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 7: May 21-May 27

You know what? I like not having a mirror. I like not knowing what I look like everyday. Is there something on my face? Probably! Actually? Most definitely! I’m currently resting at Angel Rest Hostel in Pearisburg and their bathrooms are gorgeous! I spent about 5 minutes looking at myself in the mirror and then realized how much time I was losing. 

Checking out my acne in the mirror was a nightly event in my prior life. It was as if knowing where the pock marks were would help them decrease- it would not. My acne simply does not bother me out here on trail. Yes I still have it but if anything, my acne has gotten better! Weird to think that not washing your face for 7 days in a row would actually improve acne. 

Though my prior life feels so far away, the routines that I went through still come back to me when I get to town. I still shower the same, I still wash my hands the same, I still put my left shoe on first before the right. I have been out of the trail for two months now and I have to say that I still love it. As I was walking through the forest today I could not help but smile, I couldn’t explain why but I was over come with joy, an immense amount of joy. A section hiker asked me what I missed about the real world (of course loved ones including pets) but I could not think of a single thing that I missed. “Nothing” I told him. Everything I need is with me and when I need something I can get it in town. All my needs are met, good shelter, dry clothes, filling food… Now I do crave showers more when it is raining out, but I have wanted this for so long…to have the chance to hike the AT, that I am in my element every moment of everyday. 

I didn’t find the walk out of Damascus harder than usual. Climbing out of towns always means going uphill with a full supply of food (which for me is very heavy!!). When we entered Atkins we were fortunate to run into Odie and his Hiker Bus again. Odie is the creator of the Hiker Yearbook and I love running into him. His bus just pops up randomly but it is always a treat.

Another reason why I liked running into Odie this time was because he could give us a little more information about the attack that happened less than 10 miles from the restaurant in Atkins we stopped at for lunch. Since I left Damascus, the trail felt eerie. It is hard to explain but I was saddened that my fellow hikers were terrorized along the same stretch of trail that I was now waking. It is a beautiful stretch of trail but again, it was so eerie walking through. Talking to Odie was reassuring. I told him how I felt about this stretch of trail and he said that it was a testament to our strength to walk through. Yes, I do believe the trail is safe. A newscaster had interviewed me during Trails Days and when he asked me, “since the attack, are you going to do anything differently?” I simply said, “no, just to continue to hike with my trail family.” I don’t need to do anything differently. I don’t need to be scared. I don’t need to carry weapons. Like my fellow hikers, I’m just sad.

North of Atkins is a memorial for Stronghold, the male hiker who passed away from the trail violence.  I hiked with a fellow female hiker the day we passed it and she told me that she cried for about four miles. I come from a church-going background so I just prayed the whole time we were in the area that Stronghold camped for the last time. 

We had passed 500 miles during the Grayson Highlands in between being licked, nibbled, and bit by the ponies. Past the Stronghold memorial is the 1/4 Way marker and from that point farther my sadness lifted and I started to enjoy the trail again. 

Six months ago I moved from New Jersey to the DC area and whenever my boyfriend and I wanted to go exploring we would drive south to Virginia. Virginia is gorgeous and I could not wait to come back and explore it. There is so much to look forward to like breweries, balds, Dragon’s Tooth, McAfee’s Knob, Shenandoah, and best of all…seeing loved ones! Everyday I wake up and am excited to be in Virginia. Yes, most of the trail is contained in this state and people often get the “Virginia Blues” but how can I with so much to look forward to?! Happy Trails!