Day mileage: 26.5
AT total mileage: 1,450.5
Time: 9.5 hours
I survived my night in the creepy field beside the boarded up house. The moon cast some interesting shadows, and the whole scenario was pretty much cut and paste Blair Witch Project. After yesterday's hike length, I decided sleeping in wasn't a bad thing. Getting out of my tent at 7 AM, I was on the trail at 7:30 with a mile and a half downhill to the RPH Shelter. I pumped water from a well, and reading the 'bacteria positive' sign next to it, added two iodine tablets to my water bottle to neutralize any threats. The trip down the mountain happened quickly, and before I knew it, I was at the shelter, suddenly aware of the two dozen hikers who had occupied the place the night before. This was the beginning of my most social day in at least a month's time, and I had an absolute blast.
The RPH shelter I arrived at is a strange one. Nestled into a small neighborhood, it's actually more of a cabin or caretaker's house without a proper front door. Greeted by the many hikers sitting around between two picnic tables, my eyes gravitated towards a 6' folding table with a green Coleman grill set up. This is when a previously attempted thru-hiker named Grr Introduced himself to me and offered a hot breakfast of bacon, cheesy eggs, and a bagel. Not one to pass up free food, I of course said yes and he began cooking for me. He had coolers of drinks set out as well along with a large Tupperware of miscellaneous things hikers may need. He noticed the yellow iodine hue of my water and gave me bottles of spring water to replace it. Luckily I never had to sip the horrid taste of iodine. I sat down at the picnic tables with the many hikers and introduced myself. A few of them knew my name from the log books, and many were taken aback to hear my April 4th start days. Most in this group began their hikes at the end of February/beginning of March. I conversed with them for quite a while, meeting Legs, Deep Blue, Finn, Santa, Kamikaze, Handsome Dan, Rocket Girl, and a few more. Most of these people would be recurring characters in the narration of my day. After eating my breakfast and enjoying a delicious red apple I snapped a photo with Grr, signed his guest log book, and headed for the trail. A quarter mile or so up the next ridge climb I ran into Deep Blue again, and he and I hiked together for nearly two hours. An early 20s guy from Charleston, SC, he's a down to earth history major who was also sporting a Red Sox hat. We spoke for a long time about the trail, school, work, cameras, and military ships of all things. I eventually stopped for water (Deep Blue has a camelback water system with a hose so he doesn't have to stop to drink) and I told him I'd see him further down the trail.
It was about this time that the jingle of a bell caught my attention, and a gorgeous and playful shepherd mix puppy came running by with a backpack/harness strapped on. For the next half hour or so the pup would run down the trail past me then turn around and run back from where she came. Eventually Legs (said puppy's owner) made her way up behind me and introduced herself. We would end up hiking together until the early afternoon as her dog Naila ran back and forth ahead of us. A psychology major in her mid 20s from North Carolina, she quit her job to hike the trail. We talked for a long time about the trail and work, and what kind of future endeavors could come from post-hike life. Around 11 we crossed over a bridge (spanning I-84) and met up with Deep Blue and Handsome Dan who were talking with a local Trail Angel doing magic. A photo was taken as Blue, Dan, and myself each had identical Red Sox hats on. Red Sox Nation is strong on the trail. Hanging out for half an hour or so I pressed on into the woods, with the intention of meeting my family (same group from Rhode Island) at one of the next big road crossings early in the afternoon. With 5.5 miles to go and a bit of time to get there, I held a somewhat leisurely pace. Before long the jingle of Naila's bell in her collar caught my attention, and Legs was back to hiking behind me. Conversation continued for another hour or two until we reached where I believed my grandparents were planning to meet me. They had informed me of a cooler they were leaving with Gatorade and McDonald's, among other snacks, as trail magic. Not seeing it immediately, I told Legs I'd bring her a burger later in the day. A few minutes later looking at maps I saw a side trail to a parking lot where it would have made sense for my family to drop food, and Legs and I discovered two bright trail magic coolers on the side of a 0.1 mile access trail to the A.T.. Chowing down on a few cheeseburgers and cold Gatorade, my aunts arrived closely followed by my grandparents. Legs joked with me that it was very soon to be meeting my family, having known each other for only a few hours. A few more thru-hikers made their way up to the Magic as my family conversed with them all, getting confirmation of my stories telling them that frosted pop-tarts and honey buns are staples of a hiker diet. We all spent about an hour together before parting ways, hugging everyone goodbye and thanking them for coming to visit me. My aunt Barb also saved the day by finding the correct Platypus bladder to get my water filtration system back in business, an unbelievably helpful act on her part. I left a note at the Appalachian Trail turnoff marking the trail magic coolers just off the side trail, so hopefully other hikers will finish it off. There were a few Pop-Tarts, water, oranges, and granola bars left.
