300 Miles Later…
Why do I always see bears on days I’m coming into town? Because I just saw a bear, again, yesterday, when I was walking to the Waynesboro road crossing. Seeing animals is never when you expect it. Scan the underbrush all you want when you feel like seeing one, and maybe you’ll find a chipmunk. But the coolest sightings I’ve had–a giant snake, deer, an eagle, these bears–are when I’m lost in my thoughts, maybe trying to remember the formula for the coefficient of static friction (I actually was doing that once–I miss physics class) and I hear a rustling to my side. The animals conveniently let me know they’re there by trying to run away.
Anyway, it’s been a rugged 3 1/2 weeks. The trail has been too rocky for a firm foothold, or else the incessant rain have softened it to a permanent mud-like consistency that slips with every step. We’ve had 2000 and 3000-foot climbs, where it gets steep just when you think you’re done (again, who said Virginia was flat??? Really, flat??). An opaque mist surrounded us for a few days, completely blocking out the sun the whole time. Our food has all started tasting bland. I continued to increase my daily mileage, which wore me out and took me at times into gaps between the different waves of northbounders, strange silent stretches where I saw little to no other people. I’ve been struggling with a poison ivy rash spreading over my entire body.
Many of these things have been discouraging in part. But in trudging through them all, I feel stronger, in fact elated because of how much stronger I feel. Some days, nothing pumps me up more than a 2100-foot elevation gain, when after dreading it for miles, I surge up it when the time comes, legs lunging and pumping with an intensity I’ve never known before and that will inevitably be mostly lost when all this is over. I’ve loved shouting out when the sun shows itself finally, knowing we’ve reached the end of our latest period of gloom. This trail is supposed to be hard, it’s supposed to be long, and it’s the rain that makes it grow green.
I’ve been thinking more about what this whole trail means. A friendly elderly couple–Bob and Mary–gave me a ride back to the trail when I was in Pearisburg, saying they were on their way to an evening hike themselves. “It’s good for the brain,” they said. It was funny, because I’d almost forgotten that people living near the trail use it too for dayhikes. While we’re traversing great distances, past the furthest hills in sight, people of all ages all up and down the trail are enjoying it on a smaller scale. But when they go out there, for their morning run or their weekend mountain climb, they know they’re on a path that extends a thousand miles in either direction. And we’re the ones who prove that continuity, who keep alive that wire that runs all the way from Georgia to Maine. In some sense, despite all the hype around thru-hikers and the superiority complex many of us have, we’re humbly in service to the regular people from north to south who use it on their own time and wonder at its length.
Speaking of a thousand miles, we’re getting close to that illustrious marker. Here in Waynesboro, we’re at mile 861.3, and when you look at us on a map, we are a sizeable chunk of the way up the trail. Our progress has gotten serious. Before we know it, we’ll be in states that we’ve only talked about in a dreamy, hypothetical context before–Pennsylvania with its rocks, New Jersey with its ravenous bears… Sometimes I think back on the days of hiking and town-schmoozing way back in Georgia, or North Carolina, and I get a big old jolt of nostalgia. Wow, Neels Gap. Remember that….?
Onwards to the Shenandoahs! And good luck to everyone else that’s still out here!
This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!
To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.
Wow, Ronen, Amazing! We are all so proud of you! Keep on trekking! See you in August!
Ruth and Irv and all the Rosenthals