In a prior post, we shared about the nasty rattlesnake that spooked me as we hiked the Appalachian Trail. Well, Chief had his own encounter with a rattlesnake the other day. Early in the day, we had found Walkie Talkie sitting on a rock at the bottom of a hill. Walkie said she hadn’t felt well and was struggling to hike in the Virginia heat. We encouraged her to get back up and told her we expected to see her at the top of the mountain. A few minutes later, Walkie came up hiking behind us and successfully climbed that mountain. We shared a frozen Gatorade with her and she continued hiking with us. Suddenly, we heard the sound of a rattlesnake and Chief stopped on the trail. He didn’t see the snake at first until Walkie told him it was right beside his left foot. One more step could have been Chief’s mistake. We backed away as the rattlesnake seemed to guard the trail, moving toward us and coiling into a strike position. The situation required patience as we waited on the snake to slither away. Walkie had no problem with passing the snake, a move that I questioned and pondered how I would explain to her parents how we allowed such negligence had she gotten bit. Nevertheless, the rattlesnake moved into the bushes enough for us to finally pass on the trail.
On Days 71 – 75, we had the privilege of hiking through the beautiful Shenandoah National Park. With anticipation, we walked the A.T. that was nicely manicured and with shorter ascents than we had previously experienced. For hikers, the Shenandoah is known for three things – bears, Skyline Drive, and waysides (restaurants). During our 96-mile hike, the Appalachian Trail crossed the Skyline Drive 28 times. We decided that our future hopefully will include a car trip on Skyline Drive since we have now experienced the stunning Shenandoah Valley views from high on top the mountains. Hiking the Shenandoah has a definite benefit of several wayside restaurants or campground stores near the A. T. Nearly every day in the park, we enjoyed a cold drink, sandwich, or ice cream. For a hiker this is a real treat. One question we are often asked about our A.T. adventure is if we have seen any bears. We hadn’t. Since the Shenandoah is known for a large bear population, we were hopeful of seeing a bear from a safe distance. On Day 74, we actually saw SIX black bears! Early in the morning, Chief and I were hiking with a Massachusetts police officer, Tiger Mike, when I spotted a black bear about 15 yards to our right. We then noticed two cute cubs in front of mama as they were running away. We never felt threatened, and the bears went on their way – no harm, no fear. That experience wasn’t mirrored the same evening when another hiker, Scout, called out that there was a bear on the trail. Chief, Tiger Mike, and I were not far behind and when we caught up we saw two cubs climbing a tree right beside the trail. Mama bear was at the foot of the tree pounding the ground and not letting anyone pass the trail. For an hour we waited for the cubs to come down from the tree and for mama to “open” the trail. It was getting dark and we still had a good two miles to the shelter. Every time Chief and Tiger Mike walked up the trail, mama bear would make aggressive moves toward them. No cop training had prepared either of them for this type of hostage situation. They finally decided we would have to hike off-trail, way out around the bears in order to pass. The bushwhacking proved challenging as we navigated thorny bushes, large rocks, and fallen trees, but we finally found the trail further north and safely made it to shelter at dusk.
On a side note, Scott Jurek is currently traversing the Appalachian Trail in an attempt to set a speed record of 42 days (Georgia to Maine). Scott is covering an average of 50 miles per day in a supported hike. You can follow Scott’s progress online. We unfortunately didn’t have the opportunity to meet Scott because he passed our trail point when we were off the trail one day, but we wish him the best in this endeavor.
We are excited to be close to completing the Appalachian Trail in Virginia. Twenty-mile days have gotten us to mile 969 and we are closer to Harpers Ferry, West Virginia than anticipated. Considered the spiritual halfway point, Harpers Ferry is at mile 1,023 and is very near on our horizon. We then expect a short break over the July 4th weekend, celebrating our own independence from the trail – then back to hike July 5 with patience and forbearance.
Almost Halfway, Chief and Toad