Appalachian Trail hikers hit half-way point, gain strength from piles of miles

(Editor’s note: Here’s the last report from Barb Prescott, who is hiking the Appalachian Trail with her boyfriend, Gleb Velikanov. Naked Winery is sponsoring them with regular deliveries of lightweight bottles of Outdoor Vino wine.)

Friends, family and fellow yo-yo dieters,

Gleb and I have officially exited the “dirty south” and are in West Virginia, about two miles outside of Maryland. We have had quite an adventure in the last month on our way to the half-way mark.

Gleb and Barb in Shenandoah National Park.
Gleb and Barb in Shenandoah National Park.

First and foremost, I feel as if we have stepped into a true thru-hiker realm. We are able to bang out “big miles” consistently. I am not talking about the silly 20-mile strolls I mentioned in my previous e-mails. We have been steadily hiking about 25 miles every day and even traveled 32 miles in one stretch two days ago.

Around 4 p.m. that day, we had about 13 miles to go. With that seemingly daunting prospect, I thought to myself “sheesh, can I do this?” Hungry, tired and sore, I had to start digging deep inside myself to keep going. It’s kind of amazing how you have to get your mind and body in sync in order to complete such a monumental task, something that I proudly feel like I have mastered at this point.

We confidently strolled into the gas station one hour before they closed and enjoyed our last southern meal of Jo-Jo’s, fried chicken, two pints of ice cream and donuts. It felt good to be alive that night!

Wild ponies love carrots.
Wild ponies love carrots.

Virginia has been our favorite state so far: It contains about 600 miles of the trail, wild ponies in the Grayson Highlands State Park, and lots of wildlife in the Shenandoah National Park. The ponies in Grayson Highlands are a must-see for all the thru-hikers on the AT.

We saw people buying carrots in town right before the park to make sure they would capture the perfect picture with them. Our friend “Snail” celebrated his 20th birthday with the ponies and a five pound bag of carrots. He was loving it!

Gleb and I decided to push on and left the group of hikers we had been with for a couple of weeks to make it to “The Barn” in time to celebrate my birthday. The town — or small street, I should say — consisted of two gas stations and a tiny school cafeteria style restaurant. We ate southern food including a hiker burger, hush puppies, and a real treat for me (!) pickled beets! We capped the night with a Steele reserve beer and strawberry ice cream, hiker trash-style.

About half way through Virginia we got picked up by our friends’ parents, Jim and Vickie Budge, and spent the night in the town of Lynchburg. They took us grocery shopping, let us wash our smelly clothing, and cooked us the most delicious home cooked meal including squash lasagna and a mixed green salad.

Back on the trail, we did a quick 70-mile jump into Waynesboro, VA, so that I could pick up a package. I unexpectedly got hit with a cold and had to take a day off to rest before entering The Shenandoah National Park. The park was on par with what one would expect from a national park — exaggerated wilderness, hikers allowed to stay only in the trail side shelters, and lured to purchase expensive food at frequent waysides.

Those are park ran-Delaware corporation-owned stores/cafeterias. In the Shenandoahs, they were scattered every 10 to 20 miles and offered grocery store quality food at premium prices. Clearly we weren’t too fond of all the rules and things in the park.

The bear did not back down.
The bear did not back down.

We did see some wildlife, mainly bear and deer. One beefy Ursine specimen even cared to have a Mexican stand off with us. On our way back to the trail from one of the waysides, we encountered a bear on his way down to where we came from, probably in search of food scraps. Upon seeing us he did not want to yield, even after we loudly sang songs, yelled and banged our poles together! Eeeek!

After about 10-15 minutes and him still not backing away from us, we decided to be the more level-headed mammals and slowly back away from him. We walked back down the trail, got on a different one, which eventually connected us back on to the Appalachian Trail. We both confessed to each other later that that scared the s–t out of us and that we were each happy with how brave and calm the other appeared during the encounter.

Over the next couple of days deer came equally close, and that was AMAZING! Last but certainly not least, I finally saw my first firefly! About three-and-a-half years back I had mentioned to Gleb that I had never seen one in my life. Before I even noticed the little flickering creature, he got one stuck on his hand and came over to me with a huge smile and an even bigger “YOU’RE WELCOME!” It was so sweet it brought a tear to my eye.

People that really know me know that I am totally sensitive and that I can cry when anything touches my heart. I think I may have inherited this from my dad. Hiking the Appalachian Trail is putting me even more in touch with myself and my feelings. Imagine me climbing my heart out up every mountain and tearing up at the beautiful view at the top every single time. It gets pretty comical.

Sometimes I am so overflowing with joy and gratitude when people unexpectedly offer us things that I can’t help but cry and everyone laughs. This brings me to the day Gleb and I were approaching the half-way mark. Friends that had been hiking with us knew, and all teasingly said that it was going to be an emotional day for me and it truly was. I am so proud of us for making it this far. Crossing the bridge over the Shenandoah River into Harpers Ferry was such a monumental moment for us that it was almost in slow motion. And I totally cried.

We are looking forward to completing the second half of this journey north as simply and as light as we possibly can. Washing our clothes and selves in a river by day and using our body heat in our sleeping bags at night as a dryer may not sound like a super good time, but it is, especially if you have a super partner and awesome support at your side!

So much love from the trail,

“Whisper” (Barb’s trail name)