14.1 miles, 1281.5 overall (Campsite just past Kirkridge shelter)
Morning arrives and I wake up, as normal, before 7. Blasted circadian rhythms. I can hear people starting to move in the shelter. Those are the people planning to push to Delaware Water Gap today. I have decided not to do that. They’re going to do around 20 miles but I’ll only do 14. As a result I can sleep in. I roll over and force myself back to sleep.
It doesn’t last long. I need to pee and I’m hungry. I get out of my tent, empty the bladder, and retrieve my food bag. Then I return to my tent to eat my breakfast. With all of my internal organs satisfied I get back in my sleeping bag and sleep another hour. At 9 I reluctantly decide I should get moving but I still take my time doing it.
Around 10:30 I finally leave camp. I am the absolute last person here. The section hikers and even the people who were camping at the tent sites are gone. It is strange being the last out – I feel like I should have to turn off the lights or something.
I know from Mouse’s trail journal that the next 10 miles or so are still rocky. I don’t look forward to them. I decide since it is a short day and I’m already taking my time that I should listen to some music. I download a few NPR podcasts of All Songs Considered and listen to them as I walk. I find this show hit-or-miss but today I’m lucky and get a few good ones. They somewhat take my mind off of what is probably the most consistently rocky trail yet in Pennsylvania. Each time I think the rocks may relent for a while I turn a corner and there’s another patch of them. It is demoralizing and incredibly tiring, both mentally and physically. The side-to-side stepping that the rocks require and the constant catching yourself when a foot placement doesn’t work the way you expected works the hip flexors and stabilizer muscles. Constantly looking down and figuring out where to place your next step is at the same time boring, monotonous, tedious, frustrating, and exhausting.
I don’t see any thru-hikers today. The ones that stayed at the shelter with me are far ahead and the ones at the shelter behind me started almost 17 miles back so they aren’t likely to catch up, even with my late start. I do run into a ridge runner preparing for a few days out when I cross the road at Wind Gap. His name is Devo and he thru-hiked in 2010. It seems like every ridge runner I talk to is a former thru-hiker. I imagine it is a popular job for successful thru-hikers to apply for and I’m sure thru-hiking reads as a great qualification. He is heading to the same shelter I’m heading to.
As I hike the last several miles I switch from podcasts to music, listening to some new stuff that Mouse recommended. Some of it is really good and I make a note to let her know while also passing along to her some new stuff that I’ve found. I see several deer while hiking and even get a long-desired picture of a chipmunk. Usually the little buggers run away and duck into something before I can get the camera out but today one of them is braver than usual, sitting out and watching me for a little bit before deciding to duck under some rocks. However even after ducking into his hiding place he peaks out periodically in a daring game of peek-a-boo and I’m able to snap a few pictures before he decides to stay inside for good.
When I make it to the shelter I fill up on water but I don’t see any tent sites. There is a campsite with a view only a quarter mile further so I hike the extra 5 minutes to it. When I arrive I wonder if I’ve made the right choice as I see a non-thru-hiker already there. The campsite however is a large clearing with a stunning panorama of the valley below and I figure we can easily coexist with all this space. As I talk to him though I find out he won’t be a problem. His name is Mike and he is actually an interesting guy. He lives nearby and gets out on overnight hikes pretty regularly. He is trying to make a living as a musician and when I ask what he plays I find out he is essentially a John Denver tribute artist. He has a guitar with him and he plays some pretty good picking while I start eating dinner number one.
While I’m eating and we’re talking a group of weekend hikers arrives. These aren’t typical weekend hikers though. In addition to their backpacks they are carrying a stack of cups, coolers, folding chairs, etc. This is what happens when you’re less than a half mile from a road I suppose. I should have learned this lesson in the Shenandoahs. However I hold out hope that these guys won’t be too noisy or rowdy. It is still a big clearing and they set up camp pretty far from my tent. Mike isn’t as hopeful though and he ends up hiking back down to the road where his car is waiting.
I finish up my dinner, hang my bear bag, and commence with bedtime preparations. By 9 I am in my tent ready to sleep. The group is still tame and I am glad I chose to stay. I have the rainfly only halfway on the tent, allowing for a great view into the valley to the east which should make for a perfect view of the sunrise tomorrow when I wake up on the Appalachian Trail.