Day 120
8/19/12
Jeffers Brook Shelter - Kinsman Notch
8.4 miles

As much as I wanted to avoid leaving camp I told Jan I would meet her at the notch by noon, so I was out of camp by 7:30am.  This was the first (and my last) real climb north bounders have seen in a while, so I wanted to make sure I left with plenty of time in case the climb turned out to be a real tough one.  I didn't need to worry though, because as steep as it was, it didn't last long and the temperature was cool and refreshing.  The 4.6 mile climb only lasted about an hour and a half and I was presented with one of the best views of the entire trail.  Although smaller and still a few thousand feet lower in elevation, I was taken back to California when I got above tree line.  It felt almost like I had come home.  I'm definitely a mountain person.  The feeling of climbing up above everything around me, and being able to lookout 360 degrees at the landscape below fills me with a certain calm, and a barely containable excitement at the same time.  I feel as if I can do anything when I climb to the top of a mountain.  The view from the top of Moosilauke was astounding.  The air was still hazy, but looking northward I could see the other peaks of the White Mountains and they actually looked like mountains again.  You could see the rolling hills, like the rest of the trail, and then as your eyes climbed higher out of the valleys below you began to see the jagged peaks of the Whites growing out and up into the early morning haze.  There was one peak that dominated the horizon, that of Mt. Washington; home of the world's worst weather and known for holding one of the highest recorded wind speeds (231 mph). Seeing all of this made it hard to leave the peak of Moosilauke.  I tried to leave after enjoying the view for 30 minutes, but found a way to spend another 30 minutes up there before I could begin to drag my feet down from the peak.  That view, the feeling I got at the top, it left me wanting more, and I knew that I would be back someday to fulfill my dream of becoming a thru-hiker.  I don't know when, but I will be back to hike Georgia to Maine someday.  Through all the ups and downs, all the pain, stress, boredom, joy, and excitement, I don't regret any of it, and I can't wait to endure it all again.  Not just on the AT either, I want to experience all the long trails, and not just here in the States.  I just found out a couple days ago that there is now a 1900-mile long trail in New Zealand that spans over both the South and North islands, called the Te Araroa - The long Pathway.  Now if that doesn't sound like an adventure, I don't know what does.  I don't know how, but I'm going to find a way to be able to do this while sharing a life with 2-Step after we get married next summer.  With all of these thoughts and emotions running through my head, I made my way down the mountain, which was just as awesome as the peak.  I followed a stream, as clear as any I had ever seen, that cascaded down the side of the mountain right next to the trail.  The trail itself sometimes seemed to follow the stream more than anything a trail crew might have come up with.  There were times where instead of cutting away from the stream to find an easier way down, the tail just went right over the rock face, and the trail crew had carved small notches, or stuck wooden steps into the rock for hikers to climb down.  There was the occasional rebar handle for you to steady yourself with on some of the steeper sections, but I hardly noticed them as I bounded from boulder to boulder, still filled with the excitement I had felt at the top of Moosilauke.  Once I reached the bottom of the descent though, I felt some very strong bittersweet emotions as my shoes touched the pavement of the parking lot at Kinsman Notch, and I stepped off the trail for the last time this summer.  When I reached the parking lot it hit me that my time on the trail had ended and I felt as if I had lost a part of myself.  I was left with the question, "Now what?"  echoing through me.  I had just spent the last 4 months walking everyday, following the white blazes that marked the AT and now I didn't have that anymore.  I was so close to the end and everything I had been working so hard for over the last year was within reach, that I felt I had let myself down by not continuing.  All this considered, I think that my decision to end the hike early was a good one.  It gives me time to decompress, and reflect on my time on the trail before having to go back to school and a job.  I think that to have continued and finished the trail, and then immediately starting classes and a job would have been too much for me to handle.  I would have been behind in my classes and would probably have had to make-up work I had missed while working on current projects, and beginning the paper and other things I need to do for my independent study, all while starting a job and getting settled back in town.  I would have driven myself crazy.  Part of me still wished I had just done it anyway.  The one exciting thing about not finishing the trail is that there is still more to see and new people to meet and there is a whole new adventure waiting for me when I come back to hike the trail again.  Life wasn't too bad though when I hit the pavement, because there was some trail magic there and Jan had already let them know that I was coming.  The folks were making burritos and they also had...cold beer!  While Jan and I caught up with each other and enjoyed the company of the trail angels, I scarfed down a couple of burritos and a couple of cold ones, so it wasn't all bad getting off the trail.  Thanks again to Jan for being such a generous hostess.  You really helped to ease me off the trail.  It was very relaxing and enjoyable being able to spend time on your beautiful property.  I know 2-Step is excited about the invitation to come visit, so hopefully we can make that happen sometime, maybe during the fall, so we can enjoy the fall colors y'all get up there.  Thank you again, I really appreciate everything you did for me while I was there.


P.S.  Check back for some writings on my reflections about my experience on the trail and thoughts on my adjustments to life off of the trail.

P.P.S.  To my friends from Port Clinton, check the post where you left your comment, I left a response, but I'm not sure you've seen it.  I hope all is well and the rest of your summer went great!


Day 119
8/18/12
Fire Wardens Cabin - Jeffers Brook Shelter
21 miles

I didn't want to rush too much on my second to last morning, but I also had some miles to hike.  I got out of camp about 8:30am and immediately started descending Smarts Mountain.  I kept a quick pace and soon enough I was at the bottom ready for the next climb.  It was a gradual ascent and it didn't take long to get to the top and immediately start the descent.  I didn't have much of a breakfast so I stopped halfway down at a stream and ate my lunch.  I'm glad I did, because Yukon passed me and when I got to the next road crossing he wouldn't have been there with his parents who came to meet him.  When I passed by, I stopped to talk and was offered a cold beer.  It was so refreshing, especially since it was cold.  Did I mention it was cold, that was the best part.  Fortunately, it's not so impolite to drink and dash on the trail, and since I still had about 11 miles to hike, I finished the beer and was on my way again.  The rest of the afternoon went fairly quickly and by 5pm I was at camp for the night, at the base of the first of the White Mountains that the trail climbs.  I was the only north bounder, but the south bounders were friendly and they had whiskey so we were fast friends.  I also got another cold beer from some overnighters who were just out for the weekend.  I've never gotten so many cold beers in a day without stopping in a town.  I'm excited and sad about tomorrow.  Excited to at least climb one of the Whites and sad that tomorrow is the last time I'll be on the trail for a while.

Day 118
8/17/12
Moose Mt. Shelter - Fire Wardens Cabin
12.4 miles

I was really lazy today.  I didn't leave camp until 9:30am, but the first 6 miles went fairly quickly.  There is a trail angel known as the ice cream man who gives hikers ice cream, soda, and a place to rest their feet on his porch, only about 200 yards off the trail.  He's on vacation so there was no ice cream, but he did have sodas in a cooler on his porch.  It was the halfway point of my day so I took a nice long break and hung out with some other hikers.  After that, I had a little less that 6 miles to go, but it was all uphill.  The climb was steep, but I made it in good time and beat the rain.  It's hard to believe that this is my second to last night on the trail.  I never thought I wouldn't make it to Katahdin, but it will always be there and I'll be back to hike it.  It's aggravating being so close and not being able to finish, but now that I know I'm getting off, I guess I'm kind of tired and ready for a short break before school.  Tomorrow I have my last 20+ mile day, and then its 8 miles over the first peak of the Whites.  So its off to bed enjoying the sound of rain on my tarp one last time...

Day 117
8/16/12
Happy Hill Shelter - Moose Mt. Shelter
16.8 miles

I woke up feeling slightly better than yesterday.  The thought of town and my last resupply on the trail got me up and going at a decent time.  The 6 miles went fairly quickly, especially since 2.5 miles was road walking.  When I hit the road, one of the houses had a cooler set up with some delicious watermelon slices.  I had a couple and moved on down the road to the main street in Norwich, NH.  Oh yeah, I just crossed into New Hampshire!  Another state to scratch off the list.  I'll have to come back and get the rest another time.  At Main Street in Norwich you take a right to get to Hanover, but taking a left will get you to Dan and Whits General Store where they give hikers the left over day old sandwiches.  Obviously I took a left, and I left Dan and Whit's with a delicious chicken salad sandwich and 2-day old loaves of bread, plus a few things for resupply.  Then it was on to Hanover, where there were several other businesses that had free things for hikers.  Besides the sandwich, I had a free cruller (donut type pastry), and a free bagel with cream cheese from a coupe of other businesses.  For lunch, I had a free slice of pizza and paid for another slice and a beer.  It was good, and then I had a free snickers and a salami and cheese sandwich with half of one of my free loaves of bread.  It was getting late for a 10-mile climb to the shelter, so when I started hiking again, I threw my running shoes back on and got to moving.  I was tired from booking it up the mountain, but got there in about 3 hours.  I was still so full from town that I didn't even make dinner.  I just snacked and hung out for a while, and then crashed.  I'm glad I'm sleeping in tomorrow since I only have 12.4 miles to go.

