Walking across the country takes more dedication than just walking. It takes cooperation between the walker and the people who are helping the walker to get from point a to point b. On this morning, I had to wake up by 4:30am to be able to get a ride from my friend, Lauren, to the Canaan Valley State Park lodge. I waited at the lodge until the sun rose and I was able to get an alpine start to the day. The sun broke through the clouds and lit up the snow covered forest before me. The snowstorm was over and it left a landscape that reminded me of Narnia. It was truly a winter wonderland. It was a slack packing day which comforted me on the unfamiliar trails. I was told that the trails going towards Blackwater Falls State Park could be confusing and it made me nervous delving into unfamiliar terrain in snow conditions I was unaccustomed to. The snow slowed my progress but I was caught in wonderment, ever amazed at the beauty after the storm. I made it all the way to Blackwater Falls State Park and thought I was clear of the confusing parts but I was wrong. After dethawing in the lodge, I continued my quest into the unknown. I walked along a 4×4 road that was covered in frozen streams and pools of water. I was vigilent for the lesser trail that I was suppose to turn onto but when I referenced my GPS it showed I’d overshot it. Frustrated and concerned about the loss of daylight, I retraced my steps until I found the trail.. at least what I thought was the trail. Fallen trees altered my path and blue blazes faintly led the way. I was able to follow the trail for about a mile and a half when it stopped. I scoured the terrain in front of me. My GPS showed me where it should be but the direction I needed to go was in a stream and blocked by snow covered bushes. The brush was impossible to move through with the snow pack. I couldn’t give up and just turn around. That would be uncharacteristic of me so, I bushwhacked through a thinner section and searched for a blue blaze on a tree. Nothing. I reached higher ground and still nothing. At this point, I knew I had to turn back. I needed to return to an area with road access so Lauren could pick me up for the night. That meant traveling back to the Blackwater Falls State Park lodge. I felt defeated by the trail. If I had my pack I would’ve gone around and camped where I needed to but I didn’t so I had to make sure I was able to get back before dark. I didn’t stay defeated long though, I decided to investigate a trail that took me to an overlook called Lindy Point. I was on my way there when I came across two gentlemen, a father and son from Russia, that were cross-country skiing, or at least attempting to on such rugged terrain. They were the type of people I instantly felt connected to and the conversation flowed effortlessly. All of us were heading back to the parking lot at this point and when we passed the trailhead to Lindy Point I ignored it and kept walking with them. After a day of being lost in the woods and fighting my way through snow covered trees it was a nice change of pace to have a good conversation, with other people rather than myself. After Lauren picked me up she invited me to a game night her boyfriend was hosting. The idea fascinated me even though I was exhausted so I agreed I’d join. It was a good ol’ fashion night of bananagrams, werewolves (card game), and monopoly. This is also where I met James. James has been running a marathon a month for nearly a year now while carrying 45 pounds (5 gallons) of water to raise awareness for the lack of access to clean drinking water. You can read more about his story by clicking here.
With unpleasant weather on the radar and good company, I decided a rest day was needed. A trip to the nearest Walmart was taken in search of fuel, isobutane is a bit difficult to find in some areas, and I stocked up on protein powder and granola bars. It turned out that James was also a rock climber so the opportunity to boulder (you find a big rock and climb it without gear) was upon me and I couldn’t pass it up. I obviously didn’t have climbing shoes, although I seriously thought about backpacking with them, so James was kind enough to share his pair with me. I was not deterred by the extra two inches of empty space in the toe box instead, I layered two pairs of wool socks and made them fit. I felt the roughness of the limestone boulder and became giddy. I missed climbing. I gripped the rock and pulled myself up. It didn’t seem like much but it was glorious to me. For the next couple of hours I explored the contours of the boulder and cringed when my fingers stumbled upon a stagnant pocket of water hidden from view. Next on the agenda was to experience a live performance from a folk-rock band, Driftwood, at the local café. Lauren, James, and a whole group of their friends and coworkers would be there as well as a jam packed audience. There were no longer tables to sit at so we conquered a section of floor space to sit/stand when the show started. Once the music started it was impossible not to want to move to the beat of the music. The only problem was that there wasn’t enough floor space to dance. Another girl and I saw a man dancing around outside. We both looked at each other and decided to ditch our spots inside and join this exuberant man in swinging our arms and legs to the beat of the music. The quality of the music was exactly the same as inside but now there was room to breath and dance. People watched the band and us from inside and smiled. Our vivacious attitudes attracted more people to escape the stuffiness and liberate themselves from the crowd. If you ever wanted to know how to start a movement, remember, be the second person. You enable the first person to continue and encourage the people around you that it is okay. Before we knew it, there was a large group outside the café hoopin and hollering while dancing our hearts out! It was a beautiful sight! Then, I had an epiphany. It wasn’t a realization that I can put into words but rather a feeling and a split second understanding. I knew that whatever the reasons were for meeting the people I did and being in Canaan Valley, I had accomplished them. I was now ready to continue with my journey and felt fulfilled.
