The Virginia Blues is a commonly used, and feared, trail term to describe the emotional state as we hike through Virginia. It usually involves the loss of love for the trail, low morale, and lack of motivation to continue the hike. Some people don’t get the Virginia Blues at all, while others are overcome by the Blues and resign from the trail. It’s almost like the second wave of hikers to get off trail, after the initial 2 weeks of dropouts. I personally believe the Virginia Blues are very real and active. And not because of Virginia as a whole. Virginia is the largest state on trail, with 540.6 miles (nearly 1/4 of the AT); so there is a long period of time we spend in Virginia for the Blues to develop. But the trail, and views, here have been spectacular. Every gap in the trees, or mountain overlook, is a little escape to all the rolling mountains around us, the small towns and farms locked in the nearby valleys, and a quick reminder of how high up we really are. All the plants and wildlife are thriving now. From mesmerizing fern pastures, to rocky alpine ridge walks, and deep jungle-like valley strolls next to a rushing creek; Virginia has been stunning. Some of the most iconic trail views and milestones are in Virginia too. But I believe the Virginia Blues grow from the comedown of the initial high of “we’re hiking the Appalachian Trail and this is amazing!!” We’ve been on the trail over two months now and the hike has now become our job, rather than just a joyful escape. And a lot of people weren’t prepared for this new chapter in the hike. Another part of it, is that everyone who has hiked the trail, always says Virginia is one of the easiest states, and that you’ll just fly right through it because it’s relatively flat. And it’s not. Some of the hardest stretches of trail, have been here in Virginia. There was a week, where everyday was sunny and 90 degrees out. We had to hike straight up a few thousand feet to get up on the mountain ridge line. The problem was, there would be no water on the ridge line. So, we’d hike the rock covered ridge line, exposed directly to the 90 degree sun, with no water for roughly 9 miles, on average. We would have to carry a lot of extra water to make it through these sections, and water is easily the heaviest item to carry. Once we’d reach the end of the ridge line, we walk back down a couple thousand feet, refill at the first spring we’ve seen in hours, only to hike right back up the next mountain, and do it all over again. This routine lasted several days, and was definitely one of the most difficult sections, we’ve had to deal with. Morale was at an all time low. We were lucky enough to encounter trail magic and make everything alright again. Thank God for trail angels.
A difficult resolution that I’ve come to, (I’m guessing other people have come to this conclusion as well), is that maybe Virginia really is the easiest and smoothest state on the AT. And that can only mean one thing: that it’s only going to get more difficult moving North. And that’s tough to process. Because right now, we’re just 1/3 of the way to Maine, with 2 months on trail under our belts, and we still have to go through the actually strenuous and most demanding parts of the trail. It’s daunting. Personally, it’s kind of exciting, because I know I’ll be exposed to all new hiking terrain and challenges. And any change in the usual routine, is exciting to me. The monotony is what makes you go insane out here.
I’ve had several friends quit, with no warning, these last few weeks. Most of them stating that they got what they wanted out of the trail, know what they want to do with their lives, and are ready to return back to the normal world. The Virginia Blues got them. And honestly, good for them for realizing they achieved, and took away from the trail, more than they could’ve imagined, thus, being okay with getting off trail. I can’t imagine how difficult the decision to get off trail can be. When we hear about this on trail, everyone is usually shocked and saddened at first. Because we’ve made it so far, you’d think we’d all have it figured out by now and be able to finish the whole thing. But each time, it reminds us that we can still get off whenever we want. And this feeling spreads like a virus. You start to remember how nice everything is back in the real world. We could be sleeping in a bed every night, watching movies/TV all day, enjoying air conditioning and running water, have easy access to some of the best foods and drinks; and yet, we’re still out here hiking the trail, sweating our asses off everyday with no showers, destroying the physical condition of our bodies, all for an end that seems too far away to be real. Whenever someone quits, these thoughts jump back into your head. They linger there when your climbing another mountain with no views at the top, when you can’t fall asleep because the mice in the shelter keep running over you, when it’s rained for the 4th day straight and your gear still hasn’t dried out. And if other people are feeling this way too, it’s hard to motivate yourself to keep going. You just have to find ways to push these thoughts out. I try to remind myself that there is nowhere else I’d rather be. Even if things are going rough, it’s better to be out in the woods, with fresh air blowing everyday, seeing animals and plants I’ve never even imagined before, and away from all the nonsense happening in the real world. I get to sleep wherever I want, drink the best water I’ve ever had, pee whenever and wherever I want, and eat as much food as my stomach will hold, while still getting skinnier each day. I’d never get to see any of these incredible views if I was stuck sitting on the couch all day. And, in Hokey Pokey fashion, ‘that’s what it’s all about.’ I like to imagine my final climb up Katahdin in Maine. What an achievement it will be to complete this journey and all the emotions that will follow. I think of how I don’t have to worry about work, my responsibilities and stress-inducers are minimal out here, and I get to do whatever I want each day. For each day, a new and different sun.
Personally, the act of quitting has never passed my mind as an option. I’m making it to Maine no matter what happens. I knew it was going to be real hard, and I was mentally ready for that. There are definitely things I wish I could still enjoy. But like my Aunt just told me, you have to give up some things to do what you really want. So, I’m not worried about quitting. It’s just that the emotions, and the state of us hikers on trail, has changed here in Virginia. A new chapter on trail has begun.