6.1 miles, 1176.2 overall (Swatara Gap, PA 72)
In the morning I’m not in a hurry. I have only 6 miles to walk to get to the road crossing where Christy will be picking me up. I take my time packing my things and getting out of my tent, however even taking my time I’m still up at 7 and hiking by 8. I don’t see Gato or Squidword this morning. They’ve already left by the time I’m out of my tent, but I said goodbye to them last night. I also told Gato to hike slow so I could catch up. Squidword I may see when I get back because he is also leaving the trail for a wedding this weekend, although he will get a few more miles in since he is getting picked up tomorrow instead of today.
The trail follows the creek down to a road crossing where there are some informative signs. I stop to read about an old settlement that used to be here (this is almost a cliche along the AT) as well as a diversion well constructed by the local Trout Unlimited chapter to treat the acidic water created by the mine drainages in the area. When I continue hiking I assume the trail will follow the road. About a quarter mile later I realize there are no blazes and I have to backtrack to find the turn in the trail where I was reading the signs. I am thankful I’m not in a hurry today.
I climb a mountain wondering if anything that requires only a gradual 500 foot climb can be called a mountain. Then I descend to a few road crossings before the trail ducks back into the woods. At the point it re-enters there is a small parking lot and a service road gate, behind which I find a box of Dr Peppers. Trail magic! At first glance it looks empty, but when I poke the box it is heavy, indicating a couple sodas left. I find one of the remaining sodas and am happy to find it is still cold. I sit on a rock, figuring this is a great spot for a break and a snack anyway. While I’m waiting a man arrives in a truck and releases a squirrel that he caught. I don’t ask him but I wonder why he bothered catching a squirrel. Perhaps it was getting into his bird feeder?
I poke a bit more at my phone while I take an extended break and I find that there is another geocache nearby. I decide to give it one more shot and as I get up to hike to it Chicken Little and Honest Abe catch up to me. I inform them of the trail magic but there is only one soda left so they end up splitting it. I let them hike ahead so I can look for the geocache. This one is easy to find and I’m happy to finally log a find while thru-hiking. I also inform the owner that the log in the cache is incredibly soaked through and requires maintenance.
Only another mile and I’m at the road crossing an hour early. I give Christy a call and determine what time she should arrive. Luckily there is a bench located on the trail just above the road where I can hang out until she arrives. Froot Loop, Rook, and Phoenix all pass by me as I’m waiting. I didn’t realize they were behind me and I wonder where they spent the night. I might catch them when I return to the trail but it would probably take a couple weeks. This makes me wonder about the people who will catch up to me when I return. Some of them I will recognize as people I have recently passed, others will be new faces. It will be interesting to see who catches up and how the composition of the groups of hikers behind me has changed.
It will also be interesting to take several days off of the trail and then return to it. While I’ve had several 0 days so far I haven’t had any where I was completely removed from the trail. I expect I will be inundated with the day-to-day things like TV, fast food, appointments, traffic, etc. I wonder if I will slip effortlessly back into that world or whether I will be put off by it. I also wonder whether the same will hold true when I return to the trail in a few days – whether I will be able to effortlessly slip back into the daily routine of breaking camp, hiking 20+ miles, and setting up camp or whether it will require some readjustment. Most of the hikers I have talked to who took time off from the trail find that after a couple days they miss it and are happy when they return. Unfortunately I don’t think I picked their brains enough about what it was like when they left the trail, what they liked or didn’t like about being at home, and how they got their minds back into hiking when they returned. I’ll just have to figure it out for myself.
Just after 12 Christy arrives and picks me up. We stop by a McDonald’s to feed me and then hit the road. We aren’t fast enough though and end up sitting in DC traffic on the way home. The trip takes long enough that we have to stop at a Taco Bell to feed me again. When we get home Christy makes me breakfast for dinner – eggs, pancakes, and bacon – while I get cleaned up and watch the Psych season finale (it has a reference to Virginia Tech!). I don’t find it odd to be home which is probably a good thing, and in fact find myself easily slipping into old habits like where I sit on the sofa. The house is very clean and organized and I wonder if that is because Christy cleaned in preparation for me coming home or if it is because I’m not around to make a mess. Tomorrow I have a long list of things that need to get done on my one entire day off from the Appalachian Trail.