Highlights From the Trail

In May I took on a new project – working as Editor for the next issue of Carolina Weddings Magazine! It’s a great opportunity and I’m enjoying it, but because it has taken a lot of my free time, I haven’t been able to devote as much time to the blog as I would like. Hopefully that will change later this month as I meet deadlines for the magazine. For now, I want to share a brief update on Will: he’s at mile 1,155 as of the last time I talked to him, headed toward Port Clinton, PA. We’re still working out details for the next time I’ll see him, but it will likely be mid-to-late June. It seems so far away, and I miss him a lot, but we’ve already been through three months and we should only have two more… coming down the home stretch!

Will standing on rocks

Over the past few days, Will has taken the half-gallon ice cream challenge (it’s exactly what it sounds like), been bitten by his first tick, dealt with a broken cell phone and got a ride to a Verizon store to get it replaced, sewn up a hole in his shoe with a needle and thread, enjoyed a hiker Memorial Day picnic, and hiked through both wide open farmlands and trails covered completely in rocks. It has been a week of ups and downs, but Will continues on through it all!

Forsyth Woman magazine has been kind enough to let me tell Will’s story in the May, June, and July issues. Below is the article I wrote for the July issue- four of Will’s picks for special/memorable places on the AT. Read on for Highlights from the Trail!

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Every day is an adventure for Will on the AT, but there are a few highlights that have really made an impression on him. These are bright spots, milestones, and places he has made note to visit again someday.

Nantahala Outdoor Center

Hike from Franklin, NC to Nantahala Outdoor Center

Franklin, NC is a cute, quiet trail town and Nantahala Outdoor Center is a whitewater rafting and outdoor adventure center located at the intersection of the Appalachian Trail and the Nantahala River in the Nantahala National Forest. Early in his journey, I met Will in Franklin, NC for the weekend. As he hiked on from Franklin, he saw the most beautiful sunrise one morning at his campsite. Will and I hope to travel this path together sometime in the future so that he can show me the campsite, and maybe we’ll even try out the whitewater rafting at Nantahala!

Damascus

Damascus, Virginia

Damascus is a must-visit site on the Appalachian Trail. It is famous for “Trail Days,” an annual celebration for thru-hikers featuring food, live music, and outdoor product vendors from around the region showcasing everything from energy bars to rain jackets. We visited Trail Days together last year, and although Will passed through Damascus before the event took place this year, we did spend some time together in the town – his parents visited that weekend, too, and we all relaxed together in a cabin by the river (accompanied by lots of friendly ducks). Damascus is located just over two hours from Winston-Salem and is also known for the Virginia Creeper Trail, a 34-mile bike path that passes through it.

McAffee Knob

Virginia Triple Crown (McAfee Knob, Tinker Cliffs, and Dragon’s Tooth)

The Virginia Triple Crown was one of Will’s favorite sections on the trail because it features some of the best views within a short distance. McAfee Knob, Tinker Cliffs, and Dragon’s Tooth are all conveniently located within a few miles of each other just outside of Roanoke, Virginia (another great town only two hours from Winston-Salem!). McAfee Knob may be the most photographed spot along the AT. Will posed for a photo sitting atop the ledge overlooking the vast valley and distant mountain ranges below. My guess is that most thru-hikers have a similar shot – it’s just too good to pass up!

 Harpers Ferry

Harpers Ferry, West Virginia

There are so many things that make Harpers Ferry special, and I started hearing about them before I ever began the drive to visit Will. The small town is full of natural beauty – the Potomac and Shenandoah Rivers meet there, and everything is exceptionally green. It is also full of history, being a key battleground during the Civil War. It’s got scenic railroads and huge bridges, the downtown area is full of character, and it is located just an hour outside of Washington, DC. Although Harpers Ferry is not exactly halfway mile-wise, it is considered the “psychological midpoint” of the AT, and the Appalachian Trail Conservancy is based there. Whether you are a hiker, nature enthusiast, or history buff, Harpers Ferry is the place to be.

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These are only a few of the highlights of Will’s journey through 14 states on his way to Mount Katahdin. I am sure plenty more highlights await him over the next two months! We’ll keep you posted 🙂

-Meridith (@thetreelogs)

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Halfway to Maine

This was a big week for Will… he hit the 1,000 mile mark on Wednesday! WOW! I haven’t visited the past couple of weekends, but last weekend Will’s dad drove up to visit him in Luray, VA. I know it meant a lot to Will to have his dad there and I hear they made lots of memories!

Root Beard has made it through Shenandoah National Park and will be in Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia tomorrow morning (yes… he’s out of Virginia!). Harper’s Ferry is the home base of the Appalachian Trail Conservancy and is considered the “psychological midpoint” of the AT. I’ve heard so many good things about Harper’s Ferry, and it is such a milestone on the AT, so I’ve been planning on visiting Will there since he got started. I’m getting an EARLY start tomorrow morning to pick Will up in Harper’s Ferry, then we’re driving over to the Washington, DC area on Saturday since it’s only about an hour away! Catch up with you soon!

-Meridith

The Middle Days of Virginia

When you’re not “just getting started,” you’re not “almost finished,” and you’re not technically “half way” either, you’re just in the middle.

That’s where Will is… somewhere in Virginia, somewhere in the middle of his journey.

va ridge

These are the days I thought about in February when Will got serious about this idea of hiking the Appalachian Trail. I thought the middle days would drain him, bore him, and leave him thinking that it wasn’t worth the effort. I knew he would still be running on adrenaline in the beginning, with lots of visits from family and friends and the thrill of something new pushing him forward. But the middle (cue Jimmy Eat World early 2000s) would kill his motivation.

I was sure of this…

…and I was wrong. I have learned from watching Will that the middle isn’t all bad, in hiking and in life. Here’s why:

1) You learn as you go. Will has learned so much through trial and error and is able to put that knowledge to use now. He’s got this backpacking thing down to a science, which makes things easier and more enjoyable than they were in the beginning.

2) It grows on you. Over time, being an AT hiker has become Will’s “new normal.” He enjoys his routine and the hiking community he has embraced. He’s used to trail living now and when he breaks in a town, something feels “off” until he gets back into his natural habitat.

3) You’ve got more to lose. Will would have a lot to lose by quitting at this point. All of the work he’s put in thus far, all of the people who are rooting for him… simple math proves that you’ve got more to lose in the middle than you do in the beginning. That’s strong motivation.

Of course there are days that are challenging for him, and there is a reason hikers have coined the term “the Virginia Blues.” There are times of frustration, boredom, and all of the things I imagined there would be. But I thought Will would want to quit after three weeks, and he hasn’t even had the thought of quitting yet, over two months in. I think sometimes we can get caught up in our thoughts about how we think something is, or might be, or should be- but the only way to actually know is to get outside of your thoughts and experience it. Thinking is helpful only up to a point… and I’m not always right. That’s both humbling and freeing to me. That’s what I’ve learned in the middle.

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Will/Root Beard is at mile 800-something. He is headed for Waynesboro, VA where he will take a day off on Monday to rest his feet and dry out his gear after a long week of downpours and thunderstorms. After that he will head into the second (and final) National Park on the AT, Shenandoah National Park.

I’ll keep you posted! More photos and updates are on Instagram: @thetreelogs. Also, if you’re in the Forsyth County, NC area, check out the May issue of Forsyth Woman magazine for our story (it’s right smack dab in the middle)!

-Meridith