Lauren sprung it on me that she wasn’t going to be able to drop me off at my start point but rather a spot that was closer to her work. I was frustrated and disheartened. “Why did I take a day to slack pack when I was just going to have to repeat the miles anyways?” I thought with frustration. About five miles would be added to my day but I had to let that go. Though disheartened, I made myself remember everything she had already done for me. She picked me up in the middle of a snowstorm, fed me, robustly introduced me to all of her friends, checked up on me when I looked like I was getting too tired, and worked with me to find the spot to drop me off at that would meet my needs and hers. I also failed to communicate my needs with her. I assumed she’d be able to drop me off but never spoke with her about it. I had no right to be upset. When she dropped me off, I was a walker again. My mindset shifted to allow me to move freely from one place to another without feelings of attachment. I knew I’d want to come back one day, in the spring or summer, to further explore the beauty of the area but for now, it was time to move on. After two days of rest, my body was ironically tight and sore but after walking for a bit I caught a cadence that kept me moving the entire day. I came across road construction and a construction worker radioed to the other end that I was coming through, or at least something was. I got to the other end and the guys told me they were getting ready to move the cones for a car when they saw me walking towards them. They were surprised, curious, and wanted to know more! After telling them about my journey one of them kindly gave me some jalapeño, cheddar crackers from his lunch. I was touched by the generosity of him sharing part of his lunch with me. In addition, they shared information about a bike trail I could take instead of walking along the designated road route. It would save me from the stress of walking along a busy road and I was filled with gratitude. As dusk approached, I needed to find a place to sleep. I was in the middle of farmland and I had few options to choose from. The first house I approached I had absolutely no idea if it was the main house or not but I knocked on the door anyways. I heard no movement but saw a dog on the inside, except it wasn’t. I looked closer and realized it was a reflection and the dog was next to me! It was a giant mop of a dog but curious and excited to make a new friend. It bounded off the porch to around the house, I thought maybe it would lead me to the family, so I briefly followed and saw a bigger, nicer house. I almost began walking towards it but realized that going any further on the property would appear suspicious so I turned around and kept walking. The next house I came across looked empty so I skipped over it and headed straight to the neighbors. I saw a light on inside and knew someone would be home. I knocked, stepped back, and a little, old lady came to the door. The stereotype of a concerned, grandma figure jumped into my head and I had high hopes. “Surely, she’d let me stay in her yard.” I thought. However, I was wrong. “I’d rather you go along somewhere else,” she told me. I thanked her for her time and walked away but my physical reaction to the rejection surprised me. It felt like a knot had swelled in my throat and panic and uncertainty started rise in me. “What now??” I stopped and talked myself out of it. “What are you doing? You were perfectly okay thirty seconds ago. You are a stranger. She owes you nothing.” I wondered down the road and coincidentally a police car drives by. They didn’t stop to talk to me but they definitely slowed down and were checking me out. I was on a country road in the middle of nowhere so it was unlikely that police would be patrolling the area but also equally unlikely that the response time would be that quick, if the lady called the cops. Let’s just call it a happy coincidence. I ended up finding a nice patch of woods and disappeared in them. It would be my first night of stealth camping. The biggest problem by far was that in order to hide my mustard yellow rain-fly I set up in a thicker brushed area and was constantly being stabbed by a thorny vine or perfectly placed face level branch. I had to constantly be on guard or one wrong movement would result in a slap in the face or a casualty to an eye. Nonetheless, I prepared for the chilly night and hoped to not be woken by an angry property owner.
My destination for the evening would take me to Philippi. The American Discovery Trail route creates a loop to take people through to learn about the history. The first civil war battle occurred here when Union soldiers fired a cannon on the Confederate troops. There were no casualties but the first amputation, a leg, occurred and that later sparked the first prosthetics business that is still one of the largest in the business today! After roughly 21 miles and at least two miles of dodging heavy traffic I made it. It was Valentine’s Day and I had a hankering for some good, wholesome, unhealthy food. After grocery shopping at the Family Dollar, I mosied a mile down the road to a KFC. I walked inside and was met by a wall of heat and curious eyes. No matter where I stood, while waiting for my food, I felt like I was in the way. After I got my food, I went to sit outside and wait for my host for the night, Alex. In that moment, I just wanted to devour the food in front of me and not be a side-show attraction. Alex dropped me off at his place while he finished work and I went into full-fledged veg-mode. I sat on the couch, watched “Tears of the Sun,” ate a bag of Sour Patch Kids, ate a mega-sized Hershey’s bar, and played with Alex’s cat, Aster. Resting at its finest!