The Virginia Blues

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.

14 thoughts on “The Virginia Blues

  1. Incredible insights on Virginia, Seany. It’s thrilling for all of us to experience the AT though your journal entries, and I’m so proud of you for taking on the challenge.

    These perspectives and tales of the trail reinforce the notion that your epic adventure is all about the journey, and not the destination.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Seany, this is such an amazing adventure for you and, actually, for ALL of us who are following along! The teacher in me is fascinated by how your writing has evolved from a sense of excitement into a recognition of the depth of the journey. More philosophical and appreciative of the beauty of what surrounds you. You are definitely being rewarded for all of your hard work and struggle. You’re learning so much and will be able to draw on these things always. I am so proud of you! Your dad is right . . . it IS all about the journey and not the destination. That’s pretty much true of life in general! Be safe, soak it all up, and try to get regular showers. You’ll be more comfortable and so will everybody around you!! Sending you blessings and encouragement!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Isn’t it funny how you writing about this most difficult leg of your journey is your best writing yet? This is what it looks like when the fire begins to actually bend the metal. It’s at the right temperature to not destroy it, but not too cool that it won’t bend it. You are going through the refiner’s fire and your post here is painfully beautiful. Thank you for sharing your journey with us in such wonderful prose. You are gifted in so many ways, Seany. Now we add storytelling. I will be praying for you as you bear up under and push through these last many miles in VA. You are walking not just for yourself, but for all those who gave up their walks. #suicideprevention. Your Fan in NJ – Aunt Fran

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hey Sean, serious happenings in VA. Hey but like you say its changing just like life. Certain situations pop up and you’ve gotta modify & adapt to the changes. If there is one thing that i can say to you it’s I’m getting such a thrill following your writings about your journey. I only got to do day hikes on the CT portion of the AT before my knees gave out which led to my back being shot! So, I’m hiking thru you and I’m seeing the things I wanted to see thru your eyes. It is truly a wonderful feeling that you are giving to me. I thank you for it. Keep your chin up and keep on Truckin’ up the Trail.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. “A strange picture we make on our way to our chimaeras, ceaselessly marching, grudging ourselves the time for rest; indefatigable, adventurous pioneers. It is true that we shall never reach the goal; it is even more than probable that there is no such place; and if we lived for centuries and were endowed with the powers of a god, we should find ourselves not much nearer what we wanted at the end. O toiling hands of mortals! O unwearied feet, travelling ye know not whither! Soon, soon, it seems to you, you must come forth on some conspicuous hilltop, and but a little way further, against the setting sun, descry the spires of El Dorado. Little do ye know your own blessedness; for to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive, and the true success is to labour.” (Robert Louis Stevenson, excerpted from his essay titled “El Dorado”)

    This piece came to mind as I read your latest post. While Katahdin, ME, is a reachable goal (unlike the mythical El Dorado,) what you’ve described is similar to what RLS expressed here – “…to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive.” Thank you for sharing so much of yourself and your experience, Seany. You are an inspiration.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. You got this you wonderful inspiring soul. It is what you are finding within that will bear fruit when you reach your destination. Listen to that voice, fine tune it, trust it! You are so much more powerful than you know. I am in awe!! Much love.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Great writing Seany! You paint such a great picture, describing the physical and emotional challenges of the trail. Good for you man for putting your goal ahead of you every day and basking in the difficulty of the trudge. You got this man!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Hey Seany. I had to take a day to respond to your VA Blues post. I was too emotional. So proud of you for your insight, your perspectives, your sensitivity, transparency, and all out courage. I know this is challenging but in no way can fully comprehend how difficult. I appreciate what it takes of you and everyone on the trail to keep putting one foot in front of the other whether it’s continuing on the trail or walking off the trail. I love how you honor and respect every one of the hikers no matter where they are on their journeys. I’m looking forward to meeting more of these amazing people in a couple weeks and spending just a couple days walking in your world. 💕

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Seany…wow. Your story is remarkable. Reading about the physical and mental obstacles you’re facing, it’s hard to not get emotional. Emotional because your passion for life, nature, and adventure is manifesting itself in you on the trail. You are living life to the fullest, and that makes us so proud. Your journey hasn’t just helped your body grow stronger, but also your heart & mind. By sharing your journey with us, our hearts grow stronger as well. We’re lucky to follow along with you and are all inspired!

    Keep up the great work brother. Volanni, Maggie, your niece/nephew and I are living vicariously through you & cheering you on. Love you Seany!

    Like

  10. Hi Seany,

    Looking out my back window in Eagle, WI after reading your post. I am sorting, recycling, taking to Goodwill and Habitat ReStore some of the extra “memories” of my life with Dave. (Should also mention that there is a fair amount of garbage.) Getting the house ready for sale….today it is easy to cry….perhaps I have a case of the Wisconsin Blues!

    Every day when I open my refrigerator, I see your face smiling back at me–bookended in the picture by Cole and Lucy. I continue to feel so proud of you–your effort, your drive, your caring, and your stamina. I have a huge appreciation of the light you have shown on people with mental health struggles as well as promoting suicide prevention awareness. Thank you for that.

    “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.” Ernest Hemingway, in A Farewell to Arms

    I know that your Mom and Luna will be joining you in a few days. Hope that is a wonderful reunion and hike. I know that your Dad and Mom walk with you every step of the journey.

    Love and prayers for physical and emotional fortitude on the journey. Keep pushing on to Maine!

    Hugs, lots of them,
    JZ

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Hey Seany!!
    Love reading your entries and so amazed at how far you‘ve already come. Definitely a whole new respect for VA. 😂 Wishing you happy trails and fun with your mom.
    We are all rooting for you!!! Love, The Flo‘s

    Liked by 1 person

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