This is a story about trail magic in a time of crisis. But before we get into that, I need y’all to understand just how miserable it has been for the last week since we’ve been in Virginia.
Imagine a box full of abandoned puppies on the side of the road in the rain.
Imagine being the sad Cymbalta blob without a magic pill at the end of the commercial.
Ladies, imagine getting ready to work 3 double shifts and then your period starts. (‘Cause that happened too.)
Imagine being trapped on a never-ending stair climber with no hand rails.
Imagine having all the ingredients mixed up for brownies and realizing you have no butter.
Imagine going on a trip to one of the most beautiful places in the country and then being completely enveloped in a white cloud of rain where you can barely see 20 feet in front of you and you’re soaking wet all the time and the temperature just keeps dropping but you just have to keep walking or else you’ll get hypothermia.
Oh, wait, that’s what’s happening.
So, for 8 solid days, it has been raining in the Shenandoah National Park. This is supposed to be one of the most beautiful sections on the Appalachian Trail. Northbounders and section hikers have been talking about this section as if it were the AT Promised Land for over 1,000 miles now. The trail is a nicely graded cake walk (the opposite of PA) and the views are often and awe-inspiring.
Well… not when Hurricane Joaquin is in town. This is an example of what you can expect of the way of views in the Shenandoah’s for the past week:
And that beautifully carved trail?
It’s a creek.
And to top it all off, the temperatures keep getting lower…and lower… and lower… until the wet and the chill are inescapable. Especially since we are at an elevation that keeps us up in the clouds. So, as a result, every surface in the shelters are coated in a thin film of condensation. Everything is wet.
At a time like this, the trail is not only unpleasant (to say the least), but potentially dangerous. If you were to slip and fall on a rock and were unable to get yourself under some kind of vaguely dry shelter, you would die. The wet and the cold are a deadly combination. And the sun is not coming out tomorrow and the rangers are all sitting in their trucks with the heat cranked up. You are on your own.
It makes for truly miserable hiking. So, on Tuesday of this week, we were hiking up a mountain and our spirits were low. We have been hiking this week with two other hikers, Muffin Man and Rocky. We were all planning to stop in at a lodge at the top. It had already been rainy and cold for three days with no break and I was telling Treasure Hunter: “What we need is a big wealthy philanthropist to be up there and see our sad, wet faces and put us up in a room. God, please let us get somewhere dry…”
Well, somebody was listening. Because what happened next was much, much better.
That’s when we met Bubbles.
Bubbles is an employee of the lodge who also moonlights as a trail angel. We were huddled around a couple overpriced beers, contemplating whether or not it was possible to justify paying $12 for a burger, when a cute girl came up to let us know that she was getting off work and if we wanted, we could come with her to do laundry. Or, you know, crash on her floor.
It was like that giant cloud evaporated right then and there. Bubbles gave us the most incredible trail magic possible: she opened her home to us. She gave us warm showers. She let us clean and dry our clothes. She gave us food. She gave us a ride to get beer. She was warm and kind and generous at a time when I felt truly desolate. The floor of the tiny dorm room was the haven I needed just then.
It was even more than that. A lot of times when we get help from other people, a lot of it is them doing a good deed for us and us thanking them a hundred times over. That’s normal and awesome, but there’s always a slight awkwardness because you know this person is doing you a huge favor and there’s probably not much you can do in return. But this situation with Bubbles… it was like having your best friend show up out of nowhere right when you really needed her. It was a warm, comfortable feeling being there. And we had a great time! Rocky has been carrying Yachtzee dice and cards, so we played, and drank beer, and screamed “YACHTZEE!!” at the top of our lungs when Bubbles got it twice.
It ended up being one of my favorite times of the entire trip.
But, despite my wild expectations that everything would suddenly be better now, the rain was still there in the morning. We couldn’t hide in her dorm forever. Not since the forecast predicted more of the same for at least 5 more days. So we cleaned up in the morning when she went to work (see ‘leave no trace’ policy) and prepared to hike out. She slacked us (took our packs to our ending location so we didn’t have to carry them the whole way) 25 miles that day and drove us to Elkton, VA at the end.
So, the rain continues and the trail is still terrible. And we are definitely missing ALL of Shenandoah National Park. But, we have to keep moving on. It’s not really possible to stop for a full week. Luckily, Bubbles is still around and if our luck continues to bring us to people like her, I think we’ll be okay.