It’s May 31 and I’m getting to report first hand! SG and I met Lauren and Kyle today here. It was great to see her again and to meet Kyle. SG is beyond excited to see her Aunt Lauren. Harper’s Ferry is the unofficial half way point being around 950+ miles into the AT. The “true” halfway point is around 1090 some miles.
We arrived about 11:30 and got checked into the Clarion where the staff was been more than great in helping us out here. We picked up Lauren and Kyle in Harper’s Ferry. We returned to the hotel to drop off bags, sort out laundry (was glad we got two rooms as they were unpacking and the trail smell rolled into the rooms.
After a shower, Lauren, SG, and I made a run to REI to get Lauren a new backpack. The reason why? Her current backpack was leaving sores all over her lower body. I’m only showing you the one that I can as this is a G rated blog. Even with open sores and 30 pounds on her back, Lauren has pushed through. My admiration for her grit has jumped several notches. Kyle stayed back and handled the laundry end of things.
After about an hour at REI with SG and I taking a walk over to Barnes and Noble for a few books, Lauren has found a bag that will work. It was necessary to compromise on weight, going from a bag that was two pounds to one that is about 3.25 pounds. Trade off? Aluminum structure and a lumbar band that will not leave her raw. REI staff were great in helping her out and taking the return of the old pack pack. The REI in Rockville MD is impressive and two stories.
We tripped back during rush hour traffic which made a 40 minute drive 1 hour and 35 minutes. Great time for us to catch up. Lauren and SG headed off to the pool while Kyle and I made a WalMart run.
I am definitely impressed with “Hiker Hunger” after watching Lauren polish off a flatbread pizza, chicken sandwich, and half of a really good watermelon! Tomorrow brings a new day and SG will hike with Lauren and Kyle for about 2.7 miles. I’ll pick her up and we’ll drive to where we are meeting them after they do a day of slack packing.
On a side note, Harper’s Ferry is a beautiful, quaint town that is worth a day trip to come and spend the time wandering around. The town reminds me of a village with the historical buildings which have been preserved. You can wander through the different shops, catch the Amtrack back to DC, or sit outside in one of the eateries and enjoy the ambiance. Easy access to the AT. Tomorrow when I drop the three of them off, I plan to stop and take a few pictures to share in an upcoming blog. We enjoyed a beautiful sunset tonight.
Lauren has touched bases with me to let me know she needed to take a zero day because of all the rain. It’s been raining here for the past several days since Travis left last week. It’s hard to embrace the rain after so many days. Rain is cold. Rain is dreary. Rain makes the trail muddy, slippery, and challenging. Lauren does have company on the trail as Kyle is hiking with her. Rain will continue through the end of the weekend before they get a break. I was thinking I might need to find her some new shoes for better footing.
The plan is to get to Luray, VA by Saturday. There, Tonya S, a fellow business friend of mine with Close To My Heart (CTMH) will be stepping in as a trail angel, in some manner, to help her and Kyle out. We are waiting to finalize plans.
In the meantime, Lauren has shared some amazing pictures with us, since she and Travis parted ways. Here are some of her pictures of their time together:
You can check out Travis’ summary of his time on the trail with Lauren here. I have the best brother-in-law. I believe this to be their parting picture as Lauren went back to the trail and Travis to civilization.
Travis went home in style. I must say, tad envious of his trip down to North Carolina with the top down and the wind in his hair!
Lauren’s update from this morning: “This last section was only 3 days but I did my best to take more photos per my husband’s request. I can barely tell the difference between all this green so I am sure it must all look the same to you but I have been told it’s important to keep taking pictures of it. Apparently I only get good weather when people come to hike with me because the day Travis left it started to rain again. However, in the moments in between I did get to see serval new little creatures. Miles 806 – 862. ”
“Shenandoah National Park includes a 101-mile portion of the Appalachian Trail. The trail traces the ridge of the Blue Ridge mountains, often following the same route as Skyline Drive. The trail crosses Skyline Drive numerous times in the park. ” (http://www.visitskylinedrive.org/What-To-See/Top-10/Appalachian-Trail.aspx ). They will be leaving the Shenandoah National Park when they reach Luray, VA. Luray sits in the Shenandoah Valley. The Shenandoah National Park is amazing as Lauren’s pictures show. Even with the rain.
Here are some great creatures and plants that Lauren has been able to see as she’s hiking. I believe that the black snake is a rat snake since they are indigenous to our area and protected.
Inspired by this great post I thought I would adapt a few of these suggestions for calling Lauren. Connecting with loved ones remotely is hard enough. Connecting with them when they are experiencing a fundamentally different way of life from what most people will ever know is even more challenging. Getting asked simple questions about logistics can be a real drag when on the trail because that is the boring stuff that you deal with every moment. Likewise questions about bears, bugs, or other threats is likewise alienating from well intentioned loved ones. When people start sharing their fear, and asking you to do x, y or z to protect yourself from some risk it not only pisses you off as an independent, self sufficient adult who is successfully challenging themselves in a foreign environment, but it ostracizes the person who suggested it as pushy. Check out these questions as a starting point next time you call Lauren… Or better yet, read the original post for more inspiration.
