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Appalachian Trail: Days 88-97

Day 88 - May 27th

Daily miles: 23.2

Official distance covered on trail: 1324.6

Spent a lot of last night awake due to some pretty intense thunderstorms. I kept thinking it was the universe cleansing our palette of the past several weeks of just-okayness. New state, new beginnings, right?

New Jersey has already proven to be really beautiful. Lots of lakes and ponds and streams, which I love hiking near. The rocks haven't totally died down, but even the really rocky sections were doable. And we had some gorgeous views from the ridge line! It feels like it's been forever since we were able to look out over the ridge and see nothing but distant mountains and forests.

All of us were in great spirits by the time we hit the road where we planned to end our day. All of us were in infinitely better spirits than we have been of late, and it was palpable how much more excited we were about hiking. Not that we wanted to do any more today; we'd hoped to stay in a nearby motel, but they were all booked up, and our options were to find a stealth site or hike 3 more miles to the next shelter. Fortunately, Mitch found places for our tents about 200 yards north of the road on trail, so we didn't have to hike much extra.

After eating dinner, we set up our tents at the stealth site and went back to the road to get drinks. It's now almost 11:00 - way past hiker midnight. We'll have a lot of time in towns through New England.

Day 89 - May 28th

Daily miles: 23.2

Official distance covered on trail: 1347.8

Another lovely day of hiking. New Jersey isn't exciting or exuberant or anything, but it's consistently pleasant, and we haven't had that in awhile. Also it's only 70 miles long - we'll be out of it early the day after tomorrow - so it doesn't have enough time to become boring or unbearable (lookin' at you, Virginia and Pennsylvania).

The forecast said the rain would hold off until 5:00. We knew we could be done with our miles and have camp set up by then. It started raining at 3:00, so that was cool. But really it was a pleasant rain during the hike itself - soft and gentle and perfectly complementing the fields of tall grass and wildflowers that lined several miles of the trail today. I wish I had photos, but I didn't want to expose my phone to the rain.

Setting up camp in the rain sucks, though, and the ground is too hard in most places to get perfectly-taut lines for the tent, so the rain fly has pools in the corners, and we've unclipped the body from those areas so the mesh doesn't touch the moisture. Here's hoping the rain stays at least mostly outside tonight.

Day 90 - May 29th

Daily miles: 17.3

Official distance covered on trail: 1365.1

Slept so well and didn't want to get out of the tent this morning, both due to the presence of rain. We knew we had to get up, but we just didn't want to. It's hard to motivate yourself to leave warmth and dryness in favor of cold rain. It never got above 55° today, and we were not ready for that.

The hike was beautiful, even in the rain. Part of the trail went through Wallkill National Wildlife Refuge; what first appeared as soggy wetlands with flimsy reeds came alive with birds when we looked closely enough.

In the wetlands, I saw two people out in the rain. They clearly weren't backpackers, so I assumed they were rangers or researchers or some sort of maintainers of the area. When I got to where they were set up, they told me they were birders. I couldn't believe it. These people were out in the pouring rain, not needing to be there, for a hobby. I couldn't comprehend it. Then I realized I was kind of in the same boat as they were. Sure, we have a deadline to adhere to, and sure, we have goals to meet, but we don't have to be out here. No one is making us hike. We could leave the trail at any time. But we won't.

My mood markedly improved once I was soaked through enough to not care about getting wet anymore. Just had to keep moving. Stopping while wet isn't really an option.

The biggest bummer was that we'd planned to stay in town at a drive-in movie theater that allows hikers to camp for free. We'd planned several days' worth of hiking around the idea of staying here tonight, but it was so rainy and soggy and gross outside that it wasn't worth it at all to do that.

Took forever to get a ride to town. No one wanted to give us a hitch. Maybe it's because we were wet, but we've noticed it's been significantly harder to catch hitches north of the Mason Dixon line. Finally we just called a Lyft. Once we were in town, we tried to go to the local motel. Closed. We tried calling other hotels and motels nearby. Booked for the holiday weekend. It took us many calls to many establishments to find a place that could keep us. I cannot explain how badly I needed to be inside and in dry clothes.

