Aquablazing Shenandoah and a Sinking Feeling

Nearly lunch time under a bridge. We cruised into Waynesboro, VA after a quick stop at the Devils Backbone Trail Daze festival. While the rest of the crew was passed out under a tree waiting for Maria Douglas to arrive behind Kroger, Mr. Dallas was hitching around town picking up resupply packages and handling business.

Retrieving boxes from the Colony House Motel was both terrifying and friendly. We had no intention of staying there, but they held our mail without any gripe, "Just for the thought of it." If that sounds confusing, that's because it was. Mr. Dallas is still not sure what 70% of the things the office attendant said actually meant. There was some very unique forms of English popping around in that lobby.

Mr. Dallas rejoined the group behind Kroger and then went with Muffins to binge on Ming Dynasty Chinese buffet while Still Don't and Dumpstermouth traversed to the local YMCA for free group showers and wet cleanliness. At the Ming Dynasty Muffins and Mr. Dallas were joined by Fun Size and Bottle Cap.

Mr. Dallas and Still Don't sank the Dam Jankee RIP.

Bottle Cap first met us two years ago whilst several large rattle snakes were being roasted over a fire dripping with Siracha and red pepper flakes at Warspur Shelter in VA. It was one of his first nights out on the trail and he was trying it out for a future thru-hike. We blew his mind. He ate some of the snake, and the next morning we parted ways on the trail.

Two years later and we were sitting around cooking at Mau Har shelter a day away from Waynesboro. It was getting dark and Bottle Cap and Fun size arrived. His face was a weird de ja vu. Mr. Dallas knew he had seen him before but so many new faces had been around the hiker bubble recently he couldn't quite place it. Muffins noticed it as well but couldn't quite put a potato finger on it. Still Don't kept trying to figure it out as well, but we all kept quiet until Bottle Cap finally perked up after noticing the absurd camera gear.

"Did you guys ever cook rattle snakes on the trail?" He said to us, and we all hooted and hollered ecstatic at the bizarre coincidence. The trail works in mysterious ways.

cold steel

Maria hooked us up with a Hotel room and two gigantic lasagnas. We had not been able to afford the luxury of a night's stay in a bed since the Big Walker in Bland, VA. more than a month ago. Shaving and showering with hot water was a joy for all. Thank you Maria! You made our stay in Waynesboro rejuvenating.

Still Don't had been juggling several options to get us boats for Aquablazing. Aquablazing is when you canoe the Shenandoah River to the west of the trail instead of hiking the ridgeline to the east of the river. We have all hiked that ridge line before and recently, and were not really thrilled to do it again. The Shenandoah National Park and the AT run along several parkways and gigantic campsites. We weren't going to miss anything in canoes. Purists may scoff at this, but we are not purists, and we will still walk to Maine.

Long story short. Still Don't got us boats. Their floatability was maintained by copious amounts of cross weaved gorilla tape three layers thick. Nearly two entire rolls of tape held our boats above the water for a couple days. Muffins and Dumpstermouth commanded "The Spirit Wind of the Flaming Iron Horse Chariot," and Still Don't and Mr. Dallas commanded the "Dam Jankee."

Loading up "The Spirit Wind of the Flaming Iron Horse Chariot"

"Fifteen," and "The Rambler" who we had met at the Devils Backbone brewery and who had Thru-hiked in 2010 offered us a ride in their truck to the river. Maria also drove us to the river with a canoe strapped onto the roof of her Yukon. Fifteen sent us off with a cooler full of cold goodness and we finally got on the river around 5 pm to some lovely light rain.

We made it several miles down the river before the sun began to set. We stopped at several muddy banks looking for a place to set up camp. Stepping out of the canoe was like stepping into a shin deep warm fart. The mud was truly putrid and bubbling with oil sheen gasses. Back into the boats and down the river we went until we came upon a small drainage tunnel.

We pulled up to it and were enchanted by its secret garden appeal. The tunnel ran under the train tracks and back to a small grassy meadow enclosed by trees. It was perfect for a night of stealth camping. Mr. Dallas cooked up a pound of the Basmati and country sausage to be loaded up into tortillas with Siracha. We were just about to fall asleep nestled under our sheets away from the mosquito swarms when a coughing monster stirred us. It sounded like a 90 year old smoker hacking up a lung.

Tunnel to the secret garden.

