Sunday, May 29, 2011

Back on the trail

I did 117 miles in the week since I've been back, getting into Daleville, VA yesterday afternoon.  It has been difficult being back out here in a lot of different ways.  It's been a pretty wet week.  It has rained for a little bit every day it seemed like, and when it hasn't been raining it's been incredibly hot and sticky - reminds me of GA humidity.  I left all of my rain gear at home, just because I figured I'd rather be wet from the rain than wet from sweat (the rain gear doesn't breathe at all), so at least I've had a good week to test out that theory.  It poured on me for most of my third day back out, and I kept cool while not getting cold, so I think I made the right decision. 

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

Goals, Rambling

Goals are important. Duh. We need direction to make us feel productive.  I've found it's easy to become lost, especially at my age.  I have never been one of those people to focus all of my energy on one thing.  I loved baseball growing up, but I played basketball almost everyday or tried to ride my bike over the dirt jumps at the lake, or threw the football to myself (yes, I did this a lot and it probably looked pretty pathetic to passing cars, but I perfected the art and actually made it fun and somewhat challenging).  I majored in Psychology, but only after I majored in Advertising and History Education.  I took a major course in English - black poetry in American Literature.  I took French History and American Foreign Policy and Foundations of Social Science Education and Psychology in the Classroom and Advertising/Public Relations - all of which didn't count towards anything really.  Some asked why I wasted all of that time - I didn't, I was genuinely interested in all of it.  But my education was never directed like my pre-med/nursing/enter direct path here friends were.  The thing is, I don't want to do one thing for the rest of my life, I love way too many different things, but I still need goals.  It's easy to be overwhelmed by the options of life when you have so many choices, but I'm thankful that I even have those choices in the first place. 

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

Updated Estinerary

A few stats...
I was averaging around 11.5 miles per day including zeros (5) and less than 10-mile days, neros (12).  My hiking average without the zeros was 12.8, and excluding both the zeros and neros was 17.2.  Although zeros and neros should still be taken into consideration, I will be taking less of both once I get back.  I plan to up my average significantly to around 14.5 to finish the first week of September.  So here's the updated estimate, subject to change...
5/22 - Sun. Pearisburg, VA
5/28 - Sat. Catawba, VA
5/30 - Mon. Daleville, VA
6/08 - Wed. Waynesboro, VA
6/18 - Sat. Harpers Ferry, WV
6/23 - Thurs. Blue Ridge Summit, PA
6/26 - Sun. Boiling Springs, PA
6/28 - Tues. Duncannon, PA
7/03 - Sun. Port Clinton, PA  
7/06 - Wed. Palmerton, PA
7/07 - Thurs. Wind Gap, PA
7/08 - Fri. Delaware Water Gap, PA
7/11 - Mon. Vernon, NJ
7/18 - Mon. Pawling, NY
7/19 - Tues. Kent, CT
7/22 - Fri. South Egremont, MA
7/25 - Mon. Cheshire, MA
8/04 - Thurs. Hanover, NH
8/08 - Mon. North Woodstock, NH
8/14 - Sun. Gorham, NH
8/18 - Thurs. Andover, ME
8/23 - Tues. Stratton, ME
8/28 - Sun. Monson, ME
9/05 - Mon. Katahdin

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

2, 4, 6, 8

Take yourself out of your normal routine and you begin to appreciate the intricacies of what makes up your life.  When I first started hiking the AT in March, I was overwhelmed by how much I appreciated everything that my life was.  In a post after just one week on the trail, first zero, I talk a little bit about the gratitude I felt for what my life consists of.  I was excited to be challenging myself physically - the pain and little aggravations, the sweat flowing from my pores, the weight of 30 lbs on my back.  And getting into a town for the first time couldn't have made me happier.  There wasn't a great story to why people started calling me Towns, but it has proved to fit me well.  I look forward to the towns in the way that one looks forward to a vacation.  The whole trail-life thing is magnificent, but throw in every now and then a night in a bed, a cooked meal, an iced cold drink, wonderful people, and the opportunity to talk on my phone for as long as I want, and it really makes the whole experience special.  It has been the contrast between being out in the woods for days and then coming into the towns that has really made the journey what it is for me. 

