A Bland Update
We sent some packages ahead to Bland, VA. Our timing wasn’t working out well, and we needed to travel 57 miles in three days to get to Bland before the post office closed at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday. This was going to be our biggest push yet!
Day 64: 3,500 ft ascent, 18.2 miles
We took the free shuttle from the Marion Walmart at 8:30 back to the trail. All of us were ready to go and felt great after the rest the day before!
We hiked until after 1:00 p.m. before stopping for lunch. We took a side trail 0.1 miles to a random 1890’s ‘museum’. The museum was an old farm. There was nobody around, but after looking on my FarOut app I saw hikers were very welcome and there was even a spot to charge our electronics! Erik topped off his cell phone and we ate lunch on a swing on the front porch of the farmhouse.
As we kept hiking, we came across an old schoolhouse with trail magic snacks advertised inside. Although the snacks were mostly gone, I saw a sign that said there was a Mexican restaurant on the trail in 2.8 miles. Another hiker who had hiked the trail before was sitting outside of the schoolhouse and confirmed the sign was accurate. Now we had a mission: will hike for Mexican.
When we got there, it turned out the Mexican restaurant was attached to a gas station. Any other time we would’ve steered clear of gas station Mexican, but today we were all in. Erik and I split some grilled chicken nachos and some fried ice cream!
With full stomachs, we kept on marching knowing we had to push a big day to make our post office deadline. We had our heads down and would’ve walked right past the 1/4 sign if another hiker hadn’t been there taking pictures. We stopped for pictures at the sign on the tree as well as the official 1/4 marker a hiker had created a little bit further down the trail. The trail changes every year, so the exact mileage and 1/4 way point is constantly changing.
We got to our campsite right at dark. I hadn’t used my headlamp in quite a while, but I had to get it back out this evening to finish all of my evening chores before bedtime. I was exhausted, but ready to keep pushing the next day to get to Bland.
Day 65: 5,110 ft ascent, 17.3 miles
Today was day two of three of our big push. To keep up our plan, it meant ending the day with a 2,300ish foot straight uphill climb, with over 5,000 feet of climbing over the entire day. It’s hard to walk all day knowing that is waiting for you at the end of the day.
Late in the afternoon before the big climb, we came across a creek that had a bridge that had been washed out. This would be our first creek ford. Erik and I quickly rolled up our pants and changed into our crocs to cross the creek. I headed toward the bank and before I knew it had slipped and was sitting in mud. What a lovely start. I got back up and got across the creek without any more problems. I have been known to fall during creek crossings in the past on other hikes, so I was happy to get through this one with only a little dirt on my pants and not soaking wet.
We got to the climb and it was as bad as I expected. Up and up and up. We had to keep going to get to a water source near the top. After we got water, we were so tired we were ready for any campsite we could find. It took another two miles to get to a shelter, which was the first camping opportunity we had. Although we typically try to avoid sleeping at shelters because of Jake, we set up our tent right outside of this shelter with a beautiful view of a valley.
As I tried to go to sleep, I struggled to find a restful position to fall asleep. My legs were yelling at me and spasming every few minutes as I lay there. Although we had pushed hard the past few days and hiked later into the evening than we had been before, we still were behind and had to go even further the next day to make up some time. It was going to be rough.
Day 66: 2,970 ft ascent, 16.6 miles
We woke up to a beautiful sunrise and cloud inversion in the valley below our tent site. We got out of camp earlier than we had been, knowing we had another big day ahead of us.
It felt like we couldn’t make miles because we kept stopping allowed morning. We pulled over for a restroom break. Then had to hike a little ways off of the trail to get water. I had to carry extra water for Jake because we had eight miles until the next water source. Then we stopped and called my dad. Then we took a mid-morning snack break. By the time we got to lunch, we had lost all of the extra time we had gained from starting earlier than usual.
After lunch, we hiked up on three bears in the middle of the trail! These were the first ones I had seen on trail since the other one Erik saw a few weeks earlier had run off before I could see it. They quickly ran away from us before I could get any pictures.
As we kept walking, I was feeling weaker and weaker. I was struggling. My body wasn’t ready to push this many miles with this much elevation gain multiple days in a row. I had heard the trail gets easier as you get your trail legs and get past the 5,000ft peaks of the southeast. I had pushed through hard days before with easier days ahead as my motivation. But it didn’t feel like it was getting any easier.
The trail tried to beat me. I sat down in the middle of the trail and cried on multiple occasions throughout the afternoon. I wanted to stop and rest, but I didn’t want to fail getting to the post office on time either. Feeling tired didn’t feel like a good enough excuse to not keep going.
We finally stopped 5.4 miles from the road into Bland. We made a plan to get up at 5:00 a.m. the next morning to make it on time. As I sat in the tent that night, I seriously considered quitting for the first time on the trail. My legs hurt. I couldn’t go faster. I couldn’t seem to go further in a day without really struggling. I didn’t know if I could make it to the end of the trail on time if I couldn’t go faster. And faster wasn’t fun.
Erik has to make an effort to go slow for me. He’s 6’2”. I’m 5’1” on a good day. For every one of his steps I have to take two. It was really wearing on me mentally that I was slowing him down and I couldn’t make myself go any faster.
I don’t like to quit. I went to sleep not knowing what the next day would bring, only that I would make it to Bland on time so I could meet that goal of getting to the post office. Past that, I wasn’t sure.
Day 67: 1,710 ft ascent, 7.8 miles
We got out of our campsite by 6:00 a.m. and headed down the trail. Because of the full moon I didn’t even need to use my headlamp as we got ready. We drug ourselves the 5.4 miles to the road into Bland by 8:20 a.m. Luckily this was one of the few road crossings where there were picnic tables by the road! I stayed at the trail with Jake while Erik went into town. I sent him with a couple pounds worth of gear to ship home that I decided I could do without. I had to try to change something if I was going to keep going, and getting lighter seemed like a good place to start.
Erik got back a little after noon. He had gotten a ride into town from a random shuttle driver passing by, but had to walk with his pack full of our food the three miles back from town.
Since he knew I was struggling, Erik surprised me when he came back with all of my favorite snack foods I’ve had on trail all at the same time: Reese’s Cups, strawberries, blueberries, three packages of sour gummy worms, and two bottles of my favorite flavor of Body Armor. He’s the best.
We made plans to walk to the next shelter a little over two miles away and call it a day. The break at the trailhead and the break in the afternoon after we got to the shelter were what I needed. I got a mental reset and was ready to push north again.
After looking at some maps, we realized things wouldn’t really flatten out until after Virginia. We decided we weren’t going to try to push more miles in a day again until we got past the southern climbing. We’re out here to enjoy the journey. If we’re tired, that won’t happen. It’s more important to us to enjoy the moment than to reach Katahdin.
Last one to Katahdin wins.
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