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Appalachian Trail: Days 50-62

Day 50 - April 19th

Daily miles: 12.7

Official distance covered on trail: 669.4

Today was the perfect example of the classic saying, "It's about the journey, not the destination." We'd set out to do 18.5 miles today but let ourselves do fewer so we could spend a good evening together. Girl Scout calls these days "smiles over miles" days.

Tomorrow is Problem's 21st birthday, so while we resupplied, we also got a bunch of stuff to adequately celebrate such an occasion. She prefers pie to cake, so we got a coconut cream pie (one of her favorite types), a 3L bag of wine, some shooters, party hats, and various other party favors to commemorate the occasion. As if our packs weren't heavy enough from a fresh resupply of food, we had all that to add to them.

I was the first victim of the Smirnoff Ice this morning before we even left the motel. Probably for the best; even though I was buzzed at the starting point, I at least didn't have to carry the extra weight of the bottle! I carried the bag of wine in my pack for the first few miles, and I don't know how much that thing weighed, but I swear my pack was a minimum of a third of my body weight, and that was not fun for the worst hill of the day. After breaking at the shelter atop the hill, Mitch took over wine duty for the remainder of the day, which was much flatter. In fairness, he offered to carry it earlier, but my stubborn ass wanted to prove I wasn't so weak. I have some regrets.

By the time we were able to shuttle to the trailhead ahead of the downed power lines, it was 10:00, so we didn't start hiking until about 10:30. When we're used to having 2.5-3 extra hours of hiking on the front end, it makes the miles go by quicker. It was alarming when we'd only done 4 miles by lunch.

About a mile of the trail today was over really frustratingly-placed rocks. It's like the shittiest game of "the floor is lava," wherein irregularly-shaped, often-pointy, inconveniently-sized rocks and boulders are the only path, and the patches of ground itself aren't large enough to support the size of your foot. Those types of sections absolutely suck. You can't get into a good pace because every step has to be so calculated so you can place the exact part of your foot on the exact space of rock so as to avoid falling and straining whatever various foot and leg injuries we're all recovering from.

In order to celebrate Problem's birthday early (and significantly reduce our pack weight), we decided to shorten our hike by about 6 miles. We ate pie, drank plenty of wine, and introduced Problem to the delights of mini bottles of alcohol. Oogie Boogie also got a bunch of party favors so we could decorate the shelter for the occasion.

Day 51 - April 20th

Daily miles: 18.4

Official distance covered on trail: 687.8

Pie for breakfast. Need I say more?

We all hiked in our party hats today, so every time I passed someone going in the opposite direction, I'd have to explain, no, it's not my birthday, it's Problem's, so we're wearing hats. I forgot about it on my head except for when I had to pass under branches and they would scrape against the hat since my spacial awareness didn't take the extra few inches into consideration.

The day started with a pretty long uphill, and we all were happy to conquer it with our fresh morning legs; if we'd tried doing it last night, we would have been bitching the whole time about our sore feet and heavy packs, and we wouldn't have gotten into camp until pretty late.

The best part of the day for me was the rolling grassy hills we hiked on. Grass is so soft on my feet, and also I've realized I'm a total sucker for farmland surrounded by mountains. At one point, I took my pack off and lied down in the grass to enjoy the warmth of the sun, and when the rest of the group caught up, they all joined me in my relaxation. It was so blissfully serene, and it's moments like those that make me feel so lucky to be out here doing what I'n doing.

Other notable events of the day were actually seeing cows, which we haven't seen, despite passing through so much farmland in Virginia; the Keffer Oak, which is a 300-year-old oak tree, which is 18 feet in circumference and the largest tree on the trail south of the Mason-Dixon line; and winning a euchre game with 92 as my partner in which I had a beautiful guaranteed loaner hand in diamonds - the right, the left, ace, 9, and 10, all in diamonds - to contribute to our victory.

