Written by: Emily Ginger "Lightning"
It was Monday evening and it had been raining all day. We had just arrived at the shelter (three walls and a roof made of logs) where we were planning to stop for the night. At most shelters there is a notebook we call a "register" where hikers write a quote, tell a story about their day, or just jost something like "stopped here for the night on April 22," or "in for lunch and water, heading 12 more miles today." The shelter register allows us to keep track of how far ahead or behind a fellow hiker might be. We got to the shelter and immediately checked on the register to see which of our friends had passed through. There was an entry from our friends Yianni and Prophet inviting us to hike 4.5 more miles to Atkins, VA where they had rented a motel room.
We flew through those cold, wet miles and eventually came to a road with a motel across the street. At first I couldn't see the motel (just the sign) because it shares a small parking lot with, and sits behind a dilapidating restaurant that looks as though it were abandoned at least 30 years ago. I spotted our friends' door which was ajar, and located right next to the room where it was apparent that people were renting not just staying the night. This was evident from the house plants in the window, the motorcycle covered by a tarp, and the various other personal belongings being stored on the front stoop of their motel door. Though it wasn't ideal, we had gratefully arrived at a warm, smelly, and moldy motel room where we could share some beds and a floor for the night. We got some burgers, chicken, and pecan pie at the gas station down the street (the food was actually really good), then enjoyed some steamy showers in the mildew covered bathroom afterwards. We were living large for the night!
On Tuesday morning we woke up and it was still raining, we stepped outside and the weather had gotten colder. We didn't want to hike, so we didn't. We decided to stay another night at the motel, and agreed that we would make up for our "zero" day by pulling some big mileage over the next couple of days that we hiked. We were trying to make it to the next town (Pearisburg, VA) by Saturday at noon when the post office closes. Also, one of Kate's friends from high school lives not too far from Pearisburg so we wanted to be able to hook-up with him over the weekend when he is not working.
On Wednesday morning the sky was blue and the sun was shining! We set out to hike 24 miles. Kate left first, and I asked Brandon if I could follow behind him for the day. When I am faced with the task of walking 24 miles I get so overwhelmed that it's hard to keep myself motivated. Walking 24 miles requires a lot of physical energy, so I wanted to save myself the mental expenditure it would take for me to keep myself motivated for such a long time period. Brandon and I walked in a pair all day, apparently it also helps him to stay motivated knowing that I'm right behind him. The hike out of Atkins, VA was beautiful. We walked over hilly pastures, meadows, and farmland all day. We came across a completely intact deer skeleton, turned a corner into a herd of cows grazing on the trail, got some "Trail Magic" in the form of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, sodas, and honey buns (left in a cooler near a trailhead, by a former thru-hiker who had attached a note and some pamphlets saying "how to find heaven from the Appalachian Trail"), and we then finished off the day with a four mile trek uphill on a beautiful mountain bald as the sun was colorfully setting on the distant mountain ridges. It was a perfect day! We continued a couple miles off the top of the bald, pumped some water, started a fire, threw up our tents, and cooked some dinner. There was a big full moon on the rise through the trees as we crawled into our tents that night.
Considering we planned to walk 26 miles on Thursday, we wanted to wake up early and get a nice start on the day. For some reason we have a really hard time getting up-and-going in the morning, so of course we slept through our alarms and didn't get hiking until 9:30 am, but we were still committed to hitting the mileage we had set for ourselves- we wanted to hike a marathon! With such a high mileage quota again, I followed behind Brandon for the majority of the day. Around 7:00 pm we still had about 5 miles left to hike when we came to a road where a couple was handing out some sodas-what a needed boost! We had walked 21 miles, had 5 miles left to walk, we were tired, and it was getting darker by the minute. The marathon was calling our names. We set out to hike the last 4 miles of it together, and Brandon set an alarm so we would know when we could stop walking. We were running on adrenaline, and looking for a flat spot to throw our tents. When the alarm went off we stopped walking, and much to our luck there was a campsite right there with a fire ring. WE DID IT! A MARATHON! We set-up camp and for the rest of the night our joints were stiff!
Friday: 26 miles. We finished 14 miles by 1:30pm so we took a long two-hour lunch break, napping in the sun along a river. For the entire second half of our day we were crossing over rivers or streams at least once every mile but when we finished our hike at 9:30pm, there wasn't a water source where there was supposed to be one and we had no water. Though exhausted and surrounded by darkness, we pushed on another mile and a half to "Wood's Hole Hostel" which was the next closest place that we could get water. The sky was covered in stars and that last 1.5 miles was utterly beautiful. The hostel was a well maintained bunkhouse on the property of a large rustic home which was casting a warm and welcoming beam of light through the trees. We ran into a lot of hiker friends we haven't seen in 2 weeks who were staying at the hostel that night (our big mileage days had allowed us to catch up with some friends). We were definitely happy to see our friends but after having hiked over 77 miles in three days, we were hungry and too tired to socialize. We just wanted food and sleep. We hit the sack around midnight.
Saturday morning challenge: Post office closes at noon, and there were 12 miles between us and it. Brandon miraculously woke up when his alarm went off at 6 am. He shook my feet and said "get up." We hit the trail at the earliest time yet- 7:30 am. I honestly didn't expect to be able to walk, let alone run after three marathon days, but I ran the whole way to Pearisburg. I think I was still going on adrenaline. The first thing I did when I came up to the road was stumble over to the motel across the street and buy a soda, then I stumbled to the grass and laid there to wait for Kate and Bran. We hitched a ride and made it to the post office in time. Much to our surprise we received a lot of wonderful care packages! Kate's friend Sean came and scooped us up to feed us, give us hot showers, and a bed to sleep on. Almost three and a half marathons in three and a half days... it was worth the challenge for the experience! I never thought I would ever do one marathon, let alone three with 30 lbs on my back! Our bodies are sore so we've rested and pumped them full of calories. I look forward to getting back on the trail tomorrow morning!