Struggling in Shenandoah

20/20 here digesting a pound of beef brisket, some polenta fries, and 3 glasses of orange fanta. I feel like I could go for some seconds. Updating from Front Royal, Virginia.


A Cocktail of Emotions

This morning, after three days of hiking a blistering speed and pushing beyond what I thought my limits were, I exited the Shenandoah national park. The Shennies are always going to hold a special place in my heart. This is an area that everyone talks about being one of the easiest on trail, it was one of the most difficult for me. Although it happens every day on trail, I had some serious ‘come-to-Jesus’ time up there. A reassessment of goals, behaviors, and ideas had to happen. I’ll try to lay out the changes as best as I can.


An Iffy Beginning

It only makes sense to miss home after home came because it was missing you. Family visits are incredible, and I’m sure it varys from person to person, but for me it’s difficult saying goodbye again knowing you have over a thousand miles left. This was my send-off into the Shenandoahs. I was physically in great shape, and even had a great day hiking after my Mom dropped me off at the trailhead, but as I sat and watched the last wisps of a fiery sunlight disappear over the ridges that night I came to terms with how discontent I was. The wind was fierce, burning my face and chilling me as I sat there eating instant mashed potatoes and tuna. I was tired, but still had camp chores to do. As night overtook the valley, the city lights of Waynesboro began flickering through the trees. It was beautiful, I could see the whole city from on high, usually that’s a sight I only get while hiking. I was just sitting there, trying to stomach the instant mashed potatoes, and I noticed one of the lights was changing. It was a traffic light. Indistinguishable from any of the others except for its shifting colors. I watched it go green, yellow, red over and over again. Until it didn’t mean anything. In my mind I was riding the streets of my hometown with my brother deep into the night, figuring out where we were going to stop for some greasy food on the way home. I don’t know how long I sat there in the wind and darkness, but eventually a pack of coyotes howling in the distance snapped me out of it and got me into the tent.


Ends are Beginnings

The following morning, I woke up tired. I could feel in my bones I was fatigued. My mood had barely improved, and I had to walk 6 miles to the next water source first thing. I packed up and walked, just like every day. Aware of my mental state, I tried to take the quiet time that morning to work through things in my head. As the hours went on and the morning blossomed into the day, I called my girlfriend desperate for any help, and I cut to the chase and told her how I was feeling. She gave me the words I needed and didn’t know I did. That I knew the mountains well now and that the excitement of newness was gone, but that if I kept on pushing, even more beautiful things would begin to show themselves. With renewed spirits I attacked the day and ended it doing 33.1 miles. I was tired, but I was ready to take on every inch of trail before me. Sometimes you need a hand.


Getting Kicked While Down

he following day was a rollercoaster, mostly plummeting down. It started great, I was cruising off the momentum of the previous day, but things just kept going wrong. The lodge I wanted to stay at was closed, then there were water carries so long they exceeded some day/section hikes I’ve done in the past, it was boiling hot, then the restaurant I wanted to have dinner at was closed and I had to stealth charge my electronics, then someone played a guitar until 9pm at the shelter. It was a horrible day. I tried my hardest to appreciate the struggle but it just felt like I was getting kicked while down. Like any of the progress in mood from the day before was gone. It wore me down to a nub, and I went to sleep agitated, fatigued, and done.


Lessons Learned

My last full day in the Shenandoahs, I knew I was going to have to really do something about my mental state from the moment I woke up. I decided I was going to walk at a comfortable pace and just enjoy the day, no matter what it took. The good thing about being down is that the only way is up. I stopped and enjoyed a great breakfast at a restaurant that was actually open, took the time to sit at the views and take them in, or call people I hadn’t talked to in a while, I hiked slower than I normally do and was able to appreciate what was around me more because of it. This day put me back at 100%. I was turning the trail into nothing but an extreme physical and mental challenge. That wears you down day after day. I can’t say I thought of any quick and profound quotes, but just being present has brought me back to a much more peaceful, accepting state of mind. I’m ready for the rest of the trail, and if I get kicked while down again, I’ll learn what I can from it.


Appalachian Legacy

Last night, I stayed at a shelter with a former thru hiker. He was humble, I had to ask several questions to really get to his experience. He hiked the trail in 1979, said the Shenandoahs were barely blazed and you had to rely on the concrete posts (these are markers placed at intersections with other Shenandoah trails) and 10 year old guide books. You don’t see a concrete post but every couple miles, and he said 50 mile reroutes would happen without anyone really knowing. He slept in two fire stations, he said there were only six hostels for the whole trail. Only one of which is still around. He said you kind of could know where town would be, but for the most part not really. You just walked.

Sometimes it can be hard to distinguish between what the old guard are exaggerating about and what’s real, but this man had truth in his eyes and words. I even had to get all the harsh details out of him, he wasn’t using it as a bludgeon for ‘how easy we have it nowadays’. It’s incredibly humbling knowing how much more difficult this trail was, it puts into perspective the magnitude of the task at hand.

Hopefully next update I’ll have some good stories, until then… 20/20 signing off





Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 4

  • Kris : Apr 18th

    I live off the trail by Blackburn center. Hike to Raven’s Rock every day and do the roller coaster. Great physical and mental exercise, especially getting caught in that pink thunder cell passing over and sheltering from hail the other day lol.

    • Jonah Rigdon : Apr 19th

      Just did the rollercoaster yesterday. Gotta say I agree! Great challenge!

      • Susan Snyder : Apr 20th

        Where were you on the AT this week in Va!? I think we met you!

        • Jonah Rigdon : Apr 24th

          Last week I went from the start of the Shenandoahs to Harper’s Ferry, where did we meet?


What Do You Think?