of mice and men
I left you all on a good note, but I feel that I should recap the misery that was Shenandoah National Park. Prior to entering the park, we endured 3 straight days of soggy, cold rain; unfortunately this did not end and we had rain, rain, rain everyday in the park. It was a week of consistent rain in fact. For those of you who don’t know much about outdoor gear, it is designed to repel water to a certain extent. Once gear is fully saturated with water it will lose its ability to repel rain. By our third day in the park, we experienced torrential downpour and our gear soaked it all up. In a moment of weakness and just plain insanity, I booked us a room at the pricy Skyland Hotel in the park. We desperately needed a night to dry out and get hot showers! We referred to this move as a mental health sabbatical- as another night in the the cold rain might cause me to quit the trail entirely. I know that rain sounds like a wimpy thing to get tired of, but consider this- all my possessions were soaked with water; I had NO dry clothing and conditions were leading us to mild hypothermia. A night in a hotel was a very good thing!
The rain might not have been such an issue if I weren’t already battling something else. When I was in Waynesboro, Virginia I was able to weigh myself; I discovered that I have dropped almost 20 pounds since I started the trail- way too much! My level of energy had diminished and I was fighting total exhaustion. To make things worse, I have lost my appetite for the most part. Thru-hikers should try to consume about 5000 calories a day; we burn SO many more calories than the average person. I always laugh at the those 100 calorie snack packs- as a hiker would die of malnourishment if they tried to live off of those whilst hiking.
Nonetheless, I haven’t had the stomach to consume enough calories or fat. It has earned me the nickname “Baby Stomach.” Dinner time is such a struggle sometimes; I can barely get through a single pack of Ramen Noodles. Meanwhile, the other hikers are scarfing down 4 and 5 helpings without blinking an eye. Day after day, I began to feel more exhausted; the little hills were becoming a huge struggle to climb. I was moving slower and slower. Tiger Lilly suggested that I might not be eating as much as I should. She is now working with me on taking vitamin supplements and finding foods that have high calorie and fat content- believe me, we need it out here! Yesterday I met an interesting man who had already hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and struggled to maintain healthy weight too. He said “don’t think of the AT as a long distance hike; think of it as a long distance eating contest.” This was probably the best advice I had ever received on the trail. So for now on, when I go to the grocery store to resupply, I will focus on buying all the junk food that I wasn’t supposed to eat as a kid. I know this sounds crazy, but I have to focus, buckle down, and work hard on eating enough food for now on. It is pivotal to my health on the trail. I would argue that the amount of focus I have to put into eating enough food is more than the hard work I had to put in during finals weeks at college… sad, I know.
Unfortunately, eating is not the only pest I have had to battle. Throughout the trail, there are 3 walled shelters that hikers can stay in. It’s a platform and a roof to keep you dry, for the most part. Well, it is a well-known fact that mice and other creatures inhabit these shelters and like to come out at night. We have stayed in many shelters, but never have we had any issues with mice as we have had in the Shenandoahs. At night we take care to hang our food bags on critter hangs- it’s a string with a baffle to keep the mice from crawling down to your food bag. A smart hiker will also hang their pack on one of the critter hangs too. The other night we stayed at Pass Mountain Shelter and the mice were ridiculous. There was this one fat mouse that would stick his little head up and check to see what was going on- then he would run at me and try to eat my headlamp strap. I thought my pack was hanging in a safe place, but I was wrong! I woke up to discover that the mice had chewed a hole into my nice pack. The funny thing was, I left the zipper open so that they wouldn’t chew into the bag. It is smart to leave you pack open so that if there is something they want in your bag they can just crawl in, instead of eating a hole into it. Apparently the mouse that ate my pack wasn’t too bright!
We are almost half way! I am resting in Front Royal, VA for the next two days and I am going to try my best to eat as much food as possible. I heard something about a combination Papa Johns and Taco Bell- that could be a little slice of heaven! Other hikers have said that if you can make it to the half-way point 1,050 miles, that you will make it to Maine unless you get injured. I can honestly say that this is one horrendous mental battle; let’s hope we can continue to meet the goal that we have set before us.
So long! -Fuzzy Navel