Slowing Down in Shenandoah National Park
Day 61:The Worst Day So Far
After leaving Waynesboro, VA, I had a really tough day hiking 20 miles. As soon as I got dropped off at the trailhead, I could feel dread filling my stomach. I didn’t feel rested after my zero day and felt stressed about continuing to push my body. I tried to ignore these feelings because I was scared of them. Tears filled my eyes as I hiked through a sunny and hot morning. My vision blurred as the tears rolled down my cheeks, but I pushed on.
Eight miles into my day, I stopped to eat lunch. I was at the last water source for 12 miles. The idea of setting up camp there was tempting but I struggled with the idea of not meeting my goal for the day. I filled up my water bottles and water bladder with the cool refreshing water. The idea of running out of water terrified me, especially on such a hot and sunny day. I felt stuck, since I wouldn’t be able to stop to camp until I reached the shelter since there wasn’t any water.
I struggled mentally for the afternoon. All I wanted to do was stop and sit down but I couldn’t. My backpack felt heavy with all the water and the lack of enjoyment clouded my brain like fog. Even when I passed other hikers, loneliness crawled below the surface of my skin. When I finally reached the shelter at 8pm, I collapsed at the picnic table. Even the friendly faces of thru-hikers couldn’t cheer me up as I gulped down a ramen bomb.
This was my hardest day on trail so far. I didn’t enjoy any part of the hiking day. I didn’t know what had to change and it made me nervous that I wasn’t enjoying trail life anymore. Little did I know as I fell asleep in my comfortable sleeping bag that the next week would be my favorite section of trail so far.
Days 62 and 63: The Turning Point
I woke up the next morning, nervous that the new day would be just as bad as the day before. Two flip-floppers named Lindsey and Lady Bird were hiking 13 miles to a shelter and I decided to join them and take it easy for the day. It was so fun hiking with them all morning. They are both so positive and just give off good vibes overall. Being able to talk to people that understand the struggles of thru-hiking made me accept that my struggles are normal. When we stopped for lunch, we took a nap which was just what I needed.
At the shelter that evening, a women gave us s’mores trail magic. We built a fire even though it was raining and shoveled marshmallows and chocolate into our mouths.
Morning Dove and Landfill arrived at 7pm. I hadn’t seen them in a couple of weeks and it made me so happy to catch up with them. Although the day was amazing, I went to bed once again dreading the next day since I was planning on hiking 20 miles. I wasn’t looking forward to it but I didn’t feel like I had any other options. Everyone talks about picking up their miles in northern Virginia and I felt pressured to do the same. Even though I had enjoyed pushing my miles just a few weeks before, it now felt like the last thing I wanted to do.
When I woke up I was tired and felt like I could sleep forever. At 9am I finally got moving and was ready to leave camp. I said bye to Lindsey and Lady Bird, unsure how long it would be until I saw them again since they had eight miles planned. The dread in the pit of my stomach came back and I felt really sad when I left. As I set off, I did some intense soul searching. Why was I out here? What was the purpose of my hike? What did I want to get out of my hike?
I spent three miles pondering these questions. Then I heard someone behind me. It was Lindsey! I had been hiking so slow that she had quickly caught up to me. I told her about my dilemma. I explained to her that I wanted to keep hiking with her and Lady Bird but I also felt responsible to push big miles. Eight miles later we arrived at the shelter that Lindsey and Lady Bird were stopping at. I decided to stay with them, and I set up my tent in the sun. I relaxed in my tent for the afternoon and spent the evening playing card games. It was one of my favorite days on trail so far.
Days 64 through 69: Slowing It Down
I spent the next six days slowing down and smelling the flowers. I hiked between 11 and 15 miles for these six days which is similar miles to my first week on trail. I was able to spend lots of time with Lindsey and Lady Bird while hanging out in the sun and eating yummy food at all the restaurants.
The terrain was relatively flat for these days and the flowers around me were stunning. The birds have just recently started chirping in the mornings and I really enjoy waking up to them. I am so grateful to have met Lady Bird and Lindsey. Without them, I wouldn’t have slowed down. They allowed me to rediscover my love for backpacking by making me feel comfortable with hiking less miles and enjoying the little gifts along the trail. When this crazy journey is over I am going to remember the people I met and the laughs we shared, not the days I spent pushing big miles when I didn’t want to.
After this week of slowing down and remembering why I love hiking, I feel ready and excited to go back to higher miles. I am so happy to be on this journey and am reminded that the trail will provide when I need it the most.
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If there’s one thing I’ve learned over the years its better to enjoy the journey than to fret over the destination. Thru hiking is a lifetime adventure, not a job, destination or competition. I’m thinking about starting my flip flop next year from Waynesboro so I’m very interested in your next couple of posts as you head to Harpers Ferry. Keep smiling and try to enjoy everything and anything about your experience.
