Last time I wrote an entry I was just a few miles over 700. Today I stand at mile 862. As I quickly approach mile 1000 it's a good time to reflect on the many miles hiked in such a short time.
This state of Virginia has been anything but easy. I've been told by many that once I reached this state I would have made it through the difficult parts of the south. Those who expressed these thoughts are dead to me.
Some areas are easier yes but for every easier path there's definitely more climbs, difficult terrain, bug infestations, difficult rock hikes and fewer views. This state is called the long green tunnel for a vey good reason.
I don't want to sit here and say I hate Virginia. That would be unfair to a beautiful and hospitable state. I've continued to find people along the trail to be amazing. More so than not on tough days things have a way of giving you a cold soda or a soft bed to sleep in when you need it most. What takes its toll are the many hours you spend sheltered in the woods.
The views are few and far between. The terrain is rocky and difficult and when I climb it's either raining or humid. I actually prefer the rain because when it's humid the many "wonderful" spiecies of bugs swarm to every part of your body. The many combinations really do take its toll. How bad I'll get into in a bit...
The highlights have been waterfalls, rock outcrops, amazing farmland that seems to pop up out of nowhere and most importantly the best view (and photo) on the AT McAfee Knob.
McAfee Knob in itself was a day plus morning that will surely stay with me for life. The great time had by my hiking family taking photos together to have as memories to seeing the sun rise the morning after left me with tears in my eyes that won't be forgotten. I felt truly satisfied more so than ever standing there watching a beauty unfold like nothing I've seen before. When it's all said in done, other than reaching Katadhin I don't think anything will truly be as amazing as that instant.
Though these highlights continue to leave their stamp on this journey it doesn't change the fact that hiking over 800 miles and covering almost 500 of those miles in Virginia really begins to take its toll. This green tunnel can feel like a padded room some times. No offense to those of you who have been in a padded room. The hike is a 6/7 day a week 8 hours a day dedication to putting one foot in front of the other. When 80% of that time is spent looking at trees, trail and shelters that all look the same well I start feeling like Bill Murray in Groundhogs Day. Accept there's no alarm clock to break. It's me that starts breaking.
What does its part to keep you together are those who hike around you. My hiking brothers and sisters are all going through the same thing so it's only natural at the end of the day we discuss what took its toll and vent the frustrations off ourselves as much as we can. Those moments are important because during the hike for the most part you're on your own. For those of you that know me humor is an important part of who I am so using that to speak of the daily grind helps bring laughs to camp. I believe that is my way of helping my family as each of them use what they do best to help me. Laughing can never be anything but a helpful way to dust off the days difficulties.
I hike with great people, around great people and now being almost halfway wonder how many of us will cross the border into Maine together to make the final push home. As I get further along I start to see and believe which of us really can finish this grinding hike. Having each other is one of the many things that gives us that chance.
My last 8 days of hiking have been a 140 mile push. Yes I said 140 miles! The small picture was to get to Waynesboro where I am now and the big picture (other than Maine) is to get to Harpers Ferry as soon as possible. These 8 days have slowly broke me not just mentally but physically as well.
I consider myself a mentally strong person but in an environment like this you start to realize why the odds are against you. I can't help but feel as if the AT some times wants to beat you into submission. I can honestly say I spoke out loud to a blaze recently asking it what I had done to piss her off so much. Without an answer I apologized and asked her to cut me some slack and allow me to reach town without emptying what felt like my already empty tank. That turned out to be too much to ask.
The 2 last days of tough climbs, feet breaking down with sever blisters and heavy swelling, 3 rattle snake encounters, a bee sting, the same damn ankle that I have had problems with rolling 3 times and all the while treking through each of these hikes at a distance of 20 miles. I actually looked up at one point seeing 3 buzzards flying in their circle pattern directly above me wondering if they were waiting for me to finally succumb. My body, pride, morale and spirit all took a hit. Good thing I was able to sustain my good looks or perhaps I'd be back on a plane to Boston.
I'm not afraid to admit in these circumstances I need guidance and quite honestly an ear to emotionally vent to. Even at 40 thankfully I'm able to call my mom and pops and hear the love they have for me but equally as important the knowledge they share to lift me from my sunken hole. On top of that, though I never use Facebook for a pity party, knowing so many of past and present people in my life are following I leaned on you for equal support with a reach out status update. As usual I received countless responses and messages that lifted me even higher. There were so many incredible personal messages of love and confidence in my ability to finish what I started.
Joe Lamar, someone I had competed against as a runner in H.S., who later lost his leg but went on to be a decorated Paralympian said it best. "Jesse wanna trade legs with me? Now shut up and get moving!" Inspiration and motivation can come in the craziest ways.
You should all know I'm good. I knew what I was getting myself into and knew there would be days like this. It's never a matter of quiting. I won't let that thought process enter my mind. I just needed to get my feet and mind to a resting point and stop pushing myself beyond what's realistic. The body and mind will only go so far until it says, "What the fu*k are you doing?!"
Im on my second 0 day (as mentioned in previous posts a 0 is a day off) and preparing to push back out tomorrow morning. The feet are getting there and hopefully with a new pair of shoes (don't get me started with the pair I got 3 weeks ago) I'll have little issue getting back into the flow of things. All you can eat pancakes and chinese food, a real mattress, several showers and PBR tallboys have certainly been a nice luxury but these off days just never seem right. They are needed but feeling guilty always seems to creep into the conscience. I'm also afraid to admit this but being out of the woods and being in town always has a little depression set in.
I'm unsure what that's all about and long term how the adjustment to living back in the city will play out but crossing that bridge will be dealt with when that time comes. That being said I truly do believe though I've always been a city boy the woods have always been calling. As I get older it's starting to make more and more sense. I think I get that from my paw.
So I'm back at the snakes, the trees, the rocks tomorrow. The day brings on the Shenandoahs. I've heard great things about these woods but I also heard Virginia was easy. I'll take it all in stride and know in 10 days I cross out of Virginia and into West Virginia. I'm looking at the 1000 mile point and quickly crossing several state borders. Out here we call that mini milestones and moral lifters. We can all use it.
I was posed the question by my old friend Don about what I think about while I hike. I planned to elaborate in this entry but felt it was best to give you all a what's happening now entry. I promise to get to the many wonderful and crazy things that run through this head of mine next time. Until then everybody all together!!!! 1,2,3!!!! Hike the good hike!!!!
Thanks for walking along with me every step of the way ya'll
Jesse AKA The Boston Mule