Pearisburg to Blacksburg Scorecard
During Trail Days, I stopped by The Trek’s booth. Zach asked a couple questions about where I was and then asked, “Any Virginia Blues yet?” “Not even a little,” I replied happily. Virginia had been amazing, if a little rainy, since I’d started it.
I expected to come out of Trail Days reenergized and enthused after three whole days of no hiking. Instead I came out of it hungover and exhausted, and without something like Trail Days as a thing coming up to be excited about.
Then it started raining. And that’s when the blues kicked in.
Part Two: Pearisburg to Blacksburg
Currently at 687, having hiked a little over 50 miles since part one of this blog. Does that number look pathetic and sad to you? Because it should.
The Quick Recap
I have no idea how to recap this quickly. I did a short day out of Pearisburg, still feeling some residual exhaustion from Trail Days (and then a late night Harry Potter marathon). There was a 12 mile stretch with no water I didn’t feel like camping in or hiking through, so I stopped after 10 miles at the last water source before that stretch started. The next day the rain began and it didn’t stop. For the record, it’s been an unusually rainy year on the AT. People with similar start days as mine tell me the majority of the days we’ve hiked so far have been in rain or snow, which I have not verified but that’s sure what it freaking feels like. A couple weeks ago, my dad asked me if I would get used to the rain at some point. In my experience, the opposite occurs. The more days in a row it rains, the more I feel like chucking things. This is basically what happened this week; I gradually deteriorated as the week progressed.
Well, rainy. I also think the majority of the trail since Pearisburg has been rock, which I do not enjoy. Aside from the fact that the rocks hurt my feet so badly I have to take ibuprofen to keep them from swelling out of my shoes, they’re also slick and hard to navigate when wet, slowing me down.
The first day of rain was actually a nice one, with perfectly respectable miles. I even ate dinner at a shelter before packing up and continuing on in a downpour until 9pm. Everyone at the shelter told me I was a crazy, with a side of, “Do you have someplace you need to be?” but I was feeling it. I actually sang to myself as I was hiking, which everyone who knows me will be shocked by, but I was utterly confident I wasn’t going to come across other hikers. I felt like I had the whole trail to myself.
All the rest of the week.
Picture how hard it is to get out of bed on a cold day with rain pattering on your window. Now picture how hard it is to get out of your sleeping bag at the crack of dawn on a cold day and put on clothes that are still soaked from yesterday’s downpour and are also only a tank top and shorts because you sent your winter clothes home after holding off past all the arbitrary dates people told you to wait before sending them home by. In my case, there’s no job that will fire me, no kids that won’t get to school on time, so technically there’s no reason I can’t wait 15 more minutes to see if maybe it’ll stop raining so I can take my tent down in a not-downpour.
The Virginia Blues are, I think, the end of the original source of energy and motivation you had that got you out on the trail in the first place. I just felt tired and unmotivated and found myself wanting nothing more than really, really desiring to not be rained on. Getting in good miles feels good, but I wasn’t getting them; instead I was waiting in my tent until it stopped raining, and setting it back up wherever the crap I could as soon as the rain started again.
It also meant I was stealth camping a lot on my own. Festering bad moods can be halted by a great group of hikers in a shelter with you, but I wasn’t giving that a chance. I kept continuing on my own, slowly turning into a giant ball of cranky assholery.
Something snapped in my brain way back on that day I barfed my way through the Smokies, terrified I wasn’t going to make it to the shelter before dark. Fear isn’t productive out here and, not to make myself sound too impressive, I had decided to abandoned it. Since that point I’ve been completely comfortable and trusting of the trail. I stealth camp alone about half the nights I camp, which is unusual. A friend once told me I always picked out spots that looked just like a place a serial killer would find you at, which I really hadn’t noticed.
The other day I accidentally spilled hot chocolate right in front of my tent. I might as well have doused myself in bear bait. I cleaned it up as best I could and placed my socks over the spot, hoping their smell would out-odor the hot chocolate. “How could you sleep that night?” someone asked me later. In truth I had slept like a log.
I’m not bragging, but I am trying to explain why, when it started raining, I had no problem setting up my tent alone on a ridgeline without a second thought. There were trees, it wasn’t that exposed, there were no thunderstorms in the forecast and I checked for dead trees before picking a spot.
