New Hair, New Names, New People
Exactly two weeks ago, Becca, Kyler and I chopped our hair off and walked into the woods. Two weeks later, and we couldn’t be more in love with the trail life. After ~120 miles of hiking, my mom picked us up from Bears Den for a little R&R at home in Gaithersburg, MD. As soon as we got in the car, we all looked at each other and laughed. We couldn’t believe how we already missed the trail. It was weird how five minutes of driving equaled to 2 hours of hiking on the trail, distance-wise. “We’re moving so fast”, we all exclaimed!
Rewind to the day we started. To begin our journey, we all wanted a fresh start. It was time to leave behind our old lives – and our old selves – for new beginnings. So, at the trailhead at Rockfish Gap near Waynesboro, Va, Becca & I dropped our “baggage” alongside our hair in the woods. The birds will find better use for it than we will on the trail.
After hugging mom and dad goodbye, we set off for our first 7 mile day. It was a beautiful day, and our spirits were high. We rolled into camp with tons of sunlight still left in the day. There were many people at Calf Mountain Shelter, but only two other tru-hikers – Spooner and Giuseppe. We ate lots of food (hiker hunger settled in right away for me!), made a fire, and retired to our tents right around hiker midnight, which is when the sun sets (around 9pm).
Trail Names (Days 2 & 3)
Day 2 was just as good as day 1, just longer. We hiked 13 miles, which was the farthest Becca & I have ever hiked in our lives! Not to mention, there was a stretch of 12 miles that had no water, which meant we had to carry all of our water for the day. For those of you who might be wondering why that matters, 1 liter of water equals 2.2 lbs and is probably the heaviest thing hikers carry.
Day two was also the day I received my trail name. Right before we left for the trail, my parents took a trip to Turkey and brought back a jar of pure Turkish saffron. My mom was so excited about the medicinal properties of this saffron that she insisted I carry some of it. After looking into some of the benefits of saffron, which include anti-anxiety, anti-depressive, anti-inflammatory (a natural alternative to advil?!), wound healing, and many others properties, I decided to embrace my little plastic baggy of saffron. I was more excited about it than my mom at this point (it’s all I could talk about for hours). From then on out, I was dubbed “Saffron”. My nightly routine now goes something like this… stumble into camp, take my shoes off right away, set up the tent, get water, eat a huge dinner, make a mug of saffron tea, chat with other hikers, hang the bear bag, journal/read, and go to bed by 9pm.
Day 3 was the day Becca got her trail name. We had been thinking about this one for a while and couldn’t quite find one that fit. I wanted something that captured her beautiful, complex, free spirit. Then it hit me – she is Spirit! She embodies what spirit means to me, and she lifts my spirits when we hike together.
Kyler has been StarTrek since his ’09 thru-hike, and he’s keeping that trail name. So here we are, the triple S club – StarTrek, Spirit, and Saffron. From now on, I will be using trail names.
The Soul Train
A few days in, Spooner and Wet Foot joined our crew. Wet Foot got his named from a time we were crossing a creek one morning and StarTrek said, “no one fall in the water – we still have all day to hike!”, but Wet Foot stepped right in with his first step. From day 3 until the day my mom picked us up two weeks later, we hiked together as a group of five. We all have varying hiking paces, but we camped together each night, and it was always a fun time. We became The Soul Train, and it felt like we were going to be hiking all the way to Katahdin together. Unfortunately, Spooner has an internship to get back to in early August, so he had to push ahead of us. We’re still getting our trail legs, and although we’ve worked our way up to 15-17 mile days, we can’t do those miles consistently yet.
There are so many other things that have happened. I could probably write a full blog for each day. But because I don’t really have time for that, I’ll just list a few of the memorable moments with photos.
- Waysides. For those who don’t know, Waysides are little concession/rest-stop areas along the Shenandoah’s near the trail. Now let me be clear, these are by no means places I would normally stop for a bite to eat, but after you’ve been hiking 12 miles, these places are little pieces of heaven. If I’ve realized anything so far on the trail, it’s that I really have learned to appreciate the little things. We rolled into our first one, and I have never been so happy to be in a dirty bathroom to wash my face and sit on a toilet. Not to mention, burgers and fries are divine.
- Blisters. Not much to say about this one. I really thought I was immune to blisters, but it has become very apparent that I’m not.
- Springs. After walking miles and miles in 80 degree weather, there is literally nothing better than soaking your feet in a cold spring and splashing water on your face.
- Elkton, VA. This was the first town we went into. We tried to find a shuttle that would take us from the trail into town, but no luck. So I decided to try out my hand at hitchhiking. The first car I stuck my thumb at to stop picked us up! Spooner and StarTrek, the two experienced hitchhikers, informed me that getting a 5-person ride in the Shenandoah area that quickly was pretty impressive. After settling in at the Country View Motel and doing laundry, we went to Bear’s Grocery & Deli and got the best fried chicken I’ve ever had in my life. Thru-hikers, if you are stopping in Elkton, go say hi to Mike and get some fried chicken there!
- Trail Magic. As we were about to leave Elkton, two guys we had met that were hiking a section of the Shenandoah’s, Columbo and the Last Tillerman, gave us some amazing trail magic. They had two huge bins of food in their car and let us take whatever we wanted! We left town with about 20 lbs. of food each. Feasts for days. We also got a bag of trail magic at a trail head near where we were camping one night of peanut butter and other goodies.
- Our First 15 Mile Day. This was a big celebration and we hiked out some beers from a Wayside for the occasion. Heavy, but worth it.
- Hiking 2.6 miles off trail to a waterfall. Hiking that far off trail isn’t something most thru-hikers would do, but we were up for the adventure that day. It was so worth it to see the majestic waterfall and take a dip in the cold, refreshing water!
- Front Royal, VA/Terrapin Station Hostel. Front Royal is a town at the very northern tip of the Shenandoah’s. We stayed at the Terrapin Station Hostel, which was pretty nice. The owner, Mike, was very accommodating and gave us a ride into town to go see Avengers 2 and get burgers at Lucky Lounge. We ordered “Aaron’s Last Supper”, which was 6 1/2 lb. hamburger patties w/ the works and 2 lbs of potato wedges. The waiter was a little bewildered. I don’t think anyone had ever ordered that before. We were surprised to find that it was really just one bun with 6 patties.
- The Roller Coaster/17.4 mile day. The Roller Coaster is a 13.5 mile section in Northern Virginia that entails very steep ups and downs. You make your way up and down more than a dozen significantly sized hills, gaining a total of 5,000 feet of elevation. We did 10.5 of those 13.5 miles as part of our biggest day on the trail thus far (17.4 miles)!
- Animals. Much to our surprise, we have not seen any bears yet. Bummer. We have seen lots of millipedes, deer, spiders, a few snakes, thousands of gnats, and a baby chipmunk sleeping right in the middle of the trail!
We’ve been eating like kings and queens, and I’d love to share more about that in our next blog post. I know Spirit wants to share more about her forest foraging as well.
Saffron, Spirit, and StarTrek
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