For the past week, I've been lucky enough to hike with my cousin Shannon through the Shenandoahs (or should we call them the Shannondoahs?). The national park is filled with beautiful vistas along Skyline Drive so it's pretty accessible for tourists and day hikers to enjoy, offering Shan (trail name: Trix) the chance to see both aspects of the community along the Trail. The best part about Shenandoah though, is that there are restaurants spread throughout the park along the AT offering hungry hikers a chance to fill up on food and warm up before heading back out.
It was at one of these restaurants (they're all called Wayside) that a woman approached the two of us politely asking, "Are those your backpacks outside?" The question was pretty redundant--I'm scarfing down both the pancake breakfast and the egg special, we're covered in mud, soaked through from the rain, and we were the only other people in the store. Still, she wanted to check because she was an aspiring thru hiker coming out for her first test week, but she just wasn't sure what backpackers do in the rain.
I came up for air from my bacon long enough to respond, "You keep going." She seemed a little surprised--whether she was just now noticing the number of stacked plates in front of me or that there wasn't an alternative option to avoid getting wet, I'm honestly not sure. I told her not to worry, that eventually you get used to the rain.
But if I'm being completely honest, I'm not sure that is really true. I don't imagine I'll ever truly get used to the weight of my boots sloshing around and soaked with water. Or the nights of sleeping in a shirt dripping wet because I don't have a spare and need it to dry for the next day. I'll never stop being surprised that, despite having rain gear, a pack cover, and waterproof bags, water seeps its way into every corner of my belongings. I'll never truly get used to the rain, but I also won't let it stop me.
Now, you might be thinking, "This sounds pretty awful to endure, I'd never want to be out there in those conditions." But the thing is, while I might not enjoy the rain, I had a spectacular time this week with Shannon. We were some of the first hikers to go through the burned area after the fire cleared. We saw a snake, met a bear mama and cub, and even startled thousands of crickets into a frenzy. We enjoyed the views along the trail, and laughed together when the fog completely blocked other vistas.
Hiking with Shan was particularly special because we reunited on the Trail three years after finishing the John Muir Trail together. She was there for me when, one year after San Francisco, I needed to reclaim California in a positive way and understand my inner strength. She carried my weight then--both physical and emotional, and helped me find myself. Now, three years later, a lot has changed for the both of us and it's been really special to share part of my journey with her.
Unfortunately, rain was not the only struggle we faced this week on the trail. Shan put up with some major blisters (without complaint), but ultimately suffered from a knee injury that is cutting our time together short. She is a trooper though, hiking over 100 miles through considerable pain and still managing to laugh the whole way. It's been cool for me to be able to repay the favor and take some of her weight this time.
All in all, while it perhaps wasn't the trip we expected, it's been a stellar week together. It serves as yet another reminder that even when life along the Trail doesn't go according to plan, it will still be an incredible experience.