Boredom on Long Distance Hikes

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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!

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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.

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Damascus, Virginia.

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.

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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.

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Lindamood School.

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?

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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.

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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.

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McAfee Knob.

Not long after that, in close order, you unwrap the Dragon’s Tooth followed by the photogenic McAfee Knob and the iconic Tinker Cliffs.

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The Guillotine.

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James River Bridge.

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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.

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The confessional.

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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.

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You know you’re in the park.

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The AT passes through front country in Shenandoah National Park.  Skyland Resort.

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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.

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Bear’s Den Hostel.

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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.”

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Da Bears (Den)

Bears Den Hostel and Hiking Center, Bluemont, VA – Saturday, November 21, 2015 — Sometimes pop up projects just happen.  The PATC supervisor of trails was jawing with Glenn, the Bears Den caretaker.  “Ya got any work?”  “Yup.”  And so another adventure begins for the North District Hoodlums Trail Crew.

So there I was, minding my own business when in comes a “flash” email looking for volunteers for Saturday.  Bears Den needs firewood and urgent repairs to one of its hiking trails.  Who can come?  Sawyers bring your chain saws.  “Let’s rally!”

Now what can you say at a time like this?  A chance to fire up my chainsaw…  This is better than playing baseball in late October.  Woah dude!  Don’t ask twice I’m there. I love extra innings.

Fortunately we’ve had a prolonged indian summer here in the mid-Atlantic.  Unfortunately we became way too comfortable with unseasonably warm weather.

Of course the weather pattern was going to hold.  What was the chance it would be subfreezing Saturday morning … No need to guess.  It was 26F according to my car when I pulled into the parking lot.

Everyone was shivering as we organized our work parties.

We had three sawyers and split into two parties while a larger crew marched off to repair a badly eroded trail.

The swampers got some help from one of two Scout troops camping on the Bears Den grounds. We were bucking the hazard trees a professional crew of arborists dropped earlier this summer as mentioned in this post:  https://jfetig.com/2015/07/29/on-the-road/

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Lunch is always better when enjoyed outside, especially since the temp jumped the shark back to early autumn.

 Now to split the damn stuff.  Fortunately, Glenn has a hydraulic splitter.

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At the end of the day, we tramped down to Bears Den rocks for a zen moment  Thus ended another Hoodlums excellent adventure.

 

Cut your losses

Buena Vista, Va., AT NOBO mile 802.6, Thursday March 27, 2014 — Yesterday’s wind storm did a number on the trail.

This morning Butch, who co-owns Bluedogart with his wife Susan, shuttled me to the trailhead parking lot located a mile downhill from AT NOBO mile 818.9 so I could scamper back toward Buena Vista for a 5 pm pickup.

The one mile uphill trek was moderately steep, taking 40 minutes slowed slightly by the six inches of snow clogging the old dirt logging road.

Once up top everything changed. Yesterday’s stiff winds mounded the snow into an endless series of deep drifts, some to midthigh, but most just above the knee. A genuine posthole experience for those who know about these things.

Since the trail started on an exposed ridge line, I thought I would walk out of it. Not so. After almost two trail miles I realized the drifting was for keeps.

The sun sparkled and drifted snow drastically slowed my pace. When I reached a definable land mark on my trail guide, I realized that at my blistering pace, arrival at the pick up point would be after midnight rather than 5 pm. Time to reverse course and try another day, especially since I wasn’t carrying a tent or sleeping bag.

With rain in the forecast starting late tomorrow, lasting into Saturday, I don’t expect the snow to clear until Sunday morning. Being only two hours from home is tempting with three nights to kill. I have a call in to my wife to see if she can swoop in and rescue me tonight. If so, I’ll be home for our anniversary Saturday!

I’ll drive back Monday to hike the section to Waynesboro in three days, then recover my car.

Decision made with no phone signal, I reversed my footprints and retraced my course down the old logging road.

As luck would have it, there’s a Virginia Fish and Game fish hatchery at the bottom of the hill equipped with a phone and a really nice manager named Tim. You’re a gem big guy.

I arranged a shuttle only to arrive at the hostel (built in the 1890s) to find an overheated electrical socket. Butch and I pulled it out of the wall and disconnected it.

Upon reflection, today deep snow was a lucky break. Aside from the obvious reasons, I had $1,500 worth of gear stored on the other side of that wall!

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Can you believe it?

Buena Vista, Va., AT NOBO mile 802.6, Wednesday March 26, 2014 — Taking a weather zero (mileage) day off. The prevailing winds on the AT are from the southwest. Today a stiff wind is ripping from the northwest and I’d be walking dead into a subzero windchill. My mamma didn’t raise a fool.

Tomorrow I’m planning to slack pack about 15 miles back to Buena Vista. The advantage is twofold. One, it solves a distance problem that enables me to avoid hiking a 20-plus mileage day my second day out. Two, I get another night indoors and the free breakfast that comes with it.

Slack packing is when hikers are driven a distance down the trail and hike back to their point of origin. I so doing, they empty their packs of tents, sleeping bags, food and other nonessentials for a day hike. First aid, rain gear and water about everything that goes along for the ride.

The moving is faster ’cause the load is much lighter. I’ll still have to contend with six inches of melting snow, e.g. slush, but I’ll take that bet.

Got a huge surprise last night when I prepared to shower. A tick was noshing on my leg – as in locked on tight. It was too large to be a deer tick, the Lyme Disease vector. Nevertheless, I was a bit dumbfounded. During the past month, the overnight temps have been above freezing only twice. Moreover my base layer is skintight so the little sucker really had to work to get there. Could it be that Spring has sprung and nobody told us?

At the moment I’m soaking up lunch at the Bluedogart Cafe complete with a slab of that heavenly bee sting cake. Turns out that it’s homemade by a local Amish lady. Butch, the owner, is holding down the fort at his favorite roost.

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