AT RunVenture Project Segment No.8
AT Segment #8 August 5-8, 2021 Beahm’s Gap to Caledonia State Park miles 947.5-1085.3
Ten days, that’s all we had, only ten days, to plan this segment. We’d of course been working on it, as we often try to plan ahead but we’ve come to learn that it’s virtually impossible to plan a segment until we’ve finished the last. Part of this is our mentality. We have to see how we managed a segment, on all levels: Physically, mentally, spiritually. Coming off of 170 miles and planning nearly 140 more takes guts. Physically I was doing well, Celia was doing pretty okay but not 100% confident. Mentally I was feeling pretty good, but Celia was pretty fatigued. Spiritually I was barely in the game, work, kids… life, we weren’t off trail long enough to have rebalanced things, so, planning and prepping to be “hard” and to be gone were a struggle. I think Celia felt similarly.
Nonetheless, the trail goes on, so we go on. We started with paper and pencil and mapped out an ideal plan with easier miles than usual since we had much less recovery than usual. We’d still push because the terrain would be a bit less crazy than things we’d seen and we’d have decent support. The plan developed in a matter of days. My husband Dave would drive us down and crew us for the first segment, leaving us that night with our sleep gear to finish at a shelter. Dave would then drive up to meet Rob who would take our crew boxes and meet us Friday night. Friday we would be unsupported all day until we met Rob at the hostel in Harper’s Ferry. From there Rob would crew us Saturday through Maryland, since there’s essentially no water sources in the state due to our dry year. Rob would leave us Saturday night at Pen Mar park with our gear to get us to Caledonia State Park where Dave and my two boys would pick us up. That’s the quick and easy story, and it’s pretty close to how things went, but here’s the long version
Celia flew into BWI airport Wednesday night and I picked her up about 9:40PM and took her back to my house where we finished packing and preparing for the early morning. We made it to sleep around 10:40PM. My boys were with their Aunt Carrie to make this whole thing work.
At 3:30AM we were all up, loading the car for the trip back to Shenandoah National Park (SNP) to our starting place at Beahm’s Gap. I drove to let Dave rest a bit since I made him get up so early. Celia and I chatted the entire way. We arrived a little after 6:30AM and we were ready and on trail by 6:45AM. My excitement for the day was tangible. Having Dave meant no pack, in fact since we’d see him every 5 miles I carried nothing but my phone for the first chunk. Celia carried her full pack with hydration and bars. Celia and I hiked fast, walking smoothly at about 3.2mph pace with a few touches of jogging. Celia was determined to keep it easy today and I was happy to enjoy catching up. Unfortunately all our chatting meant we walked right by the turn to the parking lot where Dave was waiting. I found out later it was only 0.1 miles off trail, but I had been expecting to walk through the lot, a misunderstanding of my planning and mapping out skills using Guthook. So, we’d walked about 0.5mi past the lot and neither of us wanted to add a mile backwards, so we voted to continue on and reach Dave via cell phone.
In SNP the cell service is not great. You may have a bar of service or three but it may or may not let you call or text. We hiked the next 5 miles with me checking my phone and holding it up to the sky in desperation for enough service to send a message to my husband. On one hand I was a little concerned that I had no water or food. Ten miles was no big deal but by the 15 mile mark I’d be hurting my outcome for the day and if I wasn’t careful, for the entire weekend. On the other hand, I knew my husband and his stress level would be on the rise. Obviously he had no cell service either and he wouldn’t know for sure to move on to the next lot or when. I could imagine his growing angst and frustration.
I ran ahead reaching the 10 mile meeting spot, mile 957.3 a lot on Skyline Drive and began wandering back and forth on the connection trail looking for Dave and simultaneously waiting for Celia. We’d gotten messages through to Dave and I’d messaged my friend Mallory who was meeting us for lunch at our 20 mile spot. I was frustrated to again have no service, but couldn’t go on or do much of anything. So I made a video and tried to make light of the stupidity. Once Celia arrived about 20 minutes later (she’d taken a slight detour on the trail) we chatted again about what to do.
