Last week I left everyone feeling very sorry for myself after my fall, and while things are certainly better, no pain, no gain has taken on a whole new meaning. I’m certainly testing my ability to endure which is not necessarily a bad thing but an uncomfortable place to live life.
Buena Vista to Seeley Woodworth Shelter. 7.7 miles.
Hiked out today on what felt like weak limbs and an overly full pack. The weather was great, decent terrain, all in all an OK hike. A lot less pain would make the day go from OK to great, from around the 6 mile mark my feet, ankles and knees started to protest with the ferocity Emily Pankhurst, if I listened to my body and stopped to rest, getting going again was agony, it was an out and out fight with myself with no medal for the winner. I dug deep and went into overdrive to make it to the shelter. I’m frustrated because I was upping my mileage really steadily for a while, I should be doing 16-18 mile days no problem, instead I’m doing less daily miles than in my first week on the trail and that’s a struggle. My only goal now is to get stronger and let that strength take me as far north as it can.
As I write my blog tonight there is a severe thunderstorm happening. My poor little tent feels like it’s being blasted into space, I’m being shaken from the ground up, lightning is coming from everywhere and I’m genuinely scared of being crushed by falling trees.
Seeley Woodworth Shelter to The Priest. 6.6 miles.
Today was hell, literal hell. I made it worse I’m sure because mentally I was in a bad place but that aside it was still terrible. The thunderstorm died out overnight, I survived and managed to stay relatively dry but it was still drizzly when I got up. I’m extremely efficient at packing up from inside the tent but there is nothing I can do to make packing up a saturated tent better. My ground sheet was covered in a thick, cement like mud which if I could have dried it would be OK but I had to pack up with an extra 2 lbs of mud to carry.
Damp and cold I started hiking around 9am and within minutes the heavens opened, I quickly suited up to prevent a complete soaking, put my head down and hiked. On paper the first 6.6 miles were supposed to be pretty easy, in reality it was continuous short, extremely steep ups and downs and with the trail now a river my feet were soaked and squelching, I kept tripping on hidden rocks and it was freezing. The visibility slowly got worse and for the rest of the morning I could barely see 10ft in front of me. Someone told me that when the trail gets tough I should walk with my head up (this is impossible, I would fall on my face instantly and I don’t have enough tears for that) and I should smile, smiling releases happy endorphins in your brain. I tried so hard to do this today, not so successfully I think.
I arrived at a shelter at lunchtime and immediately made the decision to go no further, all I wanted was to be dry and warm. The shelter is called The Priest and instead of signing the trail register, hikers write a trail confession which entertained me for a while.
Several other hikers appeared out if the mist in the same depression I was feeling and also decided to go no further and so the grumpy hiker shelter was formed. We sat and reminisced, not about the good times but about all the times when the life of a hiker is purely about dodging the hellfire sent by the trail gods. It was a huge weight off my tired and aching shoulders to hear other hikers describe feeling like being on the same rapidly sinking ship, young, old, athletes, newbies and chubby English girls fighting just to walk. You know it’s been a hard day when at 8pm, camp is completely silent.
The Priest to Harpers Creek Shelter. 7.6 miles.
I slept really well last night, it dropped in temperature and I was in all of my clothes, socks and tucked fully into my sleeping bag. It was so snuggly I didn’t want to get out, and I didn’t until gone 9am.
I was dreading the day, if it was a repeat of yesterday’s weather I was having such negative feelings that I wasn’t sure I could continue. My day was going to be a 4 mile descent, loosing over 4000ft of elevation, followed immediately by a huge ascent gaining the elevation plus some back again.
To my absolute pleasure, when I got out of my tent, it was blue skies, birds chirping, full Disney Princess. I saddled my pack and got going. Within 10 minutes I was greeted with a spectacular view that had I carried on hiking yesterday I would have missed.
For over 2 hours I picked my way down the mountain, the terrain wasn’t great and it crunched every bone in my body but eventually I came to the very bottom where I ate lunch with my feet in the river, sun on my face in the company of some other great hikers. Sat under a swinging bridge in the valley of 2 magnificent mountains I felt like anything was possible, gone are the dark thoughts of yesterday and in are the welcoming thoughts of adventures to come.
I knew it would be a gruelling climb up to the shelter, but I greeted it like an old friend, it’s the last 4000ft climb of Virginia and I felt stronger in mind even if my body was betraying me. I arrived a third of the way up the mountain at a great campsite feeling full of beans. I had a leisurely supper, read, chatted with fellow hikers and took a lot of ibuprofen, my vitamin of choice. There are several weekenders here and I impressed myself at how efficient and how normal my camp chores seem to me, I can get my tent up and bed set, dinner made and eaten, bear bag hung and in bed in less than an hour, tonight I chuckled at how long it took three young guys to fight with the rain fly on their tent. The trail is such a mental game and I have to keep reminding myself of that, I’m falling asleep looking forward to the trail tomorrow, today has been a great day.
Harpers Creek Shelter to Maupin Shelter. 6.4 miles.
I had a very restless night sleep worrying about climbing the mountain today. I finally fell asleep telling myself, it’s not K2, I’ll make it! For the most part, on the trail in my little cocoon I sleep wonderfully, much better than at home where my insomnia can be insufferable.
As such I got a late start, it was a mean 4 mile relentless climb up several thousand feet of elevation. I went for it hell for leather and it really was hell. There were boulder fields, sharp rocks, hand over hand climbing and steep switchbacks. Something today was different, because yesterday was so great, today I felt invincible, I put my headphones in and selected very specific songs to listen to, gentle reminders of the people I love. So with the help of my soul sisters, I got down to business, to save the break of dawn, dodging wagon wheels with just one spoonful of sugar and beasted the mountain. I climbed for over 3 hours, sweat was dripping everywhere and I felt like a warrior.
There was no glorious view to greet me at the top which was a slap in the face, but just a mile later I got my reward. I could see the mountain I came down yesterday and the mountain I climbed today which all looked very imposing, giving me that small and insignificant in the world feeling.
After such a physically demanding day, again it’s been very short mileage. At the shelter there are just a few exhausted hikers telling fun and exhilarating stories of the trail. Tomorrow I have just a few miles to a road crossing where I will get a ride into town. These last few days have been rough physically, my achillies is really slowing me down and hurts continously but I’m glad I hiked out, I’ve made very few miles in comparison to my usual mileage, but it’s all forward progress. A days rest and food are in my future, but I will look forward to getting back on the trail.