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Appalachian Trail 2021, Journal Entry 13, This Is Forty

Start: May 2, Mile 527.1 End: May 3, Mile 558.4 I wake up early, and remember how much I enjoy cowboy camping. It feels like I am already ready to go, and even though not having to take down a tent only saves a few minutes, it eliminates that transition from inside to out, and makes getting up feel a lot easier, just a matter of standing up. I make good hiking time all morning, eager to get to the shelter early in the day to have time to hitch into town and back. The terrain is gentle and I make the 17 miles before 1pm. I set up my tent, the Portrait Palace Prototype -- or as Time Snake likes to call it, the Triple P -- anxious to secure a spot before more hikers show up, and as I do I spot three different four-leafed clovers in the grass nearby. Four leaves for four decades, I think to myself, hoping that these will bring me luck. I walk to the road to hitchhike into town for birthday supplies, and see that another hiker is attempting to hitch as well. I have just reached the road whe

Appalachian Trail 2021, Journal Entry 12, Time Snaking Along

Start: April 28, Mile 420.1 End: May 1, Mile 527.1 In the morning I bake Pillsbury cinnamon rolls in the kitchen of Kincora, and when the smell of freshly baking cinnamon bread starts to fill the hostel I hear James stirring upstairs in the bunkroom. We eat the cinnamon rolls and wash them down with soda, trying to use up yesterday's purchases and load up on ever needed calories. Back on trail I pass a pair of weekend car campers with a dog, a chocolate lab. The dog runs eagerly over to greet me, sniffing my crotch and trying to jump on me. The owners call out to the dog but don't make any effort to retrieve him. I try to step around him, but he runs up ahead along the trail, waiting for me to arrive and then running ahead again. "Go that way doggie!" I say, pointing south and tossing rocks in that direction, but I can't seem to get my point across. I consider hiking south to lure the dog back, but like most thru-hikers I am loath to hike backwards, preferring to

Appalachian Trail 2021, Journal Entry 11, Kincora

Start: April 27, Mile 397.7 End: April 27, Mile 420.1 The moon shines brightly on my tent all night, and while I fall asleep quickly, worn out after thirty plus miles of hiking, I wake up again at 1:30am and have trouble falling back asleep in the moonlight. In the morning I hobble out of my tent to capture the pre-dawn glow in the sky, and watch the sun crest the horizon as I'm packing up, Puff and Ranger Kiki just beginning to stir. My left foot feels surprisingly fine after the big day yesterday, although my right achilles feels incredibly tight, too tight to safely stretch. Having shifting ailments seems better than a consistent one so I call this a win and start the day at a comically slow hobble for the first mile or so until my muscles slowly warm up and I can walk more like a normal human again. I pass James a couple miles down the trail and ask him if he's going to the Kincora hostel. "I don't think so. That's what, at least 20 miles from here?" he as

Appalachian Trail 2021, Journal Entry 10, Dandelion Days

Start: April 23, Mile 344.2 End: April 26, Mile 397.7 I'm eating a container of eight cinnamon rolls with a spoon when I see a teenage girl walk up to the hostel. She looks like anything but a hiker, dressed in a crop-topped t-shirt and carefully torn pants, approaching hesitantly like she's looking for someone. I nod to her as I spoon cinnamon roll into my mouth. She shivers and covers up, pulling on a sweatshirt, although when she does I see that this too has been cropped, cut so that her midriff is still bare. She walks around the building and I don't see her again until nightfall. I'm sitting in a chair by the metal fire ring when she walks up again, still wearing her dual crop-tops but with a drink in her hand and looking more comfortable now. She sits next to me and starts talking excitedly. "My dad's section hiking and I'm joining him for a while," she tells me. "He's off at Target looking for trekking poles. I like connecting with the

Appalachian Trail 2021, Journal Entry 9, Winter in Late April

Start: April 21, Mile 285.9 End: April 23, Mile 344.2 I wake up early, hoping to get moving and warm before the storm arrives, and though I don't finish packing up until after sunrise, only one of the 15 hikers in or around the shelter is stirring when I leave. I am bundled up in my insulated pants and jacket covered in my rain gear, ready for the rain, sleet and snow. It takes a few miles for my foot to loosen up, and I walk awkwardly until it does, hobbling quickly down the trail. I see the storm before it hits, dark clouds on an already dark morning. I am hot hiking in all my layers, but the forecast calls for the temperature to drop throughout the day into the 20s. A light rain cools me down, and then the wind picks up and the rain turns to sleet. I take a snack break at the first shelter, where TTT and Austin are huddled out of the wind. Triple T -- Trail to Table -- chats with me, but Austin is quiet. Finally he says, "This weather is taking me to a bad place. All I'

Appalachian Trail 2021, Journal Entry 8, Hot Springs NC

Start: April 18, Mile 239.8 End: April 20, Mile 285.9 In the morning my left foot still hurts and I hike with a noticable limp. It is awkward but not very painful, so I try to take each step gingerly and figure I'll see how it goes. Less than a mile from my magical jungle camp I run into a table with trail magic -- moon pies, mini candy bars and other snacks -- courtesy of a man wearing a magician's hat. I eat a package of mini chocolate donuts, and chat with Cajun, a hiker I leapfrogged with in the Smokies and another hiker I had only met briefly, Smokey Bear. Smokey Bear is middle-aged, with a big white beard, a bit of a pot belly and a huge grin. Cajun is also middle-aged but taller and leaner, with a short grey beard. "They call me Smokey Bear because I smoke a lot of weed and I sorta look like a bear," Smokey Bear says. "A girl came up and gave me this sticker and my name," he says showing a sticker of Smokey the Bear. Cajun doesn't speak much, but

Appalachian Trail 2021, Journal Entry 7, The Smokies Part 2

Start: April 16, Mile 202.8 End: April 17, Mile 239.8 Gatlinburg is a garish, unapologetic tourist town. I remember half-admiring the spectacle last hike, but this time I can't help but notice the God & Country store selling gun- and Trump-themed shirts and nick-knacks, and a man walking down the street in a t-shirt that says, "Just the tip, I promise" with the image of an American flag and a blood tipped rifle bullet. Waiting for a free shuttle back to the trail I meet Syrup, young and freckled with long pigtail braids and a warm, bubbly personality. Syrup started hiking in early March but had to take three weeks off because of knee problems and now devotes an hour in the morning and another hour in the evening to a stretching routine. "I'm always the last one out of camp now, but that's okay. I don't want to try to just push through the pain again -- if I had taken time off when the knees first started to hurt I don't think they would have taken