Day 66: Last Day on the Trail?

Live Every Day Like It’s Your Last

When trucks started rolling past the van about 5:30 a.m., I climbed out of bed and drove back to the Humpback Ridge Picnic Area, figuring Northstar would appreciate the quieter location as well as a nearby public restroom.

Later, when I woke her to let her know Gus and I were heading out, she said she felt better than last night but still had some of her symptoms. Still, Gus and I hiked out under a dark cloud, thinking that today’s hike might be our last one on the AT. Hopefully not, but if I’ve learned anything over the past two weeks, it’s to not assume anything about what will happen tomorrow.

Illnesses, van problems, a bad fall, family issues, ticks, snakes, poison ivy… any day can be the last one. But whatever happens next, we know we won’t be on the AT for at least four days. I’m excited to see my kids and celebrate my son’s milestone. My knees and hips are excited to escape the abuse for a few days.

I Have a Plan

If God smiles on us and our hike continues, I at least have a plan for the next few weeks. Overnight, my thinking gelled about our upcoming itinerary. After we get back from San Diego, I think we’ll skip ahead to Front Royal and hike the ~50 miles from there to Harpers Ferry over three days. Then, we’ll need to leave the trail again for a few days for my brother’s memorial service in Indianapolis, returning to Harpers Ferry just in time to meet my college roommate and his wife.

I’d given them the option of hiking the Shenandoahs with us, but they’d already arranged their trip around the Harpers Ferry segment and were excited about seeing that section of the AT. That’s fine by me.

The Shennies in the Fall?

After that, we’ll either return to Rockfish Gap and hike the Shenandoahs or save the Shennies until after I summit Katahdin. I’m leaning toward finishing Virginia right away, but hiking the Shenandoahs at the peak of fall color could be epic. We’ll need to drive back to Chattanooga to pick up Roux from doggie reform school, and when we do, I hope to drive Skyline Drive and the Blue Ridge Parkway instead of the Interstate Highways.

Then again, drumming up the motivation to hike anything after Katahdin and being away from home for six months might be a challenge. I really don’t want to risk leaving any part of the AT undone.

I think I’ll let decide for me. If I can get campground reservations the week after Harpers Ferry, we’ll come back and hike it right away. If not, I’ll wait until the fall, though I’ve heard that Shenandoah National Park gets busy when the trees turn.

An Apology to 20-Somethings

A few days back, I wrote a snide comment about 20-somethings being unable to express a thought without using the f-word. That thought occurred to me after overhearing yet another conversation that went something like this:

  • Guy: Are you filtering the f-ing water?
  • Other Guy: What the f? I just got out my f-ing filter.
  • Guy: F yeah, I f-ing filtered this morning at the f-ing shelter. F.

They aren’t angry. It’s just the way certain hikers converse. They drop f-bombs the way my generation used “man,” or “um.” It’s not like hearing that ruins my day or anything, I just find it jarring and unpleasant. My mom taught me differently. Usually, with a bar of soap.

Well, over the past two days, the trail provided a string of articulate 20-somethings who are a credit to their generation, so I apologize. Smokestack, Black Dog, Beard, Siren, Squirt, and Witchdokter – you guys are all right. And meeting them reminded me of others I’ve met along the way. My bad.

What Are All Those Old People Doing Out Here?

But it’s still kind of laughable how awkward some young hikers are with older folks. Rarely will one of them initiate a conversation with me. When I initiate, I can see some of them squirming, wondering why on earth this old guy is talking to me? Like Mousefeathers said out loud back in the Smokies, “The guy was, like, 62 or something. What is he even doing out here?”

Maybe They’re Right

In fact, some of us old guys can be a little weird. Today, I met one of my crowd climbing up from Mill Creek, a day hiker who stopped me to ask if I wanted a little trail magic. I had no idea what he had in mind, so the question was a little off-putting. Then he took off his little backpack and pulled out a ziplock baggie with some Halloween-sized candy.

As he handed it to me, he said, “this exemplifies everything that’s wrong with women.” I gave him a questioning look. I’ve long pondered that topic and wondered what insight his many years had bestowed on his gray head. He continued, “Yesterday, I handed a woman a baggie, she took one piece out, and handed the bag back to me.” He gave a huge guffaw at his own story and looked at me for affirmation.

I looked back, waiting for the rest of the story that would answer this great mystery. None was forthcoming. Handing back candy uneaten was the punchline. I looked at my little bag of candy and thought about taking just one and handing it back, but he looked at me so eagerly, I felt I had to say something. So, I replied, “I’m not sure you’ve captured the extent of the problem, but thank you for the magic.” That got another guffaw, though I don’t think he got my point.

