Luray to Front Royal: When Things Go Wrong

What’s up everybody. I’m in Front Royal and have completed Shenandoah National Park! While I’m sad to be leaving the beauty of the mountains and the perfectly groomed trails that made for easy walking, leaving the park is a milestone. In 54 miles we’ll be in Harpers Ferry which known as the psychological half-way point. I’m excited and could use a boost to moral. Everything seems to be going so wrong.

Firecracker and I arrived yesterday on the 9:50pm trolley. We picked up Firecracker’s new tent from the post office courtesy of my Mom. She’s now using my old tent that I retired before crossing the Mexican border on my bike last year. It’s heavy and has been around, but will make for a fine, fabric home.

We assembled the tent in the park behind the visitor center and we took a nap. Neither one of us slept well the night before. With a full shelter, we were forced to cram into my tiny, one-person tent. “Get off my hair!” was the conversation of the night along with groans of pain as we kneed and kicked each other.

Setting up the tents in the park. One is drying. We’re making sure the other is ok. Firecracker’s in there sleeping.

We walked to the grocery store for dinner. Two packs filled the cart with the baby seat holding a rotisserie chicken and a box of rice sides. Leaning against a wall of the store, we feasted tearing into the chicken with a ferocity even the bears of Shenandoah don’t possess. We must have looked homeless judging by the sneers of shoppers or the careful avoidance of eye-contact by others. I can’t say I blame them. I feel more homeless than I’ve ever felt in my life, but that’s a conversation for another time.

Reactions to our journey never cease to amaze me and even in our sorry state we offered many rides to anywhere we may need to go. One guy in particular sticks with me. As I returned to our seats along the wall, after having washed the chicken grease from my hands, arms, and face (my clothes must wait for a washing machine in Harpers Ferry. Can you say, “bear bait?!”), I hear, “Hey man, ya lookin’ like ya’ll been seein’ to many treeees.” He exhales from his e-cig a cloud of vapor that obscures the door I just walked through. “Food coma,” I mutter before sitting down.

Bellies now full to bursting, we address the next need: sleep. I pull out my phone clicking on google maps. The map reveals that the park boundary is near our location and satellite imagery reveals it’s wooded. “Perfect!” We walk to the tree-line along Skyline Drive and find a suitable place to pitch a tent. We stealth camped there last night.

It’s now 4pm and we’re sitting in a coffee shop. Firecracker is reading her book on waves. It alternates behind the science of rogue waves and surfing stories (I know this because she read me a chapter as sat in the tent avoiding a storm). Me? I’m working on this post trying to ignore the pain in my eyes. They ache so bad from old contact lenses I seriously consider going blind. I’m not sure which is worse, pain or a blurry world. The pain, apparently, cause I’m still wearing the lenses…

As for everything going wrong, I’m being dramatic. Not everything is wrong. Only a small serious of disasters that make a person — already tired and sore from walking hundreds of miles yet facing a thousand more — feel like life is conspiring against them.

After the tent fiasco and the missing mail that’s making my eyes ache, the zipper ripped off my tent. My tent stake snapped. My food bag fell off my bear line hitting the ground with enough force to tear the bag in half. I’m covered in poison ivy. Firecracker’s shoes are dead (making her complain a lot :-p). My pant seam split in the butt meaning I can no longer “go commando.” The stitches on my BRAND NEW backpack are pulling out. And to top it all off — and compounding every issue — I’m way under-slept from sleeping in shelters every night with guys like Dozer who get their names from their sleep-shattering snores. AAHHHHH!!!

But worry not dear readers! All will be well after a good nights sleep and a little bit of time. New contacts await me in Harpers Ferry along with new shoes for Firecracker (no more complaining!). Thread will fix my tent and pants; duct tape my food bag. Poison ivy goes away and my backpack might be alright. If not, Gregory or REI will fix or replace it. Mountain views and sunsets have the power to erase all but the most major of problems and like I mentioned last time, I have a bad memory for things like this.


Firecracker says goodbye to her tent. We built a raft and set the burning tent adrift in the lake prior to leaving. Not really, but a good idea. I’m sorry for your loss Miss Firecracker.


