Tag: Appalachian Trail

7/17 Day 61 – The Ghosts of Damscus

7/17 Day 61 – The Ghosts of Damscus

7/17 day 61

Breaks interstate parks to Damascus VA

77 miles

*Note* – I know I have missed about a week’s worth of entries, I’ll be updating them hopefully in the next 24 hours, including my entry to VA, the last state. In the meantime this one was more important to me than those.

I’m sitting in The Place in Damascus, VA. Appalachian Trail town USA. The sign on the door said “closed for group” but I came in anyway. It’s empty of people. Well. Real people at least.

I’m here with ghosts. The ghosts of my memories of this place. Of a hike 5 years ago.

There’s the madness of packing going on. The day after Trail Days and we spent a night recovering. It’s now Monday morning and we’re trying to get a move on. The group is going to slack pack the miles they missed into town. I’m going to try and climb the 10 miles out of town. We’ll all see each other a little farther down the line.

Thunder and Burgundy are making jokes and funny faces at each other. They are like a pair of old shoes, well matched and worn together. They’re married now, they were together before the trail started – this is Thunder’s second hike.

Saga and Delorean are sharing a happy special look. The unsure kind of where things will go, but thrilled to have them happening. They were eyeing each other when I met them. I’m glad they were happy then. Everyone should be happy. They are joking back and forth with everyone but keep sneaking furtive glances at each other.

Pee Wee Germans stomped back in, the angry/funny grin that only he was capable of. He found the brick I had stashed in his pack before he even left. I shouldn’t have tried when it was already stripped down for the slack pack. Next time I’ll get him. Talker of course thinks this is hilarious and his mouth is open in a giant grin, laughter howling out. Who knew someone so young could do something like this on their own. He never told us he was only 17 until much later, but he has the poise and maturity of someone twice his age. But he’s always quick with a joke. Keen too – he didn’t miss much.

Skittles is torn on taking his rain jacket or or not. He has been having fun, but he seems tired. More than just the long weekend of partying tired. He gives up and leaves it at the hostel.

Rambo has been sulking. Her friend got arrested and charged during Trail Days. She hasn’t been too into things since. It wasn’t an easy thing for her. It’s never an easy thing for anyone to see someone they care for like that.

Gnar is napping. Well sorta. He’s sitting upright and staring into nothing. He’s amusing himself with his mind.

And I’m there. Watching. Joking. Packing. I feel kinda hungover still from the weekend. The whiskey last night didn’t help. I’m going to climb out of town and gate every second of it. At the top of the pass I’ll puke, mostly water but also a beer I drank out of the river trail magic stash. Probably shouldn’t have done that – my blood was still probably more alcohol than water at that point.

I’ll summit Katahdin with 3 of these people. 2 of them will go home. 4 others will summit 2 weeks before the rest of us. We go our separate ways, sometimes in alone and sometimes together. But we have these moments.

This is what comes back to me as I sit down on the bare bunks in The Place. Whispers if the conversations in those moments, flickers of the world 5 years ago. I couldn’t imagine the things ahead, for myself or for the others. I still can’t believe some of the things that happened.

I came into Damascus and all I wanted was one thing – to see the sign that welcomes northbound Thru-hikers as they enter town. To see that white blaze upon it. It’s a special thing. It marks the footpath from Georgia to Maine and back again. It leads weary footsore hikers to a place in my heart. It conjures up ghosts in daylight for me and dreams so real I can smell them at night.

Welcome home to Damascus. Appalachian Trail town.

To the Edge of the Ledge. McAfee’s Knob (06/04/13)

To the Edge of the Ledge. McAfee’s Knob (06/04/13)

McAfee’s Knob is said to be the most photographed point on the AT, and with good reason. It’s incredibly beautiful and breathtaking. A jutting point of rock from the cliff-side and a sheer drop into the valley below.

At the edge of the ledge
At the edge of the ledge

Buckeye, Atreyu and I decided that we wanted a sunset and a sunrise on McAfee’s Knob. This was an ambitious proposal the required a 16.3 mile day up and down 2 significant and 1 medium sized mountains/hills, a stop at Dragon’s Tooth (another amazing sight) and a small resupply and stop at the 4 Pines Hostel. All before sunset.

