Kicking the Virginia Blues Back to the Deep South
Crossing into Virginia meant three states were behind us, with the highest-mileage state under our boots. I was ecstatic. This was a bittersweet day, though, as not all spring days are preceded by the same.
When the ‘Sconnie Gets Hypothermia
Two days earlier I was pulled off trail, a short 15 miles south of Damascus, because the freezing rain I had been hiking in for the first 12 had gotten to me. I had been shivering and teeth chattering for a couple hours and then it stopped. I was falling down a lot and confused on mileage. With my WFR and EMS background I knew this wasn’t good. I was getting close to hypothermia. I was able to reach out and call for a shuttle to come pick me up. My hiking buddy came up shortly behind me and his look of concern didn’t register until later that night when he went into depth about his concern for my safety on trail. It took a 45-minute warm car ride and about two hours after a warm shower in the warm hostel for my lips to turn pink again from the deep purple they had been and the color to return to my face. Standing in the shower, to start shivering again, I realized I was closer to harm than I realized, and my body was actually going through the process of coming back to a healthy temperature. Welcome to Virginia. The next day I slept. I slept deeper than I have in a long time and even when I woke up my body just felt weak and wrecked. I was recovering. It was a zero. I went back the next day with the sun shining to slack pack the 15 miles I missed, keep the body moving on an easy day, and bring my spirits back up. How does a ‘sconnie come to Virginia and get hypothermia? Sitting around the breakfast table hearing fellow hikers talk about how awful you looked when you walked in two days earlier is challenging. Then again, so is this trail.
Hunter Goes Home
I had been battling to keep Hunter’s weight up. He had been losing weight, even with me carrying over two pounds of dog food per day for him, and feeding him beef, pork, and liver in towns. He wasn’t at a dangerous weight level; it was just getting noticeable and I couldn’t put the pounds back on him. With a previous knee injury continuously flailing up, I had to make the incredibly hard decision that his AT hike had finished and it was time for his next adventure; fattening back up at grandma and grandpa’s house. I was able to rent a car and drive the 12 hours back to Wisconsin, sleep for seven, hang out with family for about six, and then get back on the road for 12 more to Damascus. Hunter’s journey on the AT was incredible. He completed 478.8 miles, including the approach trail, and saw four states. He met so many friends and got a lot of random love. Then he got to go home to shorter day hikes, a soft bed daily, lots of love, and homemade treats. He’s living the best life. I have no regrets about bringing him and cherish the time he spent out here.
A New Start?
Coming back to Damascus, my pack was over ten pounds lighter. Yes, ten pounds! I spent another day in Damascus trying to catch up on sleep and having a tiny pity party about having to hike on solo and got back on trail. This had all led to about six days off trail and my bubble gone. As I settled in for the night, I heard a group of hikers walking in. I looked up and saw four people, one I knew from hiking, one from being a Trek blogger, and two new friends. Provides; it’s what the trail does. Leaving Damascus and getting to Pearisburg was OK. The weather was OK until the day into Pearisburg, when another snow, hail, and sleet storm came bounding in like a four-month-old muddy puppy that doesn’t realize he isn’t welcomed on the new carpet (spring). Luckily, I pretty much ran the last hour into town and only endured two hours total of the storm.
The Storm: Shit Hits the fan
Then the real storm hit. Everything I had been through in the past few weeks sunk in. Sometimes in towns there is too much time to think because you aren’t hiking, eating, sleeping, finding water. In town you sit, eat, sit, think, repeat. I felt sad. Really sad. I felt lonely, abandoned, bored, homesick, bed sick, tired, sore. What was the point? There are more fun things to look forward to at home. Why am I out here pounding miles? With aching feet? With stiff knees? This is dumb. This shit sucks. My mental game was breaking. I stayed three nights in my pity party listing the reasons why I shouldn’t get back on trail. Another hiker got off there and a second was likely not getting back on trail but hadn’t officially been able to admit he was done as well. It was apparent to the rest of us; his thru was over. It’s easy to jump on board a negative train to hellsville when you’re already at the pity party platform. I was half convinced I was gonna go home. Maybe it wasn’t today, but soon. I wasn’t cut out to be a thru-hiker is what my low self-confidence told me. A tiny spark in me knew I needed to get back on trail and try, though. This would likely fade once I was back out in nature. I wouldn’t cry myself to sleep out there; that only happens in towns for me. That’s embarrassing to admit out loud, whoa! The last night a friend called and had the right words at the right time. I felt more confident and focused.
