AT Day 79 – Half Day, Full Sunset

Kelly Stand Road to Spruce Peak Shelter
Best Mexican Food In Vermont Camp
to Sunset Cabin Camp
AT miles:
Total miles: 1660.6
Elevation change: 2877ft gain, 2953ft loss

I don’t think that anyone will begrudge me taking a half-day today. After pushing 112 miles in the past four days, which might be the farthest I’ve ever hiked in that timespan, I felt that my body and mind needed an opportunity to recuperate a little bit. I enjoy pushing myself hard and near my limit, but hiking that way certainly takes its toll. Inevitably, important self-care practices slip down the priority list, like stretching the body, and relaxing the mind. Getting enough sleep had been my greatest sacrifice in the name of hiking the miles, and I was feeling it when I rolled into camp last night. I need to get more sleep. Planning the next section and putting together a resupply takes some time too, so with SpiceRack’s support, I allowed myself to take the morning off. It was going to be hard to make a full day of miles anyway, a real grind, so why not take a few extra hours to relax? There are still many miles to go yet, to Katahdin and beyond, and the long-term viability of this hike depends on taking a holistic approach. Mind and body, morale and fatigue, spirit and belly. All must be managed and cared for. Today, I took care of them all.

There was no alarm to wake me this morning, just the urge to pee. I took care of that need, then climbed back under the covers to snooze as long as I possibly could. I had accumulated a lot of sleep debt in my name and wanted to start paying it down. Still, it was relatively early when I found that I could doze no more, around 8:30am I think, and I got up to join SpiceRack on the couch, grabbing the mug of hot cocoa that she had brewed for me.

I put up my feet and tried not to think about the trail for a few moments. The urge to always be moving forward, honed to a sharp edge by months of focused determination, was unconscious and difficult to temper. And that was all the more reason to take it easy. Even when on trail, there is more to life than moving forward, although all other priorities dwindle to a certain extent. I let a few of the neglected ones rise back to the surface, having spontaneous conversations with Spice and ‘wasting’ time trying to identify a song that had been stuck in my head for over a month.

Spice cooked up a hearty plate of home fries and sugared veggie balls that reminded me of pancake breakfasts from my childhood, when the maple syrup would spread across the plate to sweeten the savory sausages. It was good then, but there’s no way that my 8-year-old self could appreciate it as much as I did this morning. It hit the spot. Then Spice handed me a mug of tea and bowl of granola and yogurt. Then some chocolate milk and a plate of fruit and peanut butter. What else? Oh yeah, another mug of tea.

For the next few hours, I handled some phone chores and started to make moves back to the trail. I resupplied for the next 75 miles, spread at a reasonable pace across three nights and four days. Then it was time for more food and drink. A plate of veggies and hummus filled me to the brink, and my last mug of tea warmed it all up. Finally, I pulled on my stinky clothes, re-taped my toe blister, and applied sunscreen. After Spice braided my greasy hair, I was ready to go, recharged and just as odorous. It was 2:45pm when I shared my final hug with Spice, and last pat with Tango. I walked back into the woods feeling lively and ready to hike.

New day, same old uphill.

The rest of the day was all about going up and over Stratton Mountain. Even though it was nearly 2,000ft to the top in about three miles, at this point, I had been trained well to cope with the steep steps and rutted trail. I felt unrushed, having only committed to hiking 11 miles before camp, and so let my body dictate the pace as the forest transitioned from beech to spruce, just like yesterday on Glastenbury.

They build ’em tall on Stratton.

Also just like yesterday, there was a fire tower waiting for me on top. The view was pretty much the same as the one that had humbled me yesterday, but a deep gray sky and cold wind disolved any preparedness that I had for it this time. The scene was still ominous and exciting, in that this-might-get-kind-of-intense kind of way. The big mountains were still intimidating. I still felt small. A few lingering patches of ice on the descent were nothing compared with what lurked in the shade yesterday, and I made a quick descent down the northwest slope. From there the terrain leveled out, almost unbelievably, for the rest of the afternoon and evening.

Don’t mind the rust. Still safe.

The privy was still screwed shut at Stratton Pond Shelter for some reason, but other than that, there wasn’t much to report. The trail was its typical mix of mud, boardwalks, brown leaves, twigs, branches, rocks, and downed trees. Come to think of it, this area had clearly been largely untouched so far this season. Aside from a few footprints squelched in the muck, the trail looked abandoned. Forest detritus was scattered everywhere, and it was not always obvious which direction I should turn. I needed to look hard for the subtle trough worn into the forest floor, or the roots polished bald by countless footfalls of rubbered soles. I did learn which mud puddles it was safe to walk across. Dry leaves on top meant dry feet. Wet leaves told me to hop on the rocks and branches across the deep ooze.

Fast and flat as can be.

With flat trail, a mile of dirt road, and a gut full of farts that I couldn’t trust, I made great time, managing to make it all the way to Spruce Peak Shelter by 8pm. The last few miles were peaceful and nourishing as the evening light concentrated at the red horizon, which grew more intense through the bare trees. My favorite Trevor Hall jams complemented the vibe perfectly.

Is this the best sunset yet?

The privy was my first stop, and I was relieved to find it open. When I exited, I was blown away by the vibrant watermelon-red sunset, and gawked at it, not believing my luck. Even better, the cabin-style shelter was empty, and I made myself at home while keeping an eye to the artistic splash across the horizon through the large door opening. My beans soaked and I sat at the table, while watching the color and light drain from my world. My red headlamp was a weak replacement for the borealis-worthy vibrancy of the sunset, but it did what I needed it to do, and I lay down on the wooden platform feeling both tired and more energized than usual. The sleep-in and short day had worked wonders for me, but there was more recharging to be done. And that was just fine by me. I’m always happy to put in some extra hours in bed. It’s a tough job, but someone’s gotta do it.

This post was originally published on my blog Check it out for trip reports from my other hikes including the CDT and Sierra High Route.

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Comments 2

  • Tim : May 14th

    Well the “Flying Burrito” finallly slowed down to get some TLC and a beautiful sunset. Well deserved. Wishing you dry feet and happy trails ahead.

  • Mike Nixon : May 14th

    Somehow I started following you back around Hot Springs, NC. My wife and I hiked lically here in central NC, byt just short day hikes. I have never hiked the AT, and truly admire the thru-hikers. I really enjoy your posts, personal and descriptive. I’m glad you took some extra time to spend with Spice Rack and rest. It was definitely well deserved! I look forward to reading about the rest of your excursion.


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