Blazing Through Virginia

They say you aren’t a real thru-hiker until you’ve shit your pants. Even though I haven’t quite checked that box, I can’t help but think I’ve finally gotten my trail legs under me. I’m writing this post from over halfway into Virginia and I definitely have a routine. That routine, however, does not contain regularly blogging. I wake up, check what shelter is 17-23 miles from me, and make my way there while listening to some music or a podcast.

The terrain in Virginia has been the most forgiving I’ve seen out of any state so far. Most days see mostly mild ups and downs on ridge lines with one or two 1000 or 1500 foot climbs. In the first three states, climbs upwards of 2000 feet were commonplace, and right when you got down one of those mountains you would go straight into another.
The views have also been some of the best on trail. Last post, (a month ago, oops) I said it finally felt like Spring is here, but now that I’m actually seeing Spring, I jumped the gun saying that. The leaves and flowers are budding, and the heat is already making me drink an extra liter or two of water on top of the usual four liters every day. You might think this would mean less views as everything gets covered by leaves, but rocky ledges, open pastures, and animals are more than making up for it.

The green tunnel in all its glory.

Spring on the Trail

Deer, rabbits, ticks, and all the local birds are all out in full force, and walking through farms you get a lot of funny looks from the cows. Coming through Symm’s Gap on Peter Mountain, there was even a group of goats harassing hikers as they passed. When I saw them, I went through nice and slow with no sudden movements, and that was enough for them to leave me alone. To top it all off I was lucky enough to see a beautiful sunrise from Mcafee Knob, arguably the most famous view of the trail.
There are a lot more section hikers on trail now. I thought that the farther North I got the less crowded it would be, but with the end of the cold weather, people are coming out for weekend trips and summer vacations. This is probably localized around famous sections of trail like the Grayson Highlands or the Virginia Triple Crown, but that combined with my new speed is making me see a lot of new faces around. Every day I’m hearing stories and gossip about trail names I’ve never heard before.

A washed out bridge and my first river fording

As you know I was rolling my ankle and taking it slow a lot originally, but since those first few weeks, I haven’t had any injuries and I’ve done nothing but get more comfortable with longer days and bigger miles. My walking pace hasn’t changed much, but I can spend 10 or 12 hours including breaks walking in a day. This can mean a lot of night hiking as I like taking my mornings slow, but that isn’t really a bad thing. More animals come out at night and I don’t have to worry about sunburns that late.

Blue and Yellow Blazing

Since I got to Virgina, I’ve taken alternate routes pretty often. A “blue blaze” is what people call it when you take a different trail diverting from then coming back to the AT itself. A yellow blaze is the same thing but with road crossings. They can save a few miles, have an easier grade, or bring you to some incredible views you wouldn’t get otherwise.

My first blue blaze was taking the Creeper Trail out of Damascus, a bike trail that crisscrosses the AT a few times. While the AT goes over some viewless peaks in that stretch, the Creeper Trail parallels a meandering river with dozens of bridges crossing over it. Some purists say that these alternate routes “invalidate” a thru-hike, but since I’m still walking an unbroken line from Springer to Katahdin, I really don’t see the issue.
I’ve also taken the Blue-Ridge Parkway as a yellow blaze a few times. It’s flanked by overlooks and picnic areas with trash cans, so as long as I was able to dodge the ticks, it really was just a nicer time than the trail for a bit. It’s a bit of a trial run for Skyline Drive through Shenandoah. For the next 100 miles the trail criss crosses Skyline Drive, letting you choose between trail and road walking whenever you want, and this time the picnic areas have restaurants and bathrooms from time to time.

And On I Go

A river I forgot the name of right before Glasgow, VA

Like I said before, blogging hasn’t quite integrated itself into my trail routine yet. I really like it out here, and I want to write to encourage people to make their own journeys, but for now I’m too busy enjoying my own. If you find yourself wondering if I’m still on trail these next few months, the answer is definitely yes, even if my blog is a bit lacking. With all that said, on I walk. Maybe you’ll hear more about Skyline Drive in a week or so from me.

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Comments 3

  • YeeHa of BeeChHill : May 25th

    Great post Solomon! I especially appreciated your fabulous river photo with the great sky/clouds reflection. I’m not certain of your precise location for that image, but the confluence of the Maury River and the Upper James River is near Glasgow, with the James River continuing from Glasgow through the Commonwealth of Virginia to the Chesapeake Bay. Virginia has many wonderful rivers, trails and mountains. I’m happy that you’re enjoying them! Best wishes for a good walk all the way to Katahdin.

    • Solomon Browne : May 28th

      I had no idea you guys were following my blog! Your hostel was definitely a great stop along the way. I’m still thinking about those vegan pigs in a blanket from time to time.

  • Carolyn Giannini : Jul 22nd

    Hey Solomon! I just had a great chat with your mom, we are the neighbors in the big yellow house with the tree swing and our dog Henry. We’re so inspired and amazed by what you’re doing!!! I just read your blog posts and did not want them to end but I can see why enjoying the trail and living the moment has taken precedence over writing. See you soon and enjoy the rest of your journey 🙂 Carolyn and Lindsey


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