Before leaving camp this morning, I walked over the see how the youth group had fared overnight and when I saw what they had done, it was all I could do to not laugh out loud. Nearly everyone out here has learned to hang their food from a tree branch at least 10 feet high and 10 feet away from the tree trunk in order to keep the food away from bears. The camp counselors of the youth group had the kids hang all of their food bags on a line suspended about three feet from the ground. It looked like a bear piñata.
Leaving Falls Creek required making a steep 500 foot climb that really got the blood flowing. There weren’t too many rocks, but the trail was extremely muddy from all the recent rain. I had received some intel that the water in Falls Creek was not good for drinking, so I stopped at the Deer Lick Shelters to get water from the spring and eat breakfast.
Other than the mud, the trail was very gentle and I made good time to the Tumbling Run Shelters where I stopped once again for water. The caretaker of the Tumbling Run Shelters was cutting the grass around the shelters with a rechargeable lawn mower and obviously takes great pride in his shelters. It was immaculate. Someone also had a great sense of humor as the twin shelters had signage labeling them as Snoring and Non-Snoring.
After loading up on calories, I began the steep 1,000 foot climb from the shelters to the top of Snowy Mountain. By this time the weather was starting to clear so I got a really nice view on the way up at Chimney Rocks. Chimney Rocks was just a harbinger of rocks to come. The descent down the backside of the mountain was extremely rocky in places and it made for some slow going.
By the time I made it to US 30, I was very hot and tired from my battle with the rocks. Several people had told me that when I got here that I HAD to walk down the road to a restaurant called Timbers. It would require a half mile road walk each way so I was hesitant, but the draw of food can be a compelling motivator.
The folks at Timbers had recently celebrated their first anniversary of being open for business and they are doing everything right to attract the hiker business. A big sign out front saying “Hikers Welcome” greeted me as I approached the building and the owner came out and greeted me when I got to the door. He showed me where to put my pack so that I could keep an eye on it, encouraged me to bring my phone in if I needed a charge, and despite the fact that I had been hiking in the heat for several days without a shower, made me feel welcome in his business.
Timbers is run by a husband and wife team and they chatted with me about my hike, made sure I had plenty of ice water, and showed me the wifi password, all while serving up one of the best burgers I’ve had on the trail. The restaurant is primarily an ice cream shop so I felt like it would be rude not to follow up the burger with a cherry milkshake. As I was leaving, I asked if they had a faucet outside where I could fill my water bottle and the owner took my bottle and filled it with chilled water. In a word, Timbers is awesome and well worth the extra walking. These friendly folks deserve your business.
It was tough to pull myself away from Timbers but I had to go back outside in the heat and walk a few more miles. After crossing US 30, the A.T. passes Caledonia State Park. Many hikers stop here to take advantage of the swimming pool and concession stand, but my Momma always said I needed to wait an hour after eating before swimming, so I pressed on.
If there was an award for the best shelter on the trail, I’m certain it would go to Jim Stauch, the “Innkeeper” of the Quarry Gap Shelters. These twin shelters even had an entranceway that would have made Walt Disney proud. As I approached the shelter area, I found myself surrounded by rhododendrons. And while this might not sound so unusual, I hadn’t seen a rhododendron in weeks and it made me feel like I was back in Virginia. Then I started up a beautifully constructed stone staircase that led to the beginning of a long, well manicured rhododendron tunnel. When I stepped through the portal at the end of the tunnel, the scene might just as well have been Cinderella Castle.
It is obvious that Jim Stauch has poured years of love into his shelters, and hikers have shown their appreciation for his efforts by going above and beyond in helping to maintain the area. The grounds were absolutely pristine without a sign of litter, vandalism, or graffiti. Jim has provided a flower garden, hanging flower baskets, board games, and a swing. There was even an air freshener in the privy! The attention to detail was amazing. Even more amazing was that I had the entire place to myself.
I’ve often heard that the mental aspect of hiking the A.T. is more difficult than the physical aspect and mentally, today has been my most difficult day on the trail. I started to question the wisdom of taking those extra “zeros” in Harpers Ferry because now Boo Boo, Scar, and all the other friends I had made while hiking are days ahead of me. It’s not like I can hike 50 miles one day to catch up. I never considered that I would get lonely on the trail but hiking alone for two days in the rain, mud, and heat is starting to wear on me. And then I arrive at this spa retreat of a shelter and there is no one else here.
As I was about to go to sleep, another hiker arrives in the dark using his headlamp. I make my presence known and tell him that he has the other “condo” to himself. I also told him that I was planning to leave early and that I would try to pack as quietly as possible. He replied, “Go ahead and rattle those pots and pans because I want to get going early too.”