Day 116
8/15/12
Lookout Cabin - Happy Hill Shelter
23 miles

Well There were too many clouds to catch the sunrise, but I was up so I got a good start on my hike for the day.  The morning went fairly quickly and before long, I had gotten to the highest point of my day, which also happened to be about halfway.  I figured it was a good spot to stop and call 2-Step.  The call was not really what I expected.  2-Step informed me that my parents plans had changed and that my mom could no longer pick me up in Gorham.  It was time to come up with a new plan, which has happened so often this summer.  Having already cut my hike short once, I was distraught when I realized that the best option now was to cut my hike short again, by about 91 miles.  This happened to cut out most of the Whites, except the first mountain.  I was not happy.  I had already been feeling unmotivated and down about not being able to finish the entire trail, and it made it hard to accept that I wouldn't even be able to see the WHites.  I'm just glad that my grandmother's friends Jan and Bruce were able to help me out.  The new plan is to finish up my hike at Kinsman Notch, 389 miles from the end.  Jan will meet me at the parking area and I'll spend the next day with her.  Then she will drive me to the airport, where I'll catch a flight to Milwaukee and finally be reunited with 2-Step.  Just one more week and 2-Step, the pups and I will all be back together!  Instead of an hour break, the multiple phone calls and thinking of all the available options turned into a four hour break.  That meant when I finally got back to walking I had almost 12 miles to go and it was already 3:30pm.  About a half mile from where I had stopped, there was a farm store that had homemade sodas.  I have been craving a cold soda, so I stopped for a quick break and was back on the trail by 4pm.  The last 11 miles took me just a little over 3 hours.  I haven't been trying to run lately, but I didn't want to get to camp in the dark so I did a little trail running.  I was pretty tired when I got to camp, and still feeling bummed about cutting my hike short even more than I thought I would be, so when I got a text informing me that one of my good friends from California had passed away, that put me over the top.  I was not a happy camper at Happy Hill Shelter.  My thoughts and prayers go out to Sean Krum's family.  I'll miss you buddy! I'm glad to be going to bed so I can start over tomorrow...

Day 115
8/14/12
Inn at Long Trail - Lookout Cabin
0 miles (yellow blazed)

I think I've finally gotten sick of hiking.  Without Katahdin dangling in front of me I no longer have the same motivation as the other thru-hikers around me.  Now I'm just hiking to hike, which I love to do, but without the sense of accomplishment others will feel on top of the big K, I'm starting to think about the comforts of home more.  This is also the longest that 2-Step and I have been apart from each other in our entire relationship and its starting to wear on me.  I miss her more and more each day, and instead of counting down the miles to Gorham, NH (my planned end of the trip) I'm counting down the days until we're together again.  It's hard to keep going, knowing that I'm almost done.  So when the opportunity to take a day off and not get behind schedule, as guilty as I feel about yellow blazing, I took it.  It shouldn't matter because I'm not going all the way anymore, but it still doesn't seem right to me.  Although, the break today has been good, and now that I know what's been bothering me lately, I can work on keeping myself motivated through the Whites.  I've been looking forward to the Whites for a long time and I don't want to leave the trail too soon and regret it.  I don't want to speak too soon, but I don't think I'll be yellow blazing again.  For today I'll enjoy the opportunity I've got and try to refresh myself for the last 11 or so days of hiking I have until I get off the trail.  I'm really excited to be seeing 2-Step soon!  At the end of the day I hiked up to a place called Lookout Cabin, just off the trail.  It's awesome!  There is a platform built on top of the roof and it affords one fortunate enough to find this place with a spectacular 360 degree view of the surrounding Green Mountains.  The sunset was one of the best I've seen and I'm looking forward to the sunrise.  I think my break today was good and I'm glad I ended at Lookout Cabin.  Had I done what I had planned, I would have missed this place entirely.  Tomorrow it's a 23-mile day and getting up for the sunrise should help me get an early start.  For now, its bed time.

Day 114
8/13/12
Clarendon Shelter - Inn at Long Trail
17.4 miles

I got up and out of camp earlier today, but I still feel unmotivated.  I had plenty of time to think about why that might be as I climbed up Killington.  I think it might be that because I'm not actually finishing the trail anymore I have a harder time hiking knowing I'm so close to the end of my adventure. Soon enough I made it to the top of Killington where I took a long lunch break.  After talking to 2-Step I decided to stop short of my plan for the day by about a mile and stay at a hostel.  With that decision made I was back on my way.  The hike down was short, less than 5 miles and I was walking down the road to the hostel in no time.  Turns out I had read the guide wrong and it was the Inn at Long Trail that I was walking to.  I was a little bummed at first, but then I saw my buddy Riff Ralph and instead of turning around, I decided to stay.  There is free camping across the street and a few more hikers showed up so we had a good time, which I needed after the last couple of days.

Day 113
8/12/12
Big Branch Shelter - Clarendon Shelter
16.9 miles

I woke up feeling very unmotivated.  I'm not sure why, but I just didn't want to start the day.  I didn't leave camp until 9:30 am and then hiked about 6 miles and just sat for about 3 hours.  I'm sure the weight of my food bag doesn't help.  I have way too much food and I can feel it.  Once I got going again I tried to get the miles out of the way as quickly as I could.  I stopped to take a side trail to a view from a cliff and that was about it.  The hiking was good and there were some good sections of trail, but I just wasn't into it today.  Hopefully I can shake this feeling...

Day 112
8/11/12
Manchester Center, VT - Big Branch Shelter
16.5 miles

The day started out gray and didn't get any better.  I got to the top of Bromley Mountain and took a long break at the ski patrol hut watching the chair lift go round and round.  I thought about California and all the good times that 2-Step and I had there.  Other than that there wasn't much to see because I was sitting in a cloud.  When I got back on the trail I wasn't expecting much, but when I got to a road crossing I was greeted with some awesome trail magic.  There was a guy waiting for hikers with a cooler full of cold sodas and he even made us sandwiches.  I had a delicious roast beef sandwich, and after another long break I was back on my way just in time for the rain to start.  There was nothing to do except put my head down and just keep walking.  I stayed dry enough since it was a steady drizzle rather than a downpour, but I was still damp.  It made the afternoon go quickly enough and before long I was at camp for the night.  Should be good sleeping weather tonight.  I already feel a little chill in the air and the sun isn't set yet.  I'm so glad that it's not as warm as it has been at night.  I sleep much better and feel rested for the next day's miles when I wake up in the morning; what a relief.

Day 111
8/10/12
Spruce Peak Shelter - Manchester Center, VT
2.8 miles

Talk about a short day.  I hiked the 2.8 miles, hitched a ride, and was in town by 10:30am.  I ran my errands, ate lunch and got my awesome care package from 2-Step by 1pm, and was showered and lounging around the hostel by 2pm.  This was a good town day.  Thank you so much 2-Step for all the delicious goodies!
 
 
Day 110
8/9/12
Story Spring Shelter - Spruce Peak Shelter
18.3 miles

Another boring, long, but short day on the trail, although today I did get a view from a fire tower on top of Stratton Mountain, the mountain upon which Benton MacKaye conceived the idea for the Appalachian Trail.  That was pretty cool.  Then there was Stratton Pond.  It was very beautiful there, but it looked big enough to be called a lake.  There were also a lot of good springs to fill up at.  It's so nice to be seeing springs again.  The shelter that I'm at is really nice.  It has windows that open up, a wood stove, and a sliding door.  One of the nicest shelters I've seen in a while.  Only one more night until I get a pint of Ben & Jerry's ice cream.  Oh, how food can drive a hiker onward.  

Day 109
8/8/12
Congdon Shelter - Story Spring Shelter
23.3 miles

Today was kind of long, kind of boring, and quick all at the same time.  I left camp around 8:15AM and had a good pace going.  Before I knew it, I was at the shelter just before my planned stop for the night, and I was only 4 miles away.  It was only 1PM so I made a couple sandwiches and wasted some time sitting around.  I made it to my planned campsite for the night by 3:30PM and wasn't too impressed with the shelter or the view.  There weren't any spots to hang my hammock either, so I decided to go another 4.6 miles to the next shelter and that was done by 5:15PM.  The day felt long because the terrain was pretty boring, but it went fairly quickly, because the 23 miles didn't take too long to do.  I think my new haircut helps.  My head doesn't overheat like it used to do with all the hair I had.  The temperature has also been really good lately, especially at night.  I slept amazingly well last night and almost got chilly in the morning.  It was perfect.  Speaking of perfect, the shelter that I'm at tonight has an awesome spring.  It's so cold and the water tastes so good.  I'm getting ready for town again even though I just left.  The place I'm staying gives every hiker a pint of Ben & Jerry's when they get there.  I can't wait. 

Day 108
8/7/12
Williamstown, MA - Congdon Shelter
14 miles

It was really hard to leave The Birdcage today.  I even thought maybe I would just stay there and get the rest of the interviews I needed.  It wasn't really an option, I'm getting back into the mountains and the states that I've been excited to hike through, but The Birdcage would be an awesome place to end a hike.  Once I got started on the trail again I felt excited to keep going north.  It was a short day; only 14 miles and I was in camp before 3:30 PM.  The next town stop is Manchester, VT and it would be a fairly easy 3 day hike, but I have a package going to an outfitter there that won't arrive until Friday, so I get to take my time, which I definitely don't mind.  Tomorrow will be my longest day, 18 miles to a shelter that has a view.  I have a couple climbs but nothing too intense, so with a decent start time, I should be there before 5PM.

 
 
Day 107
8/6/12
Dalton, MA
0 miles

It was a pretty relaxing day.  It almost feels as if I'm home.  Since Rob doesn't charge anything to stay here, a couple of other hikers and I cleaned the place up a little.  We vacuumed, swept, dusted and shined, to let Rob know that we appreciated everything he does for us hikers.  This will be one of the hardest places to leave, because Rob really does make people feel at home when they stay here.  Right now, we're about to go wash the van that he hauls all us hikers around in.

Day 106
8/5/12
Williamstown, MA - Dalton, MA
23.5 miles

The speed record for the 23-mile slack-pack from The Birdcage is 4 hours and 38 minutes.  It seemed like a lofty goal for myself, but I wanted to try and beat it.  Needless to say, the 23 miles went by quickly, but not as quickly as the record.  I was 42 minutes behind the record time, for a total hiking time of 5 hours and 20 minutes.  I still felt pretty good about that time.  One of the best things about being done so early, was that I had plenty of time to hang out and get some phone calls taken care of.  During the afternoon, someone put on a documentary about the AT, and it's the first time since my decision to not go all the way, that I've felt really bummed about not being able to finish the trail.  Seeing the feeling of excitement and accomplishment and all the other emotions that come with summiting Katahdin, it made me feel as if I was missing out.  My goal is to get to Gorham, NH, before leaving the trail.  To be only 298 miles from the end of the trail seems really disappointing to me.  I'm really glad that I stayed on the trail.  I love it out here, but I really want to see Katahdin, and to have come all this way and be so close is aggravating.  My brother wants to hike the trail two summers from now and if there is any way I can do it, I want to hike from Georgia to Maine with him.  I wish I could be out here all the time.  The sense of community among the hikers is amazing and the people along the way that open up their homes, or offer their time or money to help out the hikers, has really made the trail for me.  It's amazing to see the generosity that people have for hikers, even when we look and smell like we just came out of a dumpster.  The generosity and support that 2-Step and I have received over the course of our journey has been overwhelming, and I truly thank every single trail angel along the way.  I wish I could do for you what you did for us.  Now I'm getting all sentimental thinking about having to leave the trail, but back to the day I started writing about.  Because I didn't beat the record time, I volunteered my hair for a Birdcage mohawk.  It felt good to have short hair, it's been hot for a while now and I don't know why I didn't think about trimming my hair earlier.  As sentimental as I got watching the documentary, I still enjoyed my afternoon with the other hikers and Rob the Birdman. 

