Mothman Trail Update: Pearisburg, VA, 28 May 2003

Editor’s note: This is a reprint (with Jim’s permission) of an email from Jim Heaney sent during his “through-hike” of the Appalachian Trail.

Greetings from Pearisburg, VA

Making small talk at a shelter one night, I ask casually whether anyone else has numbness in their big toes. I haven’t mentioned this before, but both of my big toes have been numb since about the approach trail. Everyone else there says yes, numbness in the big toes. SvenSaw then mentions that in massage technique, rubbing of the big toes is used to stimulate brain activity. We have a good laugh. Why was I mentioning this?…

Yes, greetings to some new people on the mailing list. I’m sitting in the public library in Pearisburg, VA, “Gay Peari” as I’ve taken to calling it, and hoping to hike out of this neat little town about 7 miles to a shelter that is rumored to have good sunsets. However, this implies sun, and I suppose all East Coasters know very well that there’s not a lot of sun going around these days.

So, the quick catch-up:

  1. My “trail handle” is Mothman, and I’m being mysteriously quiet about how I received this name.
  2. I’ve been on the trail starting in Georgia since April 8, and am now about 621 miles into the 2,172 mile journey.
  3. I’m hiking to my 10-year reunion at UVa. As fate has it, I’m going to be about 60 miles (about three days) short, but have arranged shuttles on both ends of the weekend.
  4. Still looking to climb Mt. Katahdin in Maine on or about “Mahwah Day,” September 20.

So, new news: I busted out of Damascus about a day before the big crowds did, right as our current wave of dreary weather started, and pushed a few 20-mile days before noticing that my ankle was sore and swollen. Since I did not obviously twist it, clearly just an overuse injury, probably a result of coming down the wrong way too many times on the rocks near Mt. Rogers and Grayson Highlands. RICE (rest-ice-compression-elevation) is the appropriate treatment for this. I took a zero-day (no hiking) in Rural Retreat, VA at a truck stop. Still swollen, maybe a little less sort. Then I run into Dutch, who also had ankle problems early on. I ask him what he did: he took a zero, and then started walking. So, my therapy is now “ICE” therapy, and I’m walking 20s again. All you doctors out there: please tell me that someone in the field is working on artificial ankle replacements!

Since I got out of Damascus so fast, I’ve left behind the posse I was with before, but have hooked up with Loser, Loony, SvenSaw, Woods, Takereasy, Gazelle, just to name a few. I’m sure I’ll continue to meet new people as I walk unhealthy mileage in an effort to get as close as I can to Rockfish Gap/US-64 by reunion time; then see all sorts of old friends when I return and my schedule is more flexible.

I’ve been promising a bit of Trail language clarification for a while now, so hear we go:

  • The “AT” is the Appalachian National Scenic Trail. Much of it goes through national and state parkland; there is still some that goes through private property. I think the Department of the Interior “owns” a protected corridor through these properties, with special arrangement of the land owners. Goes from Maine to Georgia (officially; most people walk south to north), and sections of it change every year.
  • A “2000-miler” is a person who walks all of the Appalachian Trail. (May also apply to other long trails; I don’t know.) To walk the Trail, you are to pass all of the “white blazes,” except if being routed around for weather, high water, forest fire, etc. The term is a legacy of the original distance, which was closer to 2,000 than this year’s 2,172 miles. Notably, a 2000-miler does not need to walk in the same direction, or do contiguous sections in sequence.
  • A “thru-hiker” is a person who becomes a “2000-miler” in one year. That’s me. I’ve met some southbounders (walking from Maine to Georgia) who did the north half of it last summer, and need to complete the south half by June 16. They would be “thru-hikers,” even though they took the winter off.
  • A “section hiker” is a person who becomes a “2000-miler” in more than one year. Typically, they are people who take of two weeks each summer, hike a hundred or two miles, and eventually cover the entire distance.
  • A “white blaze” is a 2″x6” painted white stripe on a tree, stone, or other marker, denoting that the trail is the AT. Other trails may use white blazes, but they will not abut the AT.
  • A “blue blaze” is a similar stripe, but blue. They denote water source, shelter, side trail to scenic overlook, or in some cases a shortcut around a difficult section. The term “blue-blazer” denotes someone who takes these shortcuts, thus not passing all of the white blazes. Since being recognized as a 2000-miler is based on the honor system, there is some disdain for these people; but some people disdain me because I “slack-packed” (hiked a section with only a day’s worth of stuff, being supported by a car) a few times.
  • To “yellow-blaze” is to hitchhike or shuttle around a section (yellow denoting road lines); worse than blue-blazing. To “brown-blaze” is to fall and get yourself muddy; to “red-blaze” is to fall and leave blood on the Trail; etc.

Ach! My internet time is up. I’m going to smoke through my next maildrop town, so the next email should come from my reunion weekend. All those I will see at the reunion, you can’t miss me: I’m extra hairy and, regardless of how many showers I take before entering the Big Tent Barbecue on Friday night, ever so slightly musk-scented.