The one where we suck the marrow

August 18

13.2 miles, 2145.6 overall, 38.6 remaining (Sandy beach, Nahmakanta Lake)
When I was hiking with the Noodleheads and the APE team they often mentioned that they were trying to suck the marrow out of Maine. After hiking big miles all the way up to New England they have recently been satisfied with 12 mile days, preferring to enjoy Maine as much as possible rather than race to the end. Today it is our turn to suck the marrow out of Maine. As I’m packing up this morning Stats talks more about his excitement for a burger. It sounds really good and, although I am still reluctant to hike an extra mile out of the way for a burger, he assures me that we are returned closer to the trail than where we are picked up. I decide to go with him and immediately set about convincing Sunroof and Yellowtail to do the same. They are non-commital. We decide that since the boat dock for White House Landing is 7 miles away (including the 0.9 mile side trail) that we will all meet there by 10 if we want to go. We will assume that anyone who isn’t there has continued hiking.

For those who aren’t familiar with the trail, White House Landing is a hostel/restaurant in the middle of the 100 mile wilderness. To get there hikers take a 0.9 mile side trail along a lake to a boat dock where there is an air horn. By blowing the air horn the hiker lets the proprietors know someone is there who wants to come across. They drive across in a boat, pick up the hiker, and bring them across to the property where they can get a meal and resupply or stay the night.

I leave the campsite first and take my time. It is 7:30 and I have plenty of time to get there with the trail continuing to be easy today. The worst part about the trail today is the bugs as I hike along swampy lakesides. I remind myself that I’ve hiked through worse and I have a flashback to the section in Massachusetts where the mosquitoes were so bad I had to use bug spray – the only time on this trip that I’ve used it. I hike up a small hill and find myself cursing at the trail for going over it rather than around it. When the entire day’s hike is flat it seems to make the uphills seem that much more annoying! When discussing this later with Stats he tells me he thinks of school as an analogy for the AT. As you hike, each state is like a grade level and each grade prepares you for the next grade. For instance as we hiked through Vermont the mountains there were preparing us for the Whites in New Hampshire. At this point we are seniors about to graduate. We have one final exam ahead of us (Katahdin) and it is the last week of school. The small hills we have to climb are so annoying because they are like pop quizzes during the last week of school – completely unnecessary but something we still have to get through to graduate. I like the analogy.

I reach the next shelter and, even though it has only been a few miles, since I’m ahead of everyone else I decide to take a break and sign the register. There are lots of tents at this shelter. I see a dome tent and immediately know that these are section hikers. I can’t think of any thru-hikers who I have seen with a dome tent since Georgia. There’s nobody in the shelter and I sit down for a snack and start flipping through the register. One of the section hikers comes over and strikes up a conversation with me. He’s a friendly guy and I learn that he has hiked all of the trail north of NY and south of VA. I inform him that he has gotten the best parts of the trail done first and has left the worst for last, which I’m sure he already knew. I ask about White House Landing as I’ve heard mixed reviews about it. I’ve heard that the owners aren’t the friendliest, to which he replies that he would call the guy who runs the place “particular.” It is not a ringing endorsement. Still, I figure if I’m friendly enough to him he may return in kind.

Not far from the shelter is a side trail to a lake with a view of Katahdin. The day is clear and when I reach the side trail I get an impressive view. It is still early and the lake is calm underneath a beautiful morning sky. When I turn to the left I see The Mountain and I am close enough now to make out the treeline. I get a quick rush of adrenaline realizing that I am only 40 miles and a couple days away from the base of the mountain that we’ve been trundling toward for almost 5 months.

Not long after I return to the trail Yellowtail and Sunroof catch me. They tell me they left the campsite after Stats so we figure he must be up ahead, having passed me at either the shelter or the side trail. We’re all fast hikers and, motivated by Stats and cheeseburgers being ahead of us, we cover the remaining trail quickly. Even the almost mile long side trail doesn’t seem to take long as we pass the time with some conversation. We arrive at the boat dock and find the air horn with instructions for how to use it, but Stats isn’t here. Either he fell behind somewhere or he’s already across the lake. We decide to wait 15 minutes before blowing the horn, but he never shows up. I give the horn a quick blast and then we wait on the dock. Several minutes later the boat comes shooting across the lake. We load up and not 5 minutes later we’re sitting at picnic tables on the other side of the lake.

