It started to rain overnight and it was still drizzling when we got up. While we were eating breakfast, one of the day hikers stopped by and offered us his remaining food since he was heading back home. Maybe these day hikers aren’t so bad after all. Fortified by a couple of extra granola bars, I started picking my way through the mud to get back to the trail.
Boo Boo and Batman were pushing for big miles today while I planned a short day in order to stay at the historic Bears Den Hostel. So I said goodbye, hoping to catch up with them in Harpers Ferry as they continued down the trail.
After a benign start, I soon came to the beginning of the Roller Coaster. We had been talking about the Roller Coaster for several days and had determined that the rumored difficulty was probably a bunch of hype. On the elevation profile it appeared to be a series of 200-300 foot ups and downs, so how bad could it possibly be? Well, let me tell you.
The Roller Coaster was laid out by a sadistic trail designer for the sole purpose of providing a nightmare scenario for backpackers. It continues for over 13 miles and is routed straight up and down over 14 hills while choosing the most difficult path possible over rocks. And for the icing on the pain cake, today those rocks were wet! If I ever meet the person responsible for this, I will not be buying them a beer.
So I spent the better part of the day toiling over 9 miles of the Roller Coaster. No hands up in the air or screams of delight on this ride. At the top of one of the hills, I reached the 1,000 mile mark and took a short break. After discovering that there were no corn dogs, cotton candy, or snow cones available at this momentous location, I continued on. It seemed surreal, though, that I had actually walked 1,000 miles.
With three more peaks to climb, the sun finally started to peek through the clouds. When I finally arrived at the hostel, I discovered that Fake News, Priestess, and Bear Bell were already there! If I understood the story correctly, Bear Bell was just out for a short section hike and when they reached her car, they yellow blazed to the hostel (Bears Den Rocks is a popular destination accessible by car). In any case, they had stopped by a store on the way and offered me a cold hard cider which I gratefully accepted.
While we are sitting behind the hostel enjoying the sunshine and getting to know each other better (the hostel doesn’t open until 5:00 pm) a guy shows up, starts unloading food from the back of his car, and sets it on the sidewalk. Trail Magic! His name is “Still Here” from the Class of 2014 and it turned out the he was the same Trail Angel that had left the sodas at Manassas Gap yesterday. He had cooked four dozen hotdogs (Nathan’s no less) accompanied by chips, soda, spaghetti, and homemade curry sauce. New friends, lively conversation, and great food made for an exceptional Memorial Day afternoon. Thank you so much “Still Here”!
After a bowl of spaghetti with sauce, a bowl of chips, and five hotdogs, I came up for air and checked in at the hostel. We all decided to tent out back for a nominal fee that included a shower, but they also offered indoor bunks, laundry, frozen pizza (no need now), a cook your own pancake breakfast, and pints of Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream. For some reason, I couldn’t resist tacking on an extra 1,000 calories of ice cream to celebrate the 1,000 mile mark.