Allison had the timer on the coffee pot set for 6:00 am and I was standing there waiting for it to finish brewing. She drove Boo Boo and Batman to Walmart to resupply while I stayed behind to pack my now dry gear. When I went to settle my account with Allison, I asked her how much I owed her and she told me $32. This woman had completely opened up her house to us, driven us everywhere we wanted to go, washed our clothes, and had generally looked after our every need. I gave her $40 and still felt like it wasn’t enough.
After Boo Boo and Batman had been retrieved from the store and had sorted out and repackaged their food purchases, Allison drove us back to the Panorama parking lot so we could return to the trail. Before leaving, she gave each of us a big hug, wished us a safe hike, and took our picture for her Facebook page. Allison is a very special lady and I will always be grateful for her hospitality and caring attitude. Thank you, Allison, for a wonderful night off of the trail.
We didn’t get back on the trail until noon and the reality of our situation was that we needed to hike 14 miles as quickly as possible to ensure an early arrival at the Gravel Springs Hut. We had seen notices posted that the tenting at that hut had been closed due to bear activity so we needed to arrive early to ensure our space inside the hut. Word on the trail was that a hiker had setup his tent, walked down to the hut to eat, and returned to his tent to discover that it had been ransacked by a bear.
The weather was beautiful and the trail was dry so we hit the ground running (figuratively speaking). Because of our late departure, our main motivation was to get to the next wayside for some food so we flew down the trail. I did make one stop along the trail to remove a tree that was blocking the way.
At the Elkwallow Wayside, I met up with Boo Boo and Batman who were, naturally, eating everything in sight. I was beginning to reach the burger saturation point by this time, so I elected to go with a very tasty chicken salad. We were all disappointed that this Wayside didn’t offer the famous blackberry milkshake, but they did make a root beer float that was excellent. All of us agreed that it had been years since we had enjoyed a root beer float and we couldn’t figure out why it had been so long.
Leaving the wayside, the trail started up a steep climb so I told the boys that I would see them at the shelter. The climb, combined with the gorgeous weather, provided some great views along the way. While following the ridge line, I met with an ATC Ridgerunner who was out to let everyone know that the tenting ban had been lifted at the Gravel Springs Hut. She was, however, suggesting that you eat at the hut and then set up your tent just before retiring for the night.
I arrived at the hut shortly after 6:00 pm and immediately noticed a park ranger truck parked there as I descended on the approach trail. As I got closer to the hut, I saw a couple of female park rangers carting some heavy artillery and thought, “This can’t be good.” As it turned out, the heavy weapons were paintball cannons and they were just making a sweep of the tenting area to ensure that Mr. Bear had not returned for more hijinks.
The tenting area and hut were packed with day hikers and section hikers. Batman had decided to tent so I snagged the remaining space in the hut. During dinner, I met a nice family that were on their last night of a weeklong section hike. The daughter really wanted to do a thru-hike but was going to Pharmacy College and couldn’t take the time off. This was to be our last night in Shenandoah National Park and I still hadn’t seen a bear. After dinner, to everyone’s amusement, I walked around the camp with my camera at the ready saying, “Here bear bear bear! Here bear bear bear!”