashville two years later. I remember meeting her at a bar in East Nashville, nervous to reconnect with someone I hadn’t really known well but had always liked and admired. 
We were both at a point in our lives then where we weren’t quite sure what we were going to do next. Things weren’t always great for us, and we didn’t handle it well, and it was good to have Keisha as a friend. 
Keisha figured it out first–she went back to school to become a nurse. That helped me when I decided to go back to study engineering. If Keisha could do math, I guess I could too, right? 
We kept in touch, even after we moved. I visited Keisha in NYC and we caught up over pizza and beer in East Nashville when she moved back. And when she asked to go backpacking, I knew I had to take her to see the ponies. 
We left early Saturday morning. We got to Elk Garden around 12:30. It was…well, it was cold. There was snow and wind and it was cold. But the hike started out with a climb up into a pasture so we warmed up pretty quickly. 


Once we got into the woods the wind cut down some. Walking through the autumn leaves with snow on the ground, bringing out old memories and laughing about whatever we came up with…it was a great hike. 


We stopped for a quick break, and Ryan and his adorable dog Kenesaw caught up to us. We hiked together to the shelter, finishing the 7 miles by 2:30. We decided to hike on to find the ponies. 


And we FOUND them. They weren’t interested in us though. 


Back to the shelter, where we ate and warmed up and shared stories until night. 


Of course, no shelter is complete without clueless hikers. In this case, it was a group of guys who decided to sleep in the loft with their two big dogs. Watching them shove their dogs up into the loft was…something. 
The wind gusted something fierce all night, but the three of us were snug. Ryan, unfortunately, had the mice. But Keisha and I slept great. 
And in the morning? Well, the three of us headed out. It was still cold, but most of the snow was gone. 


The miles slipped by and we were done before I knew it. I wasn’t ready to go. It had been so easy to hike with Keisha and Ryan, and the easy miles had been a nice break from my usual pace. It was relaxing and peaceful and exactly what I needed. 


Did you notice the footwear? I tried to break in a pair of boots to see if I wanted to wear them this winter. They were warm but not comfortable. These are not my boots. 
Next up? Well, Bent and Wilson Wilson have 3 weeks left on the trail, so I’m going to try to find them. And I’m glad to know that Pennsylvania didn’t completely steal all the joy I find in backpacking. 

Trip Total: 14ish? 7 to the shelter, but probably an extra mile or to to the ponies. 

MVP: bourbon

LVP: loft dwellers