Day 34: 400 Miles, Plus a Few More

Who Designed Today’s Trail? Kudos.

Weirdly, the AT didn’t go up and over all the peaks and ridges today. Instead, it pleasantly followed the contours for long stretches and even decided to let me tour some of the valleys for a change. The flatter traverses allowed me to average a little over 2.6 mph over 21.5 miles, including breaks. Sweet.

The valley tours also included a gorgeous walk along the brown, rain-swollen Elk River, and a lovely creek-side trek along the West Fork of Laurel Creek. Plus, it passed three impressive waterfalls – Jones Falls, Mountaineer Falls, and Hardcore Cascades.

I’m hoping it’s a sign of trails to come.

400 Miles & Goals

I passed the 400-mile point early this morning. The 100-mile markers really help me with the mental side of thru hiking. Maine and Mt. Katahdin are too far away to be effective goals, so thinking about them is almost overwhelming. So many things could go wrong between today and Maine.

Instead, I focus on daily goals like the top of the next climb or the next cool spot along the trail – a waterfall, a view, or a peak. Just finishing the day’s mileage is a realistic goal. Beyond that, the next 100-mile marker, the next trail town, the next State line, or the next zero day are effective goals. I know I can make it that far.

Almost Rainy

Today was the wettest I’ve ever been without getting rained on. The forecast called for showers all day, but all we got was the humidity. The air was pregnant with rain – almost delivered, but not quite. Or maybe just delivered. The woods looked and felt like it had just stopped raining. The trail was soggy, the leaves dripped with moisture, and wisps of mist hung on the edges of things. Which, now that I think of it, is exactly how I felt.

But the moisture quieted the woods and twisted the color spectrum. Lichens, moss, and fungi stood out from the valleys’ dense foliage. Wet Spring green is greener than regular Spring green.

Slacker Revolution

Everyone is slackpacking. Full packs were the exception along the trail today. I think thru hikers feel that, after 400 miles of toting 40-lb packs up and down countless peaks, they’ve paid their dues and have little prove. They’re also tired. The local hostels, of which there are many, have figured this out and are pushing their shuttle/slackpacking services.

Slacking makes for happy hikers. Mostly. Except for a contingent of the thru-hiker crowd that despises slackpackers as cheaters. But many of the same folks venerate ultralighters. Does it make sense to criticize one group for lightening their packs and praise another for the exact same thing? What if my slackpack weighs more than an ultralighter’s pack? Which of us is the hero? Thru-hike morality is complex.

Do Shoes Count For Pack Weight?

This morning, I saw the ultralighter from yesterday’s lunch stop on Hump Mountain. He was walking very slowly and gingerly out of a shelter I passed around 9:30 am. I stopped to say hi and noticed he was shoeless. He said he was going to try barefooting because he was sick of walking in wet shoes. This was the same guy who “stayed dry” in the Smoky’s, except for his arms and legs.

Hiking shoeless seemed like a perfect plan for a wet, muddy, slippery day on a very rooty and rock trail section. By the way, I’m now calling him Mowgli. Wanna take a bet on whether Mowgli is still walking the jungle barefoot next time I see him?

Called It

I walked past yet another “Leaving North Carolina” sign today. If I carried a marker, I’d have added “Again” to the sign. And every other one I see in the future. I wonder if they have them in Virginia?

Daily Stats:

  • Start: Buck Mountain Road (Mile 398.6)
  • End: Dennis Cove Road (Mile 420.1)
  • Weather: Threatening rain, humid, briefly sunny, the threatening rain
  • Earworm: Let it Be
  • Meditation: Jn 17:26
  • Plant of the Day: Moss
  • Best Thing: Waterfalls
  • Worst Thing: Humidity

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Comments 5

  • thetentman : May 15th

    Look up the Barefoot Sisters. they hiked way back when barefoot, both ways. And wrote 2 books about it.

    I also read that if you drink enough beer you will grow wings. I do not believe it but it might be worth a try.

    Good luck.

    • Jon : May 15th

      Yup. Read their books.

  • Homeward : May 15th

    Keep looking for those short term wins, Mr. The Incident! Each morning begins a new journey. I appreciate the reminder of the debates about ultralight packs, slackpacking, yellow blazing, blue blazing (still future, probably) and who is a thruhiker and who isn’t. So much of what you write brings back fond memories. Hang in there, brother!

    • Jon : May 15th



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