When you hit rock bottom, climb back up.
Thanks to my unconventional flip-flop hike (Springer to Damascus VA, Katahdin back to Damascus), I’m not hitting the emotional milestones of the average thru hiker- I’ll complete my hike at an ice cream shop on the Virginia Creeper trail instead of Katahdin or Springer. I got a dose of the Maine and New Hampshire Blues instead of the Virginia Blues.
The Virginia Blues is a phenomenon marked by a temporary loss of wonder during a thru hike around the 500 mile mark which happens to be in southern Virginia. Instead of luscious mountain balds and a plethora of spring wildflowers, Virginia brings a monotonous tunnel of green, heat waves, and poison ivy. Gross.
Six miles past the Virginia/Tennessee border and 470 miles into my hike, I went home for two weeks before taking a bus to Maine to hike south with my boyfriend. The 100 Mile Wilderness proceeded to beat the crap out of me and a swarm of mosquitoes and blackflies chased me all the way to the Maine border. For all the gory details, read my earlier post about it.
I though this was rock bottom, but it wasn’t.
For the next 36 days of my hike, I proceeded to cry every day. Sometimes 4 times a day. My shoes no longer fit. My backpack started to fail. I was kept up at night by my legs burning and itching from allergic reactions to grass and the onslaught of 4″ wide welts from insect bites. My knees felt ready to collapse from crawling over boulders and falling multiple times a day. I got stomach cramps from hiking in the heat after eating and felt dizzy from not eating enough if I ate less. I missed my northbound trail family. My butt was chafed and I was chronically constipated. I cried because I worried that my boyfriend would leave me behind because I cried too much and that deciding to hike with him was a mistake. I cried because I was so sick of crying.
It’s one thing to have the Virginia Blues on relatively smooth trails, but another beast entirely when you have to use rock climbing techniques to ascend and descend mountains with climbs as steep as 1400 feet of elevation gain per mile.
I slogged my way to Hanover NH and considered quitting for the first time in my hike because it wasn’t getting better. I was lonely and unhappy.
I decided this was rock bottom and I could either go home and be a quitter or purge myself of all anxieties and negativity. Continuing to hike in my toxic mental state was not an option.
I couldn’t sleep while I stayed in Hanover because I was so upset. After calling my mom at midnight and all but giving up on my hike I stayed up until 3 AM writing down all of my worries and concerns.
The New Hampshire/Vermont border on the AT runs through the middle of town.
I didn’t consciously change my mentality, but Vermont seemed to understand that I was suffering. I got my first southbound trail magic- a mile into Vermont I found an issue of Bicycling magazine on a log. I don’t think it was intentional trail magic but as an avid cyclist it sure was magical for me. All the rocks and roots disappeared from the trail and the humidity dropped from 85% to 40%. The high temperatures were 85 instead of 95 degrees. Soon after I began hiking through meadows full of raspberries and saw my first bear a few days later. I got a new backpack and a new clean and not-rancid shirt in Rutland. For the first time since May, I love hiking and the Appalachian Trail again.
It’s not the mountains we conquer, but ourselves.
I first saw this quote in the Amicalola Falls State Park lodge and it has stuck with me for the past 968 miles and it made sure I crossed the Vermont border. And I’m so glad that it did.
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