14.1 miles, 1601.7 overall (Congdon shelter)
The plan is to get out of the house by 8 but Jeremy and Jeanette agree that if we aim for 8 we probably won’t get out until at least 8:15. That’s ok with me since I have a short day planned. I don’t want to overdo it coming off of two zeroes. I figure a 15 mile day is about right to get back into the swing of things, especially when I’m not starting at 6am. I get up around 7 and finish packing my last-minute items. I finish some quick writing and upload pictures to the blog. I’m ready to go just after 8 but we don’t get out of the house until around 8:30. On the way out I realize I forgot my trekking poles. While Jeanette fills the car with gas Jeremy runs back to the house to get them. Yes, he literally ran. Luckily for him Jeanette is confused by the gas pump which doesn’t clearly state which pump is regular gas versus super ultra premium and, in addition, the tank is almost empty. These two things allow Jeremy to almost make it back with my poles before the car is gassed up.
On the drive back to the trail we pick up some breakfast and I pick Jeanette’s brain a bit more about the names of new tree species that I don’t recognize. I doubt it will help, but I like to think something will stick. I wonder out loud who I will run into now that everyone I was hiking with is likely two to three days ahead.
When we arrive at the trailhead I immediately see hikers. One I don’t recognize is walking down the street while another is crossing who I do recognize – its Gumpy! I haven’t seen him and Peeper since Daleville, VA. As I get out of the car I say hi to him. I don’t think he recognizes me right away but he starts filling me in on who else is nearby. We don’t chat too long since I am sure to catch up to him in a few minutes.
Jeanette and Jeremy are fascinated with the trail. It is hard for them to believe that the trail simply crosses the road right here. I point out the blazes that mark the trail, hidden in plain sight. Jeremy has already shared how much it blows his mind that I essentially walked from GA to their house in MA. Although it is a little embarrassing because I don’t see it quite the same way, I really appreciate his admiration of my progress so far and it reminds me to take some time once in a while to get the right perspective on what I’ve already accomplished. We say our goodbyes and I start hiking while they try to come to grips with the fact that they are essentially leaving me on the side of the road. I get a kick out of seeing the whole thing from their point of view and it entertains my thoughts for the next hour or so. It won’t be the last time today I get to see my hike from a fresh perspective today.
The trail immediately climbs for about 2 miles. It isn’t a particularly steep climb and it isn’t incredibly hot out but I get soaked with sweat. I decide the culprit must be caffeine since I’ve already had a coffee and a large soda today. My breathing is a bit faster than normal, lending support to my hypothesis. Besides the intense sweat though I make it up ok, passing Gumpy on the way.
After a level ridge walk for a while a hiker catches up who recognizes me but doesn’t remember my name. I reintroduce myself and he realizes we met at the Stan Murray property in NJ. It’s Frenchy, a hiker I never really got a chance to talk to. I speed up to keep up with him and we talk for a few minutes until we reach a group of people. It’s Gumpy’s group and they are all slack packing today. They’ve stopped because they have reached the Vermont border which is also the beginning of The Long Trail, a long distance hiking trail that runs the length of Vermont all the way from the MA border to Canada and coincides with the AT for the first 100 miles or so.
Most of the group of slack packers continues on but one stays behind who looks incredibly familiar. I keep having trouble recognizing people partly because I haven’t seen them in so long, partly because their beards have grown, and sometimes because they’ve cut their hair. This time it is the beard growth and length of time since I saw him last. It is Blues Clues, and we both have trouble remembering where we last saw each other. He, Frenchy, and I get pictures with the sign that designates the state border crossing, then take a picture for a couple who are beginning the Long Trail before heading on. We hike together for a while until I spot Bandaid and Laces ahead and stop to say hi. It seems they didn’t get far while I was off the trail. They zeroed on the fourth, then slack packed for a few days. They are just now getting out of Dalton for good.
I hike alone for a bit until I reach the next shelter and find the entire slack packing group. Peeper and All Smiles are there this time so I get to say hi to them again. I also meet Hawk and Wiffleball for the first time. After a few minutes of getting caught up we push on but I essentially hike by myself the rest of the day. I forgot to put my earbuds in my pocket so I hike in silence but it is nice since I have some new stuff to think about after several days off trail. It is wonderful how a couple zeroes not only refresh the body but also refresh the mind! As I hike I pass several groups of hikers who appear to be starting the Long Trail. It reminds me of starting the AT in Georgia and I wonder if they have the same apprehensive excitement we had. I assume they will all end up at the shelter I’m heading toward which makes me glad that I’m faster than they are and that I plan to tent.
Just before I reach the shelter I pass a couple of streams and ponds with beaver activity. The first stream appears to have a new beaver around since there are several newly fallen trees that aren’t yet formed into a dam as well as one tree right next to the trail that he is in the process of gnawing through. Not even a mile later I pass a true beaver pond with a huge dam that has raised the level of the pond above the level of the trail by a few feet. We walk across planks just below the dam and I marvel at the product of these little ecosystem engineers! I pass by the beaver lodge and wonder if the beaver is enjoying the fruits of his labor or if he is outside somewhere still hard at work.
At the shelter I run into the slack packing group taking another break. I also see Sunroof and Yellowtail who are eating before moving on. Some campers are already set up in tents on one side of the shelter. I have to backtrack a bit in order to find a good tent spot. I set up the tent and then head to the shelter where nobody has claimed a space yet. I start working on first dinner to lighten my pack. By the time I’m done with both first and second dinners it is 7:30 and Bandaid and Laces have arrived along with lots of Long Trail hikers. The only social one is a woman named Mary from DC (originally Vermont though) who eats with us at the shelter.
I’m in my tent preparing for bed early, just how I like it. Although the group that was camped next to the shelter was a bit noisy during dinner they quiet down by 9. I am able to get to sleep at a reasonable hour, hopefully allowing me to wake up and get an early start tomorrow on the Appalachian Trail.