About the Author: Pat-Rice Z is a Jersey girl who has relocated to the DC area. She is a 2019 AT Thru-Hike hopeful who is considering going NOBO or leapfrogging, however the adventure unfolds. You can find her on Instagram @halfway_to_the_sky.

To see all of Patrice’s posts, click her name above!

Week 12: June 18-June 24

I had the best day ever and I want to gush. 

Six months ago I moved to DC with my boyfriend and discovered Devil’s Backbone Brewery (DBB) in nearby Virginia. Their brews are pretty good and they hold awesome events at their two locations. They are located five miles off the trail and I decided prior to the trail that I wanted to check them out. Today was the day I finally got to go! My friends and I woke up at Spy Rock where we had watched the sunset the night before and continued north 20 miles to reach Reed’s Gap before the last shuttle of the day to DBB at 5:30 pm. 

On our way north we traveled through the Priest and Three Ridges Wilderness which were not easy mountains and ridges to climb. We pretty much hiked down 3,000 feet to then immediately hike up 3,000 feet on very rocky terrain. Parts of the trail today reminded me of New England. Though we had an impossible task at hand, we still made time to stop to look at the views and to stop at Priest Shelter. There is a fun thru-hiker tradition to write backpacking confessions in the log book there. I’ve considered mine for days. “Forgive me father for I have sinned, I have lusted after another hiker’s Snickers, I have stolen toilet paper from proper establishments, I petted the Grayson Highland ponies.”

Most of the confessions were very similar, “I pee behind shelters, my catholes aren’t deep enough, I sleep with my food bag, I have stolen Snickers.” Others were quite hilarious: “in the Smokies I sprinkled cracker crumbs onto the sleeping bag of a jerk.”

All five of us managed to make it to Reed’s Gap by 5:30 pm to catch the last shuttle. We got deviled eggs, burgers, and of course beer. We got to camp on DBB’s property for free and partook of the hot showers in one of the cleanest camp bathrooms I have ever seen. Afterwards I called my boyfriend to gush about my perfect day but his responses were lackluster. He had a long and trying day at work. I figured that my excited twittering would be annoying so I hung up the phone.

The world outside of the AT keeps revolving on but life here seems to be moving at a different pace. I don’t want to call it a stand still because I am still amazed that we have walked 850+ miles but life is so different when you are moving at 2 mph. I stop when I want to stop, I eat (whatever I want) whenever I want to eat. I can go faster and slower and talk to whoever. If I don’t like someone’s company I move on, if I do I stay. Life is so simple. This isn’t forever but I am certainly enjoying the here and now. I joke that I am very happy that I took 6 months of my retirement early. I have never been happier in my whole life. I have had happier singular moments but this is the longest string of happiest I have ever had. One of my tramily members says that we choose how to feel (happy, sad, etc). And I do believe that that is partially true, but at the same time, the experiences I have had have been perfect because my trail friends have helped make them perfect. The friends around me constantly change but the good times roll. How could I get so lucky? On the AT, I feel like illness and injury are around every corner. All it takes is one bad step, one roll of the ankle or knee on a loose rock and you are off the trail. So every successful day is a blessing, every successful painless mile is a gift and every sold step is more than we could ever ask for. 

I too will one day have to go back to a job. I too will have trying days that exhaust me. At my last job there were days where I found it difficult to walk from my car back to the apartment because I was mentally exhausted. There were days where I had ice cream for dinner. I hope I have learned valuable lessons from the AT that help me in my outside life. Help me to be a better person for myself and the people around me. I know that I am transforming while here on the trail but I think most of the transformation will happen off the trail when I re-enter normal life and find that I either no longer fit or that I no longer like it. 

Life on the AT moves slower. Getting water at the end of the day is still one of my favorite chores. I look out at the beautiful stream in front of me and wonder, “how did I get this lucky?” Sometimes too when I’m in a shelter, I have extra time to sit and think. The sun does not go down until about 8:30 pm but everyone starts falling asleep around 8 pm. The shelter is quiet, you can look out at the green trees and dimming light and just listen to the wind blow throw the leaves. When I was in high school and had to read Thoreau, Muir and Walden…I hated it. I hated the poems and thought the writing was stupid. But now it all makes sense, I finally ‘get it.’ I can totally get how someone can look out among the foliage and feel a poem pop into their head. I see trekking poles leaning against a tree or a hiker looking out at a view and I think, “oh how picturesque.” I thank God everyday for allowing me to be out here. Gratefulness has been a theme in my life these days. I got water tonight at the Paul C Wolfe Shelter, where a rushing stream graces the bottom of the shelter area and I thought to myself, “what is life! This gets to be my daily chore! I get to do this every night. What a simple task. How cool is it that my nightly routine is getting water?! How could I be so lucky!” 

The last town we stopped at prior to to Shenandoah was Waynesboro. What another excellent day. We hiked 5 miles to the road and immediately were picked up by a Trail Angel. He had a register in his car that dated back to 2014, I signed my name and took note of my hiker friends in front of me. Our first stop was the post office. Waynesboro has to be the most friendly trail town we have been in thus far because 3 people offered us rides back to the trail as we waited outside the post office for our friend. We resupplied at Kroger’s, took advantage of the Chinese Buffet, met up with a fellow hiker we had not seen in a while and then napped out on a stage in their down town park. When you enter Waynesboro there is a list of Trail Angels who provide free shuttles back to the trail. When nap time was over we called a shuttle and were picked up in 10 min. Ironically the driver grew up in my college town and his brother-in-law was my boyfriend’s mother’s middle school math teacher. We are all connected by six degrees right? I am so excited to enter Shenandoah. The last time I camped at Shenandoah was 5 years ago. I hiked minor portions of the AT and I wondered if I ever would be back for real. Well I am and I am pumped! Happy Trails!