How I’ve Changed After 1,000 Miles: Damascus, VA, to Harpers Ferry, WV
Well, I’ve hit a milestone that seemed nearly insurmountable when I was standing on Springer Mountain: 1,000 miles of hiking. It took a lot of effort to add that extra zero to my total mileage.
I hit 1,000 a few days ago, and I’ve spent the time since reflecting on my journey thus far. One of the first people I met on trail, Tiny Dancer, gave me some good advice that I’m still following: look back at how much you’ve changed after the first day, first week, first month, and so on—it will amaze you. And it has amazed me. There are so many things I love about the trail, but the things that I do every day now seem routine, even mundane (even though most everyone would still find them interesting to hear about). This new attitude towards my journey has made it difficult to write these posts—I have trouble coming up with major events that I feel need to be written about. But I knew this milestone deserved a post, and I think that the extended time has given me room to reflect on the most important things I’ve experienced so far.
I Love the Simplicity of Hiking
It’s hard to describe how much the lifestyle I’m living has affected me. If I were to distill it into one word, it would be simplicity. There is such a feeling of calm knowing that everything I need to live is on my back, and I only need to do one thing during the day: walk.
At the end of the day, I get to set up camp around people with whom I have an instant connection. How many times in your life do you get to sit down and share a meal with a complete stranger? I can say that this happens almost every day for me. Friendships are struck up quickly and easily because everyone is doing the same thing, and we all crave connection in the woods.
This singularity of purpose is so refreshing when most days back home are filled with stress surrounding work, transportation, finances, and relationships.
Ironhusk, or Husk, my first hiking partner, showed me a YouTube video that sums up the most special aspect of the trail—the people. The stories, generosity, courage, and diversity of backgrounds of the people I’ve met never cease to amaze me. At times, it’s made me emotional. People come out here seeking escape, recovery, solace, epiphany, and fellowship with the wilderness.
I’ve met doctors and ultra-athletes. I’ve met a man whose last home before the trail was a hammock strung up on the beach. I’ve met veterans who told me how they got used to constant mortar barrages and the death of their friends. I’ve met alcoholics who are in recovery—and some who aren’t. I’ve met a man buried in a NYC firehouse during 9/11. I’ve met a family of 16 all hiking the trail together. I’ve met Australians, English, Germans, Irish, South Africans, Swiss and many more people from abroad. All are out here for different reasons. All are equally incredible.
My Favorite Memories
I want to cap off this post with some of my favorite memories from this past section.
I spent two days at Woods Hole Hostel. It is one of the most peaceful stays I’ve had on trail, and made extra special by the owner, Neville. Every morning Neville bakes fresh loaves of bread and picks greens and vegetables from her garden to make guests delicious breakfasts and dinners. Her 19th century cabin is made of beautiful chestnut wood, a once abundant tree that is now nearly eradicated from North America. I went to sleep with a clear view of the valley below, and woke up to a sunrise through a clearing in the trees.
Coming back from trail days, Singsong and I were dropped off about an hour from where we got off trail. After trying to hitch for an hour, an older man picked us up. He turned out to be a cattle farmer that lived nearby. Instead of bringing us down the road before the turn to his farm, he brought us up to his ranch, showed us around, gave us drinks and snacks, and then drove us another hour right back to the trail. Thank you, Gene.
I met some thru-hikers on McAfee Knob, and we all decided to hike to Tinker Cliffs for sunset. Having dinner with new friends and watching the most beautiful sunset of my life made this one of my favorite nights on trail.
Other Amazing Memories
Handmade built all of his backpacking equipment himself. He is also hiking the whole trail barefoot, and his diet consists solely of pop tarts, oatmeal, peanut butter, and chocolate chips. I last saw him outside of Damascus, but I hear that he is still on trail doing just fine.
Bittersweet is an Irishman that packs out marshmallows after every resupply. At shelters, he builds massive fires and whittles sticks for everyone to roast mallows after dinner.
Lynx is a hiker who taught me how to forage Stinging Nettle. After steaming the plants in my pot, it kind of tasted like spinach. Later that evening we ordered a Colossal Pizza to Partnership Shelter (it was so big that not even two thru-hikers could finish it!)
I spent Trail Days, a celebration for AT hikers in Damascus, VA, in the coolest tent in Tent City. A bubble machine and pool floaties made it a fun little party. Nighttime revealed a second tent city in the woods that seemed to go on forever. The local church took us on the “Cool Bus” back towards trail at the end of the weekend.
Other Cool Photos
Vamp makes a new friend
I think it is rare to realize that one is experiencing a life changing moment as it is occurring. I feel lucky to be in that position. I can’t wait to see what experiences the next 1,000 miles (and change) will bring my way.
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