I still felt great and knew I could get 5 more miles, and if I had to, definitely the full 20 and Mallory could help me track down my husband. So we headed onward, me with my cell phone high in the sky every few hundred yards, knowing that by now Dave was likely livid, a little concerned and like me, just trying to figure out what to do next. Finally at the top of North Mount Marshall we had enough service to use Facebook messenger. Texts were a no go, but facebook messenger allowed me to message Mallory and have her continue to try and reach Dave and I was able to message him. Only a few minutes later I got a message from Dave. It read, “OK. When you get to 962, please go no further.” I could feel his frustration with us not waiting at the last lot in his words. We were almost there though. I was beginning to feel the lack of nutrition and hydration in my muscles. I was getting a little muscle fatigue, nothing much, but concerning when you’ve got 120 miles left to go. I was still jogging comfortably and trying to keep myself from running too fast. When we popped out to the road and I saw Dave I was so relieved.
I could see his frustration and I tried to apologize and explain, but he already knew it was a mistake and mostly needed the space to recover from the two hours of chaos. I took care of fixing my hydration and refueling my body, packing a bottle and bar for the next five miles to be intentionally more prepared, despite knowing in 5 miles I’d have more than enough calories. Celia arrived and moved swiftly through our little aid station. She took off and I followed a minute or two later. I was running now as the trail was smooth and I was trusting my legs to bounce back. They felt heavy and tired which kept my mind wondering how the weekend would play out. Just to make things more fun I had gotten my period too, I was starting to realize that it wasn’t just my nutrition making the start of my run a little tougher. I was glad to not be feeling any worse.
I was excited rolling into Compton Gap. Mallory would be there at noon and I was about 25 minutes ahead of schedule so I stopped my watch and planned for a solid break. Celia arrived and did not plan to wait around, she wanted to be certain that 44 miles for the day was attainable. You see, just the night before Mallory had offered to not only bring us lunch and a visit but also to pick us up from a trailhead and let us sleep in her home and bring us back to the trail the next morning. This meant food, shower, bed, laundry, social time… this was Huge for us. Celia was very motivated to have these things for a night over a wooden shelter and I sure was too!
I spent a few minutes cleaning myself up and packing up until Mallory and her four boys arrived. She had brought fresh strawberries for us and an Italian sandwich for me. I picnicked with her and her boys for about 15 minutes and then when I was done eating I knew that as much as this was a social visit, I also did need to get back on the trail and lay down 25 more miles, so, I’d better get moving. I packed up and said goodbyes, finalized an evening plan with Mallory and I was back on the trail running.
I had another 5.5 mile section and I thought I could get close to catching Celia if I worked hard. I was running well down a descent when I felt a loose piece of something flip in the front of my right toe and just as quickly I felt it pierce into my big toe head on. “Seriously?” I questioned out loud. The pain was real, but sharp, not like stubbing your toe, no dull throbbing or anything like that. I quickly removed my shoe and through the hole in my sock (I lift my big toe when I run and so I almost always have hole in my big toe) I saw the piece of wood sticking out. I was sweaty and with shaking adrenaline I committed myself to dealing with this without hesitation so I yanked it out and noticed there was still a remaining piece. I squeezed and dug at the hole in my toe while my brain begged me to stop, the discomfort and the thoughts of the dirt under my fingernails now getting covered with blood as I worried about getting an infection. I managed to get everything out I could and I put my shoe back on and continued down the trail. The toe stung with each step and I was frustrated that despite my very good mood I was having a pretty rough start to our segment.
I caught up to Celia and made it to Dave just a few minutes ahead of her. There I grabbed my med kit and soaked my wound in iodine before repacking and trying to replace way more fluid. I was sweating in the heat of the day and still not feeling strong, like I still hadn’t recovered from my morning screw up. I drank a lot and then drank a red bull. I had also taken in a shake and a bar and some olives. I was turning green and Dave said I looked rough. I had so much fluid in my belly I thought I might vomit, so I gave myself a minute to balance out. I whined to my husband only briefly before I was okay enough to start walking. I took off across US Route 522 and continued onto the trail. This would be our last section with Dave on the other end.
