Saturday, May 22, 2010

Reflections on 1/3 of a thru-hike

I'm in Roanoke until tomorrow!  I just finished the stretch from Pearisburg to Catawba (mile ~700).  I hiked with Backwards and Conan, the married couple from Florida, for that whole section after a crazy weekend at Trail Days. 

I don't even know how to begin to describe Trail Days. We all slept in tents in the woods next to the town of Damascus.  Our tent site was called "Poison Goose".  We didn't know why until the next morning when someone informed us that the campsite was in a huge patch of poison ivy and there was a plastic goose stapled to a nearby tree.  Anyway, it was  a huge tent party complete with a midnight drum circle, a jam band, and a lot of hippies.  After being on the trail it was overwhelming to see so many people in one place, but it was a great chance to catch up with other thru-hikers who have fallen behind or pulled ahead.  We only stayed for one night though because Day Tripper had to catch a bus back to Atlanta the next morning to sort out some stuff at home.

My dad drove us back to Pearisburg to resume our hike.  Of course it started pouring as soon as we pulled up to the trailhead and rained on and off for three days.  I don't mind walking in the rain at all- in fact, sometimes it's refreshing.  I am never very excited about packing my tent up when it's wet because it was heavier.  There are two big problems I have with walking in the rain.  The first is that everything smells much worse (including our bodies) so I had the worst body odor I have ever had in my life.  The second is that rain makes the trails and rocks more slippery so we walk more slowly.  I have been known to slid in the mud more than once...

There were a few special/weird things that we experienced or observed this past week.  We walked past the largest tree on the AT (the Keefer Oak tree), the Eastern Continental Divide, and the house that was the inspiration for the movie the Blair Witch Project.  It was creepy- a wooden house in the middle of the woods with black handprints on the windows and near the door. Some of our friends slept in it, but it was pretty dilapidated so we decided against it.  We got some nice trail magic- we had sodas 4 out of 5 days. People in this area sometimes leave soda in streams near road crossings so we have a cool drink before climbing some big hills.  The best soda was from a cooler in the yard of a section hiker who lives near the trail.  He had a zipline that we used to cross the river behind his house-pretty sweet!
I switched out some gear in Roanoke this weekend. I'm on my third new pair of shoes, I got a new pack from GoLite because the frame of my first one was messed up (thanks to Day Tripper for some smooth talking with the customer service rep and to Outdoor Trails in Daleville), I have a new rain jacket because my old one was only about 1% waterproof, and I switched to my summer weight sleeping bag.

As of Sunday, I'll be 1/3 of the way finished with my thru-hike.  The miles were flying by for a while, and now they are creeping slowly.  Here are some thoughts:

-It's always better when we're together.  Like I have said before, the people I am with are making this experience.  Conan and Backwards are our new best friends.  They are a day ahead of us now because I took a day off for mail drops, and we miss them terrible.  Having people with a great sense of humor makes our time on the trail so much better.   Also, the 75 miles without Day Tripper were hard and I was happy to see him again, to say the least.

-I need other people.  I need help sometimes.  I'm stubborn and have tried to resist it, but some days I need Tripp to fix my sleeping bag, I need Backwards and Conan to make me laugh, I need advice from other hikers, and I need my parent's logistical help.

-The Appalachian Mountains are home.  I am now in familiar territory.  I've hiked all of the section for the next ~200 miles.  I'm seeing it with a new perspective because so many things have happened in my life since I last climbed some of these mountains.  The entire Southern Appalachian Mountains have felt like home so far and I am totally in my element.

-It is extremely refreshing to live such a simple life.  I love just having the things on my back.  Waking up and knowing that all I have to do it walk and eat and talk and socialize is incredibly liberated.  My daily routine is established.  I still have a bad habit of just throwing everything in my back instead of organizing it, but that likely will never change.  And the core of my simple life is the fact that

-I'm walking to Maine. I have made it this far.  I can make it all of the way.  And this truly is the greatest adventure of my life. And even though I know I can make it, I have found that

-It doesn't get much easier. Although I have my "trail legs" under me now, each day is still a struggle. I love being out here and would not trade it for the world, but some days it takes all of my willpower to just put those boots on. My knees are starting to hurt, my skin is constantly burned from the sun, I am sick of trail food, and this is hard. No one ever said it was easy, but I have been surprised at how it really is a mental challenge as much as a physical one.  One blaze at a time and we'll be at Katahdin before we know it.
I have no idea when my next update will be, but I'm sure I'll have some great stories from Central Virginia in a few weeks.  Stay tuned,


  1. The more I read, the closer you get! Still hoping to see you soon-ish :) Keep it up!

  2. Hey best bud. I can't believe you're almost a third of the way to Maine! That is such an amazing feat. Just think of the stories you can tell people when they ask you how you saw the entire east coast - "Oh I walked the entire Applachian Trail..." =)

    Keep it up, friend! Let me know what you're craving now so that I can try to replace some of that trail food!!