Or, as I like to think of it, the weekend I thought I was going to die. That’s probably a hyperbole, I really didn’t come remotely close to dying.
The hubby and I have been hiking every weekend, doing in a day up to 7 or 8 miles. So we thought this two day trip of 14 miles should be doable. What we did not take into consideration was the elevation gain and loss to this particular section of the AT in Virginia.
We did it with two cars, we started high up on Mountain Lake Road (past where they filmed Dirty Dancing, so that was cool) at 3971ft. Which was pretty awesome to be sure! Our plan was to finish up at the AT parking lot near the Keffer Oak (2152 ft).
It was a foggy day, so we spent the early parts of the hiking in what felt like a horror film.
We had a steady pace and by lunch time we had made it to War Spur Shelter at 5.2 miles. Our plan was to get to mile 11 at Laurel Creek Shelter for the evening. We had a quick bite and walked through some amazing Rhododendrons.
But couple things that we did not take into consideration: The forecast was wrong and the rain came hours earlier than expected, it was extremely humid/hot, and elevation gain/loss can sap your energy. By the time we got to mile 6 and John’s Creek I had hiked beyond my endurance. Going from 4091ft to 2071 ft sounds easy (it’s down hill, so it’s easy, right?).
But, we started to continue pushing forward, because even the little bit farther we could do now means less the next day. And I was starting to realize that what we planned on doing the next day might not be possible. So, then my planner head said, “what do we do? we HAVE to keep going, not like we can call in an air lift”.
We got to about 6.7 miles (climbing up a freaking mountain) when the heavens opened and we scrambled to put up our tarps and hammocks. We managed to find a nice place with trees on the narrowish trail. We were incredibly lucky that we had not pushed on farther because it became a rocky landscape with no trees in sight for hammocks or even walking off the trail. While there was the sound of pouring rain, we could hear from both sides of the trail rushing water, which added to the surreal feel of the entire encounter.
By 4 pm the rain had slowed down, but we were exhausted and just relaxed for the rest of the afternoon.
That night, while it rained far into the early morning (3-4am), it was magical. I had recovered from my exhaustion for the most part and the sound of the wind and rain was so relaxing. When I got up to relive myself in early morning, the stars were so bright. I got in that moment why people push themselves to go past their limits and into the wilderness.
The next morning, we packed up quickly and started up the rest of the mountain. We started talking about if it would be possible to stop early at a cross road and see if we could get a pick up. By the time we go to next road (and we thankfully had an actual phone signal) we were able to get a phone call out to a friend to pick us up.
So, I think what learned from that outing is that even section hiking the AT you have to be aware of your limits and that what you think is your limit might not be! I feel confident that I could hike the distance, but the up and downs took it out of my endurance. I am proud of myself for doing it though, all of these fit folks were passing us and yet we were out there, off the couch making an attempt. My advice going forward is if you think you can do 10 miles, just go 5-7. Make plans ahead of time of places where you can bail out if needed. Give yourself plenty of time for breaks and food stops. We did not do that and I have a feeling I would have had more energy if we had.
But overall, just start walking. You won’t know how far you can go until you make that first step.