The descriptions of the owner weren’t far off. Although he doesn’t come across as mean, he certainly isn’t friendly either. The best word I can come up with for him is efficient. He loads us in the boat quickly, informing us where to put our packs and where to sit. When we arrive he ties up the boat and is already off the dock as we’re stepping onto it. He shows us where we can sit and tells us it will be about 30 minutes before lunch is ready and then walks off. We’re left wondering whether we will be eating on the picnic table or inside, whether we’ll be able to do resupply as well, and most of all whether Stats has made it here.

While we wait we inevitably talk about food. I’m really happy when the conversation turns to donuts and Sunroof pulls up Brian Regan’s donut lady bit on his phone. We admire the view across the lake and are somewhat sad we aren’t staying here for the night. Pretty soon Sunroof thinks he hears the airhorn across the lake and, when the owner takes the boat across a few minutes later, we learn that Stats has arrived. It turns out Yellowtail and Sunroof passed him when he stopped at the shelter.

Lunch is served not long after he arrives. We’re told to put on camp shoes to come in and are directed to a large dining room with a kitchen/bar at one end where there are menus. A resupply cabinet tempts us on one side of the room while we order our lunch. We all opt for deluxe 1 pound cheeseburgers. They are cooked while we wait and pretty soon we have some juicy, incredibly delicious hunks of meat sitting in front of us. None of us have trouble packing away the entire burger and afterward I opt for a whoopie pie (a Maine specialty). Stats and Sunroof have both already eaten one while they were waiting for their burger and that turns out to be the better order of eating as by the end the infusion of sugar starts to make me feel uncomfortable.

White House Landing is a little bit controversial among hikers. On the plus side, since it is a hostel in the middle of the 100 mile wilderness it has an allure to people hiking through this section simply because of the availability of a bed and good food. The boat pickup is also pretty nifty and adds to the charm of the place. However a place in the middle of nowhere has pricing power and they use it. A can of soda runs $1.50 and the burgers cost $12. If you don’t stay the night they charge $2 for boat fuel. On top of that, if you pay with a credit card they charge an extra $7.50 to run it. They explain that this covers the fees they incur for the service but I’m incredibly skeptical it really costs them that much. The other negative of the place is the hospitality. While we were there we didn’t have any horrible experiences, but while we are paying the owners mention how busy it has been this year and that they’re ready for hiker season to be over already. This isn’t something to say to hikers, especially when the season has barely started and more hikers means more profit for you. We like to go places where we are wanted and where the owners enjoy what they are doing. Telling us that our patronage of your business is a burden is neither a “hiker-friendly” thing to do nor a good business strategy. By the time I leave I can understand why the place gets a bad reputation. Still, the owners mention they are trying to sell it and I hope that somebody is able to buy who will be able to repair that reputation.

We do get dropped off closer to the trail than where we were picked up. We all muse that walkie-talkies would work better and would allow hikers to signal from this closer dock rather than having to walk the 0.9 miles to blow the air horn. The cynic in me decides that the owner kept it this way to save on gas since the drop-off point closer to the trail is also a longer trip by boat.

Once we start hiking we quickly separate. Yellowtail and Sunroof hike the fastest and get out ahead while Stats falls behind me. I take my time, letting the sugar rush from the whoopie pie wear off and wondering why I didn’t learn my lesson from the cake on top of Mt Washington. This morning I had hoped to do some more big miles after lunch in order to make the next 2 days shorter, but it is becoming clear that I won’t be doing that today. The others are all talking about a lakeside campsite about 8 miles up and it is sounding really great to me now.

