|Everything I owned froze solid...|
We knew ahead of time that things were not always gonna be super easy. On a long hike, there is always something going wrong: a blister, a wet boot, running out of chocolate . . . it's part of the experience. When you hike in winter, all those other considerations take a back seat in your mind, and the driving question is, "How is the weather and am I going to freeze to death today?"
We have seen snow in every state, though we got through Georgia and Tennessee without much accumulation. In Alabama, we had only one snow day, but it was dramatic and dangerous. In Kentucky, we dealt with snow constantly, but were better prepared for the weather, both in terms of gear and mental preparation.
Hiking in winter can be incredibly rewarding. The views go on forever. Although the greens of spring and summer and the fall foliage create wonderful scenic views, the winter and its absence of colors expose itself in a different light. We haven't had a single mosquito bite or had any problem finding water sources. We have only been uncomfortably hot a handful of times; you can always add layers on, but you can only take so much off. We also get a chance to wear our stylish blaze-orange toboggans. And there's no one else dumb enough to be out there on the trails, so we are isolated and alone. Also, people feel sorrier for Bart when they see his beard is frosted and are quicker to lend a hand. ;)
|We'll miss this someday.|
We would definitely not recommend that the next thru-hikers of the Great Eastern Trail begin in January when we did. Weather has definitely slowed us down: hiking through snow with a 30-pound pack makes a 2MPH pace very difficult and often impossible. Longer days with fewer miles are taxing on our bodies and our sanity. However, while we can't recommend beginning in January, we are very happy that we did so. We are over 700 miles into the hike, with spring (theoretically) around the corner. We are looking forward to spring wildflowers in West Virginia, the return of colors to a dramatically white world, longer days, more miles, easier hiking, and getting to sleep without wearing every single layer we own. What will that even be like? I hardly remember what hiking is like when it's not freezing.
It's been a wonderful winter hike with lots of character-building and help from newfound friends. We feel much richer for these friendships and the experiences we've had have been more meaningful due to often inclement weather.
Tomorrow we walk into West Virginia, our 5th of 9 states. The halfway mark is just down the trail. Many more adventures await us, and hopefully some sunshine.