AT Day 49: Welcome to Virginia

At first when I realized this was day 49 I thought, “Dang, I should’ve waited another day to send an update for a nice round number,” but day 49 is better than I thought. Back when I first resolved I’d hike the AT, a more experienced outdoorsman friend of mine took me out on what I consider my first “shake down” trip and the first of several wake-up calls. Out at Lake Georgetown, on the first freeze of the year, my hands cold and jeans soaked through, he assured me - as if I couldn’t tell - I had a lot to do still before I’d be ready. Later, after I’d done some growing, he also told me “If you can last six weeks, you can last six months” Well, we’re through week 7 and showing no signs of stopping.

We’ve checked off quite a few more milestones since my last email. We’ve gone from walking the border of North Carolina and Tennessee, to just Tennessee, and now have left that behind. We summited Roan Mountain, our last very high peak until the Whites in New Hampshire. We’ve also hiked our first 20+ mile day, though it will be a while before we try another one; I think my feet would’ve murdered me in my sleep that night if the hike hadn’t killed them first. Still, it’s empowering to know I’m capable. Here in Damascus, VA, we’re at mile 470, coming close to 1/4 of The Trail. With the changing seasons, so change our gear. I’ve shed my winter clothes and heavy sleeping bag (I kept a fleece for chilly nights) and picked up my summer alphet: running shorts and a thrifted synthetic Hawaiian shirt. The saved pack weight will be put to good use, carrying beer, but also more practically water as the sources become more scarce in the summer.

My traimily has been running together for some weeks now. We’ve adopted a name, the MOTHRA SQUAD (emphasis is part of the name), for the moths that seem to favor our clothes and packs to land on over those of our fellow hikers. Plus what other krewe gets their own dope theme song? The gang is myself, Uncle Ya (that’s Jason, renamed after his sister had her baby, congrats!!), and a couple from Nashville around our ages: Wizard and Spinelli. There is a larger “bubble” we are a part of, and frequently see others we call friend, but still new ones are left to be made. An inevitable but less happy milestone has also passed, with Uncle Ya and I parting ways for the first, but not last time, when he took a “zero” by the lake instead of pushing on with us. I think I prefer my days off in town, where the showers are guaranteed hot, the beer flows freely and nearby, and I can revisit the city boy I left behind when I started my adventure in the woods. The summer will surely call for more lake days.

The seasons continue to change. The valleys below us have changed from brown-gray to green, and we’ve descended into them for a time. The weird mountain climate has finally hit bloom-time, so now above the short grass littered with flowers are colorful shrubs and trees starting to open for the summer. Walking beneath the canopy of new leaves changes storms to drizzles and drizzles to drips, and provides a welcome shade in the increasing heat. The remainder of North Carolina and Tennessee gave us huge, treeless balds to climb up and down, admiring their emptiness, and taken us beside rivers raging after rain. At lower elevations we’ve also been treated to the first real waterfalls of the trek, since the backwoods trails in the Smokies kept us above all its. Each one has forced me to stop in awe, captivated the crashing cascades and gentle shuffle of water.

Virginia has over 500 miles of trail in it, more than we’ve hiked entirely so far. With the terrain, flora, and fauna becoming more familiar I finally broke out the mp3 player to listen to some Game of Thrones audiobooks, but alas, a run through the washing machine spelled curtains for the old Sandisk. I have a new one on the way, and meanwhile these tunes are running through my head:

  • Mothra’s Theme Song
  • Sei Lá - Boogarins
  • Can I Kick It - A Tribe Called Quest
  • Baía from the Three Caballeros
  • You Can’t Judge A Book By The Cover - Bo Diddley
  • Louisiana Man - Doug Kershaw
  • Down By The River - Dutch Rhythm Steel & Show Band
  • I See The Rain - The Marmalade
  • Baby I Don’t Know - Vulfpeck

May will be a fun month, we will hike through Damascus, like a normal town, but return by shuttle or hitch next weekend for the Trail Days festival, to walk in the Hiker Parade and dance at the Hiker Prom. Later this month my folks are visiting me for a stay in the woods, and Theresa will be visiting Uncle Ya. I am excited to see all of them! The weather is getting good if you’ve thought about joining me, or the trail runs driving distance past a lot of cities if that’s more your speed. Give me a shout and we can work it out!

See you soon,

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