One Month Solo on the Appalachian Trail
I much prefer sleeping on the hut floor to sleeping outside in subzero temperatures!
"See you on the trail," I tell Woody at dawn.
"Ok." He scrapes the last of his breakfast from his pot.
At 9:00 am, I stop at Ivy Creek to refill my water and enjoy second breakfast. Shortly afterwards, Woody walks by, his lilting gait instantly recognizable.
"Gonna see if I can get lunch at Loft Mountain Wayside," he says, disappearing around a bend. In the Shenandoahs, seasonally open waysides and camp stores lie throughout the park, serving hikers and vacationers alike.
Early that afternoon, I pass Woody sitting on a log, attempting to send a text message. "Got my first taste of trail magic today," he tells me. "A couple trail angels at the wayside asked if I was thru hiking. I said, 'Yeah.' They bought me lunch."
I am glad that Woody ran into trail magic. Coming to the trail with no expectations of trail angels or trail magic, I hope never to take these people and their acts of kindness for granted: Every act of kindness I've encountered holds a special place in my memories.
By 4:30 pm, I reach Black Rock Hut after hiking 13 miles. The wood shelter has two levels, with the second level accessible via wooden blocks nailed to two support beams. One northbound hiker already sits in the shelter. He introduces himself as No Hurry.
"How'd you get your trail name?" I ask.
"I'm in no hurry," he replies easily. "I pushed too hard last time - I was doing 25 mile days every day - got injured and had to get off. If I hadn't got injured, I'd've finished in December.
"There's more coming," he adds, lighting a cigarette.
Woody arrives soon after. That night, six more northbound hikers pile into the shelter. As they gather firewood and start a bonfire, I overhear snatches of conversation.
"Do you ever get the midday doldrums?," one asks, reaching into his pack.
"Oh yeah. Definitely," another replies.
So I'm not the only one, I think. As I gradually adjust to the physical demands of the trail, I find myself settling into a routine. The physical rigors become easier day by day, while the mental rigors vary each day. Sometimes, the midday doldrums manifest as boredom or homesickness: I fight to remember why I came, to remember that come morning, I will wake with renewed purpose after overcoming the challenges of the previous day.
"What brings you to the trail?"
We all gather around the picnic table for dinner. No Hurry calls in a favor to get pizza delivered to the shelter. Soon, a smattering of ramen, granola bars, and various other foods lie across the table. I begin preparing my dehydrate vegetables and noodles.
"Spent all winter dehydrating my own food," Woody says, pulling out a vacuum sealed plastic bag. "Thought it'd turn out like Mountain House meals, so I'd just have to boil water and add it in, but the peas turned out crunchy when I tried."
Woody certainly has some of the fanciest meals I've seen on trail, I think as I climb onto the upper deck of the shelter and unroll my sleeping bag.