This is not a Death March to Katahdin
This title is inspired by some advice I got my third day on trail which I embodied on my 57th day.
Rewind 54 days. I had just been dropped off at Woody Gap and was preparing to start my third day on trail. The day before, I pushed myself and completed 17 miles. It nearly wrecked my body because I hadn’t trained for that mileage, but I was so proud of myself for doing it.
Just before starting my hike that day, I met a SOBO thru-hiker whose name I’ve forgotten and a past thru-hiker doing trail magic in the parking lot. We chatted about my experience as a new thru-hiker as I admired the aura of the SOBO thru-hiker one or two days away from finishing. He still had a smile on his face and positive things to say about the experience. That’s a good sign, I thought.
During our conversation, I let it slip about my 17-mile day and my intention to keep pushing myself.
“Just remember, this isn’t a death march to Katahdin,” said the man doing trail magic. I nodded, kind of confused by his obvious advice and continued on my way after saying goodbye.
Two months later, I’m finally understanding the value in what he said. There’s a habit among some of the younger thru-hikers to “see how fast they can go” despite how much the need for speed can make you suffer on trail (mentally and physically). It can be the difference between hiking five more miles in the cold, wet rain while cursing the sky and sitting inside a cozy hotel room sipping hot chocolate five miles back. I would rather finish this thru-hike later than planned than finish it earlier and with a miserable attitude. During the following days (56-57), I embodied this idea and decided to treat myself kindly and with patience rather than push my limits.
Hiking from: John’s Hollow Shelter
To: Brown Mountain Creek Shelter
Total grade: 502.2 ft/mile
Motivation: Get closer to our pickup point
Favorite part of the day: Bluff Mountain’s view & chats
Comments: This was a hard day. It was the first time since the bear experience that we would be having a “normal” day with normal mileage. It was hard to psyche myself up for a high-mileage day and an ascent when I wish I was in a town, far from the woods, surrounded by walls that make me feel safe and away from the shady corners of the woods. Even in the daylight, I was paranoid about what was behind each corner.
What was worse was the typical comfort of the thru-hiking experience, climbing into your tent at night for some much-needed sleep, which I know dreaded. I would be sleeping on the hard ground that night because of my ruined sleeping pad.
We made sure to plan to sleep at a shelter so we could be around other people, but I also knew I’d still be waking up at night either from sounds outside or the discomfort of my hip bones pressed against the ground under the weight of my body. We also still had many miles to go before we’d reach our planned pick-up point where a shuttle driver would be meeting us and taking us to Staunton for a train to DC.
Despite all these negatives, I found some positives in the day. We reached mile 800. We chatted with some friends at the top of Bluff Mountain and enjoyed some Asiago bagels for lunch. There were still some highs.
Hiking from: Brown Mountain Creek Shelter
To: US Route 60
Total grade: 384.7 ft/mile
Motivation: Get closer to our pickup point
Favorite part of the day: Deciding to take our vacation early
Comments: We woke up at 4:00 a.m. and packed up with the use of our headlamps. I say woke up, but both of us confessed we were wide awake even before the alarm went off at 4:00. While we had searched for comfy pine needles to sleep on the night before, all we found was compact dirt littered with pebbles. The night hadn’t been kind to us and we woke up exhausted.
We still stuck to our plan of packing up and beginning the 27-mile hike that would take us to a tent site just before a road where we could be picked up the following day for our shuttle to the train station. What we didn’t realize is we hadn’t hiked in the dark in a while and it was a little triggering. Our senses heightened again, and every three seconds or so it seemed one of us was looking over our shoulder for the piercing eyes of a bear. This may sound dramatic, and I agree. I didn’t expect this reaction from either of us. It seems the bear encounter would be impacting our lives on trail for a while longer.
We made it to route 60 and by this time the sun was coming up. We were relieved to be out of the darkness. We sat at a picnic table and ate breakfast next to the road.
“What if we went to Staunton now?” I joked. Town looked at me with raised eyebrows. “Actually?”
“I mean I was mainly joking but…what if we did? This isn’t supposed to be a death march to Katahdin.” Both of our shoulders relaxed as we realized we were both on the same physically and mentally exhausted page. We were gonna hitch to Staunton and stay in a hotel away from the woods. We deserved it.
It would be difficult to find someone to take us all the way to Staunton as it wasn’t along Route 60 which runs from east to west. But we figured we could find a ride to Buena Vista which was just west of us then a second ride to Staunton north of that.
We were lucky and found a hitch to Buena Vista from a woman named Julie. She took us to a Walmart where we contacted a shuttle driver to take us the rest of the way to Staunton.
I’d booked a hotel I found online (the cheapest and closest to the train station) and it ended up being one of the nicest hotels we’ve stayed at on trail so far. It was luxurious and right in the middle of Staunton. We went to CVS, walked around town, had Indian for dinner, and fell asleep in peace. The next day we hopped on the train to DC.
Day 58-60 I traveled to DC then to New Hampshire for my high school reunion then back to Lynchburg, VA to go back to US 60 where we left off.
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You just keep going girl because you’ll look back one day and say wow that was very memorable much like what I look back at when I was on a traveling wagon train cowboy and cowgirl style all of us young teenagers in 1982 some 50 kids from all over the country me Robert from Erie Pennsylvania many from Pittsburgh, Philadelphia , Detroit, Miami, and many staff members along with some 60 + horses and mules too pull are wagons this was very difficult to do by traveling 3,000 miles pa too Florida over through the South East towards Texas along the gulf of Mexico and then up through the Ozark mountains one full yr the name of the problem was and still is , is called vision quest out of Tucson Arizona and sandigo calf. To this time in my 50s now it was the hardest thing I ever was a part of very difficult but we all grew up into adulthood that was the purpose I really didn’t want to be there I was told I had to though it was a program for at risk teens my reason was I took my mother’s vehicle without permission that was called unauthorized use of a motor vehicle keep going lily 🙏
Lily, where did you go? I hope the bear attack didn’t so emotionally disturb you that you quit. It would be understandable but unfortunate. I’m sure there are a number of us enjoying your adventures and entries in your blog. You are quite an accomplished hiker by now. Hoping to see more.