This week definitely came with some rough patches and a little bad luck. Shortly after Damascus I realized that my feet had swollen so much they had outgrown my shoes, so I literally had to cut slits in the sides of my shoes so my feet would have more room. It helped some, but they’ve still been in a lot of pain. There’s no store accessible for a long time that would have the quality of boots I need, so I had to have some shipped ahead and won’t be able to get them until Friday. Trail Days shook up everyone’s position on the trail because people left and arrived at different times, so I’ve been surrounded by new people instead of people I’m already friends with. In a way that’s been nice because I’ve met lots of new people, but I also miss the people I’m used to being around. On top of that, I’ve wound up not doing proper laundry for about 12 days, which is a really long time when you have essentially one set of clothes and engage in heavy athletic activity every day. I kept meaning to, but something would always get in the way. I’ve been avoiding hostels to save some money, which makes laundry more difficult. Finally, I spent Sunday night camped in my tent in a field on an exposed mountaintop during a series of sudden and severe thunderstorms with winds around 50 mph. Luckily my tent held up amazingly well and I barely got wet, but I spent most of the night awake and watching the tent walls move crazily in the wind. At a few points I grabbed on to the top of my tent to try and keep it stable because I was worried about the poles breaking. Between all those things, this week was definitely one of the worst ones I’ve had out here.
But even with all of the bad stuff, there were lots of great things that happened. I got to hike through Grayson Highlands and see the ponies, which was amazing. I also saw lots of other wildlife including deer, a very rare blue speckled salamander, a snapping turtle, and at least 7 or 8 snakes. I’m afraid of snakes, and I’m convinced the trail is trying to cure me by throwing every single snake directly into my path. There was lots of trail magic this week, including a church cookout that came with a bunk and a shower and several other church cookouts that just came with hamburgers and snacks. Lots of churches along the trail like to “minister” to hikers, which works out in our favor. The weather has also been gorgeous, except for that one nasty storm, and there hasn’t been a rainy day in a minute. Honestly, even when things get tough out here it’s hard to be too mad about it because no matter what I’m still lucky to be here. All of my issues this week ultimately wound up being resolvable, if inconvenient, and I managed not to let the bad overshadow the good.
I’ve been having a lot of feelings about going back through Virginia on the trail now. Someone I know who’s from Roanoke told me that she could sense she was back in our home state before she even got to the sign. I didn’t feel it like she did, but I can definitely tell we’re back in Virginia. I haven’t spent much time this far south in the state, but even just knowing the laws around drinking and that every store has a public bathroom makes it feel much more familiar. I also know the mountains, the animals, and the climate here well, which makes it feel even friendlier than other sections of trail. These 544 miles (around 5-6 weeks) will be the longest that I’ve spent back in the state since I was a teenager. Being at a point in my life where I have the opportunity to figure out where I want to be at next, I’m going to take some time ito ruminate on what it means to be from here and if it’s a place I might ever be happy going back to.
In a lot of ways it feels like I’ve lived two different lives in two different places. I lived in Rockingham County, VA, until just after I turned 17, when I moved to NYC to go to college and start the rest of my life. I lived there for around six and a half years, until I left in April to do the trail. I say Rockingham County rather than somewhere more specific because I grew up out in the sticks in Union Springs until I was 15, then we moved about 10 miles to the small town of Bridgewater where I lived for two years before I left. I hated Bridgewater and it never felt like home to me, but it’s also where my mom still lives and where I go when I visit. Between my dad getting sick and dying and being queer and moving from the woods into town and mental health issues that probably would have surfaced regardless, I had a really rough time as a teenager. My solution, which worked in a lot of ways, was essentially to run away to the big city as soon as I could. New York gave me a lot of space and independence and other things that I needed and I’m incredibly grateful for. However, it feels like I was a very different person there than I was in Virginia. The landscapes and environments are about different as can be, and in running away from everything in Virginia I think I shed some things that I didn’t necessarily want to lose.
Being back in the mountains again does really feel like home. I knew that I was missing something that’s out in these mountains, but I don’t know if I really understood how much. There were a lot of feelings and sensations, like how the woods feel right before a thunderstorm, that I always loved but had almost forgotten about being in the city for so long. Of course, there are plenty of things I miss about the city. But thinking about the things I love in New York now, I can think of things as a tourist rather than someone who has to pay rent and take the MTA every day. Cities do also tend to be more progressive in many ways, although not all ways, which can make life much easier, especially as a trans person. They also tend to have larger queer communities, which is actually yet another reason why I left the country. But New York also came with so much stress and it wore me down.
I think that what I need to find next is a place where all the different sides of me that have developed over the years can exist in one place. Somewhere that I can spend plenty of time in nature, especially the mountains and forests, but also get most of the benefits of being in a city like laws that will protect me based on my gender and sexual orientation and the larger queer community. Ideally maybe a relaxed city where I can drive and go to the woods whenever I feel like. Rockingham County wasn’t the place and NewYork wasn’t the place, but I’m sure the right place is out there.
This week brought some good things and some bad, and it gave me a lot to think about. It looks like my luck is finally starting to turn around since I got to do some laundry and will get to see my sister on Thursday, as well as hopefully pick up my new boots and some other gear items. And I have a few more months, including a few more weeks of Virginia, to think through my relationship to this place and where I want to wind up next. here are some of my favorite pictures from this week: