The trail was constantly teaching, even if I didn't feel like learning. In the early months of my Appalachian Trail thru-hike, my routine was regimented and my timeframes concrete.
I wanted to be in this exact place, at this exact time. I’d allow myself some wiggle room when it came to pace, but at the end of the day, I always had to get to a certain destination by a specific time.
But then I crossed the famous James River foot bridge. When I walked into Glasgow, Virginia with my two friends, Legz and Spirit, I had no idea what was in store.
For those that have never been to the small town of Glasgow, it’s the perfect hiker oasis: a Dollar General for resupply, a general store for cold beer, and a small Italian restaurant that serves all-you-can-eat spaghetti once a week.
At this point in my hike, I had yet to take a double zero.
That’s why … as much as I was enjoying myself … when the idea of staying in Glasgow a third day was suddenly being passed around, I knew I had to speak up.
"Legz, Spirit, I think we should hike out today,” I said. “I'm feeling guilty just sitting around so much."
My thoughts were spinning … Are we not out here to hike? Are my muscles going to deteriorate staying stationary for that long?
"Why do you feel guilty?” they asked, in response. “Why do you want to hike out? What's wrong with hanging out and having fun?"
I paused. I thought about it. Why did I feel guilty? Why did I feel like I needed to keep moving when we were having so much fun?
I was so worried about the mission, my mission, feeling like staying another day would mean I was abandoning the reason I came out to the trail.
But what was the reason I came out here?
I came out to enjoy myself, the world, and the people I share it with. I looked around at the dirty, tired faces smiling back at me. It was at that moment that I felt a little more present than I was before.
It was an epiphany. I was so worried about the future that I was neglecting what was happening right in front of me. Rather than enjoy shooting a BB gun at cans from a pool floatie in the middle of a grassy field, I was worried about potential hiking-miles down the trail.
I thought about what I would remember more, the moments spent with these strangers laughing and trading stories in a town we'd never heard of, or appeasing that scratching in my brain to maintain ‘productivity’.
When I walked over that bridge into Glasgow, I had zero intention of taking zeros … multiple days off, strung together, in a row.
But then the next five days — that's right, 5 days! … not a zero, double or vortex — devolved into an outrageously fun Hiker Trash get-together.
We ended up coining our own term for the 5-day-zero: the Black Hole. Not for amateurs!
If there needs to be a supernova for a Black Hole to form, trailangel Terry was that supernova. Terry supplied the food and drinks; he bought so many drinks, the general store actually ran out of our beer of choice.
We ate till we couldn’t, drank till we shouldn’t, and laughed so hard we probably woke up all 57 people who live in Glasgow. Even Terry got vortexed, and slept in his truck for two days, so he could hang out and enjoy the Virginia sun … just a bit longer!
It was the perfect storm. It was some of the most fun I've ever had in my life.
Old faces I hadn’t seen in weeks caught up and came into town. New faces came through, and we shared the classic, “I can’t believe we haven’t seen each other before on trail!”
On day five, I knew I had made the right choice. There were almost 40 thru-hikers that had snowballed into their own zero, double, and vortexes during that week.
As we all shared breakfast that morning, I looked over at Legz and Spirit and said with a smile, “So if we get started soon, we should be able to get at least 25 miles in today.”
We busted up laughing!
When we did finally walk out of town, I carried a powerful lesson with me: Don't let yourself be your own biggest obstacle in enjoying the trail!
My-vacation-from-my-vacation in Glasgow was everything I could have hoped for. Everyone needs to take a day off, whether to heal injuries or enjoy a nice trail town.
If you ever find yourself “Black Hole”-ing, remember: the trail is going exactly nowhere!
Talk to that local a bit longer. Introduce yourself to that tramily at the hostel. Stop and smell those roses, all of them! I guarantee you will remember more faces than you will views!