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Appalachian Trail 2021, Journal Entry 5, Campfire Songs

Start: April 11, mile 135.9 End: April 12, mile 152.9 I camp at the shelter less than a mile away from the Nantahala Outdoor Center. There's still time left in the day to reach the NOC, eat some food and stay in a cabin, but I usually prefer staying just shy of town and arriving in the morning. Not only is it cheaper, it also preserves the hiking sleep schedule. Towns, with their access to electric lights and wifi, tend to lead to late nights and late mornings. I set up in the shelter with Crinkles, whom I met two days earlier at the shelter I zeroed in, and around sunset Thirsty Bear joins us, sectioning southbound. Thirsty Bear recently retired at age 40 after living in Chicago for ten years. "Finance?" I guess. "That was quick," he laughs. "Well, Chicago. If you had said San Francisco or Seattle I would have said tech." Outside the shelter I check for service and read on Instagram that Dannielle, having foot pain, has left the trail just north of th

Appalachian Trail, Journal Entry 4, Stop and Go

Start: April 8, mile 76.0 End: April 11, mile 135.9 I get to North Carolina and put away my mask, resolving not to put it back on until I head into a town or see someone else wearing one. If this hike continues it'll be on its own terms, not the ones I started with. I leave the mileage restrictions behind also, although it's now day 8 anyway, past the first week period so critical for avoiding injury. I've left behind almost all of the hikers I've met this year, so no one notices when I greet them unmasked. There's a loss of identity that's hard to articulate, a baptism in the communal guilt for a half million dead, the blood stains faint through the vaccine, but still there. And yet I don't believe I will be able to really connect with other hikers on trail if I remain the lone hold out. "This idealism is not serving our long term interests -- social isolation on this hike will take an unacceptably high toll on our prospects for happiness," the in

Appalachian Trail 2021, journal entry 3, scattered fragments

Start: April 4, mile 18.6 End: April 7, mile 76.0 Having started hiking shortly after sunrise, I make good time and am on Blood Mountain by lunch time. Blood Mountain is still covered in fragrant mountain laurel, and at the summit I meet a new set of lounging hikers. I have already hiked more than 10 miles, the soft daily mileage limit I have given myself for the first week, but I am in the middle of a 5 mile stretch where hikers now need a bear canister to camp. Like most thru-hikers, I am not carrying the extra pounds of a bearcan, so this is essentially a no camping zone, forcing me to go at least as far as Neel Gap. Once I get down Blood Mountain to Neel Gap I find a throng of noisy hikers, dozens of them eating, drinking and talking on the patio, with more shopping inside. The hikers here seem younger than the ones I've seen on the trail so far, or maybe just more uniform in their demographic, and the scene reminds me of a frat party. For me it is near instant sensory overwhel

Appalachian Trail 2021, journal entry 2

Start: April 2, AT mile 1 End: April 3, AT mile 18.6 Outside the wind picks up again during the night, but bundled up inside the van we stay toasty warm, even when my small thermometer on my pack reads 27 degrees. Despite the warmth, I sleep poorly. I spend an hour or so debating about whether I have to pee badly enough to get up, knowing full well that whenever this debate outlasts a minute, the correct answer is yes, yes I do. Eventually I grab the empty Gatorade bottle from my pack, and kneeling in my quilt, pee into the bottle while Smatt sleeps beside me. When I tell him about this adventure in the morning he tells me, "Yeah, I heard that one." We wake up with the sun before 7am, and when I take my thermometer outside, it reads 17 degrees. The wind has died down, thankfully, but it is still frigid. "When I thru-hiked," Smatt says, "all of the hikers grow out of Springer Mountain shelter by 7am." "I bet they're going to sleep in after a night

A New Beginning

Start: Northampton, March 29th End: AT mile 1, April 1st [Editor's note: There is no editor. This is really just my private journal, a description of the days' events and some of my thoughts, uploaded for public consumption. It should really be edited down heavily to make for a more concise and consumable narrative. If anyone wants to volunteer for the job, feel free!] I come up with a plan and then start immediately changing it. My friend Smatt has a job as a ridgerunner in Pennsylvania for the summer, and I need to get to Georgia to start my Appalachian Trail thru-hike. Smatt will drive me down, borrow my van for the summer, and then pick me up in Maine. My van is a converted Ford Transit Connect, and the perfect vehicle for someone without a house to go back to at the end of the day, if I say so myself, so I am excited that Smatt will be able to make good use of it. I want to start on the ten year anniversary of my last AT hike, so we leave Massachusetts on March 29th so tha