Virginia Troubles: A Push into the Va Triple Crown
Earworm of the Day: Wedding Song: Yeah Yeah Yeahs
It is always incredibly difficult for me to adjust back to trail after the night in town. I can feel the vortex calling to me with warm showers, comfy beds, and town food. Marion was a great time. We didn’t spend much time in town and mostly napped as we were pretty tired. Marion is a nice town that has a shuttle that caters to hikers. If you go through, go check out the Pioneer Diner, they have amazing prices and great food. Also, they are incredibly hiker friendly and were super accommodating to our packs.
I felt strong and excited going back on trail, I didn’t feel my usual hesitation as we were going back up to the Mount Rodgers visitor center. The trail wasn’t incredibly difficult, it was mostly the roller coaster hills of Virginia. Apparently we weren’t phased by the time in town as we cranked out 14 miles for the day. We ended up cruising through it all and it felt pretty great.
The transition out of the Grayson Highlands into the lowlands of Virginia is apparent, the rugged outcroppings have transitions into rolling ridge lines with dense lush undergrowth and streams. I was so excited to walk through multiple pastures and fields in a day. I like fields, although they might look simple and plain, they are so incredibly diverse. You can take a girl out of the prairie, but you can never take the prairie out of her heart.
Walking through these fields during golden hour was stunning. The seeds on the grass cast a purple hue over the entire field, the breeze swaying the stalks. It’s like walking through gentle purple waves on a lilac ocean. Some of the most breath-taking views on this trail are not the mountains or valleys, but the fields and pastures. How could something we think of as so mundane and common, utilitarian even, be so breathtaking.
Earworm of the Day: After Many Miles, The Ghost of Paul Revere
I had a good day today. It was a long day, with us getting about 19 miles in (even with a late-ish start). It was a fairly uneventful day, I called friends on trail, I walked up a really big and stupid hill. We stopped by a hostel and grabbed ice cream and shortly after found beer in a creek (A welcome surprise, but not LNT). Overall, it was a fun day, minus the stupid PUD (Pointless Up and Down). There was a stream crossing, the first I have had to do on this trail. It was a fun silly day on trail.
I notice towards the end of the day, my personal battery is dead. I am grumpy, tired, and just want to lay down (I mean who doesn’t). I do my best to not take it out on others, but I can just feel it stewing in the last three-ish miles of the day. All I want during those last three miles is to get in my tent with all my food and be a big grumpy lump.
I can rationalize why this is the case. I am using a lot of energy walking up the east coast, probably lack calories, and spend multiple days outside. There are a lot of reasons for me getting close to or hitting my limit. Thru-hiking can be fucking overwhelming, but I still get up and go out and walk. I know that hiking the AT is worth every single minute of struggle. With every mile I walk, I get a clearer perception of what is going on in my head and form a better relationship with myself.
The history of thru-hiking is so steeped in awareness of mental health. Shit, the first guy to thru-hike the AT, Earl V. Schaffer, did it after returning from WWII and decided walking Georgia to Maine would help him process the things he saw. To literally “walk the war out of his systemTalking to the hikers out here, they are all overcoming personal battles (I also question if mentally stable sane people thru-hike). Everyone I have met out here is battling something and no battle is insignificant.
Earworm of the Day: PHANTASM, JACK THE STRIPPER
The outdoor world as we know it was not designed for women. From peeing outside to finding the right hiking bra, the outside has not been conducive to women existing in it. It is getting better, we are finally getting gear that is designed for women in mind and getting better options for us. But there is still a lot more to do and needs done to make sure all femme persons can exist out here… At least semi comfortably.
Today I had a crap day because PMS. I am certainly luckier than some. I don’t get the debilitating cramps or the dreaded bloat, but everything hurts more and I become incredibly anxious. An absolutely amazing mix of symptoms to have while hiking.
Everything was fine. I woke up after some great sleep. I crushed Chestnut knob, while being a big stupid hill, has one of the best shelters on trail. Completely enclosed from the winds and elements. But as the day went on, I saw how cold it was getting and heard predictions of the upcoming storms. I got nervous because my tent has decided to not tent.
My tent, for reasons we will be referring to the brand as Jossamer Jear, has decided to no longer stay dry on the inside during rain. Its seam tape has decided to stop working and the tent now melts in humid conditions. After checking Jossamer Jear’s warranty policy, which is incredibly vague, it appears I might be needing to get a new tent (For the love of God, read the warranty policy before buying one if your big three). The random cold snap and the wet conditions have been making me wary, I have been hiking in a post trail days bubble with a lot of section hikers, so shelter space is incredibly limited.