Day 52 - April 21st

Daily miles: 1.4

Official distance covered on trail: 689.2

Today's been such a blast. Effectively took a zero, and we actually got to relax most of the day!

My high school friend Elise and her husband Kyle live in Blacksburg, Virginia, and they were so so so gracious and took our hiker trash asses in for the day. And they cooked dinner for us and cleaned the bathroom for us and they were just the hosts with the mosts for us, even though we had literally no expectation for such hospitality. Thank you so much, Elise and Kyle, for having us; Mitch and I are excited to return the favor when you come visit us in Denver!

Mitch and I got our second covid doses today! So far, our symptoms are pretty minimal. Just soreness in our arms, and hopefully it stays at that.

We spent most of the day vegging on the couch and watching tv and eating Five Guys cajun fries and generally relaxing. I love hiking, but I really needed a decompression day like this.

Day 53 - April 22nd

Daily miles: 15.4

Official distance covered on trail: 704.6

Ok, the vaccine symptoms have progressed. Nothing too bad. Basically it felt like I woke up with a really shitty hangover. It was frustrating because if it were really bad, I would have just taken a zero at Elise's apartment. But it wasn't bad enough to justify that, so we left to go back to the trail around 10:00.

The first substantial uphill left me gassed. We were probably hiking at 2 mph, whereas I normally clock in at 2.75-3 mph. It was exhausting to move. The soreness in my left shoulder extended to other parts of my arm and back. My chest felt tight. I was just tired in every sense. I found myself on the verge of tears many times, thinking the words "I don't wanna, I don't wanna..."

On top of that, today was so cold. At times, there were flurries of snow. I would like to kindly remind whoever controls the weather that it is almost the end of April. Tonight's supposed to be below freezing.

Mitch and I were planning on doing 8.5 miles to a shelter and holing up there while the others kept going, since they have obligations in the next few days that they have to meet. By the time we got there, it was only 3:00, and we figured that we would be miserable just setting up our tent and trying to stay warm and making ourselves stay awake until an acceptable time, which just sounds awful. Girl Scout found a hostel a half mile off trail 7 miles later, so Mitch and I decided we'd rather be miserable while making progress than be miserable while remaining stationary.

Today was such a cool hike - luscious spring greens, beautiful views over the ridge, exciting rock scramble sections - but try as I might, I couldn't enjoy it at all. Feeling sick and tired also put me in a bad mood, and hiking while being mad at having to hike is a bad position to be in. I'll have to come back to Dragon's Tooth at some point in the future while I'm not coming off a covid vaccine and properly appreciate this section of the hike, because it was truly so cool.

Now we're at Four Pines hostel, and it's nice to know that we won't freeze tonight. We're surrounded by a bunch of hikers we've been leapfrogging with for awhile, and it's always great to see familiar faces. Hopefully this is the rejuvenating night I need to go into tomorrow with a good energy.

Day 54 - April 23rd

Daily miles: 16.3

Official distance covered on trail: 720.9

Today was basically the reason people decide to thruhike the Appalachian Trail. Wow. I feel so lucky. Maybe part of it is the contrast with yesterday, and the classic "you have to experience bad to appreciate good" sentiment, but I think it would have been incredible even if I hadn't felt so crummy yesterday. And I'm glad today's section came today and not yesterday, because it would not have been nearly as appreciated given yesterday's conditions.

First off, I slept incredibly. I found the perfect sleeping bag zipper position for when it's warm but not hot enough to sleep without the bag. I woke up feeling energetic and healthy, which was such a relief!

Today's hike included some of the most iconic views on trail, and we haven't had many notable views recently, so that was exciting!

McAfee's Knob is the classic photo you'll find if you search for photos of the AT. Everyone knows this spot. Too many people, maybe... While thruhiking, we find ourselves in such a bubble, and you don't really see other people that often. Even other thruhikers, you only usually really see them at sporadic intervals during the day. Being an almost-weekend day, and with such beautiful weather, we got to the intersection of the trail and the parking lot for McAfee's Knob and found it extremely crowded. Our hopes of enjoying the knob in peace were quickly dashed.

