We made it through the Shenandoahs in seven days. I state for the record I have no intentions to glamorize illegally entering a national park while it is officially closed down….but I also have my own views (possibly unpopular) about it.
We did knowingly cross the red plastic tape that was at the trailhead. I am guilty, even though four days later I said I didn’t know anything and walked quickly on when we ran into a man with a TV sized camera on his shoulder who had asked me if I knew the park was closed. (I innocently asked him if he was there to find the culprit of that large crashing noise I had just heard in the woods!)
I understand it was closed for this epidemic we are having…but I don’t understand how you can close down public land to tax-paying citizens. I don’t understand why we aren’t admonished to stay outdoors in the wild fresh ever changing air and breathe deeply and slowly and appreciate all that the wilderness has to offer us on so many levels…. especially during this epidemic. It has to be the safest place to be. A place that naturally induces “social distancing”.
The first three days being in the park was absolutely magical. I have to say I felt extremely fortunate to be one of the few who had timed my hike during this unfortunate year to be in the shut down Shenandoahs and have the place mostly to ourselves. No throngs of tourists. No cars meandering along Skykine drive. No trail maintenance workers. Very few airplanes in the air. It was honestly an experience I don’t know will ever be repeated anytime soon if ever on this scale.
We did have a run in with a ranger five days (Sat May 16) in but that was in a parking lot (more on that below), and our last day in the park (on Monday May 18) we saw a maintenance worker who actually warned us about possible rangers in the area and him voicing his concerns about the closure setting the wrong kind of precedent (He was on “our side” he told us).
We had heard stories of other hikers seeing rangers who ended up looking away when hikers came past. But we had our own experience with a ranger who gave an official warning and a backup ranger who was really impressed with Cambyrs hike thus far! So even amongst the rangers there was a division in support of the closure.
Now, you are probably really curious as to what happened with that ranger and why a warning was given out. Well, first of all warnings were the precursor to a supposed $1,200 fine. Second this incident probably deserved at least a warning… But it was a judgement call that some felt was good and some bad.
Trail magic off 122
I started to call or little group the Stanimals because we had all been at both the Stanimal hostels in two different cities. The first we were breaking ice, the second we were breaking bread. From strangers to friends due to accomodations and taking a timely zero we got in board with them when we found out they were doing a food drop half way through the Shenandoahs. Smart move, that’s the kind of stuff Cambyr and I look to capitalize on to make the hike lighter weight and thus more enjoyable.
To make up for our zero we pulled a 21 mile day and caught up with the rest of the group. Three days later we were arranging to pick up the second half of our supplies. Stanimal himself was working with me to get all the arrangements made and we asked if he could deliver some takeout with our bags while they were at it… No problem! So we ordered two quarter pounders with cheese (ok so I slipped again on my vegetarian ways…. What’s happening to me?!), drinks and fries for all (Well Cambyr insisted on 3!) They were great and made the delivery but we were still unsure about ranger and maintenance worker activity at that particular crossing and so were trying to be stealthy by eating in the woods and waiting till the activity died down before we crossed. Plus, the road was a busy road with very little shoulder area and we would call attention to ourselves if we had stayed there to pick up and eat the food.
Later, via text, Stanimal offered to bring us some trail magic, but the crossing was similar to the earlier drop… Busy road, little shoulder and very conspicuous. He had our pizzas and drinks and even ice cream (bless his heart) right on time, however he decided to remedy the delivery situation by driving around a barricade into an empty lower parking lot to stay out of the way and allow us a safe place to assemble while partaking.
Dirty Jobs was the first to arrive, then me and Kaleidoscope (Cambyr) and we had a hard time finding them even with a few texts back and forth. A day-hiking couple we had seen on the park trail after a group of four women had come off the trail a different way and saw the guys already eating pizza and drinking. They told us to hurry up before we missed it all and pointed us in the right direction. I barely had one piece half eaten and the two rangers were on us! As I mentioned above they only gave the car driver the official warning but none of the hikers. Then they waited and watched us all pile into the little black mustang headed for town.
We waited around in town at another hostel for a few hours debating if we should go back in the evening when it was dark, but decided to just test it out and go back. We had been texting the other half of the group to make sure they knew what was going on. They laid low for a while then watched the rangers leave and all crossed the street and went back into the park to the next shelter.
We meet them there by about 7 pm with pizzas bagged up and a few drinks to share. All were appreciative of the effort and felt really bad about the magic of that trail offering being sucked out of the intention.
It has been a challenging year to hike the AT. None of us wanted this, none of us expected this or anything even closer to this happening as we eagerly set off at the end of February. But these things have made this one of the toughest years to hike the AT…. As if hiking it in a normal year isn’t tough enough.
It’s such a strange world we come into now with things closed down and everyone wearing masks, sanitizing every chance they get, no one being demonstrative and limited people in places that are normally crowded.
Life is more “normal” on the trail, which is a strange thing to even say…. But it is untouched by the epidemic…. No face masks, no hand sanitizer, no need to distance or hold back.
Since when is the “normal” way of living out in the woods with mostly the same people day in and day out for months on end? Guess this epidemic is resetting the clock to that simpler time for us… When being from the back woods was/is the safest and healthiest place to be.