The trail winds along more lakes and continues to be flat. It will stay this way almost all the way to Katahdin. The map is littered with lakes that we will wind through and it promises to be quite scenic. I go up and over one last bump in the trail and then arrive at the sign for a “sand beach”. The beach isn’t quite sandy, it is more of a gravel, but it is actually preferable for me since the gravelly stuff is less likely to stick to my feet. The beach is long and I have to walk down a couple hundred feet to find Yellowtail and Sunroof in a clearing in the trees just yards from the lake. There is plenty of room for all four of us and I stake out an area for my tent. Stats arrives and since it is only 4:30 we all go swimming in the lake. Unlike Virginia where lakes are usually dark green with algae and it is impossible to see very far into the water, lakes in New England tend to be clear enough to see the bottom several feet down. It is much more refreshing and after taking a dip I actually feel a bit cleaner.

The night turns out to be perfect. The weather is cool but not cold and we find enough wood to make ourselves a campfire in the makeshift firepit that has been created at the edge of the woods. Dinners are cooked and Stats fries up some falafel that he has been carrying but doesn’t have the appetite for so that we can all share it. As the sun goes down we listen to the loons making their haunting calls on the lake. We stay up a little later than usual learning a dice game that Sunroof’s family plays. This morning Stats mentioned that although he is ready to be done and return home to his family, when he looked across the quiet campsite last night and saw our headlamps on in our tents it was the first time he had sensed that he would miss being out here. Tonight playing dice around the campfire with good friends I get the same feeling. It is the perfect ending to a pretty perfect day on the Appalachian Trail.20120915-101928.jpg20120915-101953.jpg20120915-102007.jpg

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Categories: ME | 4 Comments

The last marathon

August 17

26.8 miles, 2132.4 overall, 51.8 remaining (Antlers campsite)
I am quick to rise in the morning and by 6:15 I’m leaving the shelter before anyone else is up. I need to get an early start in order to make some big miles today. I have a few 3000 foot peaks to get over (the last that are this tall until Katahdin) before I descend to some incredibly flat terrain for the next 45 miles. Although the rocks are wet and it is cloudy it is not raining. I am hopeful that the clouds clear up a bit in the next couple hours while I hike because from the last mountain, White Cap Mountain, I should have a view of Katahdin.

The peaks this morning are not terribly difficult. I climb Gulf Hagas Mountain quickly and am surprised when I find I’ve already gone 2 miles. West Peak and Hay Mountain pass by quickly and pretty soon I’m on my way up White Cap. As I climb I take a look at my compass to see which way is northeast, the direction I estimate Katahdin should be. As I get near the top the trees part and through a gap in the clouds I get a great view of The Mountain. Even from many miles away it looks ominous, a behemoth standing out in the middle of nowhere. I can’t wait to climb it.

On the way down I get another view, but this time there are clouds around the summit such that if I hadn’t already seen it I wouldn’t be sure if I was looking at the right mountain. I continue down the mountain to the shelter only another half mile further. I stop to fill up on water, having not bothered filling up all the way this morning before I left. I also grab a snack and check the register. Progress and Joiner stopped here last night and Progress left a note for me to let me know that after they left yesterday she was able to “decide to be happy.” There’s also an entry from Stats who is having a hard time. He got to this shelter and felt sick, so he took a zero day yesterday to try to feel better. He has lost his appetite and feels nauseous. I hope he is feeling better and I take it as a good sign that he isn’t here now.

When I get moving again the trail begins to get easier. As I continue to descend it gradually becomes flatter and starts following old woods roads for periods of time. This makes for some faster hiking and I’m able to pick up the pace to my old standard 3 mph. The next shelter is only 4 miles away and I get there before noon. It is a nice looking shelter and the area in front has some benches made out of old logs. The benches are in the sun and I take advantage of this by pulling out my tent and spreading it out to dry while I eat some lunch. By the time I’ve finished eating and resting about 30 minutes later the tent is mostly dry. It wasn’t absolutely necessary to dry it but the fact that I was able to get it dry is a big psychological boost and I pack it up motivated to crunch some more miles.

For the next several miles I am on cruise control. There are a few short uphills but nothing too serious. I keep remembering that the ridge runner the other day mentioned Little Boardman Mountain as the place where the trail becomes really easy so as I hike I am anxious to get there. She turns out to be right. After climbing the mountain (more accurately described as a hill) the trail flattens out and becomes a series of old woods roads, bog bridges, and flat trail. Even the roots seem to diminish as the ground becomes less rocky and the forest shifts to a more deciduous mix.

