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Appalachian Trail: Days 38-49

Day 38 - April 7th

Daily miles: 11.9

Official distance covered on trail: 472.4

Not much else to report on this day. Ate a lot of food. Drank a lot of drinks. Enjoyed the warmth while in town. We stayed at this one restaurant for about 5 hours just enjoying the sun and some good replenishments. We hiked back out to the trail and did a whole half mile to our campsite.

Girl Scout has invented a new game for us to play. He found a clothespin at our campsite yesterday, and the objective is to not be the person at the end of the day with it on your pack or person. It always has to be visible to external viewers so you can't hide it inside someone's pack pocket or anything. I can see this creating an environment of weird paranoia but I love chaos so I'm into it.

Day 39 - April 8th

Daily miles: 14.3

Official distance covered on trail: 486.7

So the clothespin broke, which I know was totally unforeseen! Oh well.

Today was overall so pleasant. Some challenging sections but really just a nice hike near the river. Not a lot to say about today; just enjoyed the beautiful weather and the trail. We also got to the shelter early to avoid the rain, so we spent a lot of time playing cards and snacking (which is something we find ourselves doing when we're stationary with nothing else to do - not a great habit, but I guess it's ok out here).

My favorite part of the day was in the morning around 9:00; the sun was bouncing off the waxy leaves of whatever plants were surrounding the trail, so it looked like you were walking through a path of green sparkles. I was going to try to take some pictures or videos but decided to just enjoy it for myself instead.

Day 40 - April 9th

Daily miles: 13.8

Official distance covered on trail: 500.5

Today's been one of my favorite days yet.

We were absolutely stacked in the shelter yesterday. None of us slept because once any person shuffled around, everyone would wake up. Everyone's sleeping pads are so loud, and everyone's pretty conscientious of making noise, so as soon as one person moved, it was as if everyone felt that they were given permission to move as well. Mitch called it "a chorus of sleeping pads." I found it amusing, but we're pretty sleepy.

Today was really great for views and breaks. From the shelter, we could see the big climb of the day: Whitetop Mountain. I could actively feel my trail legs on the 4-mile uphill, which was so cool! I just felt myself go more quickly than I would have been able to a few weeks ago. The top was Buzzard Rock, and we hung out there for awhile.

I feel really glad to have found these friends. Everyone's easygoing, everyone's just trying to enjoy the experience, and everyone likes to take breaks when we can. We all know we want to finish this hike, but we know the main joys are in all the experiences along the way. One thing I'm trying to get better at is just enjoying where we're at in the moment. Every day, we talk about getting to the next place. The next shelter. The next views. The next miles. It can be difficult to pause and appreciate where I currently am. Today was a good day to appreciate.

Since we had so few miles to do, and the hardest miles were over at the beginning, we were able to coast through the day. At Brier Ridge, we came to a meadow where we lounged for over an hour. Nothing particular. Just enjoyed the landscape and watermelon flavored Sour Patch Kids.

We're near the Grayson Highlands, and there are herds of wild ponies here! One approached me straight on the trail and immediately started licking my legs. Mitch thinks it was silly for me to be initially frightened, but pardon me for being a little skittish when a wild animal comes at me mouth first! It was harmless, though. I wonder how long it took them to equate hikers with sweat/salt.

We hit the 500 mile mark today just before camp! Whew...

Took in some views at Rhododendron Gap before heading to our campsite on the Wilbur Ridge Trail. We have this beautiful rock outcropping section basically all to ourselves.

We were hoping to cowboy camp (just our sleeping pads and bags, no shelter or tent set up), but the forecast hinted at rain. We decided to be careful and set up our large tent as a precaution for all of us to clamber into if it started raining, so we played cards while it drizzled overhead for a half hour or so. Later we enjoyed the sunset and made a nice fire, and we hoped the storm had passed over us. As the evening drew on, the clouds started looking a little less friendly, and everyone else set up their tents right as it began to rain. Hoping for another good opportunity soon! Since it should be clear overnight and the moon is close to new, we're hoping to pop out of our tents sometime in the middle of the night to do some stargazing. Our alarms are set for 3:15. We'll see if it actually happens.

