When the Homesickness Hits: Days 56–59

Day 56: Woods Hole to Pearisburg; 10.6 miles

At Woods Hole, the sun rises over the valley beyond my tent. It shines over the goats chowing down on their breakfast, and over us hikers as we tear down camp. The sunrise is celebrated here, with coffee served during blue dawn hours as a ritual ahead of daybreak. It felt important to take the extra time in the morning to watch the earth light up.

This was the highlight of my day.

Sunrise at Woods Hole

The hiking today was relatively chill. I passed by some neat rock formations and ledges, which made me think about the Virginia Triple Crown. I can’t believe we’re already nearly there.

Lynx, Ramen Bomb Tom, and me at the Pearis Ledges. Cheeeeese.

The Virginia Triple Crown is a section of trail that passes by three rock formations: Dragon’s Tooth, McAfee Knob, and Tinker Cliffs. These are places I’ve heard about and dreamt of for months, but never imagined actually… being here. Plus, after a few days hiking through the green tunnel, I’m feeling beyond ready to take in those expansive views.

Lynx, RBT, and I descended into Pearisburg and immediately found a Mexican place for lunch. The heat called for Dairy Queen after that. For dinner, we met up with Sparks and Buck Wild at the Happy Hog — I ordered salad and mac and cheese. Yum.

Road walking fast to lunch!

Bless you, DQ.

We decided to resupply in the morning before hitting trail for one more lower mileage day. We still had some energy, though, so Lynx came over to watch the 76ers and Knicks in our motel room. I fell asleep as soon as the game ended.

Day 57: Pearisburg to Tent Site at 649.4; 13 miles

Ramen and I started our day slowly. We’d decided to hike until the early afternoon, then take some long breaks during the heat of the day. We thought it might be a good opportunity to try some night hiking and take advantage of the cooler temperatures in the evening.

Before venturing from our motel room for breakfast and resupply, we laid out our remaining food to figure out how much we needed until the next town. While doing our “hiker math,” Ramen Bomb shared a Tallest Man in Earth album with me to save to my AT playlist.

We walked to Sugar and Flour to pick up some iced coffees and avocado toast. I also ordered a thick slice of chocolate chip banana bread to carry out of town with me — I figured it’d be a great treat to enjoy during a break later today.

Once we finished our chores, we decided to try and hitch back to the trail. A kind local let us hop into the bed of his pickup truck and drove us to the New River.

Hopeful for a hitch

That was easy

Ramen and I stripped down to our underwear and jumped in. There’s truly very little in the world that brings me the same simple joy I feel when I get to float in bodies of water. Maybe it’s the Michigan in me. I thought about these ancient waters — the New River is the oldest river in North America — and how glad I was to be swimming in them. It’s moments like these that make the trail experience what it’s been for me so far. Remember what I keep saying about the magic in the in-between?

Butterflies on the banks of the New River

We scrambled back up to the interstate and crossed over the river on foot.

The other day, when I was quite literally doubled over in pain from my period, Sparks told me about hiking at the “pace of guidance” — a phrase her hiking mentor shared with her. To me, that means moving at a pace that still allows me to tune into my body’s needs and the wisdom of the mountain. Just because I can hike up these mountains with 30ish pounds on my back at a 20-something minute pace doesn’t mean I should.

So today, as the trees enveloped me once again, I hiked at the pace of guidance. I thought about how these mountains are older than the rings of Saturn, older than bones, older than the very trees that give “the green tunnel” its name.

RBT and I stopped for dinner at a shelter near an overlook and chatted for a while with a geologist named Rocky doing a section hike up to Daleville. We ate rosemary sourdough bread dipped in olive oil and drank a little red wine that Ramen had packed out from town. Finally, it cooled down enough for us to hike on.

We walked along ridge line into the evening, West Virginia to our left and Virginia to our right. Eventually, the trees cleared and we found ourselves at the edge of Wills Field. Taking in the stunning view, I started to tear up. We decided to stop right there and make camp.

The view from my tent tonight!

Buck Wild emerged from the only other tent in the vicinity and we shared some clementines and conversation before falling asleep.

This was my favorite day on trail so far. I’m so glad I got to share it with Ramen Bomb Tom.

Day 58: Wills Field Tent Site to War Spur Shelter; 20.3 miles

I left the tent site before RBT because he planned to meet up with a mentor of his from music school for the weekend.

