Aqua Blazing the Shenandoahs

I first heard the term aqua blazing the week before starting the trail.

I was trying to figure out where to start my hike. Corona had crashed my plans like some sort of unwanted dinner guest. Now all my timetables and my carefully mapped out mail drops were pretty much irrelevant.

So I Decided to Just Go

And I learned that sometimes plans don’t leave room for adventure.

Or magic.

And a week after hearing about aqua blazing for the first time, I was sitting on the bank of the Shenandoah River with a canoe, borrowed from a neighbor, strapped to the roof of our truck.

In hiker lingo, white blazing refers to the traditional trail (which is marked with white blazes). From that traditional route there is multiple variations; blue blazing – following the old Appalachian Trail sections or other side trails, yellow blazing – road walking, aqua blazing- doing a length of the trail via water, and even as I recently learned, pink blazing – matching your pace on trail with a potential love interest.

If you’ve read any of my other posts you might know that my husband, Jeremy, is not an avid backpacker. He is, however, a huge proponent of anything involving boats and water. Aqua blazing was the perfect way for him to be able to see me off on this pretty massive undertaking and also actually enjoy himself.

It was Jeremy’s 30th birthday the Thursday we drove down. Celebrating with an adventure we could both equally share, felt right.

Day One

We started off our water trek at Shenandoah River Adventures, who let us camp out free of charge. When we arrived the river was flooded, so our first day we spent swimming and exploring the area.

Finally on Saturday we got on the water. Prior to aqua blazing I couldn’t find any real information on routes. As a planner this drove me crazy! I’m including a screen shot of our itinerary for any future adventurers. Shenandoah River was really relaxed and didn’t provide a detailed map. But their prices, friendliness, and generosity more then made up for the lack of direction.

Saturday was a hot, sunny, beautiful day and we finished the first 26 miles by 5 p.m. We spent the day learning how to navigate rapids, paddle in unison, and constantly shifting our weight to stop the canoe from capsizing every time our overzealous dogs spotted a crane downstream.

We were nervous that we were not going to make the miles before dusk, so our boat sat really low in the water, weighed down with our sleeping gear, tent, and of course a 12 pack of Devils Backbone, a local craft beer.

We arrived back to the River Adventures campground sunburned, tired, and happy, and spent the evening around a bonfire, eating s’mores, and swapping stories with other campers.

Day Two

The second day our starting point was from the campground itself. Our dogs much, much prefer land to water and so we decided that we should try combining the second and third day into one.

Shenandoah River Adventures cautioned that most people took the second and third day slow but we were determined to give it a try!

Around lunchtime we reached the 30-foot dam, around which you self-portage. We couldn’t see the dock from the water and I was nervous that the current would get too strong closer to the dam, so I chose to get out on the shore and scout out the boat landing.

As I trudged through the field a herd of bulls spotted me. At first they look at me curiously and then with annoyance. The bulls started to charge. I yelled, waving my hands above my head, and the bulls thought better of it. I walked on fast.

Jeremy and the dogs pulled the canoe up on the boat landing and we began to drag the canoe to the other side. We attached our ever-eager dogs to the front of the canoe and they did most of the work for us! In another life they would have been sled dogs. Kimbo and Sadie were happy to have a task and thrilled to be on solid ground!

After the dam, we floated the last nine miles to the end of our aqua blazing journey. I even found a rope swing and leaped into the water a couple times to cool down!

Once I summit Katahdin, I will be flipping back down to Shenandoah, and I will also walk the 50 miles we aqua blazed. I love the idea of seeing the same terrain from a different vantage point.

Most Rivers Don’t Flow Northward

Beginning my trek on the Shenandoah was really a special way to start this crazy 2,000-mile journey.

Jeremy has already called me to suggest I turn my trail into a six-month canoe trip. I told him that hikers hike.

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