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First, my apologies for my supreme delinquency in posting the twelfth and final day of my Isle Royale trip.  Shame on me for my sloth – it will be forthcoming.  I had it 90% written and my browser crashed with that work unsaved and I simply didn’t want to rewrite it again with everything else that has occurred recently.  Also, I just don’t feel like doing pics – so just build the images in your mind, ok?

I’ve been reluctant to post about these things because so many of them – they’re personal in a painful way and because there are so many other people’s feelings involved.  But my mind keeps running in the same circles and it seems that I’ll get nothing else accomplished in this arena without letting some thoughts out.

My cousin’s husband died.  We all die and I’m one of those persons who believes that the manner of death is unimportant – it’s how you live that matters,  But this was a particularly hard death for me in that I know it’s so hard for her.  He was so young.  And she’s even younger widow.  And their child is not even 2 years old.  They knew it was coming and did what they could to prepare.  And part of the tragedy is that can never ever be enough, no matter how much you do.  He was a good guy taken too soon.  I met him only once but he treated her and their family well.  From the many online posts I have seen he had many friends and will be greatly missed.

Markey went to a home.  And ran away.  Mid October it was time (again) to get the pin removed from his leg.  We went in and had the procedure.  The exit wound closed quickly and had no complications, however his use of the leg fell off instead of increasing.  It was a major source of concern for us.  Prior to making arrangements to take him back to the vet I spoke to the director at the Humane Society.  He was already earmarked for adoption and the adopters had PT skills – for animals, even!  They’d been visiting him regularly and made the commitment to take him home.  The decision was reached to move him to their home and they would take over his care and PT.  One of them is a vet tech so it was a great fit.

A few days after he went to their home, he chewed through his lead and vanished in a ten minute window.  Since then we have helped to look for him every day.  We’ve put up flyers.  We’ve posted online.  He’s on the radio.  His owners put out food, bedding and recently a live trap.  No luck.  We go out and look for tracks, call, leave treats in places he might be frequenting, pick up shed fur, and try not to lose hope.  At times we’ve found signs but it’s been days since we reasonably think we’ve seen any fresh indication of his presence.  It could be argued that he’s not our responsibility but try to tell that to our hearts.

It snowed.  And our house is simply not ready for winter.  I’d gotten slack.  The lakeside porch interior needed painting badly.  I bet it was last painted in the 70’s.  Last winter it was dreadfully cold and it will be again this winter but I’d vowed to make it better by sealing some of the 10,000 cracks between the the panel boards with latex paint.  Also, a lot of paint was peeling from moisture around the windows last winter and that simply had to be repainted to protect the wood from more damage.  Finally, despite having 4 huge picture windows the weakest barrier to the elements was that we only had a single storm door between the interior and the exterior last winter.  That has to be remedied as well, compounded by the fact that there’s no framing in place to mount a second door – it has to be constructed.  Yay!

I wasn’t the only one who seemed caught by this first snow.  After driving out to hunt for Markey I made it to our shop about time to open up and I wound up shoveling in front of our place plus four other businesses because no one else was out doing it yet.  I’m sure they’d have gotten to it but I was out there shoveling anyway and we have good neighbors that I don’t mind shoveling some snow to help out.  My point is that even though I was behind what would normally be my shoveling time no one else was any faster.

There’s exterior painting to be done.  I’d gotten started on that after returning from Isle Royale and got completely derailed when a ladder footing sank into soft soil and spilled me along with a gallon of paint from several feet up.  I escaped with painted clothing and shoes and a bruise on my shin that was quite painful for a couple of weeks.  If it’s warm enough and dry enough tomorrow afternoon I’ll give that a go.  If not – it probably won’t be done due to weather constraints; it’s too cold.  Average highs in November are in the 30’s.  Records are in the 50’s.  So – No pressure there.

I’ve got the storm windows up but I have to put up vinyl and plastic inside and out around both porches.  That’s a couple of days worth of work.  I can get it done in the afternoons if Jess watches the shop and weather isn’t too bad.  Wouldn’t be a concern if I didn’t have all the other things to worry about.

We decided to use some foam insulation panels here and there to improve our comfort at home this winter.  We’re going to cut them to fit below window level and place them against the walls in places where we could feel the cold radiating in so badly last winter.  The air temperature difference from center of room to exterior walls was 20 degrees at times.  When ice forms inside your house it’s a concern.  Yeah, it happened around windows.  Noticeable, to say the least.  So that needs doing, too.  Again, not a major concern but it’s an allotment of time and energy to be disbursed.

We do have plenty of wood, though.  I’ve still got a lot of pine, oak and maple from our July storm damage that I haven’t cut up yet.  And I’ve got maybe 6-8 cords split, stacked and dried.

Should be enough if we don’t have a record breaking winter.  Seasonal forecasts have trended towards saying it’s going to be warmer than average this winter.  I’ve been saying colder than norm.  I’d love to be proven wrong.

 

Fast forward a week – since I still haven’t actually posted this.  We’ve been looking all over for Markey.  He never left the area where he escaped and he was spotted there yesterday.  I closed the shop mid-day and sprinted out in hopes that we’d be able to catch him.  No dice.  After a couple of hours of stomping through the woods I helped one of his owners relocated the live trap they are using to try to capture him.  I got back to the store and reopened for a bit and then went home to work on the house as soon as Jess got in to cover the counter at the shop.  Not that it mattered much; we sold $0 yesterday.  That happens during non-tourist seasons.  Some days you just don’t see a soul all day long.  We like to be open anyway, just in case.

I hung 8 mil vinyl outside of our back (roadside) porch windows and it looks pretty good.  Nice clarity and I’m not worried about it being torn off by the wind.  With any luck it will be reusable as well.  The exterior work on those windows is 70% done.  I’ve got one side left to hang and some little spots here and there to put up lathe around the edges.  Since those wooden windows are at least 50 years old and swing open there are some huge gaps that this is closing up and the porch temperature should benefit a good deal from the work.  Since our lows are seldom dropping below 20 degrees there’s been no issue with it holding temp so far.  It stays a comfy 70 right now.  It’s the -30 days I’m working to protect from.

