Currently sitting in my room...
Welp, Shenandoah continues to deliver as of Day 2. I started off early because I was planning to hop along to the next reasonably-spaced shelter, which was almost 27 miles away. Considering I saw 4 bears yesterday and I don't have a ton of experience hanging a bear bag, I have ruled out camping on my lonesome throughout this park. Instead, I'll stick to shelters, which have bear poles where you hang your food, safely out of reach of bears and safely away from you. The convenience of not having to worry about your food or tent merits the extra mileage, and Shenandoah's gentle trails make that decision so much easier. Thus, I woke before I could see and popped on my headlamp, hoping to get to Bearfence Mountain Hut before it was swarmed by weekend hikers. I hiked with my headlamp on until it was light enough to see. I had switched it off by the time I made the smooth thousand-foot climb up to Mary's Rock. The morning was misty and pretty. The mountains in the distance looked like clouds. I expected the haze to burn off in the daylight, but instead I heard thunder as I approached Byrd's Nest Hut. I stopped to sign the shelter log and to put on my pack cover, making inane chitchat with the weekenders eating breakfast in the shelter. I was off again, but before long, I was walking in a downpour. Luckily I moved quickly enough to avoid getting cold, but I put on my rain jacket for extra insulation just in case. Hovering between 3000 and 4000 feet on the day, the temperatures can occasionally get chilly.
After a brief period of getting lost while trying to locate Skyland Resort, the large building appeared in the fog. The rain had relented, but I still wanted coffee and a snack. I guess walking quickly through the cold had gotten me hungry; I had two fist-sized muffins, a package of swiss rolls, a cinnamon toast crunch breakfast bar (an impulse buy), and a four-pack of Reese's Cups. During my stopover, I got really cold standing outside and being damp. I would have sat around inside, but it was a nice place and I didn't want to do anything to harm thru-hikers' reputation for those that come after me. I talked to a section hiker named Haystack who is going from North Carolina to Hot Springs, PA (a massive section). He gave me tips on a couple hostels farther south. Then I talked to a woman who was content to sit outside reading on her tablet while her friend was inside. Her name was Mary, and she was actually staying at Big Meadows. The cold had seeped into my bones, and I hatched a plan for a shorter day, justifying it by saying my shin needs to ease into the grind anyway. With Big Meadows as my new destination, I pushed back out into the rain, which had picked back up. I usually warm up as I hike, but I just couldn't get moving fast enough. The cold water was sapping the heat from my legs. I had to put on my rain pants, the first time I've done this for warmth's sake. It helped a ton, and I once again hiked in comfort, albeit still briskly.
I got to Big Meadows before I knew it, having stopped only to check my mileage a couple of times. I dried off and walked in to the main room of the lodge to use the wifi and to people watch, plopping down in an empty chair. Next to me were my two friends from Skyland sitting with their husbands! I said hi again and was invited to a traditional Friday night Jewish dinner. Being ignorant of most Jewish customs, I agreed to an education and to some tender vittles. Before that, I pre-dined downstairs so I wouldn't be ravenous. I made my way towards their campsite using the map that the lodge provided me, but it looked more like a rough sketch. Everything was out of proportion, and I wandered aimlessly for a while before finding their tentsite. They welcomed me warmly and introduced me to the final couple in their group. We sat around the fire for a while before singing a song in Hebrew, lighting candles, and eating. Everything was tasty and they even went so far as to cook my vegetables separately from the meat, something I told them they didn't have to do. They were refreshing because the conversation felt normal and whole, rather than centering on my hike. We did talk about the major points, but in general everyone contributed bits and pieces to the mix. It was a southbounder's dream. It got to be later than my trail bedtime, and I started to yawn, so I thanked everyone and bid them good night. I guess my late bedtime means I have to sleep in, making a visit to the lodge for breakfast seem natural. Such problems I have.