Mr. Dallas and Dumpstermouth climbed out of the tent to investigate and lit up the hillside with super bright Black Diamond headlamps. Two hideous green eyes glared back at us. They were really close together, and clamoring up a tree. It was a rowdy possum who must have sniffed out our dinner. Through the spot lights a flying squirrel darted by and landed on a tree right in front of us. It quickly climbed around the tree and disappeared, awesome!

Soway gerns and the great flat water raft.

We moved out of the secret spot early in the morning and were on the river by 8:15. After a couple hours of flatwater paddling and direct hot sunlight we came across a flotilla of people we already knew. It's a small river after all. Pilgrim's hat and Hawaiian shirt were unmistakeable from a half mile away. (Pilgrim was with Miss Janet when we were rescued off the mountain with the Plague.) We linked up with Soway, Sequoia, Trench foot, Timone, Brownie, Cinnamon, and Pilgrim, and rafted together for a couple miles of flat water past all the industrial plants along the river.

Dam Portages. "Where can I get some dam bait?"

The sun was scorching hot, and nearly every rope swing we came across hanging over the river was used to cool us down. We stopped at a bridge for lunch. Muffins hitched into town to get us some pizzas. The sun had us all tired and we napped until he arrived and the feeding frenzy began.

Pilgrim chalked a mural over some graffiti.

After a few more miniature rapids we were in the Shenandoah Dam backwater. Backwater is  flat water and flat water is boring. After paddling for a good several miles we made it to the dam for a team building portage exercise. Portage: after the Latin route "port" which means to carry. It's not wise to paddle off the side of a dam so we had to get out and carry everything for a quarter mile to the other side of the dam.

Our canoes had taken on so much water into their hulls that they now required all four of us to carry them despite being empty. Over the river and through the woods we carried them. By the time we had them back in the water the sun was setting. It had been a long 17 miles on the river and it was time to find a campsite. It's hard to find a spot along the Shenandoah which is dotted with all kinds of "POSTED" "NO TRESPASSING" "WILL SHOOT ON SIGHT" "PRIVATE PROPERTY" signs.

Rainbow beef.

We found a nice steep grassy bank that looked promising and rammed up onto it. Climbing over the 10 foot ledge we found a flat area overgrown with about 4ft of grass, right beside a farm road. It was home for the night. Dinner was left over rice and sausage steamed with salami and hot spice. We went to sleep experiencing a new type of exhaustion that hadn't been around since we first started the trail.

We woke up early and ate our specialty oatmeal and paddled out. The next 25 miles were the best on the river. We covered them fast with awesome rapids and quick water. Bald eagles screeched overhead and wildlife was plentiful. We saw deer crossing the river and gigantic 5ft long monster catfish sipping up mud on the bottom. The water was clear and moving fast over the round river rocks in a mesmerizing way. We only had one portage at Newport Dam for the day and had lunch in the shade there.

Flood debris way up in the tree.

We woke up the next morning and it rained all day. We had 2 portages in front of us. Mr. Dallas was comfortable with his umbrellas strapped to his life jacket for hands free operation. Muffins got rained on all day in his Mrs. Daisy hat. Still Don't and Dumpstermouth had their rain jackets on, but water continuously funneled down their sleeves in the paddle motion. We had covered less than a dozen miles and were frustrated by our boats which had suddenly begun to take on water at an accelerated rate. It wasn't just the rain pouring in, water was streaming in through the floor of the Dam Jankee and she was too heavy to steer through the rapids.

Between every four paddle strokes was a furious full gallon bailing operation. It was a loosing battle. The tape had been worn off, scuffed off, and beaten into submission by the rocky bottom of the Shenandoah. We decided to hold out for the first empty gazebo on the shore and abandon ship. The water was coming in too fast to bail. To the right an RV/ Riverhouse rental property stretch came up. Mr. Dallas and Still Don't hit the shore just as the stern slipped under water. That was the end of our aquablaze some 70 miles down the river.

Stern Damage. The tape was patching that pre-existing crack.

We called the owner of the gazebo and she was fine with us staying there for the night. The rain continued and the river rose another two feet. Mr. Dallas wanted to look down to the shore and see the boats swept away and chewed to oblivion on the riverbottom, but Dumpstermouth secured them to a tree on the bank.

Panorama of the Gazebo

While we were drying out under the gazebo, Tim walked over from the rental property next door to greet us and see what kind of hiker trash the river had spit out. He unzipped his hoodie and shocked us all. Painted on his green shirt was a glaring white blaze. We were in the right place. He and his partner Janet welcomed us into their vacation rental home and fed us and dried out our clothes. The trail works in mysterious ways.

Tim and Janet our river saviors.

written by Mr. Dallas