What a difference a hundred miles make! The trail transformed from a consistently drab, gray, foggy mud to an explosion of vividly vibrant colors. Every little girl dreams of finding that elusive end of a rainbow for that promised pot of gold, but even more enriching is the joy of walking through one, futilely hoping that this time the rainbow has no end. The woods of many colors, a kaleidoscopic spectrum of greens, golds, reds, and oranges lined with a carpet of verdant moss, set against a brilliantly bright blue sky dotted with cotton ball cumulus clouds is like walking for miles a day in a postcard. The sunshine has been a present friend who’s followed me nearly every mile of this section other than one day when it engaged in a back and forth battle with rain. Happily, the rain capitulated the battle after two showers and the sun won the war. Sunshine equals improved trail, views, moods, and attitudes.
Virginia…the longest state on the AT by far, comprising 1/4 of the whole 2,189 miles of trail is the setting of formations such as a rock named “Guillotine” that looks exactly like a torture device a giant may use; a strenuous climb known as “The Priest”, where in the shelter log is an entertaining list of written hiker confessions, some silly, some serious. The Dragon’s Tooth, McAfee Knob, and Tinker Cliffs provided breathtaking lunch spots with views of distant mountains and a valley far below where cars pass by so slowly and hawks soar, riding the waves of the wind, oblivious to the beauty surrounding them…much like us humans, actually. The recent trail has become quite obscured by fallen leaves and less adequately blazed in spots. Consequently, it has become more frustratingly common for hikers to find themselves a bit off trail at times. The terrain has varied from walking through cow fields in grazed green grass up and down rolling foothills to climbs of over 3,000 foot gains in elevation, some smooth with switchbacks and others rocky and steep.
Crisp, cool air of autumn is upon us, and the songs of crickets and cicadas are announcing its arrival. Part of the choir of forest nighttime noises that lull one to sleep out here is the eerie cacophony of coyotes howling in distant nights, warning others of their kind to stay away; the haunting calls of owls communicating messages to one another uninterpretable to the human ear; the wind at high elevations as it slams into one’s tent and makes the trees sway loudly.
Lonely nights have been replaced by friendly company. There have been nights spent in my cozy little tent and others in a nice warm home. Friends and I have shared hotel rooms and trail shelter space and, on one occasion, were joined by screeching bats, whose din hinted of their annoyance by our presence in their shelter. The AT in Catawba, Virginia brought me near my trail angel, Aunt Jane’s home where I was invited to spend a couple of days of complete spoilage and lively company! Part of my trail magic included a pedicure, and boy, were my feet pleased by that kind of treatment for a change! Giggles and conversation with her as well as shared laughter, common pain, understood experiences with my little trio trail family have replaced the loneliness of the first two hundred southbound miles.
Every time the rain clears, I am reminded of how incredibly glad I am that I haven’t quit when things have gotten difficult. Life is the same way. Challenge is good for the soul; breaking outside one’s comfort zone is freeing and often leads down paths dotted with those metaphorical pots of gold. It takes a storm to see a rainbow.
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