There was one (1) spider in our room that I took outside because the guys I travel with are all afraid of spiders. We found an American Pie marathon on tv, which kept us far too entertained for the night.

Day 91 - May 30th

Daily miles: 9.6

Official distance covered on trail: 1374.7

We did a short day today. The weather is still cold and rainy. We may have zeroed today, but we wanted to head back to where we'd left the trail yesterday and do enough to cross the state line from New Jersey to New York.

So far, New York has been beautiful, but really sketchy in the rain. A lot of slick rocks, a lot of rock scramble sections, a lot of potential to really get hurt. Mitch and I were saying we'd love to come back and do this bit when it's dry; it would have been fun if we weren't genuinely scared of every step.

Mitch's college friend Ryan visited for the afternoon! He picked us up from the trail and was kind enough to drive a bunch of wet hikers around. After scarfing down some food, we decided to go bowling! We would have loved to take Ryan for a short section of the trail and maybe grill out somewhere, but the weather had other plans for us.

Staying again at the motel. We decided it was worth it to be warm and dry for another night. The down side is we committed to skipping about 12 miles of trail because the motel is so close to the trail, and getting back to where we left off is expensive, so tomorrow we're jumping ahead a bit. Honestly, it's a nice place! They did our laundry for us, the showers have hot water, and we're able to watch Stanley Cup hockey on tv. Can't ask for much more than that!

Day 92 - May 31st

Daily miles: 26.4

Official distance covered on trail: 1413.1

Wow, hiking in good weather conditions is like... fun? Who knew?!

The hike today was just fun. No scary rocks (except the Lemon Squeezer, which was just very skinny but not scary), no terrible hills, but lots of good views and good spots.

It feels like it's been awhile since we stopped for lunch at an overlook because it feels like it's been so long since we've had one worth stopping for. From Black Mountain, we were able to see the NYC skyline over the treetops below. Not a view we expected from the trail!

We also took a break at Bear Mountain, which had a million people there for the good weather and good views on Memorial Day. The whole park was filled with more people than we've seen on trail combined. We kept hoping someone would recognize we were thruhikers and offer us some food, but sadly it never happened. The break in the sunshine was nice, though! We also had to detour around the zoo, since it was closed for the holiday, but the bear enclosure is the lowest point on the AT. Otherwise irrelevant, but I would have liked to see it anyway.

We crossed the Hudson River on a suspension bridge, so that, along with the views of the skyline, basically gave us the NYC experience from the trail. So. No need to go back, right?

Also the mountain laurels are finally blooming, which I love!

We're staying in the baseball fields of a local church campus, which has been allowing thruhikers to camp there since the '70s. The ground is so grassy and soft, I know I'll sleep like a rock tonight. Also there's a water spigot, so like... top notch camp site!

We hit 1400 miles today, so less than 800 to go. We also decided that today was the start of our attempt of a marathon week. Marathon weeks can go two ways: either doing a minimum of 26.2 miles every day for a week, or averaging 26.2 miles per day over the course of a week. We would have preferred to do the former, but the latter makes most logistical sense for us over the next few days. Good luck to us?

Day 93 - June 1st

Daily miles: 27.8

Official distance covered on trail: 1440.9

Happy 3 month hikeaversary to us! We're 20 miles shy of 2/3 of the way done with distance, and we're 2/3 of the way done with our allotted time, so that feels pretty good! Especially considering we were not at 1/4 or 1/3 or 1/2 our miles when we hit those time milestones. We're cruising!

Today was tough mentally just because I knew we had so many miles to do. Especially since I'm the slowest hiker in our group, big miles can feel really daunting. Luckily, I was able to pass the time with lots of podcasts, and I was able to call my parents and catch up a bit with them while I had service on the trail. Still, getting into camp at 9pm is a bit daunting when you started hiking a little before 8am.

Got to have lunch and catch up with an old friend who lives in the area! Abby, thanks for the lemonade and the perfect excuse to take a break, and of course for your lovely company!

