0 miles, 996.9 overall (Bear’s Den hostel)
I set my alarm for 6:00 to try to get an early start. It is supposed to be almost as hot as yesterday and I know I’ll need to get a lot of miles done early. A friend from WV has offered me a place to stay tonight so I need to be in Harper’s Ferry to meet him on-time. Upstairs the kitchen has a community cupboard with pancake mix. I whip up a batch of batter and make myself two large pancakes. I cover them in butter and syrup and wolf them down. Meanwhile Puff and Mrs Mule are working on coffee. I grab a cup to drink while I pack up.
While packing I am dreading the heat. I am ready to go by 7 but I don’t feel like hiking. I text my friend Ben and ask if tomorrow would still be good to come visit instead and he says sure. Score! I am now zeroing at Bears Den. It was already incredibly gracious of Ben to offer me a place to stay for a night but to be flexible with my plans too is an added bonus, so thanks Ben!
Perhaps I should take a brief interlude here to explain how weird it is trying to mesh the schedule of a thru-hiker with the schedule of a non-thru-hiker. For a thru-hiker it is hard to project where we are going to be more than a few days in advance. This doesn’t mesh well with the schedules of non-thru-hikers who often have their days planned out weeks in advance. Flexibility is key as our plans can change at the last minute depending on things like weather (in this case), food supplies, sickness, terrain, or any number of other reasons.
Huff and Puff are the first hikers to get out. They leave while I am working on a third pancake that I decided to have since I’ll be sticking around. Next out are the Myakka Mules. Last is Gato. He had been considering a zero but now he is talking about doing a half day. However instead of leaving early and stopping early to miss the heat, he sticks around for a while. He ends up watching Star Wars: Attack of the Clones while I play on my phone. I’m betting after the movie he sticks around. While he is watching the movie several hikers come through the hostel looking for showers. Tallyho and Gringo are first, followed by another couple whose names I don’t recognize. Once the movie is over it is the moment of truth, and true to his word Gato heads out into the heat of the day around 11. I wish him luck but don’t envy his situation.
For a little while I’m alone in the hostel. I eat some lunch and have a soda. I pop in Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, having never watched any of the new ones all the way through (hence why I played on my phone instead of watching the second one with Gato). A section hiker comes in to stay for the night and hangs out watching the movie. Every once in a while Justin, the hostel caretaker, pops in to check on things and to clean up. Justin is a great guy who looks a lot like the actor Jason Lee. He and his wife thru-hiked last year and plan to own a hostel in the future but when they found that the Bear’s Den was searching for caretakers they decided this was a great chance to learn the business. By my estimation they are doing a phenomenal job.
Just after the movie finishes we start getting other hikers who are staying the night. The first one looks familiar and when I ask her name I realize why. The hiker is Mouse. I’m familiar with her because she has a trail journal that I found before I started because we shared the same start date. I never met her because I started on the approach trail while she started from Springer, and in addition she started off doing 15 mile days while I was doing 8 mile days. I never thought I would meet her because she had been over a week ahead of me but an ankle injury forced her to take about 10 days off. She is just now returning to the trail, proving that you never can tell who you’ll catch up to out here.
The four section hikers from the last shelter I stayed at arrive later as well as Caveman, a young man who explains that part of his reason for hiking the trail is that he watched Fight Club and it motivated him to try a more primitive life. Tonight everyone is more social than last night and we hang out in the living room upstairs until it is time for bed. For the most part the thru-hikers are on one side and the section hikers on the other, but we do mix some and I learn a bit about some of the section hikers and what they do at home. I also get a chance to interact with Mouse who I find to be wonderfully interesting. It must be something about her southern charm, having grown up in Tennessee. I’m glad I’ve gotten to meet her and hope I’ll get to stick around her for a little while. We listen to Caveman play on the hostel guitar and I show her how to clap so as to make it sound like many people are clapping (i.e. clap really fast).
Eventually I head to bed. It is already raining outside and it is supposed to be cooler tomorrow, but I still want to get an early start. I want to be out by 6:00 instead of 7:00. Mouse is thinking the same thing. I go to bed while Caveman stays up and watches Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a movie he says has been stuck in his head for days. I don’t mind because it reminds me of home where Christy will never go to bed without a movie on. Tomorrow I will get to Harper’s Ferry, the psychological halfway point on the Appalachian Trail!