Thursday, May 31, 2012

West Virginia, A.T. Thruhike 2012

     Making it to West Virginia was a huge accomplishment for me. Arriving in a new state after being in Virginia so long gave me new confidence, and renewed enthusiasm! Don't get me wrong, I loved Virginia. I found kindness and love from many wonderful people, I enjoyed many landmarks along the trail, the rich history, wildlife... Virginia was wonderful.
     It was also a bit mentally draining, however. It just seemed like it was going to take forever to reach its northern border. The weather didn't help, either. For the most part, it was nice. In fact this whole hike I have been lucky with the weather, experiencing rain, snow and hail but usually it isn't bad. But there was a stretch while walking Virginia where it just rained consistently, day after day. And it was a cold rain, too. Paired with chilly nights. It wasn't anything I couldn't handle, but it did make me feel pretty drained.
     The weather, and the fact I went so long without an "accomplishment", added a new level of challenge to the hike; a mental one. I felt lonely. I was cold, and frustrated my gear was wet. I was slipping in mud. I was sore. All this made it noticeably more difficult to find pleasure in carrying all my supplies on my back and up over mountains each and every day.
     I never lost sight, though. As difficult as it became, I would remind myself how lucky I am to be out here living my dream. I breathed deep and took notice of the new wildlife that emerge only in these steady rains, like the rainbow of different salamander species. I set small goals, and ignored the long distances ahead of me. I daydreamed of all the times shared with people I am lucky to have known. I persevered.
     And then, some time later, I came to what is known as the "Roller Coaster", a series of uphills and downhills in rapid succession over a stretch of 14 miles. And on the final hill, racing up to the top, breathing heavily, sweating, greeted and congratulated by a few fellow thruhikers... I arrived to the sign. Virginia is done; I have completed another state. A warm blood ran from my heart and through my body, and I smiled a most sincere and joyous smile.
     After spending the night at Blackburn Trail Center, a nice little place set aside for hikers with bunks and a woodstove, I strolled on into Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. Arriving at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy (ATC), I was overwhelmed with emotion. I am pretty much halfway... I felt that making it this far, I can make it all the way.
     I was greeted by friendly volunteers, who gave me a place to sit and a cool drink, and we talked of the trail. I had my picture taken, and I am now officially in the records as a thruhiker.
     A very friendly person, and also a bit of a "celebrity" since being featured in the National Geographic A.T. Documentary, offered me a place to stay for the night in exchange for some work. I was excited to be able to spend a little extra time in this historic town.
     It was a great experience; we ate, talked about hiking, laughed, and watched movies. He really added to my experience!
     The next morning, after breakfast, he joined me in walking a few miles up the trail. As we strolled through Harpers Ferry, I admired the antique appearance. The town goes to great lengths to preserve its old appearance.
     The town is full of history. It has significance in the Lewis and Clark expedition, it was the site of occurrences which led to the Cival War and abolishing of slavery, and is the site of a once booming town full of old buildings, churches, cemetery, etc.
     I would learn as I walked with my host that the trail followed along an old canal towpath. Along the canal, as we passed old locks, was an old railroad track. At the time of their construction, canals were successful while trains were unproven. It ended up that the railroad became far more successful, and the canal became unused in time.
     We walked a few miles, and then he wished me luck and we parted ways. I have been very lucky to meet so many wonderful people along the trail. The people are a huge part of this experience, and I will never forget any of them; they have changed my outlook on things in a way I will carry with me for years to come.

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