Wow. Well, where to start? I’m not entirely sure why I’m writing this; there’s a good chance it’s because I am still on my vacation and have exhausted all the ‘things to do for free in Broad Ripple that don’t include walking the Monon’ resources (given that it’s 80 degrees outside and I am feeling a little lazier than I should).
So, I am here to tell you all about my grand adventure of hiking the Triple Crown in Roanoke Virginia.
First, I’ll bring you up to speed on how I got to this, and then I’ll get to the juicy (read: embarrassing) part.
The Mainstage season at the Children’s Theatre would be wrapping up mid-April and I’d be back the first of May to tap into my work on The Cat in the Hat (shameless promotion, please come see it!). My plan was a grand vacation, but sometimes you have to be realistic with yourself (and your checking account) and settle for something a little more tangible.
I quickly settled on hiking. That’s nearly free, right? I immediately called up Nicky and bartered and begged for him to find some time in his tight schedule to go on a trip with me. (I’m brave, but if you think for a second that I would jump into my first through-hiking like experience alone, then you don’t know exactly how high my anxiety about new experiences is). Nick managed to find time to squeeze in a mini vacation. The next step was to find where. The key here was to find a hike we could do in 3 days and 2 nights time. After some Googling, we stumbled across The Triple Crown in Roanoke Virginia along the Appalachian Trail.
Neither of us have through-hiking experience. And not that this can contend with people who set off to do months worth of hiking, but we still needed to prepare. A huge thanks to everyone who gave bits of advice and let Nick and I borrow equipment to make this possible.
Okay, now to the real story.
It’s 12:30AM as we pull into a small, open parking lot in Virginia. Despite looking at the radar consistently for two weeks (read: Roanoke Virginia 80%, 80%, 90%, 100% rain for each hour on only the EXACT days we are hiking), we start to come to terms that we will be hiking through rain for all of our trip. We go to bed and I vow to not puss out in the morning. Z Z Z — I awake to the sound of clear weather- it’s 8:00AM. I take a moment to thank the Gods for shining on us and giving a break in the incessant downpour. I slap Nick around some (I am sure that this is the only way to wake up the bear), and we take the next hour to pack and exchange glances of, “this looks like it’s about to be miserable but we’re both too stubborn to be honest with ourselves and this could be fun anyway, right??!?!?!”
I should intercede with a quick bit about how when I was 16 my Dad and I hiked the Bright Angel Trail in the Grand Canyon (9 miles down, 9 miles up) in 10 hours with only 2 water bottles and a Clif Bar. I have been using this true-story as logic that I CAN DO ANYTHING and AIN’T NO MOUNTAIN AND SOME RAIN GONNA DETER ME. (Side note, please don’t ever ask my Dad about this story because he will gladly retell it and it includes a lot of bits about me whining and dying).
So, after Nick and I throw on some 40 lb bags (did we overpack? Perhaps a bit, but in all honesty, the majority of it was food and hiking gear we picked up from Walmart the night before in an attempt to stay ‘dry.’), we headed across the road to hit the North Mountain Trail. The Triple Crown is a looped hike. You hike some 15 miles north on the North Mountain Trail and jump on another that leads one East to the Appalachian Trail. From there, it’s another 17 miles South on the Appalachian Trail hitting 3 amazing and well visited destinations before ending the hike back at Goldie (I will include an excerpt about how much I LOVE and APPRECIATE Goldie later). Nick and I wanted to get the North Mountain Trail done first, mostly because it depended on where we wanted to make camp that night and mileage wise what made sense.
We begin our two mile ascent up the mountain. Let me note that this is hard. Like, not as hard as it’s about to get, but I make sure to take a couple minutes of rest as we go up and remind myself that this is an endurance test. Nick is sure I won’t make it- I silently cuss him out under my breath and think about smashing his ankles in with some tent poles. Just kidding, he’s being supportive, a little too supportive of my rests, and I still think about breaking his top-heavy self. (You’ve got to direct the frustration somewhere, right?) The other bit that I should add is that we are sweating. I know what you’re thinking- DUH Laura, physical work will do that. I know that, and it’s not awful given its 45 degrees out (the perfect hiking weather sans rain), but I am now damp on the inside. I am too dumb and inexperienced to realize that this is the perfect combination to bring me to ruin later.
I’m bitching a lot now, aren’t I? Sorry, the post-traumatic stress of that day is depressing. In real life I shudder and look out across this cage-free-organically-grown-but-has-a-lot-of-fake-plants-and-splatter-painted-bricks-brunch-spot I’ve chosen to make a short term home in and laugh ironically (half at this story and half at the fact that they are playing Michael Jackson and I have STILL never written about my Cirque du Soleil days at MJ One…) and then continue to write. HAHA, “LIFE IS FUNNY SOMETIMES,” I SAY AS I HOLD MY COLD PRESSED JUICE REAL TIGHT.
