Week 11 on the AT & the Virginia Blues

Hello Friends! We love hiking and each day we get to hike on a new stretch of trail.

A rare boardwalk moment.

Still, it would be remiss of me not to express how difficult this thru-hike has been for me at times. While we are having the time of our lives it is also a very intense experience.

We hike 8 to 12 hours each day over rocks and roots. We sweat as we climb up mountains and our joints are tested as we climb down. We carry 20-30 pound on our backs. Our feet hurt.

My body is able to repair itself during sleep and I awake each day and hike. Regardless, the terrain and the miles sometimes leave me exhausted. The exhaustion builds, physically and mentally until it comes to a head.

Virginia houses 550 miles of the AT. The most of any state.

A phenomenon known as “The Virginia Blues” constitutes the end of one’s honeymoon phase with the AT. Hiking begins to feel more like a job with the stress of making bigger miles and wondering if one can indeed make it to Katahdin. Missing home and loved ones can begin to occupy the mind.

There is the reality that you have come so far but have much, much further to go.

This doesn’t mean we won’t make it, but a shift in perception becomes necessary. A desire to enjoy each day, each moment and each mile. To focus on the present moment rather than worry and wonder what the future has in store.

Day 70

Mile 962.3 – campsite

This morning we were fortunate enough to be .2 miles away from a picnic area that offered nice bathrooms and running water.

The rain started around 10:30 AM and got us nice and wet before we made it to the Elk Wallow Wayside for lunch. We were very fortunate that the lunch crew showed up, as hikers who were waiting there before we arrived, were questioning if it was going to open at all.

They have the usual snacks there and with relatively few vegetarian items, we ordered, french fries, onion rings, and their vegetable tomato soup. After we enjoyed those items, All Day went in and got a three scoop ice cream, which was so big he was given two scoops in a bowl to work on and told to return for the third when he was ready!

The remainder of our day consisted of hiking, as it always does, and we made it to a stealth site where we were able to set up close to Lost and Found.

Shenandoah has been a very fun place to hike and has offered us so much opportunity to nourish ourselves and given us lots of respites at picnic areas. The terrain, while rocky, was generally easy to walk on and I would highly recommend this section to anyone who wanted to hike a section of the Appalachian trail. Also, it doesn’t hurt that you can pack out a beer to enjoy pretty much every night.

We saw a giant toad, followed by a smaller toad, followed by several other small toads. They’re everywhere!

We have see lots of frogs and toads.

Day 71

Mile 972.1 – Baymont Inn, Front Royal VA

We awoke extra early so that we could hike our 9 miles and some change and get into front Royal early in the day. Lost and Found were kind enough to give us a ride. They had parked their car about 2 miles prior to our trail head and got off the trail there.

In the next 2 miles we found lots of black raspberry bushes. Had we a plastic container we could’ve collected a lot more. I guess we’ll just leave them for the bears.

Front Royal is a very lovely town with a nice little main street. The local outfitter has a hiker lounge with shower, washer and dryer. We were able to take a shower and wash our clothes for free.

We explored a little bit and hung out at the brewery, enjoying some beers and something to eat with Lost and Found. At the coffee shop we came across some other hikers that we hadn’t seen in quite some time.

The bakery had some nice options as well, and after we checked into our hotel All Day went to find an ice cream cone, and discovered that there is delicious ice cream in town as well.

After hanging out in our hotel, we went down to an Indian restaurant for dinner and had very delicious food. Then it was time for another ice cream cone.

We’ve had a pretty full town day, and tomorrow will spend the morning relaxing, and will be back to the trail!

Black raspberries can be found on roadsides.

Day 72

Mile 982.8 – Manassas Gap Shelter campsite

We were able to take our time this morning getting up and we completed our chapter 3 video. (Be sure to check it out on qigong on the trail YouTube)! The hotel had an actual continental breakfast complete with waffles and eggs.

The town provides a free shuttle to the trailhead at 2:00pm on weekend days so we hung out in our room until it was time to go. After we checked out, we made our way down to the park area.

We enjoyed some treats downtown, including a smoothie, sandwich, pie and ice cream.

We also saw some hiker friends from a couple weeks back. They were fresh off the trail coming into town. After one has had a shower and done laundry they feel like they know everything to be able to tell the fresh Hikers coming in what they should do.

Before we knew it, it was time to go. We took the trolley back to the trail head and hiked.

We encountered Lost on the trail. He was heading sobo. At the shelter 5 miles in there was a little family recreating and it looked like they were on a short camping trip. The shelter itself was very nice with a porch and an Adirondack style couch. It had a heated shower and a pavilion for picnics all I could think of was that they were using the trail exactly how Benton MacKaye intended.

On a side note, The Green Tunnel podcast is an excellent source to learn about the history of the AT!

The campsites, close to the shelter, were pretty full, but we were able to find a site. It was important to stay at the shelter area because they have bear pole to hang out bags. They were so heavy that they were hard to get up there.

Tree trunks are always interesting.

Day 73

Mile 1002.6

Sam Moore Shelter – campsite

It was 1000 Mile Day!!! This seems to mark the beginning of the halfway experience. Harper’s Ferry is considered the “spiritual halfway point.” We will keep celebrating halfway until we pass the actual 2023 halfway point and stroll into Pine Grove Furnace State Park where many hikers complete the Half Gallon Challenge (eating a half-gallon of ice cream).

