Currently sitting at the Bear's Den computer...
Yeah, I know what you're thinking. I'm thinking it too. The Rooster has gone soft. Three hostel stays in three nights. Not to mention five zero days since Duncannon. It makes me flustered just thinking about it. But hear me out, or whatever I'm supposed to say here. I stayed at the hostel this morning long enough to make myself some pancakes. Mark, our shuttle driver and former thru-hiker, got Bernie and I to the trail by 8:30. Bernie didn't realize that at the hostel, he had been in Knoxville, Maryland. He thought he had been in Harper's Ferry the whole time. I gave him the bad news as we leapfrogged the part of the trail where I had already hiked, but Bernie had not. He seemed intrigued, but not concerned: a typical Bernie emotion. We walked through what was left of the town as I played "Take Me Home, Country Roads" from my phone's speaker. We crossed the Shenandoah River and to our surprise still found ourselves in West Virginia. State borders are weird. We had a pretty good climb out of town followed abruptly by a right turn. I remembered that this was the section of trail that perfectly followed the WV-VA line. I liked to imagine my left foot in Virginia, while my right foot was getting shot at by a crowd of yokels in a pickup truck. The trail was smooth if not a bit rocky in a few sections, so I found a good rhythm. John Denver's song continued to play in my head, and I hiked happily. I allowed myself to think ahead a bit, but not in the discouraging way that I had been. I thought about Shenandoah coming up in less than 60 miles, about my dad's upcoming visit to hike with me, and about rising out of the valley that has characterized the Appalachian Trail for the last 500 miles or so. Soon I will be flying above 3000 feet again! I also looked backward and counted my blessings. I thought about some of the amazing sights of Maine and New Hampshire. I thought about sitting on the porch at Lakeshore House in the sun, drinking a PBR tall boy with Dirty Mike and the Boys, Dr. Scholls, and Mulligan. I reminded myself that the weather through the mid-Atlantic lowlands has been as perfect as could be, with cold front after cold front destroying any chances of dehydration and sending the bugs into submission. I still haven't had to wear a head net. The forecast for today was a chance of afternoon showers and thunderstorms, but I felt as though I could push them away by sheer power of will.
It may have been a change in my attitude, but the hiking and scenery today seemed more beautiful than I remembered. The ground was more forgiving. I saw ten deer in all. They didn't even care that I was watching them. Look!
Another opportunity for you to feel embarrassed for the thru-hiker who apparently has no shame left. Anyways, after some smooth miles and a stop at another gorgeous PATC shelter (a swinging bench and a deck? Really?), it was time for another Appalachian Trail challenge: the Roller Coaster. This is about 14 miles of short ups and downs with no real breaks in between. The climbs are all less than 500 feet, I think, which actually makes the effort a little more aggravating than if one were making one big climb. What struck me, though, was how much I enjoyed the effort of going uphill. I got into a rhythm and got a little sweaty. This hasn't actually been happening much lately; there's been a cold front, and I've been on flat ground. Those who know me will understand how odd it would be for me not to sweat during exercise. Well the sweat is back. To top it off, I completed a small climb and came to a view! That's something I've been missing. I swung my feet over the edge of the rocks and had a snack. After another one of the Roller Coaster's humps (not to mention officially crossing into Virginia and dropping under 1000 miles to go) I came to a road. I also came to a metaphorical crossroads: hike 3.6 miles to a shelter, or hike 0.6 miles to another hostel. It was 4:45, not late by any means. However, I had come almost 20 miles and I thought it would be in my best interest to take the shorter option. Did that sound convincing? I didn't think so. While I had little reason to justify stopping at yet another bunkhouse, the Bear's Den offered another fantastic deal. I couldn't turn my back on ice cream, pizza, internet, and TV for such a reasonable price. It was another cosmic sign, I decided. I'll toughen up again one of these days and become a mountain man once again. In my defense, I can't be a mountain man when I am not climbing mountains anyways. So I'll wait until after Shenandoah, home of some of the easiest walking on the whole trail. See you soon, Dad!
Deer count: 10