Must thru-hikers have an arrogant disdain for day hikers. They are noisy, use up scarce camping spots, and leave a lot of trash behind. On the plus side though, they smell great. I can usually smell a day hiker approaching on the trail before I can see them. I, however, don’t share the thru-hiker dislike for day hikers because without them, there would not be an Appalachian Trail.
Benton MacKaye, the visionary who first proposed the A.T., envisioned the trail as a place where people could escape from the cities and reconnect with nature. He even discouraged thru-hiking, calling it a stunt. Over the years, it has been the millions of day hikers contributing to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and providing countless hours of volunteer service to trail maintenance that have allowed the trail to exist. It’s not that some of the A.T. supporters aren’t thru-hikers, but thru-hikers need to remember that they are a very small minority of A.T. users and they have no special entitlement to the A.T. for the pursuit of their objectives.
All that being said, I believe that the source of disdain directed towards weekend warriors is rooted in their lack of knowledge regarding trail etiquette and camping procedures. Last night, the Memorial Day crowd stayed up partying way past hiker midnight (someone even shouted at them to keep it down). This morning we woke up and discovered that they had left trash, food, and unwashed pots and pans scattered all over the shelter deck. This is why some shelters are full of mice and several bears have to be euthanized each year. The coup de gras was the grocery bags hanging from the bear pole. Rant over.
Yesterday evening we met a fun group of flip flop hikers (thru hikers that start somewhere in the middle of the trail, hike north, and then return to their starting point to hike south) named Fake News, Priestess, and Bear Bell. This morning Fake News, who had purchased the French press attachment for his Jetboil stove, offered fresh brewed coffee to several of us. Boy was that tasty! Thank you Fake News!
We finally got out of camp and started hiking. In a short while we started a little climb where Boo Boo and Batman quickly outpaced me and left me to hike by myself. The trail was really smooth and with cool overcast skies I made good time to Manassas Gap where the A.T. passes under I-66. A Trail Angel had left a cooler full of cold sodas at the trailhead parking area, so I took a break and drank a Dr. Pepper to help get me up the next climb.
And it was a pretty good 800 foot climb too! Earlier I had passed a sign telling me that I would be hiking along the western boundary of the area controlled by Col John Mosby during the Civil War. About halfway up the climb, I passed an old stone wall and could just imagine what it must have been like with Confederate skirmishers hiding behind that wall ready to protect their territory.
A couple of hours later, I entered Sky Meadows State Park which, as the name suggests, is a huge meadow that is, well, way up in the sky. It was some nice, smooth, and flat walking and I enjoyed the change in scenery as I passed easily through the park.
What remained of my afternoon was spent going downhill and crossing multiple streams. As I got closer to the Rod Hollow Shelter, the trail started to become extremely muddy so it was slow going as I rock hopped and balanced on downed trees to avoid getting my feet soaked. I was only partially successful in that effort.
When I arrived at the shelter, Boo Boo and Batman were there to greet me. Batman pulled out his phone and proudly showed me a video that Boo Boo took of him using his trekking poles to usher a six foot long black snake out of the rafters of the shelter. We figured that we would have the shelter to ourselves since all we had to do was show the video to any day hikers that might arrive. We also surmised that shelter mice wouldn’t be a problem either.
Day hikers did arrive but they were a nice older group that planned to tent near the shelter. One of them was an interesting woman who came over and chatted with us for about an hour. She was up from Washington, DC for the weekend and was a forensic scientist for some federal agency that investigated natural disasters. It sounded like gruesome work and she had some fascinating stories. While she was there, she pulled out a little gadget that she called a TENS unit and attached it to her shoulder to relieve her muscle aches from carrying a backpack. The unit would alternately send an electrical charge that would contract and relax her muscles and she swore by it. Note to self: research ultralight TENS units!