23.2 miles, 1086.1 overall (Birch Run shelter)
I’ve set my alarm for 5:40 but I am awake by 5:15 so I start packing. It is cold this morning, no doubt due to the thunderstorms that rolled through last night. It seems to have stopped raining now and I count my blessings that I haven’t often had to pack a tent while it was raining. When I get out of my tent I see that Mouse is up and getting ready. I break down the tent, pack it up, and then get my food down. While I eat my bagel with PB I say good morning to the ladies in the shelter.
Mouse doesn’t get started long before I do and I catch her pretty quickly today. Not long after I catch her though there are 2 shelters very close to each other. At the first is a footbridge that looks neat in the morning light so I stop to take a picture while Mouse crosses. When I catch up to her on the other side she is walking around with a stone. I soon figure out she is trying to cross the stream to the shelter (she must not have seen the bridge to it) so she can see who is inside. She successfully crosses the stream and sneaks to the shelter, but on the way back realizes that the stone is too far from the shelter side of the stream to be of any use to her now. She pulls off her sandals and socks to walk back across even after I suggest (again) going to the bridge. I decide that Mouse is a goofball but she definitely keeps things fun.
At the next shelter I stop to use the privy and on my way in I see Blue Fox, one of the hikers who went aqua-blazing. I peek into the shelter and see Einstein as well. I spend some time catching up with them while Mouse rallies the thru-hikers who are present to head to the same shelter we are aiming for so we can all do the half-gallon challenge together tomorrow. Once she has rallied everyone Mouse gets going but I stick around a little while longer.
Blue Fox has a great video that he took by tying his camera to his kayak while aqua-blazing. In it he follows the canoes until he stays too far left at one of the rapids. You can hear him curse just before the kayak flips and you get about 10 seconds of footage of water before the video stops. He is obviously ok so the video is hilarious.
Einstein mentions a snack bar at Caledonia State Park only 10 miles away, perfectly situated for lunch. I plan to get there around 11:30, a perfect time for a break. With the promise of good food the next few miles fly by. For the first few I hike alone but after I take a snack break Dora the Explora, a hiker I met at the shelter, passes me and I follow her for a time. She sets a good pace and since she prefers to hike alone and is listening to music I’m content to follow at a distance. When she stops at the next shelter for a snack I pause as well to mix an energy drink and have a few more bites of trail mix before the final push to the park. We talk briefly about shoes and I discover that one of her jobs was as head of the shoe section at an outfitter.
I sometimes wonder how I will use my experience on the trail when I get home. One of the things I’ve thought about is working part-time at an outfitter, but I’m not sure if that’s possible both because of my own busy schedule at home and because the outfitter may not have hours available that would complement my full-time job. I’ve thought about becoming a Boy Scout leader but that might be a bit time consuming for me, especially since I don’t have the investment of a child in it. Perhaps an in-between role could be as a sort of consultant – doing workshops, presentations, and such for outfitters or scout troops. I’ll have to explore the options once I get home. Of course this is all predicated on me finishing the hike and I’m not quite at the true halfway point yet, so it might be a bit premature.
I leave first and beat Dora to the park. Once there I see a large pool but it doesn’t appear to be busy. I start walking in that direction when I see Mouse on the other side of the park. I run around to where she is, hoping she has found some food. When I get there I find that she has! Chris and Kristin are doing trail magic for their third year. They have snacks, fruit, and postcards all laid out for us. They also have hot dogs which haven’t been cooked yet. We wait patiently while they start the charcoal.
Besides Mouse, at the trail magic are Gato and 3 new hikers named Wonder, Fresh, and Squidword. I recognize the names from the shelter registers but haven’t met them yet. They all just finished serving in the Peace Corps in Peru and are hiking the trail partially to re-integrate themselves into society upon their return. The 3 of them have an interesting dynamic and it is fun to listen to them joke on each other.
Dora and I are the last to leave the trail magic about 1.5 hrs after arriving, with Einstein and Blue Fox never catching up. As I leave I wonder why they are so far behind. We make quick work of the climb out of the park (can anything under 1000 ft be called a climb for us at this point?) and soon arrive at the first shelter after the park. We had heard it was nice but that was an understatement. This isn’t a shelter. Shelters don’t have landscaping. This is an inn. There are flower pots hanging from the roof and a fence on the way in. There is even a tarp that can be rolled down to block the wind. The spring runs just in front of the shelter and looks like it was rerouted to the spot for the convenience of hikers. I stop to sign the register but have to move on, the half-gallon challenge tomorrow awaits.
The last 7 miles are really easy and go by pretty quickly, although I feel weird as I’m hiking. When I stop for a snack I notice that I have a sore throat and I know I’ve been sneezing a lot today. I hope I am not catching a cold. As Christy would tell you, I am miserable to be around when I’m sick. I might make some hiker enemies if I were to get sick out here. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, it might hinder my performance tomorrow in the half-gallon challenge. I will be sure to sleep warmly tonight and take my multi-vitamin.
At the shelter everyone is already getting comfortable and cooking food. I set up my tent and grab some water, then join in the consumption. I eat the Snickers bar that I didn’t need for a snack today and then cook my black bean stroganoff for dinner. It is nice to have a shelter with so many thru-hikers again. Lately I’ve only had one or two others with me on any given night but tonight there are 7 hanging around the shelter with a few others tenting nearby. Wonder, Fresh, and Squidword talk a section hiker into playing Yuker with them and we all shoot the breeze while they play. I take another look at my plans to try to determine where Christy can pick me up next week but don’t get very far. It all depends on 2 things: how many miles I do after eating 4 pints of ice cream, and how I decide to get through the 25.5 miles of the Cumberland Valley that don’t allow camping except in a backpacker’s campsite inconveniently placed only 3 miles from the last available shelter. I’ll have a better idea once I know where I end up tomorrow night. For now I turn in early, hoping to keep my momentum going by getting out soon after Mouse again. Tomorrow we will reach the actual midpoint and tackle the half-gallon challenge on the Appalachian Trail!