It snowed last night – about 1-2 inches.  Temp is warm, though – it’s around 30 degrees so many places it’s already melted.  We headed out to look for Markey about 7:00 this morning and found tons of tracks – but no Markey.  He’d paced all the way around the live catch trap but not entered it.  We were unable to actually locate his tracks leaving the area despite following a lot of tracks.  He’d been up and down the road a few times as well as in and out of the woods but we didn’t find the set of tracks that we needed to follow him.  More snow in the forecast so hopefully we will get another opportunity tomorrow.

 

 

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Some time during the wee hours of the morning, the winds calmed.  When I awoke the lake was calm and beautiful.  Much easier to scoop some water.  I cooked oatmeal inside the tent.

Cooking inside your tent is generally disrecommended.  Fire, lightweight flammable material, your only shelter going up in flames and flaming bits adhering to your skin – you probably get the idea.  However, it felt really decadent on this particular morning and I did it.  I half-wrapped my quilt around my back, put my piece of Z-lite seat on the floor in front of me and set up my stove right there in the tent.  A few minutes later I was having oatmeal and hot coffee in the comfort of my shelter.  AND I hadn’t put any weight on my ankle at all.

 

My poor ankle was feeling like someone had been using it as a handle to pick me up and swing me about all night.  I purposely avoided examining it while slipping on my hiking socks.  I already knew that this was an Aleve day and a bunch of prodding just wasn’t going to help anything about the situation.  Fortunately this would be one of my shorter mileage days and it looked like it wasn’t going to be too tough of terrain either.

 

I packed up and was on the trail by 8:45.  Then I walked 3/4 of a mile in the wrong direction.  I had only glanced at the map and I remembered there being a trail junction a ways before I came into Todd Harbor and I incorrectly concluded that I needed to hike back to that junction and take the other fork.  I remembered it as being 1/2  mile outside of camp.  Wrong, wrong, wrong.  That was Hatchet Lake trail, and 1.4 miles back.  What I needed to do was hike through the Todd Harbor Camp and continue east towards McCargoe Cover.  Eventually the dim little light bulb over my head went off and I stopped and checked my map.  My legs were pretty damp from vegetation dew, my ankle was grumbling and I truly hate realizing that I’ve made such a dumb mistake.  I allowed myself a few seconds of self-derision.  Then I decided to blow it off.  I turned around and went the right way.  Problem solved.

Now heading in the right direction, I blew right through Todd Harbor campsite and followed the Minong  for 5.8 more miles to McCargoe Cove.  I was there in time for an early lunch, partially because I decided not to take a side trail to see the Minong mine.  I’d seen a few mines and they all were pretty similar.  Rocky holes in the rock.  And damnit, my ankle hurt.  McCargoe was a pretty little area, complete with dock and shelters.  I had lunch at a picnic table in front of one of the shelters, and got a little more water in my bladder down at the dock.  Foil pack chicken on tortillas – tasty.  I could have filled up with good clean Lake Superior water but I chose to only get 1.5 liters and keep the weight down to make life easier for my ankle.  This was a decision that I would later come to rue.

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It’s less than 2 miles from McCargoe to East Chickenbone, which was my planned stop for the day.  I was pretty stoked to get there.  This would be my shortest mileage day and I’d be able to kick back and relax.  I went through some boggy areas but nothing very tough.  There were walkways and it was pretty easy.  The last 1/2 mile of trail ascended fairly steadily and there was a side trail marked for ‘Water’.  Ominous.  Every other campsite I’d been to on the isle had a good water source.  I’d been warned by a friend that years ago he had issues getting good water at East Chickenbone.  This had flown out of my head in the meantime and I only had the 1.5 liters I’d picked up at McCargoe plus 20 oz in my secondary stash in a water bottle.

As the trail ascended towards the Greenstone it regularly dipped into lowland areas, which were now bridged with boards.  I continually spotted amazing views.

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I arrived at the East Chickenbone campsite and checked it out.  There were three campsites and they all were pretty austere.  I chose #3, farthest back from the trail.  Of the three sites, it appealed the most.  It had a tree.  The other two sites had scrub trees but this one actually had a tree-tree.  That, and a small patch of soft grass that looked large enough to pitch the tent on.  Oh, and no water.  I resigned myself to trekking back to the side trail for water.  It would be a good 1/2 mile each way but at least I wouldn’t be burdened with a pack.  I went about my camp chores at a luxuriously slow pace, secure in the knowledge that I had hours and hours of daylight left and the weather was nice and dry.

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I set up camp and then filtered all of the water from my bladder into my cooking pot and mug.  Then I grabbed a trekking pole for support and set off to the water trail.  Water trails away from camp are pretty much the norm on the AT but after over a week of not going more than 100 feet to fetch water this felt like punishment.  I’m on an island in the biggest lake in the world and there’s no water handy, WTF?

I made the trek downhill pretty easily and had mostly stopped grumbling to myself when I arrived at the water trail.  It seemed remarkably long despite being very straight and mostly level.  It was well trimmed and no vegetation was leaning into the path.  This wasn’t so bad, after all.

When I reached the shore of Chickenbone Lake I was confronted with unsavory water.  I need to describe this unsavory water so that you can imagine it, but I’m not sure if I have adequate words for the task.  I’ll try, and please bear with me.

Imagine a lake bottom covered with rocks and sand.  It’s a lake that deepens fairly rapidly as you depart from shore, except at the east end where someone made a path to the shore for hikers to get water.  At this east end, the lake is fairly shallow all the way across.  The winds that caress this lake in its bowl just north of the Greenstone ridge are prevailingly from the west and push the waves towards the east end.  So the reason that the east end seems to have shallowed up over the eons is due to all of the suspended and floating items in the water being pushed there in disproportionate amounts, where they settled and eventually decayed, creating a humus-like muck that lays in layers over the naturally sandy and rock bottom.  Over decades and centuries this  buildup will progress and eventually will turn the area from lake into wetland and at some far future time,  just soil.

Enter Tom, not at the soil stage, but much, much earlier in this timeline.  The lake waters are several feet deep.  They are also completely full of gunk.  Gunk, in this case seems to be some sort of algae bloom.  Not just floating on the top, nor lying serenely on the bottom, but everywhere.  At all levels of water.  Floating and bobbing about in big fuzzy undefinable shapes, like green clouds under the water.