Day 41 - April 10th

Daily miles: 2.3

Official distance covered on trail: 502.8

Checked the sky at 3:20. It was too cloudy for any stars. Disappointed, but we'll have other chances! It was also raining overnight, so I'm glad we decided against cowboy camping. When we woke up, all the beautiful weather and sunshine we had yesterday was gone, and was instead replaced by fog and mist.

Luckily, we had very little hiking to do, and we were able to get through it without getting too wet. Mostly the air was damp and heavy, but it wasn't actively precipitating. We encountered more ponies, which I wish could be constant along the trail! We got to our parking lot destination by 8:45, and my parents picked us up from there.

It was so wonderful to see them! It was a fun collision of worlds, and I wish the weather were nicer so we could walk around the area a bit before driving back to Damascus. I know my mom would have enjoyed seeing the wild ponies, and my dad would have loved the scenery - if we could see it through all the fog.

Damascus pt. 2 was a lot of fun! Got to eat more yummy town food and see some hikers who are a few days behind us who we haven't seen in awhile. My parents got to meet my tramily and get to know them a bit over lunch, and if I didn't already know I found some great friends out here, my parents made sure I knew it!

Mitch's parents arrived in the late afternoon, and Mitch and I got to spend some time just with both sets of parents. How lucky both of us are to have such supportive families who will drive from Ohio to see us and make us feel so loved!

We stayed in Bristol at Maria's aunt and uncle's house. It seems we are all lucky to have such gracious and supportive families!

Day 42 - April 11th

Daily miles: 1.4

Official distance covered on trail: 504.2

Slept. Like. A. Rock. Usually, out on the trail, I have two sleep shifts, interrupted by a 90-120 minute period in the hours between 11:00 and 2:00. Last night, I just slept. It felt very refreshing. I also got to borrow Maria's cousin's clothes so I could actually wash every piece of clothing I have, which felt very clean.

Mitch's and my families joined us for breakfast at the Pearces' house, so we spent extra time resupplying so we could get an excess of breakfast food for 5 hungry hikers and 7 other people. (Also, shoutout to Brooke and Robbie for making a pit stop in Virginia to see us, even though I know y'all were exhausted from your long drive!) Being in a Walmart was oddly overwhelming because there were so many food options, unlike the small hostels and gas station resupplies we've been doing for most of the hike. Outside of the breakfast food, we all spent wayyy more money than we needed to, as we have a resupply option in 2 days, just because we had so much food at our disposal.

Along with a giant breakfast, Mitch's parents brought stuff to make Skyline, so we were able to introduce it to our tramily. Unless they're lying to our faces, they all at least liked it, even if they were slightly confused by it. Hopefully they're able to try it again in a Skyline establishment; canned Skyline will suffice in a pinch, but the real thing is just too good!

Spending time with our family members was lovely! We're going to try to plan one other time for them to come visit if they can. I've missed my mom's hugs and my dad's laugh, and being in their company is something I cherish so much.

I will say, though, that I am more exhausted after these past 2 days than I am after 2 long days of hiking. I think it's that in our hiking life, our one scheduled event is to hike. It doesn't matter when we stop for lunch, it doesn't matter where we take breaks, we just go. In towns, we have so many things we want to do, and we have to stick to a timed schedule, and my brain isn't used to that anymore. It's like when I was teaching last year, I'd always assumed the field trip days would be so fun and relaxing because I didn't have to make any lesson plans, but they always ended up being the most stressful days because it wasn't within the ordinary scope of my responsibilities and management. I'm also definitely more of an introvert than people might expect, so being around so many people, as delightful as it was to see them, was exhausting. But I don't appreciate their visit any less!

Getting back to the trail was very pleasant. The air was a bit crisp, but it was sunny, and the hike was really beautiful. We only had a short distance to go until the shelter, so we were able to enjoy being back without getting too tired or strained.

Also I found a clothespin at the house and was able to resume the game! Let the unnecessary paranoia commence!

I also am more hydrated than I normally am before going to bed. I got a new gravity water filter so I can more easily and efficiently transport and filter water, and I absolutely love it! I'll probably have to pee in the middle of the night, which I'm not used to doing, but oh well.