We walked a mile out of town after being shuttled to the trailhead by the hostel. We called it an early night at the shelter.


Dozer and Cruzer carry mousetraps. Here, Dozer is baiting the trap with almond butter. A good last meal don’t you think??


Cruiser hands Dozer a dead mouse. They average 3-4 a night and have caught as many as 7.


Firecracker showing off her new blanket. She sent her sleeping bag home in Waynesboro trading it for a Hello Kitty blanket. It wasn’t warm enough. This one? Just right.
WhiteCap is from Pittsburgh as well. We actually met once. I sold him an MSR Dragonfly on Craigslist. We sat talking for a while afterward. He recognized me when I mentioned Guatemala. Funny running into him!

What we eat on trail:


Pasta with quinoa, butter, tuna, and a packet of pesto seasoning.


Guacamole eaten with bagel and pretzel chips. We made the guac with avocado and pico de gallo. Firecracker carried the avocado for six days before they were ripe enough to eat. She was the talk of the trail…


My food bag exploded (we call it a “yardsale” when this happens) so I organized the food a bit and took a picture.


We found fresh mint near a water source.


Fresh-picked mint flavoring my water on an overlook.


Firecracker reading on a lazy morning in a shelter. Notice the pile of mint on the table.



In the next photos: an interesting beetle on a backpack; a deer abnormally close (parks are notorious for this); a bear in the distance sneaking into our camp that we were just leaving;  AHHH!!!! A BEAR!!!



She wouldn’t let me photograph saline solution as it streamed from her nostrils and mouth while using a neti pot. Oh well.  


Leaving the Gravel Springs Hut late in the afternoon.


And I thought I had problems… We found this laying in the shelter written on the back of a hostel’s business card. For the record, I sleep in a tent.
These bear boxes are more effective than the “bear resistant” poles. We woke one morning to find a bag torn open and hanging empty from the pole. The only danger with these boxes is human error. Make sure it’s closed!


We stop for a long lunch at a Wayside (restaurants in the park). Not only did we see Lady Catherine who I started the hike with in the hiker hostel, but Firecracker bought me ice-cream!!!


Firecracker licks clean a butter wrapper. No Shame, No Maine!!!


We stop and hang out at an overlook.


Firecracker literally “hangs out” at the overlook. Those trees are 50ft down! If only she’d let me post the picture of her peeing off the edge. I’m not joking. Actually peeing. Off the edge!


Looking into the Shenandoah river valley makes the mountains in this range special. I’ll hike this park again.


Me, Kodak, and a white blaze on our way into town.


Thanks for the photo Firecracker! It’s my new favorite.


Hiking into the night so we can catch the 9:50am shuttle into town.


Down climbing these rocks in the dark wasn’t easy. We miss Shenandoah NP already. None of this crap there…


Riding the trolley into town. They added the stop at the trail head this year for the hikers.


My first mail drop!!! Thanks Mom! This should have been my second, but my first package was mishandled after I had it transferred to Luray. Three more days…


Who’s Ryan Brown?!?!


An old building in the historic town of Front Royal.




I’ll try and put the Elkton to Luray post together in Harpers Ferry. We are talking about spending some time there. I have the photos narrowed down from 601 to under 100 though… I take too many photos sometimes 🙂 I’ll work on putting up that donation link some of you have asked about as well. As for care packages, anyone wanting to send us some goodies, or even staples like pasta or barley, shoot me an email and we’ll figure out where to send it!

Take care everybody and happy trails!




5 thoughts on “Luray to Front Royal: When Things Go Wrong

  1. I am an AT maintainer in NJ and have enjoyed reading as you shared experiences on the trail. I’ll reach out to you when you get closer to Jersey to see what you need and meet up with you on the trail if possible.

  2. Really enjoy your tales and the fact that you guys stop and take in what is around you. I cannot imagine what trials you guys face daily but I am thoroughly enjoy the photos and stories. For the guac, I think Firecracker is awesome.

  3. Thank you for the beautiful photos and your wonderful attitude! I’m cheering you on from Seattle!

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