Never Quit on a Bad Day
I got back on trail. My legs were not happy. They screamed, “I thought we were done with this?” Half way through the day, at the top of a mountain, I came to an AT&T cell tower. I had service. I sat down and looked up flights home to Milwaukee for that night. There was a road ten miles ahead. I could be headed home in three hours at my current pace of just over three miles an hour when I’m cruising. I started walking, deciding how I would shuttle to the airport, and whether I would tell my family and ask for a ride from the airport or just Uber the 35 miles from the airport and show up at the front door and announce that I wasn’t ready to talk about it yet. 2.3 miles from the road I ran into another thru-hiker who had just started his trip. He was a flip-flopper. We exchanged casual talk and when he asked how I was, I responded with, “I think I’m going home today.” His look said it all. Surprise, disbelief, and curiosity. He didn’t think I looked like a hiker leaving their thru-hike. I looked strong and fast and healthy. I decided to walk with him for the last two miles because, why the hell not, maybe he’d have service at the road if I didn’t. What I didn’t realize would happen is I would walk past that road not yet processing it was happening and wind up at a shelter that night. My three friends that had been only keeping my miles occasionally would all catch up to me that night, as well as another hiker friend I hadn’t seen in a while. Two more would show up and instantly I knew they were cool guys. As if with a click of the finger I was feeling calm and at peace. As I lay in my bag that night, I realized I wasn’t on a plane. Six hours earlier I thought I’d be on a plane; six hours!
The Sun Will Come Up… Tomorrow
I continued on and within a couple of days I hit the 700 mark; Dragon’s Tooth, McAfee Knob, Tinker Cliffs, and moments from ridges that reminded me why I’m here on trail. I saw the sunrise over McAfee Knob and was silenced by the beauty and numbed by the joy I felt sitting up there.
I am currently taking a zero in Dalesville, Va., waiting out a storm and letting the feet heal a bit while I figure out why they are so sore. A sense of calm has settled over me. I’m confident in why I’m here, confident in my abilities, happy to be here. My plan is loosely set for the next week and then I’ll hit the Shenandoahs. My parents had to cancel their visit to the Shenandoahs but I made the mental choice to not let that bring me down. They will visit two weeks later and it will be great; they can slack pack me over the nasty Pennsylvania rocks.
This trail is a game; a mind game. We must choose how to perceive our circumstances out here. We have that choice. Yes, I believe in the Virginia Blues. They are real and they are crazy. But we can beat them. I did. Shit, I beat them and then one upped them. Check out that McAfee Knob shot. Through the bad I still had amazing moments; Grayson Highlands were spectacular, Mexican food with friends is really special, and lots of ridgerunning with rolling pastures and valleys to look over.
The most profound moment for me in the past few weeks happened up at McAfee Knob. I wrote the following when I came back down to my Facebook friends and family and I’d like to share it with all
There are times when I’m lost for the right words to say. My friends and family will assure you that this is rarely the case. This morning I had one of those moments. I climbed up to McAfee Knob early to see the sunrise. The majesty that Mother Nature possesses is breathtaking. Here are a few photos from this morning I’d like to share with you all. This Earth we roam through our life journey has so much love through beauty to offer if we stop and listen (or look). These untouched places we find really ground me and remind me why I hike and backpack to begin with. It is in these moments that I find peace, joy, and serenity. It is why I’m out here day and night!
Until next time,
No Worries (aka Kathleen)
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