Somewhere in the middle of the night, the wind went crazy. I woke up to a branch crashing on my tent. I had really convinced myself my tent was this impenetrable fortress I safely cocooned myself in every night. The illusion was shattered in a second. The branch didn’t do any lasting damage, but I was now awake and I spent the rest of the night widely so with the sound of trees and branches cracking and falling around me. I wasn’t sure if it was smart to move; it was about two in the morning, pouring rain and I’d have to hike along the ridgeline for another five miles anyway to find a safer spot. I ended up staying put despite that being the last I slept that night. Instead I spent the time trying not to cry, wincing when cracks sounded especially close, and trying to read on my kindle to distract myself.
I groggily climbed out of my tent the next morning to the sight of a tent-breaking, if not leg-breaking, branch dangling by a thread right above my tent. I packed up hurriedly and stepped over multiple downed trees and got back on the trail, devolving into an all-out breakdown in the process. I spent the morning stepping over visual reminders of how unbelievably lucky I’d gotten, as well as how unbelievably stupid I’d been, each one making me sob a little harder.
I do take solace that on the three occasions so far that I’ve totally broken down on the trail (climbing over Blood Mountain in the snow, barfing my way through the Smokies, and that particular morning), I managed to continue hiking while quietly crying to myself. Anyway, this was a very long low point.
MVP of the Week
My mom. She’s been here before. My mom is the Hermione to my Harry, the Cortana to my Master Chief, the Navi to my Link. Not in the sense that I should be compared to heroic characters, but more that if I’m the one doing the thing, she’s the one who actually knows the things about doing the thing. She has navigated me around shelters hit with norovirus, kept me informed on the whereabouts of every Trek blogger I’ve ever hiked near, and somehow is always aware where bears have been sighted near me. She also lives on the other side of the continent.
She has had a front row seat to all my trail-related mental breakdowns, including this one. I texted her that I wanted to quit. Not the actual, really wanting-to-quit. The wanting-to-quit I knew would go away once it stopped raining on me. I was still pretty far away from Daleville, my next planned stop, which would have given me a chance to do a mental reset.
“Get to this road crossing by this time tomorrow,” she told me, presumably picking a spot off the map. “I’ll get you a ride into town and a place to stay.” I did, my phone dying before I really had a chance to iron out the details.
Which is how I ended up shuffling into a Hyatt hotel in Blacksburg, legs streaked with mud and a little bit of blood from where I’d impaled my leg on a stick. Blacksburg isn’t a trail town and there were no other hikers around. I felt slightly awkward traipsing around town in my Trail Days t-shirt and the classic crocs with Darn Tough socks combo. The front desk staff seems bemused by my presence amid waves of families with teenagers touring the Virginia Tech campus across the street, but they were incredibly kind and accommodating even though I did sink laundry and hung up my tent in the shower to dry.
I feel guilty my mom had to swoop in and rescue me, but I’m also really grateful for the break. Thru-hiking is forcing me to be better about accepting help when it’s offered and acknowledging I sometimes need help in the first place. I spent the day making a list of upcoming things I was excited for, and happily was indoors during yet another thunderstorm.
My tent. I don’t like to talk about my gear a lot, mostly because there are actual gear experts on this site and I picked out mine through lots of reading their articles and random guess work. But I do have a Big Agnes Flycreek UL2, aka the tent everyone out here has. It’s easily my favorite piece of gear, always homey and comfortable, and this week it survived a branch falling on it. It has kept me warm and dry through weeks of downpours, and is still warm and dry inside when I set it up during said downpours. I’ve never woken up to a puddle or been dripped on, even when it’s so windy the rain moves sideways. So kudos to you, little tent. You do more than a contraption made of poles and nylon should.
The rocks were so bad in this section I spent a day limping from lunch on. I’d take off my shoes every night to find them black and blue and twice their size. Every morning I’d stand up and think I was going to fall over immediately. I’m very concerned about Pennsylvania.
And I didn’t even talk about the poison ivy …
I’ve gotten to the point where I trust the trail. When things are bad, I trust they won’t be soon if I just wait it out. I’m not concerned on days I feel like quitting because I know that feeling will pass. I also trust myself to never quit on a bad day. But not enough people acknowledge that a bad day can come after a bad day, and a bad day can come after that too, followed by another one, and another one. Part of the week feels like my fault because I did let it fester. I just sort of assumed the suck would go away on its own, rather than taking active steps to turn my head space around. But I think this week ties the week I was sick in the Smokies. I give it 2 out of 10 fudge stripe cookies.
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