Day 94 - June 2nd

Daily miles: 26.1

Official distance covered on trail: 1467.0

Woke up for the second time in a row at 5:34am. Didn't get up for another hour, but still was awake then.

Not much to report on today. Some nice spots along the trail, didn't have any major wrong turns or stumbles, and made it to Connecticut by the end of the day! Nine states down, and this one will take only a few days.

Had a lot of trail magic today. Two coolers with snacks and pop, and one kind dude named Richie who gave us a ride from the convenience store where we ate dinner back to the trail so we didn't have to walk an extra half mile.

Day 95 - June 3rd

Daily miles: 20.2

Official distance covered on trail: 1487.2

Ok, we said "fuck it" to the marathon week. It was not fun while it lasted. My feet are in much pain. To the point that I lose sleep due to random foot throbs in the night. So that's a cool development.

Stopped briefly in Kent so Mitch could buy new shoes and we could eat at a local diner. Probably the best breakfast sandwich I've ever had! Gonna try to remember J. P. Gifford for when we do a reunion drive up the trail. It was a cute town - exactly what I would expect a small New England town to look like - but damn, no one believes in hitchhiking here! Like we are less than a mile from the trail, and you live here, so you must know what we are, right? My personal opinion is that if you live within 5 miles of the trail and drive a Subaru or pickup truck, you should be REQUIRED to offer hitches to thruhikers.

Even though it was a shorter day than we've been doing, it felt like it took a lot of mental exertion to get through. By the end, it was just "Ok, you'll be there before 3 episodes of the podcast are over. Before 2 episodes. By the end of this one." But indeed we got to camp. And the hiking wasn't terrible. But you know what, the bugs were. I probably slapped various body parts (including my face) to kill mosquitoes and flies and gnats a minimum of twice per mile.

Today was just a day that I would have loved to not have to hike. No matter how much you love an activity, if it's all you do and think about for months on end, it can lose its charm and appeal from time to time. Today was one of those days. But I got through it, and that's all I can ask for sometimes.

Day 96 - June 4th

Daily miles: 23.6

Official distance covered on trail: 1510.8

Today was really great! Last night kinda sucked though. Mitch and I tented near the surliest section hikers ever, who cussed to themselves at us several times in the night (like loudly saying things like "Are you fucking kidding me?" to themselves but loudly enough that we could hear) any time we made any noise. Like. Get earplugs. Also your sleeping pads aren't any quieter than ours. If I were 1% pettier, I would have intentionally rolled around on my crinkly sleeping pad for a full minute after those comments, but sadly I am only kind of petty. Also we heard a few tree branches fall in the night, which was very jolting. Didn't love that. But I slept really well and had an overall great day today!

The word that comes to mind for today is "pleasant." There were some tougher climbs, but nothing super strenuous, and lots of pretty views! Even when it finally rained, after days of dreading potential storms, it simply drizzled for about 15 minutes, and it happened while I was overheating on a long uphill, so it felt really nice! The only real downers of the day were the constant bugs and thick humidity in the air. But really no big complaints. Even my feet are feeling a bit better!

We all stopped for a few hours in Salisbury to resupply on food and have lunch. I think doing 23 miles today was so manageable because of this break. We did 2/3 of the hike before getting to town, spent a lot of the afternoon in town, and then only had 1/3 of the miles to go before settling into our campsite. Super easy mentally to break up the day like this! And good for my poor feet.

We also hit the 1500 mile mark, as well as the state of Massachusetts, which means we have 4 states and under 700 miles to go!

Day 97 - June 5th

Daily miles: 13.1

Official distance covered on trail: 1523.9

Town days are great days. Not that we've been removed from towns the past few days. But being able to bathe and charge electronics and sleep in a bed that's not an inch above the ground - can't beat that sometimes!

Some really stunning views during the hike, too!

Had to get new shoes in town. My boots are dead from Pennsylvania, and I'd like to get them repaired because it's just the sole that's gone but the tread is still good so I should be able to use them after the sole is fixed. Decided to give in to peer pressure and try trail runners, so hopefully those work well for me!

Thinking about how last time I posted a blog update was 3 states ago... And in less than a week, we'll be onto the next!


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