(05/30/19) I awoke in a comfy hotel bed. I showered again. Not because I needed to. Simply because a shower was available. I ventured down to the hotel lobby for breakfast. As usual, I grabbed a few of everything and filled my coffee cup to the rim. As I sat down I noticed a man in a wheelchair– he was missing both legs. On the back of the wheelchair was a United Stated Army logo.

The layout of the room was awkward and cluttered. It made maneuvering around the room very difficult for this veteran. He poured himself a bowl of cereal and then went to pour in the milk. But the milk container was empty. For most of us this would be a simple task of carrying the empty container to the front desk and letting them know it was empty. For this disabled gentlemen, this was not an easy task. It took him a bit of work and time to make his way through the maze of tightly configured tables and chairs to the breakfast counter to begin with. As I stood up to help, several others in front of me that were observing, did the same. A lady approached him and asked if she could help. He said, “yes, thank you”. She went to the front desk and returned with the container full of milk. She poured the milk for him, and cleared some chairs out of the way so he could make it back to his table more easily. He thanked her once again as they both returned to their tables to resume their breakfast. #Kindness

There were several other hikers in the breakfast area. We’re pretty easy to spot. Food piled high on our plates, hiking clothes, camp shoes, looking homeless. I recognized a girl I had seen on the trail a few times over the past several days. There was an older gentlemen there too. We all sat together and ate breakfast and chatted for a bit. His name was Chappie. Her name was Thermia. I asked her, as in “hyperthermia”? She said, “yes”. I said, “oh, do tell the story of how you got your trail name.” She smiled briefly and told me her scary story.

She was climbing Clingman’s Dome in NC. It was raining and the temps were below freezing. Her muscles started to cramp up. She called the rangers station in hopes they’d come and get her. Their response, “this isn’t a shuttle service. Unless this is an emergency, we’re not allowed to come get you.” She was alone, cold, and frightened, but she wasn’t sure if her condition would be considered an emergency or not. So she hung up and pressed forward. She made her way to the parking lot of Newfound Gap. Still high up on the mountain, still raining, still freezing, but she found a public bathroom and made her way inside. Luckily her friends were there. They had her take off her wet, frozen clothes, and all piled in around her to get her warm. Even more luckily, one of her friends was an EMT. He took her body temp and it had dropped to 90 degrees. This was extremely dangerous. They called 911 if have her evacuated off the mountain. They were able to get her temp back up at the hospital. This scare is enough to send anyone home off the trail for good. Not this girl. Fully recovered, she was back on the trail a few days later. I shared with her my story of myself and a few trail friends spending the night in that same bathroom months ago to get out of the snow and ice as well.

Chappie asked how we planned on getting back to the trail today. I told them I had a list of Trail Angels in the area that provided shuttle services at no cost. I had the list with me so I shared it with them. They took pictures of the list and thanked me. We finished our meals and all parted ways. “See you up the trail” we all said. I walked back to the room to get some work done as usual. Mulligan got up and got some breakfast. Next on the agenda was laundry.

We grabbed our dirty clothes and headed to the laundry room. There was a hiker box in the room. A hiker box is a box hikers discard extra food items and or gear and clothes they don’t want anymore. For example, often you buy a box of oatmeal, but don’t want to carry all 10 packets with you. You might pack half, then discard the other 5 into a hiker box. Other hikers who need to resupply can grab food and other items from these boxes for free. We checked the box but there wasn’t anything of interest to us. While waiting outside we met another hiker by the name of Doc. A big African American guy with dreads. Though we didn’t talk that much, I could tell he was a super nice guy.

We finished our laundry, got packed up and called for a shuttle. A Trail Angel showed up a few minutes later in a truck. He already had two hikers with him. Two we recognized as we ran into them first on the trail and the second time at Devil’s Backbone Brewery. Their name were Ember and Blue Jay. They were a very nice young couple. Ember proposed to Blue Jay at the start of their Thru Hike of the AT just a few months ago. What a way to test your relationship. Get engaged, then hike 2200 miles across the US, hiking 15 – 20 miles day, sweating, stinking, staying in a tent together, being together, every second of every day for 6 months:) We all got dropped off together at the start of Shenandoah National Park. We tried to pay the Trail Angel for the lift. But again, he wouldn’t take our money. We thanked him, then filled out our paperwork needed, to enter the park.

We checked the elevation gains and losses before we got started. It didn’t look too bad. We got a late start and wanted to get some miles in before it got dark. The challenge was, finding a good place to setup camp that had a good water source. It looked like there were only two good locations. One was in 7 miles, and the other was in 20 miles. If we attempted the 20 miles, we’d be hiking well into the night. We corresponded with Pretzel too to see where she was aiming to camp for the evening. She too got a late start and wasn’t really feeling like putting in big miles. She was a few miles ahead of us already though so it didn’t look like we’d meet up with her. There were a few “stealth” camp sites that were around 9 or 10 miles in. But they weren’t close to water. If we attempted to stay there, we’d start our day with no water, and have another 10 or so miles to go with no water. So we opted to aim for the 7 miles shelter location for the evening.

With it being such a short mile day, we didn’t see much. There were a few decent views by a large communications tower. We stopped and took some video and photos there, before pressing forward. We kept our eyes peeled for bears. Shenandoah National Park is known for bear sightings. And they are so used to people they don’t scare as easy, so you’re supposed to be able to get some great shots. I was excited. On day 1 in the park though, we didn’t see any.

We made our way to the 7 mile marker, and our home for the evening. It was pretty packed. The park itself is pretty popular and seeing how this is the first shelter heading north we shouldn’t have been surprised. Mulligan found a nice spot to setup his tent. We thought I may be able to get my tent in the same area. My tent was pretty big though. It would have been a tight squeeze. Mulligan gave up this spot for me and found another place closer to the shelter. I asked him if he was sure. Being closer to the shelter meant being closer to noise from other hikers. He said he’d be fine. I thanked him of course.

We got our tents setup and grabbed our food and cooking equipment and made our way to the picnic table setup in front of the shelter. We sat down with other hikers. Some new, some we’d seen and met over the past few days. Thermia, who I met this morning, was there. Another hiker I saw in the hotel breakfast area was there. I didn’t meet her then but said hello as we all ate together. Her name was Poker Face. I asked her how she got her name. She said she doesn’t typically talk to people and often wasn’t very expressive. I asked her if we were talking to her too much. She laughed, and said we were fine. Thumper was also there. I met her a few times over the past couple of days. She was rocking a West Virginia t-shirt with the sleeves cut off. Two new hikers we met were Mountain Monk and Show Me.

We all ate dinner together, got to know each other better, discussed our journeys so far and our plans for the next few days. Everyone finished up and headed back to their tents or into the shelter. As we settled in, we heard even more people come into the camp site. Quite a few people actually. Ember and Blue Jay were among them. There must have been 20-25 people there that night. We were glad we got there early enough to get decent tent sites. I caught up on some work items and journaled some before falling asleep.

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