I’m fairly certain a snail passed me the other day, one equipped with an arctic backpack of course. My pace was staggeringly slow, demoralizing at times, and yet the snail just jetted right along, happy as could be.
The segment between Pearisburg and Catawba, Virginia, reminded me a bit of the Smoky Mountains, not for the scenery or terrain, but the weather pattern. It began with two insanely frigid days, the third being just a shiver or two less cold, and by the fourth morning, I woke up to nearly a foot of new snow. My footprints that had arrived at the Laurel Creek Shelter the night before, elevation 2,720 feet, we’re totally covered.
In all honesty, this segment crushed my soul. It was bound to happen. We can’t enjoy every minute of thru-hiking. It will be moments like this that will no doubt add depth and perspective and a damn good story to this year-long hike and/or expedition, which is exactly what this segment felt more like: an arctic expedition than a walk in the woods.
As I now sit in the warmth of a friend’s apartment in Roanoke, VA, I chuckle at myself and think, really Mary? It wasn’t that bad. So what if you barely slept for two nights because the temperature dropped to zero-degrees and instilled an unfathomable ache in your hips and knees. So what if your stove froze or the fuel canister was defective and you didn’t have have a hot meal or hot beverage for five days. So what if the cap on your water bottle broke and the other one was frozen stuck. So what if you lost your knife and your spoon. So what if you had to wear your Fitz Roy down jacket while hiking, in addition to a baselayer, vest, fleece and waterproof shell. So what if the battery on your phone and power bank could not hold a charge despite being stowed in your vest pocket, a layer worn close to your body and beneath two other layers. So what if you bent sideways fighting 40mph wind gusts. So what if the wind chill was -10-degrees. So what if a mouse stole your toilet paper. So what if freezing rain coated your jacket’s hood so thick it looked more like a helmet than a hood. So what if you nearly slipped off a ridge and imagined a tragic series of events that would come after. So what if on an otherwise easy segment of Central Virginia trail you hiked a 16.5 mile day, then a 14.6, then 12.4, then 10, until saying F*@# this, I’m going to town!
So yeah, it wasn’t that bad. I only yelled out to nobody in particular two or three times. I only wept once, and only for a real short minute for fear my tears might freeze, and because I reminded myself of those three key words: winter thru-hike.
The big difference between this segment and the miles to the south is that I am completely alone now. A few weeks earlier, I had the luxury to leap-frog with another NOBO hiker, Blizzard. That companionship at the end of the day was a treat, and I can see now that it gave a boost to an otherwise challenging day.
So I lift myself up with music and audiobooks, and perhaps the morbid story I listened to was not the best choice for this difficult segment. (I download the audiobooks when I have WiFi and use my library account from back in Bend, Oregon.) I suppose Bridget Jones would have been more uplifting, but I chose Brain on Fire, a rather intoxicating story about a normal twenty-something woman who develops an incredibly rare brain disorder, and for a few of the longest months of her life, she goes mad, then physically ill, and nearing death, the doctors finally discover and deliver a diagnosis and series of treatments for recovery. Not the most uplifting, but incredible!
Anyway, back to the trail tomorrow. I just needed a day off to reclaim myself, warm up, and find inspiration once again in this incredible journey. I keep trying to remind myself that holding onto the idea of a schedule is useless and will only hold me back, but it is something that lurks on the back burner because, well, I do want and have to hike 7,600 miles by the year’s end. I’m sure not going to get there hiking 12 mile days… but I know the snow will melt out eventually, the sun will shine and that soft earth of the trail will grace my feet once again. Patience, Mary. Patience.