Day 43 - April 12th

Daily miles: 20.1

Official distance covered on trail: 524.3

Waking up in the middle of the night to pee was a surprisingly net neutral experience. On the one hand, I had to leave the comfort and warmth of my sleeping bag. On the other hand, the stars were so beautiful on such a clear night, so I had something lovely to look at. I don't usually get to see the stars; even while out here, our tent is covered by the rain fly or we're in a shelter. Perhaps the rain fly will become less used as the temperatures get warmer, since now it's mostly used to block out the cold wind at night (and obviously when it's raining).

I felt mentally sluggish today. Maybe it was from coming from 2 days of break, or maybe I'm mentally still worn out from so much socializing, but I just couldn't focus on anything much today. The hike today was largely very pleasant, especially once it warmed up. We finished the highlands section and the wind was wild! Felt like I was going to get blown off the side of the mountain. Obviously I didn't. I got one last look at the ponies before leaving their territory.

We took breaks every few miles to snack and give our feet a break. Today's terrain was really rocky, so our feet and ankles are super sore. Oogie Boogie somehow managed to push forward without taking many breaks and beat us all the our campsite. The rest of us got there between 4:55 and 5:10; he got there at 3:30.

The mileage was pretty manageable, though, which was a relief after so many days of doing 15 or fewer miles. We're going to need to average just under 18 per day to make our goal end date of July 15th (although it's closer to 17 if we choose July 20th). We'll definitely need to start pushing bigger miles more consistently, especially now that the terrain isn't so terrible!

The worst part of the day was a 1.5-mile road section that was all uphill on a winding freshly-(and I mean like we saw the truck)-paved road. Breathing in stiff asphalt air that was radiating heat, all while going uphill on ground with no give, was very uncomfortable. It was a relief to be done. From there, we only had 4 miles to go, so we knew we had an hour and a half or less of hiking for the day.

I foolishly left my backpack unattended while taking a break so I ended up with the clothespin today. We're trying to figure out a punishment for the daily loser.

Day 44 - April 13th

Daily miles: 16.8

Official distance covered on trail: 541.1

Today was one of those eh days that isn't particularly eventful or scenic. Just going through the motions of hiking.

The best scenery happened within the first mile and a half. I wrote of it in another note:

I'm walking a meadow as the morning sun peaks over the ridges behind me. The meadow is slowly being more and more illuminated and the grass is coming more alive and green. I can hear woodpeckers chipping away at trees, the trills and chirps of other birds as they greet each other and of the morning. The sky it is mostly clear with streaks of clouds interrupting the pale blue hues of dawn. The trail under my feet is grass instead of dirt, padding each step that I walk.

The first 10 miles of the day were overall a nice hike: the weather was comfortable, the sun was out, the birds were doing bird things, the hills weren't too bad in either direction. Plus, the shelter after those 10 miles was next to a road near a pizza place that delivers to that shelter, so we knew that we had a good lunch waiting for us. We learned from the error of our last pizza experience and made sure to eat significantly less of it so we weren't completely weighed down.

Even so, the last 7 miles of the day were mentally much tougher. The sky was grey and threatening rain (which luckily never came). The hills were longer and rockier. I just felt ready to be done. Sometimes thruhiking feels like a job, and you just have to get through it because that's what's required of you that day.

We got to camp by 4:15, and we immediately set up in the shelter to avoid any potential rain. We played some euchre, ate pre-dinner snacks and, eventually, actual dinner, and hung out.

We were eventually joined by 9 to 5 and Bachelor Party, and we were discussing an early bedtime when someone approached our group to recruit some people to help get one of their party, who may have broken an ankle, down the hill about a mile. I offered, as did Maria, to assist, but it seemed like too many cooks if everyone went, so the two of us and Bachelor Party stayed behind. It felt weird enjoying conversation while waiting for the others to return. I could feel the feminism oozing out of my body as I volunteered to watch everyone's backpacks and fend off bears we knew wouldn't come while the men in our tramily rushed off to help.