I was NOT putting that shit in my water bladder.  Not only did it look like a great way to stop up a water filter but it just wasn’t very appetizing.

And just to clarify, let me tell you something:  I’m the sort of guy who, when he encounters a skittle lying innocently on the ground in the middle of the trail, wonders really hard if maybe, just maybe, another hiker dropped it 4 seconds ago.  Cause we all know the 5 second rule.  And it’s not like there’s any OTHER skittles around.  So as long as the color hasn’t started running off it, and it’s not actually stuck to that leaf, it’s probably only been 4 seconds.  Yeah, just 4.

But that water was NASTY.  I moved along the shoreline to the west about 100 yards, checking regularly.  Nasty, nasty, nasty.  Tried to the east.  Nasty, nasty, nasty.  I just refused to drink a salad of algae.  That thirsty, I was not.

I turned around and headed back to my dry-ass camp, carrying an empty water bladder.  Then I had a bright idea.  I pulled out my map and checked the topography.  Yep, my camp was on something of a mini-ridge and before the trail ascended the rest of the way up the Greenstone there was another low place.  I passed the turnoff to camp and followed the trail south and downwards.  It turned into boardwalk over bog.  I saw several spots of open water, but none that were easily accessible or flowing.  After the boardwalk ended, and right at the junction that would take me 1.9 miles to West Chickenbone, I came upon a large clear puddle that was several inches deep.  With some careful scooping I was able to get about a liter of fairly good looking water.

This is normally the exact opposite of what I would advise someone to do, but needs must.  My trek the next day was going to be about 10 miles with no opportunity to get water until its end.  I could do that, just with the water I had back at camp, but not comfortably so.  I took some puddle water to allow myself the comfort I desired.  It was almost as clear as most lake water I’d gotten, better than a lot of what I drank on the AT, and way better than what was available from the East Chickenbone ‘Water trail.’  I called it good nuff.

Back at camp I made water conserving choices.  Dinner was chicken fajitas on tortillas – a meal rehydration that used only 1 cup of water instead of the 2 that most meals use.  Also fantastically good.  I’ve had lots of restaurant fajitas that weren’t as good as the ones that MountainHouse makes.  I definitely recommend the fajitas.

I also chose to put my water bladder in reach for any night thirst that might arise.  I wanted to be sure to not be excessively thirsty at any time so little sips from the bladder through the night would be more manageable than drinking from a cup.

About time I finished hanging up my hiking clothes to air overnight I saw another hiker, coming though to check out the sites.  I explained where the water trail was and warned him about being sure to not let his pump filter get stopped up if he decided to get water there.  Then I hit the hay, while the sun was still up.  A couple of Aleve later I was out.

 

The night before had started out pretty warm so I decided to dry out my wool socks by wearing them to bed.  Body heat can be the fastest way available to dry something at times.  My poor feet.  So wet.  So long.  They were really pitiful but they got the job done – socks dried overnight.

My poor tent was getting kind of odious from the combination of drying socks, unwashed clothing and unwashed Tom so I left one of the vestibules open for more ventilation.  By 2AM the temp had dropped a good bit and wind had picked up enough that the blasts of chilled air forced me to close it and get out my bag liner.  I woke again at 5, shivering.  I put on my jacket and got warm enough to sleep a while longer.

It didn’t get light in camp until after 8.  I cooked Alpine Aire Hash Browns with Reds and Greens for breakfast.  NOT my favorite.  Maybe they would be awesome if rehydrated and then fried.  They say you can eat them either way.   The way that I had them – they sucked.  Had to really force myself to eat them all.

I was packed up and headed out on the trail by 9.  This was going to be one of my bigger mileage days and I would be following the Minong Ridge trail for most of it.  The Minong had a reputation for being a lot rougher than any of the trails I had traversed thus far.  I wanted to be sure I got going because there was no middle camp to fall back on.  I was doing 14.5 miles and that was that.

The day started out cloudy with gusts if wind.  The first 3 miles I would be on Huginnin Cove trail and then I  would hit the Minong.  Almost a mile of the Huginnin runs right by the waterside and is fantastically beautiful.   I took many pictures and found blueberry bushes that seemed strangely untouched by humans or other beasts and feasted on the sweet tart berries.

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About halfway along this stretch of  Huginnin,  a bit after the trail had departed the coast I found someone’s lost gear trailside.   A complete set of FroggToggs in the case and marked with identification.   I tied them to my pack and carried them until I came to the Minong-Huginnin junction.  I left them at the signpost as I would be going no closer to Windigo than this.   Most people do not go more than 10 miles or so from wherever they arrive on the island.  Carrying them to Rock Harbor would greatly decrease the chances of them making it back to their owner.  In the Windigo lost and found they stood some chance.

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The Minong was definitely rougher than any of the other trails on the island that I had usedm.  There were more ascents and descents than the Greenstone and these were steeper as well.  I sometimes had to take a breather but never really had to stop and take one of those AT “I must rest now, before I die” breaks.  There’s just not enough total elevation difference to create that much exertion.   It was work.  It just wasn’t as tough as those long AT ascents and descents can get to be.

There were other challenges to compensate.  Every single time I came down a slope to a bottom there was water.  Sometimes it was a creek.  Sometimes it was a pond. Sometimes it was just a mucky area.  Always, there was a way across.  And that way was consistently tough.  No footbridges.  In some places log sections had been placed in the muck to walk on.  Many times these were submerged.   In numerous locations trees had fallen across or along the trail in these bottoms and while their branch covered trunks were tough obstacles to navigate, they were often the only visible method of crossing that didn’t involve getting very wet and muddy.  None of this water looked particularly inviting for consumption.  I patted myself on the back for bringing enough good clean Lake Superior with me to last the whole day.

Areas that would have taken 30 seconds to cross if clear and dry instead often took 15 or twenty minutes.  If one insisted on staying relatively clean and dry, which I did.  Six more days ahead of me. No laundry.  No shower.  I JUST dried those damn socks.  Yeah, I wanted to stay out of the muck.

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Several times I crossed beaver ponds.  The means of crossing these was to walk on top of the dam.  Always an interesting activity.

