Monday, April 15, 2013

trail tales

Good morning!  How was your weekend?  The weather in central Virginia was PERFECT this weekend so we got lots done in the yard and even had dinner on the deck last night.  It was a great weekend.  

For my last Trail Tales post, I'd like to take you on a walk on the AT through Virginia.  The crazy thing about Virginia is that to get there, you hike almost 500 miles.  And then, to get out of it, you hike almost 500 miles.  Some hikers complain about experiencing the "Virginia Blues" since it's such a long state and it can seem like you're not really getting anywhere, but we found that there were so many things to see and do that we didn't get bored at all.  First of all, we hit the 500 mile mark which was so exciting.  Someone hiking along before us was kind enough to make that marker for us.  There was also a long note...I don't remember what it said.

 In the photo below, I'm hanging out in a Virginia shelter with Restless (left) and Two Shoes (middle) who we hiked many many miles (at this point we were usually hiking between 17 and 23 miles per day) with over the course of a few weeks.  They were great hiking buddies and we looked forward to spending time with them in the evenings at the shelters.

Here's Will and I at a pretty overlook.  Somewhere in the background of this picture is Blacksburg and the Campus of Virginia Tech.

At one point, the trail came down out of the mountains through a big field, crossed the bridge below, and then actually walked through a farmer's field with live animals in it.  That's me, trying to stay out of the way of the goats.

We hiked through the Grayson Highlands where there are many many wild ponies.  As you can see, they were pretty tame.

At one point, we had to ford a stream because of a broken bridge.  I may seem calm in that picture, but really I was trying desperately (and failing miserably) to keep my feet out of the freaking freezing water.  I did eventually have to put my feet in the water, but at least I didn't fall in completely. And luckily, nobody else in our group did either.

 Each section of the AT is maintained by AT Conservancy trail workers.  The people who were overseeing this section of trail obviously hadn't had time to fix the bridge yet, but once we got to the other side via the freezing water and not-quite-long-enough tree, we were rewarded with sodas and snacks left there by the caretakers.  That's me with Helium, his dog Freckles (we hiked with several dogs on the trail), and Burree.  These two were also very steady companions for us through Virginia.

Virginia had several interesting sections of trail through rock crops.  One was called "Fat Man Squeeze" and really was a tight fit.  The rock comes together and leaves just a small opening from bottom to top and the trail goes straight through.  In the photo below, Will's hiking under a famous trail rock known as the "Guillotine."  

Even though we stayed in shelters most of the way, we did spend several nights in our MSR 'Hubba Hubba' tent.  By the way, the 'Hubba Hubba' is a two-man tent, but MSR also makes the 'Hubba' (one-man) and the' Mutha Hubba' (three-man).

 In the photo below, I'm standing on one of the most famous rocks on the trail.  That's McAfee Knob, and on a good day, we hear there are really amazing views from that cliff.  But as you can see, we hiked through on a pretty nasty day.  We couldn't see a thing, but it did make for a pretty amazing photo. (I showed this photo at a presentation we did at a church one time, and someone yelled out, "Don't jump, Chelsey!")

This is my most favorite photo of Will, EVER.  On this day, we had a crazy hike down from the Priest Mountain (in the background) to the lowest point on the trail at the Tye River.  Then we hiked right back up the Three Ridges.  (We seemed to do a lot of that in Virginia - hike up 1000ft or so, then over the mountain and back down 1000ft, then walk a mile or so and then back up another 1000ft.  Crazy.)  Halfway up the Three Ridges, we stopped for a lunch break on that rock that Will's standing on.  We sat in the sun, eating our bagels, and watching a hawk circle overhead.  I distinctly remember thinking how fortunate I was to be doing what I was doing, and how grateful I was for all the experiences we had had up to that point.  It was a moment of complete peace and contentment that I will never forget.

See that black dot in the middle of the photo below?  That's a real. live. bear.  It was much closer than that when we first saw it, but by the time we got our camera out, he was pretty far away.  Amazing.

Here's me and Burree hanging out at a pretty crowded Virginia shelter writing in our journals.  You can see that at this point, Burree was carrying entire bags of cereal with her on the trail.  We never did that, but it was a great, easy meal idea.

We hiked across several balds in Virginia.  From the top, we could see for miles.

 Spring on the AT!  We basically followed Spring right up the trail.  I almost twisted my ankle on several occasions because I was so busy looking at the blooming trees rather than watching for rocks and roots on the trail. 

I took the photo below in the middle of a clear Virginia night.  I was laying in my sleeping bag in the shelter and woke up thinking that someone was shining a flashlight in my face.  I opened my eyes to see this bright moon lighting up the night sky.  It was another one of those moments of peace and feeling like I was exactly where I was supposed to be.  

We also hiked through a lot of open fields and pastures like the one below.

This was one of my favorite lunch spots.  To the left of me (your left, not mine in the photo) was a beautiful river that we were about to cross.  We spotted this little clearing and decided to stop for a break.  There I am eating my pepperoni and cheese bagel and loving my life.

Partnership Shelter, in the photo below, is one of the most famous shelters on the AT.  Just a quarter mile or so from the shelter is a Visitor's Center with a coke machine and a pay phone that hikers can use to order pizza from the local shop.  We each got two sodas and ordered up a large pizza to share.  While I was sitting up at the road waiting for the delivery guy, a nice couple who were out doing trail maintenance came up and offered me trail magic in the form of giant chocolate chip cookies.  I tried to be polite and only take two (one for me and one for Will!), but she gave me a look and said, "Come on, I know you can eat more than that!"  So I took four.  And then she gave me two more.  They were good.  Partnership Shelter also has a loft area, a shower, and actual bathrooms, which to a hiker, basically makes it a hotel.

This next photo - one of my favorites - is from our last day on the trail.  But first, let me tell you about the day before.  The day before our last day on the trail, we hiked our biggest mileage day and logged over 26 miles between 5:30am and 7pm.  It was a really long day and what made it even longer was the fact that it rained - and not just a light rain, but a pouring rain - all day long.  You may be thinking, "That's got to be an exaggeration."  Believe me, I wish it was.  It was awful.  Luckily it wasn't cold because we were soaked to the bone.  Every inch of me was sopping wet, to the point that my fingers and toes looked like prunes - you know, the way they get when you sit in a bathtub for a long time.  I realized on the trail, that when it starts to rain, human instinct is to find shelter.  Find somewhere to go to stay dry.  On the trail, there's no place to go.  You just keep walking.  That day, there was no place to go and no letting up.  Honestly, it was a really terrible feeling.  

Near the end of the day, I had this really humbling experience.  I've told you here before that I'm not going to preach to you about my faith, but that you should know that it is a part of my life.  What happened to me that day was, for me, one of the times that God pretty much spoke to me.  Here's what happened: 

It was getting close to dinner time - somewhere between 5 and 6 o'clock - and I was so over the rain.  I distinctly remember thinking to myself, "WHEN THE HELL IS IT GOING TO STOP?!"  And then suddenly this feeling of peace came over me...and I collected myself...and offered up some thanks for perseverance and strength to continue on.  And then...the rain stopped and the sun came out.  Seriously.  Both of us stopped walking, looked up, and literally, the dark clouds had parted and the sun was shining down on us.  With big smiles on our faces (and humbled thoughts in my head), we walked in really intense, warm sunshine the rest of the way to the shelter before the clouds rolled back in.

I know that probably sounds totally made up, and I know there are people who would pass it off as coincidence, but it's exactly what happened, and for me, it was God.  I'll never forget it as long as I live. 

The next day, I woke up with a sore, swollen left foot.  Will carried all the heavy stuff from my pack and together we walked (limped) 13 miles to Rt. 522 near Front Royal, VA, where my dad came and picked us up on May 12. Two days later we confirmed that it was a stress fracture.  I know what you're thinking.  You're thinking that if we hadn't hiked 26 miles in one day I never would have fractured my foot.  But I'm 99% sure that it was because we never got new shoes.  We were going to get some when we got to Pennsylvania a few days later, but obviously, we didn't make it.  Stupid.  Oh well.  

Someday, we'll get back out there and hike the whole thing.  Until then, I always have my memories.  Hope you've enjoyed this little series on the AT!  I've had fun remembering.  Hope you have a great Monday!

Will and I at Wind Rock.  This spot on the AT isn't far from Virginia Tech and was one of our favorite places to go on weekends when I was in school.  In fact, this is the place where Will first told me that he loved me.  <Insert mushy "Awwwww" sound here>

1 comment:

  1. Awesome pictures and tales! Do you remember Bluff Mountain in Rockbridge County, near Buena Vista/Lexington VA?? That's where we used to live (well, in Lexington) and we climbed Bluff Mtn several times :)