Day 90 on the Trail – Continued Changes!

View from Blackrock Mountain in the Shenandoah’s.

Hello fellow trekkers! July 10 was my day 90 on the AT – I cannot believe I have been so fortunate to safely journey over 1300 miles since April 10! Time has gone by both so slowly and so, so quickly. As of July 10, I made it to New Jersey from Georgia, via North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Getting across the US being only foot-powered is indeed very possible! Here are a few perspectives that have grown or changed since day 60.

Having a Trail Family makes a huge difference in day to day support

I wrote about this on the Day 60 report, and have to emphasize it again! Having a Trail Family or Tramily as it is referred to out here on the AT makes the day to day struggles a little easier. We share in the good, bad, the ugly of the trail and how it affects us, we have inside jokes and rapport we are building with everything from hitch hiking to determining the best camp spot, and even if we don’t see each other during the day or for a few days, knowing we are going to meetup in a few days at an agreed-to destination makes all the difference in knocking out miles.

Our group calls itself the Outdoor Cats, because we are rather independent but keep up with each other via a WhatsApp group chat. We are pretty open to membership and currently have 9 active members. This includes the following hikers, Cricket, Bumblebee, Hobble-It, Stryder, Serendipity, Hummingbird, Gromit, Lieutenant Dingleberry, and myself, Sonic Boom.

Our group started more or less at the Muskrat Shelter in NC, where we experienced what was the coldest night on trail so far, with heavy icy rain, mud, and blustery winds. We banded together and stayed warm inside the shelter, and the group grew from there along the way and solidified in Virginia prior to the Shenandoah section of the AT.

People are going to leave the AT for various reasons.

A moment that has stayed with me is when I met up again with a fellow thru-hiker, Yes Man, at a park in Shenandoah National Park. We had not seen each other since Damascus’s famous Trail Days, so it was a really nice reunion and catchup. During our conversation Yes Man shared that he was aware of about 10 hikers who we commonly knew in our social bubble who had ended their thru-hike. I was surprised to hear many of the names he listed because many of them seemed highly likely to get to Katahdin.

Upon reflection, I came to understand while it is unfortunate and sad to hear people left the trail, and left for a variety of reasons, each person’s time out here is their own unique journey. Attempting a thru-hike is already an accomplishment. Some find out it’s not their thing. Others have life events happen that take them off trail. Perhaps they will try again or attempt section hikes. Whatever the reason, the important thing is to appreciate the time you have with people out here, and to continue your journey too.

Having Friends and Family join you on the AT for a short while can make the AT more inclusive of your off-trail community.

In Waynesboro Virginia I was able to meet up with some of my closest college friends who I had not seen since before the Pandemic. Bringing in friends from all over Virginia to hang out and share in my adventures added layers of richness and personal history to the trail, and gave me a boost to keep going. Thanks Sinclair, Audra, Adam, and Cassandra for coming to see me and support me!

Next, my Sister, who earned her name Light Show, joined me to cohike the Shenandoah National Park section of the AT. It would be her first thru-hike, first section hike, technically first LASH, or Long Ass Section Hike, at 110 miles from Rockfish Gap in Waynesboro to Front Royal. Light Show prepared well and used her resources and friends who are hikers to get the right gear, test, and then launch with me at Rockfish Gap.

Sunset view from Big Meadow in the Shenandoah’s

My parents dropped off my sister in Waynesboro, it was the first time I had seen them since they dropped me off at Amicalola Falls in Georgia. The reunification was emotional and positive, as my parents got to see I’m okay, if a little thinner and smellier. Even my brother made it to dinner to catch up, which all meant a lot to see the family before my sister and I took off into the woods.

Hiking with non-thru hikers can be an adjustment, especially after hiking with a community of Thru-Hikers who have established their routines and habits. This is where adjusting your expectations comes in to play. You will most likely not achieve the same mileage each day, the same speed each day, or even see the same people you were in from a hiking bubble standpoint. All of these things changed for me in a good way.

Let’s start with speed – by the time I reached the Shenandoah I was comfortable with 20-mile days. I knew I could not ask that of my sister, especially on day one, because not even I could do that in Georgia in April! So our first day was 8.5 miles to the first shelter. It went great and Light Show was challenged, but learned the ropes quickly and the routines to have in place.

Slowing down had another positive aspect – really enjoying the trail in fine detail. The Shenandoah’s are a special place for me as it is – it’s where I tested gear for the AT, and growing up nearby it was always a wonderful place to explore throughout the year. Some of my best memories of the AT so far are the Shenandoah’s because I took it slowly as my sister gained her Trail legs. This made it more than worthwhile to have her join me on the AT.

Slowing down and having more space in the day also means I met people both on and off the AT I would never have met at my AT pace. I was able to enjoy some incredibly deep conversations with total strangers at Waysides along the Shenandoah, both hikers and day visitors. I even helped to make some fellow section hikers journeys more enjoyable because we saw each other so often and my experience of how to handles challenges of the trail helped them have a better time.

Finally, having my sister join me and successfully conduct a LASH challenged her and her abilities, and she rose to the challenge. I’m very proud of her and the time she took to make it happen, and she succeeded. The Shenandoah will be one of the most memorable sections of the AT for me because of how my outside AT community joined in for the adventure.

Even friends and former coworkers have joined in to see what’s going on! Both in Virginia and New Jersey former coworkers and friends who live in the area of the AT stopped by on Zero-mile days or joined in on local short hikes to get a feel for what I am doing. Each one expressed astonishment and wonder at the trail and how I am doing, and all of them have been very supportive of the trek.

My boyfriend Jordan came to Virginia during this period and we got to reconnect, and it was important for me to show him the AT and part of my life in Virginia. Taking the time to zero-mile those days with him, introduce him to my family, and show him aspects of the AT helped us grow closer together despite the distance and challenges, and is one of the most memorable and special moments for me on the AT.

Gradual Progression is a crucial element of success on the AT

Finally, another important element I have realized is crucial to success on the AT is the gradual progression the AT has over time. Traversing through 7 states so far and in an 8th really makes the AT a new experience every day. Because of the varied terrain, trail towns, seasons, and people along the way, the habits and routines stay nearly the same, but the textures and richness of the AT continue to evolve with the states. This sense of movement keeps the AT very interesting and keeps me engaged with both the internal and external communities who support it. I’m very grateful for both.

Crossing the Mason-Dixon Line between Maryland and Pennsylvania, marking the historic border between the Northern States and the Southern States.

That’s it for now! Thanks for reading – onward to Katahdin!

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