Bachelor Party is called that because he's getting married in October and tells literally everyone about how excited he is for his wedding. He says that any hiker he meets early on who he summits Katahdin with will get an invite to his wedding. I'm not saying I hope we maintain this pace together, but I kinda want to go...

Day 45 - April 14th

Daily miles: 17.1

Official distance covered on trail: 558.2

We didn't mean to, but we slept in today til 7:30. It was so nice. We were all probably awake before 7:00, just waiting for someone to decide to get up. I was drifting in and out of consciousness for over an hour before we collectively decided it was time.

We had a quick morning hike to get into Atkins for a resupply. Being such a small town, the resupply options were two different gas stations. We all ate (and enjoyed?) a bunch of gas station food before really looking around so we wouldn't shop hungry. Probably spent more time at the Atkins Sunoco than I have every other gas station in my life combined. We sat right outside it, eating donuts and Pringles at 10am, and it felt normal. Perhaps too normal.

The next several miles outside of Atkins were tough. There wasn't any water when I needed there to be water, so I spent many miles dehydrated and willing water to appear around the next bend. When it finally did, Mitch and I breaked for almost an hour, drinking as much water as we could and letting our bodies feel hydrated again. When I'm hungry, I can function; when I'm dehydrated, I can't think of anything but replenishing the water in my system. The way people feel "hangry" is how I feel about being thirsty. I don't think I could have done that section differently, but I'll try not to let myself get that dehydrated again.

We passed a sign that said we are 1/4 of the way to Maine! Whewie.

We also learned last night that the road 2 miles before the shelter we wanted to stay at tonight had a hostel with dinner options. Our plan was just to pop in for dinner and do the remaining 2 miles afterward. It looked like it was going to rain, so Problem and Oogie Boogie decided to book bunks in the hostel. The rest of us figured we'd get dinner here and possibly hike out but likely be peer pressured into staying. Then we learned that there was a non-prescribed fire 2 miles after the shelter we wanted to get to, so it was best to stay here anyway. Impromptu hostel experience while it's raining and an excess of food at our disposal - bad for wallet, good for morale.

Day 46 - April 15th

Daily miles: 22.3

Official distance covered on trail: 580.5

Today was largely uneventful. Many miles, few views. We had to "ford" a creek whose bridge had been left in tatters by the elements. In fairness, it was more of a small river than a creek. The water came up almost to my knees, and it was freezing. That was probably the big event of the day. Oogie Boogie said he was pretty disappointed that the water level wasn't up to his chest, but I gotta say, I'm glad it wasn't because I don't think I'mup to his chest so unless he's offering to piggyback me across...

The last 4.5 miles - the period between the last break and the shelter - felt like such a chore. I tried to sit with my thoughts instead of plugging into a podcast, and I realized that I could be doing any given number of miles, and the last stretch would always feel like a challenge. I keep thinking, "Ok, I'm close, so why am I not just there yet?" I had to keep telling myself, "One foot in front of the next, and you'll be there before you know it." And that was true. It helped that the elevation change wasn't much for this section, and if it was, it trended downward. But damn was I glad to reach the shelter.

Day 47 - April 16th

Daily miles: 23.2

Official distance covered on trail: 603.7

Today was a good mental day, despite it being a big mile day right after another big mile day. I never really felt done. Even when I rolled into camp, I said I could do more miles if I had to. I mean, that being said, I'm glad I didn't have to.

The first 11 miles of the day were to get us to a restaurant that sits at a road intersection of the trail. We were able to take a lengthy break and eat a huge lunch, which I think contributed to my strong mental game this afternoon. Being able to break up the day into 2 distinct hikes was great. After lunch, it was like "Oh, another 12 miles? I've done 12 miles plenty of times!" It just felt like we were starting our hike for the day instead of hopping back into it. And we can do 12 miles any time.

My feet are so sore though. The best part of getting to camp wasn't the concept of being done, or eating dinner, or getting into my warm sleeping bag: it was taking off my boots and putting on my Tevas and letting my feet breathe. I think we're all suffering from foot pain by the end, but that's what happens when the rest of our bodies are able to push longer miles.