Just... if you're going to go to a popular nature spot, please don't blast Nicki Minaj through a speaker unless you're in your own damn car. That is all.

McAfee's Knob was beautiful and I'm glad I got to enjoy lunch here with several other backpacker friends! And I'm not gonna act like we didn't also take many photos, because we certainly did.

Although, honestly, it wasn't nearly my favorite view of the day. I think it's gained popularity specifically because of how good of a photo op it presents. When you're in the middle of hiking and come across views like this:

it's hard to be completely enamored by McAfee's Knob. But maybe my experience there was slightly marred by how jolting it was to be around so many other people.

Our other big view today was at Tinker Cliffs, and this was definitely my favorite part of the day. The views were better, I think, but more than that, the human interactions were much more meaningful. About 10 backpackers found ourselves on one large rock overlooking the valley, basking in the sun and telling stories and joking around and altogether enjoying this wonderful experience we get to have. We could see McAfee's Knob, and it was fun to trace the ridge with our eyes and see what we'd accomplished. But mostly it was beautiful to lie down, let my body be warmed by the sun, and listen to my friends laugh together. Moments like that. Those are my favorite.

Day 55 - April 24th

Daily miles: 9.4

Official distance covered on trail: 730.3

Ugh we need to stop doing this. But it's so nice to have days like this...

We hiked almost 10 miles this morning to get into town before lunch so we could eat at a barbecue restaurant in town. Our plan was the resupply and head back to the trail for another 5-10 miles. But after a few mimosas and the threat of impending rain, we decided to stay in town. We are of weak constitution, I know!

But it was so fucking nice I don't even care. Equal parts vegging in a bed with a Harry Potter marathon going in the background and spending quality time in a room with 10 or so hikers just being pals and having a good time. No regrets. Also, nicest Super 8 ever.

I know this whole week has been pretty lax in terms of miles, but rest days are so necessary. Doing this hike is an amazing opportunity, but some days I can feel a little burnt out, and just sleeping in a bed and having nowhere to be can reset my whole being. I'm glad we stayed in town today.

Day 56 - April 25th

Daily miles: 25.0

Official distance covered on trail: 755.3

Coming out of town today was tough because all of our packs are h e a v y with 4 days of food. We've spoiled ourselves recently with so many 2-day resupplies, and carrying out twice as much food was a sad time.

Passed a sign that said we're officially 1/3 of the way to Maine! Not sure if they're planning on subdividing more than quarters and thirds but either way, go team!

Today we passed over the Blue Ridge Parkway for the first (and second, third, fourth, and fifth) time(s). The trail intersects with the BRP 32 times, so we'll be seeing it a lot over the next few days. And we should be in Shenandoah National Park in about a week!

We ran into one of the most famous trail angels in the game this afternoon. Actually, we were breaking for lunch at a shelter, and we were talking to another backpacker when she casually mentioned that Fresh Grounds was allegedly set up 2.5 miles ahead. We packed up so quickly and booked it to the road so we could meet him! Fresh Grounds is this incredible trail angel who fundraises thousands of dollars and then lives out of his van and provides trail magic up and down the AT. It's actually become a nonprofit since it's garnered so much support. The whole title is Fresh Grounds Leapfrog Cafe, and they have tons of social media and ways to contribute online. Current hikers don't pay - he won't even let us stand up to rummage through snack bins; he'll bring them to us - but I will for sure be donating to his supply for next year's hiking class. People are just so kind to us, I have to pay it forward.

The hike all day was very pretty. For a lot of it, we were on the ridge line, so we could see surrounding mountains and ridges. The best was when we were hiking during the sunset. So many amazing colors. Pushing a 25-mile day after a week of low mileage was tough, but those views were a perfect reminder at the end of the day of how lucky I am to be out here doing this every day.

