Humans of the Trail: SOBO Days 119 – 127
The tramily split up at Woods Hole. I’m being dramatic. But it did.
In the spirit of “hike your own hike”, some people stayed for a zero, and others, myself included, left after a blissful nearo. It was hard to leave such a magical place, but it felt right for me to carry on. No hard feelings, no drama, just love, good vibes, and all of us hiking our own hike.
Out of the bubble for now, I thought I’d be alone more often, but that has been proven otherwise. SOBO has been anything but a solitary experience for me, and this section has further reinforced that.
A Lone Woman in the Woods
I almost never hike alone. Gravy and I hike together, mile after mile: 25% of the time silently, 35% of the time talking about dismantling the systemic patriarchy of the trail, and 40% of the time dreaming about food.
Feeling thankful for spending hundreds of miles with the tramily, it felt weirdly quiet to leave Woods Hole just as a duo. Alas, we ran into Stretch and Lotus, and later, Bears, others who managed to convince themselves to leave the warmth of the hostel. I’m learning that you’re never alone on the Appalachian Trail, something my family probably would have found reassuring to know before I set off.
Shortly after leaving Woods Hole, I was already out of food. After a dry, dry day of hiking, Gravy and I managed a hitch to the town of Bland with the Counts (thanks again!). They were in the area to support their daughter, who was section hiking. Despite dealing with car trouble themselves, they kindly drove us to the nearby grocery store, waited for us to resupply, and then drove us back. The generosity I’ve found on the trail just warms my heart!
Back at the trailhead, I realized that I forgot to fill up my water bottles in town. Disheartened by the lack of water in the miles ahead, I glanced anxiously at my half litre remaining. At the same time that I started to wander over to a nearby church in search of an outdoor spigot, a friend of Hawk’s waved me over for some water from some jugs in his vehicle. Surprised and grateful, I accepted, and then waved to Hawk as he took off for a quick off-trail break.
Still at the trailhead, I met Sticky Fingers and his wife, who is supporting him in a camper van. A longtime dream of mine, she let me take a peak inside the vehicle, prompting my mind to run wild with my own dreams of a van conversion.
Finally, with Dunk, another frequent face in the SOBO bubble, Gravy and I headed uphill (why is there always an uphill right after I’ve refilled my food bag) in search of a dispersed camping site. Settling for something sub-par, but with a great sunset view, I chowed down on (probably) a Knorr’s rice side and climbed into my tent.
Cry it Out
Sometimes you just need to sit down on the side of the trail and cry it out.
The next day of hiking, it was abnormally warm and there was more elevation gain than recent miles. I felt particularly down, a hip injury making me feel slow. The stress and anxiety surrounding off-trail plans compounded and swirled in my head, despite my best efforts to quell their appearance, and eventually I choked on a sob and had to sit down on trail.
Was I dehydrated? Absolutely. Does that contribute to wild emotional swings? Absolutely. Did I realize that in the moment? Nope.
Sobbing on the side of the trail, Gravy set down his pack and waited tentatively to see what had caused me to freak out.
Sniffling, I wiped tears away as I noticed Sticky Fingers approaching and engaged in some cheery chatter. As he walked away, I sighed. I felt okay. I felt fine. The world wasn’t immediately crashing down on me anymore. Actually, I probably just needed a snack.
Merry in Marion
The next morning, I impromptu decided to hike 24 miles to make it Marion. Cruising through pastures (one of my favourite trail attractions, I love seeing the cows!) and taking short breaks to rehydrate and eat throughout the day, I managed to get there around suppertime.
A shuttle, arranged by the Merry Inn, picked Gravy and I up and brought us to town. There, we met Wolfram, a hiker whose shelter logbook entries I’ve been reading for miles, but had never met. C.B., a hiker buddy that we hadn’t seen in a while, was also hanging out at the hostel.
Coach, the new owner of the hostel, gave us a quick tour, and we promised to visit the gear shop below in the morning. The first priorities arriving in town are always shower, then food.
A Full Shelter
The next evening, I found myself at Partnership Shelter, with a surprising number of people. Dunk had caught up, we met Heat Lightning and No Polo, other thru hikers, for the first time. There were also two section hikers who were enthusiastic about sharing information about their past sections, the sections coming up for me. To top it off, I met a Canadian couple headed NOBO with a 12-month timeline. Very cool! So many different stories, experiences of the trail, and types of people all crammed into one little wooden hut.
Where Did the Miles Go?
The next day was another 24-mile day, but I scarcely noticed. With fresh feet, great weather, lovely scenery, a surprise encounter with a meadow full of cows, I felt at peace with the trail, at home on the trail. Days like that are often, honestly. It feels like I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be and I get lost soaking up the moments as the miles fly by.
At the shelter that night were dozens and dozens of weekend warriors. I found myself eating dinner with an AT section hiker on his last ever section after 40 years. He was with friends who were PCT and AT alumni, respectively. It was awesome to hear their stories and compare experiences. The conversation about gear made me grateful for all of the advancements in the ultralight gear industry over the last couple dozen years.
Woah, That’s A Lot of People
I distinctly remember coming back from a four-day hiking trip in high school and going to the grocery store the same day. I became overwhelmed by the sounds, sights, and people almost immediately. The over-stimulation after serene time in the forest was crushing and I wanted to get out of there as fast as possible.
I felt similarly as I walked through the Grayson Highlands. Of course, I conveniently timed this section of the trail to take place on a weekend. Good job, Jana. So, as I stared in wonderment and glee at the gorgeous views around me, so did hundreds of other hikers.
After a hundred “hellos” and “happy trails”, I felt weary with the interactions. I seriously was feeling like an introverted hermit as I crossed the 1700 mile marker.
A Town Day
Like any town day, I aimed to cover the morning’s miles as quickly as possible so I could maximize the time in town. As such, I found myself at the Broken Fiddle hostel right around lunchtime.
After accomplishing the day’s chores, I was off to supper after being reacquainted with some other SOBO hikers: Tick Bite, No Kidding, Stretch, and Lotus.
The next morning, I guessed my end date for Springer Mountain, and booked a flight home. Talk about surreal. But let’s not think too hard about that yet, still three states to go.
I’ve heard of many different renditions of the SOBO experience. Setting out, I thought I’d hardly see another person. This made me sad, because going NOBO didn’t work for my timeline, but I really wanted the community of the trail.
I’ve found out that if you want the community of the trail, you can certainly find it, even going SOBO. The trail is shared with thousands of day hikers, weekend warriors, section hikers, and thru hikers. I easily have a conservation with someone new every single day. And it’s great, it keeps things interesting, and I’ve made so many connections along the way.
At this point, I’ve learned to achieve a balance of quiet time while hiking and social time when at shelters and in town. It’s this balance that is keeping me from becoming too much of an introverted hermit out here. So don’t worry, fam, I should still be able to keep up with the Spencer sarcasm and Giles debates over Christmas dinner. That is, if I’m not too busy eating enough to make up five months of caloric deficit.
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