After eating breakfast, I headed down the trail with a 15 minute head start on Boo Boo. He caught up with me 30 minutes later, at Blackrock. To be fair, it was a climb all the way from my campsite to that spot, but still. Anyway, we scrambled up the rocks to get to the top and were rewarded with a pretty decent view. The gathering clouds, however, validated the weather forecast for scattered showers.
After Blackrock, the trail continued yesterday’s trend of being mostly flat and lined with flowers. Through this section, the A.T. crosses Skyline Drive four times in quick succession offering nice views at each overlook. Along the way, I encountered a youth group on a nature hike being guided by what is no doubt the cutest park ranger I have ever seen. She asked if I was thru-hiking and if I would make a comment to the youth about the different geological changes I had seen along the way. I blurted out something semi-intelligible. Did I mention she was cute.
Even with the gentle grades, Boo Boo soon outpaced me because he was extremely motivated by the thought of food. Shenandoah National Park has several Waysides (food concessions) scattered along Skyline Drive and we were targeting the first one we would pass for lunch. By the time I arrived at the Loft Mountain Wayside, Boo Boo and Batman were already chowing down. I had met Batman several days earlier while I was taking a snack break and I started telling him about my encounter with the cute ranger. Boo Boo said that he had also been stopped for an interview by another group, but it was being led by a male ranger.
For lunch, I had a large salad, cheese burger, and cheese fries. The Waysides are famous for their blackberry milkshakes so I felt obligated to have one of those too. It was a good choice. While I was eating, the two previously mentioned park rangers stopped by for lunch. I exchanged waves with the cute one and she walked over to me and thanked me for talking to her nature walk group. As she and I continued chatting away about the bears coming up for the blackberries and being on the lookout for rattlesnakes on the overlooks, I glanced over at Batman and he was sitting there with his jaw dropped, staring at me in disbelief. Later, I told him not to feel bad and that I’m sure she must have some sort of affection for smelly old hikers.
I left Boo Boo and Batman at the Wayside and attempted to beat them to the Pinefield Hut which was a little over three miles away. There were several small ups and downs in route but the trail remained smooth and there was a nice view near the Ivy Creek Overlook, despite the gathering storm clouds.
When I arrived at the hut, there were already a couple of people there so I set out to look for a suitable spot to pitch my tent. As soon as I started to unroll my tent, the rain started to fall so I rolled everything up and dashed back to the hut. As the rain was coming down in sheets, Boo Boo, Batman, and Yogi came down the trail soaked to the bone. It seemed like an inch of rain fell but it cleared up in about an hour.
At this point, Yogi decided he wanted to build a fire to dry out his clothes. What followed was one of the most amazing examples of persistence that I have ever witnessed. After gathering a nice pile of tinder, kindling, and wood, he began the unlikely task of getting all that wet wood to burn. Soon, Batman and another guy, who was touring the park on a bike, joined in on the action. First, they tried to get the damp tinder to burn. Then they tried to use the pages out of a book that had been left in the shelter (just the unimportant pages like the index and table of contents). Then they tried hand sanitizer (which burns pretty well, but wasn’t hot enough to dry the kindling). It was like watching three Eagle Scouts trying to start a fire. They were doing everything right, but the wood was just to wet to sustain a flame. Eventually, the guy with the bike grabbed his propane camp stove, fired it up, turned it on high, and stuck the burner into the kindling a la blowtorch. Finally, they had a tiny ember that they took turns blowing on until it burst into a small flame.
Good gear and physical fitness, although it helps, are not the most important things you need to complete a thru-hike of the A.T. The most important characteristic you need to reach Mt. Katahdin is stubborn determination, and there is no doubt in my mind the Batman and Yogi will make it to the end. After trying to get that fire going for 1-1/2 hours, they finally achieved a sustained flame and the other folks at the hut that had been spectators erupted into applause and congratulations. My only regret is that I was unable to film this process from conception to completion, so that I could show others a textbook example of persistence and “can do” attitude.
Now we are enjoying dinner by a warm fire while Yogi and Batman smoke their clothes dry. This is one of those special moments that I’m sure to remember for many years to come.