Meeting Virginia and 5 Ways to Conquer “The Blues”
My first impressions of Virginia are great. Around 550 miles of the Trail goes through Virginia so she is one. thick. bitch. Along with the length of the haul, the initial excitement of the hike that got you through the first six or so weeks has by now worn off. Everyone has their trail legs on now and can walking 20+ miles with relative ease. Unless you are have injuries (which I would guess 85% of the people out here at least have some kind of overuse injury happening at this point) you can lay down some serious miles. So now the challenge is maintaining a healthy mindset to keep you going. This is easier said than done and is one of the reasons why the term “the Virginia Blues” was coined.
I personally had a big dose of it last week out of the blue. I can’t pinpoint what sparked it, but I was a super grumpy lady for like 5 straight days (although I think I kept in under wraps from my fellow hikers relatively well). Here are my thoughts on why this may have happened.
I came out of Damascus with a ridiculously heavy pack that resulted in a foot injury that I was nursing for almost 2 weeks (which since has gotten better). Virginia is where the terrain begins to get rocky in some areas which exacerbated that issue. Also the heat really started to kick in last week. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate temperatures in the 70s, but hiking big miles with a full pack, it makes for a hot day. At first when I started I would hear about how smelly thru-hikers would get and that they could smell the clean day hikers from a mile away and I thought it was nonsense. Nope, totally true. You can get away with only cleaning with babywipes for several days when it’s cool out and still be reasonably acceptable in society. Once you start sweating for 10 straight hours a day, day after day, nothing can save you. You are a perpetual smelly beast and you just have to accept it.
The rising temps also mean bugs. I would consider myself an environmentalist and appreciate all living things, but I wouldn’t mind personally conducting and insecticide of gnats. Erradicate every one of those little bastards for all I care. Also the snakes are hanging out by the Trail more often now, including rattle snakes, and they are huge and terrifying. Water is also getting a bit more scarce, especially since a lot of Virginia (at least the 200ish miles I’ve seen) you’re mostly walking up on the ridges, there are even fewer water sources, so you have to carry more water weight or risk running out.
Taking those things into consideration, Virginia has been so much fun so far and I managed to fully recover from my funk. These may not work for everyone, but here are some strategies that were effective for getting rid of my blues:
Reassess your social situation. If your journey is one of solitude and that’s working for you, carry on you badass lone wolf you. For me, I found it more enjoyable to start hiking as a group. It seemed to me like Virginia was when the Trail tribes really started to solidify. The two people I hike with most are an awesome couple that are my age, Comrade and Moon Unit. Our fourth member is ISO (In Search Of) when we can catch up with him. Together our group is called the ALDs (A Little Distastefuls). After putting in a few good drinking hours at the Hokie House on Virginia Tech’s campus as we passed through and night hiked to the Captain’s (an awesome former thru-hiker that let’s people sleep on his property and provides sodas, you have to zipline across a river to get to his place which proved to be an interesting challenge when inebriated) we have tossed around officially changing our group name to Seal Team 6.
Another group that we frequently collaborate with for fun times are the River Dingos. This group consists of Bandit, Pokey, Swoll, The Amassador of Lance Creek, Blaze, Sweet Pea and a couple interchangeable members. There are also four young guys from Maine, the Flop Floppers (aka The Liars or The Four Horsemen) that provide tons of entertainment. There are plenty of people out here to mingle with and usually the social time is welcome after hiking by yourself during the day.
Drop that extra weight. This is always a goal of thru-hikers, but Virginia is where you can finally drop your winter weight. It’s tempting to drop your cold weather gear in Damacus but there are a few peaks above 5,000 feet afterwards that can get pretty chilly, so Pearisburg is a better bet. I switched to a 45 degree sleeping bag and dropped several pounds of clothing. It felt so great, a couple of pounds makes a big difference.
Adjust your hiking routine. It helped me tremendously to start getting up early and be out on the Trail by 7am. This means I can get quite a few miles in before the heat of the midday. Also slowing down my pace was helpful for dealing with the heat. I can still get the same amount of miles in by taking frequent, short breaks and maintaining a steady pace throughout the day. I started listening to music more when I hike too, which definitely helps, especially during big climbs.
Take advantage of town time. You come across towns much more frequently in Virginia. It’s important to give yourself rest when you need it. Even if you feel fine physically, mental health days are necessary. There are a couple of places I would highly recommend visiting in Virginia.
The Lazy Fox Inn B&B in Damacus is an awesome place to zero. The owner Genny is a super sweet (and smokin’ hot) 91 year old. It’s in a huge white house with a wrap around porch and a river that goes through the back yard. All of the rooms are really nice and clean. The breakfast is out of this world amazing – fresh fruit, biscuits and gravy, pancakes, pineapple casserole, baked apples, cheesy grits, entirely too much food and all incredibly delicious.
The Davis Valley Winery is a short hike from the Trail. We met the River Dingos there one afternoon and spent several hours doing the wine tasting, moonshine tasting and polishing off 12 bottles of wine by the end of our time there. The staff are really nice and all of the wine was fantastic.
Wood’s Hole Hostel has been one of my favorite places to stay thus far. The owners Neville and Mister Michael were excellent hosts. They made delicious meals with ingredients from their garden and from the local Amish community down the street. Neville led a short yoga session for us. You can tent or there are private rooms. There is also a large bunkhouse with nice matresses which is where we stayed. They have a couple of dogs and cats and are very pet friendly. They also offer work-for-stay options. The atmosphere there was super relaxing and everyone felt great when it was time to head out.
Remember why you’re out here. It helped me a lot during my funk to revisit the reasons I am out here. Seriously, being out here is the coolest f^cking thing ever, the trail life is great. What would I be doing instead? Sitting at a desk, staring at a computer screen. It’s important to stop for a second to put things into perspective, there’s no place I’d rather be right now than out here on the Trail.
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