Fresh Ground tells the following story:
Last year, he was hiking with two friends. They didn’t hike together during the day, just met up for breaks and to camp. Fresh Ground had been trailing behind his friends. One day, he saw one friend sitting by the trail in the distance and decided to cruise by and get a lead.
Fresh Ground and his other friend were sitting at the next shelter when the guy finally rolls in, distraught.
“I’m through hiking!” he says, throwing down his pack.
“Yeah! We’re all thru hiking!” they respond.
“Nah, I’m through hiking!” The friend explains that when Fresh Ground passed him, he had just had a bad fall and was struggling to get up. He was so upset when Fresh Ground blew by that he decided to quit hiking.
Eventually the three are laughing at the misunderstanding. They pack up and hike on to the next shelter for the night.
It’s a fine line between thru hiking and being through hiking.
Sometimes long distance hiking is more about grinding away at a trail, mile by mile, until the weather passes or the rocks clear up.
Pat and I have been hiking through Virginia for weeks. At times it seems to drag on. Throw in some challenging conditions and the hiking can be downright unpleasant.
Out of Pearisburg, we hiked alongside a busy road next to an industrial park in the pouring rain for miles, then had a steep climb and the longest switchback we’ve seen yet. Over the next few days, we hit of lots of PUDs on a trail littered with sharp rocks. Talk about a good time!
We made it to 4 Pines Hostel in time to hit The Homeplace, famous for its all-you-can-eat home style dinners. We waited two hours for a table and were all full in twenty minutes. It was worth it, fueling us through the next few days to Daleville. We hit bad weather in this section, missing the views from McAfee Knob and Tinker Cliffs. The fog cleared just in time for the descent to town, so we got a clear view of the highway in the valley. Ugh.
The trail between Pearisburg and Daleville wasn’t my favorite, so we took a zero in Daleville to reset mentally and physically. It seemed like we lost momentum coming out of town. Lots of folks are feeling the drag. Even Fresh Ground is getting off the trail. When we finally caught him at mile 808, half starved and desperate for a meal, he let us know this was his last stop. We camped with him that night, riding into Buena Vista for a resupply, when it started to rain. It didn’t stop raining for three days.
We got to Waynesboro after two days of hard and relentless rain. Nomad, hiker/trail angel, picked us up nineteen miles from Rockfish Gap so that we could avoid spending another cold, wet night in a shelter. I was especially thankful, as all the nasty weather brought on some sickness. After a hot shower, laundry, and hours of rest, we both felt much better. We slack packed the nineteen miles to town yesterday, warmed up and dried off again, and enjoyed another night in the motel.
So, yeah, long distance hiking can be tough. It can be days of hard miles and discomfort.
And the hardships are, in some roundabout way, a uniting force on the trail. I ran into a southbounder who I had hiked with in Connecticut on the last few days of my 2010 hike. We reminisced about a gross road walk detour around a bridge construction project just as fondly as about the nearo we took to catch up on trail news. The hard times linked us together just as much as the joys of the trail.
Today we entered Shenandoah National Park. Over the past two weeks, the woods have exploded with spring greenery, even when the weather grew grey. We’ve seen salamanders, newts, orioles, owls, deer, turkeys, grouse, snakes, and even a black bear. Over the twenty-one miles we covered today, the sun was shining and the trail was friendly. It was great.
And then the bugs came out.