Saturday, March 12, 2016

Southbound on the Appalachian Trail 2015: Virginia (part 1)

A soaked and contemplative H2Camo

Ripe apples along the trail. The AT passed through several abandoned apple orchards where fresh fruit made for a very unexpected, but welcome addition to a day's diet.

Walking through fall.

Old stone wall and fall colors

Rock cairn on the Priest

Lone maple

Camo at the Punchbowl Shelter

First day of sun after 9 straight days of fog and rain in the Shenandoah
1000 miles to go

Buck and fog

Camo inspecting mileage information on post in Shenandoah NP

Camo walking through Elkton, VA

Chicken of the woods

Best hiking shoes I've ever used: Over a thousand miles per pair

Old friend Doug picked up Camo and I and treated us to lunch in town outside of Harper's Ferry
Camo had mentioned to me that he once read of a condition called the "Virginia Blues" that tends to afflict thru hikers on the AT. The state is the longest on the AT, over 500 miles. Perhaps hikers grow tired of the green tunnel, and the initial excitement of the thru hike has worn off. For Camo and I, we experienced the "Virginia  Blues" the very last day we were in Virginia, on a cold dreary day in Damascus. Otherwise, we both commented how much we enjoyed Virginia. It was one of my favorite states. Perhaps the experience is different for south bounders like us. I was so happy to be hiking on good trail again after the annoying, rocky, state of the trail in Pennsylvania and Maryland. We also were treated to a bug free forest, cooler weather, and the changing color of the leaves was a visual feast at times. Due to our slower hiking pace, I would say this was the first time I really, really began to enjoy the hiking lifestyle. We were in no hurry to finish. We decided we were not going to rush to finish before Thanksgiving, and a mid December finish was more likely. This decision took tremendous pressure off ourselves.

We experienced our worst weather in Shenandoah National Park. 9 straight days of rain, fog, and cold weather. This was a result of the hurricane dubbed the "thousand year storm" that dumped over 20 inches of rain on parts of South Carolina. By day 7, I was feeling delirious, like I was in a foggy dream. As I mentioned before, Camo and I made the decision not to rush, which made this time period much more tolerable. Most days during this rainy chapter, we hiked no more than ten miles a day, twice we decided just to stay put in the shelter and sleep. There was a trail side store near one particular shelter. There were about 15 of us crammed into the shelter. Thankfully the store sold 99 cent beers, hot dogs, and snacks. A couple of us had instruments. An intolerable situation turned itself into an enjoyable trail memory. The rain probably kept hundreds of day hikers off the trails as well, as the park surely would have been packed with the peak leaf season so close.

We met several new hiking companions including Blue Eagle an army veteran, Dos Equis and his son, a couple from New Zealand called Kiwi Brucy and Molly Woppy, the trail sage One Step, and a couple of solo hikers named Rocky, and Cake, funny, funny dudes.

When the rain finally stopped, I experienced a sense of trail euphoria that I hadn't experienced in a long, long, time. Camo and I had just left the town of Waynesboro, clean and well fed. The sun and warm weather was so intense, we felt like a major life trial had just been completed. If nothing else, we knew that we would dry out at least for a few days, and we were free to camp wherever we wanted and enjoy an evening fire once again away from the soggy, crowded shelters in Shenandoah NP.

During this time, we continued to experience trail magic in towns, everything working itself out in due time. Hitches into town were easy to come by. We had hiked over the Roller Coaster, completed Shenandoah NP and hiked over the 4000 ft. Priest mountain. My hiking friend Moosie was still a couple days ahead, we would later meet up with her about halfway through Virginia...

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