Day 105
8/4/12
Upper Goose Pond Cabin - Dalton, MA
20.6 miles

Yesterday was probably the most relaxing zero I've ever taken.  I didn't have to run around town taking care of errands.  I didn't walk all over the place, looking for things to eat or things I need.   When I get to town, I just want to lounge around the hotel room and do nothing.  That never happens.  I got to do that at the cabin and it was awesome.  Today I was ready to keep moving and the terrain profile looked pretty mellow.  I got my blueberry pancakes and coffee, packed my bag, and was off to The Birdcage.  Tall Oaf and I were hiking together and made good time to the Cookie Lady's Place.  You can pick blueberries for two dollars a pound and they had cold sodas, fresh hard-boiled eggs, and ice cream.  We took a long lunch break, since we only had nine miles until we got to town.  After lunch, we took off at a good pace and made it to town by 5PM.  All we had heard about Dalton was stay at The Birdcage and that was our only plan.  All we knew was that we could take a shower, do our laundry, and we would get a change of clothes until the laundry was done; and all of this was free.  When we walked through the door, I was greeted by Bootleg, a South-bounder, who was getting ready to get a haircut, and I was immediately offered a beer.  For some reason, it has become a tradition, for people who are so inclined, to get a mohawk while staying at The Birdcage.  I have been seeing people heading south on the trail with mohawks for a couple weeks, and I was about to see someone get theirs, not even 20 minutes after getting to The Birdcage.  I didn't stay up too late, because I want to slack-pack 23 miles tomorrow.

Day 104 
8/3/12
Upper Goose Pond Cabin
0 miles

Breakfast was awesome!  The pancakes were delicious and having real coffee was divine.  Badger took off early after breakfast, and 2/3 wasn't long after him. I'll see them again in a couple of days, probably.  I spent a good part of the morning just sitting on the dock with my feet in the water, letting fish nibble away at the dead skin on the bottoms of my feet.  There was one that was also guarding a nest not too far from the dock.  It was entertaining and interesting to watch it chase away the other fish, and even a couple salamanders. I was amazed at all the animal activity I was able to observe without even moving from my spot on the dock.  Afterwards, I came back to the cabin, was talking to the caretaker, who made me some tea.  Then she pulled out all the fixings for sandwiches and let me and the other hiker here make some sandwiches for ourselves (which reminds me, I even got a fresh-baked chocolate chip cookie, straight from the oven, before bed last night).  This place is awesome!  Right about now, I'm feeling a nap coming on, and then I think I'll take the canoe out and go for a swim.  Tomorrow it's onto Dalton, MA, and a hostel called The Birdcage, where I'm hoping to get some slack-packing in.  

Day 103
8/2/12
Mount Wilcox South Shelters - Upper Goose Pond Cabin
15.8 miles

I didn't sleep very well, because the mosquitoes were on the attack again, but I was excited to get up and get to camp today.  A former thru-hiker had told me about this place when I came out of the Smokies, and I have been planning to take a zero there since then.  The hike itself was hot and rather boring, but so worth it to arrive at the cabin.  It sits right by a pond and there are canoes available for guests to take out.  That, in itself, is awesome, but the kicker is that the caretakers make blueberry pancakes and coffee every morning.  I spent a relaxing afternoon at the cabin and then had one of the best nights on the trail so far.  Badger, 2/3 and I took the canoe out and saw the moon rise over the lake, as we paddled out to the island to check it out before it was completely dark.  The full moon was only a couple days ago, so the sky was pretty bright.  The trip back to the dock was fun, because we couldn't see it until we were about to hit it and paddling over the still, dark water was interesting.  We weren't talking, and all the noise you could hear was the noise of the paddles as we dropped them into the water.  The only movement in the water was the wake from the canoe, as the tip of the boat broke the dark, glassy surface.  I'm glad I decided to zero here. 

Day 102
8/1/12
Great Barrington, MA - Mount Wilcox South Shelters
11.7 miles

Since I only had a day in town, I spent yesterday afternoon lounging around, eating and drinking.  This morning, I re-supplied and took my time checking out.  After leaving the hotel, 2/3 had to pick up a couple things at the store and then we were on our way.  We started walking down the road out of town, and it didn't take long for a car to pull over and ask us where we needed to go.  We didn't start hiking at the best time of day; the sun was reaching it's highest point.  With a fresh re-supply, (weight added to my pack) it didn't take long for me to realize that the hike was going to be hot and sweaty.  I started out the climb ahead of Badger and 2/3 and didn't see them the rest of the afternoon.  I stopped once for water and a snack and the first shelter out of town.  At this point, I still hadn't seen my buddies, but I kept going to the next shelter anyway.  Without any incidents, I made it to camp and was set up and making dinner in no time.  There was still no sign of Badger and 2/3 when I went to bed, so I assumed they stopped at the first shelter.

Day 101
7/31/12
Laurel Ridge Campsite - Great Barrington, MA
12.9 miles

Today was a really fast day of hiking.  I've been in desperate need of a shower and laundry, and Badger, 2/3 and I were splitting a hotel room to take care of just that.  The 13 miles flew by, and when I got to the road crossing, there was a cold soda waiting for me.  It worked out perfectly when 2/3 and Badger showed up, because someone was dropping off another hiker, and asked us if we needed a ride. Of course we said yes; this was the easiest hitch of the entire trail.  We didn't even need to try.  I was showered and laundered by 3PM and was ready for an afternoon in town.

Day 100
7/30/12
Belters Campsite - Laurel Ridge Campsite
19.6 miles

It was a pretty quick day for 19 miles.  I stopped for an hour outside of a hydro-electric plant, three miles outside of camp, to charge my phone.  The next stop was Salisbury, CT, to re-supply my stove fuel.  (I have gotten lazy lately, and have cooked primarily with denatured alcohol, rather than wood).  I wasn't going to buy lunch, but I did anyway and ended up getting free camp food from someone I met while eating.  The North has been good for trail magic.  Thank you to everyone who has been looking out for us weary travelers!  After lunch, I caught up with Badger and 2/3 (a couple of guys I've been hiking with the last few days) and after a couple climbs, reached a good view and sat for a while before the last couple miles of the day.  We got to camp pretty easily after our break.  After setting up, we enjoyed our trail version of a "family dinner."

Day 99
7/29/12
Stewart Hollow Shelter - Belters Campsite
15.3 miles

I don't really know what to say about today.  It was a good day to walk in the rain, I guess.  It was a steady drizzle, rather than a torrential downpour, like yesterday afternoon.  I started without music, but when it started raining, I threw the earbuds in and just walked.  One way or another, my clothes and I were going to be soaked, and I preferred the cooling rain to the irritating sweat.  I think the mosquitoes have gotten worse because of the rain and now I'm definitely paying for not having a bugnet.  The hike went quickly enough, but all that really means now is that I have longer to hang out with all the mosquitoes swarming me.  Hopefully 2-Step will be able to get my bugnet sent out to the next town.  That might not be for another week or so, though.  Hope I last that long.  I get pretty jealous of all the other hikers' tents, with their bug netting, but up until now I haven't needed one.  Tomorrow marks my 100th day on the trail, hard to believe it's been that long.  I wish I would've realized sooner than I did that my classes started much earlier than I thought.  If I had more time, I could finish this trail.  Oh well, it's still been an amazing adventure and I think this summer was just the opening of Pandora's box for me.  I've really come to enjoy the idea of continuing long distance backpacking for the rest of my life.

Day 98
7/28/12
Mount Algo Shelter - Stewart Hollow Shelter
7.3 miles

Last night was the worst night of sleep on the trail yet.  The mosquitos were horrible.  The buzzing alone was bad, but would have been more bearable if I had a bugnet.  I haven't needed a bugnet the entire summer and now Connecticut has unleashed the mosquitoes with a fury.  I'm going to have to get 2-Step to send my bugnet back to me soon.   The bugs got me up early and I made the .3 mile walk to the road into town pretty quickly.  Kent is only .8 miles off the trail, so it was a convenient, yet very expensive place to re-supply.  On the way out of town, I ran into trail magic in the form of delicious watermelon slices and cold sodas.  After indulging, I was back at it, but this time in the rain.  I got wet fast, but it was better than sweat.  I walked 7 miles to the first shelter out of town and said screw it.  I'm glad I stopped then because 5 minutes after dropping my pack, the sky let loose a torrential downpour.  I spent a long afternoon eating and watching it rain.  It's three more days until my next town stop where I'm hoping for clean laundry and a shower.

Day 97
7/27/12
Pawling, NY - Mount Algo Shelter
18.1 miles

Got up and onto the trail fairly quickly.  The terrain wasn't that bad and I made decent time.  Stopped for lunch 8.5 miles from camp for the night.  It started raining while I was eating lunch.  It was pretty relaxing watching the rain fall on the field in front of the shelter.  After the rain stopped, I was on my way to camp.  I got here fairly early and had a relaxing afternoon, setting up and making dinner.  Now it's time for a phone call with 2-Step and then it's off to bed.

