Day mileage: 28
AT total mileage: 2,106.8
AT mileage remaining: 78.5
Time: 10 hours
You'll notice I have added a "Mileage Remaining" stat at the top of the post. Having crossed the mark of 100 miles remaining, I'm now counting down the mileage to the finish line at Katahdin.
There were no new holes chewed in my backpack this morning, so I'm going to pretend that my mouse-aversion technique was masterful and worked flawlessly. I packed up my tent and food bag, a task I'm most certainly not used to doing due to the weeks of staying in shelter. The first order of business for my morning was to ford the river I had decided against attempting the night before. The debate in my head was whether or not to put my shoes and sox on for the traverse of the river, or leave them off until I got to the other side. Going with the latter of the two options, it was a bit more difficult to cross due to the slimy rocks at the bottom of the river, and the fact that I literally felt every stone as my feet contorted to give me a steady stance as I pushed through the rushing water with a fair amount of weight on my back. Making it to the other side some 30 seconds later I dropped my bag and dried my feet off with a pair of dirty socks (all I had available in terms of fabric to dry with) and stared at yet another dead moose carcass lying by the river as I tied my shoelaces. This being the second skeleton I've seen in two days, it really makes me wonder why all these moose are dead. Laced up and dried off, I put my pack back on and began the short trek uphill to the shelter I'd aimed for the night before.
I spent mere minutes at the Wilson Creek lean-to, signing the log book to mark my presence and heading on. After 1,000' or so of climbing from the riverbed the trail would drop back down to an elevation of 700', traipsing along before beginning a second ascent to the summit of Barren Mountain. With a summit of 2,600' it was a fair bit of climbing, and I realized upon reaching the peak that there was a long stretch of trail where water would not be accessible. Of course I realized this far too late, and was then pressed with the option of hiking another 7 miles to a water source, or taking a 1/2 mile side trail to a shelter on a lake where water would be available. I'll be honest, I've never before ventured half a mile off the trail for anything so it was a serious debate in my head as to what I was going to do. Having gotten a later start than I'd have liked I really wanted to keep moving forward but the heat of the day and strenuous climb pushed me to hiking the distance on the side trail to the Cloud Pond lean-to for lunch. I cursed the trail most of the way to the shelter, hiking on more narrow log bridges over marshy areas where a lake was overflowing. I eventually reached the shelter, isolated on the edge of the lake and completely vacant of other hikers. Though I had been hiking for 4 and a half hours at this point, I was only 10 miles into my 28 mile day, meaning I shouldn't have spent much time at the shelter before hiking on. That being said, the beauty of the lake and scenery overrode my need to continue hiking, and I took some time to hang out at the shelter in solitude. Gathering water from the lake and filtering it, I actually went so far as to take the time to cook a pasta dish for lunch, and closed my eyes for a quick nap while I was there. Drinking nearly 2.5 liters of water during my stay I filled my water bottle a final time and headed off back to the trail just before 1400hrs. From the Cloud Pond shelter the Trail would cross over the Chairback mountain range, a 6 mile region that would traverse four separate peaks, finally summiting Chairback mountain. Shortly before the final peak I stopped at the Chairback Mountain lean-to for a quick dinner as the time was nearly 1800hrs. Delaying my departure (with 10 miles left in the day), I spent a fair bit of time talking to two lovely women who were section hiking northbound towards Katahdin. It's been a long while since I've had such pleasant conversation with other hikers that weren't in my group, and I truly enjoyed staying around longer than anticipated just to talk with them. Unfortunately, I didn't get either of their names.
It was 1830 by the time I continued hiking, leaving the Chairback lean-to with two hours of daylight and 10 miles of hiking left to do. I made the climb over Chairback Mountain as the sun started sinking, hiking over some rather tricky boulder fields before the trail disappeared back into the forest below. Crossing over a bald rock section, I was reminded of the first time Crusoe and I ever hiked into the sunset hour. Somewhere around mile 166 when entering the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. At the time, all of 3 months ago now, we were up atop a mountain ridge as the sun started going down casting huge shadows onto the forest floor as we hiked along. I'm not sure why this memory was triggered, but it really brought out the realization of how far I've come on this journey. Descending down 1,300 feet to the west branch of the Pleasant River, I was then faced with yet another wide river crossing to complete. Knowing that daylight would be gone soon and that the likelihood of my shoes and socks drying out overnight were low, I took my footwear off and began crossing the river barefoot, again experiencing the discomfort of the rocky riverbed directly under my feet. Getting to the other side of the river and drying my feet off with the same dirty socks as before, I snacked quickly and drank a liter of water before carrying on. With 5 miles left the sun disappeared below the horizon leaving me solely with the light of my headlamp as the world grew dark around me. Luckily, although uphill, the 5 miles were gradual and were easy to maintain a quick pace on. I hiked alongside a series of quick-flowing rivers, serenaded by the rushing water as I hiked along. Talking to myself, thinking about my hike, and listening to music, the time passed by quickly. It was around this time that I realized just how comfortable I am night hiking alone in the woods, no fears, nothing other than a more attentive stroll through the mountains that the Appalachian Trail cuts over. Sometime around 2200hrs I arrived at the Carl Newhall lean-to, unsurprisingly finding it completely occupied by less than half the amount of people it was designed to hold. My frustration with southbound and inconsiderate hikers continued as I loudly inflated my air mattress and searched the dark sky for any clouds that might hint at rain overnight. Finding nothing but brilliant stars I cooked a quick dinner and settled into my sleeping bag.
Today wasn't exactly 30 miles, though with side trips and the venture to the shelter I'm sure it ended up at nearly 30. The plan for tomorrow is yet another big mileage day which will begin with a decent climb out of this shelter first thing in the morning. The days are dwindling, and I'm certainly showing a tiredness I haven't experienced since Pneumo and I were hauling ass across the mid-Atlantic region of the trail. I'm physically exhausted and hiking more mileage after dinner than most SOBO hikers will hike in an entire day. This is the challenge, this is what I thrive on. I look forward to tomorrow's climb, and moving closer to my finish line.
Onwards & upwards,