Pearisburg-Daleville: Not Virginia blues, just Virginia tireds
Total miles: 727… 1/3 done!
Average daily miles: 17-22
Well I guess I’ll write an update, because (somewhat to my dismay) we are taking a second zero day in Daleville. There’s nothing really wrong, but Hare had a low-morale week, and he wanted an extra day of rest. We are hiking partners and if that means someone needs a break, we take a break!
I don’t mind rest either, but I am going to use this opportunity to vastly generalize and say the girls are pretty damn tough out here. The percentage of females is far lower than I expected, but the attitudes are grittier and–from questionable info through the hiker grapevine–the dropout rate is way lower than it is for the dudes. Is this because there are less of us? Or because we’re ultra-determined to prove ourselves? Or, because there are relatively few chicks who attempt a thru-hike, the ones less likely to make it are weeded out before the start? Did that last sentence even make sense?
All I know is that Hare needs rest and his attitude took a little tumble this past week. We did a bigger mileage week than we have before, between 18-23 miles per day, covering 93 miles in 5 days. I hope this extra day does the trick and gets him back to his naturally good spirits. Daleville is rather dull though, so struggling to upload photos to this blog (while weeping over the horse stories preceding the Kentucky Derby) should entertain me for a few hours.
We hit some super cool milestones in this last chunk o’ hiking. McAfee Knob, Dragon’s Tooth, Tinker Cliffs. All of these were within 24 hours and we had GOOD WEATHER OMG!
McAfee Knob was bizarre, because it’s such a tourist spot. We hiked all day on a typical AT section: slippery leaves covering slippery rocks, tooth-jarring “steps” off rock ledges, and blow-downs covered in poison oak vines. All of the sudden we round a corner and come to a parking lot on a busy road, with glossy signs pointing us towards the iconic selfie spot. In 50 yards we went from a faceplant booby trap to strolling along a dirt path wide enough for a kickline routine and graded for go-karts.
It was 60 degrees and sunny, so there were a buttload of day hikers. I always figured the “LOLZ I’m a badass thru-hiker and I can smell clean people” was a dumb AT elitism thing, but it’s actually true. I don’t know if people in VA use extra-strong detergent, but I can actually smell the clean. I was walking with Hare and Shadow, all of us equally sweaty and grimy, and I felt like a real dirtbag. Not coincidentally, I also finally felt like a thru-hiker. I was hyper-aware of my greasy hair, WalMart shorts, and stinky companions. You could almost see the stench waves emanating from us and there were actually flies buzzing around our heads.
There were a few college students taking pictures at the lookout, and I chatted with one beautiful specimen of a sorority girl. I didn’t realize how much I missed looking at something pretty– no offense to the hairy, filthy men I stare at all day. I still see an average of zero girls per day on the trail, and I sat splayed out on the rocks shoving a shrink-wrapped muffin and 6 Oreos in my face, misreading the girl’s transfixed stare as her craving for an Oreo rather than horror at the barbaric way I was dropping crumbs on my lap, then picking them up and eating them. She politely declined my cookie offering, but was very interested in the hike. I felt simultaneously proud of my hike and embarrassed by my bad table manners.
On another note, I’ve been combatting the instinct to compare myself to other people. If someone has figured out a way to not measure themselves against other hiker’s pace/mileage/pack weight/ attitude/ blisters, please share your wisdom. Or I guess I could just reread “Appalachian Trials.” I’m sure ol’ Zach Davis has some pertinent words of wisdom that I’ve conveniently forgotten. I do my best to just think about how good our pace has been for us, but sometimes it’s like “You started WHEN? And you’re HERE? And you’ve been averaging HOW MUCH?”
I believe we’re pretty average mileage-wise for NOBOs at this point (but remember Maggie, it doesn’t matter), but this past week was a little mentally taxing for me as well as Hare. I love me some leisurely camp time: I’m not the hiker who wakes up singing with the birds and trots through the woods until the sun goes down, throwing a tent up wherever my jolly feet have landed me. Nay, I struggle out of my tent in the morning, and bash Hare over the head with the food bags until he groggily worms out of his sleeping bag. We limp around packing up (takes us an hour. Every time.) and hit the trail around 8. I set a campsite or shelter area goal every day, and we march towards that shining beacon of dinner and reading. Then we stop. Because we reached our goal.
Hiking longer days meant less time at camp, and shorter lunch and snack time. I found myself leaning towards negativity and a twinge of resentment for the trail, even though we had the best scenery, weather, and terrain of the whole trip. The hiking was tough–big ridge climbs up and down all day (why aren’t I a super hiker yet?) but it didn’t excuse my bad temperament.
On the last mile of a 22.5-mile day, I was fuming and stomping along, and I made myself stop and reevaluate. It was 7:30pm, the light was filtering through new leaves that were at eye-level as I climbed a ridge, and I was surrounded by perfect yellow-green light. I was in my last mile of the day, and even though my body was begging me to stop, I was suffering from no out-of-ordinary pains. I need to remember to appreciate this trail, and appreciate my hiking partner, and appreciate the fact that I am privileged enough to be out here and be healthy.
This is not a symptom of Virginia itself, rather this mileage spot on the trail. 700+ miles hiked, and still several hundred miles until the halfway point. It’s fine though, nothing some Taylor Swift or Bruce Springsteen can’t fix. Or a nice view, that’s pretty rad too.
I also found the following picture, which I set as my phone background. It’s basically me on every big uphill, and I think it’s funny. When I’m a grumpy pants, I look at it and giggle and stop feeling so sorry for myself.
Regarding mileage / this spot on the trail, people are falling apart and dropping out at a rapid rate. We ran into Brightside, a girl we hadn’t seen in over 650 miles. She was sidelined with a sprained foot: direct result of her arches collapsing and taking away her foot’s stability (but she’s a badass and jumped right back in after 5 days off). Hare has heel spurs, Prime’s shin splints so bad his lower leg looks ready to burst, and Gadget is off the trail thanks to a torn meniscus. I’ve heard of three people breaking their legs, and one girl breaking her arm. People also seem to just be giving up. It makes me sad, but everyone knows what they need.
Our main issues are still feet and heels. Hare’s got those weird heel spurs, and my feet look like something not found on a human body. My toes wouldn’t have ever won a beauty contest, but now they are so smashed together that I can hardly pry them apart, and my left pinkie toe is mushed sideways so I walk on the outside of it; the whole toe is numb and has grown a second sole. It’s so messed up looking. In the most roundabout way possible, this brings me to the reason we’re in Daleville for another day.
Yesterday I bought new shoes at Outdoor Trails, the only outfitter between Damascus and Waynesboro. The sales associates and managers weren’t particularly friendly, but I needed new shoes. I felt awkward and probably rushed through the process, resulting in choosing a pair of Solomon’s that were a half-size too big. We actually hit the trail this morning, and I made it one whole mile before I realized the shoes were just not going to work. My heels were popping out on the gentle uphills and my toes were jamming on the smallest slope. I freaked out (a common theme with me out here) and Hare was absolutely adamant that we walk the mile back and change them out.
It didn’t occur to me to be worried about exchanging the shoes for a half size down, so I went into the store and explained I’d bought them yesterday and walked a total of two miles in them, and they just didn’t fit. The manager immediately shook her head and pointed to mud on the outsole and two spots of dirt on the upper, and told me “I can’t take these back. I can’t sell these again, we don’t do returns on shoes.” To my horror, my voice cracked like I was going to cry when I tried to just reiterate that I had only worn them for two miles. Hare said that it was too strict of a policy, and we would scrub them clean. To that, the sales associate (who sold me the shoes) said: “What’s ridiculous? That you bought the wrong pair of shoes and walked out of here with them?” I stood there in incredulous shock until the manager gave a tight-lipped smile and said if we could clean them, she would try to work with us. We bought wet wipes and scrubbed for more than an hour until she was satisfied, so I exchanged them for a half size smaller and now have shoes that hopefully work. But I am really disappointed with Outdoor Trails, especially because we spent over $200 there.
I understand the shoe policy in theory, but it was rudely surprising and disheartening nonetheless. As we left, the sales associate asked us if more hikers had come into town, and we told him they had. He rolled his eyes and muttered something, which makes no sense considering the manager admitted that thru-hikers are the only reason the store is in business. After that two-hour endeavor, Hare did not want to start hiking again, so here we are. (I get to watch the Kentucky Derby though so yay!) Hare gets the feeling that businesses are tired of thru-hikers, but we provide so much business and I have never seen a hiker or group of hikers be anything but polite and respectful.
It’s a bummer for sure. We’ve encountered many employees in restaurants and stores who just don’t want to see us. Maybe there are some rude hikers, I just haven’t seen them. Sorry we smell bad… is that the issue? This snub is a shocker for me: an average, middle-class, college-educated female. I’ve never stood out in any way, so to have people make assumptions about me based on the subcategory I fit into is something I’ve never experienced. You know who’s great though? The Howard Johnson motel here. They LOVE thru-hikers. 5/5 sweaty sock rating.
