Friday, September 2, 2011
After the mile-long tableland, is one last climb up to the summit. We took it slow over the loose boulders - we weren't going to get injured this close to the end! Finally, we reached a point where we could see the sign clearly and Pauline turned to me and asked me if I was going to run. I gave her the camera to take a video as I took off sprinting towards the sign that I had seen in my dreams for months, years. The sign was further than my eyes thought, and I had to push through my body screaming at me to stop before I ran past a group of about 10 day-hikers, slapped the sign and let out a long, unexpected yell of triumph and satisfaction. The group turned and looked at me, slightly confused and amused by my behavior, and a few gave some light claps.
I took a moment to gather myself in my elation and shock and then I ran back down to Pauline to walk back up with her. I can't accurately describe the emotions that ran through me then and in the days since then - relieved to be done, excited to be going home, elated to have accomplished a dream, nostalgic for the hike that I had just finished, and still plenty of more emotions, too. I stood on the sign with my arms outstretched and my head towards the sky - I had thru-hiked the Appalachian Trail. In the middle of my photo shoot and laughing and elation, the day-hikers began to realize I had hiked nearly 2,200 miles to get there rather than just the 5.2 miles from the base and they all seemed a lot more interested in my incredible amounts of excitement and happiness.
It was incredibly special having Pauline there with me at the summit, sharing that moment with her. It meant so much to me to have her there. The day was beautiful and everything had worked out according to plan - even with Hurricane Irene trying its hardest to mess it all up.
My mom and aunt had joined me, too, hiking the first three miles and then deciding to wait for Pauline and I to do the last two together as fatigue and having adequate time became an issue. I was incredibly impressed with everyone's ability to get as far as they did on what was without a doubt one of the steepest, most exposed climbs of my hike. Descending proved to be an extremely exhausting affair, as my moms legs decided two miles from the car to stop working, after she had strained them past exhaustion on the way up and the first mile back down - climbing Katahdin isn't remotely like any mountain anywhere close to Atlanta, her legs were in a state of shock no doubt. I helped her slowly down the mountain as best as I could, as it quickly got dark on us and the rocky trail provided obstacles with every step. But we made it. And as exhausting as the whole hike was, it really was a fitting end to my thru-hike. We had all made it down off the mountain safely, and although we had struggled mightily in doing so, the hike had illustrated perfectly the five months of highs and lows that I had personally experienced.
"Adversity makes for great memories", I remember someone had written in a shelter log book back in Pennsylvania. The accomplishment was so meaningful to me because it was the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. Physically - I got up every day and walked up and over mountains, and on rocks and roots, in 100 degrees to 20 degrees, with bugs swarming and crawling and biting, and knees aching and feet swelling. But that was the easy part. Mentally, pushing through some of the toughest times I've ever experienced to stand arms raised on Katahdin is a feeling that will always give me chills and always bring a smile to my face. I did it.
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
I just took my first real shower (real meaning I had shampoo and soap) since Vernon, NJ. God did it feel amazing. As I walked into town this afternoon, down Depot St., I walked to a house full of hikers hanging out on the porch. There were four or five of them, none of which I recognized, but I immediately walked up and felt completely comfortable talking to them. I sat down on the porch swing and talked about my day and asked questions about Dalton. I had decided earlier in the day that I would treat myself to a motel room, but these hikers were making this house, owned by a guy named Tom, sound extremely appealing, "Oh, there's a shower here, and you can do a load of laundry, and sleep in a bed, too!" I talked with them for a good ten minutes before I introduced myself and realized the guy next to me was Tom himself. He blended in so well with the hiker crowd, that I mistook him for a thru-hiker himself. Not that he stunk or looked as filthy as I me, but he just had this camaraderie with everyone that was so real and genuine. He showed me around his house and gave me a bed and a towel for a shower. He has bikes you can borrow and a change of thrift store clothes to wear while he does your laundry. What an awesome guy. I road a bike down to Angelina's Subs and had the best cheese steak I've ever had - cheese, peppers, onions, mushrooms and lots and lots of steak.
I got lost yesterday, as I took a wrong turn down a different trail, but the trail serendipitously led me down to a town where I was able to continue my soda a day streak. Three Pepsi's and an ice cream bar fueled me all the way to Upper Goose Pond, making it a 27-mile day - my longest day yet. I did an easy 20 miles into town today and am staying in my first town since Vernon, NJ, three states ago. I'm already halfway done with Massacusetts and then I'll be in Vermont! I've been hiking big miles and not taking any zero days, because I've been in a zone. The more miles I do, the more my body feels like it wants to do them. I have become accustomed to hiking long days, and I get antsy if I stop before I'm tired out. Like the Southbounder, Jason, who did the first third in about a month said, "I'm not trying to go fast, I just enjoy hiking." I'm enjoying hiking and accomplishing these longer miles day after day, and it gets me closer to my ultimate goal of Katahdin!
Time to ride my bike back to Tom's place. See you guys soon!
Sunday, July 17, 2011
I met my first Southbounder to my knowledge yesterday. His name is Jason and he started a month and a day ago from Katahdin. It was cool talking to him about the Trail that lays ahead. He described Franconia Ridge, a 5 or 6 mile ridge above treeline in the Whites, by saying it was like walking on the Great Wall of China. We had such mutual respect for each other, as we each have done what the other hopes to accomplish - put us together and we've done the entire Trail.
I came across a Coke machine this morning unexpectedly, and as I downed my second soda, I realized I've had a soda every day since Delaware Water Gap. A New Zealander, Vegemite, said he's had a soda every day since Waynesboro, Va. There's got to be some sort of Trail challenge to that. Caffeine, sugar, and carbonation makes the perfect hiker energy drink. I thought this thru-hiker, Hobo, was strange for packing out a 2 liter of Pepsi from Catawba - it had to have been warm and completely flat after the climb to McAfee. But not anymore, I completely understand.
So to finish off with something other than talking about caffeine and how much I love it, I just want to say thank you to everyone who has supported me on my journey. Your words of encouragement, financial donations, or just reading along as I head North - it all has meant so much to me!
While hanging out at the 501 Shelter in PA, I read an article in AT Journeys about a father and son completing a thru-hike together. They started when the son was 5 and had done sections for nearly 20 years, to get to the 100-mile wilderness in Maine. The son decided to do a thru-hike of his own in 2010 and his dad joined him for the final stretch to Katahdin to accomplish their hike of a lifetime together. The article was full of pictures from their various sections, and it reminded me of the many trips I took with my mom growing up. Those trips were what led me to this hike. I could see an innocent look of amazement in the sons face, as he looked out at a vista as a young kid, that reminded me why I'm out here doing this - its always been my innocent, childhood dream. I still have to pinch myself as I near 1500 miles. I'm actually doing this!
