Giving Up Is Not In The Blood
If there’s a perfect town to rest and recover, it’s Narrows, VA. Some would disagree – after all, there are only two restaurants (one of which is Burger King). The only entertainment is the local duck pond. But after living on the trail for almost two months, the thought of another Gatlinburg is like a hellish fever dream: simply too much stimulation for this tired boy. Narrows, and it’s soft-spoken denizens, are all the civilization I can handle.
It’s been a rough few days. I’ve been down, but not out. My hardest day on the trail was just two days ago, when I nearly (ok, not so nearly) welled up with hot tears of joy at the sight of Woods Hole Hostel after only a 14 mile day.
How did I get to such a low place? Well, let me take you back a week or so, and catch y’all up on Willy’s Wild Adventure…
No Zeroes For Weather
This is not a popular opinion, and I don’t look askance at those who disagree – but I refuse to take a Zero (i.e. skip a day of hiking) just for bad weather. In the last month there have been at least two times when the weather has dropped into the 20’s, with strong winds, snow, and sleet, and I’ve stayed out in the weather with The Homestead (my lovely tramily). We’ve suffered, we’ve bonded, and we’ve gotten through it. Sometimes with more griping than gratitude, but hey – we’re stronger for it.
When we hit the southern border of VA, I knew we weren’t livin’ on easy street just yet. It’s popular on the trail to say “Virginia is flat” and “Virginia is easy”, but having grown up in this lovely state, I knew for a fact that’s not what to expect. The stretch of the AT through Southwestern VA lacks the prominences other sections of the trail have, but I’ve done my fair share of ridge walking to know how the continuous ups and downs, the rocky and rooty trails, and endless false summits can take their toll on your feet, legs, and mind.
Mount Rogers and Grayson Highlands made damn sure everyone else knew this as well. Although we were well into April, we awoke to frozen solid boots (although at least we’ve learned to prop them open the night before), to trek through a rocky, icy wilderness while getting absolutely cross-blasted by the late winter winds. With furrowed brows and full rain gear, we pushed up and over, and were rewarded with ponies, a reunion with my favorite family, the Corbetts (otherwise known as the “Banana Family”), and the satisfaction that comes with shared challenge and achievement.
But these are the days I live for! These are the days I easily drop into a “flow” state and feel the grit in my soul that pushes me onward. These are the days I know I’m doing exactly what I’m supposed to be doing.
My point being: these are not the days that make me want to throw in the towel.
Cheese, A Very Good Source of Fat and Protein. Also, Very Perishable.
A few days later I arrived in Bland, VA to pick up my new boots. My Hoka Kaha’s served me well the first 592 miles, and a second pair were awaiting me at the PO. Also awaiting me was a cornucopia of snacks sent ahead by my wonderful mother – including some soft cheese I had already forwarded on from Damascus, where I’d received a surprise box from some friends back in CA and ended up with more food than I knew what to do with. You’d think I’d know this, but “refrigerate after opening” does not necessarily mean something lasts indefinitely until it’s been opened. You can probably guess where this is going.
I put in a 22.5 mile day out of Bland, starting around 12:30, and got to Dismal Falls (mile 612) around 6:30 (including at least four, 15-min. stops for water – so an average pace of ~4.5 mph). The first two miles were hot road miles uphill along the highway back to the AT, as I had no luck hitching a ride out of town (although of course, I had no problem hitching a ride downhill into town the evening before). I was really hoofin’ it to Dismal Falls and the promise of an icy dip after a hot day – but I should have recognized the onset of heat exhaustion. Even if you stay hydrated, take SaltStick tablets (my personal favorite electrolyte supplement), and eat plenty of snacks, there’s only so much your body can do when you’re pushing that hard. My hip flexors were hard knots by the end of the day, and I felt my focus waning – signs of the “zonked” feeling that mean you need to stop.
Did I do the smart thing and stop early? Of course not. I’m turning 30 this year. I’m still a foolish young man.
I got to camp, pounded back a proffered PBR, and set to work devouring dinner – including the cheese. It was dark when I ate it, so I can’t say what it looked like. But it had a distinctly… pungent taste.
Six hours later, and for the rest of the night, I was emptying my stomach contents as far away from my tent as I could stumble.
My Hardest Day On The Trail
That next day was rough, brother. According to my fancy schmancy Garmin watch, I got less than 1 hour of sleep, and I felt it. I retained no food and water from the previous day, and although the hike to Woods Hole was probably the easiest mileage and elevation gain of my last month on the trail, I had to sit down almost every mile to stop and rest. I even slept a couple of hours halfway through the day. It was all I could do to keep putting one foot in front of the other. There were times the only thing keeping me going was my favorite mantra, by Nirmal Purja: “Giving up is not in the blood” (seriously, if you haven’t watched 14 Peaks, you should stop reading this right now and go do that). If those hard-ass sherpas could summit K2 in the dark with trenchfoot, I could keep walking.
When I finally got to Woods Hole, I didn’t mind that there was mouse poop on my bed and pillow (seriously – that’s gross). I didn’t mind that they weirdly kept pushing all of us to do chores, even though we weren’t work-for-stay. I just slept, like a corpse.
10+ hours of sleep and a few good meals later, I felt like a million dollars. But I’m getting a little older, and hopefully a little wiser, every day. So I decided my next day would be a short 12-miler into Narrows for a Zero, and it’s been the best decision I’ve made on the trail so far.
The AT is a marathon, not a sprint. If I’m going to make it to Maine, I’ve got to pace myself (ugh). Giving up is not in the blood, sir. It’s not in the blood.
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