Out of Virginia at Last: Daleville VA to Vernon, NJ
Pick two out of the following three: hang out with friends, rest, and blog.
Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t gotten anything out in a while, and that it might seem like I’m off the trail. I assure you – I’m still out there, and doing better than ever! A lot has happened since I last wrote from the lobby of the hotel in Daleville, VA. Some close trail friends have left, while other long lost friends have resurfaced. More than once I have made plans to specifically sit down and blog, using the same format I have been doing in the past. More than once, those plans have gotten derailed by other things going on. I still enjoy writing about this trip, but there are many times where I am faced to follow the header of this blog and choose to sacrifice hanging with trail friends, rest, and blogging. Unfortunately, blogging is the first to go out there – at least blogging in the previous format that I had been working with. I still intend to come back and eventually get a day by day of my entire trip on here – I’m still keeping detailed notes on what has happened on which day, the miles I’ve done, things I’ve seen, etc. For now, however, I’m going to work with what time opportunities arise. If it somehow ends up that I have lots of time with nothing to do (said no one on the trail ever), I’ll go all out and try and really break down the day by day, but for now I’m going to try to hit highlights and update when I can. Some is better than none, right? Anyway, on to some highlights. Thanks again to everyone that’s been following along and sending me words of encouragement – it really got me through some of the tougher parts in northern Virginia.
The last time I let the fear of thunder get the best of me
Two days after I left Daleville I stayed in an awesome shelter called Bryant’s Ridge (I think that’s what it was called anyway). This was a multi-level, 20 person shelter with a roofed in dining area and a great water source. I had been hiking with Sparkle and Biscuit out of Daleville, and the three of us joined a couple of section hikers for the night there before heading out in the morning. The problem was that we were supposed to get thunderstorms that afternoon. So what did I do? I took a zero.
I regret doing that, for a couple of different reasons that I won’t get too far into tonight. That day was a been changing moment for me in terms of gripping with my general anxiety out here, and for working to overcome some of the fears and issues that have followed me since the start of this hike. After Biscuit and Sparkle left in the morning, I watched the skies for clouds as a beautiful spring morning opened up in the valley by the shelter. There was no rain in sight. I tried to stay committed to my shelter zero day, but around 11:00am I felt incredibly foolish and hiked on out the shelter to where I had service. After a mile and a half of hiking, I checked my phone, saw the incoming storms, and headed back to the shelter. I repeated this process a hours later, hoping to at least make it to the next shelter four or five miles away to get some sense of progress for the day. I ended up getting up there, calling home, and having an anxiety episode as I felt as if I was quite literally trapped between two urges. I wanted to hike on, to hike through my fears, and I wanted to go back to the shelter where I would feel foolish but be safe. The two were pulling me in opposite directions, and for a moment I was frozen in time, unable to make any decision at all.
In the end, I went back to the shelter, but as the storm rolled in I found that the root of my problem didn’t lie with the storms, but with the lack of people around. I was feeling real down on myself – stupid for letting the fear get to me, and while I quitting never crossed my mind, the urge to take a temporary trip home was strong. That didn’t last long though. That would have been running, quite literally, from my problems out here, and it wouldn’t solve anything in the long run. After writing a letter home I met a couple of new faces – McGuyver, Sean, and three section hikers (Talking Bull, BS, and someone else I can’t remember). Spent the night with them and watched as a severe thunderstorm rolled through and dumped hail outside of the shelter. It was supposed to thunder that next day as well, but I got up early and hiked on, ready to face whatever was out there. I actually spent a lot of the day hiking with McGuyver, which is rare considering I never hike with anyone. As it turns out, the presence of other people, be it momentarily or sustained, helps calm a lot of the feelings of anxiety that I have out here. We’re out here, exposed and with only ourselves to rely on. You have to expect certain roadblocks to pop up, and sometimes it’s hard to get through those alone. This wasn’t helped by this time being the middle portion of my solo northern Virginia stretch. Every small issue I had was being played up again and again in my head, and without anyone else around these seemed to grow exponentially. I’ve found my solutions though. Ideally I try to stay around other people, but when it comes to thunderstorms I will hike only when I have the option to get to cover where I can set up my tent if a storm hits. Still no open field hiking for me. – gotta draw the line somewhere.
