Day mileage: 15.1
AT total mileage: 417.3
Time: 5.5 hours
Rest assured, I have the McDonald's I wanted. but we'll get to that.
Last night was the coldest night on the trail in quite a while. I woke up a few times to reposition myself within my sleeping bag, often creeping my legs up as tight as possible to keep body heat centralized. I was sleeping in my North Face fleece jacket, a shirt, shorts, and long wool sox. I woke up around 6:30, tossed and turned for half an hour, and got up to have breakfast, ultimately stepping foot on the trail just after 8. A gradual and somewhat chilly climb out of camp kept me with my jacket on, taking half an hour or so to work up enough heat to take it off. The first shelter I'd come across would be 11 miles into my day after many ups and downs each ranging in a few hundred feet of elevation change. I decided to go without any music from my iPod today, and found myself singing along in my head to a variety of songs. It never ceases to amaze me what the brain comes up with when there's nothing else for it to do but wander aimlessly. Sometimes I find myself thinking about the most random of things, only to have those thoughts disappear and be replaced with something more practical, only to forget what I'd been thinking in the first place. In the grand scheme of things, a relatively inconsequential problem to have, I suppose.
The woods today varied from rocky terrain to pine tree forests, more waterfalls and newly green vegetation, dry leaves and thick mud, and miles of rhododendron tunnels. I walked relatively quickly, arriving at the Moreland Gap Shelter just before noon. It's by no means the nicest shelter I've been to, but I had cell service to post yesterday's blog and it was nice enough to stop and eat lunch. Today was interesting in that I actually dug my stove out to cook a portion of lunch. Knowing that I'd be visiting a grocery store tonight, I'd done quite the number on my food reserves over the past few days, to both enjoy a little more snacking and also to cut down on weight. After finishing two granola bars and a Pop-Tart, I also boiled up some water and had Ramen noodles. This took more time than I'd normally allot to eating, but life is short and I was surprisingly hungry. I drank a liter of water and hit the trail about 45 minutes after arriving, climbing out of the gap the shelter was nestled into, and looking forward to the 7 remaining miles to the place I'd spend the night. Terrain wise, there were a few good climbs and then a long 3.5 mile downhill to a gap where the hostel I'm staying at is located. Despite wanting to get the mileage done quickly, I held myself back to avoid rushing the descent and potentially hurting my ankles or knees. Upon reaching Dennis Cove Road, the lowest point of today's descent, I was greeted with trail magic! A red SUV was parked alongside the trail with coolers offering cold water, apples, Twizzlers, Easter Peeps candy, and oranges. Come to find out, the provider of said magic was the dad of Tigger, a girl I've seen over the past few nights at different shelters. He encouraged me to dig into the food, and then told me he'd be happy to drive me the 1/2 mile to the hostel along with some other hikers. I thanked him profusely, and hopped into the car after devouring a delicious red apple, a bottle of water, and a handful of Twizzlers (the latter of which took a lot of restraint... I absolutely love Twizzlers).
I'm spending the night at Kincora Hostel, a big, two story log cabin style building attached to the home of one Mr. Bob Peoples. This guy is one of a kind... In his early 70s, born and raised in Medford, MA (10 miles from where I live), we immediately connected. He's an exceptionally well educated man, with a bachelors from UMass Amherst (from before any other UMass schools existed), a Masters, and almost his Doctorate, during which he discontinued his dissertation on the Mayan Empire. He was a short order cook in Boston's North Station as a teen, and got drafted into Vietnam straight out of college. He graduated from Medford High with 'Mikey Bloomberg'. He spends most of his year doing necessary repairs and maintenance to the Appalachian Trail locally. He has many photos of decades of repair work being done and knows the trail by heart. A storied man, we had many common ties to Williamstown, MA, where his sister currently resides (my grandmother & great aunt have both lived there)... The connections go on and on, we spoke for almost an hour like old friends.
After picking a bunk on the second floor of the building, I took a hot shower and put my laundry into the washing machine. We piled an incredible 18 people into the cab & covered bed of his Chevy 3500 truck, and headed down a twisty mountain road to the only grocery store for miles. A quick $20 resupply got me enough food to get to Damascus, as well as some Gatorade and pizza to eat tonight. Since there were a lot of hikers in the caravan to town, we weren't able to go the mile out of the way to McDonald's. Bob told me the Bostonian in me would be frustrated as hell with how slow the service was there, and it'd take an hour to get 18 hikers served. We'll come back to this. Anyways, Bob provides an open kitchen, stovetop, oven, fridge, sink, dishes, etc. for hikers to prepare their own dinners. The oven must have seen a dozen frozen pizzas tonight. I sat around and ate dinner with Whitey, Moe, Soleil, JPEG, Left Foot, Cannon, and a dozen more hikers. The vibe here is phenomenal... I can see why people stay longer than a night. The hostel has a 'suggested donation' of $5 per night, but I'll be leaving much more. The service he offers is worth tenfold what he asks for... It's blatantly apparent when you walk in how much hikers adore this hostel. Covering every wall and ceiling are photos of hikers at the summit of Katahdin, with written notes about how much their stays here meant to them. I hope to be on the wall at some point, and got Whitey to take a photo of me & Bob together that I'll send back here either way. It's not the Marriott and I didn't hike any notable mileage today, but this is one of those places that will be one of many priceless trail memories.
Now, to wrap things up... I mentioned that McDonald's was a mile out of the way, and slow. When we got to the grocery store I overheard a German hiker, Mystic Pony, saying he was walking to McDonald's then hitchhiking back to the hostel. I offered him a $10 bill to get me food, and about two hours after our packed pick-up truck returned to the hostel, he returned smiling and handed me a bag with 3 double cheeseburgers and 3 McChicken sandwiches. See, friends, life is about seeing opportunity- when a guy going out of his way to attain something you'd also like, cash talks. Having already eaten my pizza dinner, these 6 delicious sandwiches will become trail snacks over the next few days. Gross? Maybe. But there's enough preservatives & fake ingredients to keep them edible for at least a week, though they'll never have to worry about going that long without being consumed.
True hiker stories, great company, new friends, full bellies.. backpacking fast food, and loving it.