18.2 miles, 722.5 overall (Daleville HoJo’s)
4:30 comes quickly. I have set all 5 alarms on my watch to go off every 2 minutes for 10 minutes since they don’t continue beeping until I turn them off. I also set my phone alarm. It works and I’m able to pull myself out of my bag on time. I pack up and grab a snack of donut sticks to eat while I walk. I will eat my bagel at the knob. I hike by headlamp but after I’ve been going for a little while the headlamp turns off. Thinking it needs new batteries I grab them from my pack and replace them. Two minutes later it cuts off again. Apparently it isn’t a battery issue. For a few minutes I hike turning the headlamp on each time it cuts off but each time it stays on for a shorter time until it becomes untenable. Finally I think to hike with the headlamp on its low setting instead of high. This fixes the problem and it stays on the rest of the way. I hurry because it is already getting light out and I’m afraid the extra time spent may have cost me the best part of the sunrise. When I finally turn the corner and arrive though I’m satisfied. While I may have missed some good colors there is still plenty to see. I put my pack down, chug some water, take some pictures, and then sit back to enjoy the show. The skyline is bright orange behind the mountains, and wisps of fog fill some of the valleys to the east. Below me lights are still on in towns as the morning light slowly creeps across the landscape. It is quiet and a gentle breeze occasionally blows in, making it just cold enough to need another shirt. While I snap pictures of the show before sunrise, I stop just a few minutes before the actual event to sit, eat my bagel, and fully enjoy it. This moment will simply have to exist on its own in my memory.
Just before the sun pokes above the hills another hiker arrives, a day hiker who ran up from the parking lot to catch this moment. He sits a distance away in silence while we watch. After the sun rises we exchange a few words before I hike on.
At the next shelter I am worried everyone will still be asleep but they are just starting to stir when I arrive. No thru-hikers though, so I sign the log and continue quickly. I need to get to town somewhat early today. I need to get to the outfitter and they close at 6. They also aren’t open tomorrow. I do stop to use the cell reception for a few minutes and while there I’m passed by another thru-hiker.
A couple more miles gets me to Tinker Cliffs. When I arrive I miss a turn and end up hiking along below the cliffs. While this is cool, I know it is wrong and I haven’t seen a blaze in a while. I backtrack and find where I went wrong. When I do I kick myself: I stepped over the branch that was placed to deter hikers from going the wrong way and I had seen the cairn (pile of rocks) meant to show the correct way. I remind myself to take better note of cairns in the future.
Back on track I hike up above the cliffs and stop for a snack at an excellent view looking back to McAfee’s Knob where I was earlier. While eating I hear a hiker cursing loudly and a minute later the thru-hiker who passed me earlier arrives behind me. He also took the wrong trail and the cursing I heard was him backtracking. He introduces himself as Nacho and we chat about the town coming up. I mention I have a room at the hotel and when he doesn’t have a place to stay I offer him the other bed in my room. He is excited and accepts. We decide I’ll leave a key for him at the front desk when I check in and he hikes ahead.
I’m not in a terrible hurry today. The weather is a little warm but otherwise pleasant. I do a moderate pace, planning to get to town in early afternoon. I pass lots of day hikers and backpackers who are coming out for the weekend. I also pass a couple who are southbounders who started in Harper’s Ferry. There are a few views but I don’t stop long at any of them. Before long I am on the downhill into town.
When I arrive I skip the hotel and go straight to Wendy’s for lunch. I take my pack inside and set it down. Usually I leave my pack outside but today I figure I’ll beg forgiveness rather than ask permission. I try to keep my distance from the non-hikers as I order and I sit in a corner to eat. While eating a man nearby asks how far I’m heading. When I say Maine his interest is piqued. He asks where I started and he is impressed I’ve already gone 700 miles. In talking to him I realize he doesn’t know that the trail crosses the road not even 0.2 miles from this spot. It seems odd to me, having just stepped off the trail, that someone could not realize this. Sadly many people live mere minutes from the trail and don’t even know it exists. It seems like such a waste of Benton Mackaye’s vision of a place where city-folk can return to nature when the city-folk aren’t even aware of the option. When the man’s family sits down he tells them what I am doing and although they seem impressed as well they are clearly not as interested in hearing more about it as he is. That’s ok with me, and I go back to eating.
After I finish I go to the outfitter. I pick up my mail drop and get the replacement pole section for my tent. It takes a few minutes to install, but soon it is good as new! I pick up fuel, a backup set of Aqua Mira, and some Body Glide to prepare for the rainy/sweaty days.
I return to the hotel and check in, leaving a key for Nacho. Then I take a glorious shower before starting my laundry. In order to do my laundry I need soap. There is some next door at the gas station so I head there where I run into Nacho. He has found Einstein and they now plan to get a room together so they can drink and smoke. I appreciate the consideration and actually look forward to a room to myself. Two hours later I am lounging in my room in clean clothes reading news and poking around on my phone. I spend a little time looking for a cheap warm-weather sleeping bag since the 15 degree bag I’ve been using is getting to be a little too warm.
For dinner I go with Nacho and Einstein to the Mexican place across the street. It turns out to not be great Mexican but that doesn’t affect the quantity we eat. Afterward I head back to my room for a beer that I picked up at the gas station, some planning of the next section, and an early bedtime. It has been a while since my last zero and while I don’t plan to zero here I do plan to nero out of town tomorrow to give my body a bi of a break. The next section doesn’t have a lot of resupply or cleaning up options so it looks like I will need several days of supplies. It also looks like it will rain. Hopefully I won’t end up with a wet nero on the Appalachian Trail!