Achieving the 20 mile day…
Breaking through the 20 mile day
After two months on the trail I was able to break through the mental and physical challenge of achieving a 20 mile day. This achievement represents both a physical and mental accomplishment. Hiking from 7:30 am to 8:30 pm in one day, with breaks for snacking and rehydrating is what it took to walk from Pinefield Hut, mile marker 895.8, to Bearfence Mountain Hut, mile marker 916.4. Physically I was prepared for the hike after two months on the trail. It was the psychological limitations that were holding me back up to this point. I tended to think too much about the distance to be covered, and my slower hiking speed. The 20 mile hike just seemed to be a quest too far.
Encouragement from friends
The weather on June 16th started out warm and humid. Later in the morning it started to rain. This lowered the temperature significantly, which the hiking conditions. A group of us stopped at the Hightop Hut, mile marker 904.0, at midday to get a break from the downpour and have some lunch. Among the folks that were stopped at the Hightop Hut were two people that psyched me up for the challenge. They were ‘Leap Frog’ and ‘Extra Mile’. While taking cover from the storm, we were contemplating what would be the next course of action. The choices were call it a day and stay at the Hightop Hut, or forge on for a 20 mile hike. ‘Leap Frog’ used some very simple logic. She said that today was a wash, literally. Our feet were already wet, so why not just extend the hiking day in the cooler weather and just continue hiking in the rain. Then you can recover the next day with a shorter hike. This sure beat wasting the rest of the day sitting in a shelter, so I decided to follow the man back out on the trail.
Focus and persistence
When it rains on the trail one must be careful not to get too chilled by the weatherboard conditions. Hiking with my rain jacket on generated enough heat to keep me comfortably warm. The sound and feel of the rain drops provided the extra touch, like a white noise, that just allowed me to focus on hiking. Step by step I continued my journey towards my destination, as there were no other shelters located between Hightop Hut and Bearfence Mountain Hut. In the Shenandoah National Park there are concrete posts that appear at certain spots along the trail. These sign posts have information stamped on metal bands that tell the hiker when they have arrived at a junction where a side trail will take you to a significant spot, or announce the distance to the next shelter or trail milestone. It seemed like a long time between sign posts, but eventually I came upon the sign post announcing the side trail for the South River Picnic Area, mile marker 910.5. The realization that I was within six miles of achieving my first 20 mile day added the additional encouragement and confidence that I needed to achieve my goal. When I reached Bearfence Mountain Hut, I had a sense of relief and accomplishment. There was only one other person in the shelter, so all I had to do was unroll my sleeping pad and sleeping bag, change into dry clothes, andi call it a night.
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