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America on Two Feet

12 mins read

Briana Desanctis is an avid outdoorswoman and writer from Farmington, ME. In 2015, she hiked the entirety of the 2,200-mile Appalachian Trail on her own and has since hiked and paddled thousands of miles all over the country. She has much larger plans this year as she walks the American Discovery Trail from Delaware to California. By hiking along the official route of this behemoth trail, she will be the first solo woman to ever complete this feat. Currently almost 600 miles into her trek, Briana has made the news over a handful of times and has been giving presentations in communities along the trail.

Finishing West Virginia

Arden, WV along the Tygart River

I’m sure that winter isn’t finished with me yet, however, I’ve had some pretty nice days since leaving the rugged mountains of eastern West Virginia. Nearly three weeks after taking a break to recover from shin splints, I was welcomed back onto the American Discovery Trail with a mild, sunny day. My snowshoes had been sent to the Canaan Valley Lodge, but after a brief chat with the Park Service I ended up hiking on without them. Remember: I conquered Dolly Sods without snowshoes; I was invincible.

Blackwater Falls hiking area was beautiful and serene. There were 2 primitive camping shelters along this route and I was able to camp at one and have lunch at the other. Having a shelter for camping is such a luxury! If it’s raining, you have an easy place to stay dry and out of the wind.

Lunch at a shelter in Blackwater State Park

I arranged with Dustin and Emily that I could stay at their house a few nights as I hiked the trail in that area. Dustin and Emily had reached out to me when they heard I was hiking across America. They recently purchased a house and some land in Arden, WV, right along the American Discovery Trail! They are outdoorspeople themselves and look to help develop the Discovery Trail in their area and give support to hikers. We became fast friends.

I walked into Parsons, WV to immediately witness a domestic dispute. No big deal; a husband being literally thrown from a vehicle from which came screamed obscenities alluding to adultery. It was a rainy day and I was looking for lunch while I waited for D&E to pick me up. The only place in town that sparked my interest (aptly named The Dugout) was a short distance off trail. Parsons had fast food options as well, but I’d rather eat and spend my money locally when possible. You know, the ‘discovering America’ thing.

As the struggle is always real, I walked off-trail to this restaurant, and they were closed. Like, boarded up windows closed. I just laughed out loud and looked down at my phone to find somewhere else to eat. A truck rumbled up beside me and the driver rolled the window down and asked, “Are you lost?”

“No, I’m hungry and this place is closed,” I replied. I began to explain to the man what I was doing, then asked him for a ride back to a diner I’d passed. He dropped me off and wished me luck. I ordered lunch, iced tea, and then a hot coffee. When I went to pay at the counter, the cashier told me someone had paid the bill for me. I was nearly the only person in there and can only think that it was the man who gave me a ride. I gave the server a good tip and as I was leaving, said, “Well if you see the person who paid my bill, please thank them for me.”

Emily, Dustin, and me.

Dustin and Emily picked me up and I proceeded to stay with them for the next 4 days. They introduced me to their new friends in town: Dave, Phil, Doug, Jim and Ralph. I feel as though D&E have brought some excitement to their community. The people of Arden I met were wonderful folks I was able to spend time with and surely hope to see again. They live in a beautiful little piece of America, a truly hidden gem. I can’t thank Dustin and Emily enough for the hospitality, laughs, dinners and companionship. I would also like to thank their cat, Moonshine, for curling up with me every night and making sure I was paying enough attention to her.

The next section the American Discovery Trail follows is the North Bend Rail Trail (NBRT), a 72-mile long mostly dirt railroad bed-turned-trail. Many old train tunnels still remain, and most are presumed to be haunted. The trail is peppered with picnic tables and a pavilion or two for shelter. I had barely begun the Rail Trail when I entered Salem, WV and had been told I must meet Valerie at the Trailside Pub. Twist my arm.

Valerie, her family and her employees are such kind souls. I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening talking with them, and was invited to sleep in the pub. In the morning, my friend Trout from the Appalachian Trail met me there to join me on the NBRT. We spent a while saying goodbye to Valerie before making our way down the trail.

Valerie of Trail Side Pub.

It was great to catch up with Trout. We had not seen each other in 7 years, so we had plenty of things to talk about and memories to conjure while we hiked through long, damp, foggy tunnels, alongside red, muddy rivers, churning from the fresh rainfall. We hiked over wooden bridges. Some were old and slippery, the wood giving and rotting beneath your feet. Others were brand new, still smelling of fresh, pressure-treated boards.

Old train tunnel on the North Bend Rail Trail.

We met some wonderful people in West Union at Ramblin’ Ron’s, and also at the Hillbilly Shack a few miles outside of Parkersburg. We had great nights camping out on the trail. It was good for both of us. Out here by myself all the time, I don’t really feel like I’m on a thru-hike. Having Trout with me really made it seem like I was back to trail life as I’ve known it. I’m grateful for those days.

Trout, taking in the scenic views.

I’ve just begun hiking the Buckeye State, Ohio. This means I’ve completed 3 states: Delaware, Maryland, and West Virginia. Ohio alone has over 500 miles of American Discovery Trail (as many as the previous states boast when added together), most of which are on the Buckeye Trail. I look forward to emerging from winter’s grasp. Nice days are a relief: I can stop to take lunch without getting too cold, I don’t need to worry so much about batteries and water filters being frozen, etc. You can imagine how hard it was to eat a peanut butter and sliced apple sandwich that was (5 days old and also) frozen solid (yeah, even the bread)!

One last note before I hit the trail: One of my live videos on my facebook page http://www.facebook.com/rockygoeshiking recently had an absurdly large number of views, and I was ‘trolled’ for the first time! It was a video I filmed while walking through the Flinderation Tunnel (Brandy Gap Tunnel #2) on the North Bend Rail Trail. Some of my favorite comments:

Tunnel #12.

“Don’t go alone!” “Shame on you for doing something dangerous!” “You’re foolish for doing this without a companion.”

Wrong, wrong, and wrong. You’re foolish for staying inside of four walls and a ceiling all day. You’re foolish for not grabbing the opportunity to live the only life you have in the most awesome way possible. Most of all, shame on you for trying to deter me in any manner but thank you for giving me more speaking points and for giving me a better understanding of people who choose not to go on adventures as I do. Thanks for reading and I’ll catch up with you next month!

Would you like me to give a presentation or talk in your community? Do you feel compelled to support my journey across America? Stay even more connected with live updates, pictures and videos on my Facebook page www.facebook.com/rockygoeshiking

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