We've officially hit 600 miles! It's weird but the bigger hundreds are starting to feel less impactful. It's always cool to see that we've done another hundred, but I don't think I'll be super excited by those reminders until we hit 1,000.

Tomorrow, we'll be able to do a short 14-mile day. I think that knowledge is what kept me motivated all throughout the hike, even the last miles. I'm very motivated by the idea of an easier tomorrow. I'll push myself today if that means I can relax more tomorrow.

Day 48 - April 17th

Daily miles: 24.0

Official distance covered on trail: 627.7

Lollll ok so we did a bit more than the 14.5 we had planned. Actually, we did 25 miles if you count the walk to and from the gas station that was a half mile off trail. But either way, about 10 miles more than anticipated!

The first 6.5 to get to the road with the gas station was easy peezy. Couldn't have had better terrain, couldn't have had more pleasant weather. It was, as Oogie Boogie would say, "too easy." Either my diet has been totally derailed or gas stations have better food than I've ever given them credit because we got stuff for packing out but also we ordered food and it was satisfying? I've never had this experience before from a gas station but I'm not mad at it.

The plan for me, Mitch, and Problem was to get to Wapiti Shelter only another 6.5 miles from that road. Oogie Boogie and Girl Scout wanted to go a little further to a stealth spot because when we're in town tomorrow, they have their first covid vaccine appointments, but the latest they could get was around 3:30, so they wanted to be sure to get into town with ample time. However, there was a trail that cut about 4 miles off the AT and had easy access to a hostel that we knew a lot of hikers were going to be staying at. Mitch and I didn't want to take that shortcut, so we kept on the trail. The others took the blue blaze. Oogie Boogie and Girl Scout went to Docs Knob Shelter, and Problem went to the hostel.

Mitch and I were then planning on staying at that stealth spot, but when we arrived, it was pretty full. We'd already discussed maybe getting to the shelter. From the stealth spot, getting into town tomorrow would be 13 miles; from Docs Knob Shelter, it'll only be 8.4. That helped get us through the remaining 5 odd miles. Also we both wanted to get on the others for skipping part of the trail, which was shockingly motivating. Not that we needed to, though; 92 is also at the shelter and he made plenty sure to express his disappointment in their blue blazing behavior. All comments aside, though, none of us are purists and I don't really care that they blue blazed. I'm just really proud of me and Mitch for having the mental capacity to push 10 miles more than we'd anticipated when we woke up this morning, and hobbling through the last few miles when we were both so ready to be done. By the time we got to the shelter, it was about 8:00, which is over an hour later than we've been getting into camp recently.

After doing a 22, then 23, then 24 (really 25) mile day, my feet are exhausted and my right shin is starting to ache a bit. We're doing twice as many miles per day as we did in the beginning, and I think all of our bodies are feeling the same tendency toward pain as they did then. Hopefully tomorrow's easy day will help in that regard, and we also won't be pushing huge miles this upcoming week.

Day 49 - April 18th

Daily miles: 8.4

Official distance covered on trail: 636.1

Couldn't sleep much last night on account of being so damn sore and not having the energy to stretch after yesterday. In the midst of being awake with sore hips, I realized we did 70 miles in 3 days. Whew.

The last few miles of every day almost always suck. I just wanna be there. The whole hike today was like that. We pushed so hard yesterday to have most of the day in town, and I just wanted to be in town immediately. Better than doing 18 miles for sure, but still just wanted to be done.

Spent the last mile on the phone with my friend Rachel, which was great! Usually I'm not confident in good service for so long, but heading into a town and passing under a bunch of power lines, I figured I was safe.

As of now, we have beer and Chinese food in the motel room, and there's a hockey game on TV. I feel like we haven't done this level of vegging out since Hiawassee, GA, and I am loving it.

Tomorrow, we're shuttling way ahead. 15 miles of the trail are closed because of downed power lines, and someone actually had to get heli-lifted out of the area. We're also skipping about 7 miles to get shuttled straight from town to the road after that out-of-bounds section. Could technically do some of it do a nearby road and shuttle from there, but... no. Hey, we're no purists here!


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