I know it’s been a while since my last post, but I’ve been busy busy. And I don’t think I can do justice in describing everything I’ve been up to, so instead allow me to provide a little (read: long-winded) tutorial on how to successfully hike 29 miles in one day and love it.
1. Train for the better part of two months by hiking for (give or take) eight hours per day six days a week. I know this first step seems intimidating, but I assure you, it’s not that hard. I’ve personally met gobs of folks that have made it through this step.
2. Leave the comforts of your warm, dry motel room for the freedom of the trail even though there’s a monster three-day rainstorm headed your way.
Lentil and I had taken a Zero in Pearisburg. We got to see Techie, who has been about a day behind us for a while, but I was ready to get back into the woods. I knew the forecast was calling for rain and wanted to take advantage of the last shred of sun for a stretch.
That first day we hiked 19 miles to Pine Swamp Branch Shelter. I absolutely loved the hike with the cold wind blowing and the wildflowers beginning to bloom (irises are my favorite).
When we arrived, we were greeted by several familiar faces as well as a pair of girls I’d never met but whose reputations preceded them. I won’t tell you what we’ve been calling them, but suffice it to say that the nickname is not flattering. The pair of young 20 somethings has been yellow blazing (hitch hiking) the trail for months, and – I learned by observation – acts like giddy, self centered young teenagers.
3. Spend several days hiking in fits and starts in between shivering and looking like a drowned rat.
By the next morning the temperature had dropped into the high 40s, and the rain was coming down. I wasn’t feeling particularly motivated to hike in the mess outside the shelter, nor did Lentil seem to be chomping at the bit. However, when the two girls declared that they were Zeroing right there, I couldn’t pack up quickly enough. I’m not proud of this, but I told Lentil I’d see him up the trail and left him to fend for himself as he looked at me pleadingly (or so I imagine). Every person for herself! One more minute, and I would’ve said or done something regrettable. Really, it was for the best.
That day the two of us hiked all of 3.9 miles before giving up. I consider it a win, though, since there were 3.9 miles between me and they-who-shall-not-be-named. The following day we got up early and made it another 8 miles before the cold rain drove me into my sleeping bag. The weather did clear in the late afternoon long enough for us to hike another six miles to Laurel Creek Shelter.
And I even had some time to bask in the late evening glow of the sun en route. When we arrived, Trucker and Z Man were at the shelter. Trucker had hiked on earlier in the day in the rain, and it was clear that his resolve was wavering. He declared then and there that he would not be hiking in the cold rain again the following day.
4. Use the torrential downpours as an excuse to Zero in the woods. Don’t mind the hikers that pass through and comment or look at you askew for not hiking. They’re just jealous that you’re dry and warm while they’re cold, wet, and miserable.
That third day out I hiked about 20 feet to the privy and back. My day was spent eating, napping, doing crossword puzzles, and – of course – looking warm and dry as a handful of hikers-turned-flood-victims passed through. It was glorious, glorious I tell you. There’s nothing like watching other people hike into a monsoon when you’re warm and dry. Call me callous, but it’s true. And, hey, we each hike our own hike, after all (or nap our own nap, as it were).
5. Now that you’re good and rested up (read: full of pent up energy), you’re ready. So, wake up before dawn, and cross a raging river.
Since Trucker and Lentil had both committed to hiking 29 miles, I decided I had to wake up pre-dawn to meet the challenge. The biggest reason is that Lentil hikes faster than me, and a significant feature – Dragon’s Tooth – was toward the end of the hike. I figured that I might have the best chance of staying ahead of him until later in the day (and thus to hike Dragon’s Tooth together) if I got an earlier start. Also, I’m a morning person, so I wake up anyway.
I was on the trail at 5:45am with my glasses and headlamp on to see clearly. Immediately I was faced with a bloated stream, the water rushing over the rocks intended for the crossing. Having strategized the night before, I sat on the slick, mossy log and shimmied across.
6. Break your trekking pole on a fence stile.
This step is really important. See, if you don’t break a trekking pole and have a great day, you’ll always wonder if the reason is that you had two working trekking poles. However, if you break a trekking pole and still have a great hike, you’ll know that your mission was truly a success.
About a mile into my 29 mile adventure, I came across one of a handful of fence stiles. Another one?! This is supposed to be the Appalachian Trail, not the Appalachian Obstacle Course. As I climbed over it and bore down weight on my pole on the other side, I heard a crack and knew my day had just gotten significantly more complicated.
Despite the fact that my left trekking pole would no longer lock into place, I persisted.
I plodded along with it over the next eight or so miles as I passed the Kiefer Oak, the largest tree – at 18 feet around – on the AT in the south.
I even continued to bear my weight on the broken pole as I traversed several miles of large, moss-slicked craggy rocks. And, yes, I fell a couple of times, but I got up and kept moving. Only when I bit it so hard that my left wrist became painful to use did I finally give up on the pole and start hiking one-handed, so to speak.
7. Find an equally enthusiastic hiking partner.
I took a break by this stream and footbridge at about 3pm after hiking 21 miles when Lentil caught up. Once we exchanged greetings, it became apparent that we were both excited, energized, over the moon. And why not?
The weather was beautiful. The terrain was engaging and varied, no two miles the same. And we’d both been treated to great views all day long.
At this point we had just 5.4 miles to go to reach Dragon’s Tooth. At first I led so that we would pace together, but then I told Lentil to go ahead and meet me there since I don’t like to feel like I’m slowing others down. The hike up was rocky and challenging, and I’ll admit that there were several times that I thought, “Are we there yet?” Hey, even on fantastic days, one is allowed moments of doubt. They make the high points that much more rewarding.
When I finally arrived at Dragon’s Tooth a few hours later, I found Lentil atop a large stone monolith with plenty of nooks and crannies for bouldering and exploring, not to mention expansive views accentuated by the setting sun.
After spending quite a bit of time enjoying the spoils of our day’s efforts, the two of us hiked the last 2.5 miles down an even more treacherous series of rocks to end our day at the Four Pines Hostel.
About a mile from the road crossing, I managed to scrape my knee on a rock and started pouring blood down my leg (I have a knack). Some toilet paper did the trick, and I made my way to the hostel with an oozing bright red glob on my knee. It didn’t actually hurt but did make me look pretty tough and grizzled (awesome, some might say). No big deal.
So, there you have it. Seven simple steps for a successful 29 mile hike. The only other suggestion I might make is to freely describe your hike to anyone and everyone you talk to as “epic.” This strategy will almost certainly enhance the epicness of the day (I’m sure that’s a word).
Oh, also, be prepared to be dragging your tail the following day as you hike to McAfee’s Knob, especially if you stay up past midnight socializing at Four Pines Hostel. I mean you can’t expect to push your limits and not pay for it the next day. But I promise, it’s worth it.