The Four State Challenge
The four-state challenge is when hikers start from the VA/WV border, hike through West Virginia and Maryland, and end at the Mason Dixon line where they cross into Pennsylvania. It is 43.5 miles and the challenge is to do it in under 24 hours. I decided a few weeks ago that I wanted to attempt the challenge but was not able to convince anyone else around me to attempt it. So I set off alone, unsure whether I could conquer my goal.
In my tent at the Bears Den hostel, I heard my alarm going off. I had stayed up until 11 pm the night before, and the early wake-up was not welcomed, even though it was necessary. It was the day before I attempted the four-state challenge! By 6 am, I was packed up and eating two Clif bars for breakfast. The cool spring air felt refreshing on my face as I started hiking north. It was a quiet morning, with few birds chirping and no wind.
I arrived at the first marking of the VA/WV border and entered a new state for the first time in over 500 miles.
Although the trail goes back to VA, I was ecstatic at the idea that I really was making forward progress. I heard Mogli behind me and turned around to say hi. He told me about the pancakes that Esa had made for Bug’s birthday and I was sad that I had missed them. Pancakes sounded way better than two Clif bars.
Mogli, Beat, and I hiked together for the rest of the morning, discussing other long trails we dreamed of hiking. Mogli and I stopped for a quick lunch at a shelter and then made it to a parking lot near Harpers Ferry, WV. We got a shuttle into town where I got the obligatory ATC headquarters photo. I also stopped at the outfitter, where I got a new pair of shorts and a sleeping bag. My final stop was the 7/11, where I picked up some five-hour energy shots and sandwiches.
The shuttle drove me back to the parking lot, and I was delighted to see Morning Dove and Landfill already standing there. We decided to camp together and hiked the last two miles of the day together. The campsite was 1.5 miles from the official starting point of the four-state challenge, but I figured it was close enough. What was 1.5 miles when I was already hiking 43? I had now turned the next day into a 45-mile day. I set up my tent, ate dinner, and got to bed early. As I lay in my tent trying to fall asleep, I worried that the 16 miles I had hiked that day would take a toll on my legs the next day. I tried to push all of my concerns out of my mind and soon fell asleep.
When my alarm went off at 3 am, I could hear the rain coming down on my tent. I rolled over, reset my alarm for 4 am, and fell back asleep. There was no way I was starting this challenge in the rain. When my alarm went off again, I was happy to hear that the rain had stopped. I quietly packed up my stuff, strapped on my headlamp, and began hiking.
At 5:15 am, I arrived at the VA/WV border, which was a lot later than I had been hoping to start. I started my stopwatch on my phone and set off. The sunrise over the Shenandoah River was stunning as I walked into Harpers Ferry. My stomach felt a bit strange as I walked on the sidewalk but I shrugged it off, telling myself it was just nerves. After walking on a flat sidewalk for two miles, I entered back into the woods. I was already eight miles into my day so I stopped to eat.
When I took out my food bag, nothing looked appealing. I tried to eat a sandwich but it tasted like chalk. Even the cheese sticks didn’t taste good to me, which is normally my go-to food item. I was finally able to get myself to eat some gummy bears and pretzels but my stomach still felt strange. As I hiked on, I realized I had hiked 10 miles by 10 am. It was the first time I had conquered this arbitrary goal, and it boosted my spirits.
The terrain was easy and flat, and I was flying. Three miles an hour came easy to my legs as I listened to my favorite classic rock playlist. Fifteen miles into my day, I arrived at a grassy park for lunch and where I ate a bagel and drank lots of water. I lay on the grass for half an hour, taking in the moment. I was proud of my miles so far, and was excited for the rest of the day. As I continued on after lunch, I started to hit a wall.
It was sunny and hot out and even with just a sports bra on, I was sweating buckets. I had taken a five hour energy shot at lunch and my stomach was not happy about it. I tried to lift my spirits by listening to my favorite podcast but soon switched back to music. My feet were started to get hotspots of them, so I decided to stop and change my socks, hoping to find something to make myself feel better. I slipped off my sweaty wet socks and put on dry new ones. As I sat there, I realized how hungry I was. I ate two protein bars, and continued on. I had gotten past my first wall of the day.
All of a sudden, my energy levels were up and I felt amazing again. At 4 pm, I stopped to chat with a flip-flopper and ended up stopping for 45 minutes to eat dinner and hang out. It felt amazing talking to another hiker since I had seen only one other thru-hiker all day. I was 26 miles into my day and I felt confident that I would be able to finish. My feet didn’t hurt and I felt really proud of how far I had come already. I said bye to my new friend and kept going, hoping to get as many miles in as possible before dark.
As the sun started to set, I could feel my eyes getting sleepy. I stopped at a creek to get water at 8 pm, just as it was starting to get dark. I switched on my headlamp and plugged in my podcast again. As I set off, I looked down at my phone and saw a text from Lindsey asking how I was doing. I responded, “I’m scared of the dark.” It was soon pitch dark and the lights of DC shone brightly in the distance. It was comforting to be able to see the lights of the city but also made me feel more lonely. I continued on, with a podcast playing loudly in my earbuds.
At 10:30 pm, everything went dark. I was confused; where had the light gone? I reached up to my headlamp and realized it was turned off. I took off my backpack, grabbed out my extra batteries, and shoved them into my headlamp. The darkness continued. I started to panic. Even after fiddling around with my headlamp for five minutes, I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t working. I texted Bug in a panic and called a friend from home.
They suggested that I use my phone flashlight for the remaining 8 miles, but I knew that wasn’t going to work for me. I didn’t have enough phone battery and I couldn’t figure out how to strap my phone to myself at the right angle. I started to cry and was soon bawling. As the exhaustion hit me, I couldn’t stop crying. After a long conversation on the phone with Bug, who reassured me that stopping short of my goal wasn’t a failure, I decided to hike one more mile and camp near some power lines.
Before I could start hiking, I threw up on the side of the trail. I almost laughed out loud as I dug a hole and tried to bury my puke. My body was over the hiking and I knew I had made the right decision. I quickly hiked the last mile and set up my tent. As I climbed in, the exhaustion hit me again and even though my feet throbbed in pain I was able to quickly fall asleep. Even the feeling of disappointment and relief couldn’t keep me from resting.
I hiked 38 miles in total, falling seven miles short of my intended goal of 45 miles. I am so proud of my body and my mind and am excited to continue to see how far I can push myself.
I woke up the next morning at 9 am to the sun beating down on my tent. I was dripping sweat and threw off my puffy coat which I had fallen asleep in. The accomplishment and disappointment hit me but I didn’t dwell on it long. The desire to eat my whole food bag took over fast and I started shoveling down cheese sticks and gummy bears by the handful. Once I had no food left, I packed up my tent and started hiking.
I was surprised to find that my legs weren’t sore. Although my body wasn’t tired, my mind felt exhausted. Seven miles later, I arrived at the Mason Dixon line which marks the border between Maryland and Pennsylvania.
I set up my trekking pole as a tripod and took some pictures. I then hitchhiked into town, got a hotel room all to myself, and went to a restaurant. At the restaurant, I shoveled down pasta, garlic bread, and cheesecake. All of the food tasted so good. I went back to the hotel room and fell asleep content.
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