I took a hot shower, did some laundry in the motel, and bought a few food items in a nearby store to put in my pack: beef jerky, salted nuts, tuna fish in foil packs, and instant hot chocolate. There was no freeze dried backpacker food pouches. After that I ate some more, slept, and ate some more. The next morning I got a ride back to the trail. As I went North from the road I was no longer in the park. A few miles South of the road is the northern boundary of the Shenandoah National Park. The day before as I huffed and puffed on the trail there was a sign indicating where the park ended. It was comical how at that point the trail changed suddenly into a rocky obstacle course that would be a challenge for a mountain goat. The Appalachian Trail goes the length of the park which extends about 70 miles from Waynesboro to Front Royal. The trail winds around and goes 100 miles over that same distance. I must have been lulled into thinking the trail was an easy going path, because in the space of a few few feet it changed radically.
It wasn’t unusual in each state to see volunteers working on the trail to upgrade or do maintenance of some sort. Since leaving Georgia I had seen volunteers replacing a plank on a foot bridge that went across a wide river, removing a tree that had fallen across the trail, removing rocks from the trail (which seems a futile task considering how many rocks there are), fixing an eroded spot, etc. etc. That day as I hiked I came upon an older man swinging a long handled blade back and forth that cut weeds away from the side of the trail. There was a border collie dog with him that never left his side. I stopped when I got to him. He stopped what he was doing to talk. He was very peaceful and content. I wanted to be like that; so I asked multiple questions about what he was doing almost to the point of being nosey. He didn’t mind. He said the section of the trail he looked after went from the seepage well, which I remember seeing before I got to him, to the power lines. I would cross under them further up the trail. He didn’t say he loved the trail, and I forgot to ask what it did for him. In conversation he said with pride that he was the former president of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club for four years and it’s vice president for 8 years. His name was Tom Johnson. He let me take a picture of him smiling, holding his weed wacker, the dog by his side. After that I moved on up the trail. I looked back before I went around the bend. He was back to work, the ultimate volunteer.
Harpers Ferry is 40 miles away, and within that distance is the infamous “roller coaster” which is several miles of trail that goes steeply up and down ten times. On an elevation map it looks like an amusement park roller coaster, thus the name. In the middle of it is a hostel called Bears Den. I spent a day there. At the end of the day I bought a frozen pizza. As I devoured it and said to another hiker how good it was he said I had been on the trail to long. He agreed the ice cream was excellent. The hiker was a middle age executive from California. He hiked from Georgia that year. I saw him several more times along the trail. He passed me about three times.
In the 501 shelter he was there along with several other young hikers who also began in Georgia that Summer. They knew each other well, and were talking while playing cards by the light of their headlamps. I was trying to get some sleep. When 9 o’clock rolled around I turned over and said that shelter etiquette was lights out at 9pm. Nobody replied. The building didn’t have electricity, but then a few moments latter he said to the others he was turning-in. They all did likewise. The last time I saw him he said when he got to Delaware Water Gap he was taking a plane home to loose the bugs, and go to a funeral. Bugs around there were nothing compared to the mosquitoes in the low lands of New Jersey. I think he was tired of those people and wanted to get away from them. I know I’d get sick of them. There is an advantage to moving at a different speed.
When it was still daylight another hiker with thick glasses came in and sat down at the big table in the middle. His glasses were so thick I could hardly see his eyes. I was also sitting at the table. There was a skylight overhead. The shelter was fully enclosed with 12 bunk beds. There was a faucet outside. It was not your average shelter.
I had glasses also and they fogged up and got sweat on them when I was chugging along the trail. He seemed an experienced hiker and very secure about what he was doing. He knew the others. He didn’t say he was blind without glasses, but I’m sure he was. Occasionally I took my glasses off so I could see, and I wondered how he handled the situation so I asked him. He looked at me in silence then at one of the others, then back at me and said he carried two full rolls of toilet paper to wipe them off. He also said to limit the fogging problem he would spit on them like a diver, and he explained how that is done. The sun was almost gone. He got up to hike North and tent. I said to him in disbelief your not staying here? No, he said, I want to get a few more miles.