Smiles Over Miles
Approximately two hundred and fifty miles in to a flip-flop attempt and I am in a love/hate relationship with the Appalachian Trail. So much has happened in such a short amount of time it has been hard to process, and also the reality of taking on such a trek has humbled me.
The first section of my flip-flop was SOBO through the Shenandoahs in mid-April. I chose a later start date in hopes of avoiding cold weather but unfortunately winter decided to hang around.
Despite the weather, I received some of the most amazing trail magic from two section hikers, Mad Hiker and Jersey Jane. When we encountered hypothermia inducing weather they let me come down off the mountain with them, share their hotel, paid for some of my meals, and even let me crash on the floor in a cabin at the lovely Skyland resort. Unfortunately we had to part ways when I had to get off trail for Mothers Day to work, but we still keep in touch.
I came back on trail from a longer than expected break in Damascus for the last two days of Trail Days. The climb northbound out of there had me questioning my sanity. We suffered through six days of continuous rain. Instead of beautiful views across Buzzard Rocks, I received gusting winds and hail.
The rain had quite a few of us beat down and dispirited. Being a flip-flopper, I figured the northbounders would be passing on by despite the weather, but even they slowed down. Taking so many short days meant running low on food and fuel, and in the cold rain that can become dangerous. By day six I could feel my sanity vaning and I knew one more day would break me. I did not know at the time, but this would become my worst day on the trail.
Hypothermia is no joke.
The shelter that day was already packed to the brim by the time I arrived at about 4:30pm. I continued on in the rain for about a quarter mile before finding shelter under a large pine tree. I set up my sopping wet tent and tried to get my life together while shivering uncontrollably. I spilt my first attempt at cooking dinner and was so out of it I even forgot about my emergency blanket. I finally managed to get a hot meal down then hunkered down in my (semi) dry set of clothes and sleeping bag. It seemed like hours before the shivering finally stopped and I fell asleep. I was awoken by the winds blowing a corner of my rain fly off, soaking my sleeping bag, flooding my tent, and ruining my phone. It was at this point where I thought I had enough, I would go home at the next road crossing if it was still raining in the morning.
I awoke to sunlight
Finally after six days of hell the sun appeared. Also, I had arrived at the Grayson Highlands! I was still soaked and weary, but the situation was looking up. I have wanted to see “wild” ponies my whole life and the day had arrived with clear skies. Unfortunately with my phone being ruined I had no way to document the Grayson Highlands in their full glory. However a day hiker did sneak this shot of me and was kind enough to send a text to my family explaining my situation and that I would contact them once in Marion.
So I did not quit.
However this experience did cause me to reevaluate my reasons for being out on the Appalachian Trail.
Was I out here to kill myself over making miles just to reach one specific mountain before winter?
Or was I out here to have fun, make friends, heal my past hurts, and enjoy time away from the hustle and bustle of daily life?
I chose the latter. If I finish the entire trail, excellent. However I would rather have enjoyed my time out here and NOT finish, rather than have completed the trail and not have accomplished my other reasons for undertaking this trek.
There was now time for:
-Fishing and swimming
-Rebuilding a fire pit
-Joking and playing cards around the campfire
-Taking time for coffee and relaxation in the morning
-Soaking up every single view
So here’s to the smiles! I am ready for whatever lies ahead.
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