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As I made progress through the day I began to have a different and greater concern than the crossings.   While my left foot was definitely on the mend and feeling better than it had in days despite some lingering soreness, my right ankle was in trouble.  The way I was exerting it on the crossings – seemed to be beyond its limits.  There’s an old injury in that ankle and I suspect that it was accomplice to the situation as I don’t recall any single twist, strain or fall as a precipitating event.  Regardless of the wherefores and whats, my right ankle began to hurt, burn, and swell.  I considered turning back after around 3 miles or so of Minong.   If this got worse I could run into real trouble.

The descents hurt the worst.  The jarring stress of stopping your body’s weight from just falling all the way down a hill can be tough on knees and ankles.  Thankful that I had brought trekking poles I depended heavily on them and my Black Diamonds carried me through.  Otherwise I am sure the ankle would have dumped me in an inglorious heap at tge bottom of a hill.

The ascents made me huff and puff and drink water but were otherwise very doable.   Again, I really exercised my trekking poles.

The bottoms, in case I didn’t get this across before, really sucked the most.  Every one was a different combination of suck.  It’s just no fun traversing fallen trees over water and muck on a bum ankle with a heavy pack.

I had a lunch of tuna and corn chips up on a nice rocky ridge in the sun.  The clouds had vanished and the wind was mostly gone, having left behind only a pleasant breeze to remind me of its departure.   I reviewed my island map (NatGeo, $11.99, waterproof and VERY useful) for the umpteenth time and decided that I had likely traversed the worst of the elevation changes that the Minong had to offer.  I would press on and try to be good to my traitorous body part.

As the map indicated, I had passed the worst areas.  I now found myself following the stony Minong ridge for extended periods with brief diversions into low places.  There was still water to cross and it still sucked but the travel between the bad places lengthened so my average pace improved.

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Several times I missed where the trail turned and had to retrace my steps.  In most cases the rock cairns that mark the trail were there and I just missed them.  In no case was I ever more than a couple of hundred feet past the missed turn before it became very obvious.  Yet, the way I was hobbling along I begrudged those extra steps instead of enjoying the scenery the way I should have been.

At 5:00PM I finally arrived at North Lake Desor.  There were only 3 single tent sites.  I was the only person there.  In fact I had seen no one all day long.  Pretty nice.  I chose site #2 which was clearly the best site by a good margin due to its view of and access to Lake Desor.   After setting up the tent  I went down to the lakeshore and scrubbed some muck off my clothes.  Then I hauled water away from the lake and actually washed the clothes with some Dr. Bronners.  All the while I was being alternately scolded and bombarded with pine cones by a very demonstrative red squirrel who wanted to make sure that I knew I was not welcome here.

Then I went and got in the lake myself.  Once I had scrubbed a while in the chilly waters I hauled some water and soaped and rinsed myself away from the lake.  Then I put on dry fresh clothes and resumed my normal routine of dinner and camp setup feeling much better for being somewhat cleaner and less smelly.  The late afternoon sun lent a welcome touch of warmth as I performed my chores.

I cooked up a pouch of Mountain House Beef Stroganof and it was very good.  I see now why it is their #1 seller.  First time I tried that flavor but it’s on the menu from now on.

I tacitly ignored the looks of my swollen ankle and swallowed a couple of more Advil before going to bed with it elevated on my pack since my clothes bag was pretty empty.

It rained off and on all night and was very cloudy first thing in the morning.  At 7:30 it was still not light in my campsite.  Most of the wind was gone and the surf from Rainbow Cove no longer was so loud.

I had stayed in the tent so many hours with all the rain that my back was stiff and hurting and I felt pretty grubby from sweating during my sleep.  I thought that I figured out what made my left foot so sore, too.  Leather stretches when wet and I had adjusted my shoes multiple times as they had stretched and shrunk with all the cycles of wet and dry.  The very last section of lacing was somehow in a bind and not sliding through the eyelets.   Visibly it didn’t look out of place but it was super tight and not moving.  I got it broke loose and relaced that shoe entirely and that felt like it might be fitting better.  My foot was so sore at this point that it was hard to tell.  EVERYTHING hurt my foot.  Standing.  Sitting.  Propped up.  Walking.  All hurt.  This would pass with time I hoped.

My planned destination was Washington Creek, a campsite right near the Windigo ranger sration and dock.  I had a mail drop at the station with the food for the rest of my time on the isle – or so I hoped.  I had been worrying a bit about it for several days as I traveled to the west end of the park.  As of this morning I had six full meals worth of food on me.  That meant I could eat normally for 2 days.  Or I could skip 1 meal daily and go 3 days on that food.  OR I could, if necessary,  eat 1 meal a day for 6 days.  I felt that if my mail drop wasn’t there that I could be back at Rock Harbor in 3 or 4 days easily.  Or I could pay the boat at Windigo to ferry me to Rock Harbor.  Or possibly even get them to bring me food to Windigo if I waited an extra day for them to do so.  Yeah, I had spent some time thinking about the possible scenarios.

This wet morning I didn’t sit around wondering;  I packed up and got on the trail.   Then it started raining again.  Oh well.  I could deal – only 8.8 miles to Windigo.  The rain was over by 10:00 but the damage was done.  Every plant leaning into the trail was saturated and shortly I was soaked from mid thigh downwards.

When I arrived at Windigo I was mildly surprised to discover that the dockside ranger office there is much larger and nicer than the one at Copper Harbor. There were around 40 people hanging out in the dock area and the Voyageur II was docked.
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I stopped in and asked the ranger if there was a package for me. She checked in back and came up empty. Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

Ruh Roh, Raggy!

I explained that I was a day ahead of my planned arrival date and she suggested that I check with the boat captain as they often had packages in possession prior to the drop dates and would sometimes have them on the boat a day early. Down to the dock I trotted. The boat was unattended; one of the guys hanging around told me that the captain had gone off with a ranger not long ago. I waited and chatted. I learned that there is a rental cabin on the west end of the isle; he and his wife had stayed there the night before and liked it.
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The boat captain arrived back after a half hour or so. During this time I had settled down a good bit. I had 3 meals on me. I had already made up a day in my hike – I could afford to wait until tomorrow for my package if necessary and still be “on schedule.”

