Stalking the Apple Harvest Along 550 Miles of Virginia’s Appalachian Trail, Part 1

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A week or so back Annie started getting this craving for salads—breakfast, lunch, dinner, in between. It was compulsory. Fringing on the neurotic. After a few days of this, it occurred to me her subconscious was likely instigating the salad binge, a reaction to the fact that, for the next give-or-take 12 weeks, as she section-hikes over 550 miles of Virginia’s Appalachian Trail, she will be living predominantly off tofu jerky, ramen noodles, homemade trail-mix, protein shakes, bags of tuna fish, dehydrated fruits and meals of the just-add-water variety.

Thus, up until Friday, August 16 when, after years of consideration and umpteen overnight, weekend, and week-long getaways, she trucked it down to the southwestern-most tip of the state, setting out from Damascus on her trek to cover every mile of the Virginia quarter of the Appalachian Trail, she was milking the veggie bender for all it was worth.

Hiking the AT, it’s one of those things lots of people talk about doing—that is, if it wasn’t for the kids, job, mortgage, automobiles, in short, the so-called myriad responsibilities binding them to the concrete geographical realities of hearth and home. Similarly, having saved the money, gotten herself mentally fortified, arranged her business obligations in such a way as to enable her to make the trip, still Laura was wavering. However, upon paying a visit to her 92 year old grandmother, waxing into a somewhat worried explanation of what it was she (Annie) was considering, with a curt and dismissive wave, Grandmother responded: “You should go. It would likely be the best thing you could do in your life.”brom.1 (1)

Matriarch and homemaker for almost three-quarters of a century, Grandmother—Minerva Torrence—had devoted her life to serving as a pillar of domestic stability. Confronted by this unexpected blessing, a deep calm fell over Laura.

“As I face my 34th birthday,” she told me, “I’m trying to accept and come to terms with my infertility. That moment, sitting at the kitchen table with my grandmother, something clicked. Section-hiking the Appalachian Trail felt like the best thing I could possibly do for myself.”

“As with many a walk in the woods,” she went on, “I see this trip as a spiritual journey. A cleansing journey to rid myself of toxins—”after years of being a smoker, with the help of the abundant fresh air, Laura plans on quitting cold-turkey. “And it’s professional as well. On the one hand, I’ve committed myself to carrying my camera and working with you on this weekly column for Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine, and will have a photo essay featured in AT Journeys Magazine. On the other, artistically speaking, I’ll be taking numerous self-portraits, and meeting with models along the way, hopefully having that culminate in a gallery event sometime in January or February of 2015.”

But back to logistics:

For the first week, she will be traveling without a tent, “Thereby lightening my load, enabling me to build a tolerance, and ease into the strain of walking with my photography gear.”

What she means is: Rather than a traditional backpacking setup, inspired by the Blue Ridge’s ripening apples, the solitude of the season (this time of year thru-hiker traffic will have slowed to a trickle), historic sights, and iconic summits, she’ll be tucking her Canon DSLR Mark II (affectionately known as ‘Mark’) inside her Lowepro Dry Zone—a high-end, waterproof camera bag designed for brief and intensive excursions—composing photos all along the way. In order to pull this off, she will basically be repurposing the bag—storing her water bladder in the pack’s laptop compartment; instead of additional lenses, carrying a homemade aluminum burner, denatured alcohol, quick-dry towel, and a change of clothes; rather than a tripod, when her tent arrives (at the end of week one), it will be strapped to the face of her pack.

“For the next twelve weeks,” she explains, her eyes reflecting the shimmering blues of the Damascus horizon, “my only job is to walk, stay dry, hydrated, and sane. To take pictures. To carry a journal. Each step will be rooted and stabilized in the simple act of breathing. I’m looking forward to waking to the misty sunrises, to fellowship with the trees and the wind, to scaling the ancient peaks, to staring down into valleys, to hiking in the moonlight.”

From Damascus to Harperʼs Ferry, she’s purchased her ticket. Now comes The Ride.

–Eric J. Wallace is a freelance writer and journalist roaming the state of Virginia. For more info, email him at drericjwallace@gmail.com.

–To follow Annie’s adventure more closely, visit www.instagram.com/621_studios where, each morning, she will be posting a photo, documenting her progress, and offering behind the scenes shots of the self-portrait project she will be undertaking along the way. For additional info., bookings, print-sales, upcoming projects, newsletters, or just to say hello, visit 621studios.com.

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