Day mileage: 23.5
AT total mileage: 571
Time: 9.5 hours
Less than 5 minutes after departing my campsite this morning, I walked over the unmarked mileage point of 1/4 the distance to Maine. This fact is both thrilling and daunting. It also means, however, that even with slower first weeks of mileage I'm still hiking faster than I thought, so that's cool.
It turns out that I wasn't the only one who threw in the towel to the weather last night. I was on the trail sort of late, around seven, and passed a handful of tents scattered on the side of the trail as I started my hike. Speaking with others later we all laughed at the lack of actual rainfall overnight despite the doom and gloom in the forecast we'd heard. There was a pretty steep climb from where I'd rented that then dropped down into Reed's Creek where I was able to get some water before a 1,000 foot up & over kind of climb. At the peak of said climb I ran into Red Turtle and Jetcat, the first of whom I've met a few times before. He's a career Army vet (picture Sgt. Brody in Showtime's cable series Homeland) who began hiking in March with his 75 year old dad. They were doing 10 mile days consistently until his dad's knee problems got the best of him and he was urged to return home by medical providers. Since then Red Turtle has stepped his game up and has caught up with hikers who long ago passed him. Jetcat, on the other hand, is a blonde about my age who grew up in southern Florida, although she now lives an hour outside of San Francisco. Despite their slower pace, I walked with them for a while enjoying the conversation as Turtle talked about his 3 sons, Afghanistan , and hiking, also taking some time to dispense advice on life, raising children, and marriage. He seems to be quite the guy.
As that peak dropped back down into the valley, we exited into another farming field where for the first time on the trail I saw a real farmhouse / barn / silo set up. We're far enough north now that these are turning into working farms, and it reminds me of the many that we'd see when cycling across the country in 2007. Hiking through rolling hills of another pasture, the skies started getting a bit darker and we soon after ducked back into the woods. Quick time was made through there until we snaked along a wide river, crossing a bridge and walking across the water from more farmhouses. At some point in here it started drizzling, but due to my rain cover already being on my pack I simply carried on. It was another 10 minutes or so, as we were hiking through another open field, that massive cracks of thunder and bright lightening occurred, and the rain came down by the bucketload. I quickly said goodbye to my slower paced friends and got back to my normal speed, hoping to make it to the next shelter quickly. Unfortunately there was a decent climb in front of me but I powered through it, passing a half dozen hikers on my way up, before pulling into the Knot Maul Shelter and setting up shop to eat lunch in the protection from the elements. Someone had also carried up the latest Cosmopolitan magazine, so I read a great article on how to take a 'sexy selfie'... These are the kinds of pressing issues the first world is concerned with.
Despite the innate desire to remain covered from downpours when the opportunity presents itself, I packed up my gear after eating lunch and pressed on in the rain. The afternoon's hike was slated to include a 2,500' climb over nearly 6 miles to an old shelter atop Chestnut Knob. I ran into a hiker named Pneumo, who's probably in his early 20s, and we spent a while talking as we pressed on in the rain towards the climb. His name, I found out, comes from Pneumothorax, the medical term for a collapsed lung... Which he had just a few weeks before beginning his hike. Scary stuff to then hit the trail where medical attention isn't immediately available. We walked on and eventually split up when he stopped for water. The climb up the Knob was steep and included many 'stairs' that volunteers build into the side of the mountain to make the climb easier and try and ward off erosion. These are logs inserted into the trail, but they're horrible for hikers as there's no way to maintain momentum with them and the step is often much larger than a typical stair step. It requires a lot more effort than many would like to additionally exert. Despite this I climbed on, eventually coming to an open field towards the top of the mountain. I had to stop at a spring for water as the guide book said it was the last water source for almost 14 miles. Loaded up with 4 liters I pressed on, just in time for some very heavy fog to move in (surprise surprise, a peak of a mountain and I'm fogged in). I eventually made it the 2 remaining miles to the Chestnut Knob shelter, a 4 sided stone building with a front door that used to be the fire warden's cabin. In the fog it looked like an early Everest base camp building. My plan was to stop for a snack before continuing on, but there was a sign on the table urging hikers not to eat and instead to carry on down the mountain for a 'Hillbilly Feast: all day for hikers' in a gap that was 2 miles downhill. I put my pack back on and practically ran down the mountain, hoping that I'd make it before they packed up, as it was already almost 4.
The Hillbilly Feast was still in swing when I arrived and saw many familiar faces. Organized by three cousins, it's the brainchild of a previous 2,000 miler named Freak who section hiked the entire trail over 5 years. There were platters of typical BBQ food and fruit, as well as sodas. Quite the treat for the still-rainy Saturday afternoon. I hung out there for an hour or so, having already done 20 miles of hiking, before pressing on. The next shelter was still 9 miles away, and with no intentions of making it that far I decided I'd find a campsite as I went along. After a steady climb out of the gap I spent an hour and a half ridge-walking over a very rocky section of trail. For a brief while the sun shone through and it felt great. I came across a small one-tent site at about 1900hrs and decided not to push my luck with darker clouds that were moving in. I stopped and set up camp, giving a liter of water to 2 hikers passing who had none and were pressing on, and climbed into bed. About 10 minutes after getting situated in my tent it started raining, and I felt good about my decision to stop.
Long night of sleep, and there have occasionally been shadows from the moon dancing on the fabric of my tent from the rhododendron tree I'm perched under. Tomorrow the weather's supposed to be a bit better, so we'll see how far I get.
Either way, I'll be more than a quarter of the way to Maine.