Wednesday, June 15, 2011

The Case of the Lazy Hikers. Or, How To Get Passed by an 88 Year Old...50 Times

Southern Virginia started out really nice. There's a lot of interesting country to be seen in the first 50-60 miles, with stunning views. I'm always excited to realize that I'm emerging out of the forest onto a bald mountaintop, because I know that when I get to the top I'm going to have sweeping views all around me, and so VA was treating me well for a while; the Grayson Highlands have easily been the most beautiful and interesting part of the trail so far. The Highlands are high, rocky grasslands, unlike anything I've hiked through, anywhere. Sun and windswept, stunted, gnarled trees all around, boulders strewn across the landscape, rocky peaks, and mile after mile of scattered shrubbery.

Also, wild ponies!

Unfortunately, that's given way to some of the most boring country yet. Virginia is supposed to be where we start making high mileage. And no doubt, we've been doing a lot more miles in a day over the last couple of weeks, because we're getting close to optimal hiker's shape and the terrain has somewhat flattened out. What we're doing now is a lot of ridge walking, which means there are some long, steep ascents, but it's mostly little ups and downs (those little ups and downs do have a tendency to wear you down over the day, however). Instead of several 2000 foot ascents in a day, it's a long series of 100 foot ascents and descents, and sometimes just several miles of almost flat trail.

The problem is that this has become really, really boring. Combined with higher mileage, the hiking has started to wear on me. I know this is especially bad, because we keep getting stuck in towns. We are finding excuse after excuse to get off the trail, whether it's for a resupply stop that was scheduled, to hitch into a town and have lunch, stopping at a cafe near the trail for coffee, or any other reason we can think of. For about a week and a half we've been passing, and getting passed by, an 88 year old thru-hiker. Though he doesn't do high mileage, we keep stopping places and getting passed by him, then passing him again a day or two later. This has happened more times than I can count at this point; I think we may have finally passed him for good, but I wouldn't be surprised if we see him again tomorrow.

As further indication of how tiresome this hike has become at this point, I keep envying others their dull or uneventful work. We stopped at a motel in Bland, VA the other day (yes, Bland) and all I could think the next day was "wow, I really wish that I could be one of the cleaning people at this motel so that I could just clean up the place once a day and then sit around and do nothing the rest of the day," or "working at Subway seems awesome." Imagine the dullest job you've ever worked, and then add a hard labor component to it. That's what this feels like to me. Day after day I lug this 40 pound pack up and down hills for 8-10 hours, with maybe 2 or 3 snack breaks, a lunch break, and water resupply break, stop at a shelter or campsite, cook dinner, and go to bed. All I'm doing is walking through trees, without any views or differences in the landscape. It's the same trees, shrubs, rocks, and animals every day.

I feel as if all the fun has been sucked out of the hike. I crave town days just so that I'll have time to hang out with a bunch of other hikers, and enjoy being around people, talking and relaxing. I dread getting back on the trail, and we end up staying another day because neither of us wants to leave. I'm having to do some serious reevaluation of the point of this hike; my original goals are no longer enough to motivate me. Yes, getting to Katahdin is the final goal, but I'm not really all that interested in it from day to day; getting in great shape is nice, but I keep thinking about how I could do that just about anywhere, even if this is a particularly good way to lose weight really fast and build serious strength in parts of my body; traveling to see friends is fantastic, but, again, I could take a bus to see them and be there much faster. It's frustrating to experience just how little enjoyment I have come to gain from this experience anymore.

There are, of course, still some fun things every now and again. My friend Morgan came to visit us on the trail the other day, and it was refreshing to have him out there with us. He's going to visit some serious trail magic (Grace or I will explain that later) on us this weekend, and so we'll have good food, and be able to walk with light packs for long miles for a couple days as he drives to meet us at points where the trail crosses roads. I'm really enjoying the people on the trail; it's fun to meet new friends and relax with them in towns, getting to know them as we talk.

I know that eventually the scenery will get interesting again. Another friend, Casey, who is living in NH, keeps telling me how beautiful it is up north and I'm looking forward to that. But that doesn't help with the current dilemma; it doesn't give me any satisfaction over the course of the next month or two as we finish VA and go through a couple other flat states. So I'm really looking for motivation to get up and hike every day for long miles with a heavy pack. Outside of stubborness, I haven't yet discovered it.

1 comment:

  1. It's pretty incredible how long you've been going. The terrain should get more interesting as you go north though, right? Or at least you could always end up just walking to DC and New York...