Today was ugly. It took me almost as long to hike 13.5 as it did to do 20 yesterday. I staggered, wobbled, and shuffled the last five, feeling totally depleted. If I had been in a road race, an official surely would have pulled me off the course. For 5 milers, be they running, walking, or hiking, today had to have been a PW (personal worst). So am I discouraged? Absolutely not. I’m back at Bears Den, have showered, and now I’m munching on some Pringles and sipping a Dr. Pepper. Life is good.
The day began with a ride from John back to Ashby Gap. Since he couldn’t drop me off exactly where I ended yesterday’s hike, I had to walk south for about a quarter of a mile and then retrace my steps north. I may not sleep in the woods that often, but I am determined not to miss any white blazes. When I did get headed up the trail north, I saw no other hikers for about the first three hours. Then I met some southbound sections hikers out for a few days. A few minutes later I caught Hickory and Jackrabbit, also section hikers from Arlington. Not having hiked with anyone all day, I actually slowed my pace to chat with them a little while.
It was after I moved on ahead of the duo that my day took a turn for the worse. I paused to photograph a sign on a tree “warning” hikers of the infamous roller coaster, a 13.5 section of trail with numerous “tightly packed ascents and descents.” Mumbling that the description could be for just about any section of trail, I think I jinxed myself regarding its difficulty. I hiked up and down, up and down, over large rocks, across streams, through the mud, until I felt like I really was on a roller coaster, as much emotionally as physically. It concerned me a little when I found myself singing “They’re coming to take me away, the men in their little white coats, to the funny farm, where life is beautiful all day long, they’re coming to take me away.” Believe me; it wasn’t funny.
To try and take my mind off the drudgery, I attempted to recognize some of the vegetation along the trail. Sorry, Mr. Stewart. Despite enjoying leaf identification in high school biology, I failed miserably today. Between swatting bugs and slipping on muddy stretches of trail, I just persevered. And at about my lowest moment I heard a rustling behind me. When I turned I came face to face with a beautiful whitetail deer. When I looked into his eyes, I thought of my brother. It was as if Don had made an appearance to tell me to “suck it up” and get today’s hike finished.
So I did my best to listen to my brother’s advice internally and work as hard as I could to get to Bears Den. When the sign came into view indicating the blue blazed .2 mile trail to the stone structure, I was again a happy hiker. Even though there was still no zip in the legs, I managed to get to the hostel and into a mood changing shower. The old hot shower after a hike does wonders. Now I just have to wait until 5:00, when the hostel officially opens, for my pizza and ice cream. For now I’m content to sit on this comfortable wooden bench and enjoy the refreshing breeze.
Shortly after I arrived, Pacemaker and Runner-up hiked in as well. I’ve now seen the young German couple for several consecutive days. Four southbound former high school buddies from Ohio were also taking a break outside the hostel. Without guides, they weren’t sure where they wanted to end their hike. I let them borrow my AT Guide and suggested Mike at Terrapin Station when they asked about a shuttle. Before the end of the day I suspect other hikers will also arrive for the night. Bears Den is one of those places that is hard to pass up.
As I reflect on my difficult day, I could probably attribute my lack of energy to a number of factors. Tomorrow I’ll definitely increase my calories at breakfast. I’ll also drink more water and electrolytes early in the day. And I hope to get a good night’s sleep. Because tomorrow I’m headed to Harper’s Ferry, the psychological half way point of the hike. I’m looking forward to visiting the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and getting back to a motel. At this time last year my brother was nearing the end of having the ability to speak. But today I heard him loud and clear as he encouraged me to keep on hiking and reach my goal of getting to Maine on the Appalachian Trail.