SKY FULL OF STARS
Mile 916.5: Bearfence Mountain, Shenandoah National Park, 3,400 feet
Tonight marks the 48th night on the Appalachian Trail. Many of these nights I spent in one of the three-walled shelters, but there have been several cowgirl camps en route. Tonight is one of those nights, and I must say, it is by far the most spectacular. My backpack, in which my food is currently stowed, is propped against a tree and serves as a nice backrest and pillow. When I arrived I leaned against it, taking in the sweeping overhead view, the night sky twinkling to life. But now, after my stomach has been happily satisfied with a big pot of potatoes, tuna and a touch of almond butter, I recline fully, hiding in the warmth of my sleeping bag. Typically I’d feel claustrophobic, especially because I am wearing ALL of my layers except my waterproof jacket, but I am quite content in here, the wind a soft whirl above. Well, perhaps louder than soft, but certainly not knocking any tree limbs around and that I am grateful of. And perhaps I’d be just a bit more content if I had one more layer around my hips, having bounced ahead my second quilt. Even with baselayer tights, waterproof pants, hiking skirt and synthetic skirt, these now boney, stride-swinging hips ache on and off throughout the night when the temps dip into the low 20’s and below. Which now reminds me, where is that Vitamin I?
Earlier, as I looked up through the limbs of these beautiful barren trees, I thought about how good it feels to stretch my own arms upward. I try to muster several minutes of yoga each day, sometimes twice that. But on the coldest of days, there is little energy. I enjoy a series of sun salutations, and especially “rag doll.” My spine is no doubt enduring alot of compression over these hundreds, and soon to be thousands of miles, of hiking. When and if I complete the Calendar Triple Crown this year, you likely will find me at the gym, hanging from any and all contraption that can help release all the tension from trotting along the trail. That and in a sauna.
And as I continued to find meditation in those tree limbs, I wondered, how much weight do their arms hold every year? Strange trivia, I know. And if logging onto the Internet didn’t drain so much of my battery, I might look into the thought, but out here, on the trail, there isn’t instant satisfaction. Instead, it’s at a slower pace, life at three miles per hour.
Which brings me to the nature of the trail these days and my inability to resist walking a few miles along the road. You see, the Appalachian Trail meanders alongside the Blue Ridge Parkway and then, immediately after, Skyline Drive through Shenandoah National Park. As for Skyline Drive, the trail literally crosses the paved surface some 44 times in the course of 100 miles. It’s just too tempting to break up some of the trail miles with the scenic roadway, which has dozens of overlooks looking out across the Shenandoah Valley. I find that the early morning hour is best, as there’s very little, if any traffic. Ive grown pretty accepting of the idea by now, but at first I felt a bit torn inside, as if I was doing something illegal, which would devalue the authenticity of this hike, and then I thought way too long about it and said, ah the hell with it. Ultimately, I was judging myself because of how I perceived others might judge me and ultimately, that is a thought-process of mine that has consumed too much of my attention for too many years and this hike is about shaking such doubt and insecurity off. Like a leaf on a tree, it’s time to let the wind take it away, and watch it flutter off the mountain, out into the blue sky and over the valley, until finally, it is no longer visible.