Day 70: Almost Heaven
I Hear the Drizzle of the Rain
Rain tapped on the roof of the van all night, just to remind me I’d be getting wet again tomorrow. It was still out there during my breakfast, but switched to tapping on my head the second I stepped out the door. Gus climbed out of the van with me, took one hard look at the sky, and climbed right back in.
I’ve never had a day on the AT yet where I didn’t feel like hiking. Every day so far, I’ve woken up excited to get my miles and to see what I will see. But today I could empathize with Gus. The thought of walking for a third day in a row in the rain, with no views and lots of slippery rocks, almost made me climb back in bed. Almost. But sunny day hikers don’t get to Maine, so I geared up and headed out, hopeful that the trail had something pleasant in store for me.
Rain Days and Thursdays Always Get Me Down
Another hiker walked out of the hostel as I walked up the Bear’s Den driveway toward the blue blaze trail back to the AT, but he was in no mood for conversation. Northstar and I had walked up to the hostel last night and gotten the same vibe from everyone in there except from Glen, the caretaker. A hostile hostel. After a couple of one-word answers from the grumpy hiker, I got the message and moved on. Just as well. I’d gotten a couple of work emails overnight that I needed to pointlessly obsess over for hours.
Which I did as I worked my way up the last few bumps of the Rollercoaster. Fortunately, at the top of the second climb I passed a young man hiking alone. He pulled aside to let me pass and I got a friendly hello in response to mine. And then a thoughtful answer to one of standard hiking questions, a rare treatment from a younger hiker. And then he sped up a bit to match my pace and we had the longest trail conversation I’ve had since Buff went home after the Smokies.
Wiz and I talked gear (he worked at REI and hikes with an umbrella), pack weight (light but not ridiculous), blue blazing (getting less purist as the miles add up, we both took the Campbell Creek blue blaze), mileage (he’s doing 20’s), bear encounters (I won that one), more about gear (water filters mostly, he likes the Platypus, I like my Be Free), Virginia Blues (he thinks it’s the length of the state, but he’s wrong), Vanlife (the pros and cons), the Rollercoaster (overhyped, but not easy), best section (Grayson Highlands), why we’re hiking (doing hard things is healthy), tramilies (his is spread out over 200 miles now), and just about everything else trail related. He was a walking encyclopedia of trail information.
We walked right out of the Rollercoaster and didn’t even notice until we were a mile down the trail. Somewhere in there, a hiker flew past us in a blur and Wiz said, “He’s definitely done a previous thru-hike. Look at his pack. And you don’t get that pace until you’ve hiked a couple thousand miles.”
Hard Worn Trail
Sure enough, when we stopped for lunch at the David Lesser Memorial Shelter, we met the guy, and he told us he’d done the Continental Divide Trail last year. He said he averages about 35 miles a day and four mph (walking speed). I got the same “the Camino is not a real hiking trail” response I got from Pay It Forward, the last triple crowner I met a month ago. But he disagreed with Pay It Forward, saying the AT is much more physically demanding than the CDT because of the AT’s constant up and down.
Wiz and his friend Sam, who caught up just as we left the Lesser Shelter, planned to hike all the way to Harpers Ferry today. I thought about hiking on with them, as the miles fly by when I have someone to talk to. But I’d had enough rain walking and decided to stop at Keys Gap to get started on what would likely be a rainy drive to Indianapolis. Also, I want the walk into Harpers Ferry to be more of a celebration.
I passed the Virginia/West Virginia border sign just before I met Wiz. Just like seeing the 1,000-mile marker yesterday, the milestone lost some of its luster for me, knowing that I still had 108 miles of trail left to hike in the Shenandoahs. So, I decided I’d rather save the thrill of crossing the Shenandoah River Bridge and walking up the hill to the ATC headquarters in Harpers Ferry for when I’m really done with Virginia.
Northstar pulled up just after I got to Keys Gap at 12:30. She had the van all gassed up and ready for an eight-hour drive. Unlike the last time we got pulled off the trail, this time we both know we’ll be back. See you in a few days.
- Start: Bear’s Den Hostel (Mile 1005.5)
- End: Keys Gap (Mile 1019.8)
- Weather: Rain, Drizzle, 5 minutes bright enough for a shadow, then more rain
- Earworm: That John Denver song…you know the one, but we don’t say it out loud lest it return .
- Meditation: Mt. 18:19-20
- Plant of the Day: Blackberries (acres of them!)
- Best Thing: A conversation
- Worst Thing: Rain, Part III
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