Shenandoah to Harpers Ferry: My Brain is Cold Soaked Ramen
I think I forgot how to count again…. I think multiple Neros due to bad weather has made my brain a pile of soggy cold soaked noodles.
Welp. Due to a booking snafu and shitty weather, we are taking a zero. I’m not upset about us having to take an unplanned zero as my clothes have started mildewing and I don’t remember a time when my feet were not wet, but here we are in Luray, doing chores and stuffing ourselves with food.
Zeros are nice but never feel long enough. You feel like you have the time to do everything in a day, but in reality you are so tired you feel rushed. It feels a bit like the Red Queen from Alice in Through the Looking Glass, “Now, here, you see, it takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.” You have so much to get done while being so tired, it doesn’t feel like enough time.
Either way, it was a slow lazy rainy day. I managed to check out some cool local spots, like Broad Porch Coffee, where I indulged in not one, but two coffees (I know, spoiled!). We also checked out the outfitter, where Elyse was able to help us out with finding a shuttle into the park and let us pet her amazing dogs.
Overall, Luray is a pretty fun place plenty of good local food and coffee and would highly recommend checking it out. My only comments are that the grocery stores are not super accessible and the laundromat is outrageously priced.
Well, it was an interesting time getting back to trail. We rode in the bed of a pick up truck into the National Park. Apparently, Virginia doesn’t care if you ride in the back of the truck, as long as your over 16 years of age… I think… Hope. The weather looked questionable riding up to the park and we ended up getting rained on in the truck, then in the parking lot, and then again in the woods. It appears tropic storms just want to punish us.
The day was wet with no views as we walked through the park. It is exhausting slow work walking in the rain, trudging through soupy trails while sweating constantly. It just feels like it will never end while you are a hot soupy soggy mess.
I am so tired of this rain and the suck fest. I understand it is part of hiking the AT, but damn, this is exhausting. Pushing through the rain, being uncomfortable and wet every day. The cherry on top of the suck fest is what seems to be my consistently breaking gear.
It appears I have been cursed with constantly breaking gear. I have now had to replace my tent, sleeping pad, quilt, trekking pole tips, and back pack. I am so tired of having to beg companies to honor their warranties or drop more money on more gear. I woke up in the night to a deflated sleeping pad… I almost quit upon the realization of the faulty gear. Silently crying in my tent, I reinflated it and tried to not anxiously think about how to deal with the new hurdle I now had to overcome.
After a night of not sleeping due to the leaky air pad, I was upset and had no bandwidth. I didn’t sleep well the night before due to the air pad deflating and due to anxiety. My anxiety had gotten the better of me while I thought through mt options, I don’t want to have to spend another $100+ on a new pad or try to reason with a companies warranty policy. I finally found a solution to help me sleep better on trail and of course it was compromised. I didn’t have the bandwidth to deal with the idea of thru hiking and deal with fixing or replacing this air pad while not sleeping well.
I spent the morning trying not to make it a big deal, but it was a big deal. It was eating at me to the point of tears and I just wanted to go home. I am tired of fixing my gear just to watch it break. I have now ‘almost’ replaced or repaired all of my gear, tent, sleeping pad, quilt, backpack, bra, and trekking poles. I am getting tired watching my investments crap out. It is not like I don’t take care of my gear, I try my best to make sure my gear is not completely abused on top of the constant demands of thru hiking, but you have to admit, hiking is tough on gear. I don’t have the budget of both money and time to keep fixing or replacing relatively new gear.
Luckily, I had reached out to our guardian angel, Splash, to come get us at the nearest gap and help me out. She agreed and took us on to a fun side adventure into the outfitter in Front Royal. She had errands to run while I spent the next hour crying in a bathroom while trying to find a leak in my air pad (at least I wasn’t crying about cheating on a math test in second grade.).