Day 96
7/26/12
Pawling, NY
0 miles

The pavilion in the city park turned out to be an alright spot to hang the hammock.  I didn't plan on staying in town, but there were rumors of a big storm system moving through and I wanted to make sure I stayed dry.  Spent the day in town and got back to the pavilion just as the storm rolled in.  Went to bed somewhat early to rest up for a longer day tomorrow.
 
 
Day 95
7/25/12
Clarence Fahnestock State Park - Pawling, NY State Park
22.5 miles

Today was a great day to be alive, which made it a perfect day to be hiking.  I'm happy I'm still on the trail.  The weather was really nice today and that helped out.  I heard there was rain coming the next few days, but I won't worry about that until I have to.  The day went fairly quickly and by 4:15PM, I was at the road crossing that led to town.  I tried hitching a ride for about 30 minutes before I started walking the three miles into town.  I had no luck and started on down the road.  I got about 1.5 miles down the road when a little old lady was pulling out of her driveway and she asked if I needed a ride.  I was pretty thankful that I didn't have to finish the road walk because the shoulder was narrow and the cars were fast.  The lady was very nice and took me to the town park where they allow hikers to camp for free.  Tomorrow I'm going to resupply and then try to get a few miles out so I can keep the northern momentum going.

Day 94
7/24/12
Graymoor Spiritual Life Center - Clarence Fahnestock State Park
13.8 miles

I woke up with the sun like the rest of the hikers, but since I was only hiking 11 miles, I lounged around for a bit.  I even read a couple chapters in a book I picked up at a shelter.  Eventually, I gathered up the energy to get started.  It didn't take long to pack up and finish breakfast, and shortly after, I was on my way.  The day went fairly quickly.  I stopped for a quick break and got some interviews for my independent study and then it was four short miles to the road that led to the campground, or so I thought.  When I got to the road, there was a sign that said to keep going for another two miles to a side trail that led to the state park beach area.  I was slightly disappointed, but then again, it was only another two miles and I could just knock a couple miles out of my day tomorrow. The best part of the day was when I found a $5 bill folded up and tucked in between two boards of a picnic table.  That bought me a bacon cheeseburger and when the ladies behind the counter brought out all the unsold fries after the restaurant closed, that was the cherry on top.  After that, I got a shower, set up camp, and talked to 2-Step.  All in all, it was a pretty good day on the trail.  Tomorrow, I'm going to try and get 22 miles in and stop in a town that has free camping, so I can get a few supplies.

Day 93
7/23/12
West Mountain Shelter - Graymoor Spiritual Life Center
13.4 miles

This morning I had coffee with a deer.  I was the last one to leave and as I was putting the last few things in my pack, a deer walked up on me.  I stopped and watched it, and it just stared at me before walking towards the shelter.  I was planning on finishing my coffee at the shelter so I was curious if the doe would still be by the shelter.  After throwing the rest of the stuff in my pack, I walked to the shelter to check on the doe.  It was there and as I crept by, less than 15 feet from it, it only stopped chewing long enough to give me a look as if to say, "Don't mind me, just do what you need to do."  I sat down and watched the doe do its thing while I enjoyed not rushing out of camp like a maniac.  The doe was even kind enough to let me set up my camera for a self-timer shot and she even looked at the camera.  It was an amazing affirmation of my choice to enjoy the rest of the summer on the trail, rather than worry about the miles.  After that, I was ready to start my day.  I realize that I still hike like I'm trying to hike 25-30 mile days, but I'm trying to remind myself that I can stop and enjoy taking breaks again.  I had my first opportunity at the top of Bear Mountain, where I enjoyed the view of the surrounding area from the top of the look-out tower.  The view could have been better, but even with the clouds and moisture in the air, I still enjoyed the view. From the tower, it was only 9 short miles to the monastery where I was spending the night.  I stopped to check out a view a half mile off the trail, even though it was raining.  After that, I was back on my way to my camping spot for the night.  It didn't take long to get to the road that led to a shower, a pavillion I could hang my hammock in, and running water.  It was a good spot and best of all, I could get here and enjoy where I was instead of just eating dinner and going to bed.  I think this next month on the trail is going to be really good.


Day 92
7/22/12
Lemon Squeezer - West Mountain Shelter
10.5 miles

Thompson walked with me during the first part of my day.  We had a good time talking and checking out the scenery.  When we ended up at the Lemon Squeezer, we had to snap a couple self-timer photos.  It was a cool spot on the trail, where the trail went between two boulders that were so close you had to take your pack off.  We climbed over it rather than take our packs off.  From there, the trail meandered up, over and around the many small hills and mountains that make up Harriman State Park.  I'm definitely enjoying New York much more than I was Pennsylvania, just a  day ago.  At around 10AM, Thompson turned around to head back to his car while I continued north to enjoy the sights and sounds of the trail at a slower pace.  It was weird to think I would only be hiking 10 miles today, but I thought I would start out slow to get used to my new plan.  No sense in rushing it, right?  I'm excited about the new opportunities that this new plan has opened up.  I thought about a question I had on a final exam for one of my classes at Northland College. The question was, "After you take this class, what will you do with what you've learned?" (Or something to that effect).  My answer was that I was going to take the time to enjoy my surroundings and not rush around like a maniac, taking on too many responsibilities and projects.  Well, I didn't really do that, but now that I have the opportunity, I intended on taking advantage of it.  I still have things I need to do for my independent study, but since I'm not rushing around like a maniac, I hope to have more energy to be able to do them.  It didn't take long, even just strolling through the woods, trying to take my time, to get done with the 10 miles, and by 3PM I had set up my hammock, enjoyed the view from the shelter and was on my way to napping through the hottest part of the day.  This was amazing.  I had no idea the trail could be so enjoyable and relaxing.  This is exactly what I needed after wearing myself thin with too many big days.  Lesson learned, I need to take more time to do things, to really enjoy myself, and give myself plenty of time to enjoy the experience.  After my nap, I started catching up on my journal and before long it was dinner time.  While making dinner I got to enjoy the view of the Hudson River and the New York City skyline.  I was looking forward to trying to capture the lights after the sun went down.  I think I can get used to this new plan.  I may not get to say I thru-hiked the AT, but I can certainly say that I will have enjoyed an entire summer being outside, doing what I love, and meeting new and interesting people.  Thank you to 2-Step and my parents for being so supportive and encouraging over the last few days.  I'm so glad I have you in my life and really appreciate everything you've done for me.

Day 91
7/21/12
Palmerton, PA - Harriman State Park, NY 
(yellow blazed)

I woke up excited to see my friend, Thompson, from New York.  We met out in California and it had been a long time since we'd seen each other.  I was glad too, that I wasn't just going home in defeat.  The point of this summer, besides trying to hike the whole trail, was to enjoy the time backpaking and gaining experience for future adventures.  I was going to get that chance the last month on the trail.  I was apprehensive about not having a real plan, but I knew that it would work out in the end and I would just have to go with the flow until something more definite came up.  When Thompson arrived, I was ready to go and after dropping Cold Chocolate off at Delaware Water Gap, we were off to Harriman State Park with a stop in New Jersey to go see a movie.  We got to Tuxedo, NY, and had to get help from Thompson's dad in order to figure out how to get to the AT.  After picking up food for the night, we were back on our way to the Ramapo-Dunderberg Trail.  Thompson's dad said this trail would take us up to the AT and on our way to our campsite for the night, we found a map of the park and knew for sure we were on the right path.  It was fun to catch up with Thompson and to see a familiar face in an unfamiliar place.  It also felt good to be back on a trail with a new plan.  My new plan is to just start hiking north on the AT to see how far I get.  My goal is no longer Katahdin, but is now to enjoy the time I have left on the trail and not stress out about the white blazes.  It had gotten to the point, before this decision, where I would debate whether or not it was worth taking my pack off to go look at a view off the trail.  Now I can enjoy every view and plan my days around the sights of the trail, rather than how many miles I have to put in before it gets dark.  Thanks Thompson for helping me out.  I appreciate everything you did, hopefully we can get you out of the city for another weekend on the trail!!

Day 90
7/20/12
Allentown Hiking Club Shelter - Palmerton, PA
4.1 miles

I was going to hike 18 miles into town, but when I woke up to grey skies and rain, I didn't feel up to it after coming to the realization that I wouldn't be a thru-hiker after today.  A few other hikers were only going to the next road crossing 4 miles away to meet up with a friend so they could go see the new Batman movie.  I asked if I could hitch a ride into town and I was happy when they said yes.  I walked along with Wild Bill, Long John and Detective and enjoyed the company.  I was able to interview Wild Bill before parting ways and I hope to post his and some of the other interviews I've conducted on the website soon.  After arriving in Palmerton, I walked down the street to the Jailhouse Hostel and signed in.  It's a free hostel for hikers that the town of Palmerton has in the basement of one of their town buildings.  After a hot shower, I was starting to feel a little better about how the summer was turning out and was looking forward to not having to chase every white blaze and actually being able to enjoy the rest of the time on the trail.  After I had settled in, a couple other hikers walked in and I realized one of them was my buddy, Cold Chocolate.  I was glad to be able to hang out with him while I was still kind of bummed about the last day, because he's a hilarious person and it was a good way to help lift my spirits.  Also, today is my brother's birthday, so Happy Birthday Case!

Day 89
7/19/12
Hamburg, PA - Allentown Hiking Club Shelter
21.9 miles

I was planning on doing a 30-mile day, but a little less than halfway through the day, my physical and mental strength broke down.  I couldn't take another step.  I called 2-Step and could barely talk.  My dreams of becoming a thru-hiker had just been dashing into the Pennsylvania rocks and I couldn't take it anymore.  I was tired and worn down and the stress I felt about trying to rush through almost 1000 miles in 6 weeks felt like a ball and chain wrapped around my feet.  It was too much and I decided I didn't want to do it.  In the end, I stopped 9 miles short of my goal and had come up with a new plan for the rest of the summer.  I had a friend in New York City coming to pick me up in Palmerton, PA and we were going to camp overnight on the trail in New York.  From there, I was going to figure out a way to get to Vermont so that I could still try to finish on Mount Katahdin by the end of the summer.

