Day 80: Cold hard truth

Niday Shelter [mile 681]

I guess I do have a little of the Virgina blues after all. It took me 5 hours to go 6 miles today, and that was all I could face. So here I am, shelter to shelter. Six miles is not 12 to 15. And there’s a group down at the shelter now, a big group. One of the guys just said to his friends, “You know how long it took me to do the last 6 miles? Exactly 2 hours!” Bite me, buddy.

Here’s the day, then I’ll get to the numbers.

Last night when I was lying there, I happened to notice a tick crawling up the outside of my tent. A tick! Right there, six inches from my face! It kind of made me paranoid. Was I camped on the mother lode of ticks? A heaving, giant pile of ticks? How would I keep ticks off my backpack while I took down the tent? (I always go immediately to the direst circumstance; it’s never just one tick blown in by a strong thunderstorm.) Anyway, I was itchy all night. And after the thunderstorm, the winds blew in hard. I was freezing! So not much sleep.

And it was still freezing when I woke up. Not cold enough to freeze shoes, but the steady wind was probably 20 or 30 mph, enough to make it feel frigid.

Between the cold and the hard work yesterday (that mountain at the end of the day), I was wiped out. Got a very late start—8:30.

And the wind! The wind was fierce all day! (It’s still blowing hard and strong.) Somebody heard in town that the winds today were 32 mph. Combined with the cloudy skies and already low temperature, it felt like March. I wore gloves and my raingear all day just trying to be warm. I never got there… and that’s what did me in, I think. The cold. I never realized just how low my tolerance of it is.

The day started with more climbing. I’d actually stopped a half mile or a mile short of where I thought I was last night. Easy to do out here. The trail was flanked by piles of rock, tossed like litter but also stacked like chimneys. Barrow wights!

After a bit, the fun started. I use the word with deep sarcasm. For a mile or two, the trail was a hated ridgewalk. But this wasn’t a regular old rocky ridgewalk. This was great slabs of rock taken and tilted nearly vertically… and the trail led right across that sloping nightmare. It reminded me of the back side of Blood Mountain, but much steeper.

To the left was a dropoff; had to be 30 feet. To the right was either a steep slope, or more slabs of rock going down a hundred feet or so. A slip could have been very, very bad. I haven’t had the best luck with traction and balance with the pack, so I was pretty unnerved for the whole mile or two. Plus, that terrible wind was blowing hard and gusting harder. I used my poles liberally to pick my way, and I didn’t fall, which is great! But it took hours. (Also, bonus hazard; to the right, the lower end of the slope, the trail was full of poison ivy.)

There were some gorgeous views, marred only by the great ceiling of heavy clouds hanging over the area. You could see the brighter sky peeking out at the far edges.

I met a hiker named Kokopeli and his dog… Deedee, that was the dog. Kokopeli was great. (I’d heard his name here and there but never met him.) An old hippy. He even had a peace sign around his neck. He thru-hiked last year and got within 90 miles of Katahdin when he broke his knee. And here he is, starting again from the beginning! He said, “What else would I be doing?” He loves it. He also said that this year the pressure is off. He’s done it all and he doesn’t care if he goes 6 miles, 10 miles, 25 miles. And because the pressure is off, he’s actually doing bigger miles. But last year, he said, he only did four 20s.

What was the message there, I wondered? Don’t worry if you fall short? It’s time to end the pressure?

Deedee was great, too. Just a little long-haired thing, but happy and with a good weight. There are a lot of dogs out here that just look sickly—way too skinny, but still trying to please their masters. I have to trust that the owners know what they’re doing, but seeing dogs that thin makes me worry for them!

Later, after the rock sliding board, I met two section hikers going SOBO. They asked if I was going all the way to Maine, and I said that was the plan, but I didn’t think I was fast enough. The man said, “Don’t worry about that! The important thing is to be out and enjoying it!”

Which, I have to confess, I’m not. At least not the relentless discomfort and the occasional threat of imminent death. And the cold.

When I got to this shelter there were two guys here. One of them had just been in town and said the temperature’s going down to 38 tonight and tomorrow night. Presumably it’ll be colder here at elevation. And all the drive and motivation just drained out of me. Gone. I was done. Six miles. Maybe seven.

So I sat in my tent and ran some numbers (in full down clothing, I might add, and thank gods I didn’t follow the traditional practice of sending home my winter gear in Pearisburg; I bet a lot of hikers are freezing their tails off at the moment).