I felt like it was my fault we were missing out on miles today. We were spending the first good weather window of the week in a town.. waterboarding my air pad. We had fallen behind on miles because of the tropical storm and the unexpected nero and zero. I felt so slow and useless in the rain, it felt like the lack of miles was my fault. That I was the reason we were falling behind. That I was the weak link in the partnership.
In reality, I know that that is just trauma and anxiety rearing it’s ugly head. I know that fixing my gear is necessary and something we need to break and repair, but I just felt so at fault. That I was the limiting factor because of gear or my slower pace, not the weather and the challenging terrain.
It turned out my catastrophizing was due to lack of sleep, lack of calories, and the need of a beer (also perhaps a hug). But it was fine in the end, Dreamsicle helped me waterboard my pad to locate and patch the leak, I found a pie shop, and Splash got us back on trail within the good weather window.
I thought my troubles were over once we were back on trail. Ha! I was wrong.
I am a big planner. I like concrete plans for my hiking day, like were we might meet or stop to plan the next section of the day. Due to us rushing to get miles on trail after the unplanned nero, no plans were made. We were just walking. For some reason, anxiety got the better of me, like what if my sleeping pad was still broken after the issues? What if I needed to go into town tomorrow to buy a new pad? What if…
You can see where this is going. I got anxious and I needed to talk to Dreamsicle about planning for camping and the night, but he was no where to be found. He was already so far ahead and I had no service to get ahold of him.
So I kept hiking, I would either catch up or be right on his tail. And I did catch up, but whenever I called his name he didn’t here me. This just drove me into a deeper vicious anxious cycle that I struggled to pull myself from.
He must have heard me, right? He wouldn’t just ignore me.We hadn’t made a plan and he and I are so good at communicating typically. Why was he just charging off? I know he wants to maximize the good weather for miles, but why wont he let me catch up too him?
Either way we got separated, I thought I had passed him at one point. I made an effort to wait for him at a trail junction between two spots I had mentioned camping at, one spot was joining Splash and the other was pushing to the shelter. I was so worried about my pad still leaking that I had wanted to be closer to a safety line with Splash and I was so tired from the anxiety riddled sleep, but we had never confirmed our plans.
I was panicking. This wasnt life or death, but I didnt know where my fucking hiking partner was and I wasn’t comfortable walking to the shelter with busted gear. I couldn’t do another sleepless night, I was already feeling aweful from the previous night on the rocks. We always made a plan he had never left me behind before. This was like him, so where the hell was he.
So I waited. 15 minutes. Nothing.
This is where I became hysterical. I sat of this junction not knowing where to go. I didnt want to walk any farther, I was so tired and felt helpless and hopeless. I tried texting him, but my service was bad, messages would go out, but nothing came in. Would he continue to the shelter or would he go where I wanted to go, with Splash and Titus? I honestly didn’t know. I knew he wouldn’t just leave me, but I was so overwhelmed by everything I didn’t know what to do.
So I sat there and cried, then monologued, and then cried some more. I scared the shit out of a day hiker who must have thought I was absolutely crazy. I finally came to a decision, while crying mind you, that the best case was to go to the next shelter on trail and the cry some more if I couldn’t find him.
I walked to the next view point, maybe a mile away and there he was. Sunning himself out on a rock with a beer in hand, enjoying the perfect view. The bastard, I had spent too much time fretting about, Dreamsicle. He looked calm and content looking out over the valley.
I was angry and upset, at finding him. I didn’t yell or scream, like I wanted to. Yell at him for not checking in on me or making a plan. I just cried blabbed about how I was scared and didn’t know where he was, how I was tired and felt bad about everything. He got up and hugged me, while I just cried. I cried about how overwhelmed I was and how it was just a hard day.
Today I learned that the trail will break you down and sometimes you don’t have the strength or energy to pull yourself back up, but the people who surround yourself with will be there with a helping hand.