Day 88
7/18/12
Hamburg, PA
0 miles

I wasn't planning on a zero day, but I needed one, especially after the last 9 miles of the day before.  My feet had been getting pretty beat up by the Pennsylvania rocks in my New Balance Minimus shoes, and I took this opportunity to get some shoes with a little more of a sole on them.  I drank lots of water and recharged on food.  I got all my errands done and was able to hang out and relax with the other hikers and really recharge for the days ahead.  I found out too late (my fault) that instead of the middle of September, my classes actually start on the 5th of September.  This means in order to get done, I have to hike an average of 25 miles a day.  I'm nervous about it, but I'm going to try for it anyway.


Day 87
7/17/12
501 Shelter - Port Clinton, PA
24.1 miles

Surprisingly, I woke up feeling much better than I expected to.  I wasn't too tight; there were a couple spots that felt sore, but pretty good for the most part.  I was excited to get to town for another shower and some more food.  The morning went pretty quickly and then it went downhill fast, 9 miles before town.  Every water source was dry for the last 9 miles and I only had a half bottle left to get me to town.  To make a long story short, that last 9 miles felt just as long and as hard as the 35 miles the day before.  I was definitely in panic mode when I got to the road that led into town.  I knew if I stopped that I probably wouldn't get back up.  I didn't bother looking at the guide, I just went to the first house I saw and knocked on the door.  Fortunately, Maxine and Eddy were very nice people and they invited me inside.  Just stepping into an air-conditioned room helped me feel better.  Maxine took my water bottle, filled it with ice and cold water and I thought I had never tasted anything so good.  She refilled my bottle 3 times before I thanked them and was on my way.  I still felt pretty weak so I sat down on the side of the street to try and cool down and muster up the energy to walk to the hotel a few blocks the other way down the road.  As I was sitting there I saw a state trooper coming my way and I flagged him down.  Although  he seemed unsure, the officer said yes when I asked for a ride to the hotel.  He took my trekking poles from me, had me put my backpack on the seat behind him, and made me get in on the opposite side of the car from him.  I didn't care what I had to do as long as I didn't have to walk.  When I got to the hotel, I was so relieved.  Recently, my debit card for my primary checking account has gotten so beat up that it has stopped working, so I called 2-Step to see if she could call the hotel and pay over the phone with her card.  I went inside, after talking to her, to let the person behind the bar know they would be getting a phone call and ordered a cold soda as well.  That's when I met two of the nicest people I've had the pleasure of meeting this entire trail.  They told me that the soda was on them.  Something as simple as that had the power to lift my mood and make me feel refreshed.  It wasn't long before the caffeine and sugar were helping to energize me again, and I was able to join in the conversation between another hiker and the couple that bought my soda. The bartender then came up and informed me that his register wouldn't allow him to punch in credit cards without scanning them, so 2-Step's card wouldn't work either.  This wasn't good.  I called 2-Step and told her the problem and we figured that transferring money to a different account I had should work, since I had that debit card as well.  So I went back inside to wait for 2-Step to let me know that the transfer had gone through.  It was at this point that my day was made.  The couple (sorry I didn't catch your names) that had bought my soda told me that I should go ahead and order some food and they would buy it for me.  I was shocked, I told them I was fine and the woman said no, and that I should get something.  I was very thankful and went ahead and ordered a turkey and bacon club.  Not long after that, I got word that the transfer had gone through and I tried to pay for a room again. It didn't work again.  I didn't know what was going on.  When the couple left, I thanked them profusely and gave them my website, telling them to check in and see how the hike was going every once in a while. After they left, I started trying to figure out what was wrong with my card.  I called 2-Step again to confirm the transfer had gone through, and she said it had, so I tried it again.  It still didn't work, so I just told the bartender that he shouldn't worry about it and I would just go camp at a free spot in town.  He said I couldn't leave until I paid for the sandwich I had ordered.  I looked at him confused, and said that the couple from before had paid for it.  He said, "Well I didn't charge them for it."  This guy had been rude and very short with every hiker that came in, so I just gave him some cash, got my change, and walked out in a huff.  This was not what I was expecting.  Three other hikers had actually gotten a room, but when they saw the room, they asked for a refund. To make another long story short, we walked 1.5 miles down the road to the next town over and paid for a room for 2 nights that cost the same as one night at the other one.  It was also one of the nicest hotels I've stayed at on the entire trail.  I also found out that the reason my card hadn't been working was that I had been trying the wrong card the whole time.  I'm glad I did though, because then I wouldn't have met Disco, Mountain Goat and Palm Tree, and we wouldn't have been able to split the hotel room together.
P.S. Thank you so much to the couple that offered to pay for my soda and sandwich. Your generosity was amazing and came at just the right time in my trip.  Thank you!

Day 86
7/16/12
Peters Mountain Shelter - 501 Shelter
35.5 miles

The hardest thing I did today was not quit hiking. The second hardest was hiking 35 miles.  I was definitely tired by the end of the day, but even before the hike got hard, only a few miles from the shelter I started at, I began to really think about stopping.  I realized too late that my classes start September 5th, and in order to hike the whole trail I had to keep a daily average of 25 miles.  That was weighing heavily on my mind, as was the fact that I would be hiking alone for the rest of the trail.  At the pace I had to keep, I would meet peeople one night and never see them again when I left the next day.  It made the rest of the time on the trail seem much more daunting than it should feel.  It got so daunting it stopped me in my tracks and I had to sit down and do what I hadn't done on the trail up to this point...cry.  I sat there for 15 minutes and didn't see a single person.  I was so desperate I pulled my phone out of my pack and tried calling 2-Step.  The one time I didn't have service in 2 weeks was at this spot.  That didn't help at all.  After a while, I had gotten everything out and when I could think clearly again I realized that all I could do was keep going to get to a spot where I had service.  The rest of the day was long, but uneventful.  The next thing I remember is stopping at a campsite, desperate to see a sign for view that would mean I was only 7.5 miles away from the shelter.  I had service there, so I called 2-Step.  I was relieved to hear her voice and we talked for a few minutes.  Eventually, I got back up and kept moving.  Turns out that I had already passed the view and didn't even realize it, which was a relief because instead of having 8 or 9 miles left, I only had 5.  I found that out when I walked around a bend in the trail and saw the shelter that was only 4 miles away.  This meant that when I was sitting, talking to 2-Step, I had only been about a mile away from that shelter.  I stopped for a minute to talk to another hiker and then, before losing all motivation, I continued  on to the 501 shelter and the shower that was waiting there for me.  Four miles later, a shower, dinner and sleep happened in quick succession.

Day 85
7/15/12
Duncannon, PA - Peters Mountain Shelter
11.2 miles

The morning was pretty hectic.  I was trying to get all my town chores and errands done in a timely fashion, but it always seems to take longer than I think.  After packing up, getting a shower, and scarfing down breakfast, we were on our way to the grocery store so I could resupply.  Thanks again to Mike and Francesca for the generous hospitality you showed to me and my family.  Thank you as well to my parents for always helping me out when you've been able to meet me in different towns.  I appreciate you always helping to chaffeur me around town when I can't find what I need at one store or another.  Lisa, I'm sorry you missed that meeting, but I'm glad we got to spend a little extra time together at the Doyle.  I was starting to feel lonely thinking about heading North without anyone hiking with me.  I was glad to get one last bacon cheeseburger in with you guys before starting out.  After my parents left, I said some quick hellos to a few hikers I knew and then threw my pack on my back and got the hell out of dodge.  The hike started with a two mile road walk that included two bridges.  It was hot and I was glad to escape into the cover of the trees.  I only received a brief respite from the trees, because the trail started to climb the ridge pretty quickly.  Soon enough, the shower from a  few short hours ago was a distant memory.  The climb didn't last long though and I was at the first water source outside of town quickly enough.  I ran into my friend Golden and caught up before filling my water bottles and saying my goodbyes.  I have a few friends on the trail ahead of me, but if my ambitious schedule succeeds, I won't be hiking with them for very long.  If all goes well, in six short weeks I'll be standing on top of Katahdin wishing it wasn't over.  Although it's not over yet, and I still had 6.5 miles to go before the next shelter.  As I was hiking along, it started getting darker and I realized there was a storm rolling in.  Fortunately, it only started raining a mile from camp.  When I arrived at the shelter I was pretty wet, but I was happy to still see room next to three other hammocks to hang mine up.  After setting up, I checked in with my parents, made dinner, and made my routine call to 2-Step.  After catching up, I got in the hammock to write up my daily log while listening to the pitter-patter of raindrops on the shelter roof and the cry of coyotes off in the distance.

Day 84
7/14/12
Harrisburg, PA
0 miles

Since it's hard for me to get out of my hiker schedule, I woke up before everyone else.  I took that time to catch up on my daily log, while enjoying the cool morning air on the porch of Mike and Francesca's house.  It had rained sometime overnight and the air had a crisp feel to it.  Everything looked shiny and new.  I enjoyed the quiet neighborhood as people were slow to wake up on the first full day of the weekend.  With only the occasional jogger to break my concentration, I listened to the different bird songs as I finished updating my daily log, before starting my day.  When everyone woke up, we enjoyed a delicious breakfast of bagels and danishes.  Around lunchtime, my parents arrived from D.C. and we headed out to lunch at the Troegs Brewery.  Tasty beer!  The party didn't stop there though.  After lunch we went back to Mike and Francesca's place and fired up the grill for some delicious steaks.  After all that tasty food, I let the kids stay up and I went to bed.
 
