One Month Solo on the Appalachian Trail
Over the next few days, thoughts about how to end my Appalachian adventure loom, unbidden, in my mind. On a rare day with phone signal, my parents and I talk about meeting for my last week on the trail.
"When?" Mom asks.
I don't know. Do I end my adventure after 30 days, or stay longer? If I stay longer, should I focus on ramping up my mileage to hike through all of Virginia, or take time to enjoy my journey near its end?
"How about you give me a few days to think on it?" I propose.
The Mau-Har Trail runs along several creeks, passing by small waterfalls and pools. I enjoy the variety of wildflowers thriving along the edges of the path, though many sections are rockier and less well-maintained than what I've experienced so far.
By lunchtime, I reach the Tye River. Happily, I heave my pack onto a slab of rock, dig out a bag of granola, and sit down to eat. As I look across the river, I see Shweasle emerge from behind a tree. He waves, then stoops to gather water.
With only four miles left until the next shelter, I anticipate an easy afternoon. I completely underestimate the time required to climb The Priest: a 4,000 foot mountain requiring 3,000 feet of ascent.
Just put one foot in front of the other, I tell myself. The woods engulf me, obscuring any view of the mountain ahead. I have no idea how far I am from the summit. Keep going. Sweat drips from my forehead as I watch streams of northbound hikers bound past me down the mountain. Just like life, I think, as my pace slows to a crawl. Slogging through challenges is just a part of life. Think about what it'll feel like to reach the summit.
Another northbounder passes by.
"Is that the summit?" I call, pointing to the highest point I can see in the distance.
He whirls around. "No, you've still got a ways to go."
I continue hiking up the relentless uphill, focusing on each small step forwards, until --
After nearly four hours, I crest a hill and see the trail plateau before me: Triumph!
Life is just like climbing mountains, I think to myself. The way isn't always clear - especially at the beginning of the road, the foot of the mountain - but the farther I climb, the harder I work, the more I see.
I unclip my pack as I reach The Priest Shelter, located on a clearing near the summit. I am the first to arrive for the night, though I see a group of weekend campers setting up tents across the field. I busy myself with camp chores: inflating my sleeping pad, drawing water, and cooking dinner.
As I return from the small stream next to the shelter, picking my way through swampy patches of land, my foot sinks into the soft, squishy mud. I can't help but laugh: I changed into my flip flops as soon as I arrived. Next time, check the lay of the land before switching shoes!
An hour later, Woody and Phlatlander stroll in, looking just as relieved to reach the shelter as I felt after the long climb.
Phlatlander pulls out a can of Coke and Dr. Pepper. "Want one?"
The soda tastes unexpectedly good after a long day of climbing.
One day from my next mail drop, I think as I fall asleep. One day from a hot shower and real food.