Unnecessary. There was exactly one package to be delivered on the boat and it was mine. Holy crap, this thing was heavy, too. What did I put in there, lead bars?

I tramped back uphill to the ranger station and went inside for more info. The laundry, concessions and showers on this end were closed for the season. Oh well. There was an outlet where I could recharge my electronics, right beside the door. I signed their logbook. I bought a bandana to serve as a kitchen rag. I filled out a wolf sighting report. I went outside and plugged up my Newtrent to charge.

The Newtrent (brand name, I forget the model #) is a 10,000 ma battery backup and a lifesaver for someone who would like to use electronics on a longer trip like this. I had completely recharged my phone 3 times off it and it was showing about half a charge still. Good thing. Not sure if it was the charging block or the usb cord but every few minutes the device would stop charging. I strongly suspect the cord since I was also having increasing difficulty getting my phone to charge. The cord would have to be wiggled and repositioned endlessly before charging occurred and then it might stop at any time. Frustrating, but it was a good way to keep me busy until I fell asleep at night. With the phone in airplane mode I could get 2.5 days of use taking pictures and reading. And this meant that the camera I was carrying had been kept packed safely away and dry during those rainy days. I only risked my phone that costs 2x the price of the camera. Illogical much?

I stayed at the ranger station for 3 hours charging devices. During this time I had lunch, chatted with an older couple who came by and camped up on the balcony with me (I had discovered a second entrance door with power outlet and no foot traffic and moved across to this side). I took their photo together and we talked about my trek. They gave me a Reese’s Nutrageous bar. Ambrosia! Soon after they departed for the boat I met a couple who were hiking together. We’d crossed paths a little. I had seen them at Island Mine and Siskiwit Bay but we hadn’t spoken. Turns out they had camped in the site beside me at Feldtmann as well. They were doing a 3 night loop on the west end (Siskiwit, Feldtmann, Huginnin) and had stopped in to check the weather forecast on their way to Huginnin after getting rained on while hiking along the Feldtmann ridge and all night (not in the forecast they had read). They thought the moose were partying in my campsite the night before, too.

While my devices charged I had eaten lunch, repacked my food bag and pack, cleaned all the mud from my shoes, semi-dried my socks by wringing them out and then wearing them sans shoes for an hour, and gone over my planned itinerary for the rest of the trip. The only change I instituted was that instead of staying at Washington Creek I would go to Huginnin Cove. I had also watched an eagle fishing in the bay for about 20 minutes. The trail along the shoreline was supposed to be very scenic (and the number of people around Windigo was starting to grate on me. Even after the boat left there were like 4 rangers and a maintenance guy around. Gah!). Surely Huginnin Cove would be more peaceful.

I headed out towards Huginnin Cove which was just 4.1 miles and an easy trek for someone who now knew he had enough food for the rest of his time on the island. With my feet dry(er) and the rest of my clothing dry it was a pretty pleasant little hike. The shoreline was gorgeous. You can see Canada quite clearly. The campsites were ok. There was just enough sparsity of trees to make the place feel a little bare. I took site #4 which was about 100 feet from the water and set up my gear. An older couple was in site #5 but I only saw them once, just as I arrived.
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I zipped off my pant leg bottoms, scrubbed mud off them and hung them to dry before cooking Alpine Aire Santa Fe Black Beans and Rice for dinner. Really tasty; I had worried a bit about the rehydration of the black beans but no issues. Tasty and filling. Mmmm.

My left foot was still really sore despite the relief of the shoe adjustment. I took a couple of Advil before turning in and propped my clothes bag under my feet for a little elevation.

As I slept in my tent at West Chickenbone it rained off and on all night.  Still raining at 7 this morning. This is a situation many outdoor recreationists hate to encounter. What to do when inclement weather threatens the scheduled activities? I made the decision: Gonna pack up wet and do this thing anyway. Yay me.

Having made the call I started making motions to bring my decision to reality. I skipped the process of cooking breakfast and chewed some jerky instead. This was some jerky I had made the week before the trip and I was glad to have it along. Easy to eat while on the move, lightweight, tasty, filling and full of protein; perfect trail food.

Packing up camp in the rain is a bit different from fair weather packing. Everything needs to be stowed in the pack except rain gear and the tent/ground sheet prior to getting the pack out of the tent. I reached this point fairly quickly and began wiping down the tent, inside first, then out.

I want to mention something here. Condensation. It happens. Not everyone understands this. When you breathe moist air out all night long inside your tent the moisture from your breath will many times condense on the tent walls and ceiling. Which is no big deal as long as you wipe it off. Unless it rains. When raindrops start hitting the outside of the tent and there is condensation on the inside then some of the condensation gets knocked loose. And falls. Usually on my face. Viola, it’s raining inside the tent.

This didn’t happen to me on this morning. But I have seen enough people who believe they own leaky tents when the tent is fine that I felt it should be mentioned.

So I wiped down the tent, inside and out. I use a shammy cloth for this. Specifically, it’s a piece of a Sham-wow Jess ordered and we cut up for tent and kitchen shammies. Soaks up water fantastic and wrings out easily. Takes a while to get completely dry though. So we will hang it up after use to air out as long as possible. Many a day it has been carried strapped outside a backpack all day long. Even in a light rain it gets a little dryer. I hung it on a tree branch while I tackled the task of putting the now-slightly-less-wet-tent into its stuff sack.

I got the tent and ground cloth successfully stowed and in their appropriate spots on my pack. As I turned to get the shammy I was startled to see it moving – away! Chattering with mad glee the red squirrel that I’d refused to share my dinner with the night before held my shammy hostage high in an evergreen tree. Fir, I believe. As I watched helplessly my shammy was hauled up into thicker foliage and vanished from sight entirely. That little bastard squirrel stole my shammy!

I stood there in damp outrage, contemplating various methods of squirrelicide but actually doing nothing more than peering about from different angles trying to spot my precious lost shammy. After a good ten minutes of not locating it, or the now silent thief, I admitted the ugly truth. I was bested. There was nothing I could reasonably do about this situation. And I didn’t WANT to get unreasonable about it. I wanted to hike and see this marvelous island, even if it did harbor thieving squirrels.