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Friday, July 15, 2011
Yesterday I woke up to a couple leftover slices of pizza from the pizza I had ordered at RPH Shelter the night before, and a liter left of my 2 liter Pepsi. I downed the liter and set out down the Trail early, a little after 6am. After a tough, but quick 5.5 miles that the Pepsi made a blur, I stopped for an hour breakfast break at a deli. A 20 oz. Mountain Dew, bacon egg and cheese bagel, giant homemade honey bun, and a massive cup of fruit propelled me for another four hours of strong hiking. The weather was finally cooling off after being close to 100 degrees, and the terrain was smooth. My legs felt strong after the first half of New York pulverized my calf muscles. Just as breakfast was wearing off, I pounded a 5-hour energy and boom - I was off. I was feeling so great, I blew past my planned destination in Pawling at about 1:30pm, already having hiked close to 20 miles. I got down to the Appalachian Train Station a little after 3 and went to the nearby Garden and Landscaping Center for a shower and to fill up my water bottles. Tim's Hot Dog stand was a couple hundred feet away, so I got 2 chili cheese dogs and a sauerkraut brat with 2 more Pepsi's. Could the day be any more perfect?
I rested for nearly 3 hours at the Garden Center, charging up the phone and talking to Pauline, before I set out for the NY/CT border. The sun was setting over beautiful green countryside, as I was ecstatically hopped up on enough caffeine to kill a small dog. I ended up tenting about a mile shy of the border, but the day was a huge success - I hiked 26 miles or so, and felt amazingly strong in doing so. And then I woke up this morning.
No liter of Pepsi awaited me, or a bacon egg and cheese bagel. I ate a granola bar and drank half a liter of water and set off for Connecticut. "What's going on?" my body asked. "Where's all of that wonderful caffeinated energy?" it begged. I had a slight headache and my whole body was tired. The smooth terrain turned quickly back to steep rock wall climbs up and down, and my body wanted to sit down on the trail and stop working - I needed to get airlifted off that mountain. But I got down to Kent without any caffeine and I learned a lesson in the process - unless I have at least one 5-hour energy in my pack for each day, I should probably just not take them at all. But man was I flying yesterday.
Tuesday, July 12, 2011
I woke up knowing the only water sources would be streams, no springs. I don't usually treat the water I drink because I plan my sources from spring to spring, but it looked like I would have to rely on frothy, root beer-like streams all day. The day was looking bleak.
And then out of the heavens, trail magic came from all directions. Trail magic, for those of you who are confused, is any unexpected act of kindness towards a hiker. Most of the time, it's in the form of cold drinks or food or a ride into town. In Georgia, I was spoiled with it, almost getting to the point where I was expecting it at every road crossing. But the more north I've gotten, the more rare magic has become.
I was out of water when I hit my first road crossing and sure enough, there was a cooler full of cold water jugs next to the trail. "The trail provides" seems to be a saying that I have been experiencing a lot lately, and this water was there when I needed it the most. I filled up 2 liters and drank another liter, feeling refreshed and no longer dizzy from dehydration.
8 miles further down the Trail and I had sweated out all the water I had consumed and was miserable and slightly cranky, coming down Arden Mtn. Running low on fluids, I came down to Arden Valley Road to a pickup truck with three guys standing around it. I gave a friendly wave and hello, and took off my pack 20 feet away. I wiped away the sweat from my forehead and chugged the last of my now warm water, trying to look as desparate as possible. I could see they had powerades, but they weren't offering me any. A couple minutes later, and I reluctantly threw my pack over my shoulders and trudged away, dragging my poles on the road behind me.
I had about a half-mile road walk before I entered Harriman State Park and I took it as slow as possible, out of water and melting on the pavement. And then out of nowhere comes the black pickup, pulling up next to me, waking me up from my zombie-like death march. "You walked past some magic man!" yelled the driver. I perked up immediately, "I didn't know what was going on back there, haha".
His name is Patty O and he thru-hiked in 2000. He said he's been doing magic ever since and has met thousands of hikers over the years. He said he's writing a book on the Trail and that he's going to get every single person he's met in there somehow - he's that kind of guy. He made you feel as if you're the only person that mattered. He gave me a cup of ice and a 32 oz powerade - I couldn't have imagined a more perfect drink.
I hiked another 4 or 5 miles to the Fingerboard Shelter, where Patty O had driven up and hiked a mile in for more magic. I finished the night off with frozen lemonade and frozen iced tea with a box of chocalate donuts - it was heaven. We talked for hours, exchanging stories about the people we've met and our experiences - he was full of them. He's going to be in Vermont in a few weeks, doing what he dubs "the best trail magic imaginable". He hinted at what it would be, "Think music blaring, homemade pizzas, beer-battered brats, the best chocolate milk you can buy, beers, sodas, and trail bombs." Not sure if Ill be able to handle his "trail bombs", haha, but I gave him my number so he can text me when he's up there.
His good hiking friend, Crazy Horse, says "Patty O, you're the best trail angel to have ever lived" and Patty O's response is, "angels aren't even alive man! What a horrible name for it." But I'd have to agree with Crazy Horse - thanks for everything Patty O.
I'm at Hessian Lake in Bear Mountain State Park, charging up the phone and letting the temperature cool off a bit. New York has been surprisingly very beautiful, but extremely tough, too, so I haven't really had an opporunity to enjoy any of it through all the cursing. But Connecticut in a few days! On to hike a few more miles tonight.
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Sunday, July 10, 2011
It's been way too long since I've updated this thing - my computer luck has been horrible, but everything's been going out here. I've made it through the dreaded Pennsylvania and into New Jersey, and today I even cross the border into New York. Pennsylvania was the state I think I was least looking forward to, but I think I've actually ended up enjoying it the most so far. The first half of the 250 miles or so of PA is a cakewalk - flat countryside, with hints of the rocks to come here and there. I pushed big miles through PA, feeling really strong and motivated. My daily hiking mantra was to just go until I was tired or the sun ran out and often times the sun beat me to setting before I was tired, so I kept going. I was afraid of the heat I would experience in PA - picturing open, rocky terrain, melting with every step. But PA turned out to be more of a green tunnel than VA and the temps were even a bit on the cooler side. The humidity was low everyday and it hardly rained on me at all. The weather felt like the beginning of Fall in GA and it invigorated me, as my mind wandered to life after the trail, and the cruise with Pauline, and football Saturdays. I hiked without pain and was in such a peaceful state of mind - so thankful to have the opportunity to thru-hike and so excited for my future, too. I ordered pizza at the 501 Shelter, a shelter just off Hwy 501 in PA, for lunch and hiked the rest of the day on a food high, feeling the best I have felt this whole hike.