Day 57 - April 26th

Daily miles: 20.4

Official distance covered on trail: 775.7

Today was so affirming for me. It's one of the hardest cumulative days we've had on trail, and we were able to do 20 miles. That's pretty dang cool.

We booked it the first 3 miles to get down to the Blue Ridge Parkway intersection because Fresh Grounds told is he'd be there for breakfast. We hung out and ate and talked for over an hour. 17 miles to go.

The next 4 miles were easy enough to get through, except we were weighed down so heavily by food in our tummies. But we got to the next shelter and were able to enjoy another hour+ break, lounging in the 75° sun and playing multiple games of euchre. It was just nice to relax and appreciate the company we had in each other. 13 miles to go.

The next 5 miles were very challenging. Very sustained uphills with very steep sections. I put on the Hamilton soundtrack and had the aim of getting to the end by the top of this hill, and way surpassed my goal. Trail legs who?

The next 5 miles were lovely except a 1.5-mile stretch that was the same sort of uphill as the previous 5-mile section. The back of my shirt was soaked with sweat by the end, and the only reason I kept my shirt on during the break was because I knew that putting it on after taking it off would be disgusting. But then it was all downhill from there. In a good way!

The last 3 miles of the day were tough only because I kept thinking we were closer to our stopping point than we were and it was always a disappointment to have to round the next turn. But we got there with plenty of daylight left for dinner and hanging out before tent time.

The most notable thing today was being able to plan out the next few weeks of trail so we can all meet certain goals. Some of the days will be long, but I'm excited to have an idea of what we'll be doing!

Day 58 - April 27th

Daily miles: 22.1

Official distance covered on trail: 797.8

Today was one of those to just get through the miles. Big climbs and minimal reward, plus a mid-day stop in town for a resupply. We did 11 before getting to town and 11 after. The 3-hour break in town did not make the remaining distance easy.

If the day were structured differently - lower miles, less time in town, etc. - I would for sure have swam in the river at the halfway point. It was mid-80s and sunny today, so a mid-day swim would have been great for morale. I know we have a swimming hole tomorrow and the weather should be similar, so we will for sure be taking a dip in that! Or at least my feet. I could do for a longggg foot soak.

Day 59 - April 28th

Daily miles: 17.6

Official distance covered on trail: 815.4

It's been a few days since we've done sub-20 miles. It should have been easy. Northern Virginia is supposed to be easy. It was not easy.

It was hot today, and so humid. I sweat out more water than I was able to drink. It didn't help that the last 8 miles didn't have any water, so I had to ration my water for the hardest and hottest part of the day.

The beginning of the day was ok. Mostly gentle terrain and constantly near water. We took a 2 hour break at a shelter to cool off in the water and play cards. Probably should have just continued on because the last half of the day was fucking hard.

The 5-mile uphill after the shelter was hard physically, but super hard mentally. I kept thinking I was at the top, but then it would keep going. At one point, where I thought it was the summit, I took a short break to drink some water and eat a snack. When I resumed, I realized it was, in fact, not the summit, and I burst into tears while continuing upward. I can't really describe it, but I was pissed at the prospect of exerting more energy while the sun and moisture in the air were already sapping so much of it out of me.

The campsite we're at for the night is nice, except water was another 0.3 miles away, which meant an extra 0.6 miles of walking. It's not a lot, but just an extra annoyance at the end of a tough day.

Day 60 - April 29th

Daily miles: 837.3

Official distance covered on trail: 21.9

Another day, another... day. Another few big climbs with minimal views, and the views were just like... okay. I can feel the mental game getting harder and harder. It was a relief to get to the shelter this evening.

Day 61 - April 30th

Daily miles: 14.7

Official distance covered on trail: 852.0

Amazing how my mood can change so drastically day to day. I woke up and finished the day in a good mood. Oh and I found the perfect backpacking pillow since I don't have an inflatable one with me! Stuff your puffy into a buff, use hair ties or rubber bands or something to tie off the ends so the coat doesn't fall out overnight, and voila! It was fantastic and I slept super soundly last night.