I shouldered the burden of my loss and began putting on the rest of my gear – while I still had it. I was on the trail by 8:00.

For this trip I had considered bringing my Frogg Toggs rainsuit but opted at the last minute to bring my backpacker’s poncho instead. It’s just like a regular poncho with a longer tail section so when you manage to get it on over your pack it hangs to about where a normal poncho would. The reason behind this decision is sweat. When you’re backpacking you tend to be under enough exertion that you can turn most most rain gear into a swestbox in short order. So with rainsuits the choice is often whether you prefer to be soaked with cold eain or hot sweat. Dry – that ain’t happening. Hence, I opted for the poncho. Lots of airflow and some protection from the rain. I should have brought train pants or at least gaiters, but hindsight is 20/20.

I set off up the trail with the knowledge that I had a short day. Since I had eaten into today’s planned miles yesterday by pushing on to Chickenbone I only need to hike 7.9 miles apong the Greenstone to be in camp at Hatchet Lake.

The Greenstone Ridge is the backbone of Isle Royale. The trail that runs along it is 42 miles long and offers great views. It is often forested and the highest point is only around 1400 ft above sea level (800 ft above Lake Superior). It is not a tough trail.
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It was a bit tough on this rainy day, though. In many places, sometimes for a mile or more, water laden vegetation was leaning into the trail. It didn’t take long before my legs were wet to mid-thigh and my shirt sleeves were wet to the elbows. Feeling my feet squelch in my shoes with every step for mile after mile – that sucked the fun right out of the day.
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I did spot both moose and wolf scat several times along the trail and kept my eyes open, but no luck. Just poop.
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The rain wasn’t heavy and it stopped and restarted several times before finally being blown away by a southerly breeze around 11:00.

Around 11:30 I arrived at the turnoff to Hatchet Lake. I found myself reluctant to trek the .3 miles down to the camp for lunch. And since I was already pretty darn wet I wasn’t so sure that I wanted to be done for the day at lunchtime. What’s worse than walking around wet all day? Sitting in a tent being wet, thinking that if you were hiking you’d be warmer.

I had a lunch of tuna in sunflower oil on tortillas sitting out on tge rocks by the turnoff while I pondered what to do. Before I ate I removed my socks and wrung them out and laid them on rocks in the weak sun. I also pulled the liners from my shoes so they would dry a bit as well.

My decision: I can sit in a wet tent anywhere. Time to hike.

Halfway between Hatchet Lake and Lake Desor lies Ishpeming Point. There is a metal observation tower here and the ridge reaches 1377 ft in elevation. I have heard rumors that at high spots on the Greenstone you can sometimes get cell service so I gave it a try. Sending a text or making a phone call to Jessica would be pretty awesome about now. You can’t climb the tower so I went to the next highest spot and tried.

Pshaw. Fake service. Wavering between 1 and 4 bars with nary a spot of data. No text, no call. Hate you for your fake bars, Verizon. Hate hate hate.
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As I gave up on my cellphone antics a large Vee of geese flew over at high altitude. I counted somewhere around 70. Back to the trail.

A couple of hours later I arrived at South Lake Desor. Not late at all, around 4:00. However, it gets dark early in the terrain of the lake bowls in the island’s interior at this time of year. I barely had time to dry my tent before the sun vanished below the ridge.
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By the time I set up camp and cooked dinner (Couscous) the sun had vanished. I crawled into my tent in the early twilight and happily changed into a set of completely dry clothing. The wet stuff I left on my “clothesline” to dry as much as possible overnight.

Not sure if it was from the terrain, my shoes or just not being as young as I used to be but I was having some pain in the bones of tarsal area of my right foot and had a few twinges in my right ankle as well (old injury). No worries, though. I was now a whole day ahead of the itinerary schedule that I gave the park service. I could afford a twinge or two.

The park service advises that you hang your food bag while in camp to avoid losing food to the critters that populate the island. However, the trees available to hang from really suck. The tree limb options suck so badly that I felt my food would be in greater danger suspended from the twigs available than if I just didn’t hang it. I could just see a squirrel party in my mind. There are no bears on the island – I slept with my food bag in the tent. So my food hanging paracord became a clothesline when needed.

My campsite was plagued with TWO demonic red squirrels who regularly darted across the site and chattered at me. No longer in possession of a tent shammy, I was reduced to using my kitchen shammy as a tent shammy and doing without a kitchen shammy. Wiser in the way of these beasts than I once was I slept with it in the tent, where I could better defend it.

Leaving Daisy Farm was pretty relaxed. The biggest issue I encountered during my stay was thst upon unpacking I could not locate my hand sanitizer. Hand sanitizer is a MUST when you don’t want to wind up with food poisoning. After checking everywhere a galf dozen times I concluded that I must have left it out the last time I repacked my hygiene/first aid bag. I looked and looked and looked and it was nowhere to be found.
(When I got home I found it on the bottom shelf under the bags at our front counter. How it got there is a mystery to me.)
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My itinerary destination for the day was Lake Richie but I felt good and was pretty sure when I woke up that I would be going further. A couple of packets of oatmeal later I was feeling even better and got my gear stowed into my pack pretty easily despite still having a very full pack – so full that my 3L water bladder was strapped on the outside of the back.

Moskey Basin was my first stop. It’s only about .2 miles off the trail to go there and I arrived about 11:00 to take an early lunch. There is a large pier complete with a picnic table for dining over the water. The breeze was very light and the sun was just present enough to be pleasantly warming without causing me to sweat any. I opened a foil pack of chicken and wrapped it up with a couple of tortillas. Very tasty. The view from the pier made quite a good accompaniment for lunch.