The rocks were pretty much as advertised - huge boulders I could jump from rock to rock and tons of little rocks that worked out my ankles and tested my patience as they stabbed the bottoms of my feet with every step. The rocky stretches would last for a couple miles at a time near the end of PA, but the Trail always seemed to give a break from them with either a walk on a woods road, or just smoother, flatter terrain. I actually ended up enjoying the rocks that I was dreading so much. I felt like a kid playing the pillow game (don't fall into the lava!) or jumping from crack to crack in the sidewalk. New shoes after hiking the first 1100 miles in the first ones definitely helped keep me sane, too. I climbed up the steep rock scramble at Lehigh Gap on July 4th, and I realized I'm not really afraid of heights anymore. Last year I had run across videos people had taken of the hike out of Lehigh Gap, and it looked ridiculously steep. It was every bit that steep, but it was a lot of fun, definitely a top 5 highlight of the trail so far.
I stayed at the seedy Doyle Hotel in Duncannon, where the food was delicious, but the hotel was falling apart - holes in the wall next to my head the size of a fist, sheets with stains that I didn't trust to lay on, and a shower I would never go barefoot in. It was hiker heaven, a place to drink beers and hang out, where I didn't feel too dirty to be there. I caught up to Mtn Dew and have been hiking with him and his two friends, Josh and Stacey, who have joined him for the rest of the way. It's great to see him again, as the last time was when I got sick in the Shenandoahs. Mayo is still over two weeks ahead,but I'm really getting to know everyone hiking around me now, and they're starting to feel like family.
In Delaware Water Gap, at the PA/NJ border, I weighed myself before heading out for pizza and beers and the scale said 158 lbs. I haven't been that light since my cross-country days in high school - I had to do something about it. Mtn Dew, Poppins and I each ordered 16" personal pizzas, throwing in two six-packs of Yuengling, too. Seven slices and three beers later and I felt fine (I wanted to save the last slice for later). Mtn Dew finished his and Poppins had one slice left in front of him, too. Josh and Stacey shared a 16" and they had three slices left between the two of them. I was back up to 166 lbs when I returned to the hostel, and I felt great, my body just seemed to be absorbing all those calories. I definitely have my thru-hiker appetite back.
The more north I get, the more entertaining conversations have become with locals and day hikers. Last Saturday, I was hiking around The Pinnacle and The Pulpit, some of the only good views in PA, and I past a guy wearing an Atlanta Thrashers hat. "Are you a Thrashers fan?" shocked to see the hat, unaware that the now extinct hockey team had any fans at all. "Oh no, I've just been to a few games down there, I'm a Flyers fan," was his response. "Oh cool, I was just asking because I'm from Atlanta," I said. "Oh you've hiked a long way!" he said jokingly. I continued with my typical "yeah, I started in March from Springer." He kind of laughed like I was playing along with the joke, and then realized I wasn't kidding. "Wait! You're serious! Holy crap man, that's amazing!" He continued to ask questions for the next ten minutes.
The other day, hiking out of Delaware Water Gap and up to Sunfish Pond, I ran in to this Hispanic dad and his 5 kids. He stopped me to ask how far the trail went and when I told him Maine, his response was, "Maine! Oh man! My kids wanted to go further and I told them maybe next time we would walk to the end of the trail! Hahahaha!" His reaction was priceless.
I've hiked about 1,350 miles and I'm down under 1,000 to go - at a little over 800 more miles to Katahdin. I keep catching myself envisioning my summit day and I get chills all over - I'm getting close. My mom's planning to summit with me and then I'm coming home to my girls! My future with them is my biggest motivator. I'm getting really antsy to finish this up, I'm still enjoying it but just ready to have this done and accomplished. On to hike out of New Jersey, where the people are orange and the fists pump harder than my trekking poles, and into New York. I'll be through New York and into Connecticut in less than a week, and a couple days after that I'll be in Massachusetts. I'll update as soon as I get a chance, which will hopefully be sooner than two weeks from now.
Saturday, June 25, 2011
It's thru-hiker tradition to stop in at the Pine Grove Furnace State Park, located a couple miles past the official halfway point (this year it was 1090.5, but the trail changes in length each year and only seems to be getting longer), purchase a half-gallon of the flavor of their choice of Hershey's ice cream, and down it, in its entirety, in one sitting. A half-gallon is four pints, which means I would have to eat the equivalent of four Ben and Jerry's. I had to participate, of course, but I had some things going against me. I got sick a couple weeks ago and since then have been on anitbiotics that have completely eliminated my hiker hunger. My spork had snapped in half in my peanut butter the night before, which I figured could only be a bad sign. And I don't even like ice cream. But if you know me, you know how competitive I am. I was going to will myself through this one.
I got to the park in the morning after hiking about 7 miles. I purposely skipped breakfast to leave as much room as possible. I was excited to see Snake Farm and GPS were already there and letting there ice cream blocks thaw out in the sun. I quickly purchased my half-gallon of Neapolitan (didn't want to get tired of one flavor) and set it out with theirs. I had so much adrenaline pumping, I was ready to kill a lion or just demolish a whole bunch of ice cream. GPS was focused and Snake Farm was a little more relaxed, smoking a cigarette and cracking jokes.
18 minutes and 30 seconds in, and GPS gobbles up his last bit of Peanut Butter Swirl. The crazy Lithuanian dominated his half-gallon like it was finger food and exclaimed he could eat more. He went inside and got a ham, egg, and cheese sandwich and a coke. I looked down and I was maybe 1/4 of the way done. My brain was already telling me to stop.
39 minutes in, and Snake Farm and I were struggling. We had moved out of the sun into the shade, and were having to take long 5-10 minute breaks between every couple of bites. My never-ending brick wasn't getting any smaller.
50 minutes in, and Snake Farm was visibly about to get sick. "You better not throw up!" GPS yelled through a mouthful of some other food he was making fun of us with. I was doing jumping jacks and running around, trying to get my belly to digest some of the frothy, creamy mass. I needed a different taste in my mouth. I went over to the soda machine and got a Sprite.
51 minutes in, the Sprite allowed me to take two more bites. My ice cream was melting at an alarming rate and I was getting a chocolatey, strawberry soup forming at the bottom of my box. I still had a pretty good sized lump of strawberry ice cream left, with the chunks of strawberry giving me the most trouble.
An hour in, and I was ready to be done. I finished up the last of the solid ice cream, gagging with each bite. I just had a small cupfull of melted ice cream left. It was sure to ruin milkshakes for the rest of my life. Ice cream had already been ruined. Strawberrys were definitely coming close to be ruined, too.
67 minutes, and I drank my last sip of ice cream soup and slammed my cup down as Snake Farm had his head down on the table and GPS and some others had already lost interest or given up on us. "Ahhhhh!!", was all I could let out, as the others realized I was done. I had succesfully willed myself through one of the most miserable food experiences of my life.