Days 80 – 88
I have no clue what day it is on trail. I have walked more than 1000 miles and my brain is smooth. I was too tired from the heat and hard miles go write daily. I am somewhere North of Harpers Ferry, everything is a blur. So this next section will be take aways from the last week or so.
I have been a naughty hiker and have not been keeping up on my nightly journaling for the blog. I have been warn down and lacking in energy. As we approach 1000, I am excited but a new level of fatigue and ennui has been settling in, it feels like we ran the first 1000 miles and we still have a little over half way to go. So forgive me as I do my best to recount days.
I have been struggling through Virginia, it feels so hard to be here some days. People tell you how easy Virginia is, how it will fly by. The entirety of that statement is a bold face lie. While Virginia does indeed fly by, it has been challenging and no small feat. It doesn’t feel like it will ever end, the state began with the challenge of getting into the Grayson Highlands and ends with the Virginia Roller Coaster. There was no limit to the mental and physical challenge. I’m ready for it to be over.
These past couple of days were a reprieve from the the typical ongoings of trail. We have been trying to take things easier as we get closer to 1000 due to the heat and the air quality warnings, the conditions have been taking harder tolls on our bodies. The grueling heat has been sapping every ounce of energy from me while the hazy smokey air has been making me cough. I have been trying to be as safe as possible by drinking water and breaking, but it feels like as we move farther north the air quality may continue to worsen.
During this time, I got to see see my mom and brother, who came to visit me before I made it to Harpers Ferry. It was nice to see my mom, I haven’t seen her since Erwin TN, where we attempted a slack packing extravaganza (Word of Caution: Don’t make your loved ones hike with you if you are thru hiking, it is basically one step from a war crime). I was so tired from getting out Shenandoah and pushing to Harpers Ferry, that it was nice to be spoiled and to have a string of neros with beds, town food, and hot showers. It has left me a little spoiled and I imagine getting back on trail and back to longer days will be a struggle.
Harpers Ferry was old… And touristy. Lots of tourists, tiny shops, historic buildings, and people. Some shops were definitely worth it, such as Battle Ground Coffee, who gave me a illegally large amount of coffee (six shots of espresso).
The one cool part about Harpers Ferry is that it is a really big milestone on the AT. Many people quit the AT due to injury or running out of money by Harpers Ferry, at 1016 mileson the body, you rerunning ragged by the time you cross the Shenandoah river.
Harpers Ferry is quaint with historical houses and bed and breakfast, historic gardens and iron fees. But in the middle of town is a litte white brick building, there is nothing incredibly discerning or special about this building, but it houses a little museum with a hiker lounge. In the museum they have a 3D map of the entire trail that you can see all the hills that kicked your ass and different pieces of trail history. But, there is a special tradition where you get to take a Polaroid picture outside the building and they give you a number. That number is the number of hikers who have made it to Harpers Ferry for the season, I was number 1030. At Springer Mountain,I was hiker number 2157, now I a hiker 1030. Most of you probably think that I am excited that I have broke through the pack, that I am ahead and have “beaten” so many people. But that’s not even th firt thought that crossed my mind. I was wondering which of the amazing and phenomenal people I have met had to go home. Who’s face did I see for the last time?
Out here, you see so many faces and hop around so many groups, that you have an idea of who is on trail… But you aren’t exactly certain. You don’t know who you will see in town or at the next shelter. You don’t know who is behind you until you see them, which makes each encounter that more special.
They tell you at the start that 1 in 4 will make it to Katahdin. You don’t think about it until you cross these big milestones, the you wonder if you will be next to drop out. It is scary and sad.
19.6 mike slack pack
I had a hard day today. I have felt over stimulated, guilty, exhausted, and so incredibly anxious. It feels like my demons are getting the best of me recently. My dissociations and flash backs are getting worse and so are my night terrors, I have been struggling. On the fourth of July, we decided to take a break and go to Gettysburg to watch fireworks and just have a day off trail. During the day I was surrounded by people, out in the hot sun, and in the itchy grass. It was loud and uncomfortable and too much. Then the firework show started, I do not have a strong stance on fireworks. I like setting them off but then they get loud and boring, so they arent my favorite thing. But something strange happened with this show,I just felt on edge the entire time. I felt like I was going to crawl out of my skin with anxiety and paranoia, the fireworks were loud and bright and too much. Everything was too much.
Since being diagnosed with ADHD and PTSD, I forget that I am neurodivergent and that being overwhelmed and overstimulated are two very different things. For the longest time I thought I was just overwhelmed when I was just on the verge of absolutely fucking losing it. I was just filled with big uncontrollable emotions and feeling like existing was too much. I was like a toddler during a meltdown, I had an idea of what I needed to make it better, but I had no way to communicate or obtain the solution. Turns out that that’s what being overstimulated is for me, something I had watched my autistic brother go through over and over again, but something I didn’t realize applied to me. I was raised to be so observant of my brothers triggers that I never started learning my own until I was 26 years old… Guys, I’m 27… I have only been trying to learn about my triggers and silly brain for 6 months.
The next day on trail, I had a melt down. I haven’t been sleeping well because my new air pad has a hole in it and I am waiting for Big Agnes replacement pad to show up (Big Agnes customer service I love you, but get me my new pad faster). My stomach felt sour, my heart was racing, and I felt like I was forgetting something. Did I forget to pay a bill? Was there an email I was missing? That nagging feeling turned to anxious thoughts about everything. From, “Does my dog think I am dead since I have been gone for so long?” to “Am I clinically insane because I am crying in the woods, over my dog who probably thinks I am dead, and I spent too much money on barbeque and replacing gear and due to my shitty budgeting I will never end up on Katahdin.”
Well, Dreamsicle found me (yet again) losing my shit in the woods, crying about everything from being homesick to how my dog probably thinks I have died. I balled about being exhausted from not sleeping well and feeling guilty about all of our zeros. I balled about how my nightmares about grad school have returned and how I don’t know if I can ever return to science because of the traumatic experience. He just held me. He held me and told me it was okay. So I just stood there somewhere near the halfway point of the AT and cried.
Remember, your mental health follows you out onto the trail, it doesn’t just suddenly get better out here. The diagnosis and the bad days don’t just disappear because you touched some grass, they are still with you lingering and waiting for the right moment. Today was that perfect moment of stress, exhaustion, and overstimulation that triggered me, I’m glad I have support out here for the bad days. Be it a phone call or literally crying on a shoulder.
So, it appears some do not consider me a serious hiker, apparently I am an “adequate enough” hiker. That my hike is to be used as a bench mark in perspective to “how it really needs to be done”. I didn’t know that walking 1000+ miles in exactly 3 months without injury or financial mishaps (knock on wood) made my experience inadequate.
Today I received a comment from someone telling me “I can do what your doing, but I could cut your time by 20%.
This threw me for a loop and then it really got under my skin. Do people think I am not to be taken seriously? That for some reason, my experience on this trail isn’t valid because I am not rushing to the end? I don’t remember coming out here to break a record or be fast. Shit, I walk about 100-115 miles a week, and that isnt enough to be taken seriously?! What about my experience, that I am sharing, makes you need to challenge or “beat” me?
I don’t remember deciding to hike the Appalachian Trail because it was a contest, that I was competing with every hiker on this trail. I came out here, to walk 2200 miles to heal from psychological abuse from academia and from the trauma of my fathers death. I came here to learn about myself, to make friends, and have life long relationships. Not be someones bench mark for their ego.
To those of you who have decided that because of whatever reason, you can “out perform” my hike and your fellow hikers. Go ahead. I want to see how long that egotistical drive is going to motivate you to walk, because it isn’t going to be for long.
I was so proud of myself for being out here for 90 days and how far I have come, but that crap comment tried to take that away from me. I wont let the egos and competition of others try to cheapen and take my accomplishments and success away from me.
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