A mile from where my family met us, the trail passed by Nuclear Lake. The unusual name comes from the shoreline being home to a plutonium research facility a half-century ago, until an explosion occurred in 1972 and the facility was shut down and dismantled. The area and water were tested and deemed safe before the Appalachian Trail was routed past, and the lake is a popular swimming destination for many locals. Lots of the hikers in today's group stopped to go swimming as we hiked by, but with 13 miles left to go I pressed on. This was the only time in my day where I hiked alone. For two hours I was between two groups of hikers, and enjoyed a bit of solitude, although somewhat missing the excitement of conversation my morning had contained. Climbing up and over another mountain ridge, the trail dropped down crossing West Dover Road where the largest tree on the Appalachian Trail lives. The 'Dover Oak' is approximately 300 years old and with a diameter of almost 7 feet, is quite the sight to see. The trail then carried on up and into some pastures and rolling hills before passing by a train station and garden center where hikers are welcome to use an outdoor shower and spigot for water. During business hours they also sell ice cream and the like, but arriving at 1710hrs they had just closed. At this point I had caught up with the incredibly fast paced hiker Finn, while Legs and Naila were sitting in the parking lot of the store charging her phone and eating an ice cream. We hung out there for a while as a group before I moved on, well aware of the 6 miles left to go before the intended shelter. Moving out at 1800hrs I had two and a half hours of daylight left to complete a 700' climb and 5 miles of ridge walking before a short descent to the shelter.
After making the traverse through some more pastures and over a few fence stiles (have I mentioned how much I hate fence stiles?) I began my climb up the ridge. Not long after reaching the top I ran into a barefoot hiker named Risky, who I'd end up spending the rest of the night hiking with. A 21 year old from Manhattan, he is section hiking the Appalachian Trail north, then will flip and head south. We had many things to talk about, as he also used to sail, and actually got a full college scholarship to Washington University on the east coast for small boat racing. He explained that by hiking the last few miles of every day barefoot, his feet relax and stretch a bit as a cool down method. I think he's crazy, and would quickly stub every toe on my feet if I ever tried this, but sure enough he maintained a good pace despite the lack of footwear. We arrived at the Wiley shelter at 1955hrs, and met an older gentlemen section hiking. With room for 6 in the shelter and rumors of overnight rain, I gladly set up my gear inside of it before beginning the process of cooking dinner. Before long Legs, the pup, and Finn had also arrived, with Santa and Kamikaze showing up shortly after. We ate dinner as a group around a picnic table and a fire in the fire pit, joking and having a great time talking. Having not had a group like this in quite a while (read: hundreds of miles. Literally, hundreds...) it was quite the welcome experience. It almost made me wonder if I would slow down and match their mileage and pace just to spend some more time with them.
Getting into bed around 2200hrs, 'hiker etiquette' was somewhat dismissed as we stayed up talking in the dark for a while. Tomorrow morning, a mere 1.5 miles into my hike, I'll cross into Connecticut. I've got a long day of almost 30 miles planned, but might shorten that to stay with this group. The debate of this is quite frustrating. Regardless, I shall hike into my 10th state of the Appalachian Trail, a fact which is pretty cool in and of itself.
Having some social time on the trail made today an amazing one. New people to talk to, a group to have dinner with, and the whole vibe of community that was so present up until the last time I saw Soleil and JPEG at the Partnership shelter in Virginia. It really makes for a totally different hike when you can share it with awesome people. I'll go to bed torn over this issue, but reminiscing a great day on the Appalachian Trail seeing my amazingly supportive family and making a ton of new friends.
Onward and upward with the sun.