I was finally turning around, my legs felt better once my stomach had worked through the salty sweet liquid overload I’d dumped into it. I was running smoothly and loving the trail. I popped out to Tucker’s Lane well ahead of Celia but we’d agreed to meet here before taking off on our last 11.7 mile stretch of the day. I packed what I needed for the night and the entire next days’ miles. Then I ate a lot more and packed all of my things for Dave to be able to hand off to our friend Rob who would meet us about 27 hours from then. Celia arrived and was quick to eat and pack and prep. She had gotten so good at moving through our Aid stations where I’d learned to really waste time. We were ready to go at about the same time.
There was some rumbling in the sky and some dark clouds. We invited a summer thunderstorm to dump on us as we were burning up on the climb in the late afternoon heat, but the storm never came. The sun came back out and at every gap in the trees we felt the heat surrounding us. The climb was not hard but it was long and in the heat it took both of us down a notch. Heart rates soaring and minds exhausted, although we had again separated we both knew we were struggling and yet so close. We passed by our shelter where we’d originally planned to stop and had 4.5 miles more to reach Mallory at Liberty Hill Lane parking lot. That last 4.5 miles was a push mentally more than anything. My body was just annoyed with what it had been put through that day. I felt fine, besides my stinging toe pain, but the extra little things to overcome made the thought of finishing for the day that much more inviting.
I arrived at Liberty Hill a few minutes ahead of Mallory or Celia and just sat. Then Mallory and three of her sons arrived and I was happy to watch them run and play and chit chat. Once Celia arrived we headed back to Mallory’s home.
Once we arrived at Mallory's home she showed us to the guest room where she had some shirts, shorts and sweatshirts ready to share with us after a shower. Celia showered first and I went upstairs to the kitchen and was fed a meatball sub and pasta salad and as much fresh water as I could drink. After that I showered and we tossed all our clothing into the washer. Celia and I hung out with Mallory, her husband Caleb and her boys for a while just talking and enjoying the company. After this, Mallory’s boys asked to take me on a tour of their bedrooms which were in fact the coolest bedrooms I have ever seen. I met just a few of their pets and then thanked them for taking good care of Celia and I and said goodnight. Back downstairs we finished off conversations as well and headed down to our bed to sleep comfortably until 3:30AM.
We woke up Friday morning ready to get moving. We both slept pretty well after struggling to fall asleep. We got dressed, ate a decent breakfast and each had our very own travel mug full of coffee for the ride. We headed out the door just after 4AM and arrived at the trail to start just before 5AM. It was hot already, you could feel the humidity sitting in the air. Today we were on our own. Only 36 miles but no aid until Rob met us before bedtime.
We started out and we were sweating immediately. Within 4 miles you enter the southern end of the “Rollercoaster” named aptly for its steep climbs and descents close together that on an elevation profile map look like that of a rollercoaster. I’d been warned by my friend Dave Seel but I hadn’t thought too much about it. The biggest climbs were only 600-700’ which Celia and I had no trouble laying down that kind of vert. Not to mention the added benefit that between each climb was a flowing water source. I thought it’d feel tough but it was definitely a challenge.
We climbed the first couple ascents together and I waited at the bottom of the descents for Celia. She was getting ahead on water so on the next climb I went on and the space between us grew. By the time I’d summited the 4th or 5th climb near Bear’s Den I sat for a minute at lookout and texted Celia, “This is a bit soul crushing” and internally despite the dismal pace I knew I was working hard. The air quality mixed with the climbs had my heart beating for sure!
I continued on, feeling a bit of burn in my legs, which, I couldn’t remember the last time a climb on the AT had actually made my legs burn. I was getting low on water so planned to fill up soon. Checking guthook I realized soon was basically immediately and that was it for water on the trail for the day. At mile 17 for the day we’d fill up for the next 7-15 miles. At 7 miles from there there is a water source but its 0.4 off trail, essentially a full extra mile to obtain water. About 1 mile past this water source you cross a road at Low Key gap and you can walk 0.2 mi to a gas station with a standard gas station grocery store. I was planning for that.
Anyways, the rollercoaster continued to mentally beat me down and I had to imagine Celia was feeling similarly. Finally 18 miles in the “Rollercoaster” ends and then the elevation for the day is essentially over, only the rocks are not. The rocks continued for about two more miles, eating away at my hopes of running or picking up pace. I wanted to finish by 3PM. That’s the worst hour to be on trail. I pushed on, trying to run anytime the terrain allowed, keeping the breeze blowing against me.