So I got nervous and wanted to divert to a hostel. This is where the vicious cycle of anxious thinking started. I wanted to not have all my gear damp and to stay warm. But, I also didn’t want to inconvenience Dreamsicle and their hike. I didn’t want anyone thinking that I wasn’t able to be consistent with bigger miles and I had just taken a nero, I should be able to get through this section…
You can see where this is going, right? It’s all in my head, but it just keeps getting worse. Usually with me half way crying on the the side of the trail because everything hurts and questioning if I am a good person because I cheated on my math test in second grade.
Let’s talk about that fun little symptom, increased sensation of pain… Oh yeah, that’s a thing. Women during the days leading up to the menstruation phase are more sensitive to pain. We hurt more and it sucks. My pack feels heavier and my hip belt has a vice grip on me. My knee has started to flare up again, most likely due to weight from resupply and leaving my Ibuprofen in the hotel room. More than that, everything hurts. Just the wear and tear on my body feels excruciating; my feet throb, ankles ache, hips are tight, and my skin just hurts. I know it will feel better once my period is over, but getting through this next week is a special kind of hell. Every mile I hike feels like it should count for an extra .75 miles. Everything feels long and excruciating. The only thing you can do is try to treat the symptoms and get through it as gracefully as you can.
Earworm of The day: there was none due to weather. So, just the sound of my brain screaming.
It was rainy and cold and I hated it. All the other hikers hated it. It was a gross nasty day and with my tent being less waterproof than a paper bag, I was not enthusiastic about pushing to overcrowded shelters and not great town options. The nearest town, the incorporated village of Bland Virginia, boast of one overpriced motel and a gas station with a shut down Dairy Queen… I know luxurious.
This left us with some options. Hike shelter to shelter and hope I can get a spot in the shelter or go into the Village of Bland. Originally, we were brave and hopeful (perhaps stupid), we were going to push to the shelter and I was going to get a spot. It then proceeded to get colder and the rain got worse. Dumping buckets of ice water on us, that when we reached the road crossing into Bland, which had trail magic, we had had enough of being cold and wet. We were tired, chilled, and didn’t want to walk any further. So when we were offered a ride to the motel, we didn’t hesitate on the offer.
It was an uneventful town (village) day. I found out Dreamsicle likes watching the local news, which confirms my suspicion that he may just be an old man in disguise. By watching the news, we found out that this little rainstorm was going to dump more than three to four inches of rain and cause flash flooding. We were going to be right in the middle of that flash flooding.
Mother Nature decided that the AT needed a bath…
Earworm of the Day: Lukewarm, Penelope Scott
We woke up to less rain. The local news and Dreamsicle promised that the rain would stop by 12:30 PM and we would only be a little wet and there was flash flooding. Also, we would probably not drown or be swept away because we were going up in elevation.
As you could imagine, I was nervous and apprehensive about going out in flash floods… Especially after the shuttle driver and random drivers would pull over on the road to show us pictures of what they drove through. Flooded farms, two feet of fast water on low roads. I became more nervous.
Now I have done stream crossings and have done my fair share of sketchy dumb wilderness type two hiking bullshit, but I particularly don’t feel like dying from something completely avoidable. So, I brought up my concerns to Dreamsicle, that perhaps this is a stupid venture and we wait it out.
My brain kept reminding me of a little nugget of wisdom: Never trust the blatant audacity of men when it comes to nature. Although they mean well, trust your gut.
We decide that we will play it by ear, we will get to the first shelter that is two miles in and wait out some of the rain. This seems reasonable, so we went out and passed a couple of fast moving but not deep streams and it ended up being okay.
We are soaked to the bone and everything is wet, but we got to the first shelter and we waited. Although I didn’t ask Dreamsicle, I think both of us were really struggling with pushing through the rain. He had the goal of an average of 100 miles a week and the rain was really screwing with our plans… And ambition.
The rain ending up passing through, we were still soaked, and we survived. We got to Jenny Knob Shelter, were I found a spot and met new hikers. It was in the end a good day and tolerable day. Good enough that I agreed to a longer day for the next.