We'd planned an easy day to meet back up with everyone at a trail-famous brewery called Devil's Backbone. Our tramily has been temporarily traveling at different paces, and DB was supposed to be our meetup point. Oogie Boogie, Mitch, and I only had a 7.8-mile day to get there while the others had about 15. However, Problem and Girl Scout shuttled to the next town early because they'd run out of food and had various wounds to tend to, so they decided to skip the brewery. Oogie Boogie decided to go the extra 19.2 miles to get to town, and Mitch and I still went to the brewery.

Initially, we were all planning on staying at the campsites at the brewery, where usually thruhikers are allowed to stay for free. However, with covid precautions, they now have a reservation system for guests, and since it was a Friday night, it was booked up. If we'd all made it to the brewery, we were still going to try to camp there, but obviously that wasn't the plan anymore.

I wanted to love the brewery, but in a way it reminded me of Boulder, CO, in that you can tell it used to be a super chill place with a cool outdoorsy vibe, and now it's gotten too overblown. I will give it this, though: I don't usually like beer, but their Loved By The Sun peach mango ale was amazing, and their fried pickles were some of the best I've ever had.

The best part of the DB experience was meeting a 2017 thruhiker named Tigger and his wife Christopher Robin. Not sure if they smelled or saw us first, but either way Tigger came over to our table to say hi and give us some great trail advice (stop to enjoy the views and listen to your body - both of which were relevant today). They live in Cincinnati, which makes sense; Ohioans are clearly drawn to other Ohioans. After repeated days of being stuck in my head and being in a bit of a mental rut, it really helped to talk to someone who's been through the trail and knows the best and worst of the experience. Tigger and Christopher Robin didn't have to, but they also paid our bar tab and gave us a ride back to the trailhead. If you two are reading this, thank you for energizing me today. Someday, Mitch and I will be so happy to pay your kind acts forward to a couple of dirty, shower-deprived, exhausted, mentally-worn thruhikers.

We did another 6.8 miles, and I don't think I would have been in as good of a mood during them if I hadn't met Tigger and Christopher Robin. It also helped that the trail was, mercifully, pretty flat and easygoing for most of it, unlike the tough 3-mile rocky and scrambly uphill we had to start our day with. Got to camp, ate the bar food we packed out, and watched some tv in the tent since we had service, it was getting dark, and it was too cold and windy to be stationary outside the tent for too long.

It's currently 2:45am and I've been awake most of the night listening to the howling 40mph wind rattle the creaking trees surrounding our tent. I know there's literally nothing I can do if a tree or heavy branch falls on us, and we made sure to pick a spot away from any frail-looking or broken branches, but I can't help but lie awake when I know I should try to get some sleep.

Day 62 - May 1st

Daily miles: 12.4

Official distance covered on trail: 864.4

Happy two months to us and the trail! And a happy day it is indeed. Easy peasy day, both in terms of mileage and terrain. Took us about 4 hours of easy moving.

We were just saying that we were thirsty but too driven to get to the trailhead to stop for water when Sarah and Natalie, two recent UVA graduates, came by with some donuts and Gatorade for thruhikers. That carried us through the last few miles and we absolutely flew from there.

Got picked up by Stanimal's Hostel in Waynesboro and immediately went to an outfitter to get new boots. I was hoping my boots would carry me at least halfway, but they are very ruined now. Thanks for the mems, Salomon boots that have traveled with me on every hiking trip I've taken since I got into hiking in 2017.

Stanimal's has been an absolute blast. So many hikers that we've been hiking near for awhile but haven't seen much of recently. So good to catch up! Definitely too many people here to be covid-friendly, but most of us are vaccinated now, so... that's something.

Also I'd like to apologize to Ming Garden Buffet for having like 20 hikers show up at once.

Tomorrow we get into Shenandoah National Park! Super excited for this next stretch of trail.


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