I finally got to Low Key Gap and texted Celia that I could buy her cold Coke, pickles and fritos. She hadn’t responded by the time I’d walked the hot sunny 0.2 road stretch to the store and strangely I had no service inside. I was (not so) secretly hoping to enjoy the air conditioning but the store was hardly cool at all. I purchased some blue version of Mountain Dew, a small cold coke, a bag of Fritos and 2 pouches of pickle slices. I filled my water bottles within the store and sat out front chugging my cold soda and downing the pickles. I shoved the Fritos in my pack and headed back to the trail.
Upon entering the trail on the other side I saw Celia’s text that she didn’t need anything and simultaneously saw Trail Magic left by the trail sign. I added the Coke and excess pickles to the water, fresh peaches and electrolyte mixes. I texted Celia that there was trail magic with fresh peaches and the pickles would be there. Stupidly though, I’d somehow bought Diet Coke, which I knew Celia would never drink, but hopefully someone found it and enjoyed it, if only the Trail Angel themself.
At this same time that I was crouched over the trail magic my watch beeped and suddenly gave me a few extra miles. I was a bit annoyed that my tracking for the day was now off and on the other hand, trail miles are almost always short of truth so I felt a bit righteous about getting those miles on my watch. No idea the exact amount in error but it was at least 2 miles.
I continued on the trail, feeling hot but so much better after cold fluid and caffeine. I was running now and ready to get to Harper’s Ferry. I was excited. It even looked like I’d make it before 3PM.
The rocks lessened but never stopped. There was running, with slow tripping and waddling over the terrain until I finally came to the bridge. The bridge across the Potomac was intoxicating. It was straight hot, sunny torture 100+ ft of the cool flowing water. Two people below soaking in the river made me think briefly of jumping off the bridge to feel that cold water, but obviously the height made even the daydream nauseating, not to mention you can see the rocks at the bottom. There was little question of how a jump like that would end, yikes! So, on I hiked across the bridge and up the steep little climb on the other side the brought me to the ATC headquarters intersection.
The ATC was classic. Every thru-hiker stopped there and had a photo. At that moment, 3:04PM, I was not feeling the off trail walk for the picture and if I wanted it with Celia, well, I had to wait a while. Harpers Ferry was 0.7 miles further. I sat on the steps and texted Celia.I asked if she really wanted the photo because when I mentioned it that morning she didn’t seem to care much. As I sat my body felt pretty good within a minute or two. I then messaged that I would go get a picture for us and then head to town and wait there. I headed off trail for the ATC.
I was breathing heavily for such an easy walk that I noted how overheated I was getting when I arrived at the ATC. I wanted to go enjoy their air conditioning but they required masks and I’d forgotten to take a buff when I left Dave’s car yesterday evening. Someone sitting out front took my picture. I signed the hiker book and then I headed back to the trail. I was surprisingly happy to have that photo, to have made it to that checkpoint on my “thru-ish” run/hike of the Appalachian Trail. I was excited to know it really did mean something to me. Then, I ran the final descent to town and walked right into a Cafe.
The air was hardly cool but cool enough that when I stood still the room began to spin a bit and I thought for a moment that I might hit the floor, but I leaned on my poles, head down and searched internally for balance so I could stay in line to order ALL the food. I was depleted. I was hot, hungry and ready to take care of these issues. I ordered a jalapeno cheese burger and a vanilla frappuccino. I nearly ordered the bread pudding and ice cream too but talked myself out of it, opting for my Condition One bar which had actual nutrition in it instead.
I grabbed a table and sat, playing on my phone until my food was ready. I then ate and balanced the burning heat of the jalapenos with the brain freeze from the ice cold drink. I felt a little silly, definitely stupid but I was enoying myself thoroughly. When I was done I headed to a park bench and rested. I made a video clip, ate my Condition One bar and just hung out for quite some time.
Celia arrived and looked and felt like I had. She had also wandered directly into a cool building and immediately described herself as I had. I said, “Oh yea, we’ll fix you up, I already feel a lot better.” I took her next store to the Cafe I had been to and she ordered two burgers, covered them in mustard and chowed down.