I’m trying out listening to some “tiny desk concerts” podcasts from All Songs Considered when up ahead I see Stats. It takes me a while to catch him because he is hiking almost as fast as I am. When I do catch him we talk for a minute about how he’s feeling. He’s still feeling bad but has started a course of antibiotics that he had with him to try to fix whatever it is that’s bothering him. His appetite hasn’t quite returned but he is able to keep some food down. He tells me he is ready to push through it no matter what so he can get home to his wife and 2 kids. It seems like he could be on the upswing and I hike ahead happy that he is still moving.

We both stop at the next shelter to grab water and evaluate our options for the night. I still want to go another 8 miles to the Antlers Campsite that I’ve heard so much about. It is only 3:30 and the trail appears to be more of the same so it is definitely within reach. When I leave Stats is still considering it but it sounds like he is leaning toward coming along. The extra miles would put him only a short distance from White House Landing where hikers can go to get a cheeseburger for lunch and, for some reason, a cheeseburger sounds really appealing to Stats right now.

The last miles go quickly for me and I arrive at the campsite just after 6. There are 4 other hikers already there, all section hikers. I talk to them briefly and learn that 3 of them flew in on a seaplane. Now that must be the way to backpack! Forget having to hike in to a location, just take a plane! I look for a spot for my tent on the western side of the peninsula on which the campsite sits, thinking that camping on that side would give me a great view of the sunset. However there aren’t any good spots there and I figure I can simply cook my dinner and carry it to a good spot to eat. I set up my tent in the middle of the campsite and start dinner.

As my dinner is cooking Stats walks in. He isn’t incredibly hungry now but he is excited about the burger at White House Landing tomorrow. Once my food is cooked he joins me to watch the sunset which turns out to be pretty underwhelming in terms of colors in the sky but the peacefulness of the lake makes it worth it. I clean my pot, we hang our food (more for the sneaky squirrels at this point than the bears), and head to bed. As I’m just getting settled in my tent I hear 2 hikers arrive and discuss where they should tent. As they walk by my tent one says, “Is that you Nitrous?” Its Sunroof and Yellowtail! Turns out they were the next to leave the shelter this morning about an hour after I did and they have hiked the same distance to get here for the night. I’m glad they made it and I direct them to a spot that might be good for them to set up as the last light of the day disappears on the Appalachian Trail.

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The greatest decision

August 16

0 miles, 2105.6 overall, 78.6 remaining (Carl A Newhall Lean-to)
I wake up before 6:00 and immediately start packing. The thunderstorms moved in last night as I was going to sleep and I’m hoping that the rain has passed. I feel the urge to move on. It is a hard thing to fight. I’ve gotten so used to getting up and packing my things that it would feel strange not to. Still, I have a decision to make and I don’t feel like I have enough data. From inside the tent I can hear rain drops falling but they could be simply falling off the trees. Luckily I need to pee so I get out of my tent. As I do I realize it is still incredibly cloudy and that it is still drizzling. Once I do my business I get back into my tent and, resolved that today will be my zero day, eat a small breakfast and go back to sleep.

I don’t wake up again until 8:00. I get out of my tent and saunter over to the shelter. The APE team and Philly have left, as well as April Showers and her husband. However one hiker arrived late last night after I was in my tent and he is still here. His name is Bahalla Na and he is also going to take a zero. Together we sit in the shelter killing time.

I start by doing some reading. Someone has left A Feast For Ravens, the fourth book in the Game of Thrones series, and I read the first several pages of it before I get tired of it. It is one of those fantasy books with tons of characters. There is even an appendix in the book that attempts to organize the characters and how they are all related. I always have trouble keeping the characters straight in these types of books and I’m already getting lost only 15 pages in. It makes me sleepy and the day is cold so I take my sleeping bag and pad from my tent and lay out on the shelter floor for a nap.

