Getting to the trail and the un-marvelous start of a long hike

It was stormy on the drive down to Roanoke. A family member was willing to take me a few hours south to start out the trail; we both intrepidly looked at the sheets of rain coming over the windshield as we made our way from lunch to the intersection of Route 220 and the AT. 

Why this starting point? It seemed like the best place to manage the logistics of getting off for a wedding in a week and then in a few weeks for a graduation. My logic being, I create a “wormhole” of a section of trail that I get to skip ahead on to if I meet a tramily (trail family), I had the support to get here, and it was the furthest south they wanted to travel. 

We pulled over on Route 220; alarmed, my family member asked if this was really it. There was no arch, trailhead, or fanfare; just a thin brown path leading away from a busy highway. 

The rain let up, so I shouldered my pack, said my goodbyes, and started down that un–marvelous path. 

Day 1: Miles 730.6 – 741.8 

I quietly passed the civilization of outskirts Roanoke, within a few miles I started to climb away into more wilderness. I started getting used to a new pack, and observing the difference between this trail and the PCT and CT. I stopped at the Wilson Creek Shelter, with it all to myself I explored the shelter.

Day 2 Miles 741.8 – 762.6 

I survived the night! Sometimes I like to think of myself as an experienced hiker; but this is new territory. There are shelters, poison ivy, and different poisonous snakes. 

It was a quiet day, so I had all too much time to think. My mind flipping between made up stories of failure: injury, burnout, death, and smashing it: completing in 100 or less days, tagging on another trail after the AT. I let my mind settle on the conclusion that it’s in this tension between that there is growth. 

I elected to make some extra miles to stay the night at one of largest shelters on the AT, the Bryant Ridge Shelter; it was a behemoth double decker. For the novelty I elected to stay in the second story, which was a mistake since the wind ripped right through it, making it a chilly night. 

Day 3 Miles 762.6 – 785.4 

In the thru-hiking community, the term yellow blazing is used when someone takes a road rather than the trail. Where this stems from finally made sense to me; the trail parallels the Blue Ridge Parkway for a very long time and crosses it often enough that I see how it could be easy to cover a few road miles rather than trail miles. The AT is marked with white rectangles painted on trees, so taking the trail is “white blazing.” There is also “brown blazing,” which is where you plan your hiking to ensure you find a privy every time. “Deli Blazing” is where you go from deli to deli for sustenance. (I am told this is somewhere up ahead and am stoked); and I am sure a whole myriad of other blazings. 

I white blazed; around 3:00 in the afternoon, I had a choice to travel another seven miles or stay put; there were comments about an aggressive bear, so I wanted to be out of the bear area. I pushed on and descended to Matts creek shelter. Also, it was cold.

Day 4 Miles 785.4 to 798.1 

It was a tough climb up from James Rivers. I could feel the soreness in my legs. I sluggishly made the ~1,800 ft. ascent. Knowing I would need one resupply, and feeling as sluggish as I was. I elected to make it a short day, and planned to head into Buena Vista, VA the next for a resupply. I got to the punchbowl shelter in the late afternoon and took a nap. Some section hikers and packrafters stayed there as well. The conversation was a bit forced, having only limited shared experience, but it was good to have the company. Up until this point I had only met a few section hikers, and one other thru-hiker.

Day 5 Miles 798.1 to 809.4 

Town Suck (the allure of town, sucking you in and making the miles go quickly) was definitely present. Unsure how acceptable hitchhiking was in VA; I coordinated a ride with a local who rented out rooms to hikers. We had coordinated an early afternoon pickup, and most of the trail was downhill, so I enjoyed the trek into town. The family was very friendly and shared their meals. 

Buena Vista is a small town, and it was Sunday, so there wasn’t a whole lot happening. I worked through the normal town chores: Laundry, food resupply, shower, and charging devices. Called family and rested. 

Day 6 Miles 809.4 to 830

The climb out of town felt great; I felt like I was hitting a rhythm and was making good time. My muscle soreness had subsided, and the blisters had healed enough to not be annoying.

As I crested the peak and rode the ridge, I felt even better feeling my pace fall into groove.

To add to the euphoria, it had finally warmed up, which I soaked up knowing that the weather was supposed to be cold and wet in the next few days. Unfortunately, the feeling didn’t last, as relatively quickly pain in my knees came on. It went from mild to severe throughout the afternoon. By the time I got into camp at the Priest Shelter, I was limping. I had hoped to rest it overnight. 

Day 7 Miles 830 – 834.7 

The runner’s knee(s) didn’t subside overnight. On the slow descent, I debated how far I should / could go. My target was only 15 miles today (ending at a Brewpub, which I was very excited for); but as I struggled along it became clear, If I wanted to continue on the trail I should get off. I made it down to highway 56, where I started to try hitching towards Waynesboro (my planned destination for this stretch). I picked up a hitch in about 30 mins from a developer. He was able to get me to Blue Ridge Parkway, and from there I walked (and tried to hitch) for another 45 mins. I caught a hitch from an electrician. She let me ride in the back of her truck and took me all the way to Afton. I hung out there until my family member was able to pick me up. 

Very bummed about getting off trail, but hoping the extra time off will set me up on the right foot for starting up in Georgia here shortly. 

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