This is how it’s going to go. I need to do 14 miles per day, for a total of 85 miles per week, with one zero per week. I’ll probably do more like 1.5 zeroes every 1.5 weeks; that ‘one per week’ thing is hard to work out neatly. I figured out what mile I need to be at every Wednesday from here to the end of September. That gives me a week or so in case the weather is bad at the end, too, and I have to wait in Baxter for permission to summit.

But 14 per day is going to be very, very tough. (Note: If the nero part of the 1.5 zeroes should happen to be 6 miles, that would bring the daily requirement down to 13 and change. There’s some fluidity in there.)

So I’m on a three-strike system. The first Wednesday I don’t make the goal is strike one, and so on. When (if) I get three strikes, I’ll probably switch this to a section hike.

At that point I’d have to decide whether to walk north until September, regardless of where I end up; whether to call it a day after the halfway point in Pennsylvania (probably after the half-gallon challenge, which I think I’ve earned!), which makes most sense both financially and logistically, if I’m going to section hike the rest anyway; or whether to flip-flop (ie, go to Maine and do Katahdin then come SOBO to finish the hike), which I’m not that keen on because I’d have to take a second mortgage to stay out of work for that long.

Now, if the terrain really does get easier at some point, maybe I really can do 16 or 18 miles some days. That would rock, because I’d have some days in the bank for the bad sections in the Whites! But if this is the terrain that counts as ‘easier,’ then I’m probably a section hiker in three weeks’ time. Which, you know, I could manage to live with. The people out here who seem to be having the most actual fun are the section hikers. There’s a lot to be said for spending an afternoon at Charlie’s Bunion (or a random waterfall) if you want to, instead of being on a mission deadline. Section hikers do smiles, not miles.

That all will start next week (ie, I need to reach mile 810 by Wednesday, June 5). I have to zero in Daleville anyway because I need a lot of stuff from the outfitter and some groceries. And camping is restricted between here and there, so I’ll have one more short day anyway. Can’t be helped, unless I could manage a 20. In which case I wouldn’t be in this bind, lol.

Wow, a ton of people have showed up at this shelter! Where did they stay last night? Probably Springer. 😉 They seem to be partiers—Trail Days folks, most likely. They’re playing a radio. Oh, Planet and Rig are here! That’s nice. I don’t know any of the others.

Speaking of which, that would be another advantage of sectioning the second half. I could draft other slow hikers to come along. I think this would be a lot more fun with a friend or three. 🙂

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Categories: Appalachian Trail | Tags: | 8 Comments

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8 thoughts on “Day 80: Cold hard truth

  1. Eve

    Awesome post, and an even ‘awesomer’ feat (feet). Congratulations!!

  2. Ginny Henninger

    So look forward to your posts; especially after a few days of silence. You’re doing great!

  3. Blackbird

    In Re: Terrain. It seems you’re quickly becoming disabused of the notion that Virginia is either flat or easy, which was inevitable. Virginia takes out more aspiring thrus than any other state, so I’d caution you to not put any guns to the head of your hike while you’re in Virginia.

    That said, the terrain will be slightly varies into something more normative beyond that fetid, peculiar, easting section from Pearisburg to Daleville. At D-ville, you’ll head north again, with typical climbs and more continuous walking in big woods instead of those sharp, slanted rock ridge walks and rock climbs, up and down. It’ll be like that up through The Priest, down to Tye River, then up the Three Ridges, then it’s a fairly nice scoot up to Rockfish Gap. After Three Ridges, you won’t see mountains that high, with as protracted climbs, until Vermont.

    Yes, grasshopper, the trail changes (again!). Thrus routinely do big days all through SNP, then a couple of days and you’re at Harpers Ferry. No problemo.

    Don’t let Virginia get into your head!

  4. Marge

    It’s been a great day because I learned 2 MORE new words:SOBO and padawan! Hey, Karma, I want to meet Blackbird. Great reply. I can encourage and support, but not the same unless I have been through it. Hmmm, that concept sounds vagely familiar! ODAAT. Love you, Karma.

  5. Shari wb

    Oh Sweetie.
    I hope you are able to find MORE SMILES! You are doing something amazing which no matter what point you stop, very few have accomplished. Probable way less than those who run marathons. Enjoy from here on out because the story you have now is a rich one. And the rest of the days are only going to magnify that story… You are awesome my friend!

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