Around 10:30 I get up from my nap and start to listen to my audiobooks instead. One hiker arrives while I’m listening. He is going southbound and has stopped for some early lunch and to wait for his buddy. A little while later Progress and Joiner arrive. They left Monson after I did and have now caught me again. They are soaked from the rain and seeing them makes me incredibly happy that I didn’t decide to hike. They stop for lunch but, being wet already, are dedicated to hiking on in order to make the day worth it. I wish them luck and, when Progress mentions the bad mood she is in, I quote Say Anything to them: “How hard is it to just decide to be in a good mood and then be in a good mood?”

Some time later Yellowtail and Sunroof roll into the shelter. I expect the same sequence of events: stop, eat, move on. For a little while I’m right. They both want to move on to make it worth getting wet. However they make a rookie mistake that Progress and Joiner did not make: they remove their wet shoes and socks. This is fatal to their plans since it is so unappealing to put wet socks and shoes back on your feet. Pretty soon they are settling into the shelter and planning to stay the night.

The hard part about an on-trail zero, and the part I didn’t properly anticipate, is how hungry you can get. It is hard to watch other hikers come through the shelter and eat in front of me without wanting to eat with them. I have enough food for a day of hiking, but sitting in the shelter I have nothing to do but think about how hungry I am and look longingly at my food bag. Luckily Sunroof and Yellowtail have some extra food that they want to get rid of. Sunroof gives me some gorp he has been carrying for a while and doesn’t like, and Yellowtail gives me an extra oatmeal packet. Between the two I am able to get by until dinnertime without suffering too badly.

We pass the rest of the day in the shelter. For some of the time we work on crossword puzzles that Sunroof and Yellowtail have brought along. The rest of the time is spent talking. Most of our talk can be lumped into two categories: reminiscing about our hikes, or food. Food is always a hot topic of conversation on the trail but as the ends of our hikes draw nearer we have become much more likely to talk about cool things that happened to us, people we have met, favorite places on the trail, etc.

It is a cool night and the shelter is full. A few more section hikers showed up followed by Caveman, his friend Willie, and his dog Captain showed up last and have to tent because there isn’t any more space. I cook dinner in the shelter with the others before I head to my tent to sleep. I have 3 days of food left with which to get out of the 100 mile wilderness and I still have about 65 miles left to go. I plan to do a long day tomorrow over what looks to be mild terrain in order to catch up a bit and make the last few days easier on the Appalachian Trail.

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My finishing fatigue

August 15

20.8 miles, 2105.6 overall, 78.6 remaining (Carl A Newhall Lean-to)
When I wake up I can hear the APE team packing up. I think I can perhaps leave around the time they do today but I’m mistaken. By the time I’ve packed up everything in my tent and climb out, they are gone. Philly Steve is still here though and we wind up leaving within a minute of each other, him in the lead. He sets a fast pace though up the first climb and is pretty quickly out of sight.

I immediately notice I don’t feel as strong as yesterday. It is really starting to get annoying that I can’t power through the trail like I used to. I did mention this to the other nobo’s at breakfast at Shaw’s yesterday and the others admitted to having similar problems lately where their legs just feel heavy. We suppose it is simply the cumulative effect of hiking 2000+ miles. I think some of it may also be mental. I have a hard time seeing things through to the end. Some people get a lot of satisfaction out of crossing things off of lists. I’m not that kind of person. I’m much more interested in learning what I can from something and then moving on. Perhaps that is partly why I have no desire to move on to the PCT or the CDT. While I’m sure they are beautiful trails and they could be a lot of fun, I’ve done long-distance hiking now. I know what it is about and I’m ready for a new experience. That makes the last few miles of the trail difficult as in my head I’m ready for something new but my body has to keep grinding away until the end.

The first climb brings me to the Barren Ledges. I see a sign for the Barren Slide but the side trail looks steep so I decide not to find out what it is. I suppose it is a rock slide, but part of me hopes it was some sort of giant wilderness ride. The next climb is to Barren Mountain where at the top there is a large tower with a ladder. It looks a bit old and rickety but it seems to offer a great view and I figure if it weren’t safe there would either be signs or it would have been torn down, so I climb the ladder. From the top I get what I think is my first view of Katahdin. It is hard to tell because we are still miles away and I don’t have a topo map to compare against, but it is generally northeast of me and appears to be a large mountain all by itself, as I have heard it described. I’m disappointed that I have no way to tell for sure if this is my first sighting of “the mountain” until I get back to civilization.

