This was a pretty big week and a half. I turned 24, hit the 1,000 mile mark, and am now at the not-quite-halfway point of Harper’s Ferry, WV. I also blew through Shenandoah National Park, which I wasn’t a fan of because it’s so touristy and camping spots and water are scarcer than usual. However, the park did have a couple of waysides, which are little stores off the trail, and I had a great time at those. Last Wednesday me, my friend Amy, and my friend Akash all found ourselves at the same shelter completely by accident and had a warm reunion. We also got the shelter completely to ourselves, which is rare, and the three of us stayed together from then until now and it’s been really nice.
I’ve been going really fast for the past couple of weeks, and it’s been starting to wear on me. To keep my mind and body fresher, I’m now working on doing lower-mile days and taking more time to relax and enjoy being in the woods. I’ve only been doing that for a few days so far, but it’s been feeling a lot better. Time-wise I’m on track to finish by the end of September without having to push hard, so there’s no real reason for me to keep rushing.
On Saturday of this week I had the pleasure of turning 24 on trail. Usually birthdays stress me out a lot because I always want to do something but I hate planning, so being on trail was a nice excuse to take it easy. On my birthday I hiked a fairly leisurely and absolutely gorgeous 13 miles out of the Shenandoahs and into a cute B and B in Front Royal, where I spent the rest of the day relaxing with my friends. We just drank beer and ate a disgusting amount of pizza, which was exactly what I wanted.
I feel like every birthday is a celebration of both luck and achievement. Luck plays a big role in staying alive because you never know what might happen to you. However, sometimes you also have to work really hard to stay alive and that makes each new year an achievement as well. There have been various points in my life where I didn’t think I was going to make it, but now I’m in a place where I’m happy and excited to see what this next year will bring.
At this point, the trail is no longer an exciting novelty – it’s just away of life. That makes waking up, hiking all day, camping, and then repeating the cycle harder to do. Psychologically, it actually really gets to you to just be walking through the woods all day, usually by yourself.
I’ve been working on finding different ways to keep an even keel and to continue without getting tired of the trail. Thankfully I love having time alone to think, so I often don’t mind just doing that all day, and in fact I’ve had a chance to work through some things I haven’t thought about before. I also listen to music the majority of time while I’m walking, which gives my brain something to focus on if it needs it. I’ve occasionally listened to a podcast, but I’m not big on those. Lots of people prefer to walk with a companion to make time pass during the day, but I actually usually prefer to walk by myself and only talk to people in the mornings and evenings at camp.
If you do anything for long enough, it will start to drive you a little bit crazy. A lot of people quit the trail every year because they can’t handle the psychological aspect of it, but I intend to not be one of those people. I’ve been feeling it a little heavy lately, so I’m going to lighten up my mileage and spend more time relaxing and stopping at landmarks so that I can recover some of the joy and wonder that I’ve lost.
This week and a half has been a pretty good one, and I’m excited to say that I’m almost halfway done with the trail and that I’m now 24! Here are some of my favorite pictures: