It started sunny and bright. I said my goodbyes to my mother and set off south on the bridge over the Shenandoah River. The “shame-down” at the flip-flop festival had gone better than expected and I set off confident and in perfect weather.
The climb out of Harper’s Ferry was steep and did everything it could to turn me around. I immediately started wondering, “Why am I doing this again? Am I really leaving my family and friends behind to trudge over rocks? This is stupid…go home.” I looked at my list (make a list, just do it), let a few tears fall, and trudged on.
I accepted my fate and set a good pace. After a few hours boredom over took me (I refuse to hike with headphones) so I decided to make the best of the rocky trail by playing “The Ground is Lava” and hopped from rock to rock. Of course, this resulted in a twisted ankle but I have a record of thirty-six rocks…worth it. I stopped shortly after for lunch and chatted with a section hiker who unknowingly gave me the will to go on by saying, “The only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.” I made it ten miles to the first shelter and fell asleep in my tent gazing at the town lights below.
The rain started at about three in the morning. Also my water bag, which had been reliable for the past few months, started leaking so good thing I decided to throw my collapsible bottle in my pack at the last second. There was a small break in the weather at about seven so I took advantage of it, packed up, and set forth. I was told there was breakfast at the next stop so I figured why not. Eventually the ankle slowed me down and I arrived too late. Heeding the advice of past hikers, I listened to my body and set up shop in the cabin for the day with my feet up.
Here is where an injury turned into a good thing. Soon more hikers strolled in from the rain, we got a fire going in the woodstove, had a lovely dinner and great company for the night. If I hadn’t twisted my ankle I would have trekked on and missed all of it.
The next morning the rain still had not stopped and it is also the day I began the Rollercoaster. Miles of slippery, wet, foot and soul bruising rocks. It was a good thing I let my ankle heal or things would have turned worse quickly.
The next day was more relentless rain and slipping over rocks. I made it to the (thankfully) empty shelter and passed out. I slept so deeply I did not even notice my shoulders had rolled off the sleeping pad and onto the hard floor. Despite waking with an aching back, I got my first clear sunrise and basked in the warmth.
The next couple days were finally full of sunshine and easier trail. The Roller Coaster was done! The last fog from the rains cleared just as I entered Sky Meadows and I literally wept at the beauty of the world after being enclosed in a long, rocky, green tunnel for four days. The day hikers skirted around me as I took over a picnic table at a blue blaze for lunch but I didn’t care IT WASN’T RAINING.
I spent the next day slowly walking in awe of a mountain full of wildflowers. I set up camp that night, caught up on my field notes, and started to figure out how to enter the first town. My sleep was cut short by the incessant trains in the valley and a thunderstorm rolling in early morning. Exhausted, I stuffed my pack and prepared for what I thought would be 10 miles to the road crossing.
And this is where I encountered my first trail magic! Two mushroom hunters from the DC Mushroom Club, Judy and Elona, offered me a ride to town since they were heading back to the parking lot anyway! As we scurried down in another thunderstorm a large group of day hikers passed and one was carrying oranges for thru-hikers! I started off the day tired and miserable and within a couple hours I had fresh fruit and was riding with hilarious company into town. As we drove they were extremely helpful with informing me where the outfitter, grocery, and yummy food was within proximity to the hotel. I gave them my contact information and they were also kind enough to give me some money for a hot lunch! We said our goodbyes and I swore I would pass the magic on.
So, even though the Roller Coaster section of the AT is over, I believe there are a lot more ups and downs ahead of me. Now I have rested, lightened my load, and cleaned up in town, I am ready for what the trail has next.
The only way to hike the AT is one step at a time…
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