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


Pauline's doing great and we appreciate everyone's concern.  We're back home from the hospital and she's actually feeling pretty good.  I'm here for the remainder of the week and then back to the trail!  I'm 602 miles in and will start back up 25 miles from Pearisburg, VA on Sunday, May 22.  Look for an updated "itinerary" for the rest of the trip soon, but we all know how iffy those can be.  I've uploaded a number of videos to my youtube channel so check them out!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

real life

The trail has been an alternate reality for me.  The other day I realized that it was May already and that back home, friends were getting ready to graduate.  The long, lazy days of summer that last year I spent at the pool or lake or floating down the Broad River are coming up fast.  It has been a year since I graduated.  Where has the time gone? The last year has been a whirlwind of preparation and stress.  And then I took my first step on the trail, through the archway at Amicalola Falls and time seems to have frozen.  Sure I feel like I have been out here for a long time, but my life back home has most definitely frozen in time.  I think of it still being March 19th.

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's for lovers

It was back to around freezing temperatures and my body froze - ice blocks for hands and feet.  It had rained and a cold front followed on the 4th, freezing my readjusted-to-warmer-nights body to the core.  Waking up on the 5th was maybe the coldest I've been on the trip thus far.  I packed up my pack with numb hands that hurt from the cold and with no desire to sit around and stay cold, I started hiking.  On cold mornings it reminds me of swimming in an ocean.  The sun comes up through the trees, shining warm spots on the trail in places - you hike from cold to... OOO warm spot!  I wasn't warming up and my gloves, that I was going to send back home the weekend before, seemed to only be trapping the cold in.  I blew hot breath on each finger through the gloves, just to get some feeling in them.  I hiked for a couple miles and came to an opening where the sun shone down - I thawed out for half an hour.  It felt glorious as my blood warmed up and circulated through my fingers and toes.

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.

My mom and Doug picked me up in Bland, VA on Saturday, and the rest of the crew joined us on Sunday for a few days of awesome food, a bed and great company.  I've done shorter hiking days the last three days, so they could join me for them and the terrain has been some of the easiest so far.  My body's feeling incredibly energized and I feel ready to shoot out of a cannon tomorrow when they leave to go back to Atlanta.  The tornado of a week and a half ago is in the past and the beautiful countryside and incredible weather is blessing the present.  I'm loving every second of Virginia and the "Viriginia Blues" I've heard so much about, seem to be an outrageous sentiment of those whose priorities are off, haha.  How could you ever get tired of Virginia??


Monday, May 2, 2011

safe from the storm

I made it to the 500-mile mark today! And I made it to the month of May! And the state of Virginia! I almost went home.

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.
Beautiful day hiking out of Damascus

In the couple days since, I've tented both nights, just to get it out of the way. The first night was strange, but last night I slept wonderfully. I hiked up Mt. Rogers and through the Grayson Highlands, and it was incredible. I can't really put into words the emotions I felt as I walked through countryside like I had never seen before. It was like I was out west, in Montana or something. I saw a couple of wild ponies but they were skidish and wouldn't let me get close, the rest must have been hiding. I'm in Troutdale, VA tonight and it's basically just this diner with internet access and really awesome burgers and milkshakes. I'm sleeping at a Baptist Church tonight and I hit the trail again early in the morning. My mom and sister! and Peggy are coming up Saturday to spend a couple of days with me around Bland and Gary and Doug are coming up the next day. I'm so, so excited to see them! I survived the storm and I'm feeling less shaken up - better each day. It's good to have some perspective, to feel how precious life is, sometimes. I know that the tornado was a freak incident and that I probably won't experience something that bad again, but there will be other storms - I'll just make sure to be in a shelter next time and not beneath the thinnest bit of sil-nylon imaginable. Thank you all for the support. And thank you so much to my mom and Pauline. Yall are amazing and I love you guys so much.