Day mileage: 27.8
AT total mileage: 919.0
Time: 10 hours
Today was an absolutely picturesque day on the Appalachian Trail.
The kid throwing up all night was alive this morning, and per conversation with his friend they were going to try to hitchhike into the nearest town. Pneumo and I ate a quick breakfast while speaking with a section-hiking southbounder, and were on the trail just after 7 AM. While most days don't have set timing, today we were each meeting people around noon about 12 miles north of where we camped. There were to be three separate mountain peaks to climb between here and there. While none of the peaks were over 3,600 feet, each was a long climb that certainly gave us a good workout. It was during the descent of the second to last mountain that we crossed the uncelebrated 900th mile of the Trail, my clumsiness kicked in. As I was walking along, head down watching the trail in front of me, I walked clear into a fallen tree that was leaning over the trail. With my head smacking the 8" thick tree trunk, I stumbled backwards and took a minute to start seeing things clearly... How embarrassing! We hiked consistently at 2.5-3 mph all morning, arriving at the place where Pneumo was planning to meet his dad at about 11:30. As we exited the woods and walked across Skyline Drive, two women sitting around camping chairs and a blanket spread at a parking area started hollering and cheering, exclaiming that they had been 'waiting for us all day' to which I jokingly replied that we 'got there as fast as we could'.
After introducing themselves as Goat Mama and Just Sue, two local women dabbling in trail magic, Pneumo and I were each handed cold PBR beers, donuts, and an assortment of snacks laid out on the blanket. I was meeting a friend at the next road crossing so I didn't stay too long, but after some brief conversation I learned that Goat Mama's daughter (trail name: Goat) is hiking the Pacific Crest Trail this summer, and after hearing about the trail magic she was encountering, Goat Mama and her friend Just Sue wanted to give back to Appalachian Trail hikers. They were eager to hear about our adventures, and as we spoke to them Pneumo's dad arrived in the parking area after driving in from their home in Virginia. He had brought some new gear for Pneumo including new shoes and a new backpack, as well as Gatorades and a cheeseburger for each of us. Looking at the time, I thanked the ladies for their generosity and hiked on the 1 mile to the trail crossing at Route 33 where I was planning to meet my new friend Andy.
A member of an online forum that I participate in called GarageJournal, Andy reads the blog and comments regularly. He reached out to me offering help in any way he could, so I called the other day to arrange a rendezvous as I was very interested in meeting. On the phone he said 'I know you like cheeseburgers' and made true on his word to bring me some, along with some bagels. (I was unable to find bagels in Waynesboro). As I popped out of the woods and crossed the 4 wide lanes of Skyline Drive, I was greeted with waving arms across the bridge from not only Andy, but his two kids as well. It was really exciting to meet someone who reads the blog, an otherwise stranger who actually knows many details of my recent life. While talking with his kids, 7th and 4th graders, he offered me an array of treats. Not only had Andy picked me up bagels, but also locally popular marinated barbecue chicken breasts, still hot, a half dozen bottles of cold blue Gatorade, a favorite of mine, and four cheeseburgers from Dairy Queen. I'm pretty sure I'd died and gone to heaven. As it was Saturday Andy and the kids had time to sit and talk, so we sat on the other side of a stone wall along Skyline and chatted for an hour about the trail, the kids schooling, summer plans, and of course Andy's garage. Half an hour or so after arriving, Pneumo and his dad hiked down and joined us. When it was time for Andy and the kids to take off, I thanked him profusely for the kindness he extended my way. What a great family, and I'm really glad to have had the opportunity to meet them. Again Andy, your generosity and encouragement will not be forgotten.
After about an hour and a half of hanging out, it was time to get hiking again. It was pretty neat that Pneumo's dad Brian was able to take some time to visit, and he actually was even able to hike with us for a while. I walked along with them for a few minutes before moving ahead so they had time to hang out together without my presence. He hiked 4 miles along with us before turning back for his car. It's funny how quickly I forget that most people have to hike 'round trip' and aren't just moving forwards towards an abstract destination 1,270 miles away. It's pretty cool that his dad made it out here, and it made me eager for when my dad can join me on the trail as well. We hiked on, at that point it was 1500hrs or so, and we had 12 miles left in our day. The afternoon pace of hiking slowed us in the heat, and we shared the trail with many weekenders and Memorial Day vacationers who all seemed to ask us for directions. It's tough to explain to someone that you actually only follow white blazes on trees day in and day out... I think they assume that because we look and smell homeless with packs on our backs, we're well acquainted with the layouts of all things National Parks.
At about 1700hrs we passed by a side trail for the Lewis Mountain Campground, and against his wishes Pneumo and I stopped in. Hiking by dozens of campers, pop-up trailers, gigantic McMansion REI tents for families of 10, and thousands of lawn chairs, we arrived at the campground store. Despite the food already consumed today, I got some ice cream, cookies, apple pie, and a breakfast sandwich to eat while sitting on the front steps and talking with two of the hikers from last night's shelter. We hung out for an hour (much longer than intended) before heading back out to hike the last 8 miles of our day. We had one more mountain climb, Hazletop- the second highest peak in the park at 3,800', and then a long descent down into the valley below. As the sun was setting and the forest cooled, we quietly walked by a dozen separate deer grazing in the trees, rabbits, and a million birds and owls singing their tunes. It was quite beautiful.
We picked a soft area of trail to camp at, making a campsite of our own as you often have to do here between shelters. Arriving at 2030hrs, we set up and got into our tents by 2100, both tired after a good day of hiking. Tomorrow we'll walk a bit further, aiming for an early start to get the miles in without any night hiking.
Mile 900. Can you believe that?