Just then his phone rang and he took the call, so I pulled a Smokestack and hiked off. For the record, Northstar had a completely different perspective on his comment.

A Wonderfully Unremarkable Day

Other than a remarkable squirrel count, surpassing the number I’d seen over the past 65 days combined, today’s walk was unremarkable. Pleasant, but unremarkable. I made a point to savor every moment as if it was my last AT hike. And enjoy the fact that Gus didn’t chase a single squirrel after two days of wearing his training collar again.

We did see two snakes today, two harmless garter snakes, and we ran over a copperhead while driving back to the BRP yesterday afternoon. But once again, the witch was nowhere to be found. I’m starting to think she might not be the cause.


Just as I approached Rockfish Gap, I saw BAM! up ahead leaning to some bushes by the Forest Service trail pavilion. When I got near enough, she looked up and said only one word: “Blackberries.” Specifically, ripe blackberries. No other communication was required. We cleaned them off in no time.

By the time I found Northstar and the van, BAM!, Squirt, Witchdokter, and Siren had also appeared in the parking lot, looking like they needed a ride into Waynesboro. So, we packed them all in and dropped them off at the Chinese All-You-Can-Eat buffet, where I’m sure they did some damage. Northstar made some noise about taking me in with them as she’s been on a campaign to fatten me up, but I declined.

Dorothy, We Aren’t in the Woods Anymore

After that, we packed up the van and headed to Baltimore to catch a plane to San Diego. All I can say about Baltimore is that after two months driving primarily in small towns along the AT, big-city traffic is a nightmare. Walking through a crowded airport is worse. So much noise. So many people. So much agitated haste.

Take me back to the woods and the squirming, f-ing 20-somethings.

Daily Stats:

  • Start: Humpback Rocks Picnic Area (Mile 851.3)
  • End: Rockfish Gap (Mile 864.3)
  • Weather: Sunny, cool then warm
  • Earworm: The Gambler (Why, Kenny Rogers, why?)
  • Meditation: Ps. 118 (Thanks, Kenny! No, a different Kenny)
  • Plant of the Day: Touch-Me-Nots
  • Best Thing: Blackberries
  • Worst Thing: Baltimore freeway traffic


Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 10

  • Kara Roggenkamp : Jun 17th

    Hi The Incident,
    I’ve really been enjoying reading your blog, so please don’t take too long to get back on trail! Every year I follow several AT thru hikers (& of course listen to Mighty Blue’s podcast), and yours has to be one of the best-written trail journals I have ever read. This is NOT your last day on the trail! Can’t wait to hear more about your adventures when you return. Also, I’d like to know what Northstar does with her days besides waiting for you to show up. And glad to hear she has her own proper trail (van?) name now.

    • Jon : Jun 19th

      Thanks Kara! We’re headed back today. Should be walking again tomorrow.

  • Roz : Jun 18th

    Jon, I wish you peace as you prepare to say goodbye to your brother. Many happy congratulations to your son, what an accomplishment! Also selfishly, I will pray your feet make it back to the AT very soon. Your journal and your writing have been a pure joy each morning with my coffee. Please give our best to NorthStar. I would think it would be fun to read a guest post from her. Oh and a big woof to Gus too….

    • Jon : Jun 19th

      Thanks Roz! Great idea. Northstar is the real writer in the family.

  • Jeff Greene : Jun 18th

    I appreciate your stories and hope you make it back to trail, but I also understand the huge sacrifice it takes to be gone that long. Enjoy the family time, however sorrowful the reason.

    • Jon : Jun 19th

      Thanks Jeff

  • Barb : Jun 19th

    So enjoy reading your journey. Condolence to you and your family in the sudden loss of your brother. 🙏

  • Douglas Whittaker : Jun 21st

    Hey Jon. Great writing and journey. Sorry to hear of your brother’s passing and the challenges of vehicles and diseases that may complicate things for a time. We’ll miss your wry humor on the rivers of Alaska this summer; I really enjoyed your AT purism and ageism musings. If things go off track on your AT plans, there may still be time to canoe with us down Birch Creek in August, but we will hope your AT adventure continues…fun to follow along.

  • Janet Richey : Sep 26th

    I pretend to be training for the AT when I walk 4-5 miles daily through my neighborhood. I started, rather sheepishly, giving a low hand-wave to each car that goes by. But because of your persistence to be friendly, regardless of how people respond, I now wave like I mean it. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • Jon : Sep 29th

      Nice! Enjoy your walks.


What Do You Think?