Day mileage: 30
AT total mileage: 600.0
Time: 10 hours
As you've read along with my hike for over a month now, I think you've learned that I enjoy challenging myself. True to form, never wanting for things to get dull, today was a 'challenge' day. When I looked at my guide book last night I noticed there'd be a lot of ridge walking with today's hike. It certainly wouldn't be flat, but there'd be only a few elevation gains of a thousand or so feet, while the rest would be repetitive 200-400' gains and losses. I also happened to notice that Mile 600 wasn't that far away from me. In my head these facts melded perfectly to create a challenging day for myself, and of course I couldn't back down from a challenge- even if it was from myself.
I climbed out of my tent this morning (8 am start time, don't even want to talk about it) to a thick curtain of fog, and drizzly surroundings as rain clouds continued to be dreary. This was not true for the entire day though, about two hours into my hike the sun burned off the fog to reveal perfectly blue skies and scarce puffy white clouds throughout the horizon. It made me think of a moment where a man is standing in a barn with everything covered in dust, hesitantly pulling a cloth cover off what the want-ads listed as an 'old Chevy', to find a pristine matching numbers '66 Corvette sitting there. Behind the fog and the imaginary dust were beautiful surprises, just waiting to be discovered. Thanks for following along with that long analogy.
Ridge-walking for a few miles before dropping down into a gap was a great way to start my morning. I was challenged to be sharp minded so early as I hopped over boulders across the trail. Covering 5 miles to the shelter in just over an hour and a half, I ate a second breakfast and met a hiker named Weatherman. I'd read his name in log books, but this was the first time we were in the same place. He's actually from New Bedford, MA, and sports a Sharpie-drawn 7 day forecast on his arm showing the weather as sunny and 75 every day. He's quick to show this off, as it's the visual aid with his trail name. I laughed. I also saw Zig and his dog Zag, and Jellybean with his puppy as well. Talking about our days, Jelly and I had about the same game plan. I departed after 10 minutes or so, and began the steep climb out of the gap to the top of the next ridgeline. As the heat rose, I walked 5 miles along this line, gaining and losing elevation every thousand feet or so before ultimately dropping down to another gap that was home to a dirt country road. Crossing over the bridge that allowed the trail to connect to the road on the other side of a river, I found a cooler with some York peppermint patties which were delicious under the hot sun. Sitting around for lunch, I talked with Zig while playing around with his puppy Zag.
I didn't linger there, despite the appeal of swimming, as there were miles to be made. I rinsed my face off with water from the river, applied some more sun screen to my shoulders and tattoos (at 80 degrees outside, I'd taken my shirt off 7 or so miles into the day) and climbed the steep escape from the gap back up to the ridge lines. The concern at this point was a sign that was posted at the bridge staying that the river was the last water supply for 18 miles. I had loaded up with 3 liters of water and 1 of Gatorade that I had been saving since town two days ago. I was cautious to limit my intake but still drink enough to not be dehydrated on the hot day. About 7 miles after the ascent from the gap with the bridge, I exited the woods onto a dirt road where there were 6 crates, each filled with 4 gallon water jugs. Trail Magic. In the heat of the day I chugged two liters of water before refilling them from the magic supply and leaving a 'thank you' for the providers in Sharpie on a piece of paper. From there the trail took an interesting twist, walking over 2 miles on dirt road and then pavement, crossing a bridge over what I believe was I-81. I had heard it miles before up in the mountains, and initially thought the noises of the highway was a beehive nearby. I guess that's when you know you spend too much time in the woods. Crossing over the interstate and walking another 1/2 mile down paved road, the trail turned back into the woods and repeated another very steep climb up to a ridge where the rest of the day would walk. At 1500hrs I passed Helveys Mill Shelter, not stopping as it was 1/4 mile off the trail, much too far to walk for no reason. Shortly after passing the sign for the shelter's trail, I came across a young couple with two very young children, who offered me 'cookies and candy' from the backpack the youngest child was strapped to mom in. Thanking them profusely, I enjoyed a cookie and a tootsie-pop, though I couldn't resist biting into the lollipop... I had no patience to find out how many licks it takes to get to the middle.
The late afternoon went by slowly. I kept a solid pace, but stopped often in the heat. At certain points during trail climbs, more liquid was falling off my face than that of a 13 year old girl who just found out Justin Bieber was being deported back to Canada. It was hot, plain and simple. My '48 Hour Triathlon' deodorant had been negated less than an hour after being applied this morning. I kept my legs moving, and arrived at my intended shelter at 1938hrs, at which point I dropped my backpack and continued another half mile North on the trail in order to attain half of today's challenge. The 600th mile exists 1/2 mile past the shelter, and I refused to walk this far without crossing that line today. I marked the trail with sticks, as I've taken to doing for the past few hundred miles, and turned around to get back to the shelter in order to cook dinner before it got too dark.
Both challenges were completed: I crossed the line of mile 600 on my 38th day of hiking the Appalachian Trail, just 4 1/2 days after crossing mile 500. I also hiked 30 miles in order to attain the first part of the challenge, without starting at 5 AM and still maintaining a 3 mph average. Well done, self.
Tomorrow's an easy 20 mile day, and I think I'll be staying at a hostel just off the trail. In the morning I'll stop by a grocery store for minor resupplies before carrying on. I'm hoping to get a hair cut and a shower at the hostel at the end of the day. With the heat we've been facing lately, I can truthfully say that I smell horrific, sweaty, and generally disgusting. Like a smiling thru-hiker 600 adventured miles into the Appalachian Trail.