Something else on my mind: Eating has become such a pain in the rear. We’re burning between 4,000-6,000 calories per day, and it was fun at first to eat whatever garbage we wanted, we’re both so over it. Everything tastes like processed carbs and sodium (because it is) and it’s just mechanically shoving food down my gullet to fuel the miles. Clif Shotbloks are 200 calories and easy to eat. They should sponsor us because we eat 5 packs a day. Our parents also send fun snacks and food we can’t get at the Dollar Store (thanks parents!) but even in town, there’s nothing I want to eat anymore. Except fresh fruit. Give me all the fresh fruit.
I lost 10 pounds in the first 4 weeks, but have maintained steady weight since then. Hare hasn’t lost a pound, but his fat (no offense to my lovely fiancé) has turned into muscle on his lower half…. which is consuming his upper half and he looks so skinnnnny. (He’s going to get so mad at me when he reads that)
Our group kinda went splitskis the past few days. Spartacus (the wonderfully congenial 55-year-old we’d been with since the Smokies) took off yesterday early because he’a a badass didn’t need a zero. Surprise surprise, the old guys do better than the younger, whinier people. Shadow (20-year-old kid from Georgia) had family visit, so he’s taking an extra two days off. Prime (military guy, was hiking with his son who dropped out at 500 miles) is staying a few extra days in town to nurse those nasty shin splints.
I will miss the guys’ humor and spirit, but we’ve been with the same people so long that I was feeling like I was hiking with a group, not with Hare. Plans were made around a group mentality, and I felt pressure to be at certain places or do certain miles. Pros and cons to everything I guess.
I still look forward to reading every night. I consider my Kindle about as important as my sleeping bag. <– that was an exaggeration but you get the gist. I downloaded a bunch of books a few weeks ago, but I keep rereading “AWOL on the Appalachian Trail” (David Miller) and “Becoming Odyssa” (Jennifer Pharr Davis). Most would agree that hiking is pretty boring. Most NOBOs around us are realizing this. Beyond the inherent blahness of slowly walking 2,000 miles with the equivalent of a baby hippo strapped to your back, walking those miles under the green (brown) tunnel of the AT can be even more meh. So what’s more boring than hiking? Reading about hiking! Wouldn’t I rather read about someone BASE jumping? Drag racing? Free-soloing big walls? Why read about someone hiking the exact same trail I’m currently exploring at 2mph? (3mph if the adrenaline’s pumpin’.) Maybe it’s a sick obsession with other people’s blisters and shin splints. Maybe I love knowing I ate the same breakfast at the Barn that AWOL did. Or “Hey Jenn! Buddy! My ankles hurt on that ridgeline with the steep rocks too! We’re like the same person!” Either way, I love those books and I totally love the Appalachian Trail and I’m still obsessed even though I’m living on it. PSA: Check out those books if you haven’t already.
Heading out tomorrow for a low-key week. Looking forward to more of Virginia, springtime sweeping up the ridgelines, and Shenendoah!
Question and answer time.
Q) Do you guys still get along?
A) I’m assuming this is referring to Hare and I. And yes we do. He’s like my best bud and stellar hiking partner, who I also happen to be getting married to next summer. We’ve had our moments, like it drives me bonkers waiting for him to slooooowly pack his bag in the morning. And I drive him crazy maybe all the time. But we are on the same wavelength with this hike and will support each other the whole way. I’m a lucky duck!
TL; DR: Yep!
Q) How much is your hike costing?
A) So much money. Smarter people than us can do it cheaper, but we have questionable financial skills. We will probably be living in a cardboard box behind WalMart when we get back to Montana. Oh wait! We have a tent the SIZE of WalMart. We can live in that. For instance, we are paying $165 for three nights at the motel, around $100 going out to eat, $100 in resupply, $81 at the post office (no joke), and unfortunately $230 at that outfitter. I’ve done the math for you, and that’s $676 in just over 48 hours. Holy guacamole.
TL;DR: A LOT OF DOLLARS. More than expected.
Q) Post more.
A) This was a comment rather than a question, but I’ll still address it. I could post more, but I want to maintain the illusion that I’m not in town every 70-100 miles. (Carrying more than 5 days of food is heavy, ok?) But now that the cat’s outta the bag and it’s apparent I’m not foraging dandelion greens and snaring rabbits in the wilderness, I’ll also confess that posting updates takes forever. Writing about myself is so fun, but when you include half-hearted spell checking and the mind-numbing process of uploading pictures at 6 minutes per photo, it takes up a lot of time that I need to be doing dumb stuff like resupplying, eating, laundry, and spending $81 at the post office.
TL;DR: I would love to but I don’t have time. Plus then you’d be tired of me.
Ok that’s all! We’re going to eat Mexican food for dinner…. Wish our GI tracts luck. Tortoise and Hare outskis.
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