 
Day 83
7/13/12
Darlington Shelter - Duncannon, PA
11.3 miles

Although we didn't set an alarm, we were both up early and ready to get to town for lunch at the Doyle Hotel.  The terrain looked fairly mellow and for the most part it was, but then 6 miles before Duncannon, we hit the rockiest section of trail I've ever seen.  I had heard that Pennsylvania was rocky, actually I had heard that the trail crews threw rocks on the trail and sharpened them to make it even more miserable, but I couldn't let myself believe it.  I do now.  Let me just say that if I had grown up hiking sections of the AT in PA, I would probably never have become as avid of a hiker as I am now.  There wasn't even a trail, it was just a jumbled mess of rocks that looked as if you could never get down to the dirt no matter how many you threw off the pile.  It was miserable but we didn't let that stop us from getting to Doyle and the best bacon cheeseburger I have eaten in many miles.  My brother had done really well during the week, but also gotten pretty worn down, and was happy to be at the Doyle with his pack resting in a corner rather than on his back.  Pat and Vicki, the owners of the Doyle, are some of the friendliest people I've met on the trail, and have created one of the most hiker-friendly locations imaginable.  My brother and I enjoyed our afternoon there immensely while waiting for our parents' friends, Mike and Francesca, to pick us up.  After Mike was done with work, he made the 18 mile drive over from Harrisburg to Duncannon and picked us up.  After stinking up his car pretty well, we managed to fit a shower in before dinner.  We ate at a delicious pizza place and even managed to squeeze in some room for frozen custard afterwards.  Thank you so much for dinner and the hospitality that you showed to my brother and I. We appreciate everything you did for us and it was a pleasure to hang out and catch up after so many years.  Thank you!

Day 82
7/12/12
campsite - Darlington Shelter
22.4 miles

Although we had stayed up late, we got up early so we didn't have to rush through the day.  Since the beginning of the trail, I've been looking ahead in the guide book at the terrain profiles and waiting for the day when I would reach one of the pages that was entirely flat.  Today was that day.  After a few very small climbs (one of which was the original midpoint) we descended into the Cumberland Valley for 14.1 miles of flatness.  One of the first landmarks of the day was the town of Boiling Springs, PA.  After getting our bearings we made our first stop, food.  It was 11AM and we were the first customers at Amile's Ristorante and Pizzeria and we were not disappointed.  Afterwards, we resupplied for the last night and day on the trail and headed on over to the outfitters for more water purification stuff.  In the guidebook it warns that the outfitter is mainly a fly fishing store and the hiker selection is limited.  It was right and they were out of water purifier.  The owner said that if we could wait until 2:30 or 3PM, he was waiting on FedEx to deliver some more.  Since the ATC (Appalachian Trail Conservancy) had a porch swing that faced the outfitters I pulled out a book of Sudoku problems and kept an eye out for the delivery man.  Although annoyed that we couldn't just continue our day, we didn't want to leave without a way to purify our water.  It was exactly 2:45PM when I saw the FedEx truck and as soon as the driver left we hustled over to the outfitters, got what we needed, and were on our way.  The rest of the day was flat, boring and full of cornfields, but it went quickly and soon enough we were set up at the shelter.  It had been a long week for my brother and not long after dinner we were both in our hammocks heading for sleep.  Before falling asleep, though, I thought about something Grizzly, a trail friend of mine, said.  He mentioned that he had done the math and figured that if you did twenty 25-mile days in a row, it would put you in Vermont.  I was intrigued and before falling asleep, I had made up my mind to try and do that. 

Day 81
7/11/12
Michener Cabin - campsite
17.8 miles

Today was a really big milestone on my thru-hike, and I'm glad my brother was here to share it.  We hit the halfway point!!!  It was only a few miles from where we camped so it happened earlier in the day.  It was a very exciting moment.  Since the midpoint moves every year, there wasn't a sign so I made a sign and got some pictures.  Hitting the halfway point means that I have hiked/paddled for 1092.2 miles, and had just as many to go.  It was a big psychological boost that came just at the right time.  I have been missing 2-Step a lot and it has made hiking the trail kind of a drag, but she's been really encouraging about me staying on the trail, and hitting the midpoint really helped.  I was also really glad I was able to share it with my brother and I wasn't just celebrating by myself.  This is a big moment and even though 2-Step isn't here anymore, with her encouragement I know I'm going all the way.  After a break and some pictures, my brother and I were on our way again.  Not long after the midpoint, we passed through Pine Grove Furnace State Park and their general store, which is home to the "Half Gallon Challenge."  It's become a tradition to attempt to eat a half gallon of ice cream after making it halfway on the trail, and my brother and I were ready to throw down.  They used to give the ice cream to hikers for free, but with the amount of people that hike every year, they've started charging hikers for it.  Either way, we got our ice cream and set out to attempt the challenge.  Long story short, my brother couldn't make himself finish the last third of the gallon, but I came out on top and made it into the half gallon club.  The cheeseburgers we ate afterwards were delicious as well.  Of course, because we were both full of cheeseburgers and ice cream we didn't hop right back up to hike down the trail again.  That gave us time to go check out the new AT museum that they had just built recently and learn a little bit about the history and people of the trail.  After a long break we decided we had better move on down the trail before it got too much later and we had to hike the last 11 miles in the dark.  We were looking forward to camp, because at the general store we had met a couple that were hiking with a violin and a guitar.  With the terrain that we've had, the afternoon hike went quickly and soon enough we were setting up camp and eagerly anticipating our after dinner entertainment.  We weren't disappointed.  Vicegrip and Sap were very talented musicians and the style of music they played seemed very fitting for our surroundings.  Although we knew we had a long day the next day, we couldn't pull ourselves away from the good music and camping.  Eventually, well after dark, we got into our hammocks and called it a day. 

Day 80
7/10/12
Tumbling Run Shelter - Michener Cabin
22.8 miles

I had grand intentions of getting out of camp early, but that definitely didn't happen.  Breakfast was enjoyable though.  I got a Mountain House breakfast from some other hikers.  It was a bacon and egg scramble and it was delicious wrapped up in a tortilla with cheese and hot sauce.  It went well with a cup of hot coffee and I didn't really mind getting out of camp late, because breakfast was such an enjoyable affair.  Once we got going, though, we were off.  The short day yesterday was a really good break and after not getting much water, the day before that was a good way to make sure we re-hydrated.  It made all the difference because I felt like I finally had gotten my trail legs back.  The terrain was very mellow and the rocks didn't slow us down too much at all.  It wasn't long before we made it to our first real break spot for the day and had lunch.  I wasn't too hungry though, because some nice folks had set out a cooler of trail magic that included Kool-Aid juice boxes, fruit snacks, granola bars, and Rice Krispy treats. I did, however, call 2-Step, because going from seeing each other everyday, to not at all has been hard.  I miss her a lot and wish things would have worked out so we could finish together.  We will definitely come back and finish what 2-Step didn't get to do someday. After lunch we still had 13 miles to go and set a good pace.  We went much faster than anticipated and in no time at all only had 5 miles to go until the halfway point!  With that as our goal, we hurried on down the trail.  Although it's not technically the exact halfway point (we still have 2 miles to go) there is an awesome cabin that allows us to hang the hammocks under the roof of the porch.  It's a good spot to celebrate making it halfway.  My next mile marker will be less than 100 miles away.  When I reach the 1000 mile countdown, and with the pace I have to keep, I will be counting down the hundred-mile mark every 5 days or so.  This will make the time on the trail seem to fly by.

Day 79
7/9/12
Raven Rock Shelter - Tumbling Run Shelter
13.2 miles

Today was a very late start.  It was also significantly cooler.  Since we were short on water, we ate a dry breakfast and once on the trail, we were all business.  Our first stop was a county park that had running water and a great place to re-hydrate.  Once that was taken care of, it was .4 miles and across the Mason-Dixon line into Pennsylvania, to the road that led into town.  It wasn't long before we had hitched a ride into town and soon enough we were stocked with water treatment...and food.  After enjoying a Walmart deli lunch on the floor of their entranceway, we set out to find another ride to the trail.  We asked several people before a very nice lady came and asked us if we needed a ride to the trail.  Of course we said yes.  When we got to the intersection with the trail, we realized the woman had taken us to a road crossing further up the trail than we had left it.  Not folks to complain, we thanked her for the ride and set out 2 miles ahead of schedule.  After a short walk, we came to a stream crossing and happened to run into my friends, Fuzzy and Sourpuss.  My brother (whose trail name is now Brief) and I stopped to see how they have been.  It turns out they're going to yellow blaze (ride in a car or other motor vehicle) for 500 miles north to Vermont where the trail starts to become more interesting again.  It sounds interesting but I think I can still find ways to enjoy the trail before Vermont.  After a short break to catch up, we continued on another mile to our intended campsite for the night.  Since I am still going through 2-Step withdrawals, I had to call her first, before setting anything up.  After catching up, I continued with my camp chores and am about to enjoy a delicious dinner of mac and cheese with some hot taco seasoning.
P.S. I made it into the 7th state today!  Only 7 more states to go!

Day 78 
7/8/12
Rocky Run Shelter - Raven Rock Shelter
20.6 miles

Today started out pretty slow, it didn't even pretend that it was going to be hot, it was just started out hot.  We took our time getting packed and eating breakfast, and even moving slow we were still sweating.  This was going to be a long day.  The terrain was mellow and we kept a good pace, but the heat had us beat and we took lots of breaks to try and keep ourselves relatively cool.  One of our stops was the Washington Monument; a stone tower that was built by the people at a town to commemorate the life of George Washington.  It was very cool and the spiral staircase to the top of the tower led to an interesting view of the valley below. Our time to enjoy it was cut short though because we had run out of our water purification and had to get to the next road crossing to hitch a ride to what we hoped would be a store that carried Aquamira or iodine.  To make a long story short, the hitch to the Greenbrier State Park "camp store" was unsuccessful.  They didn't carry anything that could purify water.  So it was back on the trial hoping we would be able to borrow filters from other hikers as we passed water sources.  Shortly after our excursion, we came across the Annapolis Rocks that presented us with a great view despite the rain that had started to get closer to us.  Our next stop was another road crossing that took us on another town adventure to a Subway, to get dinner and clean water.  We had been lucky throughout the day that clean water sources from water fountains were in such close proximity to us.  Tomorrow there is a town with a Walmart where we can acquire some iodine tabs.  A lot of the towns that we've been passing, although close to the trail, are not stocked with certain essential camping items that you consume on the trail.  This is something that I'll have to keep in mind so I don't run into the problem my brother and I had today.  After dinner we had another 3.6 miles and busted it out fairly quickly.  It didn't take long for camp to get set up and us to get inside our hammocks.

