24.7 miles, 530.6 overall (Partnership shelter)
I’m up and on my way by 8:00. I know it is going to be a long day if I want pizza for dinner so starting early is a good idea. The terrain doesn’t appear to be terribly difficult according to the data book, but it is still a long distance to cover.
I feel good this morning. My Achilles is doing better. It seems the properly fitting shoes have made a difference. I still need to remember to stretch at the beginning and end of every day, but it seems the pain might disappear over the course of the next few days. As a result, I don’t need as long to warm up this morning as I typically do. I actually cover 5 miles in an hour and 40 minutes, a 3 mph pace, to reach the next shelter. It is 9:40 and I doubt any thru-hikers will still be here. When I walk up I do see several hikers but I don’t recognize any of them and quickly peg them as section hikers. I stop for a snack and socialize with them while I eat, answering questions about when I started, how much my pack weighs, etc.
My snack is done and I leave within 15 minutes, a good turnaround time for the miles I want to do today. On the way out of the shelter I see Wall-E, Brownie, and Krispy Kreme also stopped for a snack. I say hi, but they plan to stop short of the shelter I’m aiming for so I don’t expect to see them much today.
The next several miles are downhill. I cross several streams and I pass the time in my head by outlining what I might do for my research if I were to go back to school for my PhD in stream ecology. I resurrect and play with an old idea that requires a backhoe, and also think about how I could expand on what I did for my MS. Since I don’t actually think I’ll return for my PhD I contemplate whether I should send my ideas to someone. My mind eventually moves on to another topic, the issue unresolved.
By the time 1:00 rolls around I have already covered 14 miles. I only have 11 left and I am at a shelter so I stop for lunch. On my way into the shelter I see faces I recognize: TW, Nokey, and Dirty Girl are all finishing lunch and are about to move on. They crack jokes about how they should’ve hiked faster so I wouldn’t catch up, and before they leave I tell them I want half a large pizza at Partnership, any toppings except anchovies.
The Flash (so named because of the ill-advised use of his headlamp while peeing in the woods after dark in Ga) is also at the shelter for lunch while I’m there. We chat for a while but I leave before he is ready. I want to stay ahead of as many people as possible in case there are limited spaces available at the shelter. I also want dibs on whatever trail magic might be at the road crossing coming up. The section hikers I ran into earlier mentioned some coolers and tubs of snacks left next to the Holston River for thru-hikers by a church. When they passed by everything was empty, but that was 2 days ago. There is a chance that it has been refilled. If it has it won’t last long, and I want a soda!
It is another downhill from the shelter to the road crossing but it goes very quickly, so quickly that I wonder if the distance in the data book is correct. When I arrive I see two people, obviously not hikers, near the tubs. They are refilling the trail magic! What perfect timing! Apparently TW et al also benefitted from their timing, having only left a few minutes before I arrive. I visit with the church members a while, gulping down a soda while I do. It is nice to be back in Virginia and be able to talk about things I know about such as the upcoming milestones like McAfee’s Knob and Dragon’s Tooth. They leave before I do, saying something about needing to pick up some kids from school. I stay a while and sign their register.
In the register I am the 250th hiker. At Amicalola when I started I was thru-hiker number 497. Now, neither of these numbers is entirely accurate. Many thru-hikers start without signing in at Amicalola (TW for example) so the 497 number should be higher. Let’s guesstimate it at 650. The 250 number is also wrong. First, the church has only had the register out here since April 1 so they missed any really early hikers. Second, not everyone signs the register here. Let’s guesstimate the true number here to be 350. This is still impressive. Of the 650 or so who started before me, 300 hikers have either dropped out or I’ve passed them. I’ll have a better idea of the true number that are ahead of me in Harper’s Ferry where practically every hiker stops to sign in and get their picture taken, but for now I’m estimating I am hiker 300 to come through.
From here it is 8 miles and they go by quickly when I’m hiking. I do stop for a while on a ridge when I notice that I have good cell signal, the first time in a few days. I take the opportunity to upload a new blog entry and some pictures and then call MSR about getting my tent pole section replaced. I arrange for the pole section to be sent ahead to an outfitter I will reach in about a week, giving it sufficient time to ship and arrive before I get there.
I finally get to Partnership shelter at 6:00. I have been looking forward to this shelter which has a shower and a phone at the nearby visitor’s center where you can call for pizza to be delivered. On the way I had pondered the proximity of the shelter to the visitor’s center and whether it would mean interaction with tourists. I briefly imagine a shelter with a pane of glass on the front and thru-hikers inside. The tourists tap on the glass as we eat our meager breakfasts and pack for the day.
When I arrive Nokey informs me that due to the price of pizza TW and 2 others have caught a shuttle into town to pick up food at the grocery store instead. I am disappointed. How can you come to Partnership shelter and not order pizza? Also, how could you be surprised by the price of pizza? Pizza Hut delivers here and their prices are pretty well known. I wonder what people thought pizza would cost. Did they think it was free? While I like the idea of grocery store food I don’t know what they will come back with. I spent all day thinking about pizza, even foregoing my last snack to save room. I decide that I must have pizza. It is a trail tradition and I would feel like I missed out if I didn’t get it. I hike to the visitor’s center and order myself a large veggie lovers and a medium meat lovers. They will be here in 30 minutes which gives me just enough time to get situated in the shelter for the night and take a shower before it arrives.
The shower is somewhat cold but refreshing. It feels great to be clean. I keep a shirt, sock liners, and shorts in my sleeping bag for sleeping in to try to keep some of the dirt, oils, smell, funk, etc out of my sleeping bag. I put those on to remain clean. Then I go out to meet the delivery person. On the way I pass TW et al who have returned with food. They will be cooking hot dogs, brats, and hamburgers. I am satisfied with my choice.
The other hikers can’t believe I spent money on pizza but when I have leftovers they don’t mind helping me finish them. I finish half of the large pizza and almost half of the medium. It works out well, leaving one slice for each other hiker who is here. Everyone sits around talking for a while, and they struggle to finish the last of the food that was bought. By 9:00 people start to turn in and by 9:30 it is quiet in the shelter. I am the only one in the top floor. I don’t mind because it means I can stay up a bit to write. It usually takes me about an hour to type an entry, re-read it, and upload (if I have cell service). It is a significant investment of time and unfortunately it sometimes means I miss out on some of the shelter socialization. However I have decided it is worth the trade off to have a record that I can look back on later and help me recall some of the small moments that make this trip special. In the future maybe I can work on the entries some during the day instead of only at night. I do plan to take siestas when it gets warm out in the next month and that may prove to be an opportune time.
Tomorrow we should be in Atkins. I will be able to resupply the little bit that I need to get me to my next mail drop and we can stop for 16 oz burgers at “The Barn.” It should prove to be a shorter but still fun day on the Appalachian Trail.