It was now 5PM and we were about to go Live for an interview with a woman who picked up our story for the Capital. Sitting with my phone on speaker between us, both exhausted from the heat and surely the 35 miles we tried desperately to focus and answer the questions as best we could. We finished that and we both thought we did pretty good considering our current state of mind.
We sat for a bit longer and then when Celia felt well enough we walked the remaining 1.6 miles to The Cross Trail hostel, our stop for the day. The hostel was up a 0.2 mi cliff. We questioned our sanity or maybe safety as we thought about descending that climb at 4am the next day, we laughed and made our way to the hostel. Upon arrival we were met by “Peak Freak” who runs the hostel and he showed us around a very clean and kept building. We showered up and settled in.
Rob arrived just after 7pm and we descended on his car and our boxes of aid like crows. We picked the food we needed and clothing and I chatted with Rob, catching up and honestly re-meeting him. It’d been quite some time since I’d seen him. Celia and I bailed on camping and decided we wanted the cool air conditioning overnight. Rob wanted to camp and worked on setting up his tent.
After all of this was done, Peak Freak helped me glue my Altras back together as the rocks tried to rip them to shreds with less than 300 miles on them!! Then I did something I haven't done yet during our segments, I had a beer. I drank it and sat with Rob and chatted and re-worked the Saturday crew plan. I intended to run MD, our next section, and Celia intended to hike MD and spend 14 miles with our friend Keith. We knew we’d end up with a big gap, which makes crewing a bit complicated. Rob seemed to feel well enough prepared, after all, we’d have cell service all day. After another hour of good conversation, I headed to bed.
The next morning did not come quick enough. The night was full of tossing and turning for me. I was groggy and sleepy as I headed straight for the kitchen to prepare the coffee. I had some oatmeal with carnation instant breakfast I’d bagged up for breakfasts and so I poured that into a cup and microwaved it. As I ate my oatmeal and drank my coffee I urged myself back into my dirty running clothes, grateful that Xoskin doesn’t stink or feel like I’d swam in my own sweat for 12 hours the prior day, nonetheless, I knew that it was disgusting. We were ready right on time and headed to our cliff to descend our way back to the AT.
The air Saturday morning was distinctly different from Friday, it was cooler, clearer, drier. We walked swiftly. I really wanted to run the C&O section but it was so short and it was just prior to a big climb. I opted to stay with Celia, the climbs are always more fun together, in the dark especially. Celia felt stiff getting started and the climb made that first hour just barely 3.0mph. I was itching to run, but the climbing kept me at bay and for the first time my stomach wasn’t quite right. We came to Gapland Road to meet Rob for the first time and we were exactly on my lowest time estimate, a nice start to a 40 mile day.
We fuelled up quickly, I struggled to get something down, but ate nonetheless. We headed out of the lot up a trail that looked like the AT, climbed like the AT was supposed to, but wasn’t marked like the AT, we both stared at Guthook. We were parallel to the trail but off the trail. Celia was more sure than I was that we were wrong, but luckily I listened to her and we headed back to the last marker and found the actual trail on the other side of the Gapland Rd parking lot. We mostly laughed, seeing as this was my home turf, I’d ideally know where I was and where I was going but I’ve only run the southern portion of the MD AT at night in the opposite direction so my knowledge was fairly useless here.
The sun was up, but had a cool start with decent cloud cover. At the top of the next climb I started to trot but my stomach was just off enough that this was uncomfortable. I wasn’t quite nauseated or anything, but I had been exhausted the prior day and ate two burgers which I know, for me, sit much heavier in my gut than pizza and all other carbohydrates, so I just moved through it as I waited for my body to catch up to me. Eventually, my stomach did catch up and it was within the last few miles to our next Aid station at Turner’s Gap.
As I started really running, I recognized where I was and realized the descent I’d come down was one of my favorites. I hadn't even noticed, in a sense I’d missed my favorite descent. I now knew the next 20 miles very well and was excited. I’d run it enough to know just how runnable it is, and which parts are not.