Day 77
7/7/12
Harper's Ferry, WV - Rocky Run Shelter
15 miles

Well it was a bittersweet beginning to the second half of the trail.  2-Step and the pups are off the trail now.  We said our goodbyes today and I watched 2-Step and her family drive off as I turned around and once more put one foot in front of the other toward Katahdin.  On a much brighter note, though, my brother is on the trail with me for the next 120 miles.  I'm glad he could join me.  This will help ease me into hiking alone.  He did really well today.  We didn't start our hike until 1:30 PM, but we made it to camp before dark.  The terrain has really mellowed out; the altitude changes are not as severe as they once were.  The hike would've felt much quicker had the temperature not been comparable to the Sahara.  It was hot, damn hot!!  The ice cold Pepsi a half mile from camp helped ease our suffering a little bit.  Thanks to Bigfoot for the refreshing trail magic, it made the day, along with our leftover Bacon Pasta.  However, I do have to get my trail legs back.  I am much more tired than I should be, otherwise this entry might be longer.  As it is I feel the need to get some shut eye.  Happy trails!
P.S. I made it to the 6th state - Maryland!!
 
 
Day 74-76
7/4/12 - 7/6/12
Harpers Ferry/Washington, D.C.

The last few days have been very relaxing and it's been nice to have some down time with 2-Step before we don't get to see each other for the next 2 months.  This will be the longest time that we've been apart since we've been together and we're not looking forward to it.  I always gave credit to the hikers who had significant others off the trail because I thought that would be the hardest thing to do, and now I have to experience it for myself.  Although as I started writing this, my brother just walked through the door after quitting his job, getting another job and telling them he couldn't start until he hiked about 100 miles with me, so I guess I won't be starting out alone just yet.  I'll still miss hiking with 2-Step, but hiking with my brother will help ease me into hiking by myself.  I'm really looking forward to getting back on the trail since I technically haven't been on the trail since Waynesboro about 160 miles away.  Tomorrow, 2-Steps's parents are going to drop my brother and I off at the Appalachian Trail Conservancy where 2-Step and I will sign the registry, get our photo taken in front of the building and find out our hiker number to see how many other hikers have been there before us this summer.  I'll be seeing a lot of them as I cruise down the trail trying to get done in time for classes in the fall.  Hopefully a few of them will be willing to talk to me about why they are hiking the trail.  These next two months will be ineteresting.  I'm apprehensive about finishing on my own, but I think there will be some good things that come out of finishing something I've dreamed about on my own.  Before Harpers Ferry, hiking with 2-Step, it was our hike, we did everything as a team.  Now, even though 2-Step will still play a role in supporting me, it will become my hike.  Every decision I make on the trail will be mine and mine alone.  How long I hike everyday, how many days I'll resupply for, where I stop for breaks, all of these and many other choices will be mine to make alone and the only person they will affect is me.  It has been a few years since that has been the case and it's an exciting, yet lonely feeling.

Day 73-74
7/2/12 - 7/3/12
Shenandoah River
30/20 miles 

Today was a long day.  We paddled hard and made good time, but 30 miles took it out of us and we were ready to stop by the end of the day.  We were thinking that we might delay our take out until the 4th, but after being damp for almost a week and the last few days of heat, we were ready to get out of the boat.  At the end of the day we stopped at another campground and found a spot to set up. We made a delicious dinner of couscous and vegetables with a second course of pasta.  After 30 miles and a full stomach, sleep came easily.  We woke up early, hoping we would be ready to finish up the last 20 miles of our trip and to make it to our 5th state and our 1000 mile mark!  Maybe we didn't walk all 1000 miles, but we paddled enough to make up for it.  When we finally got on the water (our last day on the river) it was slow to start.  It didn't take long for our arms to feel the work out from the day before and it seemed like we might not make it, but we kept paddling and we got to the take out by 3:00pm, an hour earlier than our pick up time.  We were so happy when our shuttle came and even happier when they dropped us off at the hotel.  After showering up, we made the trek across the street to the seven eleven and got a case of beer and then picked up our pizza before heading back to the hotel.  Pizza and beer in bed with TV and A/C was the best thing ever, especially since everything was starting to dry out.  Tess was happy too!  The next day we would be meeting up with 2-Step's parents and catching a ride into D.C. with them where we would spend a couple days at my parents house.  This would give me some time to say good bye to 2-Step and the pups and to prepare myself to finish up the hike without them.

Day 72
7/1/12
Shenandoah River
20 miles

The days have been feeling long with all the paddling we've been doing.  Aquablazing is definitely not a lazy river float.  We work just as hard for our miles as we would be if we were hiking the mountains.  With the temperatures nearing 100 almost everyday it's been hot as well.  We stop to let Tess take breaks and cool off in the water, but it's hard to stay cool on days like the ones we've been experiencing.  The coolest site we saw today was a helicopter helping dump water on a forest fire on the mountains above the river.  We watched it as it made it's loop from wherever it filled up the bucket it was carrying and then back to the mountain to dump the water.  As we continued down the river we kept getting closer to the helicopter's loop and at one point I swear it filled up the bucket just around the bend in the river.  I couldn't be sure though because it was back over the mountain by the time we rounded the bend.  As we were going through a straight section we saw the helicopter coming our way and as we neared the end of the deeper part it stopped just behind us waiting for us to move out of the way.  We did this in a hurry as we felt the wind from the blades on the helicopter sweep over us.  As we cleared out of its way, it dropped its bucket about 50 yards from where we had just been and then flew right over us on it's way back to the fire.  It was so cool, not to mention the relief we got from the heat as the wind from the blades swept over us.  After that experience the day began to feel long.  It was hot and we were trying to make it to Front Royal to get a few food items to help supplement what we had gotten already to finish out the last couple of days.  We didn't get to Front Royal until about 6:00pm and by the time Golden and 2-Step had walked into town and back it was about 8:00pm.  We didn't feel like going too much further after the long hot day we had just experienced and we were glad when not even 100 yards from the boat landing we found a good spot to stop.  We were so tired we just had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for dinner.  

Day 71
6/30/12
Shenandoah River
20 miles

We woke up early with the sun and gathered our things and walked back across the field to the boat.  We were happy to see that the boat had made it through the storm and our cooler full of food was still where we had left it in the middle of the canoe.  We were all very tired and were not motivated to get going, but the sooner we started the day the sooner we could go to sleep again.  Midway through our day we got to the only rapid that the guide actually warns us about.  This perked us up a little bit and we had a good time going through the wave train at the bottom of the rapid.  Even with our canoe so low in the water we made it through without taking on too much water, but there was a good lunch spot at the bottom of the rapid and we stopped anyway to dump the water and take a lunch break, as well as to dry our things from the night before.  We took a long lunch and then continued on our way.  We made sure to make camp earlier tonight and enjoyed our delicious dinner of brats and sauerkraut before falling into one of the deepest, most exhausted sleeps of our lives. 

Day 70
6/29/12
Shenandoah River
20 miles

Today was definitely not as intersting as the night was.  We had a long day where we were out of the boat almost as much as we were in the boat.  The water level was really messing with us during this section of the river because there were so many rocks and it got so shallow. We were pretty loaded down with three people and a dog and a cooler full of heavy food items.  This meant that we got stuck just as much as we floated and we were in and out of the boat all day pushing it over the shallow sections.  Since we had such a long slow day on the river we didn't get off the boat until about 8:00pm.  This meant we were scrambling to find a place to hang our hammocks, set up Golden's tent and cook dinner before dark.  Normally this wouldn't have been a big deal, but there wasn't a good place to hang our hammocks in a hay field, which turned out to be a good thing in the end.  As I was rigging up our tarp as a lean to, using one of the hay bails in the field, we noticed lightning off in the distance.  We were confused because we didn't think there was supposed to be any significant weather over the next few days and nights.  Fortunately, 2-Step had cell service and was able to use her phone to check the weather.  Turns out that out of nowhere a severe thunderstorm system had formed and was moving towards us fast.  There was a severe thunderstorm warning out in the area where we were located and they were calling for tornado force winds with gusts up to 80 mph.  As 2-Step was checking her phone we watched the storm move closer and closer.  Within 5 minutes of her first checking her phone we felt the first gusts of wind and we were scrambling to get our site cleaned up and everything underneath our tarp or in Golden's tent.  Within 10 minutes of 2-Step checking her phone the full force of the storm was upon us.  I've never experienced a more intense storm in my life.  I definitely thought that something serious would happen to us or our gear.  Sitting side by side in Golden's tent with Tess just fitting in the space in her vestibule, we waited out the storm listening to the winds tear through the trees like they were toothpicks.  2-Step and I were so thankful we hadn't hung our hammocks where we originally thought we would.  Even sitting in the tent away from the trees a little bit we were certain that the wind would blow a tree down right on top of us.  We were all definitely nervous and 2-Step was keeping an eye on the weather radar, watching the progress of the storm.  The only good thing about the winds was that it meant the storm would blow over fairly quickly, but the hour and a half that it took to blow over felt like the longest length of time in my life.  It was so surreal once the storm had blown over to be sitting in the still air again, it was as if nothing had even happened it was so calm. Thus began the most uncomfortable night of sleep on the trail.  Without camping pads and a way to hang our hammocks, 2-step and I shared her bugnet and used my hammock as a ground cover to lay on.  We felt like a can of sardines and needless to say we did not sleep well at all. 