Two hours later, and I finally strapped my pack back on and hiked out of Pine Grove. I'm pretty sure I'm lactose intolerant, although I think anyone is intolerant to that much. But I did it! On to hike the second half to Maine. I will surely finish just as long as I don't have to eat a full gallon at the end. I'm officially a member of the half-gallon club. Booyah.
Friday, June 17, 2011
On Saturday, March 19th, I began the 8.8-mile Approach Trail at Amicalola Falls in 80 degree temps. and surrounded by tons and tons of people, none of which had packs on, and few who even knew what the AT was. Getting up to Springer Mtn. early the next morning and passing my first whiteblazes was surreal for me. I walked with chills all day - I was finally on my way, I was hiking the Appalachian Trail. Georgia was where I met my first thru-hiker friends and started hiking with Mayo and Tom. Everything was new and exciting and each day seemed to last forever.
Passing the border into NC has been one of the most memorable experiences on the trail so far. I had hiked a lot of the AT in Georgia previously, so to get to the next state felt incredibly exciting. I felt so accomplished on that day, even though I wasn't even 100 miles in. NC offered my first balds, freezing cold temps, and aching knees.
Hiking through the Smokys in my first snow was tough but extremely rewarding. I began to hit my stride in the Smokys, feeling the strongest on my trip yet. I got lost on the trail and slept in a barn behind a cafe. Roan Mountain was a ridiculously long, tough climb, that was followed by some of the most beautiful hiking I've done on the trail so far - 360 degree views over bald after bald to Overmountain Shelter, an old barn set in a picturesque valley. I got to spend a couple days off the trail with Pauline in Banner Elk, which was a wonderful, much needed rest. Just before the VA border, I was nearly blown off a mountain during the biggest tornado to ever rip through Virginia. It was without a doubt the scariest night of my life. I seriously questioned if hiking the Trail was worth it anymore. Pauline talked sense in to me in Damascus.
Virginia's been a long haul for me. I crossed in to the state on April 28th, and I didn't get into West Virginia until yesterday, June 16th. I fell in love with Virginia immediately out of Damascus, as I hiked up Whitetop Mtn and into the Grayson Highlands. Wild ponies greeted me on Mount Rogers and open countryside offered a much needed change of scenery. My mom came up to hike with me on Mother's Day, which was really special, because growing up we had always talked about doing this hike together. I took a week and a half off in the middle of May, and it was really great to be able to be home during that time. I hit the trail again, excited to be back and feeling a renewed appreciation for my journey. I got to eat one of the most amazing meals of my life at The Homeplace in Catawba and ran into old friends who I had met my first week on the trail. Rainy days, unreal heat, swarming bugs, sickness, homesickness, and too much Virginia put me in a funk through the last couple 100 miles of the state, but I made it through it and my spirits are higher now. Woods Hole and Bears Den have been my favorite hostel visits so far, and last night I stayed at the Blackburn ATC center, where the caretakers cooked an amazing vodka-sauced spaghetti dinner for us with homemade bread and warm brownies.
I've always felt the second 1,000 miles of this trip was where the real adventure was. I've never hiked in New England, and I look forward to the rugged mountains and new scenery. There's about 80 miles to Pine Grove Furnace State Park in PA, where I look to down a half-gallon of ice cream in the half-gallon challenge. I've experienced a lot through 1,000 miles and I know the next half will be just as exciting. The second half always seems to go faster than the first, so here it goes. I'm waiting here at the ATC HQ for Pauline to fly in tonight for the weekend. The day is finally here! See you all in a week or so.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
On my second day I came to Loft Mtn Campground's camp store, where I had an ice cream sandwich and a coke, followed by a 99 cent Yuengling. I could go to the bathroom and flush, take a shower, and do laundry if I desired. The Shenandoah's allowed me two of these visits to camp stores, a dinner at the tap room at Big Meadows Lodge, and a dinner at the Elk Wallow Wayside, complete with a delicious blackberry milkshake. My back kept reminding me I wasn't eating out of my food bag, but I didn't have to - food was everywhere.
The biggest climb in the Park was a half-mile of about 400 feet, but most of the time I strolled over long stretches of sidewalk flat trail. The trail was well-maintained and most of the footing was small gravel or soft dirt that felt wonderful underneath my feet. This was without a doubt the easiest hiking I had done on the Trail.
The trail crosses over Skyline Drive 28 times, I think, and at 5 or 6 of these crossings, I got iced cold drinks and snacks. "Pigeon", who had begun the trail as a thru-hiker and has since decided to just be a trail angel, met me and fellow hikers for three straight days at multiple road crossings and parking lots. "Wingin' It", who had attempted a thru-hike last year, had Pepsi's and Gatorade's at one parking lot and hiked more drinks to put in a stream by one of the shelters.
Despite all of these conveniences, this has been the hardest week on the trail for me. I left Waynesboro, after taking a zero, feeling exhausted and incredibly lethargic instead of refreshed. I did 20 miles my first day in the Park and went to bed at 7:30pm. I woke up with fever chills and a sore throat, and went back to sleep the next morning until noon. I crawled the easy trail for 7 miles over the next 5 hours to get to the Loft Mtn camp store, where I took cold medicine and hoped the ice cream would make my throat feel better. It was the first time I've been sick out here, and it was miserable. I'm a big baby when I'm sick. I get "man cold's" and I'm annoying and needy and miserable and that's when I'm at home, but now I was hiking the Appalachian Trail.
However, if there was any place on the trail to be sick, the Shenandoah's were the place to be. "Wingin' It" stayed in the same shelter as me on my second night, and he offered to drive me in to see a doctor the next morning if I still wasn't feeling well. I felt better in the morning, but by the afternoon I was a zombie and it was only getting worse. Luckily, "Pigeon" was there at Swift Run Gap and she drove me down into Elkton to the Health Clinic. I saw doctor Pete, who wrote me a two-week prescription for Docycline, an antibiotic to treat Lymes. He was fairly certain I didn't have it, but I had been bitten by a tick a week or so earlier and I was concerned, and he said it wouldn't hurt to take it. He offered me lunch and said I didn't have to pay the co-pay if I didn't have enough money, which I insisted on paying, and even drove me back up to the trail when we were done. Two days ago, I met Tina from North Carolina up on Mary's Rock and she shared her lunch with me. Her friendly conversation lifted my spirits and her vegan sandwich was delicious!
I cannot thank these people enough for their kindness and generosity. It has been a very tough week out here on the Appalachian Trail, but the civilization of the Shenandoah's and the abundance of support has kept me sane and got me through it. I'm in Front Royal now and I'm feeling better, just 3 or 4 days away from Harper's Ferry and Pauline. I cannot express how excited I am! Friday can't come soon enough.