I arrived toTurner’s Gap within 15 min of my fastest possible estimate, (which for once I tried to make sure were actually a few minutes earlier than I should be able to get there). I was ready to eat, and Keith was there! I knew he was coming but I was not sure I’d get to see him but I did. Keith, Rob and I chatted as I ate some Confetti cake Pop Tarts and prepped my pack for the net section. I tried to make sure I explained the highlights of MD and the next Aid Station well so that everyone knew what they needed to know.
I took off across the road and up the trail headed for the Washington Monument. The climb always felt so hard so I braced myself for the discomfort, but it never came. The climb is really short and broken up with miles of flat runnable terrain. I stopped at the monument for a quick photo as it’s one of my favorite spots and then I took my second favorite descent and ran with it. Suddenly I was again mind blown by my legs running so smoothly. I texted Rob to let him know I was moving better than I thought and I’d be 30 minutes faster than I told him I would be at Turner’s Gap.
I thought on a gorgeous August morning like this I’d see more runners out but I only crossed with 1 or 2. As I arrived at the route 40 lot, (my usual AT go to parking lot), it was packed, as I suspected. Rob was not there quite yet so I sat in the grass, paused my watch and texted my husband. Within 5 minutes I saw Rob pull into the southernmost part of the lot, a full 0.1 away, but there were no parking spots closer to the trail so I headed down towards him. The sun was beating down in the lot as I refueled and loaded my bottles with ice. I drank a red bull. I was on the fence about it being too early for another huge dose of caffeine but decided to go for it anyways. Then a runner was getting set to head out so we chatted with him for moment as he told us a story of Thru-hiker who’s girlfriend had had an ice cream cake delivered to the trail for his birthday, apparently it’d been packed in frozen peas by the Uber Eats driver and made for the best day on the AT thus far for that guy. It was a simple but uplifting story. The runner was headed south unfortunately so no company for me.
I took off and headed for the Annapolis Rocks climb. I knew from the parking lot the trail would be busy. I hiked the steeper sections of the climb but ran most of it. I was feeling great and just wanted to roll with it. I passed the turn for trail to the views at Annapolis Rocks in under 30 min, and was on track for a 5 mph hour. I couldn’t believe it. I just kept running and bouncing through the rocks. This section was going to be 8.4 miles. I estimated 2.5 hours but as the miles ticked by with ease I realized I again was going to be significantly under that time estimate. Then I finally hit the rocks. I knew there was a legitimate rock garden in MD. I estimated it to be a few hundred yards at worst but once I was in it, well, it was closer to ¾ of a mile. I texted Celia as soon as I was out of the boulders to let her know it was pretty far off my estimate and apologized for that.
It was toasty out and the trail had more rocks in general, I slowed up a bit but was able to keep a strong pace and enjoy the long descent to Wolfsville Rd. As I descended I thought about my text messages from the day. My husband had planned to maybe meet me with my kids, but I was moving too quickly and my youngest needed a nap, etc… So it was not going to happen. My friend Marina planned to come out but something came up with her car and an apology text came through to my phone a couple hours back. It was better she didn’t come, for the same reason as Dave and the kids, I was moving too quickly for anyone near home (on the other side of MD) to estimate the drive and meet up time well enough for a last minute decision. Richard had also sent an apology message after he’d finished a long training ride. Again, I knew at the pace I was running I’d basically be inviting him to come hang out at Pen Mar as he’d miss any running at all. Nonetheless, I was having a low moment thinking of all the people in my home state that I’d hoped to see and instead it was rather lonely. Literally less than 30 seconds later I turned a corner and there was Dave Kadis sitting, waiting for me. I was a little blown away. I mean, we’d messaged and he hoped to make it out but I’ve only run with Dave a couple of times and didn’t know what to expect, but he was there, ready to run and had figured out all of his own logistics perfectly.
I immediately expressed my gratitude as he ran me to the lot where Rob was waiting. I sat for a minute and enjoyed eating and drinking. There was only 10 miles left to the day and Celia was a couple hours behind. I had zero reason to move quickly except for my own enjoyment. I probably wasted a solid ten minutes here and then got myself up and ready, expecting the last 10 miles to be slower. I knew there were some climbs and plenty of rocks. Dave and I took off back to the trail.
