Meet Virginia

I made it to Virginia!

I’m in Damascus, and I spent last night in a hiker hostel for 6 bucks. Hot shower, laundry, and epic amounts of food: these things are town necessities for hikers. Karaoke last night was just icing on the cake. My song of choice, “500 miles” by the Proclaimers went over real well amongst the crowd of hikers.

I’m at mile 466, and my ankles and feet and whatnot feel great. Stretching and ibuprofen have gone a long way towards managing my ankle swelling and soreness. I’ve still had zero blisters on my feet, which is pretty amazing out here. Everyone seems to have massive blisters that they have to deal with, and some folks have to duct tape their feet together every morning. I’m one of the lucky ones who for whatever reason has never had a single issue with my feet. (Also, nobody worry about Happy Feet. He is fine, hiking, and still has both his feet. They are healing, and look much better!)

A bit of bad news: I’m not going to finish the trail this year. Doing it in 100 days was an ambitious and worthy goal, but unfortunately I was a bit optimistic about how much time I would have before work and grad school start.

I only have less than 3 months. I started May 8th, and I found out I have to be back for training for work at UNC on August 5th. It’s darn near impossible to finish in that time-frame. 100 days would have been really stretching it, and its unfathomable for me to do it any faster than that.

So upon realizing this, I’ve decided that heck, I’m gonna backpack every available day I have this summer and make it as far as I get. I’m shooting for 1500 miles, which would put me in NY. It’s a real bummer I won’t be able to finish this year, but I will be able to return later and finish the whole thing.

Without the crazy pressure of finishing with such a hard deadline, I’m free to focus more on the experience rather than on cranking out a 22 mile-per-day average. I’ve been able to slow down, get to hang out with some of my fellow hikers, enjoy some of the little quirks of the trail, go into the little trail towns and get milkshakes, hike a bit off the trail to see the pretty sights, and just generally enjoy myself a little more. I’ve been hiking pretty fast with a pretty strict schedule, which is fun for the physical challenge of it, but wears you down after a while. When you slow down a bit, you are free to more fully experience the conversations you have with other hikers, the beautiful views, and you can do things like take an hour to have lunch by yourself on the top of a mountain and write in your journal.

Also, “Trail Magic” seems to happen more often when you aren’t in a rush to be somewhere. “Trail Magic” is when someone gives unsolicited food or tasty treats or beer or fruit to thru-hikers in the middle of the woods. It’s happened a few times to me so far, and every time feels like a life-changing experience. There is something quite powerful about having nothing, being dirty, tired, and wet, and then being given a surprise orange. After not having any fruit for a week, it’s the best orange you’ve ever tasted, and it brings happy tears to your eyes.

Which, of course, is pretty easy to do to me. If you want to see me cry happy tears, just put on Rudy. It works. Every. Time.

One day, we ran into a gigantic bearded fellow who thru-hiked in 1980 and cooked everyone ham and cobbler on an open fire for lunch. It was awesome. We took 3 hours in the middle of the day to talk, share tasty food, and talk about life, philosophy, and the finer points of hiking. It was wonderful, and it was the kind of thing that I would have never done if I was just pressing onward all day, everyday. He was an incredibly kind man, who gave us lots of advice, and was so happy to share his food with us. He refused money, and he made us all promise to do something kind and selfless for someone else, and said that would be repayment enough.

Its funny how being in the woods with pretty much nothing makes people even more generous. There are no status symbols in the woods, money means pretty much nothing because you can’t buy anything when you are 50 miles from town, and kindness and trust become more valuable than success or competition. Hikers are an odd breed, but some of the kindest and most thoughtful people you could ask to meet. Also, they smell bad.

At first I was very hesitant to let go of my lofty goal of completing the AT this summer, but now I’m quite happy now to no longer consider myself a thru-hiker. Now, in the vernacular of the trail, I am known as a LASH-er (Long A** Section Hiker). This summer I will backpack for 3 months, get as far as I get, and have lots of stories to tell after it’s over. And you can bet your boots I will be back to try and finish the AT


Bears I’ve seen: 5 (3 adult, 2 cubs)

Showers: 7

Cans of Yoo-hoo I’ve had: 8

Number of times I lost my wallet in the woods, with my debit card, credit card, ID, insurance card, and $40 in cash in it: 1

Number of times a good Samaritan drove an hour to return my wallet, cash and all, 2 days later: 1

When I mention I’m from Chapel Hill, the number of times the conversation goes immediately to college basketball: 10

Number of steps it takes to finish the AT:  5 million

Number of times I have heard that stat: 9 million

Number of times I have pooped in the woods: too many to count. Toilets are a nice thing. I miss them.

Number of people named “Hillbilly” I’m actively avoiding: 1

That’s all for now! More updates as I hike Virginia!


4 thoughts on “Meet Virginia

  1. David Biesack

    Michael – it’s great to hear that you have slowed down enough to stop and smell the hikers – and that you are getting more out of the experience than you would have otherwise if you had kept up that crazy pace. Enjoy each day and all the amazing people you meet.

  2. Ben M

    Glad to hear you’ve slowed down a bit and can enjoy the scenery a bit more!
    But i’m most happy about the fact that you didn’t sing OUR karaoke song without me.

  3. Tyler Brown

    I’m surprised you didn’t pull out the ol’ Horton Boys choir on them at karaoke. Then again, I’m not. You know they can’t handle it.


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