After the initial two days Brooke planned on heading back to work, like a responsible adult, and with her our access to the vehicle that had been our savior. Luck would have it that upon getting off the river at the end of day 2 we struck up a conversation with a person who turned out to be more than a hitch back to Brooke’s car but the Shenandoah River’s version of a trail angel. He had been paddling and floating the river for 15 years and gave us some much needed local advice; specifically about the twenty mile section coming up with two portages and rocks that would shred our boats. We took heed to his warning and it was time to make a decision; either we bail on the river altogether and have Brooke drop us off at the nearest trail intersection or we skip ahead 30 river miles and then commit to getting our rubber inflatables to Harper’s Ferry come hell or low water. The decsion had to be unanimous, and it was. We took advantage of our shuttle vehicle one last time and loaded 7 people, 6 backpacks, 3 rafts and a dog into and onto the roof of a mid-size SUV. We weren’t tight, we were packed in ‘I’m being sexually violated by someone’s foot an I don’t even know who it is tight’.
Nonetheless, we made it back to the river and with a stop at a grocery store where we actually bought more food than beer we were ready to get down to business. Rafts are great for floating down a river and dinking beer. Rafts are awful for trying to propel down a river by paddling, especially with crappy $10 paddles. We were on the river for about ten to twelve hours a day and it seemed like we were paddling for half of it and trying to avoid dangerous raft-popping, trip-ending rocks either in rapids or shallow water the other half of the time. The sun baked us, heating the sides of the boats so much that you couldn’t touch them without first cooling it with river water. We emerged from the green tunnel to a shadeless waterway and despite numerous applications, they don’t make sunscreen with big enough numbers to keep some of us from burning.
Okay, so I tried to make it sound much worse than it really ended up being. In all actuality when we didn’t have to paddle we tied the boats up and passed around gummy worms and bags of chips. We had music from a battery powered radio for the dull moments and enough rapids to keep things interesting. Hunter hung out under a makeshift sunshade all day and gladly leapt to dry land at the end to chase anything furry with his pent up energy while we enjoyed big campfires and Gully and Bullfrog spent the evening fishing. Our feet were able to rest and let our shoulders do the work, allowing some much needed recovery to happen.
The only hairy moment of the whole trip happened with just two days left when a massive storm cell moved through. We went from blue skies to hail, 80mph winds, uprooted trees and booming thunder back to rainbows all in the span of 20 minutes. Seeing the storm front approach, the group decided to find a campsite and get our tents up before the impending rain, expecting a normal thunderstorm not the start of The Apocalypse. The rain came first, followed quickly by the hail and then the wind. The wind hit so hard that Lindsay and I had to push against the walls of the tent to brace it because we were afraid of it ripping apart. Fortunately about 30 seconds after we got out of our tent to run to safety in a nearby wheat field, as trees were starting to blow over, a 75lbs branch landed squarely on top of our tent.
The branch at least made sure it flattened down the tent so the wind couldn’t damage it anymore. Then as quickly as it hit us, it stopped. No one was hurt by trees or debris and amazingly with a little Mainer ingenuity and a Leatherman I was able to fix our tent poles and we’re still using the same tent today. Thank you Mountain Hardwear.