Day 75: The Virginia blues


The Hiker Gossip Network is crazy now with stories and rumors about Trail Days. I don’t know which of it to trust, so I won’t repeat it. Suffice it to say that I hope everybody who was affected, including the driver, has the best possible outcome. WhiteBlaze has a thread with the latest rumors and news coverage, and I’ve heard Facebook is buzzing, so those are probably good places for information.

I saw Blood Orange this morning. He’s headed out in the rain! I also ran into Pathfinder and Blackhawk. And guess what? It turns out they were in that group of nine hikers trapped in the privy on Mt. Rogers and got a shuttle back to Damascus! So now I’ve heard that story from the horse’s mouth. That was an excellent day for me to spend in my tent. πŸ™‚

On the agenda today: food resupply and packing up.

If you’ve been on the trail, you know this, but it might be news to some: a ton of hikers quit the trail in Virginia.

They call it “the Virginia blues.” Being in the early Virginia days, I can’t testify regarding the experience of it, but I know what I’ve heard.

The scenery doesn’t change much, so people who use views as their reward or their carrot have nothing to motivate them. And they quit.

The initial adrenaline of the hike is all but used up, and the trail finally assumes the characteristics of a daily slog—work, not fun. Dull, uncomfortable, and relentless. So they quit.

And for those who use each new state as a motivator, well. They have it worst of all. A full 25% of the trail is through Virginia. Virginia is a monster; there won’t be any new states for a long, long time. And they quit.

Acute injuries can happen any time, but by Virginia, the chronic injuries are starting to set in—the bad tendons, the repetitive strains, the stress fractures. The aches that don’t get better. The effects of the pack on the shoulders; the swollen feet and bony bumps and calluses.

I read something interesting recently. Somebody posited that the Virginia blues happens because that’s where the food shortage finally catches up with hikers. They have no body fat stores left, they’re not eating enough by a long shot, and they have chronic low blood sugar and insufficient calories for the work. (Long-distance backpackers burn something like 4000 to 6000 calories daily; there’s no way they can carry that much, short of having a pack animal or a Sherpa. Which is why they all end up looking like starvation victims.) So they get the low–blood sugar blues.

There are the various other discomforts, all cumulative. Lack of sleep. Being wet. Bug bites, poison ivy, scratches and scrapes. Viruses and colds and allergies and stomach bugs. And homesickness. Hikers have been away from their friends and family, in this weirdy-weird vacuum, for two or three months now. The urge to go home, just for a little bit, can rise up and bite you before you see it coming.

I don’t have the Virginia blues. Heck, I love Virginia so far! But that’s probably true for most of us; at the beginning it’s a happy marriage. I’ve got some advantages, though. First of all, for a winter starter this year, Virgina is lke a whole new hike! The leaves aren’t even giving full shade. I’ll be figuring out fresh new issues for weeks, then BAM! I’ll be in West Virginia. πŸ™‚ I’m in touch with folks at home via Facebook and this journal and email, so I haven’t been more than passingly homesick. I’m getting a visit from friends near Luray, if everything works out, which will be great. And also possibly Pennsylvania, which is home. (I’m a little nervous about that, but that’s for another post.)

I’ve lost my body fat, but I’m eating well and I feel healthy. Doing 12 to 15 helps a lot with that; I’m a smaller older woman doing low to medium miles, so my caloric requirements are much lower than those of, say, a big 22-year-old guy who’s churning out the 20s. I probably don’t hit the minimum on most hiking days, but believe me, I make up for it in town. And I eat a LOT of calories some hiking days; depends on whether there’s a grill near the trail. I think I ate 5000 calories that day I hit Trent’s. I know I had a 1500-calorie lunch the next day. At Partnership Shelter, I ate half a 16-inch Deluxe pizza with everything (including beef, pepperoni, ham, bacon, and a boatload of veggies). And I ate the leftovers the next day. I think I ate 6000 calories yesterday, and that’s not hyperbole. So I’m skinny at the moment, but I’m not starving, not by a long shot. My mother and her mother were built like pipe cleaners, and during athletic periods in my life those genetics have tended to come to the forefront.

Which is all to say, I hope I don’t get the Virginia blues! But I’m feeling pretty unblue about the possibility, all things considered. And I’m watching myself, you know. At the first sign of despondence, I’ll hole up in a town with two gallons of ice cream. Training for the half-gallon challenge!

Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 14 Comments

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14 thoughts on “Day 75: The Virginia blues

  1. Ginny Henninger

    What a great attitude you have! So proud of you. I think you’re going to do it!

  2. Our monthly trail maintenance project in Shenandoah got cancelled yesterday due to weather. It was cloud fog which made the ginormous rocks too slippery to move. It also grounded the insect air force (Yes!), so I hiked south for 3.5 hours in mid-50 degree temps looking for hiker folks I’ve been following. Zip, zero, nada. Very disappointing, but a great hike.

    In the context of your observations, I did stumble upon a ghost hiker though. You couldn’t have made this guy up – except Coleridge already did. His gaunt, frightening looks actually startled me as he dissolved silently out of the fog. I was thinking crew member on the Flying Dutchman when I first saw him.

    He featured beady burned-out eyes peering out from the dark depths of edgy anorexic cheek bones while sporting grubby sun-faded Nantucket red trousers that were richly accented by crusty salt stains. This tall and thin, cleanly shaven, gray-haired apparition really did look like death warmed over.

    As a purely defensive move, I said, “Hi! How’s it going? Silence. “You okay?” “Yes, thank you,” he frowned. End of conversation. If I could have given him a trail name, it would have been “The Emperor” (from Star Wars). My bed is he bites the dust (maybe for real) in Harper’s Ferry.

    I hiked five hours in the park on what can best be described as a hiker superhighway. The trail was dirt, optically flat and very well-maintained thanks to us Potomac Appalachian Trail Club volunteers. It’s near where your friends are going to meet you in the Park.

    Keep pluggin’ my friend and eat that elephant one bite (step) at a time. Sisu’14

    • Great story, Sisu! If I see that guy, I’m going to think ‘Albatross.’ πŸ˜‰

      Can’t wait to hit that superhighway.

  3. Beth

    I read one line over and over….”Lost my body fat”…….hmmmmmm hiking. Happy to hear the blues are far away….Beautiful photos, thanks for taking us along.
    Still following, Happy trails. Beth and Bern

  4. Rackman

    Keep on keepin on!!! Be safe and enjoy the walk!!!!

  5. You sound so together! I think your inner strength is shining through! Happy hiking.

  6. Slo & Because

    Yeah! Lookie here! I finally can follow up with you. Keep up the good spirit Karma. We think of you so often. I remember something my old grandma use to say: “I just put one foot in front of the other.” I am glad that you take the time to snap a picture for all of us off the trail. Be well dear trail friend. Hugs being sent your way… Slo & Because

    • Yay! Slo and Because! I keep thinking about you guys because the terrain and the weather habe gotten so much more manageable! Glad you’re here!

      Had a nice chat with Blackhawk Bon this morning! He’s doing great!

  7. Shari wb

    Sweetheart. Dont you dare get those blues! Just remember what you told me about this adventure. Its just a series of one day hikes!!! You can do it. Just for today! Xoxoxo.

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