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Mtn Dew and I began our day off, walking the quarter-mile to the Laundrymat, which was about as far as I wanted to walk today. I think thru-hikers are a pretty lazy bunch, I know I am at least, despite this whole walking to Maine thing. Get me off the trail and I don't want to walk at all. So, we finished with laundry and walked back to the Main Street with our thumbs out, looking for a hitch to the movie theater in town. There's a 'Trail Angel Network', a list of numbers to call for rides to and from the trail in Waynesboro, but something told me a ride to the movies wasn't going to cut it. So we spent a half hour trying to get a ride with no luck. I had the brilliant idea to ask people coming out of Kroger how far it was to the theater, knowing it was further than I wanted to walk, but hoping someone would give us a ride. I guess my chi was off because we helped a couple old ladies with their groceries and chatted with another couple of people, and no one offered a ride. We walked back up to the Main St. for a last effort and sure enough, an incredibly generous elementary school art teacher stopped to pick us up. We went to see Hangover 2, which was OK, and got a hitch almost immediately after the movie. We had hitched in the middle of town to the movies and back - I now consider myself a hitching professional, a conqueror of any hitching situation, a real lazy, appreciative hiker on his day off.
After the movie, I sat in more air conditioning at the library again, and then went to eat at Ming Garden Chinese Buffet for a second time. It was better than the first because my stomach was more experienced, and I knew to take my time. Plus, the "hiker hunger" wasn't quite as strong as yesterday, so I didn't gorge myself with as many different types of chicken on a plate in 5 minutes within sitting down. I stuck to one chicken this time - General Tso's, and I bypassed the iffy dumplings, the Hunan chicken, the Hunan beef (not very good Hunan, or maybe I was just disgusted because I misread it at first) and the pizza slices (yes the Chinese Buffet had pizza, too). So the meal all went down a lot better and it didn't take hours and several bathroom visits to digest this time.
Since dinner, I've done nothing but lounge on a couch watching television and surfing the internet. Tomorrow I'm back to hiking 20 miles in a day, over mountains, in supposed highs of 98 degrees, but for now doing nothing feels great.
Monday, June 6, 2011
I've been hiking with Mtn Dew, a kid from Massachusetts, pretty much since getting back on trail a couple weeks ago. He's been really great company, hiking a similar pace and talking lots of sports - he's a big Pats/Red Sox fan. A couple days ago we heard that the Dutch Haus, a B&B about 2.5 miles off the trail, was doing a free lunch from 11 to 1. We couldn't pass up the free food, so we walked about a mile and half down a steep mountain road. We got a hitch the last mile or so to the Haus, and lunch was great! Lois, the owner, brought out chicken salad sandwiches, potato salad and watermelon, with a big glass of iced lemonade. She was so generous, driving us to a store to get ice creams and back to a parking lot about a mile from the trail head. It was hot though, and the climb back up to the trail was tough, so when we got back up to the trail we both shed our packs and took another break. I joked that I was more miserable and tired then than I was when we were there two hours earlier before the free lunch. Oh well, it was worth it, if only for the adventure.
Yesterday was my longest mileage day yet, as Mountain Dew and I did 24.7 miles to make in to town early today. Mtn Dew, Milo (a kid I've met in the last couple of days, who a bunch of Boy Scouts told him he looks like Abe Lincoln), and I camped down by the Tye River two nights ago. We had planned to go further, but the long descent down from The Priest Shelter, where I made my "confession" to The Priest in the log book, was long and hard and the river was way too inviting at the bottom. The swim was a refreshingly perfect end to the day. The only problem with camping at the Tye, was that it left a long 3,000 ft. climb up Three Ridges to do the next morning. So, my 25-mile day began with a slow climb that was "rock-scramble" steep in some parts. I took my time, taking lots of breaks, and made it up eventually, encouraged by an entry in an earlier log book that this was going to be the last "big" climb for 700 miles. I don't believe that for a second, but I'll use any positive outlooks like that to my advantage.
I caught up to Mtn Dew at the shelter past Three Ridges and we hiked together for the rest of the day. I came across a trail magic cooler full of ice cold Yuenglings, so we took a long break and drank three a piece. We broke again at the Blue Ridge Parkway crossing at Dripping rock for close to two hours. We had it in our heads that we'd get lucky with some more magic, so I took a nap there and cooked some broccoli cheddar pasta. Hundreds of cars past us, slowing down to look at us like we were some road-side attraction and then speeding up again. I felt like a zoo animal, just part of the Blue Ridge Pkwy experience for these tourists. "Ooh look honey, it's one of those 'thru-hikers' in their natural habitat, doing thru-hiker things", I imagined the old couples were saying to each other as they past. Two hours and no yogi luck. It was about 7pm when we finally got moving again up to the Humpback Rocks and we still had close to 10 miles to do to the shelter, so night hiking was in our agenda.
The hike up Humpback was easy enough and I started coming down as the sun was setting. Everything was wonderful until I heard a distant rumble of thunder and before I knew it the sky was dark with storm clouds - night hiking was going to be tough. My contacts were bothering me earlier in the day, so I had taken them out to wear my glasses. As it was getting dark, my headlamp didn't help much to see the trail and my glasses aren't the right prescription, so I felt pretty blind in the pitch blackness. I fell on my face twice, nearly took a wrong trail, and got a little wet from the rain, but I finally made it down to Paul C. Wolfe shelter by about 10pm.
I'm here in Waynesboro, hoping to stay at the Grace Lutheran Church hostel, mostly because they have a big screen tv, but if not I may be camping out over at the YMCA campground. I may take a zero tomorrow, I just have to work out a plan to get through the Shenandoah's and to Harper's Ferry by the 16th - Pauline's coming! I'm excited to get through the Shenie's and out of VA, and see my girlfriend! I probably will stop over in Front Royal before hitting Harper's Ferry so see yall then. I tried to upload some pictures, but these library computers aren't letting me do anything, so I'll have to get some up soon!
Wednesday, June 1, 2011
I've had a couple of tough days since Daleville partly because of the heat but mostly because of the bugs. It is so incredibly buggy right now. I did about a 21-mile day on Memorial Day, highlighted by swimming in a swimming hole at Jennings Creek with a bunch of rednecks drinking beers, listening to country music, and smoking cigarettes. I did my best to be friendly in hopes of scoring a beer, but I guess I didn't really fit in with them, even though I do have a very red neck. I made it to Bryant Ridge Shelter - this enormous three-story, 20 person "cabin". It actually had architectural merit, one of the other hikers said. It was cool until I realized I had to sleep in it - there was no flat ground to put up my tent. The bugs were awful that day and I feared a long night in a bug-exposed shelter, no matter how architecturally magnificent it was. I climbed in my sleeping bag early at about 7 pm, and was immediately way too hot - it was still probably 90 degrees. I had no choice but to sweat my ass off the entire night, because my worst fears were quickly confirmed - the bugs were relentless. I tossed and turned all night and tried to stay as tucked away in my sleeping bag as I could. I woke up in the morning feeling as if I had been through war and certain I had contracted West Nile.
