Southern Virginia, Part 2: Equal Measures

Days 62-65:

The morning after the thunderstorm on the ridge, I hiked a nero into Pearisburg, where my partner picked me up for a quick zero the next day. We drove 30 miles to Waffle House the next morning, and visited Blacksburg VA, which had a cute downtown and farmer’s market.

The bad weather continued; we had to hide his car under a bank’s overhang to find cover from a hailstorm. But aside from that we had a good zero together!

On day 64, I hiked a slow 7.1 miles to the next shelter – I got going late and the shelter was perched perfectly to have great sunrise views.

I woke up to incredible views… and then it started to drizzle. It rained the entire day, and I sloshed out a pretty miserable 16 miles to another shelter.

Days 66-69

On day 66, there was no rain, but my shoes and socks were wet, and I struggled with blisters and chafing most of the day. I hiked 17.4 miles to a stealth spot, and did enjoy some long views as I hiked through some cow pastures.

The next day, I hiked 20 miles – crossing the Eastern Continental Divide, and running into two different instances of trail magic.

On day 68, I climbed up and over Dragon’s Tooth – the first peak of Virginia’s Triple Crown – and McAffee Knob, the second peak.

I’d thought about doing all three peaks of the Triple Crown in the same day, but as I hiked to the last shelter before Tinker Cliffs, it started to rain again… so I decided to settle in for the night.

I was glad that I waited. The next morning, the skies were mostly clear despite a gloomy forecast, and I enjoyed some incredible views from Tinker Cliffs.

Feeling accomplished, I hiked down into Daleville, where my partner was going to pick me up for a week off trail. The week after Memorial Day weekend was a week we’d dog-eared for a longer break before my hike began.

We timed the pickup well – he drove 5 hours north to grab me, and I hiked 15 miles down to him, meeting each other at a gas station near a road crossing at 3pm.

When he pulled up next to the pump, I was finishing off a slice of pizza and switching my FarOut Guides map from Southern Virginia to Northern Virginia. I’d made a deal with myself that I would finish half of Virginia before taking a week-long break – and that’s exactly what I did. Down to the minute.

We drove back to his apartment, pausing at a North Carolina rest stop to toss my shoes. At about 500 miles and soaked through by nonstop, days-long rain, they were ready for replacement due to both the low tread and unholy stench suffusing the car.

The Week Off

The week off my partner and I had planned reminded me of what was waiting for me after the trail – and how much had changed in the months I’ve been out here.

The primary thing I notice every time I return to the “real world” is just how… loud everything is. How everything is happening all at once. I’m not normally someone who gets overwhelmed by my surroundings; I’m pretty good at tuning out background noise. But between car exhaust, bodies jostling on the sidewalk, TV’s and phones blaring sound nonstop, I could feel palpable relief every time my partner and I went back to his apartment.

My routines have changed too. Normally, I’m not a morning person. But at 3am one morning, I got up and started to get ready for the day. When my partner stirred and blearily asked what I was doing up that early, I realized that the “sunlight” streaming through his window was actually streetlights.

But it was nice to get away from the green tunnel for a little bit. My first love was the beach after all, not the mountains. After months in the woods, it was nice to sit on the sand, work on my weird thruhiker tan lines, and stare out at the horizon line.

I definitely enjoyed my break, but as the week progressed, I could feel myself getting antsy. By the time my partner dropped me back off, I was excited to head back, though conflicted about it in a strange way.

As I hike further north, I’m going to be more than a 5-hour drive away from him, so our season of weekend zeroes together is pretty much over. We may be able to coordinate a visit later in the summer, but more than likely… I won’t be able to see him again until he picks me up from Katahdin.

In a way, because of this, completing Southern Virginia felt like my halfway point. While of course I’ve been alone out here (no one can hike my hike for me,) it feels odd to know that from here to Maine, I’ll be somehow more alone than ever before. It surprised me when this realization twisted an anxious knot in the back of my mind; after all, I came out here to do exactly that: have time to myself, to be alone with my thoughts.

Yet at the same time, that anxiety feels like nervous excitement. It’s a strange place to be in, to miss my partner and be excited for what’s to come in equal measure.


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