Entering Virginia Blues territory.
There’s no set distance or time on the trail when the boredom switch flips. The lucky ones don’t experience boredom, but they are few in number. The rest of us are normal and it happens.
That switch flip may come sooner for hikers not used to being away from home. It comes much later for others such as former military or business types who are used to deploying overseas or taking lengthy business trips. Nevertheless it comes.
On the Appalachian Trail the “Virginia Blues” seem to be the most common malady related to boredom. It makes sense. Virginia is the state with the most trail miles. Somewhere, in what can become a vast wasteland, the tedium, monotony and the repetitious plodding along, can strip your soul like solitary confinement.
The endless weeks of staring at the ground, vigilant for trip hazards, eats your mind. The green tunnel is endless, the views are rubber-stamped, and the goal posts seem always to be moving the wrong way. Progress is slower than the watched pot that never boils. Your brain screams, Enough already!
A trail family.
There are several coping strategies. One is to hike with compatible friends. Trail families offer distractions, both positive and negative. Above all they can serve as support groups where everyone keeps each other’s spirits up and copes together.
Virginia also is a basket full of what one might call trail candy, and hikers can hike from one delicious place to another marking their progress place by place.
The super hiker-friendly town of Damascus is the first sweet out of the wrapper. It’s just a hop from the Tennessee border and a half-day hike from the nearest shelter. The AT marches straight down a Main St. trimmed with restaurants, an outstanding outfitter and legendary hostels. Being the home of Trail Days adds to its ambiance.
Wild ponies, Grayson Highland State Park.
A few days north of Damascus is Grayson Highlands State Park where the wild ponies gallop followed quickly by Partnership Shelter where you can shower and order pizza.
You can go inside and write on the blackboard if you’re old enough to know what one is.
Almost before your body can absorb the pizza comes the Virginia Frontier Museum’s Lindamood School and the Barn restaurant, both right on the trail.
How can this be monotonous?
Woods Hole Hostel.
The next layer includes Pearisburg home of the unique Woods Hole hostel and where the rule of thumb says you can safely send your winter gear home.
It’s a bit of a stretch to the Audie Murphy memorial, the next delight. The memorial marks the spot where Murphy, WWII’s most decorated soldier, died in a plane crash.
Not long after that, in close order, you unwrap the Dragon’s Tooth followed by the photogenic McAfee Knob and the iconic Tinker Cliffs.
James River Bridge.
Post crossing view of the James River.
Next up is a rock formation known as the Guillotine on Apple Orchard Mountain followed by the James River crossing. Then comes the Priest Mountain shelter where it’s traditional to confess your sins in the shelter register – salacious reading if you’re lucky.
Yummy. Three hundred feet from the park entrance.
From the Priest it’s a short haul to Rockfish Gap/Waynesboro and Shenandoah National Park with its delicious waysides and handy campgrounds. Unlike in the Smokies, the AT touches most of the front country amenities in Shenandoah. The blackberry milkshakes are yummy.
You know you’re in the park.
The AT passes through front country in Shenandoah National Park. Skyland Resort.
The Roller Coaster hills begin.
.After Shenandoah comes the Roller Coaster hills with the $30 hiker special at Bear’s Den Hostel and from there, on to the psychological halfway point in Harpers Ferry.
Bear’s Den Hostel.
End of Virginia Blues territory
Chewing on Virginia’s trail candy breaks it up a bit and beats singing the blues for more than 500 miles.
Blogging or journaling offers another creative distraction and a way to tell the story of your hike to family and friends.
Observation suggests thru hiker blogs come in two themes. One is the daily/frequent chronicle of mundane events – Here I come, there I go. Pitched my tent and dug a hole.
The other is the descriptive adventure story in which each day/time period becomes a unique story fueled by imagination and observation of the people and of the nature the writer finds along the way.
The three most common blogging platforms seem to be Trail Journals, WordPress and Blogspot. All of them are free.
Any thru hike requires a lot of mental stamina and it helps finding a way to disassociate your mind from the daily mind-numbing grind.
On the AT, the mental challenges don’t end in Virginia. They continue until the end. Think about it this way, paraphrasing the late, great Yogi Berra: “(Hiking) is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.”