24 Miles (25.6 Total Miles)
You know when you agree to something that seemed like an absolutely great idea when you are in a good mood. I know I am not the only one who has done this… Yeah, somehow I agreed to a 24-mile-long day with extra off trail miles that is just shy of a marathon.
I appreciated the side adventures and the first 16 miles of the day, we saw gorged streams and rivers, stopped at a grocery store, and saw a swollen waterfall. It was a long slippery muddy day, but the first chunk of the day was enjoyable. It was flat and pretty, two things I appreciate.
Then suddenly it was 5 p.m. and I have 9.7 miles more miles to go… With a 2,000-foot climb up a steep hill to race to the next shelter. It seemed doable, the hill wasn’t that bad until the random storm blew through, right when I got to the summit… Where I was trapped in a cloud for the rest of the hike…
That’s when my anxiety kicked in. I was alone, it was overcast and getting dark. I had been walking since 8:00 AM that morning and the clock was slowly creeping to 8:00 PM. The miles felt excruciatingly long and they took longer because they were slick and I couldn’t see well due to switching to my glasses because a mosquito got in my eye. I felt alone in the mist, tired, and scared. I couldn’t judge my footing well because the rocks were slick, the temperature was dropping making my damp self chilled, and the mist was thick and clinging to everything.
There is something to learning conserving your physical and mental energy. Telling yourself that “No, you do not have the space to take on other problems at the moment”. Another hiker ahead of me, became incredibly sullen. He was upset about getting caught in little storm, down about being wet, and tired of being on trail. He wanted to quit on a bad day. I took the time to cheer him up and get him to push the last three miles to the next shelter, which in the end drained me of that space and energy to push myself. I had used too much of my reserve to push him forward that I ended up letting myself spiral into anxiety ridden thoughts, anger for letting myself get into this situation, and wanting to blame anyone but me.
Days 57 – 59
10 miles into Pearisburg
20.2 to War Spur Shelter
No earworms only podcasts: Old Gods of Appalachia
I have decided it is no longer the Virginia Blues, rather, I need highly medicated in Virginia.
I do not know what is up, but I feel like I am out of control on the inside. While walking, I am catastrophizing about how hard this is, how I need to quit because I will never make it, and everyone hates me because I am unstable. It doesn’t matter what the mileages is for the day, but the last three miles make me want to curl up in a ball and cry on the side of trail. Maybe I’m pushing myself to hard, but the anxiety that follows me for the last three miles, it wrecks me.
I’m beginning to wonder if I am not eating enough and that is causing me to spiral. Maybe I need to start pulling back, pushing less. I know nothing is physically wrong with me, joints are fine and I try to get the best nutrition I can, but my mental game is gone. At the end of these longer harder days, I just want to cry and die on the side of trail. Going to therapy has taught me that I when one if your basic needs are not met, i.e., nutrition, hydration, or rest, you can mentally spiral. Out here it is so hard to know which one you are not getting enough of.
Just today, I caught myself hyperventilating while listening to a song that made me think about my dad. Like, I thought fucking thru-hiking was supposed to help my mental health, not fucking wreck me… Jesus.
I’m just so tired all the time. It is exhausting feeling like you’re are always running in empty.
Earworm of the Day: Palm, Margaux
Today was better. Not only because it was shorter but because I tried my damnedest to eat and drink more. I also figured out why I was feeling like a psycho. It appears Aunt Flo finally decided to visit.
Yes, that dreaded time of the month still comes for you out here. Call it what you like, shark week, the rag, your moon, or (my personal favorite) fat bear week. The dreaded period takes no prisoners and can make hiking even harder. The outdoor world is already hard to exist in as a feminine person, menstruating just makes it even more difficult.
Did you know that while menstruating that your appetite can increase due to hormone changes? Also, it has been seen that women are more sensitive to pain in their premenstrual and menstrual phases of their cycle (I know I mentioned it before, but I actually looked it up!). So, don’t feel bad as you feel out of control while hiking while you are on your period. This shit is hard and you are kicking ass while actively bleeding. Think about how fucking metal that is?
Since my fat bear week had started, and I want to eat is fish, berries, and trash (see I have a reason for the name!). I could not mentally take another day of being on edge and feeling out of control, so I did my best to eat more calories and drink more water. It ended up helping (No, shit.). I was feeling stronger on the miles, despite the random spike in temperature (I repeat, no shit). It appears that while I was pushing this bigger and bigger miles, I wasn’t adjusting my food intake to compensate for the bigger energy expenditure.
