Northern Virginia, Part 1: Singing the Blues

Days 77-79:

I returned to the trail sans the energy and excitement that I normally did. I noticed as I began to drag my feet first with getting in the car (we woke up at 6 but didn’t head out till 9,) then when we drove into Daleville. To be fair though, the siren song of Waffle House is hard to resist even in the best of mental health days.

On day 77, my week-long break from the trail ended and my partner returned me to Daleville. I left in the hottest part of the day, and ended up hiking only 5 miles up to the next shelter. I felt shocked as I hiked up the first 500ft climb; I was winded and my trail legs were seemingly gone. I resolved to wake up early the next day and get them back over the course of a longer, but slower day.

On day 78, I did just that – put away 20 miles despite feeling sluggish and out of practice. It took me longer to pack my gear in the morning, fumbling in the pre-dawn light. I hiked slowly up until an hour before sunset, pitched my tent, ate, hung my food, and fell asleep mid-journal entry for the first time of the thru. I woke up from a dead sleep to a whippoorwill trilling around 2am. In a word? Zonked. I’d never felt so bone-tired on trail before… not even in Georgia.

On day 79, the trend of the trail feeling alien and my body readjusting to hiking continued, with some sore spots developing on my hips and shoulders from my pack, and foot soreness unlike anything I’d experienced on the hike making itself known. Eventually, I figured out that my new Hokas were a complete redesign, featuring way less cushion than I was used to. I slowed down and decreased my mileage to hopefully let my feet adjust, and planned a stop in Glasgow, VA to shower and take a breather.

Days 80-83:

On day 80, I crossed the iconic James River Bridge and hitched into Glasgow. This was my first solo hitch (sorry Mom) and I had a great conversation with the trail maintainer who picked me up. He and his wife were responsible for the next ~10 miles of trail and it gave me something to look forward to.

On day 81, showered thanks to the Glasgow town shelter, and feeling rejuvenated after eating some town food, I hiked up to Brown Mountain Creek Shelter. This section of trail featured interesting ruins and beautiful forest. I felt great – so great in fact that I hiked 20 miles in less than 10 hours despite a 3k climb right at the beginning of the day. I also hit 800 miles!

I woke up on day 82 with unbelievable foot pain. The hubris of the previous day’s mileage and speed, combined with the less-than-ideal redesign of my new Hoka Speedgoats left me with a spectacular hiker hobble for the first few miles of the day. My next town stop was going to be Waynesboro, a good two-day hike. I resolved to either get insoles to shore up the lack of cushion in my shoes, or find a previous model of Hoka’s to replace mine with. The Speedgoat 5’s, unfortunately, just ain’t it y’all. After experiencing zero foot pain on trail so far – no blisters, no nothing – this was an unwelcome and disappointing surprise. Especially since I recommend Hoka’s to pretty much everyone I meet on trail.

Despite the foot pain, I hiked to the most gorgeous campsite of the trail thus far. The tenting area below Spy Rock at mile 825.8 had it all: blooming rhododendrons, numerous flat areas for tenting, and a blue-blazed trail up to Spy Rock for 360-degree sunrise and sunset views. The pictures don’t do it justice. But, here they are:

On day 83, I woke up early to catch the sunrise at Spy Rock, grimaced through worsening foot pain, and marched my way towards Waynesboro.

I noticed that lately, I’ve been putting my head down, listening to a podcast or audiobook, and churning out the miles. On one hand, my love of reading waned in college, so it’s good to be reading again. On the other, there’s a nagging worry in the back of my head that the trail’s novelty is starting to wear off a bit. To the degree where it’s become more task than journey.

But, I’d known this was coming. Every previous thru-hiker whose story I’ve read on this blog, watched on YouTube, etc., has talked about the Virginia Blues. Each experience is slightly different, but they all swell into the same chorus:

Sometimes, the trail just sucks.

Sometimes, it’s just not fun.

Your body wants to slow down, conserve energy, and stop suffering. And that’s when the mind games begin. Your mind is at war with your body. You have to remember your reason for hiking in the first place, and call it back like a repeating verse. Sing it under your breath as you climb another ridiculous climb (I was told Virginia was going to be flat!)

At one point on this section of Virginia trail, I realized, with sudden clarity, that I don’t have to do this. No one is making me do the trail but myself. And then I sat down, ate some Skittles, and those sneaky thoughts vanished.

It’s like I’m re-learning the lesson I learned in Georgia all over again, in a slightly different way. The body will make itself heard. Through injury or fatigue, it’s going to make its wants known.

Days 84-86:

So on day 84, heeding those lessons, I walked into Waynesboro, made my way to a hotel, and immediately booked two nights so I could zero the next day.

On my zero day, it rained quite a bit – and I was glad for the dry hotel room waiting for me as I walked around town to do all my “town tasks.” Grabbing a resupply, finding some new insoles for my shoes, and securing Mexican food. All the key elements of a zero day in place, I sat in my hotel room for the rest of the evening.

When I left the next morning, I felt stronger than before, but still took it easy to let my feet adjust to the new insoles.

I had a package waiting for me in Front Royal (thanks Clementine!) and resolved to not stop for another zero until I made it there. And not only to pick up the package, and send off one for my parents’ birthdays.

But also because I knew I could walk from Front Royal to Harper’s Ferry… the mental halfway point of the trail, and the end of Virginia.

And, hopefully, a change in tune.

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