From Erwin, I have hiked another 400 miles, and have eclipsed the 1/3rd way mark of the Appalachian Trail. My travels over the month of May have me halfway through Virginia, which is dubious for having the furthest mileage of any state along the trail.
Some of my favorites landscapes recently have been the “Lord of the Rings”-esque balds around Roan Mountain and the Grayson Highlands, which is famous for its ponies. Just yesterday, I walked upon the Mcafee Knob, one of the most picturesque white blazed photo ops.
Virginia has earned a reputation for wearying AT hikers, physically and mentally. The novelty of the adventure wears off, the daily fatigue grinds you down, and the forest hems you in with the ‘green tunnel’, when the canopy is in full bloom. How each of us tackles these is a personal challenge.
On the novelty aspect, I must reassess why I’m here. There are still excellent natural landmarks and businesses to look forward to, and good company is thankfully still present everywhere I go. I dearly miss my friends and NYC back home, but know that I must finish what I set out to do unless I truly become incapable.
The AT has always been for me a supreme test in minimalism and mindfulness. I deprive myself of most conveniences, even cleanliness. It helps me separate want from need and when the day comes that I am done with this journey, I will have a stronger sense of gratitude for everything I am lacking out here.
As the weeks blended into months, I find myself wandering mentally in the throes of this gauntlet. Often hiking alone, I spend most of my day lost in thought. Future possibilities, past lovers, present issues all whirl in my head; but perhaps lightest and most peculiar to me is how often video games swirl around my mind.
I imagine my hike as a survival game a lot, with morale, bodily health, hunger and thirst being critical elements to manage. I also journey back to World of Warcraft and vividly recall the lush landscapes and trials of that game which ironically served as one of my main seasonings for the trail.
The ugly part of reality is how the trail has weathered me significantly since my last entry. Every hiker’s got their doldrums and here are my ailments: my big day into Erwin left me with symptoms indicative of Plantaar Fasciitis, a bad stumble and impact of knee to Earth has limited my strength and worst of all a filling in one of my teeth came out. I have learned the hard way why ibuprofen gets the nickname “Vitamin I”.
All is not gloomy though. The foot pain I manage with massages (the first stand of the day is always a bitch though) and the knee’s cries have mellowed into a grumble. The tooth had vexed me on how to treat it but I eventually managed a tactical solution in Pearisburg. I got a temporary filling after two weeks with some logistical planning, which ought to last me until this journey’s end when I can get it properly crowned.
Despite all these maladies I’m still trucking. I’m averaging 12 miles daily on average, and just recently did my hardest day so far, a twelve hour trial past the Dragon’s Tooth totalling 29.2 miles. The allure of hostels, being low on food and not wanting to get wet are poweful motivators.
On vegetarianism out here, if I didn’t have my 100% Food, my “sci-fi snacks”, I’d be struggling mightily. I love the quizzical looks hikers offer me, but sadly a lot of restaurants in rural America, especially down here in the South, don’t even have vegetarian fare as an afterthought. Meat-oriented fast/fried food is unfortunately far too prevalent to dine out healthily.
And, I’m still hunting for a good slice of pizza! Not even thinking about falafel. Alas, only 800 more miles until NYC…