The Moskey Basin site is situated at the end of a long bay but the water there is part of Lake Superior and very clear (and cold). During my travels about the island I was to discover that this is generally the case – the water is Superior is excellent and of beautiful clarity. The low temperature is one of the important contributors to this circumstance; the lake is an environment where biological decay takes a long time to occur. There are over half a dozen documented shipwreck sites around the perimeter of the island that are diveable, many from the 1920’s but as old as the 1880’s. The cold, near-sterile layers of water in the depths where most of the wrecks lie keep the ships preserved in nearly the same condition that they were in when they sunk. It’s said that the paint is still bright under a thin layer of algae. It’s unlikely that I will ever see this firsthand, though. That water is cold.
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With lunch done and tidied up I headed back to the main trail and thus towards Lake Richie. Lake Richie is one of the larger inland lakes on the island, though it is only a fraction of the size of Siskiwit Lake, the largest. The trail between Moskey and Richie is only 2.1 miles and not difficult so I found myself arriving on its shoreline in just an hour or so. The trail follows the shoreline for quite a distance, well over half a mile. It was here that I encountered my booth-mate from the ferry ride. He was dutifully casting away, ever seeking that elusive bite. At the time I asked, he was down 1 lure and had no luck with any bites. After lounging about a bit and chatting some I offered encouraging words and got back on trail so that I could end my day at the West Chickenbone Lake campsite. A large Vee of geese, maybe 70 to 80 had overflown while I was lying on my back on the rocks and I was hoping to see more, maybe on Chickenbone Lake. I do spot my first wolf scat along the trail though.
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Chickenbone Lake is somewhat L-shaped, and flows out into McCarhoe Cove. When I arrived I could distantly discern 4 pairs of white swans in the far distance across the waters. I arrived at the camp around 15:35, early enough to explore all the sites before choosing one. The campsites were nice but carried none of the amenities found at previous locations I had visited. No shelters, no picnic tables, none of that. Fine by me. Those things seemed pretty weird to me anyway, despite their obvious convenience.

Some previous inhabitant of the campsite I chose (there was no one else around, I was in site #4) had felt the table pinch, or was perhaps just of that very busy personality some people seem to be burdened with. A table of sorts had been constructed from birch logs, sticks and bark. I propped my feet up on it and evidenced my disdain by setting up my kitchen on the ground beside it.

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As I fired up my canister stove I noticed a good bit of squirrel chatter. Having been chattered at by many a squirrel I dismissed these noises, which persisted the entire time it took for water to boil and then for my Forever Young Mac n Cheese meal to rehydrate. However, the moment I cracked the seal on my now ready food, it was ON. Squirrel attack!

The initial sallies were innocent enough.
Enter squirrel, stage left, carrying pine cone.

Squirrel zips across campsite.

Exit squirrel, stage right, carrying pine cone.

Chattering emanates from bushes.

Repeat, from right to left.

Repeat entire cycle, only closer to the half-entranced, definitely amused Tom, who sits upon his birch log with spoon paused halfway to mouth.

Repeat entire cycle, only instead of heading into the bushes squirrel climbs onto the toe of my shoe and makes demanding chattering noises.

No longer amused, I treat him like one of our cats when they beg for food. Well, as close as I can without a water bottle handy. I shoo him off.

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At the end of my dinner I note that my phone battery is down to 40% so I will need to recharge the next day. I am carrying a 10,000 ma Newtrent battery backup for this purpose. I hope that it will be sufficient.

I settled into my tent early, well before dark and was reading using the Kindle app on my phone when a snowshoe hare (appropriately brown for the season) hopped from the woods right up into the tent vestibule and stared at me through the mesh screen for a good 10 seconds before moving away to nibble at campsite grass. The 10.2 miles hiked today had a strong effect; I was drowsy and did not move, much less try to snap a picture. I fell asleep very content.

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When I went to sleep at Shenandoah campsite I was sure that I was done with this hike.  After spending 4 months day in and day out sharing the experience with InProgress I just do not enjoy the hike without her.  I can do the miles but what’s the point?  It’s like watching TV on a 13″ black and white set after having had a 60″ HD flatscreen. I’d rather not. 

I was lazy leaving camp – it was nearly 6AM when I finally started hiking.  Occupy was sprawled asleep on top of the picnic table and when Helga ran out barking at me he didn’t even stir.

The first road I crossed was a small local road right after the RPH shelter.  There was a footbridge over a stream near the road with a note pinned to the handrail:  “Free breakfast today.  Go .2 east on road to #300.  All AT hikers welcome.”  Who passes up second breakfast?  Not me, that’s who.   I turned around and headed back up to the indicated address.

After a delicious waffle and some nice conversation provided by trail angels Rob and Elaine I felt even more solid in my conviction to leave the trail.  I have had good times the past couple of days – met new people and reconnected with some not seen in a long time. I am making better miles than most people around me despite my slow pace. I have seen good views and the trail terrain is pleasant.  I am not stopping because I am in a slump. I am stopping because I want to do this with my wife, not without her.

I hiked on to the next road crossing, Hwy 52, much busier than anything else I would be likely to cross today.  I texted and spoke to my wife and then my mother in law, made some fast and loose plans to catch a bus or train to Michigan where I can pick up the car my wife left there before the hike.  I have too much stuff on me that can’t fly and I don’t want an airline handling my backpack anyway.

Hitchhiking is illegal in NY.  The guide books make this clear.  I stuck out my thumb and smiled at cars while making sure that my pack was clearly displayed.  See? I am just a backpacker, not a homicidal homeless guy.  Nothing at all scary about me.

After 63 motorists have declined the invitation to share my company and give me a ride Rusty and Toast arrive and cross the road. They stop to chat and I explain that I am done and why. We offer each other encouraging words and I get their picture.
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I catch a ride with the 97th car that passes.  She is an older lady; a professor’s wife and she has helped out hikers before.  When he retired from teaching his replacement lived with them for 5 weeks while she got her feet under her because she knew no one in the area.  She was Susan, of the Barefoot Sisters.  Go figure.
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Jan was her name and she made an important stop at the post office and then took me all the way to the train station.  I am headed to Grand Central where the next leg of my trip will be either Grayhound or Amtrak, yet to be determined. The kindness one encounters on the trail can be very uplifting.
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We are taking the 4th off to spend with a friend.  We will go hiking on the AT to a place where we should be able to see the NYC fireworks.  It will be short miles and I like taking some time to recognize our freedom.

Freedom to thruhike the AT is something I am very grateful for and that not many people have.  As one recently met person told us, “I am missing three understandings and cannot thruhike without them:  An understanding spouse, an understanding bank account, and an understanding employer.”  Those things loom large in most people’s lives.

