DAY 88 and 89
The last 2 days were extremely weird. I found it very hard to get a hitch back to the trail where I got off as it’s a toll road and the driver would have had to pay $20 to enter the national park. I ended up getting a ride much further down the trail and with much deliberation I decided to hike south instead of north so that I didn’t miss the miles. Made me feel very virtuous. The trail was very bland today, and hiking in the opposite direction was disorientating, I dont think it helped that it was all uphill. I passed many familiar faces who all protested I was going the wrong way. I camped close enough to town that I could hear the 4th of July funzies, there was a brass band playing the stars wars theme and it made me chuckle in my sleeping bag.
After another weird southbound day I got myself back on track. I spent an unexpected zero day in Front Royal, it was my first real zero miles day in about a month. I was able to sit in bed, eat food and watch telly whilst it poured with rain outside, exactly how bad weather days should be spent.
Front Royal to Manassas Gap Shelter. 10.7 miles.
Because of all the rain and storms, it’s so humid. It’s about 95 degrees (35 Celsius) and 80% humidity. Within half a mile I had sweat running off my elbows and my glasses kept steaming up until finally I just took them off and hiked blind for a while. The trail turned extremely rocky and it took me a minute to realise why it was taking me so long to make progress, I couldn’t see!! Parts of the trail were very well behaved, the flattest trail I have ever had, with huge and imposing poplar trees lining my route.
Unfortunately the trail inevitably always goes up, just under 1000ft but I felt every one of them. I had to stop about a mile from the shelter which is unheard of for me, I’m a plow on regardless kind of girl, but I had nothing left in my tank. I sat directly on the trail to eat some salty snacks. The last mile was horrendous on my achillies and I was so relieved to get to camp. I quickly pitched my tent and got my camp chores done. At 8:15pm I’m in bed hardly able to keep my eyes open!!
Manassas Gap Shelter to Rod Hollow Shelter. 12.9 miles.
Today I cried a lot. I cried because I was sad and missed home, I cried because I fell over and bashed my knee, I cried because I kept tripping and felt so clumsy, I cried because my achillies is really bad and I mostly cried because I couldn’t get a damn Coldplay song out of my head and quite frankly I hate Coldplay!! Today was long and so very hot, the humidity just sucks all of your energy. There were no nice views, just miles and miles of a green tunnel.
Rod Hollow Shelter to Bears Den Hostel. 9.8 miles.
Bold statement: Today was some of the hardest miles I have ever hiked. I entered what is lovingly called the roller-coaster, it’s 14 miles of relentless mountain climbing, 9 peaks, no switchbacks, straight up and straight down, rocks and boulders everywhere. It was easily 100degrees, I felt like I was in the Hunger Games!
There were several saviours to the day, firstly I came across some epic trail magic. Parents of another hiker had set up at a dirt road crossing with cold beverages, veggie chips and snacks galore, it was so wonderful.
Secondly I passed the 1000 mile mark! WHAT?!? I think I just hiked 1000 miles, how ridiculous!
Lastly after dragging myself up the last mountain of the day, I’m very serious when I say dragged, it took me nearly an hour to climb 0.6 of a mile, I arrived at Bears Den Hostel. For a small fee you can stay or camp, use the shower and laundry facilities, they had frozen pizza you could cook and a lounge with sofas to chill on. I miss chairs with backs so much, on the trail you either sit on the ground or if you are lucky the shelter may have a picnic table. The hostel was everything I wanted after the hellscape of the day. Today could have been terrible, but as much as it tried it just wasn’t. I was physically challenged beyond anything I’ve put my poor body through before but somehow I was exhilarated. The evening was spent with some great people, up until recently I’ve felt like a hiker imposter, like everyone else was legit and I was just pretending, but today I was one of them, a hiking viking!
Bears Den Hostel to David Lesser Memorial Shelter. 11.4 miles.
I had a great pancake breakfast before leaving the hostel this morning, what luxury! The first part of the days hike was equally as brutal as yesterday, the serious sweating has of course brought out the best in my skin, my leg rash is back with vengeance, but after 4 miles, a great snack with a view and the end of the roller-coaster, I was finally done with Virginia!!!!!! Virginia has held 544 miles of the AT containing both my very worst and most bestest parts of the trail. I am so thankful to have reached this state line, it’s through sheer stubbornness and determination that I’ve even made it here.
Not many minutes later the heavens opened and it downpoured, for once I let it fall on me, I made no attempt to stay dry, grateful for the coolness and relief from the heat. I was rewarded for my positivity about the weather with a trail centre where I was able to snag a free cherry soda to drink with my lunch. The rest of the miles seemed down right easy and uneventful in comparison to the last few days and I breezed the final 4 miles. The shelter I’m camping at tonight is one of the very best I have stayed at. It has a porch with benches, the tent sites are all flat, and there is a separate covered cooking pavilion with a porch swing which is where I’m sat writing my blog tonight.
David Lesser Memorial Shelter to Harpers Ferry. 9.4 miles.
Great nights sleep last night, I felt very at peace, the trail the last few days has been so very challenging, possibly the most challenging this far and I just feel so accomplished. I guess now is a good time to announce that I’m ending my trail journey here in Harpers Ferry, the spiritual half way mark of the AT. Apart from the fact I’m considerably more broken than I care to admit, I actually feel good, not great but good about this being my destination. The trail has become my tube of pringles (who doesn’t love a crisp metaphor) if you eat half the tube you can put the lid on and save the the rest for another time, you feel good about your decision and so does your body. There are times when you look down in the tube and think well, I’ve gone this far, I may as well finish the damn tube! The second half is never as tasty, tainted with guilt, leaving you with a very uncomfortable feeling. I fear the ‘well I may as well carry on’ mentally will not only break me but leave a bad taste in my mouth about the trail. Right now the trail is still magical and wonderful to me but I’ve been hiking in considerable pain for several hundred miles because I’m too damn stubborn to stop, but I want to be the one to make the decision, I do not want to be thrown off. I know you will all say nice things because you are all wonderful and your support has been my only form of sanity some days but I can’t help but feel I am letting people down. Once I have had time to think about the last 3 months I will dedicate a post to this decision, hopefully with more profound things to say that aren’t about snacks.
My final hike into Harpers Ferry was great, I got to pass another state line between Virginia and West Virginia and everything smelt wonderful from the rain.
Harpers Ferry holds the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the head office of the trail if you will. I was able to have my pic taken for this year’s hiker log.
I couldn’t be luckier or richer in friends, Willow who has been my adventure partner, cheerleader and rock throughout my journey joined me for my last few miles of my trail journey. We hiked to the Maryland state line, ending how we started, scared, clueless, but overwhelmingly happy.