Under overcast skies, I set foot on the trail today at 7:40, still holding a half cup of McDonald’s coffee. Since the terrain was completely flat for the first mile, clutching both poles in one hand and the coffee in the other worked fine. When I did reach the first climb of the day, I heard talking from up the trail. As I got closer I realized Bison and Barking Spider were just up ahead. When I reached and passed the brother and sister, they fell in behind me for the next three miles. It definitely felt good to be able to share the hike and a conversation with the Texans. Their dad, Blister, had to leave the trail with a foot problem. He had rented a car and was picking them up for lunch at VA 638.
When the three of us reached he road, to my surprise Shrek was sitting under a tree taking a break. Not having seen the strong, young hiker in almost a month, I thought he would be half way through Pennsylvania by now. I offered him a share of my shuttle to Bears Den, but he declined. Trail magic also appeared in the form of cold Sprite and various types of chips. I took a soda and some Cheetos. Thanking Bison and Barking Spider for the opportunity to hike with them, I then headed up the next climb alone. Almost shoulder high weeds (or maybe they were some kind of flower I couldn’t identify) bordered the trail for almost a mile. My shoes and shorts were wet from the morning dew before I exited the protruding plants.
For the third day in a row I happened upon a couple of trail maintainers. Speedy (AT ’96) and his wife Katherine stopped their weed eating to chat for a minute. Just past the couple I began to hear the cicadas. Their deafening song even drowned out the traffic on I-66 that the trail passes under at Manassas Gap. Just past the gap I was asked about my hike by 70 year young Underdog, a retired gentleman who was getting ready to start a three day hike. Then I crossed a footbridge and began almost a 900 foot climb to the Manassas Gap Shelter where I took a lunch break.
With a little over half my day complete, I hiked steadily throughout the afternoon. With about five miles to go I was passed by Tugboat and Life-raft. For the remainder of the day I hiked just in front or just behind them as we each stopped for breaks. As I arrived at Ashby Gap to complete a 20.0 mile day the rain began. Fortunately, Mike Evans was already there to shuttle me to Bears Den Hostel. By the time we arrived it was flooding. I didn’t get wet hiking, but I sure did walking from Mike’s car to the door of Bears Den.
Already at he hostel was a troop of Boy Scouts from Ohio with two adult leaders. After the hostel officially opened for business at 5:00, I signed in and took the $30 hiker special-a bed, shower, laundry, a full pizza, soft drink, and a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. Also arriving were thru hikers Gator and Pilgrim. I can’t say enough good things about Bears Den. The rustic stone building is filled with AT memorabilia and history. This year’s caretakers, Dana, Johnny, and John, along with Dana’s dog Doug are all most hospitable. Visiting with the other hikers ended another satisfying day of adventure on my journey along the Appalachian Trail.