We ran, walked, talked and spent the time getting to know each other, like you do in ultra running. We shared stories you don’t share in the real world, but the trail is sacred that way. We took the off trail route to High Top and enjoyed the view in the daylight, which neither of us had ever seen. Then we descended all the rocks, which weren’t nearly as intense as they seemed overnight and ran our way to Pen Mar.
I was tired for sure, I worked hard for it and had definitely gotten behind on calories, but Dave had his car at our finishing point (he had biked to Wolfsville rd to meet me) and quickly suggested we go find cold fluids and food. I didn’t hesitate, I thought that sounded like a really good plan. Rob was still back at Wolfsville rd, as soon as he left there he’d texted his ETA and let me know where Celia was at. He would Drive Keith back to his car, south, and then head to Pen Mar, north, so it would be a while until he got there. It was a perfect time to get to a Sheetz, eat food and be back in time to hang out for a bit.
We arrived to Sheetz and I felt less exhausted than the prior day, but I find it’s mostly an overwhelming brain fog. It is very hard to focus on mental tasks, like ordering food. I stared at the MTO menu knowing I needed to eat but couldn’t pin down a craving. When this happens I always choose chicken, simple, boring, protein. I added mustard and such and for some reason made it a wrap. Then I thought, hmm, I want some straight up calories so I touched the button for milkshakes and ordered a “Red Fish Milkshake” that was supposed to be like Swedish fish. It was a weird combo but it would do the trick.
Sadly, the food was less than “wow” but I wasn’t exactly surprised. I got most of it in my body and other than my brain fog I was feeling really good. I hung out in Dave’s car until Rob arrived and then I needed to mentally manage myself. I needed to take whatever I needed to finish the last 18 miles, sleep and anything else I might need at the end. As lightweight as we travel, I would carry nothing for the end and say goodbye to all the recovery goodies in my Aid box, no massage gun, no extra food, no luna sandals. I did grab my Xoskin compression socks and all my sleep gear and whatnot and put that in a pile. Then I tried to figure out what else I’d want to eat that night. I went back and forth and eventually even grabbed a beer from the cooler.
Rob, Dave and I had decided we’d move all of our Aid stuff into Dave’s car since he lives significantly closer to me. I packed up all of our things and we all helped get things packed up. Then after a few more thank you’s and such Rob and Dave left, and I was there sitting in a parking lot in a pile of stuff. I wanted to move nearer the trail crossing where there were benches and view so I crammed my pile into my pack and bags and tied my shoes and socks onto everything and slow walked barefoot across the park.
I made myself comfy on a bench and prepped for a bit of a wait. Celia was about 2 hours out based on her last text message. I dressed in my rain pants and long sleeve shirt to keep from getting a chill. I snacked and played on my cell phone. After I was there about an hour I decided that despite the park employee sitting in the golf cart 100 yards away, I would attempt to drink this beer I’ve been hanging on to. I did have a koozie thanks to Rob, but I still kept it hidden. I took a few sips very slowly as I wasn’t really into this low-cal IPA and just continued waiting. About 15 minutes later, around 6:30pm the park employee came over and began talking with me. I threw a shirt or something over the can and enjoyed the chit chat.
He was a 78 year old man who’d grown up in Gaithersburg, never finished school past 7th grade and worked for years in a warehouse. I learned of his divorce from his ex-wife, his children, his current wife’s struggles with Alzheimer’s and his possible “mass” somewhere that he was on some chemo medications for that made him sick so he stopped taking them. Then he went on and on, and on. He shared that he shuttles hikers within a 60 mile area of the Appalachian, and has been doing so for 25 years. All in all, it was a very one sided conversation but I was more than happy to listen and hear his stories. I appreciate the years and years of hard work and the ongoing support of Appalachian Trail hikers.
Celia arrived and looked great, as always, a great big smile on her face. She shared that she was feeling pretty well, just achy, especially her feet just from being on them for so long. I helped her get situated while the park employee continued chatting with me. Once the 7:00 hour rolled around, he shared he had to lock up and head home to his wife, he lives right near the park. I thanked him for coming over to talk and wished him well.