The next day I did a really tough 15 miles or so, that started with a 5-mile, never-ending uphill to Cornelius Creek Shelter. El Flaco, who thru-hiked last year, said somebody had died at this shelter of dehydration, and as I stumbled head first into what I assume to be Cornelius Creek, I could certainly see how that might have happened. I was soaked, dripping in sweat, and then dripping from cold creek water - it was a marvelous transition of wetness, sad to happy immediately although I was just as wet. I couldn't stop for very long all day yesterday without being completely swarmed by flies, mosquitoes, bees, and no-see-ums (those little guys are the worst), so I kept going until I was tired and found a place to set. up. my tent.
I am going to hang out in town while this oven of a day cools off and then get back to the trail later today. I plan to go into Buena Vista tomorrow and then only 3 days or so to Waynesboro after that. 775 miles completed and a lot still to go. Must go to the store to get the highest percentage of DEET solution I can find. Just got a text from Tom and Mayo saying they're in Harper's Ferry. They told me "to drink a lot of water, left, right, repeat." Thanks guys for the profound advice, I'll see yall when I see yall.
Sunday, May 29, 2011
I've had little nagging injuries this week, too, that I attribute mostly to my body just getting readjusted to trail life, and partly to my stupidity. My ankle has been bothering me slightly, especially on longer days, so I've been taking my shoes off at every stream and soaking it. A couple days ago while soaking in Laurel Creek, I slipped on a rock and banged the side of my foot on another rock, so my foot has swollen up, too. I'm hoping it's just bruised and not fractured, but I'm going to keep an eye on it. Luckily it doesn't hurt all that much when I'm hiking; the swelling just makes my shoe a tad uncomfortable.
And it's been tough being away from home after having a couple weeks to be there. I miss Pauline a lot and I'm feeling a little bit more lonely this week than I have felt for most of the trip. I'm doing longer days, averaging about 17 this past week, so I'm hiking faster than a lot of people I'm meeting. I did run into Velvet, who I had met back in Georgia, so that was nice to see a familiar face. It's taken a little extra effort to meet new people, because I feel like a lot of people at this point on the trail have already created their "trail families" and don't have a huge desire to get to know new people. So a lot of instances happen where I walk up to a shelter with people I haven't met before, give out a friendly "Hi!", and get a lot of silence and empty stares back at me in return. But that hasn't been everyone, and I've met some really great people, too. "Team Indecision" is this group of 3 older guys in their 50s and 60s, who crack jokes all day long, while bitching and complaining - think "Grumpy Old Men". They've been some of the most entertaining company I've had on the trail.
But it's been a really good week, too. I've experienced some highlights of the trail for me so far this past week. I stayed at Wood's Hole Hostel my first night, and unfriendly hikers at first and three hikers stumbling in and waking me up at 3 am, couldn't have ruined this incredible place. It has been by far the best hostel I've stayed at so far. Michael and Neville, the couple that runs the place, are unbelievably friendly, wonderful people, and they cooked an amazing breakfast with tons of veggies from their huge organic farm. I also made it to "The Homeplace" in Catawba for a meal a couple days ago. I had only eaten a poptart and a candy bar before I arrived around 5 pm for this "all you can eat" heaven, just so I was sure to get my money's worth. You get 3 meats - fried chicken, roast beef and country ham, biscuits and apple butter, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, mac and cheese, cole slaw, pinto beans and fruit cobbler and ice cream at the end, and you can eat as much, for as long as you want. It was as incredible as it sounds;a Thanksgiving dinner in May.
And I've made it to some big milestones on my trip! Yesterday I hiked up to McAffee's Knob in the morning, one of the most photographed spots on the trail, and got the iconic "feet dangling over the edge" shot. I'm past the 700 mile mark, at about 719 miles so far, and I'm getting closer to the Shenandoah's. I climbed up to Dragon's Tooth the other day, too, and the descent was some of the first real rugged terrain I've experienced on the trail. People kept saying it was what all of New Hampshire is like, and if that's the case, I'm pretty excited. It was tough climbing down steep rock faces, and using metal bars in the rock to climb down like a ladder, but it was exhilarating and a whole lot of fun, too.
It looks like I'm about 16 days behind Mayo and Tom. After reading Mayo's trail journal today, it sounds like he's having some shin splints and slowing down his pace to get in to Harper's Ferry in the next 3 or 4 days. I will be there the 16th or 17th of June to meet Pauline for the weekend. It's going to be our 2-year anniversary on the 19th, so I'm super excited I get to see her for that. I'm counting down the days - less than 3 weeks! Well, it's back to trail to see how far I can get today. I look to get into either Glasgow in 3 or 4 days or Buena Vista, before hitting Waynesboro and the Shenandoah National Park. It may be a remote stretch, so I'll see yall sometime soon!
Thursday, May 19, 2011
My goal since I graduated has been to hike the Appalachian Trail. I didn't know why, I could just feel every cell in my body screaming for it, my brain consumed by it. Very quickly (and I mean when I was on the Approach Trail, before even reaching the official start on Springer), I realized this ultimate goal of finishing the Appalachian Trail could not be pursued directly, but rather accomplished through a very long string of smaller goals. My thighs were cramping up so bad in the heat on March 19th, that my goal was just to make it to the shelter, 7.5 miles in. The next day my goals were to pass my first whiteblaze, and make it through the first night in my tent, and hang my bear bag successfully, and not get injured. Goals take the form of destinations a lot - getting to the next state, the next town, the next shelter, the next peak. I climb mountains like they are the last one I'm going to have to climb - extremely hard and fast, without stopping until I get to the top. And then the terrain levels and my leg muscles relax, and my heart rate slows, and the sweat stops flowing as a breeze runs through the fibers in my shirt. And then, I repeat the process all over again.
Some daily goals of mine have been to change my attitude, or appreciate the moment, or walk more quietly to see more animals. I have been motivated to make the best meal yet or just simply to make a meal. I have walked to get away from creeps or to find flatter ground, or to a place with cell service. I have kept going solely for a cold beer, or a hot shower, or a warm blackberry cobbler. Sometimes I have my mind set on just making it to the next road crossing. On my third day I was so excited to get to Woody Gap, I told someone we only had about a mile left as if we would be reaching our final destination at Woody Gap. It didn't matter that I had 10 miles left in my day, Woody Gap was my ultimate goal in that moment (Iced cold Cokes and candy bars at Woody Gap definitely made that goal worthwhile).
