AT Sobo Part 20 – From PA to VA with joy, and a very bad injury.
I covertly hobbled and limped my way forward on the trail for the next few weeks. My pride meant that I wasn’t going to admit how much it hurt. I quietly knew that it was serious but I, stupidly, wasn’t taking it seriously enough. Many people I’d known had had to leave trail due to their rolled ankles or twisted knees and I didn’t want to be one of them. As much as I missed home in Falmouth I still had a job to do here on trail – hiking to Georgia!
We reached the end of Pennsylvania with glee, glad to say goodbye to all the pointy rocks, and our group of 5 stood together at the famous Mason Dixon line. The line is named after two surveyors, Mason and Dixon, who chose the line that would separate Pennsylvania and Maryland. This would later become the line famous for the North/South divide after the South lost the Civil War. I was awed to be stepping into so much history. The border of this state was also famous for being the start of the ‘4 State Challenge’, where hikers regularly attempted to hike the 42.9 miles into 4 states over 24 hours. The trick was to sleep next to the sign (or under it!), get up at 2 or 3am to start hiking and step from PA into Maryland right away. The bulk of the miles (approximately 40) were in Maryland, then you’d cross into West Virginia and hike the two miles of that into Virginia. Then you’d likely collapse. Many of my hiking buddies did it. I did not!
Part of the reason I didn’t do the challenge was because towards the end, the famous town of Harper’s Ferry sits beautifully by the river in West Virgina. I wanted to stop there and spend some time because it’s the home of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and is rich with the history of the trail. I stopped, but others went past and came back after finishing the challenge. After a good visit we all gathered together and set off again apace; Virginia is long, beautiful and contains the highest number of miles of any state on the AT.
Very quickly our luck was in – a wonderful family took all five of us under their wing for a number of days, welcoming us as total strangers into their home. They liked to support and tend to thru hikers ever year and we were some of the lucky ones! They fed us, washed our clothes, made us warm beds and slack packed us over three days along the trail. Slack packing is when you don’t carry all the items in your pack, just the items for the day, leaving the bulk of the weight behind in the house. We would get dropped off in the morning and picked up at the end of the day without having to carry everything. Bliss! We were sad to say goodbye to them at the end.
Large parts of Virginia were truly phenomenal. We passed into the Shenandoah National Park and I was utterly gobsmacked at its beauty – the views were knockout. The Skyline Drive through the park had the best of the vistas however, made for people driving their cars through. The AT in comparison was socked in with green trees and foliage. I decided to walk the road for chunks of time to be sure I could soak up all the beauty. We stumbled into a local Apple Butter festival, drank local cider, ate at waysides and had a mystery trail angel anonymously pay for food for our whole table, so that when we were asked for the bill we were told it was done. We never even got to say thank you! People are so kind along this trail. The community is exceptionally strong and people go out of their way to support hikers in so many ways.
After the Shenandoahs we were faced with one of the largest mountains we’d faced in a long time called ‘The Priest’, and it was a seriously long, thirsty climb. At the top was a shelter which hilariously had taken on the role of being a ‘confessional’ in keeping with the name of the peak. In every shelter along the AT there is a ‘Shelter Log’ where people write that they have stopped for lunch, passed by, or stayed the night, and also to leave messages for friends. When these are full they are collected by the local trail maintenance crews and replaced with blank books. It’s wonderful to see people you know who are leaving comments a few days ahead, and to leave notes for those friends behind you. This log book however had turned into a ‘confessional’ book at the ‘The Priest’ shelter. Every entry was a brilliant and sometimes outrageous confession left by a hiker. We stayed there for ages reading them all, recovering from our climb and roaring with laughter.
Throughout all of this fun, exertion and beauty I was still in pain. My foot wasn’t healing and I had a bad feeling about it. I was falling behind my crew in the daytime and limping into camp late. It wasn’t good. Finally, sobbing in tears, I called a hostel from the top of one of the peaks and cried about the agony I was in. They immediately told me where to hike so that they could collect me. A number of hours later I limped down to the car waiting for me in a trail car park. My friends had hiked on and didn’t know my dire situation, so I was alone. As we pulled away towards the closest hospital for x-rays I was quietly convinced I was nursing a broken foot, and the end of my journey.