Really enjoying your experiences. I am 86 y/o and tied to home by the consequences of age. Glad you were able to push thru the tough spots. In years to come to you’ll treasure the discovery of that hidden fortitude. M
Glad u were able to get back to enjoying the moment-is a marathon for sure so don’t rush it. I regretted not stopping at Dismal Falls because I wanted to push on (2019 thru hiker). Next time! One step at a time. Jabez (hoping to do Long Trail in August). 🥾
Good morning Hannah. My name is Jim and I am a 59 year old avid outdoorsman, former Marine and Scoutmaster for Somers Troop 228 in Westchester, NY. My Troop hikes different parts of the AT in NY and CT all the time. You are in for a treat when you get here as the trails are rugged but the views are beautiful!
I don’t remember responding to any posts or blogs in my life but there is a first time for everything. I just want to say that I consider you to be an INSPIRATION to me and my Troop. I asked our SPL (Senior Patrol Leader) to write to you, too. He is an Eagle Scout finishing his Junior year in HS. There is another troop in our town (Somers Troop 376). I told their Scoutmaster, who is my friend named Andy, about your blog. He was very impressed and asked his SPL to reach out, as well. We are rooting for you and I look forward to your weekly blogs.
It takes a lot of courage both mentally and physically to not only do what you are doing but then to write about how you are feeling for strangers to read. Ernest Hemingway once said that “Courage is grace under pressure”. I think that quote personifies you! You have friends in Somers, NY and if you need anything, we are here for you. God Bless you and your trip and know that you have touched our hearts and minds!
“Last one to Katahdin wins”
Your daily mileage is sufficient to reach your destination. You aren’t one of those folks running for records, you are exploring the forest of eastern America as well as your soul. Take your time, relish it, and stay present in the moment.
“Last one to Katahdin wins”
Quack, quack…a waddle we will go
Hannah, thank you for sharing your experiences and your heart with us! I was thinking of you this past Shabbat as we held this year’s Siyyum ceremony. I remembered your teaching last year – at one point you spoke about an experience of the Divine that you found in nature.
The questions that you asked yourself are similarly quite powerful: they are both spiritual and very holy. They remind me of a moment that we studied together – when God speaks to Elijah, asking “Why are you here?” Elijah struggles to answer, repeating himself, unable to vocalize a change in his perspective.
In contrast, you shared your turning point so beautifully – this is a moment when your trip came into focus as the experience itself, rather than expectations or numbers of miles. Hold close to this insight – perhaps the still, small voice of the Divine is whispering to you, in turn. May you find yourself refreshed and inspired as you continue on in strength and with joy!
Good morning Hannah. I remember those hot days around Waynesboro. The heat did me in but I’m a bit older. I applaud your efforts to push through the mental road blocks. I’m happy to know you have positive tramily ties. Best of trail luck to you and Mr. Quack
Hi Hannah, As others have said, you are such an inspiration! To know yourself and to be able to push through the self doubt is something that most people never learn to do and look at you doing it!!! I am happy to hear that you have connected with so many caring and thoughtful humans along the way. I am so impressed with your perseverance. As you know, it is important to listen to your body along the way. Sounds like giving yourself the permission to move a little more slowly for a few days was the right decision. Believe in yourself! You can do it!!!
Your posts are so interesting and emotional.. Enjoying the read …stay safe..
I’ve been having your logs pop up in my news feed over the past few weeks, and I have been living vicariously through you, reading about your experience backpacking the trail. I respect you so much for your authenticity; you’re taking on a daunting challenge! Your honesty about the emotional challenge that this journey comes with is something to be proud of, and I am so happy that you have found more joy in these past few days. It is good, normal, and reasonable to be frightened and intimidated about this endeavor and to have doubts as you go along with it. Your perseverance is far greater than you realize. All that we have in life, in the end, are the relationships that we forge. Wishing you a peaceful, pleasant, reflective, and productive rest of your journey–and thank you for sharing it with us.
Hi Spring! I’ve really enjoyed your posts, I read them regularly! The AT is something I’ve always wanted to do. I’m curious, do you see any families with young kids thru hiking? My husband and I have two young girls. Also I’d love to mail some trail magic to you as you continue your journey! Let me know how I can send Swedish fish your way! Thanks for the great posts, keep it up!
Hey Hannah. I’ve really been enjoying your posts and living vicariously through them. Haven’t heard from you in a bit and hoping all is well. Just know you have a whole community out here pulling for you.
Hey Hannah, I’ve really enjoyed reading your posts and living vicariously through you a bit. I hope you’re doing well out there and enjoying the trail. I live not too far from the AT in central PA so if you need anything as you’re passing through, let me know!
Hannah, thank you for your amazing posts and the honesty you share with us. Of all the blogs I’ve read, you and Max Kiel are my favorites by far. Just know that some of us out here really appreciate the time you take to share your journey with us!
You learned a valuable lesson, not just for the trail but for life. Slow down and enjoy the journey! And always remember to HYOH. It’s OK to not meet a goal like the 24 hour challenge. Look what you did! 38 miles! Kudos to you, Hannah!