I'm NOBO (northbound) thru-hiker #477 to come through Harpers Ferry this year. I'm finally out of the state of Virginia, all 550 miles of it, and damn does it feel good. I've hiked 1,000 miles and I've got another 1,000 to go. The official halfway point isn't for another 75 miles or so, but I feel like this is a good opportunity to look back at some of the highlights through the first 3 months.
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.