Day 123: Jenny Knob Shelter to Bland, VA (12 mi)
We started walking on the early side because our goal was to walk 23 miles. There was a long stretch with no water source on the ridge so our plan was to take our lunch break at a small grocer at the 12 mile marker and the road to Bland, VA.
The morning was cold, but as the sun came out it started to warm up and I was able to hike in just my rain jacket (without my puffy jacket).
We got to the grocery store (a small convenient store) and Fresh Feet told me that he got news that his uncle passed away after a long fought battle against cancer and the memorial service was scheduled for the weekend. We took the opportunity at the grocery to sit down and have some warm food and think about some logistics. Fresh Feet got a veggie burger and I had some oatmeal and we looked at various travel options. We thought about hiking for two more days and then rushing to Philadelphia for the service, but Jamie was just a bit paralyzed and making decisions was just beyond his capacity so we decided to get off trail. I had suggested we just end the day early and regroup tomorrow, but Fresh Feet didn’t want to stay at the dumpy motel in Bland (neither did I), so we ultimately decided that we would just get off the trail and head towards Philadelphia.
I called my parents right away because they had been planning on flying out to visit us this weekend for my mom’s birthday, but we would be in Philly so they had to cancel their trip for the SECOND time (the first being cancelled due to hurricane Florence). This was another let down of course as well.
We arrived at the conclusion that this was our finish line. We were done with the hike. The nights were bitter cold, the rain was absolutely miserable, and this section of trail is so beautiful that we didn’t want to just have a miserable time. Maybe we could come back and finish it in the spring when there might be nicer weather so we could enjoy the trail. Ultimately, we just weren’t enjoying our time and it started to feel empty and purposeless. We were low and defeated and started to put things into action to be done with our trip.
We broke the news to my parents and a few others that the trail was over. We got a shuttle to drive us to Atkins (two days ahead on trail) to pick up our packages that were awaiting us there. He then drove us back to Roanoke, VA where Yasmin (cousin) was still visiting her dad in the hospital for her last day. I cancelled an REI order for my new shoes and a few other items as I wouldn’t be needing them anymore.
We had dinner and stayed up late working on a puzzle on tia Bertha’s iPad at casa Alami. Our plan was to get a rental car in Roanoke and drive it to PA the next day.
We were totally distracted with my family that evening and spent time laughing and talking. It was nice to be jolted out of our trail funk for a night and just not think about quitting, or another funeral or anything at all. We just detached and paid attention to the present moment.
Day 124: Roanoke, VA to Elizabethtown, PA
We gathered our clean laundry, ate, and went to the hospital to visit my uncle (who had just had a pretty major open heart surgery). We then got dropped off at the airport where we got our rental car and hit the road.
This 6 hour drive was so devastating and we were both in such a melancholic low. It was hard to just drive backwards seeing everything we had just hiked flash by in a half day. Much of it felt like worlds away. Wow, Virginia went on FOREVER. I-81 basically goes along the AT the whole way. We saw all the exits of the places we had hiked through: Glasgow, Waynesboro, Shenandoah National Park, Front Royal, Shippensburg, Carlisle and Pine Grove Furnace State Park. Wow. What an emotional rollercoaster. Each time we headed north it felt like we were going against the grain and something about being done just didn’t feel right. The car ride was mostly quiet and we were both pretty void of energy. We both felt that this was not how we wanted to end the trail. This was not how we envisioned it going. Ugh. Maybe we weren’t finished after all?
We arrived in Elizabethtown and had dinner with Cindy and Jim and hung out and watched Get Out (again).
Days 125-128: Philadelphia, PA
We got up leisurely the next morning, but needed to drop off the rental car in Philadelphia by 1:00 pm. We packed up our backpacks and grabbed our suitcases that had been at Cindy’s house since June when we first travelled there. I borrowed some winter items and we headed to Philly.
I’m the car we discussed what it would look like if we got back on the trail. We were finally in a place (after 1.5 days off trail) to think about maybe getting back on trail. We decided we should give it another shot, even if it meant for only a week. We needed to give it an honest effort. Logistically, we had an extra day to go to REI and get my new shoes and other warmer equipment that would make the cold and rainy weather more manageable.
We arrived at Jamie’s uncle Bill and aunt Lee’s house and borrowed one of their cars to go return the rental car and then met up with cousin Jenn for lunch at True Food Kitchen. YUMMY!!!!
We then spent over 3 hours at REI. Jamie got a new sleeping bag and we both got Gortex mitten liner shells. I also got a fleece hoodie and traded out my thin hiking pants for my fleece pants at Cindy’s house. I got my new shoes and Jamie also added a fleece to his clothing situation. We both added arm warmers and he also asked my parents to send a wind breaker vest. With new layers, we felt more equipped to handle the cold weather and felt a bit re-energized about getting back on trail.
We had dinner with cousins and started to re-write our narrative that we were not quitting anymore and we were going to get back on trail by Monday.
We had the interment and Celebration of Life for uncle Ted and I know this was especially hard for Jamie and his sister Katie. We had a lot of nice cousin time and ate a lot of food. Like A LOT.
We spent some time laying out all our stuff and shaking out our packs. We weighed our packs for their base weight for winter weather (base weight refers to just gear, not food and water since this is heavy and quite variable).
Fresh Feet’s pack: 23.5 lbs
Sprout’s pack: 15.5 lbs
By the time Sunday morning rolled around we headed to the airport to get our rental car and drove back down 8 hours to Wytheville, VA where we could drop off the rental car in the morning. We would have liked to drop it off that evening but Enterprise told us we couldn’t do after hours returns and of course it was closed on Sunday. We spent the night in a hotel and were ultimately extremely glad we did because it dipped down to 27 degrees that night! Yikes! We VERY much enjoyed the warmth of the hotel room and the comforts of the beds and hot shower and were glad to not be on trail that night.
We were determined to give the trail everything we had. We had a new purpose and the apathy and lackluster attitude that had overcome us was wiped away and replaced with a more determined mindset than we have had thus far on trail.
When you put your body through prolonged pain, the natural human tendency is to make the pain stop. We were on a razor’s edge prior to getting off trail for the funeral and the temptation to quit was just too easy. We surrendered to the quit, but it didn’t take more than 1 zero day to realize we weren’t done. When we first started the trail some NoBos gave us some advise. They said “don’t quit unless you’ve taken three zero days and you still want to quit.” Another one was “don’t quit unless you’ve been miserable for 100 miles or a week, whichever happens first.”
Well, we took 5 days off trail, reversed our rash decision to quit, and will come back with a vengeance. We seriously need some good weather and sunshine every now and then to keep our spirits alive. It is going to be tough because we would still like to finish before Thanksgiving which means no zero days and throwing down big miles rain or shine. The Smokies are the “White Mountains of the South” and are at extremely high elevation and have a high potential of being snowy. We would like to beat the bad weather if that’s possible! Wish us luck please!