At this point, Celia and I had no set plan. We knew we couldn’t technically sleep in the park, so although it was our end point for the day, we’d need to wander onward a bit. We hung out so Celia could eat, but she felt pretty well and was prepared to slow walk for another hour or so until dark. She couldn’t quite bring herself to finish her tuna and couldn’t see wasting an unopened pack. She carried it over to some folks enjoying a bit of picnic and asked them if they could please take it and they agreed. It was a funny moment as it spurred lots of questions about what we, two women, were doing. Whether or not we felt safe or not, these questions come up a lot. We kept our story straight to anyone that asked, and we were headed to the next shelter 4.7 miles ahead. We shared our story and we shared that thus far we’ve not felt unsafe or encountered anything human that made us uneasy.
Celia and I spend a good deal of time trying to fight off some deep set demons like “Women shouldn’t be alone on the trail” and those sorts of thoughts that feed into our personal fears of being in the dark alone on the trail. This remains a tough line for us to cross. Both Celia and I dream of feeling totally self-sufficient and safe on the trail and hope to find this comfort over time and practice.
We packed up and began slow walking to Pennsylvania. We stopped for photos at the Pen/Mar line and walked on into the next state. We were both happy and laughing as we chatted. We kept a 2.4 mph pace for an hour and wondered where we’d sleep since everywhere we stepped was rocks. Darkness came faster than it had back in July, only two weekends ago. We kept going. I was holding on to the idea of getting to the shelter 4.7 miles from the park and Celia was consistent with her, “I’ll give you a ¼ mile at a time” so we hiked to 3 miles, than 3.25 miles and then, there it was! Right by the sign for the water “Spring” at mile 1070.4 there was a smooth, flat area large enough for both of us to sleep comfortably. I didn’t hesitate at all when Celia asked if we could sleep. It was only 9:10pm, which was early for a dirt nap, but it was quite obviously the perfect spot.
We set up our sleeping spots and packed our food into our opsak bags. I hung my bear bag a bit away from us and got myself into my sleeping liner. It was a warm night and we were both very comfortable.
The sky was strangely bright that night, we both kept thinking a headlight was coming, then we’d look around and find ourselves in darkness. Then, we heard it… rain. It was coming, the “slight chance of thunderstorms” rumbled in the distance. We both lie there awaiting droplets of water to hit us, at which point we’d have no choice but to pack up and head for the shelter. We waited and waited and nothing happened. It seemed as though the rain was falling 15 feet from us, but never came any closer. We both fell off to sleep.
I slept soundly until 1am, then 2am, then I tossed and turned and tossed. At 2:22AM Celia asked if I was awake and I of course said yes. We were packed up and walking slowly before 2:45 AM.
We only had 13.4 miles to go, so motivation was very low. My husband and boys couldn’t get to Caledonia State Park until, probably 10AM, and at each of our normal paces we’d be finished before 7AM. We walked and walked, the darkness and long miles behind us made us both sleepy. We had no coffee or excitement that morning, so things moved slowly. As the sun came up I tried to jog but I was drowsy, and my legs were not very excited. Then we climbed some boulders and each, separated by a few minutes, took photos and joked about how great “Rocksylvania” already was.
I crossed US route 30, about ½ mile from Caledonia park and sat on the steps there texting with my husband. I dreamt of a nap and hot coffee. Finally I felt ready. I took off running, not jogging but full out running on this perfectly smooth path that took me to the creek at Caledonia State Park. I snapped my photos and stopped my watch. I pulled out my camping blanket and laid down.
A few minutes later Celia arrived and we napped in the rising sun. We both woke up as we got too warm and slowly made our way to a picnic table to continue lounging around by the creek. Around 10 AM, my kids and husband arrived. My kids were so full of smiles and energy. They ran towards me and couldn’t wait to see the trail. We first played in the creek, rock hopping and throwing rocks. Then my kids wanted to go run the trail. I was a bit exhausted but my legs felt fine and their enthusiasm was enough to get me up to a running stride with them. We went back to Route 30, southbound on the AT, and then headed back towards the park straight to the playground. Both of my boys were ecstatic. They played for a while as Dave, Celia and I plotted to get them back in the car to head home. It was an absolutely perfect finish to a long weekend.
Huge Thank you’s to Dave, my family, Rob, Keith and Dave K on this stretch for making it the most pleasant stretch of the AT thus far. You guys are awesome!!