The Virginia Blues – Is It Really About State Lines?
I was warned well before I entered Virginia. My friend, and 2021 thru-hiker, Weeble Wobble told me to expect a challenge.
“It’s really tough mentally, spending over a month in the same state.”
Writing this, I’m sitting in Daleville, Virginia, which is roughly half-way through the longest of the 14 states from Georgia to Maine. While I still have a long way to go before West Virginia, I struggle to understand why that in itself is an issue.
It Doesn’t Seem Right
I may be unique in the fact that state borders haven’t felt like big milestones for me, but I doubt it. Many of the hikers I’ve been around count their progress in miles, not in states.
We take the time to bend down and gather sticks or rocks, spelling out the distance every hundred miles. It’s no easy task on aching legs. Those that come after take photos to commemorate the achievement, glad to be spared the task of marking the miles.
Throughout the state of Virginia we will hit five such markers, as well as the quarter way mark. All that is to say we have ample evidence of progress…so why the Virginia Blues?
My theory is that it’s simply bad timing. The state that gave us the wild ponies of the Greyson Highlands, the breathtaking views of Dragons Tooth, McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs, and the relative flatness of Shenandoah National Park comes at a mentally difficult time.
My grandfather was a college professor for over 40 years, and he noted that the most difficult time for first year international students began between six and eight weeks. Grades and attendance declined steeply and the students seemed unhappy.
He theorized that this was when the novelty wore off. Everything new and exciting had become routine. With enough time, longing for the pleasures of home set in. The students simply get homesick.
In my various experiences traveling, I’ve found myself in a slump pretty regularly at about 8 weeks. I don’t feel the same excitement. I don’t want to keep moving from place to place. I want to go home, or to simply have a home. My usual solution is to settle into a quiet town for a week or so, and make a sort of home.
For many of those starting in Georgia, Virginia coincides with that general 6-8 week timeframe. With tight budgets and winter to beat, settling down for a while isn’t possible. We start to miss home, or having a home.
But Wait… There’s More!
If homesickness wasn’t enough to make things difficult, the physical toll is another challenge. By now many hikers are getting their trail legs. Muscles and tendons are starting to adjust to the daily grind.
The downside to this is that aches and pains aren’t so easy to dismiss as simple soreness. It becomes harder to believe that the body will simply adjust, and that the pain in your left knee that started in the Smokys is going away any time soon. For some of us the milage is just starting to add up, and things that never troubled us are slowly breaking down with constant use.
For those of us who can overcome these obstacles there’s another unfortunate challenge… saying goodbye to our friends who just couldn’t take it.
Just past the quarter way mark sits Bear Garden Hostel. It’s a great place to stop and rest, but when I walked into the bunkhouse the mood was less than cheerful. Being curious I asked if everything was ok.
Everything was, in fact, not ok. Two of the three hikers were nursing injuries, trying to push through, and three of their companions had called it quits just hours earlier. The night before, I had talked with a friend who had lost his entire tramily that week.
I have spent most of my time hiking solo, moving from one group to the next, but I can imagine going from hiking with friends to suddenly hiking alone must be heartbreaking. Suddenly no one gets your jokes. No one knows about the wild things you’ve said, some and overcome. You’re still walking, but wounded.
Who’s To Blame
To call it the Virginia Blues may be accurate, but to think it’s because we haven’t crossed a state border minimizes the reality of the struggle. Most of us don’t much care what imaginary line encircles our current, very real segment of trail. We can find other milestones to feel accomplished.
All the things that happen below the surface, the effort behind the miles, the physical and emotional pain are what has us feeling blue. Those are what we are overcoming and growing through. Don’t blame it on Virginia.
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