My First Week on the Trail: Embracing the Life
Sometimes (a lot of times), this means embracing the suck. The first few days of this hike can really be summed up in an exchange I witnessed between a fellow flip-flopper, Cujoe, and his nephew. We are in the middle of the woods starting to set up camp and the rain is starting again.
Nephew: “Embrace the suck!”
Cujoe: “I thought it would take a little longer for it to start sucking.”
This first week has thrown a little bit of everything at the bubble of fresh, green flip-floppers who hit the Trail last weekend. Mainly, we have had rain. We’ve also experienced a little heat and humidity, plus some less-than-comfortable chilly weather. There have been one or two sunny, gorgeous days and some beautiful views so far, too. Adjusting to my new life has been a challenge, but I am adjusting.
Day 1: The trail is calling
No, rewind. Day before Day 1: I bought my train ticket a month ago. My dad realizes the night I am leaving that it is the wrong ticket. That train left last night. So I drop 90 bucks on another ticket. Great start, right? Perspective: at least I didn’t get to the train station and not have a ticket for the train I needed to be on. Because then it would have been more of a cry fest than it already was (I am really bad at goodbyes).
After spending eleven mostly sleepless hours on a train, I arrive in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia. I had never traveled by train before, so it was a new experience. My imagination wanted it to be like the Hogwarts Express (an unrealistic expectation, I know), but it was a pleasant trip. After stopping by the ATC Headquarters in Harper’s Ferry to get the obligatory aspiring thruhiker picture taken, I started my thruhike in the rain, despite the staff and volunteers trying to convince me to start Sunday. Probably a wiser choice; I had even booked a hostel room in case my train had been late. But I decided I needed to start, for my own emotional wellbeing. If I can’t start in the rain, what kind of a hiker am I?
It was a lonely, wet, slightly demoralizing 6.2 mile trek. I asked myself “why am I doing this” every couple feet. What would I do if I got to the shelter and I was the only one there? Turn around and go back? Would there even be enough daylight? Probably not. I would have to gut it out. Embrace the suck, as the saying goes out here on the Trail. (Luckily, the shelter was crowded.) Before hitting the Trail, I thought that I would never stay in a shelter. Well, I stayed in the shelter, because no one likes setting a tent up in the rain. Threshold crossed.
Day 2: Sunshine & crab cakes
We wake up to the sun! I hiked a good portion of the day with Buckshot and Intrepid after running into both the of them at White Rocks in Maryland. They gave me my trail name! I am “Vulture”, thanks to Flat Elliott. Works for me, as I have learned to speak their language because of my job at the Ohio Bird Sanctuary. I hike 10 miles to Dahlgren campground, which has a restroom, a shower, a bear pole, water I don’t have to treat, and a restaurant just up the hill. Win x 5. Buckshot and I go for dinner at the South Mountain Inn. I paid an arm and a leg for the best crab cakes I have had in my life. My parents had their wedding rehearsal dinner at the Inn in 1989, so I figured I couldn’t just walk past it.
Day 3: No rain, no Maine
It is raining again. In case you have never tried packing wet gear in wet weather, it is pretty rotten. Plus everything feels heavier because it is. I break out the rain pants. The rain tapers off as I make it to the Washington Monument, which I climb to take in the incredible view. I enjoyed a late breakfast under a pavilion with Cujoe and his nephew, and we meet thruhiker-turned-ridgerunner Papa Bear. He shares some stories with us and advice. He is a great guy! I run into him later that day and the next day and he always has a jolly smile and encouraging word to share. Thanks for all you do, Papa Bear!
The view at Annapolis Rocks is amazing. I get to Pogo campsite and spend a terrifying 45 minutes wondering if I will have to spend the night here by myself. The only thing that makes it one step up from roughing it is the privy. Cujoe, his nephew, and JD roll in and I relax a little. Unfortunately, the rain comes steadily throughout the night with some wind too. I don’t sleep much. The only real win for me is that I successfully hang my bear bag by myself. No bear pole, cables, nothing. Just me, a carabiner, some paracord, and a rock. And I use a falconer ‘s knot, something I use at work all the time but never thought would come in handy elsewhere. Boom. God knew I needed at least one win that night.
Day 4: Getting stronger
The break in the rain is just long enough that I don’t have to pack up my gear in the rain, although everything is wet. Today was another 10-miler, which I am trying to stick to for now, although it is hard. I want to hike more miles, but I know I need to start slow and let my body adjust. The most challenging part about it is that it gives me too much time to think. I am looking forward to days when I can hike all day, pull into camp and sleep through the night. The hiking seemed easier today and my toes and shins weren’t hurting as bad toward the end of the hike. It did rain again and was getting windy, plus there was a big climb up to the shelter that left me drenched in sweat. I immediately cooked my hot meal, did a tick check, put my camp clothes on and crawled into my sleeping bag to warm up. By the time other hikers started rolling in, I was warmer and feeling better. The shelter was full that night due to the inclement weather. I enjoyed the good company.
Day 5: One state down
I woke up to find a nice hole in my sleeping bag, courtesy of a mouse, I think. Duct tape and a rubber band should hold it until I can get some tenacious tape over it in town. We hiked through some rough rocks in the morning. I was glad to be hiking with Discount for that section to have a second opinion on which way the trail went and where the next blaze was. Pen-Mar Park was the halfway point for my ten-miler so I stopped there to snack and take my rain gear off because the sun came out! There was a great view and I ran into Soggy and his dog Nero who offered to give me a ride into town. I turned it down, knowing I need to stick out my first week. After the park, I walked out of Maryland and into Pennsylvania! One state down! I camped at Deer Lick Shelters and hung out all my gear to dry.
Day 6: Routine
The highlight of the night was hearing two barred owls calling! I am sleeping a tiny bit better every night (I think, I hope). The morning started out foggy but cleared up around noon. I catch up with Chocoholic after about five miles and hike the rest of my ten miles with her. It is nice to have someone to talk to. I spend the night at Rocky Mountain shelters. Golf and Chin Music show up soon after and I enjoy talking with them. The rest of my flip flopper bubble shows up a few hours later. Cujoe, Hootie, and JD had gone into town earlier and brought me some onion rings!
Day 7: Get ready for a zero!
I hike three miles into Caledonia state park and wait for my ride into town. My boss’s daughter Sarah is picking me up and taking me to her grandma’s house for two nights where I can do laundry, take a shower, charge my devices, and rest and eat real food. While I wait for Sarah, I explore the park, soak my feet in the stream, and use the nicest state park restrooms I have ever seen to wash up a little. You know you are a thruhiker when washing your hands with soap is a luxury.
Sarah and her grandma thoroughly spoil me. It is wonderful and I am super grateful. It is a welcome reward at the end of my first week on the trail!
The first week has thrown a little of everything at me, which has been rough but good. There was rain, there was some heat, I stayed in shelters, I used my tent, used every manner of bear bag system, and dealt with that rough time of the month for women. Currently I am lying in a real bed and taking my first zero day. Starting tomorrow I get to slackpack for a few days, thanks to my own trail angels.
Here’s to week 2 and logging more miles!
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