A hike in the woods

I hate having a dreadful and nagging feeling that something left undone or the pressure of something bad is about to happen. I had this feeling during my recent hike this weekend.

I didn’t do that much this weekend when there were tons of things I should have done. Most importantly my race will be next weekend, so, so there were things I should have done to prepare for that, but instead I spent the weekend (Sunday) almost incapacitated, laying in bed. I wasn’t sick but just wasn’t able to will myself out of the bed.

I did go for a hike on Saturday. It was the most glorious one! I say that of every hike I did though. It was really a good hike. I went up on the Skyline drive in Shenandoah (north), near the Big Meadow with a friend. We scheduled to do a 23 mile hike. For a normal person, doing even a six mile hike is already a lot! This is almost 4 times. Unfortunately or fortunately depending how you look at, we ended up doing only 20 miles. It was still quite a long hike. We were out from 8-5 pm. The hike is about one and half hour away from my house.

We ended starting an hour late, arriving at the trail head, White Oak Canyon Parking Lot at 8 am (due to construction traffic and a car accident on the Interstate at 6am in the morning that was blocking the only lane, as my friend was trying to reach my house). 

We hiked from White Oak Canyon Parking lot to Skyline Drive, and hiked on the AT (Appalachian Trail), going south with the intention to reach Big Meadow, then to loop back using another trail and return to the Parking Lot using the Cedar Run Trail. 

Both White Oak Canyon Trail and the Cedar Run Trail are famous in the region due to their water falls and pools. These two trails are highly rated destinations in Shenandoah. And so is the AT. We though didn’t hike these trails because of this, but we hike because we want to get in the mileage.

We were confident to finish by 4pm so headlamp were not needed, which we ended up regretting. We also didn’t pack spikes even though we know we probably would need them (we thought they were in the car, but were not). We still could hike without them, but it wasn’t ideal. This is what happened.

The trail ended up being icy and had a layer of fresh snow. Spikes and headlamp were something we regretted of not bringing along. Ice and snow made the trail harder to hike, and we were slower and so might not be able to make it back to our car before sunset. It is not fun to get stuck in the wood unprepared. We have our survival things and even if spending a night it wouldn’t literally kill us but still who would want to be forced to stay a night out in the cold?

We got to the AT. It was covered with snow. We didn’t make as fast a progress we wanted. We were targeting 2.8-3 mph but only get around 2 mph and less sometimes. Yes, the trail was slippery without having spikes on. We got to Fishers Gap (maybe 1-2 miles from Big Meadow). We decided to turn off from the AT and headed back using another trail. It was after 12 pm. We hiked 5 hours and made about 9 miles. Our concern was it might get dark before 4 and neither of us have our headlamps.

I hate being rushed.  We couldn’t go fast because  of the snow.  Our shoes didn’t do well on ice. I took a tumbling at one point, but this had nothing to do with my shoes.  I wasn’t paying attention to the trail and was searching for a flashlight from my backpack while on moved. Luckily it was just a minor bump. We cursed inside for not bringing our spikes or our lights.

It was 1pm I think when we passed a mile marker on the horse trail (it must have a name, but we referred it as the horse trail because horses are allowed to use it). The marker showed number 9. After half a mile, another marker showed 8.5. I had no idea at the time at what mile we would get off, but at least there were 8.5 miles to go on this trail. A quick calculation showed we would be able to get to the trailhead by 4pm if we hiked fast. We did hike fast. My companion was getting more and more anxious (and even angry at a time) when we were not making the progress.

Anxiety took a toll because we missed out of enjoying the scenery. The scenery was pretty. It is not every day we hike in fresh snow. There were two sets of footprints always in front going the other direction. Sometimes there were only one pair. Sometimes we see various small animal tracks along side. It was interesting to see what passed before us. We, at least I wasn’t able to enjoy this at the time.

We reached the Cedar Run Trail junction. We left the horse trail and turned onto Cedar Run. It was a relief because this was the last trail before reaching the car and we would definitely we will get out. Nothing would keep us in the woods.

 We got on the trail like a mariner seeing land. It was our lifeline and we were getting out of here. Our pace quicken.  My friend is more sure-footed, she limbled ahead, picking up the pace even more, scrambling down on rocks and at times only slowed down to navigate through the ice on the path. I was a much slower hiker. There few more miles ahead still. We overtook other people here and they too were trying to get out by sunset. 

Of our entire hike, the first fifteen miles we came across about at most 5-7 people and most of them we met were at popular spots/crossing points. We encountered the same number of people at the last 5 miles. 

The time then was 3:30/4 pm. The sun has gone behind the ridge by now. We knew we would not have much time but the end was also near. We reached back at our car before 5:00. We have hiked exactly 20 miles, averaging 2.22 mph.

It was exhausting. I collapsed once I got in the car. My friend drove and I slept on the way home (I do this on most trips). I went to bed early once home and did nothing else. My bones made that crackle sound when I moved. I felt if my whole body was frozen. It felt good to move but then the tireness and sore came from moving.  I stayed in bed the whole next day. By the end of the day I got better. I did not run for the entire weekend.

End day 35 (and 36)

 Epilogue: I had both a flashlight and a headlamp that day in my pack, and didn’t realize until weeks later.

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