1,000 MILES AND BEYOND
I had almost forgotten that I was about to walk past the “1,000” mile mark, where a small wooden sign was nailed to a tree. It lays halfway along what is referred to as the “Rollercoaster,” a 13.5 mile stretch of trail that includes ten ascents and ten descents: tread that is dictated by the very narrow trail corridor in said area. I was climbing one of the small ascents, which after 1,000 miles these climbs were pretty tiny in my opinion, when I looked up to see the sign. Beaming with enthusiasm, I dropped my pack, set a pot of water to boil and paced around in excitement.
I brewed a nice pot of coffee, adding a packet of hot chocolate. I then poured it into a plastic jar that had a wee bit of almond butter inside. I shook it around for a creamy, caffinated beverage and then looked up at the sign. The sun, as if perched on the top, right corner of the sign, would shine across myself, while the clouds moved fast and gave way to more blue sky above.
This was a special moment, a tangible idea, that had taken 52 days to reach. Which is such a bewildering notion because when you acknowledge and say it out loud, whether to another person or, more often in my case, to the quiet and peacefulness of the forest, that’s alot of days to spend walking. I mean, really, that’s alot of days to put one foot in front of the other, up and down the mountains of Appalachia. Without a doubt, this has become a way of life, and a job-like entity in itself. It’s an everyday act, to wake, hike, sleep.
With a final toast to “1,000” miles, it would be another full days worth of hiking until I reached another monumental moment: the WV/VA border. I spent nearly a month traveling through the state of Virginia, approximately 560 miles of trail. I was glad to cross into a new state, especially because Virginia turned out to be a rather challenging segment, with the miles between the Chestnut Knob Shelter and McAfee Knob taking far longer than ever imagined, all being beneath snow, or subjected to 35- and 40-mph wind gusts, or miles filled with solitude that is far more equivalent to the Continental Divide Trail. So, understandably, I was stoked to say goodbye to Virginia and hello to the next state… and the next state.. and the next state. In fact, in roughly a span of 45 miles, I crossed from Virginia and into West Virginia, then Maryland and finally into Pennsylvania where I will remain for the next 250 miles.
It’s incredible to think back on all that wintery experience. It seems as if it was yesterday, but as the days march faster and faster toward the first day of spring, my mind and body no longer ache with the thought of such cold and blustery conditions. They no longer pause to ready themselves for each frigid, cold experience like climbing out of a sleeping bag, or trying to fumble with cold fingers, a camera, zipper or shoelace. And although I still place my shoes in such a way that if they did freeze I could still get them on, and although I often sleep with my electronics in my chest pocket, I’m beginning to adapt, with welcoming arms might I add, to the warmth and increasing sunlight of the spring-like days. Frozen tuna packets are history…or I hope.
But before leaving the great state of Virginia, a few more snowflakes would fall to the earth. There wasn’t too much accumulation, maybe an inch, and it made the forest have a beautiful charm, a peacefulness.
On a different note, I’m also warming back up to people. For a while, I become so accustomed to having the the days and nights to myself, almost entitled to have the views and shelters in complete silence. I would generally see no other hikers during the day, and of all the 52 nights, I had only shared a shelter five times. I’d crossed paths with a few day hikers on the rarest of occassions, a couple of section hikers. Days and days of solitude. Which I enjoy, which I look forward to, but at the same time makes me a little looney. I fell into my own bubble out here, my mind growing quiet, almost slow. It’s as if the neurotransmitters adjust their pace for the slow and steady pace north. I don’t love this part, and until this very moment, as I type these words, I can see this concept of the mind slowing in a different lens. Instead of feeling like I’m going crazy, which truthfully I might already be, I see the world, and hear the world, in a different light. The pace of the everyday world is too damn fast in my opinion, too excessive, and out here it is so simple. I suppose I can only describe it like driving an automatic vehicle. I’m used to a manual transmission, and I thoroughly enjoy shifting gears, listening to the engine, and when I get into an automatic car I’m always a little stressed, thinking, what the hell else am I suppose to be doing here? Nothing else. It’s that simple. Just sit back, turn up the music, and enjoy the ride to wherever my heart desires.