Somehow we managed it. It’s still one of the most incredible achievements in my mind.

Starting off at the Pickle Branch Shelter, we got an early start which was quite a feat in itself. Buckeye is a habitual late sleeper now that he’d gotten used to his hammock, but he was actually the first one up. We beat feet the 4 miles to Dragon’s Tooth with a few others in town and made it up the craggy torturous path to the summit. A clear, cloudless day greeted us – with views for miles.

It's a bit of a climb to get to the top of the tooth, but well worth it for the views.
It’s a bit of a climb to get to the top of the tooth, but well worth it for the views.

We stayed for almost an hour on top of the Tooth. Around 11am we decided it was time to get moving – and wouldn’t it be nice if we could have some real food for lunch? You’d better believe it! So let’s roll on down to the 4 Pines Hostel and go to the amazing gas station up the road for pizza! So we did.

One of the best things about hiking with Buckeye and Atreyu? They are never short of conversation or song. They are strong, fast hikers but they have fun everyday together. Sometimes they hook the little portable speaker up and play techno, or indie. Sometimes there are long involved conversations about women, philosophy or politics. But even when they disagree they respect each other – it’s a rare thing to find friends like these.

4 Pines is a converted 4 car garage run by Joe. He’s a hell of a guy – he took me in the previous year when I was freezing after Sandy and fed me fresh venison, gave me a pile of blankets and said “go nuts with the wood stove.” So when we made it to his place for lunch he took us down to the gas station. Pizza, slushies, chips, hot dogs, beer. The whole nine yards for lunch. We played a little cornhole (beanbag toss for all you Yankees) and seriously contemplated if we wanted to do another 10 miles. “We could stay here tonight and make it a short day tomorrow…”

The other great thing about Buckeye and Atreyu? They never shirk from a challenge. At 3:30 we finally got going. The terrain between 4 Pines and McAfee’s is ridgeline and rugged. You hug the tops and dip down into the saddles, gaining and losing 100 feet sections of altitude every 1/4 mile. You climb and scramble in places.

Man if they didn't have this sign here, I never would have known!
Man if they didn’t have this sign here, I never would have known!

We made it to the McAfee’s knob parking lot just before 7pm. The sun was starting to get lower in the sky – sunset was around 8:15 and we still had almost 3.5 miles to cover to the top. So we beat feet up the side of the mountain. The trail is well maintained, and a fairly easy climb until the last mile or so when you start going up steeply. We were on track and on pace.

the list

Until we found a cell phone.

Atreyu: “It’s gotta be the cute girls we passed on our way up, about 10 minutes ago!”

Buckeye: “Maybe. But they’re probably already back at the parking lot by now. We’re going up.”

Spice: “So… what are we doing? Sunset is so close!.”

At that moment, the phone rang. Atreyu answered it. “Yes we’ve got your phone! I’ll bring it down for you!.”

Buckeye + Spice: “You’re going to do what?”

Ateryu: “I’m going to take my pack off and run the phone down. You guys keep going, I’ll meet you at the top.”

Spice: “If you do that, we’ll take your pack with us. I’ll wear it on the front and double pack it.”

So off Atreyu bounded, down the path we’d just come up. Buckeye strapped Atreyu’s pack onto my chest. I’m sure I cut a ridiculous figure in that moment, hiking up the mountain side with two packs on. But if it meant that Atreyu could catch up with us faster, it was worth it. Atreyu managed to catch up with us a mile from the summit, which was good because I was DYING carrying two packs together.

And we made it. All the way to the top for sunset. The three of us almost were running by the time we got there, because we were so sure we were going to miss it. But we didn’t. We’d managed to push a 4 mile and hour pace or more by the time we’d gotten to the top. That’s a feat for any extended period of time. It was all worth it though.

