Every year Appalachian Trail (AT) thru hikers, gear heads and dreamers flock to Damascus, Virginia for the annual “Trail Days” festival. This year, Trail Days was held from May 17-19 and attracted thousands of outdoor enthusiasts from all over the globe. Hyperlite Mountain Gear attends Trail Days every year to meet fellow enthusiasts and show off some of its innovative ultralight gear and accessories. One of the people Hyperlite Mountain Gear met at this year’s festival was a thru-hiker named Brenna (trail name “Neon”). Unfortunately, Brenna had all of her gear stolen from her tent while she was exploring the festival. When founder Mike St. Pierre heard what had happened to Neon, he decided to hook her up with a free Hyperlite Mountain Gear Windrider 2400 pack as well as a some other free Hyperlite Mountain Gear products. Mike also spread her story among other equipment vendors at the festival. By the end of the day, Neon had an entirely brand new setup of equipment free of charge. With the ultralight and rain-proof 2400 Windrider Hyperlite Mountain Gear trimmed Neon’s pack weight significantly which should make the next 1,700 miles to Maine even more fun. As a way of saying “Thank You” to Mike and the rest of the Hyperlite Mountain Gear team, Neon has been keeping us all up to date with periodic posts and pictures from the AT. We hope that you’ll check in regularly to follow Neon along the trail! Here’s Neon’s seventh post from the trail . . .
The Four State Challenge
It was tough getting back on the trail after taking four days off. My body had realized it was time to relax and allow the aches and pains to come to the surface: my feet were swollen and I hobbled up and down the stairs because I couldn’t bend my knees. It was even tougher getting back on because the first day we did 44 miles.
When I first heard about the four state challenge, I thought it was something that everyone did; one of those rites of passage on the trail. I decided then, at the very beginning of the trail, when an 18 mile day was a bit of a push, that one day I would walk 43.1 miles. Once the end of Virginia came into sight, I realized the magnitude of what I had committed myself to: I had yet to even do a 30 mile day. Thanks to peer pressure and my own mental obstinacy, there was no turning back.
Buckeye, Atreyu, Promise, ET, Turbo, and I were dropped off at a road crossing 0.8 miles past the VA/WV border at about 5 AM and we doubled back in order to truly hit four states in one day.
After walking for months on end, I was surprised to find how quickly I had forgotten how to do it in my time off. I was moving one foot in front of the other as usual, but everything felt strange. Is this how I usually hike? Is this the speed I usually go? What do I do with my arms? My steps felt wobbly and unsure- my body had literally forgotten how to walk. By the 10 mile mark I was back in the groove and by noon we had completed almost 20 miles. We took plenty of breaks and no one who saw us would have thought we were doing any sort of challenge.
Until we hit about the 30 mile mark. My legs were stiffening and I felt completely sapped of all energy. I had also lost track of where we were and kept expecting the next shelter to be just around the corner. That’s the kiss of death on a long hike- expecting to be farther than you are. By this time anyone who saw us could see in our faces that we were no longer having a good time. A few other hikers, one of whom I knew, the others I had just met, started cheering us on as we walked. We were leap-frogging with them and every time we passed by, they tried to pump us up by whooping and hollering. It felt good and it worked each time, at least for a little while.
We finally made it to the shelter at the 34 mile mark. 10 miles to go. It was about 6 PM by this time and we were all in pain. I think each one of us was truly considering just stopping there for the night, but no one was willing to say it out loud. We had a feast of granola bars, cereal, pop tarts, bagels, peanut butter, Twizzlers pull n peel (I might have been the only one feasting on these), Fritos Honey BBQ Twists (best trail food ever by the way- high calorie and delicious. So what if it has zero nutritional value), and everything else in our food bags. Ibuprofen made the rounds.
Suddenly we were new people; walking three miles an hour, chatting, and having a great time. Suddenly we were talking about going past the 44 mile mark and making it an even 50. And just as suddenly we were back to misery. At the 40 mile mark I thought I was done. It was long past twilight and I didn’t know if I would make it to 44. I was still moving, but just barely. “This is making me hate hiking,” ET said. We slowed down to about one mile per hour and walked mostly in silence, each of us dwelling on our own pain. Chafing, cramps, tight muscles, and sore feet plagued us. The chafing was out of control. I was the only one spared the butt crack variety and to this day I am thankful for that. I silently cried the last two miles and alternately hoped that no one would see and everyone would see. I wanted to be comforted, to be held, and most of all I just wanted it to end.
0.3 miles before the finish there was a pavilion and we decided to walk down to the state line and then come back up to stay in the pavilion, thereby avoiding setting up shelters for the night. We walked down to the railroad tracks and figured that was it, this was the line. We made it at 11:30 PM, about 18.5 hours after we had started. No state-line sign? Kind of disappointing but not so unusual.
We took a few pictures: I preferred the pictures where I could sit down and loved the pictures where I was just laying down in the tracks. I didn’t take any of my own because I no longer cared. We made our way back to the pavilion and I lay down and went to bed. “You’re not going to eat any dinner?” Buckeye asked me. No, I was not. I was extremely hungry, but even more tired.
We slept late the next day. 10? 11? I can’t be sure. I was exhausted and walking was painful. I don’t even know why we ever left that beautiful pavilion with its beds (our sleeping bags) and its bathrooms (actual bathrooms!). Most of all, staying there would mean that we wouldn’t have to hike and that would have been glorious. For some reason we ended up leaving, hiked passed the train tracks where we had stopped and taken pictures, and then pass the sign marking the Mason-Dixon Line. Wait there was a sign? It turns out we had come up short by about 50 yards and hadn’t seen the sign because it was dark. Once again I no longer cared.
We only hiked 7.5 miles that day and then stopped at another pavilion for the night. We had gone far enough and ordered pizza; everyone except for Ramon and me eating a large on their own. Then they went to Walmart and each got a half gallon of ice cream for dessert. Atreyu got a 2 liter bottle of root beer and had the world’s largest root beer float. I took a nap.