Nina Baxley: Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker

Daleville, Virginia

Date: October 30, 2000
Location: Daleville, VA
Miles Hiked: 1,458.8
Miles Remaining: 708.3
Life is good. I'm sitting here alone, my hands a little cold from the rapidly cooling temps. Walking the trail today, I felt like a child on her way home from school on Friday afternoon—crunch, crunch, crunch through the dry leaves I marched, my spirits soaring and free as I hummed the Indiana Jones theme to myself. I could see my shadow hiking alongside me, its pigtails swinging with the rhythm of my walk. I love this AT thru-hiking life.

The trail is slowly changing as I head south and autumn matures. The blaze of fall colors that I started seeing in Pennsylvania has all but faded as the leaves dry up and fall to the ground. Fewer short-term hikers are on the trail, and the woods are quiet and peaceful for the handful of southbounders in the central Virginia section of the AT.

The weather has been clear and mild. Cool breezes meet me with each step as I traverse the ridges of this beautiful old mountain range. With each breeze, the leaves flutter from the trees, spiraling and swinging in their dance downward to join the sea of dry, brown leaves awaiting them. Slowly, the woods are changing with the season. Already, the Appalachian Trail is shedding its brilliant autumn vestments and taking on the starker appearance of winter.

My hike is changing, too. Several miles south of Rockfish Gap, I found myself hiking alone after the rest of our"group" decided to take zero days. No longer was I meeting the familiar faces of Matt, Blade, Friendly Bear, and Dusty Moon each evening. No longer was I spending an hour or two of each day in the company of Matt or Blade, chatting as we hiked.

Instead, I hiked alone, stopping occasionally to talk when I met northbound section hikers. As the afternoons drew to a close, I searched for campsites rather than shelters. I had stayed in shelters with the others ever since Pennsylvania, and I missed sleeping in my tent.

This week, I've done a lot of dry camping on the ridges. This means I typically carry water up a mountain, then camp once I've found a flat spot on the mountain's crest. I've seen lovely sunsets and sunrises this week, and I plan to see more as my hike progresses!


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