What’s That About Virginia Blues: SOBO Days 105 – 119
I’m not sure when the Virginia Blues are supposed to crush my spirits, but I can tell you that it certainly has not been during this last section.
The past couple weeks of hiking have put me through a full range of emotions. This is, however, no different than any other week on trail. And despite any negative emotions and the real hardships of thru-hiking, there is rarely a day that I crawl into my tent with anything even resembling the blues.
At the exit of Shenandoah National Park, I had the chance to visit Charlottesville, the hometown of a hiking buddy. Five of us thru-hikers invaded his parents’ home and were met with generosity, care, and most importantly, delicious food.
We spent a glorious zero day in the Charlottesville area — visiting a thrift store, a winery, and the downtown core. If it wasn’t for the borrowed clothes and sore feet, it truly would have felt like just any other weekend with friends in the life I live off-trail.
The experience of such a pampered, quintessential autumn weekend gave me a rare glimpse into off-trail life after hundreds of miles away from it. It felt foreign, but also comfortable, and tempting. I missed sleeping in my tent, but also relished the delicacy of a bed. I missed hiking, but also gratefully climbed into a car for a much faster and effortless form of transportation.
For the first time, I found myself tangibly thinking about life back home. I let my mind wander to post-trail plans. But, after a full day of rest, I was still antsy to continue hiking. Time and time again, I’m surprised, but pleased, at how excited I am to return to the trail after any amount of time off. This reassured me that emotions surrounding homesickness and dreams about a comfortable off-trail life were not signs of Virginia Blues, but merely a reflection of the weekend. Once I hit the trail again, I was happy to be there.
A Brewery, On Trail?
The first day out of Charlottesville, rested and fueled by a home cooked breakfast (thanks again to Homework’s family!), my little crew of four and I hiked to Devil’s Backbone Brewery, about 19 miles, where we met up with the rest of our SOBO bubble.
There was rain in the afternoon, but no problem, because four of us had downloaded the same upbeat playlist (though not the playlist from my last blog post). We hit “play” at the same time and danced our way over mountains and ridges all the way to the brewery. I read The Comfort Book by Matt Haig before coming on trail and during our dance party, I really felt that we were embracing the quote, “It is easier to learn to be soaked and happy than to learn how to stop the rain”.
After just leaving civilization, it was luxurious to already have a shower again and enjoy a plate of nachos and a pumpkin spice lager. I fell asleep again to the sounds of civilization, but this time with a not insignificant sized tent city all around me.
Forgive Me For I Have Sinned
The next day was an exciting one…the first 4000-foot mountain since climbing Mount Killington in Vermont. This mountain is known as The Priest and there is a shelter nearby to the summit with a logbook for hikers to confess their sins. I guess you’ll have to visit the mountains of Virginia to find out what Ducky’s confession was!
Trail Magic and a Grumpy Duck
The next morning passed by quickly, and by the afternoon, I was surrounded by surprisingly lovely views. Grassy hillsides were visible in all directions, with rolling hills overpowering the horizon. I hadn’t expected such stunning views, and it made the day (devoid of any civilization) pass by quickly, so quickly. Perhaps it helped that I spent a large portion of the day walking with other hikers. We chatted about favourite animals and colours, a wholesome conversation from just the sweetest of people.
And again the next day, more views, but this time, I didn’t feel mentally great. A pick-me-up from Captain Stops-A-Lot right around lunchtime definitely made me feel better. How could free veggie dogs and vegetables with ranch dip not raise someone’s spirits?
Unfortunately, no amount of vegetables could make my spirits soar too high. Autumn was beginning to threaten my happy days on trail with chilly breezes and cold mornings. Despite my Canadian blood, I hate being cold. And the two-inch inseam of my duck patterned Chickn Legs just were not cutting it for me anymore.
And a cold Ducky is not a happy Ducky.
And Then A Hurricane?
A quick evening in Glasgow would have repaired my bruised spirits had it not taken so long to hitchhike into town (of course, I’m not actually hitchhiking, Mom, this is just for dramatic effect on the blog). Over an hour of smiles to passersby before I managed to get into town. Thankfully, the pizza was great once I got there. Shoutout to Scotto’s!
The next morning was a sunny one, the calm before the storm if you will. But, with a hurricane forecasted, my pasty white legs were starting to shake from the cold. Ignoring my cold legs, and worse, cold leg muscles, I enjoyed the day with a packed-out cold brew and by listening to The Testaments by Margaret Atwood. It must have been a good coffee and a good book because I hiked over 25 miles with 6700 feet of elevation gain. I’ve made it a personal goal to never push big miles on trail for fear of causing irreparable damage to my poor toes, so this was my personal record thus far.
