Last week I had the opportunity to go on a 50 Mile Appalachian Trail Hike with the boy scout troop that my little brother is a part of and that my dad is the scout master of. 7 of the 60 boys from the troop went to earn their 50 miler badge, I had no such incentive and tagged along solely for the grand adventure of it all. My dad and I went and Janet, our neighbor/a mom of one of the boys. I debated about which camera to bring and settled on a smaller DSLR I had but right before we started our hike I decided it was too much weight and opted for my iPhone instead. We planned our hike to go through the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia. To get their award the 50 miles had to be completed in 5 days – we started at 4pm on Monday and ended at 4pm on Saturday. After driving 6 hours to get there we started the first day with 4 miles and made camp in a grassy area on top of our first mountain.
The next day we amped it up to 9 miles, though we only planned on 7, and set up our hammocks that night near a hut with some smelly, strange, yet friendly thru hikers that were more than happy to eat some of our extra food. The AT huts are essentially a three walled wooden shelter with a wood palette that you can sleep on and a fireplace. One side is completely open and exposed and they are known for housing mice, especially the area we were in. Every night you have to hang a bear bag with all your food to keep hungry mice, critters, and bears from tearing up you, your pack, and devouring all your food. We slept in hammocks but it was nice having a shelter to make dinner in and sit in until sunset – which is bedtime.
The third day was by far the most challenging. The original plan of hiking 11 miles turned into 17 miles through a torrential downpour. By the time we reached our hut we were completely soaking wet and I had thought about giving up nearly a hundred times. My feet are prone to blisters when I hike anyway but after hiking 17 miles in one day with completely wet boots I took them off my super sore feet to find that my feet were completely shredded. I set up my hammock, changed into dry clothes, ate some tasty chicken and noodle concoction my dad made over a tiny stove the size of your fist and went to sleep almost two hours before sunset.
The next day our 3 mile hike to our lunch and resupply point ended up being 6 miles (see a trend here). We were thoroughly exhausted and made a decision to rent out a camp site in the area after spotting some enticing showers and actual bathrooms. The next day and a half would be spent going on day hikes using the camp site as a base instead of continuing on the AT. We were over ten miles ahead of schedule at this point and unsure how we would retrieve our cars since we left one car at the end of our planned hike and the other at the beginning where we started. A trail angel in the form of an older woman who worked nearby gave me and Janet a ride to one of our cars to bring back to our campsite while she told us stories about being one of 18 kids and growing up in Mexico. It’s really amazing how many people you meet while hiking and how willing they are to open up about their lives.
We saw hundreds of deer, about ten bears, and a small black snake over the course of the week.
When I woke up Friday my feet were in terrible shape and boasted a roaring 12 blisters and three bruises, I could barely walk to the bathroom much less hike more mountains. I was super bummed that I couldn’t finish the last 10 miles. I stayed in my hammock and buried myself in a book to pass the time while everyone else finished the hike. I would have forced my feet to do it at granny speed but the boys had to complete the 50 miles by a certain time and I didn’t want to be dead weight. All in all it was a trip I will never forget and my second but not last time on the Appalachian Trail. 40 miles on the AT isn’t too terrible, right?