Situations on the trail are always temporary. Enjoying good weather? Sooner or later it will turn bad. Is the trail smooth and easy? Just wait. It will get rocky and steep before long. The point here isn't pessimism. The trail has a way of reminding you that when things are going well, you should enjoy the moment and take advantage of it. Conversely, when things are going badly, hang in there. The bad can’t stay that way forever.
The Appalachian Trail has many stories to tell. Hikers can speak to us of their trials and their adventures. The people who help hikers and maintain the trail have stories of why they give back. Nature can tell us about the ebb and flow of life, and of the challenges of survival. From geology we can learn about the history of the earth we walk upon. And some of the most fascinating stories are told by the artifacts left behind by people who lived here before there was a trail. As I walked along the trail today, all of these storytellers spoke to me.
We had free accommodations in the little town of Glasgow, Va., with the unexpected benefit of a hot shower. We camped walking-distance-away from a pizza restaurant and a store for resupply. A cell tower was standing so nearby it cast a shadow on our campsite, so we had a strong wireless connection. With all these luxuries and a giant, fiberglass dinosaur too, Glasgow offered a lot for thru-hikers to like. I was glad we stopped here yesterday.
In many ways, the Appalachian Trail is like a river. It’s true that hikers flow through it in two directions. Nevertheless, the trail is a continuous stream. A Greek philosopher named Heraclitus said, "In the same river we both step and do not step, we are and are not." While some people, including Plato, have misquoted or tried to simplify Heraclitus’s meaning to something like, “You can't step into the same river twice,” his words are quite deeper. The water of any spot on a river is never the same. It is constantly in motion, yet the river is constant in its sameness. The sameness comes from our memory.
Day 60, Jennings Creek Road to Thunder Hill Shelter
Like a drunken guillotine lingering just above my head
I had worried that Virginia would be a lot of the same thing. The same ups and downs, the same green tunnel, day after day. In fact, I worried about it so much at one point I even questioned if I wanted to really go through with a complete thru-hike. I can’t believe now I once thought that way, even if it was only for an hour or two.
Before we took one step on the trail this morning, we knew this was going to be a short hiking day. The weather was good, the terrain was easy, and we had just resupplied. So why would we only hike less than 10 miles today?
I was still feeling exhilarated this morning following yesterday’s stop at McAfee Knob. I think Stick was too. We were both thrilled with how the weather cooperated to give us photographs we’ll long treasure. In fact, everything was going well with this hike, better than I could have expected. And today reaches another high, another big day, as we pass the official one-third point of the trail. Of course, when you’re talking about the Appalachian Trail, you cannot have a high without a low.
Day 57, Catawba Mountain Shelter to Daleville, Va.
When we come to the place where the road and the sky collide
The forecast was correct, and our plan to wait until today for McAfee Knob was going as we hoped. The weather cleared overnight, so it was going to be a good day to get our picture taken on the rock overhang standing above the Catawba Valley.
Day 56, VA 624 to Catawba Mountain Shelter
And he screams back, "You're a cow! Give me some milk or else go home"
There was no point in making an early exit from my tent this morning. It was raining and I had no where to go for a while. I stayed inside and reorganized my gear. I wasn’t planning to get back on the trail until Stick returned from his historic railroad conference. He texted me at 8 a.m. to say he was leaving Johnson City, Tenn. I calculated he would arrive between 10:30 and 11:00, so I could wait until at least 10 a.m. before I took down my tent. When I did, I moved to the garage to wait and eat freezer pops.
I survived yesterday, but it wasn’t easy. I overcame the most difficult day on the trail so far, pulled along to the end by the tug of an all-you-can-eat dinner. Today was another difficult day. There were no perilous descents down sheer cliffs. There was another all-you-can-eat dinner, but it was difficult nonetheless. I was bored.
Day 54, Campsite at Mile 688 to VA 624
No one said it would be easy, but no one said it'd be this hard
After an invigorating and occasionally challenging day, I was ready to take on another. I was still motivated and hopeful to reach Four Pines Hostel early enough to catch a ride to The Homeplace Restaurant for dinner tonight, so I was up early. I left camp at 7:30 a.m.
I woke up early this morning and tried to pack my gear as quickly as possible. My plan wasn’t especially ambitious, but I figured any extra miles I put in today would shorten the miles I need to do tomorrow. There was an ulterior motive for putting in a few extra miles. I’m hoping to arrive at Four Pines Hostel early enough tomorrow to get a ride to Homeplace Restaurant for dinner. Homeplace is legendary among hikers. If it comes close to the hype, it will be worth the extra effort I put in today.
After the thunderstorm passed through last night there was no more rain. The air remained cool and damp when I woke up. While preparing breakfast I talked to Pigpen, who was feeling better after yesterday’s migraine headache. We discussed where we were heading today. Pigpen was glad to know I was planning to go to Laurel Creek Shelter, and she said she thought she would go there too. She told me she hadn't yet camped by herself and appreciated knowing someone else would be there.
Day 51, Campsite at Mile 643.6 to Bailey Gap Shelter
Well, pick up your gear and Gypsy roll on, roll on
I took my time to get going this morning. There was no reason to hurry today. After taking a look at the map and the calendar, I knew I could go easy for the next few days and still meet up with Stick when he returns from his conference. Even with a more casual hiking schedule, I’ll probably have to take a zero day.
Day 50, Pearisburg to Campsite at Mile 643.6
Nailed a retread to my feet and prayed for better weather
It felt weird to wear new hiking boots. It wasn’t just that they hadn’t been broken in. The soles were grippy. The tread on the soles of my previous boots had been worn down to little more than smooth bumps. No wonder I was slipping so much coming down off the mountain into Pearisburg. Apparently hiking more than 600 miles will do that. My new boots fit well and I was glad I had switched to the wider size. I probably should have started with this size from the beginning.