The next few hours take me over a few more peaks with a couple of similar views to what Barren Mountain already provided me. More interesting to me is whether or not it is going to rain. There was a 70% chance last time I checked the weather. The clouds are threatening and several times it starts to sprinkle but the downpour never materializes. I make it to the shelter 11 miles away relatively dry to find the APE team and Philly Steve about to leave after eating their lunches. Apparently they’ve been here a while, which doesn’t surprise me given how much faster they hike than I do lately. They continue on while I settle in for a lunch of fish and cheese tortillas. The shelter is Chairback Gap Lean-To and I recognize t as the last one Rusty Bumper passed last year before breaking his leg. It is a stark reminder of how close I am to finishing and how close we always are to having our hike ended.

The next several miles are mostly downhill but they begin with a steep drop down a rock slide (not the ride kind). It is difficult to find the course of the trail among the pile of rocks but luckily there are some southbound hikers coming up who point the way. I pass the time on the downhill listening to The Sherlock Holmes story Valley of Fear. It isn’t as interesting as many of the others I’ve listened to as it winds through a long and largely irrelevant backstory, but it suffices to keep my mind occupied along the stretch of trail.

At the bottom I reach the day’s ford. On the other side the APE team and Philly are taking a break, which they continue while watching me change shoes and walk across. They might not admit it (actually they probably would) but I’m sure they are hoping for me to provide some entertainment by falling in. Once I reach the other side they get moving again but I fall behind as I need to get more water before I move on. As they leave some dayhikers arrive, another sign of the non-wildernessiness of the 100 mile wilderness. They have done a 10 mile loop around the Gulf Hagas trail which is known for some beautiful waterfalls. Unfortunately I don’t think to take their picture until after they have left.

The last 5 miles to the shelter go by quickly. They are a long, steady uphill made easier by the fact that this section is so heavily traveled by the day hikers heading to the Gulf Hagas loop. Trails that get heavy use always tend to be wider, less rocky, less steep, and well-maintained. When I reach the shelter the others are still setting up their tents. I grab some water and hang out at the shelter where a couple of section hikers are staying for the night. Her name is April Showers and unfortunately I’ve forgotten his. They turn out to be former thru-hikers. April Showers informs me she has section hiked the whole trail once, thru-hiked it once, and is now working on section hiking it a third time. I get to pick their brains about the trail ahead, looking for a good spot to increase my mileage and make up time (I lost another 2 miles today versus where I planned to be) as well as where I should take my on-trail zero. At first they suggest White House Landing for the zero, obviously not understanding my goal. Once I re-explain that I want the zero to be on the trail they suggest the Antlers campsite 27 miles away as a good place to zero. That is where, when I had originally planned my mileage back in Monson, I had wanted to get to tomorrow so it seems like a good option. However the chance of rain tomorrow is 80% and, if I hike in the rain, I’m not likely to go 27 miles with the last 3000 foot mountain in this section.

As I go to bed I decide to let the weather dictate my actions tomorrow. If it looks like the weather will hold off then I’ll leave early and hike as far as I can. If it looks like rain then I will simply zero here to avoid getting soaked, killing two birds with one stone. As I get into my tent I can hear thunder in the distance, and as I go to sleep the rain begins on the Appalachian Trail.

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Categories: ME | 1 Comment

The one with car problems

August 14

15.1 miles, 2084.8 overall, 99.4 remaining (Long Pond Stream Lean-to)
In the morning I am one of the first to wake. I get dressed and pack up as much of my stuff as I can without waking the other hikers. I’m not worried about getting it all packed right now because I am heading to Shaw’s for breakfast before leaving town. I have been hearing about breakfast at Shaw’s for miles now from southbounders. You tell them a number 1, 2, 3, and so on and they bring you that many eggs, sausage, bacon, and either pancakes or French toast, along with some home fries, coffee, and Sunny D. I arrive around 7 and by 7:30 I have ordered a 4. I start with coffee and the server brings me my French toast to start. It is hands down the best French toast I’ve had on the trail, nicely cinnamoned (is that a word?) and a nice spongy/chewy texture. Yummy! Then comes the protein. When she places the eggs, bacon, sausage, and home fries in front of me I think for a minute that I may have made a mistake. I hadn’t thought of the prospect of four eggs. However I take my time and I’m able to work through it all. At the end I am pleasantly satisfied although I learn that, since the place is AYCE, I could have asked for a 2 or 3 and then simply asked for more of the delicious French toast. That would have been a better way to go with a more pleasant ratio of delicious carbs to filling protein.