When I get back on the trail, I'm not going to know anyone. It feels like I'm starting back all over again. I got a text the other day from my friend Mayo, wishing Pauline a speedy recovery, and telling me he still hopes to summit with me. He's a probably going to be a good 250 miles or more ahead of me when I start back, but I want to add "catching Mayo by Katahdin" to my list of goals. At the Nantahala Outdoor Center, a group of us were 4 or 5 beers in (way more than enough for me to feel it in my constant state of near dehydration), and we started talking foolishly about what we were going to do when we summit Katahdin like we didn't have to hike 2,000 more miles to get there. Our ideas weren't really creative in our state - getting naked, popping champagne, getting naked, getting drunk, getting naked, I don't really remember. But I do remember Mayo, always the sober one, promising me we'd drink beers together if we summit together. Not a huge incentive haha, but after hiking with him through the first 500 miles or so, I hope to have those beers with him at the end.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Tuesday, May 17, 2011
I am about 150 miles into Virginia and I couldn't imagine ever getting tired of it. I feel like the novelty of anything wears off after awhile, even incredible things like hiking the Appalachian Trail, and so it's important to find new ways to look at things or have new goals to achieve. The "Virginia Blues", thru-hikers so often talk about, are often attributed to the 550 miles of trail in the state and the monotony of the landscape. But the much more simple explanation is just that the novelty of a thru-hike has worn off. By Virginia, a thru-hiker has already seen incredible views, tented in storms (maybe not tornadoes), met hundreds of amazing people, hitch-hiked into towns, woken up sore all over, eaten every flavor of knorr sides and pop-tarts, received boatloads of trail magic, been nearly eaten alive by bears, snakes, or mosquitoes (or all 3). The excitement of the unknown for most is lost after the first 500 miles, and to think you have more mileage in Virginia than you have hiked prior to Virginia is overwhelming and depressing for some people. I guess.
But that's what this trip is all about! It's all the Appalachian Trail whether you're in Virginia, or Georgia, or Mount Katahdin, Maine. Sure it feels good to get to a new state, and the goal of conquering Virginia takes a little bit longer than the rest, but there are so many other goals, too! I will have taken almost two full weeks off the trail when I get back out there, and it's given me time to really appreciate the amazing trip that I'm on. My normal routine was becoming the trail and coming back home for this little bit has really made me appreciate my thru-hike more. When my mom joined me in Virginia for a day on Mother's Day she went on and on about how beautiful everything was and I was going on and on about how much the trail just looked like Georgia again. I was disappointed the trail wasn't like it had been in the previous days - I was spoiled. I've been able to regain some perspective again and I'm looking forward to getting back out there. The friends I have met on the trail are long gone by now, but I will most certainly meet a whole new group of great people.
And it has been so great to be home for this time, too. Yesterday really couldn't have gone better and I'm so happy and relieved. I've loved being able to be home and peek into my post-trail life without job responsibilities. It's all been so wonderful - it has me really excited for my future. But I've set out to complete the Appalachian Trail and that's what I'm going to do - 602 miles down, 1577 left. Time will fly by, so I just got to keep making the most of the now.
Monday, May 16, 2011
Thursday, May 12, 2011
But life still has happened back home. And although hiking the Appalachian Trail has become my reality for the moment, I still have a life back home, too. I have a family who goes to work and school, a dog who still sleeps and poos and wags her tail ferociously, and a girlfriend who's living all of the stresses of everyday life without me present to ease any of them. My family came up to Virgina to see me for a few days, as I wrote in my last post, and instead of seeing me off yesterday morning at the VA606 crossing, I rode back with them to Atlanta. I'm taking the next week and a half to two weeks off of the trail. Don't worry though - I'll be back (in my Arnold voice).
It happened quickly after over a year of a little worry in the back of our heads. Pauline, not to be too specific, got some pretty frightening news about her health on Tuesday. She called me as my mom and I were out for a short 9.5-mile day hike and quickly told me the overview of the results she received and that she was going to have to have an operation on May 31st, and that she couldn't talk because she was at work and had to go into a meeting. It was a lot of emotion all at once, to hear her so frightened and be so far away, on the side of a mountain with barely a bar of service. I didn't have service the rest of the day and I didn't know what I was supposed to think or do in the situation. I just needed to talk to her. It was tough to remain patient for the next 4 hours and I tried my hardest to just enjoy my hike with my mom - but I really couldn't. All of my thoughts were with Pauline.
I talked to her when we got done and she got off work and I told her that I was going to be there for her operation. She immediately told me I didn't need to do that, and I insisted. We talked some more later that night about everything and I could hear how frightened she was now. I feel like in a relationship there is a lot of responsibility and I knew that now was one of those times that she really needed me. I knew I was going to come home for the operation, but I felt like I presently needed to be there for her. I know that with this, there is the idea of the operation that is scary - she will have to be anesthetized, there is the actual news that is scary, and there is a whole lot of time in between now and then to worry about it all.
I felt like it was as important for me to be here for her now as it will be to be here for her during her operation. But it was probably going to be four weeks off the trail. I had planned to finish before my birthday, Sept 28th. Pauline had a cruise planned for the two of us and four weeks off would make it difficult to finish by then. Plus, I worried I'd get chubby and out of shape and even scared I wouldn't want to come back. I had this all-or-nothing attitude - if I come back tomorrow with them I was going to be done with my journey. Pauline talked sense into me, which she does so well, and made me realize I didn't need to scrap the trip just because I'd be taking this hiatus. I came back with them the next morning, ready to spend the month with Pauline, okay with the possibility of not finishing the trail this year and feeling like it was the right decision. I was able to talk to her before we left Wednesday morning and the relief I could here in her voice completely validated the decision I had made. She was never going to be the one to tell me to come home, she didn't want that responsibility, but I knew I needed to be here for her now. My sister woke up to me still in the house (mom was going to drop me off on the trail a couple hours earlier) and she told me, with a big smile, she was proud of the decision I was making. I got back to Atlanta, feeling like a ghost, and feeling strange to be back home so much sooner than I anticipated, but feeling really proud of the decision I had made, too.
I got to see my dog! and she's doing so great.. and I was able to flop her ears and tackle her to the ground, and cuddle with her head on my chest, like I've been longing to do since I left. And Pauline and I had a great night together, going out to eat at her new favorite restaurant in Decatur and cuddling with her head on my chest, too. And her operation was even moved up two full weeks to the 16th, so she's feeling less bad about me having to take time off and I think it's good because she doesn't have to think about it and worry for such a long time - we can get it done and over with. So I'm actually home, in Atlanta, for a little while. The operation is Monday, but I'm on no timetable to rush back to the trail. I plan to stay at least for the remainder of next week.