Run, Forrest, Run!
My journal entry for the next day begins with “Uh…brrrrrr!!!” And I think that fairly well summarizes the first day of the hurricane.
With wind ripping through my sun hoodie, puffy, and rain jacket, I wasn’t sure what other layers to start adding. Thankfully, with an early morning start, I was able to cover 20 miles before 2pm, ducking (no pun intended) into the Wilson Creek Shelter before the rain started to fall.
At the shelter, I immediately changed into my thermals for sleeping and curled into my quilt with a snack and an ebook — The Circle by Dave Eggers. The rain pelted the metal roof of the shelter, but the wind was blowing every direction except into the shelter, for which I was extremely grateful.
As fast as my frozen legs would allow, I ran from my hurricane hideaway shelter straight to Daleville, hardly stopping for a snack. The wind and rain had not ceased, and the 11 miles into town had me on the verge of tears from the cold.
I snapped a quick picture at the “2/3 to Springer” sign, and if you know me well, that’s the smile of someone who just wants to get to a shower and coffee. If you don’t, I think my half-grimacing smile is the perfect balance of happy hiker and tired hiker.
In town, I scored at the Goodwill and Outfitter. Leggings, wool thermals, a fleece, and new camp shoes. Feeling much better prepared for colder weather and after a zero day to avoid the rest of the hurricane, I felt giddy with excitement for the next section of the Appalachian Trail: the Virginia Triple Crown.
Tinker Cliffs and McAfee Knob
I feel exceptionally Atlantic Canadian when I’m in the presence of water. Looking out over Carvins Cove Reservoir on the way up to Tinker Cliffs, I felt peacefully at home.
The post-hurricane weather was delightful, with the sun on my face and wind brushing my new leggings instead of my bare legs. The incredible views of the Catawba Valley from the Tinker Cliffs and the powerful emotion coming from arriving at McAffe’s Knob caused a release of pure dopamine into my system. Catching the sunset at the Knob, and then night hiking down to the nearest shelter, I stopped with friends to gaze at the stars. Bliss.
I’m telling you, the leaves changed colour overnight. And I’m not complaining. Autumn is my favourite time of year, and mainly because of the beautiful foliage. The changing leaves made the views from Dragon’s Tooth, the final stop of the Virginia Triple Crown, that much more beautiful. A rare on-trail coffee enhanced the views also.
Brush Mountain was another particular highlight of the day, and that’s not to mention another surge of emotions when crossing the 1500-mile marker. Tearing up and tearing into a chocolate Clif bar, it felt surreal to be standing over 45 little acorns encircled by a ring of stones, spelling out the numbers 1-5-0-0.
A Note on Dispersed Camping
The next couple days went by in a blur. The more technical hiking and steeper climbs from the last section had me acknowledging that it really felt like we were in the mountains again after hundreds of miles in the mid-Atlantic.
I ate lunch under a 300-year old oak tree, floated through pastures, ate my weight in trail magic from a tramily member’s family, nursed a hip injury, practiced my Spanish from an audio language course, and camped in the rhododendrons. A gang of goats also visited one of my tent sites. Oh, the things you experience on trail!
My Heart is Happy at Woods Hole
I would be amiss not to mention my experience at Woods Hole hostel, just outside of Pearisburg, Virginia, the resting point of this section and this blog post (am I getting wordier as the trail goes on?).
I called my family from the parking lot, discussing dates to book a flight home. The post-trail chatter is really starting to increase, but a place like Woods Hole helped me feel present. The homemade yogurt and sauces were exactly what my stomach has been craving. I inhaled for a breathtaking sunrise, watched the pigs eat the compost scraps, and wrapped myself in another borrowed cardigan, and exhaled. This corner of the universe is special, and I shipped one of Neville’s homemade mugs back to Canada to remind myself of that.
Gotta Keep Your Head Up
This last section started and ended with a warm bed. And despite the chilly days, it felt like there was a silver lining to every day, be it trail magic, coffee, or the friends around me. Every single day is marked with a big smiley face in my journal, so at least from the confines of my quilt and sleeping pad, I was always feeling content. And with the additional warm layers, the cold is bothering me much less, anyway.
So, I guess no Virginia Blues for me?
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