Night Hiking and Mountain Lions
A few days after the shelter zero, McGuyver and I stayed at the Three Springs Hostel, which was an awesome stay. Good chance to charge phones, get a few good meals, and kayak on a pond while drinking a quart of chocolate milk. You know – all normal thru-hiking activities. That next morning we didn’t hit the trail until 9:15 or so, which was a very late start for the 22 that I wanted to be doing. After about 10 miles of hiking I met McGuyver at a shelter, and we both decided to try to do 28 that day so that we could could get to Waynesboro the next night for the Ming’s Chinese Buffet which was rumored to be amazing. This day took us up and down the priest, (up 1000 and down 3000+ feet), and then back up Three Ridges.
Now three ridges is a huge climb on it’s own right, but at the end of a 28 mile day the Three Ridges climb might have been the hardest thing I had done on the trail so far. We paused at the last shelter before the big climb and debated staying there for the night, but against better reason we pressed on into the night, climbing higher and higher as the remaining light faded behind The Priest. We paused about 800 feet from the top of the climb, and while surveying the surroundings I saw what I was really hoping not to see: a pair of eyes, glowing back at me. I pause, begin to speak loudly and calmly, and ask McGuyver if he was seeing the same thing I was seeing. McGuyver looks at them for a minute, calmly announces “who are you?” (the mysterious pair of eyes didn’t have the best English skills) and then turns back to me, telling me that we should start moving quickly and that he would tell me what we saw in a minute. We start moving up the switchback, away from the glowing eyes, all the while continuing to talk as loud as possible. We turned back every fifteen seconds and saw the eyes following us, keeping their distance but slowly moving closer. Unfortunately for McGuyver and I, the switchback did what switchbacks often do, and switched…back…heading closer to the pair of eyes. We ended up hiking to about 20 feet above the source of the eyes, where McGuyver was able to get a good look at it’s head and half of the body. I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between a Mountain Lion and a Bobcat, but McGuyver was able to identify its size, fur pattern and ear shape… and when it came closer to us it helped being able to see it in the light too. We hiked on, hoping we wouldn’t need new pants and that our new friend would leave us alone. I continued to look back (thank you 160 Black Diamond Storm headlamp!) and saw a second pair of eyes pop up as I looked over my shoulders. Lovely.
Eventually the eyes stopped following us as we hit crested over the peak of Three Ridges, but my heart was beating so hard from adrenaline that I kept checking over my shoulder until we got to camp. I ended up setting up my tent and crawling into bed, sans dinner, water, clean clothes, or anything. That was and still is the most tired I have been on trail for sure. Since then we have had park rangers tell us both that we could never have seen a Mountain Lion, and that there was definitely a chance we could have seen one. As far as I’m concern, I know what we saw, and I know how freaked out (and lucky) I was. At the end of the day, that’s all that really matters.
Trail Angels and Waynesboro Magic
You never know what sort of kindness you’ll run into out here on the trail – that’s been a running theme of this hike so far if you haven’t caught on. The day after the Mountain Lion encounter, a couple of hikers and I were resting at the last shelter before town when we met a former Thru-Hiker who had hiked out there for the day. I’m going to leave most of the information out of here for his/her privacy, but this was by far the best trail magic we’ve had on the trail so far. He/She picked us up at the trail head, drove us around town to the outfitter, brought us out to Mings (AMAZING Chinese Buffet) and paid for our meal, and then brought us back to their house where they took care of our laundry and let us use their shower while we spent the night. If you’re reading this – you know who you are and we can’t thank you enough for all of that.
After coming back to Waynesboro I met up with Chicago, Gandalf the Brown, Shawn “P-Diddy”, Dizzy, and Goose as one of the local motels, where we had ourselves a nice lazy zero day. We walked around trying (and failing) to find iced coffee, checked out a thrift shop where I found a 5 dollar Guinness snapback hat, and went to the local irish pub for dinner and cheap whiskey (Kentucky Bourbon, mmmmmm).
The next morning I said goodbye to Gandalf and Chicago, who were aquablazing instead of hiking the Shenandoah range. I set forth on my first attempt to hitch a ride solo, failed miserably, and ended up calling a trail angel listed at the outfitter who gave me a ride back to the trailhead. After six years, I was back at the Shenandoahs.
