Nina Baxley: Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker

Rockfish Gap, Virginia

October 19, 2000
Rockfish Gap, Virginia
Miles Hiked: 1,326.2
Miles Remaining: 840.9

It was early evening, and I was just beginning to hike mile 22 of a 22-mile day. My body, as usual, was complaining.

Somewhere around the 1,000-mile mark, my body somehow decided that it just wasn't going to put forth the effort anymore. It was like hitting a wall, and it's a wall I've kept hitting ever since. As I struggled through that last mile, I was well aware of my aches and pains. My soles had that familiar beaten-with-a stick feeling, and my sprained right ankle felt weak and wobbly. My left knee, which had been injured in 1998, was aching, and I was concerned that I had injured it again. My pack dug into my shoulders, making my arms feel numb. My legs felt like they were on fire (poison ivy—again!). I stopped numerous times to catch my breath, concerned at how tired I felt, amazed that I could feel so exhausted and still walk so many miles each day.

And still I walked—gingerly and with care, watching for loose rocks half-hidden under Shenandoah's thick, brilliant carpet of leaves. The day, clear and cloudless, had already begun to fade. The AT, which had been heavily populated with day hikers and tourists just hours before, seemed deserted now. I heard only the sound of my boots crunching down on the leaf-covered trail as I hiked. I felt like I had the whole trail to myself.

I stopped occasionally to catch my breath and look ahead of me, across the valley and to the mountains beyond. It was like looking into the face of a cherished friend. Nearly ten years had passed since I'd last gazed across the landscape of Shenandoah National Park, but I recognized the beauty of this land that had first drawn me to Virginia for college. I discovered my love for hiking in Colorado, but it was in Shenandoah and the surrounding areas that I indulged it. [MORE. . .]


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