Not quite sure when the previous post finally got sent out, but I believe it was written the day before it posted.
Tonight I’m staying in Waynesboro Virginia, the last town and resupply before Shenandoah National Park, which is the last stretch before Harper’s Ferry, the unofficial halfway point on the trail. It’s crazy to think that I’ll be done with “half” of the trail in a little more than a week! I put half in scare quotes because it’s not the exact halfway mark, this year that happens at mile 1090-ish. Harpers Ferry is at exactly 1000 miles in this year, so it’s not quite halfway, but everyone considers it as such.
One bit of trail life I’ve been meaning to write about for a while is the different styles of hiking. The days are pretty long now, so it’s not too hard to make 20 miles in a day, but once one starts pushing higher than that, it takes some extra effort. Everyone has their own style of making it to camp before dark (or a few even willfully night hike). Some people sleep late, hike really fast (3.5-4 mph), and take good sized breaks. Others get up early and plod along as long as they can. Personally, I aim for consistency. I keep a good pace, but I don’t try to keep up with the fast hikers. Instead I try to take as few breaks as possible and in doing so average about what they do. In practice this means that I eat most of my meals (snacks, really) during the day while walking.
This brings me to the real meat of my post. Today My first snack was a granola bar. While eating on the go I have to wrap my trekking poles under one arm and eat with the other, so I’m not that graceful. Coincidentally, I was traversing a rough patch of wet and slippery rock, so I was moving slow-ish and staring at my feet.
Suddenly I hear a noise up ahead of me like nothing I had heard on the trail before. That isn’t to say it was extraordinary, just that it wasn’t one of the noises I have become accustomed to (birds fluttering by, rodents rustling, etc.). It sounded like a cross between a high pitched yelp and a bark. I immediately assume it must be some south bound hikers and look up. The trail ahead made a shape turn, so I couldn’t quite see what was beyond the thick brush, but I make out one big black blob and three little black blobs running the opposite direction. I figure I must have just bumped into a bear family going down the trail in the opposite direction.
So once again, reflexively, I yelled “BEAR! BEAR! BEAR!” to make sure I really scared it off and to let it know where I am. After waiting a few beats I thought to myself “Man, that could have been a lot worse” because, of course, startling a mother bear with young cubs is probably one of the worst possible situations to be in. Thankful that I escaped unharmed I slowly made my way down the trail while making as much noise as possible to make sure the bear knew I was coming.
But as I turn the corner I see three bear cubs climbing a tree not 30 feet in front of me. The trail headed about ten feet towards them then made, what looked to be, a sharp right turn and they were no more than 20 feet or so from the turn. At this point I have two options, the textbook plan of back away and wait until the bears have moved on, or try to make it past without spooking momma bear. The problem is I have to walk toward the cubs in order to make it past them.
Waiting wasn’t really an option, I was hoping to meet up with some friends at the next shelter so that we could all hitch into town together. So, slowly, I walked towards the cubs, all the while waiting for mom to charge me from the brush. As soon as I rounded the corner, I hustled out of the area.
It was, actually, a nice way to start the morning. I had been feeling pretty tired and sick up until that point, but that got my adrenaline flowing and put a spring in my step to be sure.
A note about Waynesboro: we’re currently camping behind the YMCA, which has offered us free camping and a shower to boot. While some towns are completely accustomed to us hiker bums and our ways, it’s clear that this is a town in transition. The camping area is essentially a park which has a jogging track running through it which gets a good bit of traffic. Some folks will walk by and stop to chat, making sure to make us feel welcome, while others will do their best to ignore us. Perhaps the weirdest part is that apparently the police have a tendency to hassle the hikers a bit, which is strange considering we’re essentially invited guests. The guy at the front desk of the YMCA told me they sometimes go to the park to make sure all the hikers have signed in, which is all well and good, but that they also sometimes search hikers, which seems completely bizarre to me. Unfortunately it gives the feeling of being only half welcome, where all the other trail towns I’ve felt right at home.
Time for bed now, tomorrow a resupply, a stop to send my winter bag home (my quilt is awesome!), maybe a stop by goodwill to get some cheap shorts, and finally a stop by the outfitters to get new shoes. My old boots gave me a silver dollar sized blister today, so it’s definitely time to say goodbye.