The Virginia Blues Look Awfully Green To Me

Trivia question:

Which state along the Appalachian Trail accounts for the greatest number of miles?

Answer: Virginia

Of the 2,181 miles that make up the Appalachian Trail, Virginia claims 550 of these, just over one quarter of the entire trail. And for this reason, in addition to the repetitive scenery throughout the state, the term Virginia Blues is commonly used to describe the situation whereby a hiker experiences an emotional low- an unusually long stretch of diminished spirits while passing through the Old Dominion.

The Virginia Blues were something I spent a good deal of energy worrying about prior to leaving for the trail. How would I handle 550 miles of repetition? If playing the same song over and over again is a tactic used against POWs, would this stretch cause a similar bout of insanity? A large portion of people who drop off the trail do so in Virginia. Would I fall into this group?

It looks like I’ve answered that question: hell no.

Granted I still have 250 miles of Virginia remaining, but in my humble opinion, the concept of the Virginia Blues has nothing to do with scenery…

When first embarking on the trail, everything about the adventure is exciting. It’s new. It’s invigorating. Even the hard times, although challenging, supply an element of surprise. You always come away from the experience feeling stronger than you did before. What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.

Every day presented a new challenge, a new terrain, a new group of hikers- every day presented a new experience.

By the time a hiker has reached Virginia, he/she has already set up his/her tent in heavy hail, slept through rapid lightning storms, gone extended stretches without a shower or clean clothes, and most likely dumped a half flask of whiskey all over the bottom of his pack (The Bourbon Blues), multiple times. The setbacks are beginning to lose their subtle charm.

And although the views from the mountain tops are every bit as beautiful, they too have entered into the routine. What once was breath taking, now seems to just make you short on breath.

There is no such thing as the Virginia Blues. What is interpreted as the Virginia Blues is merely the end of the honeymoon phase. It has less to do with state lines, and more to do with state of mind.

I came prepared for this. I’ve had my fair share of extended adventures in the past: from studying in London to moving to San Diego while knowing no one. If you’ve been in a long term relationship, gone away to school, or started a new job, you’ve likely experienced this feeling yourself. Eventually the initial excitement fades. It’s human nature.

Those who attribute their blues to the state of Virginia, are misplacing the blame. Although there is some truth to the expression “the green tunnel” which describes the thick overhang of dense tree coverage throughout much of the state, Virginia is not significantly more repetitive than any of the scenery in Georgia, North Carolina, or Tennessee. McAfee Knob/Dragon’s Tooth (near Catawba, VA) has been one of the best day hikes on the trail thus far. A couple weeks ago, I got to hang out with wild ponies for Christ’s Sake. PONIES!! If that gives you the blues, then we can never be friends.

McAfee Knob

No Tunnel Here

So what can an aspiring thru-hiker do to avoid these so called Virginia Blues? I don’t know if there’s one way to answer that, but this is what has helped me:

Every time the trail begins to feel routine or lacking stimulation, I think about what my alternative would be: sixty hour work weeks, undue stress, and the realization that my free time would likely be spent on a long hike. Quickly perspective is regained, the smile returns, and the temporary cloud of routine is lifted. If that doesn’t work, I meditate, I write, I listen to an audiobook (or the new Fleet Foxes album – so good). If that doesn’t work I get my ass to town and watch a few hours of bad tv, eat some bad food, and observe the many depressed people that populate these towns*.   (*please see comments below)

The tunnel suddenly looks a lot brighter.

  •  That photo is awesome. I’m semi-terrified of falling just looking at it. 

  • Lori_nurse

    Very well written! I can’t wait to have my picture taken on that overlook!!! Thank you for your updates, I am always excited to read them. 🙂

  • Tommyk631

     you go zack

  • guest

    “observe the many depressed people that populate these towns.” I actually live in Roanoke, Va. I can assure you most of us who live in towns are here are more than content with our wonderful mountain views, small country ties, and are most certainly not depressed. 

  • That is so true, about the Virginia Blues being more about the end of the honeymoon phase. And not nearly as bad as the Bourbon Blues, or in our case, the Shiraz Blues. 

  • I should apologize for presenting that the way that I did. The people along the trail in towns that I’ve interacted with have been nothing short of super nice. And many of the trail towns (e.g. Damascus are filled with only upbeat individuals). My comparison was more so a shot at the society I remember – stressed out work slaves – in stark contrast to my current culture – euphoric hikers. I have never been to Roanake and I’m sure the people are just as you describe. Some of the towns I’ve been to (without naming names) are a little less cheery, but that’s not the point.

    Either way thanks for reading and your point is taken.

  •  I am not one to back down to someone who challenges something that I say on this website. 

    With that said, I am absolutely wrong, you are absolutely correct.

    I did an extremely poor job expressing the sentiment I was hoping to get across.  I was meaning to compare the stress-free lifestyle of the trail life versus the corporate blackhole that many of us are unwillingly sucked into.  “These towns” were meant to be a symbol for a life I left behind.  It came off as I was pointing fingers specifically at the people of the towns surrounding the AT.  It came off that way because I worded it extremely poorly.  

    To clarify, the people in the AT trail towns are the friendliest, kindest, most benevolent souls I have ever come across.  It is my belief that happiness is a byproduct of focusing on what you can give to society rather than the other way around.  By this standard, people in the towns surrounding the AT are the happiest on earth.  My experiences with these towns would confirm this belief. 

    I do apologize for the misunderstanding and my lack of word structure. 

    And thank you for taking the time to read the site.  Your feedback keeps me in check.

  • Sue Neil

    Keep going. I work in Waynesboro Va., at a local hotel that has many hikers taking zero days or coming down from the end of Blue Ridge, and beginning of Skyline Drive. I enjoy meeting people from the trails and would love to keep up with them.

  • Siarl Bychan

    I’m breaking up the trail and inserting more interesting moments that I’ve been wanting to revisit from my childhood. I want to finish the trail to Mt. Rogers (that’s what happens when you’re twelve and your Grandparents think that a short walk is all that’s necessary to get things moving after dinner). A visit to Hungry Mother State Park is also necessary as well as a visit to Mom in Galax and relatives in Wytheville. Shenandoah National Park has some great trails that have blueberries growing along the trail that we used to pick while hiking there as kids. If you are a Bluegrass or Old Time musician as I am or enthusiast the trail also bisects what is called, “The Crooked Road” which traces the roots and birth of Bluegrass and Old Time music. See? It doesn’t have to be all drudgery.

  • Moss Junkie

    Nice reply Zach! And a great perspective on the “Virginia Blues”. As I am heading out for my first thru-hike this spring, I have been slightly concerned about this stretch. Now not so much! Many thanks!