The morning was a comfortable temperature and we managed to sleep in until nearly 7am. Once we got going it warmed up considerably. The humidity made climbs a bit more challenging, but the climbs are a lot less intense than they used to be for sure.

At our first break spot we came across black raspberries. We found them further on up the road as well.

The trail made its way into a state park. We took our second break at a really nice stealth spot and it’s good to see that more of these locations are presenting themselves.

We came to the Roller Coaster Trail. The ups and downs were not terribly bad, but it was pretty warm out and I was quite sweaty.

It began to rain, and the rain felt good on my hot body, but it left me pretty soggy. At a road crossing Doc was providing trail magic. It was timely. Indeed he had a covered area next to his truck, where we were able to sit and enjoy homemade sandwiches he constructed with very good bread. He had even made vegetarian sandwiches! They had hummus and red peppers on them. He also had cookies and fruit, including green grapes, along with beer and Gatorade and chips. We had a nice time visiting with him, and several other Hikers made their way up the hill as well to enjoy the trail magic.

The rain stopped for the rest of our hike. We found huckleberries. We made it to the shelter area and found a campsite. Once we had pitched our tent the rain and thunderstorms begin again.

1000 miles hiked on the AT!

Day 74

Mile 1016.8

David Lesser Memorial Shelter – campsite

It rained quite hard over the course of the night. We heard an owl, and also a large falling branch.

When we got up, we took our time getting ready and utilized the small pavilion that the shelter area had.

We continued along the roller coaster trail, and it was humid, but not terribly hot. Once we came out of the roller coaster onto a generally flat ridge walk snail got real tired all the days of hiking just take a toll on her body and she doesn’t want to go anymore. This can be quite difficult to deal with. It’s hard for all day I’m sure, but the reality is that this is a very physical endeavor and a mental endeavor.

So we sat for a while and then continued on. We knew we could not go as far as we had intended initially. Fortunately, the breeze picked up and it got a little cooler and less humid out as we were walking. We came across lots of black raspberry bushes, and even some blackberries and blueberries all in the same area! It was quite a treat.

The shelter area is lovely and also has a pavilion with a picnic table and even a porch swing. The camping area is very large and we were able to find a nice flat site. The water is the furthest hike I’ve had to go get water and included a little obstacle course of some fallen trees and lots of rocks, but the water was very clear and delicious.

Even on a difficult day, the fire flies are lighting up all around us and it is quite magical.

Holes in trees are ever interesting as well.

Day 75

We didn’t know in the beginning of today if we would continue on. After my meltdown and no real resolution to our issues, we got up and started hiking. We talked and realized that there is no resolution to any of our issues that analysis will solve. It is a frame of mind.

This is a difficult thing to come to terms with since rational humans want to have things make sense in our lives. But it’s true that there is nothing really rational about this experience. It just is.

On our misty hike, we walked the .3 miles on a busy road to come to a gas Sweet Stop, that had everything! We were able to get an egg sandwich with cheese on an English muffin and then we did our shopping for resupply since we knew that options in Harpers Ferry would be limited.

We were not disappointed and found a little bit of everything.

Back on the trail we came across Suits. We had a nice conversation with him that lasted for a few miles and helped time go by. It was especially nice to take the pressure off of our currently strained interaction.

After having our picture taken at the ATC, we went into the tourist town. We were looking in the windows of one historical shop and a man asked us if we could tell his students some thing about through hiking. We’re standing up on this platform and we looked at three teenage girls and told them what we could. They looked amazed and horrified. Their teacher then gave us a twenty dollar bill.

We went in search of food and found a pizza place that was pretty decent and then we looked for ice cream. It was cold and rainy and all the ice cream places were closing at 4 o’clock. They all serve Hershey’s ice cream. But we did manage to find some ice cream right before a place close.

Continuing on the trail we felt more at ease. and we took the bike trail up towards who When we made it to our campsite for the night we decided to have a celebratory party that we are set on continuing our thru-hike.

We chose to wear our packs for the photo. Hard to tell by our smiling faces, but this was a very difficult day.

Day 76

Mile 1049.3 – Pine Knob Shelter – campsite

It rained all night and we took our time in the morning as it continued to rain. Eventually, we packed up our very wet tent and headed north.

The terrain was flattish and rocky. It was misty and lightly raining all day.

Water has been easier to come by with all of the historical sites in Maryland. There was even a campsite for backpackers that had a restroom with hot showers and I took advantage of that today. There are no trash cans, which is hard for hikers, as we create a lot of trash in food wrappers and have to carry it with us until a trash can presents itself.

The trail has been pretty much an old wagon road.

When we made it to our campsite and then rolled our tent, we had a lot of stowaway bugs. A daddy long legs, some other spiders, some ladybugs, and a slug, who, unfortunately left all of its gooey slug defense mechanism on the screen of our tent.

In Maryland they only want hikers to camp at specific locations primarily shelter areas and that’s not too much of a problem because they provide pretty decent campsites with bear poles. Maryland also seems to have moldering privies, which are much more pleasant than standard outhouses.

The evening is cool, and there’s supposed to be thunderstorms tonight and tomorrow.

Our collective mood is OK.

A fallen wasps nest.

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