As I said the day was better overall, the climbs felt easier. Although the trail was challenging, I stayed ahead of Dreamsicle and cruised ahead. It felt good being ahead, it didn’t feel like I was trying to keep up.
The trail for the day was gorgeous, but hot. We were walking through gorgeous field and pastures that just hung onto the heat if the sun. It was sunny with gorgeous blues skies, until I noticed some suspicious looking clouds.
Having lived in the great plains and tornado alley most of my life, I have become quite good at identifying suspicious storm carry clouds. The clouds I spotted on the horizon looked suspicious. About 45 minutes to an hour from dumping rain on our general location.
I shrugged it off, I was about to be in the tree line on a ridgeline. It would dump some rain and pass over us. It wouldn’t be bad, right?
As per my usual assumption when it comes to rain on this trail. I was wrong and luckily, this time, I bumped into some hikers who informed me that we were about to be in some scattered thunderstorms… Up on the ridge line… We were climbing… Great.
So we all decided to throw our plans out the window and run like mad to the next shelter, 2.2 miles ahead and an extra 0.3 miles off trail. As we were all rushing to the next shelter, we were surrounded by crashing thunder and one particularly close lightning strike, which reminded me how tall I was compared to some if the surrounding foliage.
Let’s just say the 2.2 mile and mad dash down the hill passed by quickly as all of us wanted out of the storm and off the ridgeline.
Earworm of the Day: Me and Your Mama, Childish Gambino
It appears the shelter I stayed in is supposedly haunted! Starver Shelter is located on the property of a family of sharecroppers. Near the shelter is remains of an old building, the Starver family cemetery, and their well. Supposedly previous hikers have noted interesting goings-on around the shelter.
If there was anything spooky, I was so tired I slept through it. Maybe the ghost scared off all the mice, because there was no sign of them. Not a peep.
Today was a relatively slow day. We had discussed trying to push 20+ miles to Four Pines Hostel, but as we walked and kept getting sidetracked by trail magic and pretty views, we quickly realized we were not going to make the hostel at a reasonable time. So we decided to camp.
Today was the night I discovered my sleeping pad has a leak in it… A slow annoying leak. One that made me think I was insane and paranoid as I have had the following gear failures.
Jossamer Jear tent – no longer waterproof, now a water feature. Was sent home because I don’t have the time to wait for sealant and play arts and crafts.
Jack’s R Better quilt – ripped trying to unbutton the foot box (it’s fine, Jack’s R Better overnighted me a brand-new quilt and was awesome about finding solutions. Unlike a Texas gear company who believes you should sleep in a water feature…)
Trekking pole – the carbide tip is now on the inside of the pole, and I have a very expensive noise maker that still gets me up hills.
Knock on wood, that’s it. I understand most light weight backpacking gear is not designed to be used in this situation, hundreds of miles every day in all kinds of weather. While they are designed for rugged and outdoor use, it can be expected that they are going to fail or breakdown during this thru-hike.
Earworm of the Day: Gimme All Your Love, Alabama Shakes
We have entered the most photographed part of the AT! The Virginia triple crown. This is composed of the Dragons Tooth, Mcafee Knob, and Tinker Cliffs. Today we were able to get to Dragons Tooth and Mcafee Knob.
When you hear these names, you probably don’t recognize them, but I am sure you have seen pictures of them. These pictures typically include a hiker sitting on the edge of a massive cliff looking off into the distance. That’s Mcafee Knob, Dragons Tooth is a giant monolith with amazing views, Tinker Cliffs are gorgeous steep cliffs that have views of Daleville.
Today, although hot, was a good day. We took the miles slower due to the heat and some unexpected trail magic provided by other thru-hikers. Thanks Proton and Tiny Bladder for the snacks and goodies. I got to pick up new shoes, I am still in the Brooks Cascadia 16 because even after 700 miles in them they still work and my orthotic is molded to that shoe. So, why change it if it works?
I’m feeling a lot better after upping my calorie intake. I am less prone to feeling at my limit and utterly exhausted all the time. This means I am going to need to find more calorically dense foods and just carry more food. I’ve lost 20+ pounds on this trip, I know I keep saying I need to listen to my body, but it is becoming more apparent.
Again, each 100 miles presents new challenges. If you don’t step up, you don’t get to keep walking.
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