Spoiler: I didn’t like the Shenandoahs
I’m not going to write very much on the Shenandoahs… or the next couple weeks after, because frankly there wasn’t much to write about. I see so many posts on here and at other places that ascribe such romantic, poetic language to the Appalachian Trail, but I can’t say that I have had the same experiences consistently since Georgia. I’ve had many of these, sure, and there have been many moments out here that have seem so surreal that I’ve had to pinch myself to remind myself that what I was experiencing was real. There have also been times, many times, where I’ve had to resign myself to the fact that the only way to Maine is north, and that despite my lack of motivation to move forward, the only way I can get north is to put one foot in front of the other. This was all of the Shenandoahs in a nutshell. I spent five or six days (I honestly can’t even recall right now, it’s all a boring blur) averaging about 24 miles a day, and life was very very simple. Wake up – Pack – Hike – Eat – Hike – Unpack – Eat – Sleep. Repeat Repeat Repeat. The AT in the park was definitely fun to hike – easy and flat (with rolling hills at times), but it was crowded. Roads bisected the trail every couple of miles, and I found myself stopping ten times a day to give the standard “When did you start, where did you start, you’re doing the whole trail???” responses to hikers that passed by. I realize this makes me seem a little pretentious with the way I’m viewing my progress at this point, but the reality for many of us NOBOs is that we just want to keep moving… sometimes it’s easier not to think about the big picture and just keep moving. So that’s how I got through the Shenandoah National Park. I just kept moving.
Oh yeah – and we saw an aggressive bear that wouldn’t leave our campsite. It was there in the morning (also where I first met No Sew) and no matter how much we yelled and clapped at it, it just ignored us and stared at the firepit, where day hikers had been throwing out trash for who knows how long. THIS is why LNT (Leave No Trace) is so important. That bear has changed it’s behavior because it has learned that it can find food at this campsite, and so that might very well be it’s primary way to get food. Th e next steps are likely for park rangers to relocate that bear far away, with the hope that it will return to using its foraging skills to find food. If the bear continues to be aggressive and go after people and people’s food, it might be put down… and none of this is the bear’s fault. Very frustrating.
Crossing into Harper’s Ferry
I met up with Bisquit right after leaving the Shenandoahs, and him and I spent the last day practically running down the trail into Harper’s Ferry. Nothing much of note to write about right now, except that my boots completely blew out about ten feet before the rollercoaster, which was a 13 mile stretch of up 500 feet, down 400 feet, up 600 feet, etc… Not very fun. Second pair of dead boots in 1000 miles.
We got into Harper’s Ferry late on the evening of May 14th, and reunited at the local pizza joint with Banana Boat, Roadside, Gandalf the Brown, Chicago, Fireball, Cheeseman, Hot Pants and Blackbeard. Despite most of us parting ways for trail days and trips into Washington DC (I was going in to see the city and meet up with one of my future BU Law roommates that I’ll be living with in the fall) it was still great to be together with everybody.
Hiking PA, or: Those two weeks that I’ve completely erased in memory
As I’ve mentioned before, my friend Emily from CT is hiking a flip flop and came down on May 16th to begin her hike. She’s really hit the ground running – pulling 18 and 20 mile day almost immediately and keeping pace with the rest of our patchwork crew of hikers moving north towards Mt. Katahdin. We made it through MD and PA alongside Chicago, Tropicana, Gandalf, Furball, Fireball, Anthony (my good friend from Connecticut who came out for a long stretch with us) No Sew, and many others that shared campsites, hostels and shelters together. I’ll try and come back to write about PA if I get a chance, but in the interest of getting some more detailed blogs out in the future, I’m chalking PA up as a blank spot in this blog. You can really summarize it as follows:
– More Rocks
– Nice Fields
– More Rocks
– Zinc Superfund Site
The end! I don’t think I’ve been as happy on this trail as I was when we crossed into NJ.
Moving Forward: Leaving NJ, Inching Closer to New England and The Light at the End of the Tunnel
As I close out this post (which I started over three weeks ago… whups) I’m sitting at the wonderful church hostel in Vernon, NJ at mile 1356.7. It feels strange writing that. Three months I’ve walked the earth from Georgia on north, and more and more I’m starting to actually feel like I’m actually getting somewhere. New Jersey has been beautiful (no bears though) but I’m thrilled to be a week away from crossing into CT and seeing my friends, family and girlfriend Amanda for the first time in over three months.
Moving forward I’m going to try to get out blog posts once a week if I can. I think my problem last time around is that I tried to maintain a day by day account of what was going on, and that was simply too difficult considering all that is going on out here. Sometimes you have to choose between blogging about life on the trail, or going out and living it, and I’m going to choose living it every time. I’ll try and keep these more current though. We’re moving away from the boring rocky void of PA, and into the grand finale of Mass, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine that I’ve been looking forward to for what feels like forever. The most amazing thing about all of this is that we’ve walked here. 1350+ miles, all under our feet. At this point it feels like there’s nothing we can’t do. We’re coming for you, Katahdin. It’s starting to look like we might actually make it after all.
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