How are you feeling today?
What was the last section like? Was it inspiring in any way?
What was the hardest part about it? or What was your favorite part about it?
How are your feet/back/new shoes/stomach problems/whatever small thing she told you has changed?
How are you feeling about the trip so far? Are you meeting your non-mileage goals?
What are you looking forward to? When is your next surprise?
What’s it like when you get to town? How rushed are you in the resupply process?
Are you hiking with people? What do you think of them? Any few familiar faces or are you still out-hiking everyone?
How much time are you spending alone? Is it too little? Too much?
What have you been thinking about as you hike? Any major revelations on life?
I went backpacking with my wife and she put me into the pain cave. This was not a fun romp in a state park. It was not a quick daytrip. This was a rude wake-up call to the reality of hiking 80 miles of Appalachian Trail from Daleville to Buena Vista Virginia. Prior to my arrival Lauren had five days of solid rain… sick of trudging through mud she was beaming when I met her on the trail. After clearing a major gear logistic hurdle thanks to Dennis, I thought the five day forecast filled with sun would mean a benign and successful journey. After all the AT is easy compared to the PCT and hiking with a light pack is much easier than winter camping and mountaineering…. or so I thought.
The days looked like this:
Day negative 1: arrive sans rain gear, tent, sleeping pad. Due to my haste in Tampa these four items were left in a hotel room drawer, not to be recovered by hotel cleaning staff before they were reported missing four hours after departure. I was reminded of the kindness of humanity, and the generosity we should all share through the Golden Rule thanks to an amazing man who is easily Roanoke VA’s most amazing trail angel. Dennis picked me up @ 10pm, worked through a hotel room cancelation by putting me up in his guest room (Thank you Cindy and Moose for sharing) and lending me amazing gear to get back out onto the trail. I truly hope his journey and adventures continue to be as rich as he deserves.
Day zero: A well deserved foot massage for Lauren followed by pretending to eat like a thru-hiker.
Day 1: A nice smooth 18 mile section, camping near nice people at the end of a reasonable day just to make sure I’m committed and hooked.
Day 2: Pain Cave. I tried to put in a good sustained effort in the only place I can keep up with Lauren, on hills, but the result was a complete burnout resulting in a full depletion of electrolytes and ATP. She put me deep into the pain cave trying to keep up with her through the last ¼ of day despite good nutrition and Skratch. She was carrying more weight than I was, and easily out-pacing me on all grades of the trail. #humbled
Day 3: A more measured pace trying to stay below my lactic threshold but I was still rocked by the end of the day… Lauren was tired too but I was once again out of gas. She was in the story circle at the shelter well before I arrived. #humbled #paincave
Day 4: A bittersweet and mercifully short day. Once again she out hiked me and showed me what the A.T. was all about. As much as it was good to come into resupply, it was also hard to know that my stay was coming to an end.
By the end of it I was eager for a shower and hotel room. I managed a few hot days on relatively well graded and maintained trail in clean conditions with easy logistics. Lauren has been doing this for six weeks and has covered 815 miles. Not only was I humbled by the trail, and the pace that Lauren can sustain but I was humbled by the focus and dedication she displayed. While I sped off in my rented 2017 BMW 640i convertible for some planes trains and automobiles to rejoin the hamster wheel of modern life, she once again struck out into the inhospitable woods of the south to sleep under the stars and care for blisters. Saying goodbye at the trailhead left both of us in tears and it was only her determination that allowed us to separate and force me to watch my heart walk away and into the woods.
On the plane home I read an inspiring article about a Canadian gent who traversed the southern BC via paraglider. There was a phrase contained in the piece that has captured my thoughts for the past 24 hours: “Turning fear into love”. That simple sentiment is really what we have been experiencing over the past six weeks. Lauren did not sign up for this trip without intention, cause and reason. Our week together was very reaffirming that by facing our individual and collective fears, we are stronger. When I watched Lauren walk back into the woods alone on Saturday morning, armed only with a few inconsequential sheets of nylon, her wits, her knowledge and her self-awareness I can take sollice in this phrase and the early results we shared with each other. It has already been a gift to both of us to challenge our norms and redefine the difference between me/we/she/he in our relationship. As Lauren marched north toward her goal into the sunny neon green tunnel of chlorophyll I knew the trek is well worth the trial and that love would continue to guide our way.
Trails like the PCT, AT, and CDT mean many things to many people but for those lucky enough to use it as a portal to challenge, learn and grow it is an amazing and enchanting place. Of all my trips in the woods in 2017 the last week was by far the most meaningful. This trip was filled with love for my partner and best friend, a flood of memories and habits from PCT 2016, reflections on culture in the south and observations of a new place, appreciation for those who got me to where I was (Tiffany Turner and Dennis from Roanoke VA), and a strong dose of humility. In just a few short fleeting days I’m returning to the hamster wheel refreshed by nature, nurtured by kindness, awed by beauty, inspired by thru-hikers and their dedication, grateful for the people in my life who fill it with magic and fully in love with Lauren.