Nick and I finally reach the ridge and the trail starts to level out. Bliss. We’re a little behind our time of 2 miles an hour, but I accredit that to the climb up. The packs are starting to feel comfortable on our bodies and we continue with the knowledge that we can finally look around some and enjoy a brisker pace and a leveled-out trail. The fog is too thick to enjoy much of a view beyond 100 feet ahead or behind, but the trail itself is beautiful. Raw and beautiful. That much, I am not lying about. Spring has grown up around everything and spurts of green peak through slick and mossy rocks. Nick and I feel good. We have enough energy to converse and make wisecrack jokes. This feels great. Ah, vacation.
We have gone a total of 3-4 miles before we start hitting the rain. We take a moment to take our packs off and stretch. We pull out our rain gear. Nick has swishy pants and I a slick jacket, both of which we each started in. We dress in our split rain outfit from Walmart. Nick takes the zip jacket and I some pants of a matching set. The pants are a few sizes too large and I look like the Michelin man took a permanent smoke break. Whatever. Onward.
The rain is a light drizzle. Not enough for complaint, but enough to notice that it exists. I *thought* that when we reached the ridge it would mostly flatten out- the truth of it being that the ridge is a long series of ups and downs crossing one ridge to the other. I regret not taking heed that this hike was rated difficult. We’re back on track at 2 miles an hour, maybe a bit faster. An old cross country injury starts to flare up from when I had micro tears in my left IT band. Nick grunts and whines about wanting some nuts in his mouth (??) and I keep my promise that we will stop for lunch at 1:00p.
At this point I notice my shoes are wet and the combination of rain and sweat is starting to drown me. I know this is not good, but it’s not yet ruined my experience and I can go on. Nick checks the trail map because he is the map master (remember this later- 😉 ) and after passing two other trails we know that we have gone 6 or 7 miles. It’s now that I also notice my pants are ripped some. We grab the electrical tape and perform emergency repair- but the only important part of this is that eventually they do deteriorate and turn into, what is essentially thigh-less chaps that are useless and do not keep up their end of the bargain. Spirits are still high enough, and Nick and I agree that tonight when we make camp we will eat cold Ravioli and cuddle. This is the perfect image I hold onto for the next five hours.
Okay, now I must speed this up because in 8 minutes this place closes and I have a life to live (movies to watch). …
*An hour and 30 minutes later* I continue as I watch LA LA LAND and proceed to consume a thousand calories while avoiding the gym. Great.
Now we’re gaining speed. Hours start to fly and I am truly starting to fall into a concerning mental state. I must say, the trail is so incredibly well marked and I never questioned that, but at a certain point, Nick and I start to get confused as to why this is taking so long and that we must have seen a sign by now. I can only equate this to the feeling of swimming in an ocean and never seeing land. I know with each hill we go up that we will go back down but how many hills still to traverse is a mystery to me. At this point we’ve been walking in the rain for well over 4 hours and it has significantly picked up. It’s cold. It’s miserable. I can fully feel how heavy this pack is. My shoes are entirely soggy- I’m living puddle inception. Remember how I said we were sweating? I’ve now dripped through 2 separate shirts and continue to cool my body on the inside and the rain has finally pushed through the “waterproof” standard leaving both of us soaked through. I cry because I am so cold and exhausted and my left leg is useless lifting it past 6 inches. Nick encourages me to keep pushing on and I am grateful for him, knowing full well I couldn’t-wouldn’t-shouldn’t do this without him. (He’s so great that for a couple uphill stretches he even carries my pack. My heart is full with love and admiration for him- and jealousy over not being born a damn tank of a human being).
After a dozen times of guessing and being wrong, we begin our true descent. I am actually so excited that I start half galloping down. There isn’t anything to be largely celebrating, once we end this trail, we have another 3 miles on the Andy Lane ‘til we land on the Appalachian trail and another mile into that to get to camp but it marks an amazing bit of traveling 14 miles on this seemingly-never-ending stretch of the North Mountain Trail. Still, forget the pounding rain, 40 pound pack that is dampening, busted up iliotibial band, and water-logged train I am conducting- I am excited about hiking again!
We reach the bottom and are greeted by the wooden sign discussing the trail we just left behind. Only, the North Mountain has dumped us on a dirt road that is slick from the rain. I can see a driveway leading to a few houses and a small clearing. “No Trespassing” is posted so many times that I fear what happens to hikers who go beyond the limits. Nick pauses longer than he should at the map and I slowly realize that we are not where we intended.
