Virginia is Underrated

20/20 reporting in from the Virginia ridgelines. I’m pleased to say that VA is my favorite bit of trail yet. I’m currently laid up in a hotel digesting some Papa John’s I had way too much of and enjoying the air conditioning and indoor plumbing. Quick thought: I’ve realized that my mood on trail is inversely correlated with how much food weight I’ve got on my back.


Early Onset Virginia Blues

Due to one thing or the other, my first day out of Damascus was hard. I mean it was mentally the toughest day I’ve had so far. I actually ended up asking myself if I was going to be able to see it through. In retrospect, I can see that it was caused by a cocktail of things stirring under the surface for several days. I was making Damascus a sort of end point in my head, “just get to Damascus” “once you’re there you’ll feel 100% better”, things like that. Halfway into the day leaving Damascus I realized I didn’t feel better at all, in fact I felt worse than I had at any other point on the trail. The disappointment just compounded my malaise. Five nights of horrible and short sleep may have had something to do with it too. That evening, I called it early for the first time my whole hike. I got water and set my tent up at the first spot I saw. I quickly did my chores, cooked dinner, and went to sleep at 7:00.


Regaining The Vision

The next day I went through the Grayson Highlands, and anyone who’s been there can tell you how incredible it is. I bonded with a pony (and thought about hijacking/hotwiring it and dashing away with it), climbed through a tunnel, walked over the most beautiful rocky scrubland I’ve ever seen, and was blessed with the best sunset on trail so far from the coziness of my tent. It was a great day, but I was still shell shocked from my bad day before.

The following morning started out rough, I had been woken up multiple times that night by the howling of the wind and when I got up, I wasn’t in the best mood. I went to go get my bear bag out from the tree. The tree I hung my food from the night before was perfect, pretty much the diagram of what a bear hang tree should be from all those forest service PSAs. I thought I was the luckiest man in the world to use such a great and perfect tree as a bear hang that night. I used a PCT hang because there wasn’t a little tree I could tie the rope around (I know it’s bad practice but it’s easier and I wish I could have done a standard bear hang with what ended up happening). Well, when I went to get it down in the morning, it wouldn’t pull down. I tugged and tugged, but it just wouldn’t budge. “Are you serious?” I immediately thought. I tried to use my sleep deprived, coffee starved noggin to try and engineer some solution to this at 5:16 a.m. in pitch black darkness on a mountaintop with the wind blowing 45mph (really). The bag was about 11 feet in the air, far too high to reach. I thought that if I could only build a pile of logs tall enough, maybe I’d be able to get to the carbineer and unfuck it. Looking around, I started dragging giant limbs beneath the bag, throwing them on top of each other in an attempt to make a pile. Soon I realized there was no shot I was going to make a stack of logs tall enough to reach the bag with my bare hands. I assessed the situation, and quickly decided there was no hope at all and found a large, long stick laying on the ground. I picked it up and got on top of my six-inch-tall stack of logs and began poking the bag with it, hoping somehow that would unfuck whatever was wrong. The wind was constantly trying to throw me off the pile, it was like trying to keep your balance on a log in the river. The poking turned into annoyance, and I whacked the bag a few times like a pinata. Together with the wind this caused the bag to start swinging wildly like the pendulum of a grandfather clock. If only that had made things any better. Realizing I was a complete dumbass, I used the stick to stop the swinging and looked closely. I saw that the bottom of the line had gone through the carabineer, meaning the stick wouldn’t be able to be pulled down (take my word for it if you don’t know what a PCT hang is, if I could draw a diagram I would). After some careful consideration, I thought up a good idea. I could use one stick to hold the bag in place, then use another to pull the string out of the bottom of the carabineer to the correct side. I put the one stick in place to hold the bag, got my second, and on my first attempt I was able to unfuck the string and pull it out, back to a normal position where I could pull down the stick and retrieve my food bag. Crisis averted, coffee acquired.

Even with how annoyed I was in the moment, all I could do was sit back and laugh at the situation once I got the bag down. It was Easter Sunday too. I started hiking and felt pretty good despite everything. I got a nice long stretch of gentle downhill walking, and as the sun was coming up, I got into this beautiful, secluded, green meadow with mountains towering behind. The gentle morning breeze pushing low, wispy, orange and white clouds across the sky and making the lush grass dance. It was one of those moments. The rest of the day felt like this, full of life. I felt so full of gratitude and love that it brought my spirit and passion for what I was doing back to where it was on Springer. I was enjoying the climbs and appreciating the little things. I think all it took was some honest reflection on my part for why I was feeling so down in the first place, and the trail itself helped me see that.


Virginia is Underrated

Since that day (it’s been two days), I’ve been having a blast. The ridges in Virginia are really, really cool. There’s something so grand about them. Imagine one of those metal taco holders at a fancy restaurant but bigger, this is what the southern Virginia mountains are like. They may not be as tall as the Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia mountains, but they seem so much bigger. I actually found what is my favorite section of trail yet: Virginia 625 to Bland. To be completely honest, it felt like the first real wilderness I’ve been in, much more than how the Smokies felt. When you look over an entire valley between two ridgelines that stretch literally as far as you can see, and see nothing at all but trees, that’s when it feels wild. The hiking is easier too, don’t get me wrong there are some really difficult climbs and technical rocky stretches here, but for the most part things are gentler. The view from Chestnut Ridge Shelter looking out at Burke’s Garden is in itself my favorite vista on the trail by far. I was just talking to a local about it and they call it ‘God’s thumbprint’ here, and for good reason. Look it up if you’ve never heard of it, but hike to the shelter to see it with your own eyes first if you can.

Virginia is just full of these beautiful, rolling green hills; and maybe I’m just a fool for some large fields of grass, but to me it’s the most beautiful area I’ve seen so far. I could keep writing about it, but I won’t bore you. There will be more Virginia posts to come.


20/20 signing off

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Comments 1

  • Jenny : Apr 3rd

    Great description of the cold, windy morning with the bear bag snafu. I was right there with you trying to build the stick tower😂 and I agree the Virginia AT is beautiful.


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