A few random thoughts:
“To make the Pacific Crest Trail it took men, horses, mules, engineers and dynamite. To make the Appalachian Trail it took a Redneck and a bucket of paint.”
The A.T. Shelter experience is fascinating. It forces a social experience unlike anything I’ve ever experienced in the woods. In many ways this centralized resource point was much closer to recreation in Europe than any confederate flag waving southerner would like to admit. The infrastructure allows many people to get out and share in something truly beautiful.
I’m really glad I did not have to dig catholes in that clay!
People are generally pretty respectful
Southern kindness is real. As is a strong appreciation of guns. I loved talking gun shows with hikers and seeing open carry holsters in the Kroger.
Economic segregation is very real. After visiting a few very white mountain towns in demography diverse counties it is clear that The New Jim Crow needs to bump much higher in my reading queue.
The Green Tunnel is the perfect description. Each day was spent walking through a multi tiered forest of green. The variation was in the shade, density, placement and tone of the green. Based on aspect, elevation and location the forest would morph and change but it was astonishingly beautiful in its subtlety. Clear lower, mid and upper canopy changed, grew and shrank back to show new plants and life. The AT is focused on the nuance and the introspection. It is a special place.
The section I hiked was perfectly timed to feel like an incredible garden. After years of growing rhododendron plants in the PNW I now understand what they should look like and what they can be when heat and water fuel their bloom. White, purple, red, pink were all on display in one of the most amazing displays of flora I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing. Timing is everything!
I ate a few Mediterranean Quinoa meals. One of ~4-5 new recipes we put together for this trip. It was really good but still has room for improvement. HUGE thanks to Mitch, the Crane train, Phil, Allison, Ben, Alyssa, Christina, Chad and Alan and Shanda for GREAT food. It feels really good to have great fuel. Once again the nutrition side of this journey was a massive team effort. THANK YOU!
To Greg, Daniel, Kevin, Joel, and Brant and everyone I’ve adventured with in April and May 2017… We had some fun in the mountains over the past month and each of our objectives was difficult. However, the enchantments, Dragontail, Trapper Peak and Rainer were all easy compared to chasing Lauren in the heat down the Appalachian Trail.
PS: The drive south from Lexington VA to Charleston North Carolina for the flight home was awesome. Top down and SPF 100 all the way! The new 640i can handle when asked, especially in sport mode. An impressive machine compared to the white 1977 BMW 630csi I drove many years ago.
Travis will hike with her until Lexington, VA. He’ll get off the trail. Travis, unfortunately, needs to return to Spokane and the real world. Lauren has been making such great time on the trail, Travis has to get from Lexington to Charlotte, NC (going back south) to catch his plane home. We are working on the logistics of getting him back to Roanoke to rent a car, if possible to save on money.
They will be in the Shenandoah Valley which is one of the most amazing places on Earth to be on Earth. One of our goals has been to go there during peak color change in the fall. Here are some amazing pictures of the Valley.
While this is going on, Lauren is trying to upgrade her phone and if it can go wrong, it has gone wrong. Pretty crazy. Here’s a picture of her on the phone to me, while I’m doing the computer side of things. Logistics on the trail as Travis put it.
Had a blast hiking as a trio this last week. Kyle’s long legs keep us moving at a swift pace. He is 6′ 4″ and so I end up having to take twice as many steps but I enjoy the challenge as not very many people can hike faster than me. When Green Beard and I get tired, we either give up and let Kyle go or relegate him to the back of the hiker train.
On May 4th we reached the 25% mark and on the 7th we crossed 600 miles.
Much of the last section included hiking through farm land.
We stopped for trail magic at this old school house from 1890. The list of punishments for rule breaking was a bit disconcerting. I would have received quite a few lashings for climbing trees and playing with the boys.
The weather here continues to be problematic. Although I don’t have any pictures of it the rain makes up about half of my time. Swollen creeks, muddy trails and damp gear is a constant battle. Thankfully it hasn’t slowed me down too much.
That’s from Lauren. I should have taken pictures of the rain. It’s needed rain but it’s been cool/chilly here. We’ve been on fluctuation of 40s to 90s, rain, no humidity to 90%. It does make things challenging.
Tick with its head sticking in human skin, red blotches indicate an infection
While there is nothing romantic about these bothersome bugs, the seriousness of the infestation predicted for this year merits a better understanding. The above pictures of an embedded tick is not fun to look at. The “bull’s eye” around the tick needs to be paid attention to. It’s a sign of the tick carrying Lyme’s and treatment needs to happen quickly as Lymes, untreated can cause a lifetime of issues.
Give me the creeps to write about it.
Okay. So to more fun things. The crew continues to make great headway on this hike. Mile 600 puts them close to Pearisburg, VA. By the time this posts, they should be past Pearisburg unless they stay over.
A better picture or more global:
You can see the progress through VA they are making. Pretty incredible. Lauren provided some amazing pictures for this blog of the scenery she’s experiencing and I don’t feel the need to add more.