Octazero and Ponies
Day 52: Damascus, VA to Tentsite Near Laurel Creek Bridge(14.2 miles, marker 484.9)
A day with no miles is considered a zero, 8 days off the trail, which I’m dubbing an octazero, made for an interesting and slightly difficult return. I left the trail for a Beltane festival which I often attend with Sabrina. The time away was wonderful and it was great to see both Sabrina and Angela plus the many people at the festival that I haven’t seen in years.
Beltane marks the rebirth of the land, and is considered the new year by many pagan traditions. As I walked back into the forest, I could definitely feel a shift in the land. The woods are more lush and green, there is more humidity in the air, and many of the flowers have begun to bloom. I have come backpacking in this area the past couple years, and have hoped to be around when the rhododendron began to flower. And this year that is exactly what has begun.
Angela dropped me off at the outfitter on the main Street of Damascus, and after teary farewells, I continued down the street and picked up where I had left off. The trail turned to run along route 54 for a short time and then crossed and ascended into the woods.
Besides the full effect of spring, the feel of the trail also seems different. Today. I only ran into a few hikers. Additionally, I found a beautiful campsite large enough for a half dozen tents right along the side of the river across from the Virginia Creeper Trail, and had it all to myself for the entire evening. I was able to enjoy a little solitude by the fire as I had my dinner for what is probably the first time this entire trip.
My feet definitely felt better for the first 10 or 11 miles today, and then my heels began to ache and everything became stiff. I’m not used to doing such big miles everyday anymore, but I believe I will adjust very quickly. I am happy with my new shoes, and look forward to a solid yoga practice tomorrow morning before trying another 15 mile day and seeing how I feel. Most of the people I know on the trail at this point are between 75 and 120 miles ahead of me. I’m not planning on taking many zero mile days for a while, so I may be able to catch up. If not, I will make new friends. As I learned from the first 6 weeks, the trail provides.
Day 53: Tentsite Near Laurel Creek Bridge to Campsite Just After Mount Rogers (14.9 miles, marker 499.8)
Started today by recording my daily hiking yoga routine which I’ve placed on my vlog. Then another day of walking in the woods, and again started to feel a lot of stiffness and pain beyond ten miles. The day was a standard walk in the woods, with no extraordinary sights, just what has become the regular amazingness of walking through the woods. The highlight of the day was finding another gorgeous campsite to spend my evening by the fire and enjoy some solitude again. I don’t expect the solitude to last long, as I’m sure I’ll find myself within another large group of hikers soon, but I’ll take it while I’ve got it. It is definitely giving me time to think and reflect on the experiences of my break at Beltane.
Day 54: Campsite Just After Mount Rogers to Hurricane Mountain Shelter (15.2 miles, marker 515)
Today was magical in experience and thought. After awakening at a stunning campsite, I immediately crossed the 500 mile marker, and within another three fourths of a mile found myself stepping out onto cliffs with spectacular views and clear sight of the upcoming trail which promised to be amazing. I had planned a big day today of close to 19 miles. While I was feeling great, this was going to prove difficult. It took me a solid four hours to travel the first four miles, which was the Grayson Highlands. This was not due to difficult terrain, but just the opposite; the terrain was actually pretty easy. I’m just a gawker, and there was much to gawk at. First there were the views and traversing the “Fat Man Squeeze” (name clearly adopted by some asshole in a less PC time). Then there were the ponies. Wild ponies all over the place. Mostly they hung out on the trail munching on the grass. Rumor is they often try to lick the salt off hikers, but none tried to lick me. I suspected one of trying as he followed me quite a distance, but then he just mosied on by. Next was a delightful stream which required me to kick off my shoes and soak my feet for a bit. Luckily, the pace quickly adjusted. As I left the highlands, a light drizzle began and the trail became a path through the woods again. I quickly made it to a shelter just over ten miles into my day and stopped for lunch. I then continued on to the next shelter to decide if I was sticking with my original plan or shortening my day to fifteen miles. Upon arrival I discovered one of the nicest and best condition shelters I’ve seen. The weather reports are for thunder storms all night. I decided to stay in the shelter and met some new people (who I also had lunch with). I had dinner with and enjoyed chatting with Hardhat and Shadow, a couple hiking the trail together, and Toto, a solo hiker on his second attempt.
As for the thoughts, I’ve been doing a great deal of that the past few days. If you are here just for the hiking, now would be a good time to skip to day 55.