I cringe when I see the financial impact of our thruhike.  But I wouldn’t swap the money for the hiking experience so I just bite the bullet and pay the price.  Let’s just say nobody is thruhiking on $5k anymore with the cost of food and lodging these days and leave it at that.

My wife loves hiking and this thruhike as much as I do.  So rare and I treasure this.

My employer…  It was hard to get my vacation time in under the use it or lose it policy and the nonstop gogogo world that is food distribution.  The decision we made to relocate to Wisconsin actually made the employer thing a non issue.  I quit.  I gave all the notice I could and tried to prep folks well but the truth is that I was part of a good team and I knew that the place would be fine without me once I left.  Still wasn’t easy to leave a place and the people that I spent so much time and effort on and with but I made the choice and did it.

The freedom to make these kinds of choices is what I am celebrating today.  People have paid and continue to pay for that freedom with blood and tears.  I am grateful.  What more can I say but Thank You. 

When we left Loft Mountain we would have needed to hike 26 miles to make it to the Lewis campground.  We hiked about 18 and had our first stealth campsite in Shenandoah.  Upon re-reviewing the rules I am now sure that it was 100% legal.  Not that my feet cared. (I am pretty sure that I inherited some malice about the camping rules from the guidebook and other reading sources that complain about the impossibility of camping legally within the rules.)  

We stopped by Lewis campground for an excellent lunch.  We ate food that was in our packs but it was supplemented with a big bag of Route11 BBQ potato chips and a couple of Yuenglings.  Sitting on a bench charging your phone and sipping beer for lunch can feel pretty damn decadent.

All in all we have been having it pretty good in SNP.  The easy access to food at campstores and delis means we have been carrying less in our packs and enjoying the lighter load.  Showers have been a lot more frequent as well – and that’s a good thing.

The only negative experience we’ve really had has been when we went into the Big Meadows wayside.  The staff there just treat hikers a bit poorly.  It’s the only wayside that has gas pumps and they really seem to not want to deal with hikers at all.  We had to leave our packs outside, which is not unusual but they have no real place to stow them.  While we ordered and ate they got soaked in a storm that blew in.  And the staff just were not nice.  Really rubbed me wrong, in case you can’t tell… 

Finishing the day up we wound up camping in a less than legal but obviously previously used site and got a fantastic sundown view.

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Byrd’s Nest #3 is a hut that was formerly a day use picnic area and is nicer than any of the other huts we’ve stayed at so far in the park.  Also, all of the huts have bear poles instead of cables.  I approve. 

We took a short day and went into Luray, VA where we rested, resupplied and did the tourist bit.  We toured the caverns, went to the car & carriage museum and went to the local historic culture museum.  Luray Caverns is something you should see if you get the chance. 

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The caverns are extensive and include many fantastic sights.  One thing I found fascinating was the organ.  It’s attached to electric solenoids all around the caverns that tap on cave  formations.  Mikes pick up the sound and speakers play it in the organ chamber.  Quite interesting and beautiful to hear.

Coming out of Luray we stopped at the first hut just to check out the kissing trees.  It was a half mile detour and we got drizzled on the whole time (all day in fact) but it was worth a little extra.

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At the end of the day we had to set up the tent in the rain (mostly sunny forecast, huh?).  That does not make for happy campers.  After getting rained on all night, packing in the rain, and hiking another 10 miles in the rain we reached the Front Royal Terrapin hostel right after lunchtime and were mighty glad to get into the dry.  The afternoon was consumed with the minor chores of getting our gear and our selves back to spec but since we were indoors they were happy chores.

When we left Loft Mountain we would have needed to hike 26 miles to make it to the Lewis campground.  We hiked about 18 and had our first stealth campsite in Shenandoah.  Upon re-reviewing the rules I am now sure that it was 100% legal.  Not that my feet cared. (I am pretty sure that I inherited some malice about the camping rules from the guidebook and other reading sources that complain about the impossibility of camping legally within the rules.)  

We stopped by Lewis campground for an excellent lunch.  We ate food that was in our packs but it was supplemented with a big bag of Route11 BBQ potato chips and a couple of Yuenglings.  Sitting on a bench charging your phone and sipping beer for lunch can feel pretty damn decadent.

All in all we have been having it pretty good in SNP.  The easy access to food at campstores and delis means we have been carrying less in our packs and enjoying the lighter load.  Showers have been a lot more frequent as well – and that’s a good thing.

The only negative experience we’ve really had has been when we went into the Big Meadows wayside.  The staff there just treat hikers a bit poorly.  It’s the only wayside that has gas pumps and they really seem to not want to deal with hikers at all.  We had to leave our packs outside, which is not unusual but they have no real place to stow them.  While we ordered and ate they got soaked in a storm that blew in.  And the staff just were not nice.  Really rubbed me wrong, in case you can’t tell… 

Finishing the day up we wound up camping in a less than legal but obviously previously used site and got a fantastic sundown view.

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Byrd’s Nest #3 is a hut that was formerly a day use picnic area and is nicer than any of the other huts we’ve stayed at so far in the park.  Also, all of the huts have bear poles instead of cables.  I approve. 

We took a short day and went into Luray, VA where we rested, resupplied and did the tourist bit.  We toured the caverns, went to the car & carriage museum and went to the local historic culture museum.  Luray Caverns is something you should see if you get the chance. 

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The caverns are extensive and include many fantastic sights.  One thing I found fascinating was the organ.  It’s attached to electric solenoids all around the caverns that tap on cave  formations.  Mikes pick up the sound and speakers play it in the organ chamber.  Quite interesting and beautiful to hear.

Coming out of Luray we stopped at the first hut just to check out the kissing trees.  It was a half mile detour and we got drizzled on the whole time (all day in fact) but it was worth a little extra.

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At the end of the day we had to set up the tent in the rain (mostly sunny forecast, huh?).  That does not make for happy campers.  After getting rained on all night, packing in the rain, and hiking another 10 miles in the rain we reached the Front Royal Terrapin hostel right after lunchtime and were mighty glad to get into the dry.  The afternoon was consumed with the minor chores of getting our gear and our selves back to spec but since we were indoors they were happy chores.