Day 3- 9.8 miles: Devil’s Kitchen Campsite to Lance Creek
Day 4- 7.3 miles: Lance Creek to Neel’s Gap
The people, musings and experiences I’m about to share from the past several days are in no particular order…completely unlike the trail itself. However, though the trail is a continuous footpath with no deviation, a hiker’s experiences across it naturally introduce disorder. And there are so many ways that can play out. Several times now I’ve absentmindedly taken the wrong path when the AT intersected another trail. Some of our new friends have gotten a lift into a town several miles off trail to enjoy restaurants, grocery stores, showers, and warm beds. Some started before us but suffered injury and needed to rehab at home for a while before getting back on. The lives of any hiker’s loved ones can end up taking precedence over an AT thru-hiker’s dream. The list goes on. In the end we are all out here “hiking our own hike” and everyone’s story is unique, fascinating, and laying down its own path atop the trail’s culture.
Pros and Cons
In the vein of self discovery I’ve learned I’m pretty good at hiking, but pretty bad at camping. I came onto the trail trained up as I donned my weighted-down pack several nights a week and went out to walk the neighborhood. It seems to be paying off in that my feet were already toughened up and I’ve suffered no blisters. My pack is dialed in for stabilization and carrying those 31 lbs around for 8 hours a day isn’t causing undue pain.
As for camping, I am sorry to say I just didn’t do my homework. Too much was going on as we were putting our home on the market to be sold. That’s my excuse for not going on shake down camping trips to prepare. The main problems have been with efficiency. I can’t find anything I’m ever looking for though I just had it in my hand. Sometimes I deflect and blame those problems on others, as in, “Why in the world would a tent company create a tent stake that blended in with the ground?” I mean, I do have a point there! Please camping industry, team up with the traffic cone makers and get more neon orange. But in the end, I simply need to hone in on a better packing and unpacking routine whenever we leave and arrive at campsites.
What’s in a Name?
We still don’t have trail names. The last couple days have been strange in that Madeline and I hike through beautifully cold and windswept mountains all day and rarely see anyone else until we either make camp, or else hit a trail “attraction”. We came across Mark and Paul, still going by Mark and Paul, on both days 2 and 3 at camp. That made me feel a little better as Madeline and I weren’t the only ones without trail names.
But by day 4 almost everyone we met had a name. At Neels Gap there is an awesome outfitters store called Mountain Crossings. I was delighted that when we arrived they had 2 beds left in their bunkhouse- our first “outta the freezing cold tent” night on trail. There we met Satellite, soon to be the next great teacher; the Professor, who is literally a professor of psychology and has incredible hair like saxophonist Kenny G used to have; the Cisco Kid, who is a wealth of knowledge on everything from the Doobie Brothers to Rockets (and wrote and sang us a wonderful song about his long lost love… hot chocolate!); and then Bob, who is super cool but very picky and turns down almost all Trail names people try to give him. I called him The Boss because he said he was from New Jersey a few times, but alas, he doesn’t like Springsteen’s music. Madeline enjoyed getting to know Lotus Bliss and Spitfire, two women who befriended each other on an online hiking forum and decided to thru hike the AT together.
On top of the formidably named Blood Mountain we met Stud Muffin and Glorious Laughter (pictured below). They were a beautiful couple celebrating the 9th anniversary of their own thru hike. Madeline and I hoped they’d name us but it didn’t happen. We still adored those two and while it was easy to pinpoint the source of Glorious Laughter’s name, the Stud Muffin may have some explaining to do! Luckily we might see them eventually in Delaware at a trail location known as Delaware Water Gap. They work there now and we’ll eagerly anticipate a reunion. After several pictures and fun conversation with them we started down the mountain and met Slacker, who doesn’t like to carry a full pack, and Slow and Steady. Madeline has a sore knee and basically limped down the mountain, but still pulled away from Slow and Steady. To his credit, at least he didn’t fall like I did. I slid out on an icy patch of rock and went down hard. Luckily my pack took the brunt of the fall and I was okay… another victim of Blood Mountain made a narrow escape.
Stay tuned, and special thanks to all of you who have been replying right here on The Trek. It really does bring me great energy and I think about all your kind comments and well wishes while we’re hiking.
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