Panorama view of Atreyu
Panorama view of Atreyu

I’ve heard people say that they don’t derive any pleasure from accomplishing miles or getting somewhere. That they don’t measure their achievements by getting to X place by Y time. That may be all well and good for them most of the time, but I’ve never been able to subscribe to that theory. Getting somewhere, achieving something in the face of adversity, pushing yourself to the limit and winning – there is something valuable about that to me. Getting to McAffe’s knob for sunset was such an achievement. We all felt it and we were all filled a beautiful glow that night.

Amusingly, the photos from sunset? Completely outclassed by the photos from the sunrise the next morning.

Crane Kick silliness
Crane Kick silliness
“It’s because we think about it every single day.”

“It’s because we think about it every single day.”

I hiked with Carry-On in 2012. She recently went back out the AT to do a little section south to Springer. She wrote this and I ended up crying.

When I read things like this, it makes me reevaluate what I want to do again. I think about the Trail everyday. Things will happen and I’ll flashback to a moment. I’ll smell something and remember an instant. Everyday.

I think about the Trail every single day.

It changed me – and I’m not sure if that change makes me fit for normal society anymore.

Endless Rain and The Breaking Point

Endless Rain and The Breaking Point

When I read of new hikers who are coming to grips of the realities of the trail for the first time I think about how we have a tendency to build things up. Put things on a pedestal.

I once heard a story from Baltimore Jack. Of rain that lasted for forever. Grown men would wake up hearing the same sounds that had put them to sleep. The constant drumming of rain on the tin roof. It brought them to tears when they looked outside and saw the grey clouds and constant water cascading from the skies. He said it was one of the wettest springs on the AT – and he saw more people break from the rain than he’d ever seen before. People just gave up and went home.

I can understand that. I sympathize – there are few things worse then getting up for the fourth or fifth day in a row, putting on wet and cold socks with the utmost trepidation. “If I pull them on slowly, they’ll warm up a little more than if I pull them on quick and shock my feet.” Hearing the squelch of water as you shove your feet into your shoes. Packing your things up haphazardly – it doesn’t really matter anymore, everything is at least damp already. The rain jacket has as much moisture in it on the inside as it does the outside, why bother putting it on. You’ve stopped trying to avoid the puddles and small lakes that form on the AT because the whole trail has turned into a river.

You think you’ll never be dry again. I know how it feels. I’ve been there.

It’s odd because looking back now I recognize the same feelings of despair in that scenario of rain that I had with depression. Trapped. Drowning. Overwhelmed. Too tired to care anymore. How do you keep going when it’s like that.

I think some people are just built a little differently. No matter how depressed they get, how awful the situation gets they keep going. I’ve heard some call it “dogged determination.” People have called me stubborn. It’s been described as a coping mechanism, or protective trait. Some call it strength or mettle. But whatever you want to call it – these people just keep going.
They don’t lie down and die, and they don’t seem to ever quit. And when they do quit it’s because they are literally so run down, so ragged that they just don’t have the energy anymore.

I once read a psychology theory that postulated we can all endure only so much. Our capacity for suffering, for the negatives in our life are like a glass for water. It’s only so large. The more things we have going against us, the more water fills that glass. We can only handle so much before it all spills over. You can make your glass bigger by doing positive things, having good friends to share the load or have coping strategies. But there is always a finite amount you can take. Eventually you reach that.
The people who broke down and cried on the 5th day of rain had just reached their limit. Their glass was full. That was all.

What’s the take away from all of this? I’m not really sure honestly- lord knows I rambled on in this post, but I wonder if there really is an answer. On one hand, we’ve gout our dreams, and we want to pursue and accomplish them. But we should always be realistic of the moment, of the adversity facing us. So what should we do? I don’t know. It’s something you’ll have to make up your mind about yourself. I follow this simple advice.

Don’t ever quit until you’ve been completely and fully miserable for 48 hours. Then give it another 24 hours of staying someplace with a TV and Ac/Heat. If you’re still miserable – then you can quit. Because it’s not something you can fix with pizza, Chinese food and beer. And if you can’t fix it with those things, you may be well and truly screwed.

The air was so thick with water you weren't breathing it - but drinking it.
The air was so thick with water you weren’t breathing it – but drinking it.