Appalachian Trail 2021, Journal Entry 15, Solo

Start: May 7, Mile 633.6
End: May 9, Mile 698.1


I'm lying half awake in my quilt at 6am when the first drops of rain begin to patter against my tent. I wake up with an adrenaline start, rushing to pack up before the tent gets too wet. I hike down into town in a light drizzle, and am still mostly dry when I get to Food Lion for a morning resupply. My new favorite trail food is Spam, in all its fatty salty goodness, but they are sold out of the Spam singles, other hikers in on the secret, so I give in and buy the whole metal tin, preferring the extra weight to forgoing it again for the next stretch.

I walk to the Angel's Rest Hostel, where one of the workers informs me that "this is a registered campsite so you'll need a 'hang pass' if you want to be here". I walk back to the office to pay the $3.50 for the pass. Having paid, I realize that I now don't really want to hang out but also feel obligated to. I call the mobile outfitter who tells me he does do Darn Tough sock replacements but is on a shuttle run and won't be back for two hours. This at least gives me a reason for staying, and after poking my head into the common room with other hikers hanging out in front of the TV, I decide I prefer it outside on the porch. I find a half full box of new Ziplocs in the hiker box and perform one of my favorite tasks, replacing all of my old food and toiletry baggies with fresh new ones.

When the mobile outfitter arrives, driving a red pickup truck that pulls a trailer filled with boxes of gear, I replace the clean pair of my socks. The mobile outfitter declines to take my not-yet-washed pair, even though they weren't that dirty and I offered to put them in a Ziploc. As I'm swapping the clean pair I see Time Snake walk up to the hostel to collect his mail drop. He tells me that he was behind me for the last day, having been sucked in by some awesome trail magic at Trent's Grocery, camped near the road where I walked right past when I bought snacks.

Time Snake has gotten a room at the Plaza Motel, and I walk over with him and eat some of the fried chicken he bought from Food Lion. "My room is your room," he tells me, so I take a shower and top off the charge on my electronics while I wait for the rain to stop. Time Snake tells me that he kicked a rock hard coming down the mountain and that his foot is still hurting. I sympathize, having kicked my share of rocks and roots this trip, though it seems like Time Snake may have had a little more momentum on his kick.

Like usual, I plan to camp for free outside of town rather than stay. I put my pack on, about to head out, only to see that the rain has just restarted. I take the pack back off and stay another 20 minutes, and when I put the pack on again the blue sky has just started to peek out behind the clouds. I tell Time Snake that I'm sure he'll pass me soon, and head out down the highway back to the trail.

As I hike, the only other hikers I see are southbound slack packers, headed back to the hostel for another night in town. The one exception is Guido, who is taking a nap in his sleeping bag in the shelter. I ask him if he's feeling okay, and he says, "Yeah, I just felt like a nap," though I still can't help but wonder about noro or other ailments.

It's strange to be so alone on the Appalachian Trail after so many days packed with hikers. I know that the weather and town create mini bubbles of hikers and gaps between them, but I also wonder if I am finally starting to pass through the big bubble of mid-March starts.

~~~

In the morning Time Snake texts me that he has a vaccine appointment scheduled and decided to zero. "See you in CT, lol," he texts. I hope that his foot is okay, and know that this means at least a few days without knowing anyone around, it taking a while to catch up from a day and a half back even when you're going quick.

In the late afternoon I see Dangeroso, who is attempting to complete a calendar year Triple Crown, hiking all of the AT, PCT and CDT in 2021. Only eleven people have ever performed such a feat, and Dangeroso is trying to hike 40 mile days on the AT to give himself enough time. He looks exhausted when I see him, still planning to hike 17 more miles at 6pm, taking him well into the night. Like most hikers, I view anyone hiking faster than me as mildly crazy, a near universal view no matter how fast or slow hikers are going themselves -- one's own pace is the only tangible reference point and hiking for weeks on end is a challenging enough endeavor at any speed.

I camp just before sunset, where Steel Buns, Emma and Rhino are enjoying a campfire with a few locals out for the night. Steel Buns spots a series of fast satellites all moving in a line. None of us have ever seen anything like it but Rhino tells us that they're SpaceX's Star Link satellites that were just launched into orbit. It's strange to see a new celestial phenomenon in the sky, and Steel Buns voices a hope that the sky will not someday be filled with strange bursts like this, the peaceful night sky only a memory.

~~~

I have cell service when I wake up on Mother's Day, but it's only 4am local time for her so I decide to wait. I walk through pastures and see the Keffer Oak, a beautifully massive tree estimated to be more than 300 years old, standing alone in a field of cows that are uninterested in me or the tree.

When I get service later in the day I call my mother, and then feel guilty when a pair of southbound section hikers walk by, asking about the water at the next shelter. I answer the southbounders, but still feel hypocritical for getting caught doing one of the things that annoys me most in other hikers.

I take a break to talk to Turtle, who stopped early to camp at the road, one mile short of the shelter. "Everyone passed me today, but after doing 20s all week, I decided that it was okay to stop after 15 today," he says. "I think I was just feeling burnt out. I also had to carry her," he nods to the medium-sized dog, "four miles today." It starts drizzling as I'm standing talking to Turtle, and I tell him I think I'll try to push on to the shelter. "Well, you better get moving then," he says, "don't go getting soaked on my account."

I make it to the side trail to the shelter, 0.3 miles away. I stand there at the literal crossroads, indecisive. I can go down to the shelter or hike another 0.2 for what the guide calls "the most awesome campsite", the decision likely determining the hikers I meet and my quality of sleep. I decide to go to the campsite, lured by the name and wary of a large crowd at the shelter, Turtle having said that all of the dozen hikers who passed him were going there. When I get to the tent site there are two tents already setup, but plenty of room for a third. I setup in the drizzle and realize that it's only 7:30 -- having rushed to try to beat the rain, I have an early night. With no cell service and the other hikers in their tents, this gives me something of a break, an excuse to settle in and relax before it's time for sleep, a rare occurrence.

I eat a big dinner, something else I don't usually do, and then feel sick to my stomach as soon as I do. I lie down and let the next half hour pass in a kind of haze until I feel well enough to brush my teeth.

Like Turtle, I've been experiencing the long term wear that comes from putting in larger miles day after day. It can be difficult to separate fatigue from burn out, physical weariness from mental, and to know what I can push through and what I shouldn't. The obvious course of action would be to rest, but after my last half-day off on my birthday, a little fatigue doesn't seem so bad, and there's a certain satisfaction that comes from playing the long game of mental and physical conservation of energy, an endurance activity that rewards control and discretion more than drive. On my last hike I picked the half-way point to change up my hike -- I still don't know what this hike has in store, but I know that things can change, slowly or all at once.

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