See ya, RBT! 👋

Sparks had slackpacked the day before and met up with her husband Paul. They were planning to stop at shelter just over 20 miles from where I’d camped the night before. Looking at the elevation profile for the day, it felt doable.

Soon after I left our misty campsite, the rain came. It was fine at first — honestly kind of refreshing. It felt cleansing on my skin and I enjoyed the cooler temperature. But then it just didn’t stop. The rain kept coming down and the wind started to blow, which always stresses me out.

Trying to stay positive

I called my friend Leah for a while before losing reception. A couple hours later, I called my mom and dad. When I have cell service, calling people is so special to me. It’s really comforting to hear the voices of people I love, and I like getting caught up on their lives — the happinesses, the worries, everything in between. Call me whenever, friends!

Shortly after calling my parents, I started descending off the ridge and the call dropped. Out of nowhere, a heavy feeling of homesickness hit me in my core and I started full-on sobbing. That’s not how I wanted to say goodbye. I didn’t want to keep hiking in this rain, on this slippery trail, all alone. It was quickly turning into A Bad Day.

I opened my phone and saw I had a book downloaded on Audible that I hadn’t read yet. Look, I’m all for feeling your feelings and working through The Hard Shit and communing with the sounds of nature. But I’ve been out here for just about two months and have learned that sometimes, it’s okay to swim in distraction. I’ll investigate the homesickness when I get to camp tonight.

So I put on Red, White, and Royal Blue and let my legs take me where I needed to go.

This was sketchy in the rain

When I got to camp, I wasn’t much in a socializing mood. My fingers and feet were pruned and I was chilled to the bone in my wet clothes. I couldn’t get dry, even once I changed into my sleep clothes. I cooked dinner in my tent vestibule and tried to sleep. The sound of rain pitter-pattering on my tent was calming, and I managed to drift off after the long day.

Day 59: War Spur Shelter to Niday Shelter; 18.4 miles

The rain let up by morning, but my rain fly was soaked and heavy in my backpack.

A baby food breakfast kinda morning

So I started the day still feeling damp. The dampness turned to sweat as I began a long climb. But (don’t roll your eyes) I was motivated to summit the mountain in the hopes I’d have enough service to call my mom back today. I was feeling more positive and I wanted to properly say the “goodbye” we didn’t get yesterday!

I also got to talk to my sister on the phone for a few minutes. She’s just graduated with her doctorate of physical therapy. It’s hard to be on trail during big moments back home, but catching up on the phone meant so much to me.

I passed through some open pastures and the massive Keffer Oak today with Sparks and her husband Paul. While hiking through one pasture, I found a tick crawling up my leg for the first time — ick.

Thanks for capturing this moment, Sparks!

Sparks and Paul taking in the Keffer Oak

Huggin’ trees forever

Today’s hike also included a series of slanted ledges that were still slightly damp from the rain. I felt nervous because the grip on my shoes is pretty worn down by this point — my new shoes await in Daleville a few days away. Sparks taught me to walk with my toes pointing slightly uphill and that helped. She also told me, “slow is steady; steady is fast.” So I took my time and made it through.

There were a lot of rocks in trail today and my worn down shoes weren’t protecting my feet as well as I’d hoped. My feet were swollen and tender, and I felt that my hiking was pretty sloppy. I couldn’t wait to put on my camp shoes for the evening.

At the shelter, I set up my wet tent (hoping it dries a little more overnight!) and grazed on a bunch of snacks for dinner. Definitely not enough food, but I didn’t have the energy to cook tonight. I made a mental note to eat a big breakfast.

The plan is to stop at Four Pines Hostel tomorrow. Just one more long day stands between me and a shower. But that long day includes Dragon’s Tooth, the beginning of the Virginia Triple Crown!

After hearing raccoons fighting in the distance (kind of a scary sound, honestly), I drifted into a dark, dreamless sleep.

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Comments 2

  • Venture : May 11th

    Hey Mo – thanks for the update. I am really enjoying your writing, musings, and description of The AT. Continue at your pace of guidance, and let us tag along.


  • Anna : May 11th

    The photos and your commentary made my day, 3000 miles away! I love the butterflies on the river beach and the photos of sky and misty woods. Your love for the world comes through even when you are tired, hungry or homesick. I’m following your steps with great interest.


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