Rob Hollow Shelter to 4 Mile Camp
Noodle Experiment Camp to Final Virginia Camp
AT miles: 26.2
Total miles: 1030
Elevation change: 6463ft gain, 6234ft loss
During my last full day of hiking in the great state of Virginia, neither the weather nor the trail made it easy. Now, I have no qualms with Virginia, as it seems like many hikers do when they reach the end of this expansive state. I’ve loved Virginia. It’s had its difficult and crappy parts for sure, but that’s just part of a long hike. I also appear to have dodged an attack of the Virginia Blues, a form of mental doldrums that strikes after being in the same state for too long, and for that, I am grateful. After sampling a taste of that feeling this afternoon, I’m hoping that reaching Harper’s Ferry and spending some time with friends will cure my affliction before it developes into a full-blown infection. I’m definitely worn out. I’m definitely ready for a mental reset. Nothing that a little rest, new shoes, good food, good friends, and sunshine can’t fix. Thanks, Virginia, I’ve enjoyed our time together, mostly.
I was filled with unspeakable optimism as I saw the sun shine through the trees this morning, turning all of those lingering drops of water into sparking diamonds. There were no clouds in the sky, only hope and gratitude. Somewhere nearby, either a tree or large boulder broke free from the saturated earth and crashed to the ground with sickening pops of broken limbs and severed roots. I was safely distant, and grateful for that too.
I got hiking a few minutes after Spokes came by to make morning chit chat on his way out of camp. I haven’t been fast to pack up at all on this trail, but being left behind today put some more haste into my granola shoveling. I ate recklessly, not even close to being worried about running out of food. I had plenty.
After a few wooden boardwalks through a swampy patch of forest, I jumped right into a 14-mile section of trail known as The Rollercoaster. There was a sign and everything. From what I could tell right off the bat and would discuss with Spokes later, the fancy name was just a way of saying that the trail was in rough shape. The tread was crappy and rocky, filled with water in parts because the water management tactics were either ignored or left to rot. It was also steep and slow going, which was maybe why I found myself grumbling so much. I sweated up and stumbled down the first few undulations. Then, for a few miles, the trail mellowed out and everything seemed right again in the world. The sun was still shining brightly, after all.
A few humongous beech trees, with silver bark and bleeched leaves, guided my attention along a smooth descent until I reached an unexpected sign marking the spot 1000 miles north from Springer. Having already reached my personal 1000 miles and stuffing deep any bubbling emotions churned up by such a milestone, I didn’t think too hard about where I was or what it meant. The sign was cool though.
The day hikers thickened as they do near trailheads on sunny days, and I enjoyed the reflected joy of a child tossing a huge rock into a rushing creek. The trail carried me up and over a few things. Always, there was a swollen creek lurking in between. The cliffs at Bear Den Rocks would have been a perfect place to enjoy lunch, except that there was no way I could stop with just nine miles hiked for the day, even if they were rollercoaster miles. So I pushed on, down to Snickers Gap, across the busy four lanes, then far enough along the trail on the other side to reduce the horrendous vehicle cacophony to a distant roar.
Lunch was a good one. Tucked in between some large rocks next to the trail, I finished off my chips and downed a few tortilla burritos. A conversation with some passing hikers shrunk the world a little bit and also ate into some time that I didn’t think I had the luxury of sacrificing. I wasn’t even finished with the Rollercoaster yet, and had many more miles to hike before dark.
The trail north from there was the worst yet, loved to death by millions of steps, all trying to find a slightly easier route through a minefield of jagged rocks. The result was a wider minefield of jagged rocks with no defined path other than the few white blazes on the lowely trees standing in the middle of it all. Considering the rough state of the trail, I guessed that it led to something good. All these day hikers were out here for some reason, and I found it at the top of the next hill. Raven Rocks boasted a decent view to the south into the Shenandoah Valley and of the hills beyond. I stood there quietly for several minutes, trying to remember the melody to the classic tune, Shenandoah, but coming up blank. The building clouds overhead started spitting, but the drops were warm and gentle.
Continuing on, I filtered water for the final 16-miles to Harper’s Ferry, plus a night of camping. Then I sloshed up a soggy trail to the top of a long ridge, officially exiting that stupid Rollercoaster. With many miles left to go, I was pleased to discover that the trail beyond did stand in sharp contrast with what I had just traveled. It was smooth and flat, ripe for cruising.
I made great time, but my struggles were not over. As I tried to fly on my aching and tired legs, the clouds continued to build overhead. Surely they weren’t going to storm on me, right? The rain started gently, and I even hiked through it without grabbing my rain jacket or umbrella for a mile or two. However, when the sky darkened and whispers of thunder began to rumble, I admitted to myself that just believing that it wouldn’t rain wasn’t good enough. I pulled out my umbrella and hiked on, growing increasingly frustrated that another sunny afternoon and dry camp had been snatched away. My sense of entitlement felt gross, but I just wanted a little more comfort today. It didn’t think that I was asking for too much.
My mood darkened with the diminishing light and intensifying rain. Perhaps it was that my expectation of a pleasant afternoon wasn’t coming to fruition. Perhaps I was just worn out after pushing myself hard for a few weeks. Perhaps I was just hungry and dehydrated. Whatever it was had me in a stormy mood and cursing the rain. When I passed a day hiker returning to his car near Keys Gap, he must have sensed that I was in a dark place, and offered to trade me his waterproof boots. It was one of the kindest things anyone has ever done for me. Even though I declined, and remained moody, his offer broke my mental storm, and I hiked on with a clearer perspective. I splashed through the puddles, embracing the soggy feet, trying to enjoy the rain rather than take it as a personal attack on my happiness. The indifference of nature never fails to humble me when I need it most.
By the time I made it to camp, the rain was in the past and I was looking forward to another experimental dinner. I got some different noodles soaking, then finished off a few baggies of other snacks. This perked up my mood a bit, but I still fell asleep thinking that I needed a rest. I was looking forward to reaching Harper’s Ferry in the morning and everything that it would represent, but really I just craved mental respite from the daily grind. A change of pace, a visit with friends was just what I needed, and it felt like perfect timing.