A Case for Virginia
If there’s one thing that terrifies every new NOBO AT hiker, it’s Virginia.
As you enter the quaint southern VA town of Damascus, you’re somewhere around 470 miles into your journey. You’re hitting stride, feeling good and building a routine; 3 states down, pfft, this is getting easy. You flick through your trail guide to see when you’re going to finish Virginia. Oh, no. It’s over 540 miles. More than you’ve ever hiked before.
It’s for this reason it’s common for hikers to experience ‘The Virginia Blues’. The going is getting tough, and you better get going. However, now I’m on the other side of the West Virginia border, I can honestly say that Virginia is a fantastic state. I loved my time hiking through it, but to overpower the heavy stereotype of boredom, I’m here to create a case for Virginia.
So lets start with the pro’s,
Starting right at the beginning, you enter VA and hit THE AT trail town. Not only is Damascus just the nicest little town, but it also plays host to AT trail days. Everyone is going to head off trail and spend the weekend reuniting and having a cheeky little party. When we walked through Damascus, the power was out of the entire town; being the hiker friendly town they are, generators were fired-up and the town came together to make sure these filthy hikers could get a hot meal and a bottomless coffee. Any town with that kind of hospitality is right up my alley.
2. Shenandoah National Park
A few hundred miles into the state, you hit the trails second national park. For anyone who’s not really a fan of hiking (which is a lot of people after 700 miles) Shenandoah is the place for you! The trail is a red carpet rolled out before you, lined with 6 feet of soft springy dirt, and clear of root and rock. It can go one of two ways for a hiker- either you start to push 20 mile days without any effort, or you can stop every single day, in every single wayside to get as many ice cold beers as possible. Or hot sandwiches, whatever floats your boat. For this 100 mile stretch of trail, you begin to feel like royalty. I should know, I’m English.
3. McAfee Knob
I’m really using the name McAfee knob as a decoy. Yeah, it’s everyones favourite picture from the AT, but Tinker Cliffs is the real all-star. I say this as a person who didnt get up to the knob by sunrise so I’m biased against it. Tinker Cliffs is a real gem that I wasnt expecting after McAfee. The exposed rock gave a great view over the valley and the hike to it was a lot easier than the other Virginia triple crown hikes. So it was more reward for my minimal effort, and I’m a huge fan of that. Of course, McAfee was great too, I promise the pics are worth it- but my social media is overwhelmed with everyones photo on the knob. And doesn’t that just sound disgraceful.
4. The Holiday Inn
Entirely personal one here, but Daleville had multiple chain hotels with real people things. Like private toilets and 2 ply toilet paper. I like that stuff.
5. The Length of Virginia
This one takes a bit of backwards engineering. Sure the 540 miles are scary, but by the time you’re done with it you’ll be over 1000 miles into the trail! That’s the first time I have ever hiked that far; and all I had to do was finish one more measly state! You have so many milestones within VA that you can celebrate (500-1000) that make you feel really accomplished in your AT hike. If you manage to make it through, your self confidence will be at an all time high- there is nothing that can stop you!
6. Grayson Highland Ponies.
I’m reticent to put this one in here, so it’s going last. Around the mile 500 mark there are the ponies. Everyone loves the wild ponies. Yay, ponies. Its not like every walk in the UK goes through farm fields, so you have to avoid the ponies at all costs. Plus I only saw 6 ponies the whole time I was there- which I wasn’t entirely mad about. Also, did you know that a group of ponies is called a string, but a group of horses is a team? That was my highlight of the ponies. The girls I was hiking with loved them though, so they make the list.
The list could go on and on but for brevity’s sake I’ll leave it there. So ‘Virginia Blues’ be damned, I’m all loved up for Virginia. And if you know the states motto, that’ll make sense to you.
However, I really thought I was mentally prepared for anything in Virginia. Though one thing broke me.
Three ridges. A mountain that seemed so tolerable, the last hurdle before Waynesboro and the Shenandoah park. What a hurdle it was though. While stunningly beautiful for the eyes the entire time, my legs had never been put through a punishment quite like it. Four back to back mountains, with a collective 24,000ft+ elevation was the nail in the coffin for legs that longed for blackberry milkshakes and beer in the national park. I did not shed a tear while climbing the last mountain, but only because I was too dehydrated to do so. Heed my warning, enjoy Virginia, but survive Three ridges.
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