I'm going to take the time to do a lot of writing about my trip so far. I've been writing almost every day, but so many times I'm tired or it gets dark and I don't feel like writing as much as I could. And I'm going to upload all my videos to YouTube, too, so maybe I'll share some video posts with yall. My journey is far from complete, just on hold right now as I take a step out of the alternate reality and back into real life for a bit.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
Virginia has been beautiful.. the open countryside
has been a welcomed change of scenery. I hiked down to Atkins on the 5th through waist high grass, on rolling hills. As I reached some train tracks and a river, I startled three deer drinking, and they hopped away quickly, over shrubs and through trees. One of the deer sprinted across the tracks and jumped over a farm's fence and hop/ran straight up the hill in front of me. What and amazingly graceful sight it was as he ran away. It was too cool and too quick of a moment to get my camera out in time. It reminded me of how Bella runs with her tall, lanky body bounding over open field. The deer stopped suddenly and looked back at me and then took off.
I got down to Atkins and stopped at the Barn Restaurant, where I downed a 16 oz. cheese burger dubbed the "Hiker Burger" with Pumpkin and Free. I sat around lazily for a couple hours, letting the calories digest and letting the bright sun in the cloudless blue sky warm it up to 60 degrees, from the freezing temperatures of a couple hours earlier. I set back out in the afternoon with a 24 oz beer and hiker Mexican food (steak fajita flavored rice side and fajita chicken tortilla stuffers) planning to do my own little Cinco de Mayo celebration. I met up to Toaster and Tramp, who had just downed some beers themselves, and started hiking with Toaster, as Tramp went back to Atkins for more beers. Toaster was obviously feeling good from the beers, and I was just feeling good in general, and we ended up rolling down a huge grass hill, racing like little kids. I kept hiking when Toaster stopped for the night and the day just kept getting better.
I hiked late and as the sun was setting I came to privately owned farmlands full of cows, pooping and mooing and staring at me right on the trail. It was such a great view up on an open hill, with cows walking around me and the sun setting, a perfect end to my best day hiking yet.
Monday, May 2, 2011
It was a storm that I would have been afraid of in a house let alone in my Tarptent. Late on April 27th, tornadoes devastated much of Alabama and parts of the south, and southwestern Virginia. I had just completed my first 20-mile day, stopping about 13 miles from Damascus, VA, and about 10 miles from the TN/VA border. It was late in the day and I could tell a storm was brewing, as I hiked along a ridge 5,000 ft up. My original plan was to do 23 miles to Abingdon Shelter, leaving a short 10 miles, downhill to Damascus on the 28th, my mom's birthday. I was excited to get into Virginia and be able to talk to my mom on her birthday. It was such a beautiful day on the 27th, and as I hiked across a field near Shady Valley, TN the sun illuminated the greenest grass I had seen in some time. Fleet Foxes were playing on my Ipod and I was elated, so happy to be right there, in that moment. As the day went on I could tell that it was going to storm, but I was unaware of the severity of the clouds. I decided to set up my tent about 3 miles from the shelter for a couple reasons... 1) I was tired and hungry and my Beef Stroganoff Knorr sides sounded like Thanksgiving dinner, 2) It was late in the day and I knew the shelter would already be full, especially since there was a storm threatening 3) The storm hadn't hit yet and it was still light, and I could get my tent up before it started raining and got dark. I started looking for the first flat ground I saw.
I ended up setting my tent up in a little gap, but still along a ridge. I could see for miles to my right and to my left, not an ideal place to be in a storm. It was already really windy and I put big rocks on all four of my stakes to make sure they stayed in the ground. As I climbed in my tent, it was starting to get dark and the storm still hadn't hit - would it just pass by? Around 9 pm it started lightning. The sky was constantly lit, with an occasional surge of light the was so bright I thought lightning had struck 20 feet away. Thunder rolled continuously, leaving it impossible to distinguish just how far away the storm really was. I was just about getting to sleep when it started to rain. A constant downpour that seemed to be coming at an angle - terrible news for me and my Tarptent, because there's about a foot of mesh between the ground and the bottom of the sil-nylon. I cuddled up in my sleeping bag in the very center of my tent as the sides started to get wet. I kept checking to make sure water wasn't building up anywhere on top of my tent, that would weigh it down and make it easier to collapse. It rained for a couple of hours and around midnight it stopped.
It was calm for a good 5 minutes. I gave a deep sigh of relief and tried to settle back in and relax. And then the wind began. The paper the next day said that an F3 tornado ripped through southwest Virginia, the biggest one the state had ever seen. 135-140 mph winds roared through homes and truck stops and flipped over 18-wheelers. I doubt I got the brunt of it up on that ridge, but those were some of the strongest winds I've ever felt. I didn't sleep a single second that night. I spent the entire night bracing the side of my tent against the brick wall of winds and pleading to anyone, someone, if there is a God, to make it stop. I started to realize that a tree could fall on me sometime during the night and every time I heard a tree brush up against another, or crack, or a big gust come through, I cover my head with my arms.
I made it through the night and the next day I hiked down to Damascus. The events of the night before seemed like a dream and the magnitude of what I had experienced hadn't hit me yet. I got to Damascus to find the power to be out everywhere with only the distant buzz of generators. The town was empty and dark and I entered the only open restaurant - Quincy's, to a round of applause from hikers and locals. "Towns! You made it!"
I found out that people had died the night before. That only 7 miles away a town was basically leveled - completely destroyed. My phone was dead and the cell towers were down. I walked up a half mile to the Food City that was running off of emergency generators, hoping to be able to charge my phone - no luck. But, a manager overheard me asking a cashier if I could charge my phone and let me charge up my phone out in his truck. It took an hour for me to charge up halfway and I called my mom to wish her a happy birthday. I got a call through, but the signal was horrible and we couldn't hear each other. I texted her instead, and I knew I had to cut right to the point. "A tornado hit last night and I'm ready to come home," is the text I sent out. I was freaking out and I began to think that hiking this trail was not worth it anymore, not if I'd be put in those types of situations.
I slept, or hardly at all, despite being completely exhausted, at a hostel called "The Place". I was in the strangest place, surrounded by hikers who hadn't experienced what I had, who were normal and excited to hit the trail. My mom and Pauline drove up to see me the next day. I cannot believe how amazing they are - patiently driving up to see me, not to take me home but because they care. We went out to eat and talked a little bit about it, but for the most part we just hung out all day. I was torn. I felt like I didn't want to play the game anymore, I was frightened, but I knew I would regret coming home. They understood completely and encouraged me to make a decision for myself that I could feel good about. I hiked out of Damascus on the 29th around lunch time in absolutely perfect weather. I was uneasy, but okay.