I am hysterical. The map posted isn’t too helpful. It doesn’t give us a name for the road we are on, but Nick rereads our own map and we can infer that the Andy Lane trail (the one we should have ran into) is actually named something else, despite all of our researching and different maps we had). We weigh our options: 1) turn around and hike 4 miles back to the trail, 2) take the road, 3) bother someone in their home, 4) make camp here, 5) call authorities. Nick assures me that we should make a left on the road to head back towards the van. I can tell he’s angry that we went down the wrong path but he is still hopeful we can salvage this somehow. We go maybe a quarter of a mile, hand in hand, up the empty road until I refused to go further. We are lost, we are cold, and we need to admit we are in over our heads. A van passes and refuses to stop. I beg Nick to call 911. We argue for 10 minutes back and forth about it before he agrees to let me call.
Signal is low, battery is at 16%, but we get through. It rains even harder and after 3 transfers to different counties, we are connected to a Sheriff. He takes our numbers and assures us he will send dispatchers and call periodically. Relief. Such sweet relief. I am feeling better and confident that although we stooped to tapping out and calling emergency responders, that we will be safe soon. Another truck comes by and he graciously stops. Although I am sure we are talking to a serial killer, the man is kind enough to tell us the name of the road but not kind enough to accept money to take us back to Goldie because he’s headed to hang out with his girlfriend. #stillbitter. With shaking hands I call back the Sheriff. My call drops and Nick’s phone is dead. I start to panic and call again. I get through and tell him that we are on the road Broad Run. He thanks me and hangs up. Nick and I hold each other, teeth chattering, bodies shaking for ten more minutes before the Sheriff phones again and says they are still looking and will be here soon. Back to crying and shaking. Another 15 minutes pass and the Sheriff calls again. My fingers are numb and I drop the phone trying to answer it. We play phone tag a few more times and he says, “Mam, we’ve been up and down all of Broad Run and cannot find you. Listen for our siren, we’re going to play it.” We listen and all we hear is the thick thud of rain on the mud road. Lost. We are so lost that even the search and rescue team can’t find us.
I’m losing hope. If we went with the last option and that was to be the safety net, we are out of luck. And cold. More minutes pass and we start to consider that we may have to set up the tent and try again tomorrow. It’s 7:30PM and the sun is nearly down. Neither of us think we’ll be able to get dry and I start to worry about our health. I know it sounds dumb and petty, but it was absolutely miserable.
At last, like a mirage in the desert, a rickety white SUV pulls up alongside us and relief washes over me. I grab Nicky and cry for a moment into his sopping wet jacket. We pick up our packs and what is left of our dignity and hide away into their warm cab.
The two volunteer fire fighters who picked us up were nothing short of incredibly amazing. After a 30 or so minute ride back, we finally fall into Goldie, undress, and sit beside the heaters for another half hour before we even begin talking about the next step.
I am so, so happy. I vow to never say a bad word about Goldie again and Nick and I drive a bit away to the town over. We lament our Triple Crown journey and park the van outside a Holiday Inn. We crawl into the back and unfold a blanket and sleeping bag and cuddle up as Nick cracks open the can of cold Ravioli and we lay down at 9:15PM for bed.
So, there. There’s my tragic and whining and boo-hoo of I didn’t do it and took the cheap way out. I’m not as mad about it as I thought I would be. For the first time, I actually feel like I made the right decision in listening to my body and being aware of what’s happening around us. I think back to that truck fella who said, “No offense, but y’all picked the wrong day to do this.” No shit. But we tried, and we did our best with what was given to us. We were prepared but Mother Earth (was it ironic that this all happened on Earth Day or not?) flexed her power and washed us out.
Fair, and well played.
We woke up the next morning and with lifted spirits and new found joy, we set off to see at least one of the sights. We ditched our packs for our half-day, 8 mile hike and headed to the Appalachian Trail. It was as rainy as it was the day before, but our shoes had dried out and the fog had cleared a bit. We made our way up the trail and to the top of MacAfee Knob. This is supposedly the most photographed spot on the whole Appalachian Trail, but the fog was thick this side of the mountain and this high in the clouds, so we were only met with a wall of gray and sleeting rain at the top. It was beautiful.
The only other notable bits of this trail were that we ran into some real through-hikers! The only two people we’d seen the last couple days. They both had sweet Trail names and Nick and I silently wished we were that cool. On the way back, maybe 2 miles from the parking lot, I asked Nick to stand guard while I peed. He immediately said, “Laura, Laura, people are coming, get up.” I am CONVINCED he is joking because that’s the kind of jokes he plays and also it’s raining, NO ONE is on this trail besides us and Plant and Thick and Thin whom we passed up north. Sure enough though, I look past him and there is a man headed our way 100 feet up. I try to stop peeing. I can’t. I actually can’t. I panic, I pull my pants up and still cannot stop relieving myself. So there, it happened, I PISSED ALL OVER MYSELF. It felt awful and Nick wouldn’t stop laughing. Walking with a wet crotch is terrible and I don’t recommend it if you can avoid it.
That’s it. That is the story I have to tell. Sorry it’s so long! Congratulations to you if you stuck it out to read my sad-and-goofy little tale.