During breakfast I get to chat some more with Progress and Joiner who have now caught up to me and stayed at Shaw’s last night. They are fun to talk to and we enjoy recounting fun things that have happened along the way and people we have met. Joiner shares with me his theory that people with full beards tend to be likable while people with patchy beards are often the sketchier ones on the trail. Of course I immediately like the theory since I have a full beard, but as I think through some of the hikers I’ve met I think he has a point and I plan to test his theory in the few days I have left.

After breakfast I head back to Lakeshore House to finish packing and catch a shuttle back to the trail. It ends up taking a while to settle my bill, herd the hikers to the car, and get going. We finally get moving around 10:30. We don’t get far. On the way down the street the hiker who is driving notices that the steering is wobbly. We pull over and he gets out to inspect the tires, finding that we have a flat. We find the spare easy enough as it is attached to the back of the car but we don’t see a jack. I call the hostel to inform the owner and she plans to send her husband to help, but as we’re waiting for him one of the hikers has the brilliant idea of checking the owner’s manual and finds the hidden hatch where the jack is stored. I call back to let them know we’re ok and in no time we have the tire changed and are on our way.

Around 11:00 I finally get started hiking. Unfortunately the delay means I probably won’t get the 20 miles in that I wanted to. I hold out hope for a decent mileage though as the terrain isn’t too bad. As I enter the 100 mile wilderness I pass the sign I have seen many pictures of that warns hikers about the length of the section and the need to carry at least 10 days worth of food. I scoff at the suggestion, as most northbounders do. I am carrying 6 days of food – 5 for hiking and 1 for my planned on-trail zero in the wilderness.

The trail does have a lot of small annoying ups and downs but they pass by easily enough. I feel strong today and hope that perhaps my fatigue has at last passed. At the first shelter I reach I find Lazerlegs. He is neroing out of town. Apparently he has someone resupplying him part of the way through the 100 mile wilderness. The funny thing about this stretch is that although it is called the 100 mile wilderness, it actually isn’t that isolated. There are gravel roads that cross it often, side trails to cabins and lodges, railroad tracks, and in some cases even parking lots right on the trail. Hostels nearby have used this to their advantage by offering slackpacking and food drops in this section. I decide to photographically document all of the signs of civilization I come across as I’m hiking through this section so at the end I can make a collage of the “wilderness.”

Just a bit after the shelter I reach Little Wilson Falls, a beautiful waterfall on the side of the trail. Unfortunately the trail doesn’t point out a proper place to view the falls and, already getting a late start, I don’t take the time to look for one. I head down to the bottom where I have to ford the river. I use the opportunity to take a snack break before I make short work of the ford and move on.

The rest of the day passes quickly. I have two more fords listed in the data book before I reach the shelter I’m aiming for but only the first one is actually a ford. I’m able to rockhop across the second, saving some time. I reach the shelter just a bit after 6:00 and, as I’m looking for a place to set up my tent, find the APE team and Philly Steve already hanging out. They left town earlier than I did, got to this shelter around 3:30, and decided to stop. I set up quickly but have to head back down the trail the way I came about a quarter mile to get my water at a stream I passed. I cook dinner and I just finish it as the sun sets and everyone heads to bed. I have to finish and clean up in the dark with the aid of my headlamp, but sunset is coming early now and I’m still in my tent at a reasonable time. As I look at what lies ahead in the data book I hope I can make up some ground tomorrow. I am about 5 miles behind where I wanted to get to today, so tomorrow I’ll need to try to be a bit quicker on the Appalachian Trail.

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