Five of us set out to embrace the cold November Virginia air, the scenic views, and the adventure of back packing.
Thursday night we set out for Richmond to cut our driving time Friday morning. Plus, some of our essential gear had not made it in the mail yet so we needed to stop at REI to pick up a stove (because your girl has to eat). It ended up being a late night with our TGIF dinner following our shopping run, and getting settled in the hotel.
Six o’clock came quick the next morning, but our excitement for the days ahead didn’t keep us in bed long. We slammed down breakfast, warmed up with a cup of coffee, and loaded the car to finish the drive to the mountains.
At last, we were in the mountains and it was cold! We parked right off the Appalachian Trail and started to bundle up for the 7-mile hike we had planned for day one. Right onto the trail and it was a straight incline. Might as well jump right into it.
I can do this. Just one foot in front of the other. Became my mantra, as the 27 pounds on my back made its presence on the inclines and my calves burning. But the views and the scenery made it all worth it. We saw waterfalls, cemeteries that had gotten grown over by vegetation dating back to the early 1800’s, rusted car frames (in the middle of the woods), and mission settlements. That was all in day one.
We found a nice spot off the trail that would accommodate our tent (which was a live saver) and our friends’ hammocks. By the time we were all set up it was six and pitch black, the stars and moon bright enough to give us light. No fires we allowed so it was a brutally cold few hours before bed, but it got even colder.
I couldn’t stand the numbness in my body anymore so I turned in earlier than the rest as they stayed up to play cards we had packed. They didn’t make it that much longer before the cold had gotten to them making them turn in also for the night.
The nights are always the worst for me. I can bear through the hikes but sleeping is no easy task. I was asleep while the others were up knowing they were able to keep an eye on our surroundings. Because we have had a camping experience where a bear came right up to our tents and hammocks luckily only curious and not hungry so he scampered away quick enough. I’ve read different camping stories of bear attacks so sleeping is always a feat. Hubby came to bed, accidentally waking me up and was up the rest of the night, dozing off but always waking to the next noise. Hearing the wind howling, afraid one of these dead trees would snap overhead, hearing the noises of the night, hoping we hung our food far enough away a bear wouldn’t come near, circles through my mind as I kept checking for the sunrise.
We thought it was cold during dinner. No. The wind howling through the dead trees surrounding our home for the night only got worse. Twigs breaking off trees from the wind hit our tent. The hammocks flapping in the wind, the steaks no match for the violent wind.
The tent with its rain fly attached keeping all the wind out, and our 20 degree sleeping bags keeping us cozier than ever. One, who was head on to the wind in her hammock, couldn’t bear it no more and joined us in our warm tent. The others wishing, they jumped in first, knowing it was only a two person so not many more could fit in after the third. Oh, but they were willing if we stayed another night.
Our three-day trip turned into two when the hammock sleepers (and me who is miserable in the cold) didn’t think they could last another night, especially when the weather was going to drop even more the next night. So, day two as we agreed around breakfast would turn into a 9-mile hike to still finish our trail and get to see the lookout spots.
Appreciating our coffee and hot coco during the breakdown of our temporary home provided a little warmth. It felt good to get moving again, loosen up our stiff limbs and letting the hike warm us up where we could pack away some layers throughout the day, like our hat and gloves.
I was surprised how we were surrounded by bare trees hoping to see more of the fall colored leaves on our trip but the blanketed ground of leaves was colorful enough.
Part of the hike was spent in silence and we all tuned into our thoughts reflecting on ourselves and the beautiful place we were in. The other parts of the hike were spent laughing and sharing some great memories. Couldn’t have asked for a better group to hike with.
I thought of the reasons why I was here. Where my future was going to take me. And living in the present of listening to my body and taking in the cliffs and valleys around me.
The frigid cold and the hike itself was a humbling experience. We only planned for the weekend, but knowing people spend months out on the trail to hike the Appalachian is inspiring. We took this as a learning experience to see what gear we really needed, what gear we could have left, and what we could have done better. Mother nature sure is beautiful and I am glad to have had the experience and can’t wait for more to come.