THE 700’s: RELIEF & REFLECTION
Catawba, VA to the Priest Mountain Shelter
This is a hard week to sum up, as I seem to have lost myself in a vortex of introversion. The next thing I knew, a week had passed since I left the Niday Shelter one early tuesday morning, the picnic table covered in nearly a foot of wet snow, smothered in ice and pine limbs that had cracked off and dropped during the just-barely-above freezing temperature. That was a hard day and that led me to desire something other than the snow, the cold, the howl of the wind and another frozen tuna packet for breakfast.
For those unfamiliar, I have a 500-pound fat man who lives inside of my shrinking-by-the-day body. His name is Earl, and he paid me a visit last week. Earl has no self-control when it comes to food and will inevitably eat himself, and therefore myself, into a stupor. Celebrating with a southbound section hiker who just finished his hike and who lives in Roanoke, I ate and drank enough calories to feel sick to my stomach. I stayed up late watching movies, sacficing crucial sleep for this dear hiking girl, and ultimately left town not feeling my best. I was frustrated with myself to say the least. Why I thought a pint of ice-cream was a good idea, especially after the pizza, chocolate bars and pints of beer, and especially after spending the last four nights freezing my ass off, well, I hope to not have another date with Ben or Jerry until my feet touch the warm, soft earth of New Mexico. Nonetheless, thanks Pickel!
As I returned to the trail, ascending a noticeably less snowy ridge to Dragon’s Tooth, I tried to make sense of my mood. It was understandable to feel down after the the last segment being so cold, but the hike needed to go on, and I looked forward to feeling optimistic again. Caught in a swirl of emotion, riding the ups and downs like the mountains around, it would take many miles, a few day’s worth, to feel whole again. I think I needed to hike off the food coma and indigestion… In the meantime, the trail rewarded me with several scenic highpoints. Highlights include Dragons Tooth, McAfee Knob, Tinker Cliffs, Apple Orchard Mountain, The Guioteen, Blue Ridge Parkway.
In that time, I decided to make a few changes.
1) Bounce ahead extra gear. Eager to make up miles, and looking ahead at a “warmer” week, I packed up over 6lbs of gear and shipped it USPS Priority. I had it sent to a trail town a week ahead, and hopeful that I won’t need it, I’ll just have the PO ship it ahead again, free of charge. Unless the policy has changed, this is a convienent service the PO offers. Inside the box is my second quilt, the synthetic that is bulkier and not as warm as my down. With my Fitz Roy Jacket, synthetic skirt and down booties, I’m comfortable to 10/15 degrees. I also sent my tarp, baseball hat, extra camera, flask, a book, batteries, two stuff sacks, a few small electronic accessories, used guidebook pages and apparently three pens I hadn’t noticed I was carrying around. I’ve been doing just fine without it all.
2) Embrace spontaneity and HYOH. Yes, the Appalachian Trail is a continuous footpath that walks from Georgia to Maine. Yes, if you are a purist you hike the white-blaze in its entirety. Having hiked the AT previously, and trails like the CDT where there’s not a blaze to lead you every step of the way (instead there’s a plethora of routes to choose from because of the variable nature of such a trail), I’ve decided, only occassionally, to improvise an alternate route. Shit happens, like winter storms, or flooding, or frozen tree limbs that drop a mere few feet from your vulnerable small self. So at VA 624, after Dragons Tooth, I decided to walk along the road for approximately five miles up to where the AT crosses 311 so as to still connect my footsteps, but eliminate an otherwise not so exciting and snowbound segment of trail. I also walked two separate, five-mile stretches along the seasonally closed Blue Ridge Parkway as the trail zigs and zags across it. I felt like a rebel, and loved every minute of it. Also, back near Damascus, I hiked the Virginia Creeper Trail, an alternate many hikers take, and tomorrow I plan to hike the Mau-Har Trail which shaves three miles off the day, but is by far harder than the AT, so really you end up in the same place at the same time. The weather forecast is for rain and high winds, and I’d rather walk along waterfalls than ascend to another view-less mountain. Though…the balds are spectacular in such weather, and offer the hiker a sense of eerie enchantment. Nonetheless, for me, it’s all about connecting the footsteps and adapting so that I enjoy the journey.
3) Balance with social media. I will no longer stress about trying to upload or update in any obsessive manner. I will try to continue updating my blog twice a week and I will check email every other week at the latest. I will also not allow myself to stress or be overwhelmed by how many awesome people want to help me along this journey, like Molly and Kyle near Daleville, VA. We had never met before, and through the bewildering world of friendship on Facebook, they came to the trailhead and scooped me up, brought me to dinner, and then Kyle offered a night’s rest in his extra room. I’m sorry if I can’t individually respond to everyone who has offered help along the way. Do know the thought is wonderful enough and I thank you!