100=0 (the new math)
100=0 (A day of zero miles after completing my first 100)
So picking up where we left off, I have gone over lots of mountains, met lots of people, and had many doubts about this hike. It was hot and sunny for a bit, then got nice, and have not really had any rainy weather. I have stayed in some shelters, camped in my tent some nights, and stayed at an old railroad employee boarding house. I had one of the best Mexican dinners ever in Buena Vista, VA, and unwisely skipped meals on occasion. In the picture below (on Wednesday or so) I am getting cooked in the blazing sun on top of some mountain with unbelievable views. I think at this point I have summited maybe 30 mountains over 3,000 feet.
The typical routine
I have been averaging 11 miles per day and normally have about 6,000 feet of total elevation gain and loss. The terrain is often rocky and uneven. I typically try to get into a groove or rhythm of walking, and then have to make very quick decisions when the path presents obstacles (rocks, roots, fallen trees) so I don’t break my stride. It is definitely tricky, and both physically and mentally taxing. Virginia has some of the steepest hills, and some of the rockiest terrain, so I guess it is a good training area. Yesterday while descending off the Priest (about a 3,500 foot descent) there was a string of rocky areas coming down the mountain that I had to stop several times to just figure out where I could possibly put a foot and not fall down. Another hiker I met had fallen four times and decided to take some time off. I think the trail designers are sadists.
The people you meet
It seems like the AT hikers fall into categories of either very young, or recently retired, but always pretty friendly and kind. One hiker I have crossed paths with several times is so encouraging (and sometimes deceiving), but always with the intent to keep me going forward. We crossed paths one day at the base of a mountain, and he told me “It’s an easy hill, maybe ten minutes to the top.” I was happy to hear that, and went forward with gusto, but an hour later when I finally summited one of the most difficult peaks, I was actually laughing because he told me that to give me a lift, even though he knew it wasn’t really true. The picture below is an AT section hiker I met for a few days. Everyone on the trail gets hiker nicknames. This guy is ‘Father Time’. I have been dubbed ‘Hi-Viz’ due to my bright clothing. I typically see people for 3-4 days, then they outpace me, and I meet some new people headed north, and one or two headed south.
The best laid plans…
The decision to start in Troutville was incorrectly made to avoid difficult hiking at the start of my trek. It turns out the first 100 miles have been averaging about 520 feet of elevation change per mile, and virtually no flat / level hiking. This is great for getting my legs conditioned, but physically and mentally is very taxing.
A few days ago I was really questioning myself about this adventure. Friday was a pleasant day of hiking, and I had really good energy all day. Made a quick 2,000 foot climb to start, chatted with a few hikers that I crossed paths with, and generally loved the weather (cool and cloudy). After setting up my camp I went to sleep only to be awoken by the most violent thunderstorm I have ever heard. Thankfully, the tent held up well and nothing really got wet. The next morning I headed out and just felt like garbage most of the day. A lack of food and sleep will do that. Fortunately, the day ended by meeting some of the nicest weekend hikers you could imagine. A great camp spot, and perfect evening weather put me right where I needed to be mentally (the feature pic is my camp that night at Spy Rock). I decided that evening that I would shuttle to Waynesboro, take a zero day (today) and then slackpack the last 30 miles to get to the Shenandoah National Park. That will put me right on schedule and well rested to start the big 100 mile hike through the park.
Spring is coming!
I have had the pleasure of seeing some incredible vistas because spring has not yet arrived in northern Virginia. If I had started a month later almost all of the view would be covered in trees. I have seen lots of blooming trillium, and the oaks and maples are starting to leaf out at the lower elevations. My perpetually stuffy nose is also a telltale sign spring is coming. You can see in the photo below that spring has gone from the valley floor at around 800 feet elevation maybe up to around 2,000 feet or so. The pic is from the top of the Priest which is right at 4,000 feet. You can see the greenery working its way up the mountains. I look forward to the shady tunnel that prevents sunburn, and blocks much of the daily heat.
I have one more day of hiking in the 4,000 foot range tomorrow, then things start to flatten out substantially. The next 100 miles averages about 420 feet per mile of elevation change (so I will be hiking about 1,200 less feet of elevation change per mile), and Shenandoah park has many waysides that offer food so I won’t have to carry so much weight in my pack. Lisa has made plans to meet me when I get out of the park, and hopefully by then I will have my ‘Trail Legs’ so the hiking will be less physically challenging. That’s the plan, anyway! I truly appreciate all the positivity and encouragement everyone has offered. As expected, this is the most difficult task I have ever attempted. Doubt has crept in, but there is a glimmer of light beckoning me to go onward!
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