My mom, sister, brother, and my sister-in-law, all coming out to see me..I had more excitement bubbling up in me than ever before; I missed them all like crazy. Mom booked us all a little cottage in Lexington, Virginia called Applewood Bed & Breakfast to stay in for the weekend, and it was so nice. It looked like I had just gone home to a fully stocked kitchen, made beds, and three of the best movies of all time- Twister, Babe, and Forest Gump- this place was awesome! The first evening we all swam together at the pool, and then we walked up a trail behind he property to watch the sun set over the neighboring farms. Afterwards I took my spot back in the kitchen where I made my favorite dish again, spaghetti. I made the pasta and sauce, mom seasoned the garlic bread, Dirty-J tossed the salad, and John Michael and Micah played guitars and sang in the background; the moment took my memory back to the fourth grade listening to John Michael play his acoustic while Mom and the rest of us made dinner. We all stayed awake past two in the morning, sitting around the dinner table laughing about old stories until our abs were sore. My heart filled with joy. The following day rain fell the majority of the afternoon. This dreary and wet June 5th, would mark one year since Elan passed away. I was thankful to be spending it with a zero inside a cozy cottage with my family. We began the morning making a feast of a breakfast including homemade biscuits and gravy, sausage, and lots of coffee. We hung around and watched movies and ate an excessive amount of food; after 800 miles I felt like I deserved one day to be lazy at the least. Mom made Elan’s favorite cookie cake, and we all played a competitive rummie tournament to remember some of the good old times we had shared with him. Despite our promise the night before to go to bed earlier, we all laid out in the living room chatting around subjects worlds apart until two in the morning. I began to dread the sound of my 5:30am alarm that would make itself known to me in a few hours, and went to bed.
Like I had thought, my alarm signaling me to wake up at 5:30 pierced my tired ears. I rolled out of bed and jumped in the shower thinking, I can’t believe this weekend is over-it’s back to the trail now. I whipped together some leftover biscuits and bacon, made coffee, and then made sure my pack was packed correctly before saying goodbye to Anna, Micah, John Michael, and Spring. Mom drove Dirty J and I back to the trail and bid me farewell for now. I loved returning to the trail despite the farewells with my family; the time filled me with joy and I can’t wait to hangout with everyone again.
We returned to the trail that morning just a little north of Glasgow where we had left off and began hiking. We felt as though other hikers didn’t think we were thru hikers because of how clean our clothes were and how stuffed our packs were with leftover food, we had a good laugh thinking how nice it was to be full and clean at the same time.
The trail between Glasgow and Lexington only took a two days hike, so when we hit town we only had to pick up a few things. On the way into Lexington the trail was filled with history of the then recently freed slaves moving to live along the creek. We saw ruins of old rock chimneys, stoves, and foundations left from this free community of Virginians. We read stories of how they grew wheat in the valley and as payment for use of a man’s mill, gave him a portion of their crop. We were also informed that these people made ash cakes as one of their staple foods, simply flour, water, and spice mixed together to make a dough, then tossed in the fire’s embers to cook. Dirty J showed me how to make them, and since then we have been adding such things as raisins, chocolate chips, sugar, and marshmallow to them. They taste like homemade cookies when they are sweet, and when we want something salty we season them with salt and pepper and fill them with cheese. Best trail food yet, hands down. When going in and out of town, we received two rides from two different amazing people who helped us out with money, food, water, and a ride across town. We say all the time that when hitch hiking, don’t be upset about the cars that don’t pick you up, be happy because the people who do give hikers rides always have great stories and personalities, have been hitching for travel like us, or totally love what we are doing and want to help out our journey. Hitch hiking is a grand adventure, but to future thru hikers, group hitch and always always be sure to follow your gut with your drivers. I have heard stories of hikers being given crazy, not so pleasant rides throughout the last few months.
The weather for the next week was cool and comfortable. Dirty J and I began getting used to hiking at least 100 miles every six days and shooting for 120 miles a week. This puts me set to reach Khatahdin early September, hopefully before my six month goal September 17th. To do this we typically start hiking around 8am and hike until around 5 or 6pm at about three miles an hour on the easier terrain and take a few breaks with a long lunch. I am comfortable at this pace now, so some weeks I push and try to reach higher numbers.
After Lexington I went to resupply in Waynesboro where again, Dirty J and I feasted on Little Ceasar’s Pizza in the parking lot. We tried to get in and it of this town as fast as possible because the sun burned our skins and eyes with no tree cover. We decided that hot and miserable in town is way worse than hot and miserable on the trail. Resupply was quick and we headed back to the trail for a night of sleep before entering in the Shenandoah State Park.
Coming into the Shenandoah’s, all I heard were great things about how beautiful and amazing it was, which it was, but it was not what I expected. Before starting the trail I had heard that Virginia was just a tunnel through tons of similar looking trees, therefore giving it the name ‘The Green Tunnel’. In Southern Virginia I disagreed with the name, in awe of how beautiful and different the landscapes were. I understood the reference to a green tunnel in Northern Virginia however, especially in the Shenandoah’s. Towards the end I began to feel as though I had been walking forever and not gotten anywhere while I had the same (still beautiful) views of green leafy trees all day everyday.
The Shenandoah’s were unique for me because of its large variety of wildlife. I saw tons of snakes, big and little, including the first rattle snake I have ever seen. Its body was fat and round, and its rattler laid in the middle of the trail. With no view of its head, Dirty J extended his trekking pole and shooed it off the trail. I ran by without looking back. I also saw a number of bears, mamas and cubs. One cub saw us walking on the trail and in an attempt to run from us, ran two complete circles around us, and then ran up the trail towards us. We could tell the bear was scared, confused, and obviously had no idea where to run to in order to escape our prescense, and so we couldn’t help but stand there and laugh while yelling at it to go the other way. I had been wishing to get a good view of a bear just the day before, and I don’t believe I’ll ever get a better one than I did that day. I hope to always be able to share the story. Deer filled the land surrounding the trail every morning and evening, jumping into the woods at the sound of our trekking poles clanking. Bright orange nutes scattered the rocky streams. I felt as though I were an animal similar to those around me, migrating to my northern goal while gazing upon Mother Nature before me.
At the end of the Shenandoah’s, I hid from the rain for a night in a motel in Luray, Va. Out of Luray I walked through a beautiful mountain top meadow called Sky Meadows where different colored flowers lined the trail. The terrain had become extremely easy taking us only up and down through little elevation changes.
At mile 1021.3, I reached the border of Virginia and West Virgina; I had completed 550 more miles and avoided the Virginia Blues. I was excited to walk into the middle town of Harper’s Ferry and hangout at the Appalachian Trail Conservacy Headquarters with a large group of other 2017 thru hikers. We were all only 68 miles from the trail’s true halfway point, and the smiles were worth more than my words can say.