Walking to Virginia

November 30, 2007

I’ve often referenced my time on the Appalachian Trail (AT) and the profound influence my romp in the woods has had on my life. I have not told you about many specific instances during the three months. Let me do so now.

If you are hiking north you begin the AT at the southern terminus on Springer Mountain in Georgia. After a week of walking you cross into North Carolina and soon find yourself in the Great Smoky Mountains. At times you straddle the state line with Tennessee– especially along the ridges where you can feel the land drop away on both sides of the trail. Heading further north you come upon a section of the AT fondly known by long-ditance hikers as the Tennessee Turnpike because of its easy grade and relative lack of highs and lows. Here’s where our adventure begins.

Four characters in this play:

  • Zippy : Bostonian and lover of life. He carries every bit of his trash for hundreds of miles before letting it go in a ritual of removal.
  • Ishmael: Grabbed his alias from the book by Daniel Quinn. Traveling the full length of the trail with his girlfriend Grinder, gnawer of teeth.
  • Dharma Bum a.k.a. Bunny Luv: Recent college graduate, nibbler of tiny carrots, talker of arrogant nonsense.
  • Me a.k.a. Moonlight: Orange beard grower and reluctant elder statesman of this motley collection.

The challenge: To walk 33 miles from Tennessee into Virginia just in time for breakfast at a diner in Damascus.

We depart at 4:00p.m. figuring a 2 m.p.h. speed with dinner break will deliver us to scrambled eggs heavens the next morning. We are giddy about this trip within a trip–renegades pushing the limits of our endurance just because we can. I doubt any of us would be making this trek without the fraternal support of the others. Night hikes over a great distance are best when conversation can eat away the hours and stave off the moving shadows.

We are lucky that a full moon shines down upon us and we can turn off head lamps in sections of the trail with few overhanging trees. I talk to Zippy about the fulfillment of dreams and we stop in mid-conversation as the warning snorts of frightened deer ring out from the dark underbrush. Ishamael and Bunny Luv hang back lost in their own ramblings unaware of the close-by beasts. Reaching a shelter we cook midnight meals of rice and pasta, disturbing the slumbers of other hikers sunk in their sleeping bags for the night.

Twenty-nine miles into the trip we reach the sign that lets us know we have made it to Virginia. Creatures for miles wonder at the strange hooting and hollering emanting from the delirious figures with lights on their heads. Pictures are taken, hands slapped and the celebrations begin. One drawback. We still have four more miles to hike into town and we don’t know the time.

These last miles are the toughest and understandably so. Our legs flop in front of us, shoulders sag from a weight too long carried. Our talking minimizes and headlights beam foreward looking for the last bend of the perpetual night. At last we trudge out of the woods and instead of the hero’s welcome find a deserted town sleeping peacefully. The relief we feel in encountering civilization is met with the realization that a small burg has nothing to offer the needy traveler arriving in the dead of night. It is 3:30a.m.–in our excitement we have walked too fast. We are tired and hungry. My legs are so chapped and I hobble down main street.

But we are not unprepared. We have provisions in our backpacks and once the disappointment of no breakfast sinks in we do what long distance hikers do. Find a flat spot near the river, pitch a tent and sleep the sleep of the contented.

From left to right: Ishmael, Zippy, Bunny Luv. Time: Approx. 1:30a.m.


15 Responses to “Walking to Virginia”

  1. Robin Says:

    Sounds like a grand adventure.

  2. ell Says:

    Sounds like an amazing walk.

    You are the second person I’ve come across today that talked about hiking the Appalachian Trail. Prior to today, I didn’t even know there was such a thing to be hiked.
    My conclusion: –> Serendipity –> I must find out more about the AT.

  3. Karen Says:

    I knew when I saw your name you would be writing about the AT…I love hearing about your adventures on this great trail. I struggled to think about the many trail walks I have done, but I have only done pieces of the AT!!


  4. That part of the tale was so brilliantly told – it must have been – I know it was – such a great adventure – and it’s vibrantly enlivened by your natural gift of storytelling.

  5. Matthew Says:

    Robin-Yes a wonderful foray.

    ell-I think you are on the right track. Have you ever considered a long distance hike to test mind, body and soul?

    Karen-Am I that predictable?:) I too knew that the walk prompt would lead me back to the AT. Look forward to reading your post.

    AV-Thank you for the kind words-I loved revisiting these memories and remembering old situational comrades.

  6. paisley Says:

    i am in the midst of writing a piece that takes place in Appalachia… i am and always have been fascinated with the people that live there….

  7. imageverse2 Says:

    Ass-kicking adventure — and in the dark no less… ya’ got cojones dude!

  8. Betty C. Says:

    Walking seems to be on your mind these days. Do you need to take a long hike?

  9. Sounds like a great walk!

  10. Redness Says:

    Loved this … you guys are too much, the stuff movies are made of , books are written on – don’t let the adventures stop! Yay!

  11. I am in awe of your adventure. My husband and I have said that some day we would like to hike the Appalachian Trail. What an awesome adventure.

    Thank you for sharing!!

  12. Tumblewords Says:

    I like hiking with you. This is my idea of a perfect hike – taken in the comfort of home in my bare feet! Thanks for posting!

  13. Skyelarke Says:

    Fun reminiscing. Reminded me of my early morning hike in Patagonia during which I got to watch the sun rise and after a grueling ascent, the view of the lake with glaciers was amazing, making the entire quick hike worth it.

  14. Matthew Says:

    Paisley-Good luck with your piece.

    Rob-Thanks, night-hiking does add an exciting element to the mix-especially when there are bears out there!

    sister AE-Thanks

    Betty C.-I’m noticing the same trend, perhaps I need to get into the woods soon

    CGP-Was fun!

    Redness-Thanks, we whooped it up!

    SAM-You should definitely make plans right now to get on that Trail and hike. Life-changing, your only regret will be that you didn’t start sooner.

    Tumblewords-Thanks for stopping by, glad I could add that vicarious thrill.

    Skyelark-Sounds like you’ve had a few nice hiking adventures yourself. Thanks for sharing.

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