When I was at THE Beltane festival, my friend April made an observation which has been ruminating in my head. She commented that she’s enjoying my blog, but she knows me as someone emotional and articulate and on a soul journey. Where is that part? Turns out, that part needed two things, some solitude and the catalyst that is Beltane. My first six weeks were all about figuring out what works. How far can I go, how do I resupply, what works as an eating schedule, etc. I was also meeting new people and making connections. All good stuff and necessary stuff, and I think I’ve got that worked out.
So I leave for Beltane and a few things happen there. The theme for the event is taking off your masks. THE Beltane is a spirituality based sacred sexuality event to celebrate the energy that is the spring. Many folks who attend have ways of being in the world that are outside the norm, whether that be transgender, gender fluid, non-binary, polyamorous, kinky, or any of dozens of other options. The current political climate is not very friendly to this, and so many wear the mask of normal outside the event. The festival is meant to be a safe space where you can take your mask off and be yourself. Or maybe choose a different mask to don. Whatever you might choose, it’s a safe space. Upon reflecting on this, I noticed that I don’t wear a mask outside, but live as I am. But I began to notice that in it’s own way, this is my mask. By being a little different, a bisexual polyamorous pagan man, I can keep people at a bit of a distance. And yet, it remains relatively safe for me as I’m still a white man in this society who has chosen female partners, so I’m weird but in a safe way. Just food for thought… ultimately I’m still a vulnerable person with fears and insecurities under any mask I wear, just like everyone else. But I digress…
The chosen diety the festival is honoring for this work is Dionysus, god of the land and the earth and of wine and revelry, but also champion to those who are oppressed. In Greece this was generally women and slaves.
Enter my role, I’ve been asked to evoke/wear the character of Dionysus into the main ritual. This is a somewhat familiar role for me, as I’ve worked with Pan as one of my patrons for years. But in recent years, I’ve felt a bit of a disconnect from Pan. However, as I walked through the magical realms of Great Smokey Mountain National Park and over Unaka Mountain, I’ve begun to feel that call again. Except it’s different now because I’m older and I like to think a little more mature. Pan is all about the play and the sexual aspects and sometimes being a bit of a prankster. Not to dis Pan in any way, as he has been an important aspect in my life, but Dionysus sort of feels like the grown-up version. Where Pan would be the prince of pentacles, Dionysus is more the king of pentacles with a little bit of cups thrown in. This feels like a more natural fit now, and I’m going to have to explore this relationship in the coming months and years.
Day 55: Hurricane Mountain Shelter to Partnership Shelter (19.1 miles, marker 534.1)
Today was an achievement. While it was another amazing but typical walk in the woods, it was also a big day at 19 miles with very little difficulty. I’m very happy to see that. Just four days after my break I’m getting back into the swing of things and the big days aren’t hurting me. There was the added motivation that Partnership Shelter is close enough to the road that you can get a pizza delivery there, so dinner was fresh and hot, and maybe not at New Jersey pizza standards, but pretty good for Virginia takeout.
I did have one interesting mishap today. As I passed through a great field, I noticed it was completely empty even though there were numerous cow patties. I decided this would be a lovely place for lunch and spread out my ground cloth. After 45 minutes of relaxation I decided it was time to start packing up. Suddenly, a cow appeared on the ridge is just walked over. That was odd. As I continued to pack another dozen or so cows appeared on the ridge. Then, suddenly, that were running in my direction. It might be the city boy in me, but when a dozen 1,000 pound animals are running in my direction, I get a little nervous. I stood up, pointed my hiking pole at them and told them to stop. They did, and then proceeded to surround me like some conversion of Children of the Corn. I quickly packed up and got out of there.
Day 56: Partnership Shelter to US Hwy 11 – Long Neck Lair Alpaca Farm and Hostel (11.7 miles, marker 545.8)
As I sit here completing my blog entries for the past few days, my laundry turns in the dryer and I enjoy a cold beer on the deck at the Long Neck Lair Alpaca Farm and Hostel. I started my hike early today, passing through the woods and some nice field walks, arriving by 1:00 p.m. in time to have a nice relaxing afternoon. When the owner comes back from spending some quality mother’s day time with her mom, she will take a bunch of us for resupply in town and then I actually get to sleep on a mattress tonight. It’s been a fantastic first four days back, and I’m excited to get back out on the trail for the next four days.
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