Day 69
6/28/12
Shenandoah River
20 miles

The guide that Jeff had provided us for the river let us know that if we made it 20 miles we would be able to camp at a campground and the thought of a real cup of coffee in the morning helped us get there.  We knew that a group of hikers had started just a day before us and we were wondering if we would catch up to them at some point.  As we got to our first portage around a dam we found them.  They were just getting their day started as we were pulling up to the dam to unload and carry everything around to the other side.  Since there were some things that we had to take care of while phone service was available the other hikers got ahead of us again, but we were pretty sure we would catch up to them.  It didn't take us long after getting done with our phones to find them.  They had tied their canoes together and had formed one massive tank of a water vehicle.  We joined forces and floated down the river without paddling for a few hours.  Since everyone had coolers, everyone had beer too so we enjoyed a lazy float down the river with some cold beverages.  After a few hours of hanging out, we had to break up the party since they were getting off the river that day and we had a few more miles to paddle before our day was over. It didn't take long though and we were at the campground unpacking our boat and getting ready for our dinner of bacon and chicken tortellini.  I could definitely get used to this canoeing thing if I eat like we have been. 

Day 68
6/27/12
Shenandoah River
20 miles

We woke up bright and early for our first full day on the river and had a delicious breakfast of granola and yogurt to get us started out right.  We got packed up and were on our way down the river.  Having never been on an overnight canoe trip, we were all pretty excited to see what this part of our journey would bring.  I felt a little like Huck Finn when he started his adventure on the Mississippi River.  It didn't take long for us to find a spot that looked so cool we had to pull over and check it out.  A tunnel that went below the train tracks right next to the river led to an area that was so green it seemed fake.  After exploring for a little bit and getting some pictures we continued on our way.  After a few miles I saw something floating in the water and as we got closer it started moving and then split up into five smaller objects.  When we got just a little bit closer I realized that we were seeing river otters. I've never seen an otter in real life and almost thought I was imagining it, but when I realized I wasn't dreaming I got really excited.  We never would have seen these animals from the trail and so it just helped justify our choice to aquablaze that much more.  At the end of the day we found another perfect campsite along the edge of the river complete with a fire ring already built up.  We enjoyed our delicious meal of chili cheese dogs and smores and fell asleep more satisfied from dinner than I've ever been on the trail.  It helps when you don't have to carry all the food on your back.

Day 67
6/26/12
Shenandoah River
10 miles/15 miles shuttle

The shuttle to the river wasn't going to pick us up until 4:30pm so we had the day to organize our things and buy the food for our trip.  By the time 4:30pm came around we were ready to go.  Jeff, the guy who owned the canoes, came and picked us up and drove us to the river where he gave us a pep talk on the low water levels and helped take some pictures of us all loaded up on the canoe.  Since we got such a late start on the river, we only paddled for a couple hours before we stopped and found our first campsite.  The dinner for the night was steak and it was delicious!


Day 65-66
6/24/12 - 6/25/12
Waynesboro, VA
0 miles

Before we could do anything else, we made our way over to the Y and got our showers.  It was a welcome relief after almost making myself sick with my own stench.  Although having to put the dirty clothes back on was not the most exciting thing since we hadn't had a chance to do our laundry yet.  As everyone else from our slack packing group was talking about aquablazing, we were packing up our things to go meet our friend Golden at a hotel where we planned on splitting a room for the night.  We had talked about wanting to aquablaze before, but didn't know anything about it and didn't know if it was something that would work out.  When we met up with our friend Golden, she asked if we wanted to aquablaze with her and we started making some calls.  We found a company that gave us a pretty good deal for a canoe and shuttles to and from the river. We could also paddle all 150 miles from Waynesboro to Harpers Ferry.  We got pretty excited and started making plans; plans being what we would eat for dinner.  Since we had time to spare because we had to wait for a canoe to come back from a group already out on the river, we took the next couple of days to run our errands and plan out our meals. 

Day 64
6/23/12
Reeds Gap - Waynesboro, VA
19.3 miles

2-Step and I were only 2 of 4 people that decided to hike that day.  Some of the other hikers in our group had had a little more fun than us at the brewery and just weren't feeling up to hiking almost 20 miles that day.  Since we knew we were going to be in town that night, we took our time and stopped at all the viewpoints for breaks throughout the day.  One of our stops for water also led to an interesting conversation with Regina the Ridge Runner.  It was nice meeting you and we enjoyed the conversation about hiking and eco-psychology.  We also heard the crying bear that you had mentioned.  I wish we knew what was going on, it sounded so sad.  We eventually made it to town and hitched a ride in with a couple of ladies who had just finished up a 500 mile section hike.  Being hikers themselves, they knew that a cold beverage at the end of the hike was always welcome. When their husbands pulled up to pick us up, there was cooler stocked with cold beers and soda.  They gave us one for the road and when we got to the YMCA they gave us another for camp.  We couldn't think of a better way to end the day than having a cold beer or two, except maybe the free shower that was waiting for us at Y.  Unfortunately, they closed earlier than we thought they would and we didn't get the shower that was very much needed.  There have been no other times on the trail where my hiker stink could make me sick, but I had finally reached that point.  I was ready for a shower on Wednesday and today was Saturday with no chance of a shower until the next day.  We had made it to town and I made that work for me until I could get a shower the next day.

Day 63
6/22/12
USFS road 246 - Reeds Gap
22.1 miles

2-Step was going to take another zero today, but because so many people had the same idea in the group it turned into a near-o.  In order to help out Albatross and make the shuttling easier, all the people taking a near-o would hike 6 miles up the trail to the next road crossing that was more conveniently located to where we were stopping for the night, the Devil's Backbone Brewery.  We got a pretty early start at about 7:30am and had the 6 miles done by 10:30am.  From there I would hike the last 14 miles on my own.  I started out quickly and had the first climb done in no time.  With the Black Keys playing on the ipod, I started the long descent down to the next road crossing and the last climb of the day.  Now, I could have made the day longer by following all the white blazes, but we had gotten word of a blue blaze trail that cut out about 4 miles, although it was much steeper than the actual AT.  Since we were ending at a brewery, I figured I'd take the blue blazes and get there a little faster.  Although I might have made it to Reeds Gap faster, I definitely worked for it.  There was no messing around on the blue blaze.  It went straight up the mountain with little to no switchbacks.  On the bright side, it followed a creek the entire time and I got a cool breeze coming down the mountain.  There were all sorts of swimming holes and little falls along the trail that I wouldn't have seen if I had followed the white blazes.  There were also lots of awesome campsites along the creek that made me wish 2-Step and Tess and our full packs were with me so we could have stopped at one of them.  Patches, the only person who didn't take the blue blaze that day, said we didn't miss anything at all by taking the blue blaze.  At the end of the day, I made a call to the brewery to see if we could get a ride because another hiker had told us they would shuttle people to and from the trail.  The rental car was indisposed and wasn't able to come pick us up from Reeds Gap, which is why I made the call.  The hostess answered the phone and said that hikers got rides from employees that didn't mind coming to pick us up on their way to work.  It turns out, I called at the perfect time because they were able to reach an employee who was about to go to work 30 minutes from when I called and said she had a truck big enough for everyone and the dog.  I would like to go ahead and thank Smooth for giving me the heads up on the brewery.  They were worth the visit and were very hiker friendly.  I'd also like to thank the folks at the bar that bought us a couple rounds.  We had an interesting conversation and we enjoyed meeting new people.  After dinner we wandered over to the old sandwich shop that the brewery lets hikers stay in.  Although there weren't any showers, we had A/C and bathrooms and that was enough for us. We were going to be in Waynsboro, VA the next day and were going to be able to get free showers and camping at the YMCA.

Day 62
6/21/12
BRP 51.7 - USFS road 246
20.6 miles

I was dreading having to hike today.  I was so drained from the heat of the day before that I didn't think I could survive another hot day, but 2-Step and I got up and on the trail as early as possible.  This helped a lot and before it could get too hot, we were on our way and crusing down the trail.  About half way through the day we got to our first shelter and stopped for a break before the big climb of the day. We sat there for a while and some of the other slack packers caught up to us and did the same thing.  No one was motivated to start the climb, especially those of us that had hiked the day before.  Eventually we mustered up the courage to keep going and started the climb.  The first mile of the climb was fairly mellow and it led up to a road crossing where we saw some dark clouds forming through the break in the trees.  We then gained some energy with the hope that it would rain on us as we made our way up the steeper miles of the climb.  With thoughts of rain in our heads we started up and it didn't take long for the climb to feel as if it was going straight up.  The clouds had moved closer to us at this point and when we reached a spot where the climb leveled out for a few yards, we experienced one of those perfect moments on the trail.  We had just finished a steep section and as the trail leveled out for a few yards before the next climb, we got a cool wind that washed over us like we had just stepped into an air conditioned room.  It was truly perfect and it gave us a boost of energy and attitude that we needed to help get us up the next mile of the climb.  It wasn't long after the cool wind that we felt some rain start to fall and it helped ease my apprehension about finishing the climb and the rest of the day.  The temperature cooled of dramatically and it didn't take us long to finish up the last few miles of the day.

Day 61
6/20/12
Thunder Hill Ridge - Blue Ridge Parkway mile 51.7
25.5 miles

2-Step had decided to take a zero today and have some girl time since all the girls in the slack pack group had decided to not hike that day.  It was a welcome break for her and she didn't miss much on the hike.  There were some views, but this was the hottest day we've had on the trail and there was so much moisture in the air that you couldn't see much from the viewpoints anyway.  To give you an idea of how hot it was, when I got done with the day someone asked me if it had rained because I was soaked from head to toe. Unfortunately for me, it wasn't rain that had soaked my shirt and shorts. There was a cool part of the day though.  After my lunch break, I crossed the James River Foot Bridge, which is the longest foot-use only bridge on the trail.  It was pretty neat, but shortly after that I experienced the worst climb ever on the trail.  I didn't have to hike as fast as I was going, but when I hike by myself and know that 2-Step is waiting for me at the end of the trail, I like to get there quickly so we can spend more of the day together, rather than apart.  This could have been the wrong thing to do for the climb that I was on with the heat that I was feeling, but I didn't stop. Actually, I stopped, a lot, but I tried to go as fast as the heat would allow.  I finished the day quickly, but even the folks getting in after me thought that the day was pretty miserable and let everyone who hadn't hiked know that they probably made the right choice.

Day 60
6/19/12
Thunder Hill Ridge - Jennings Creek
14 miles

The beauty of having a car available is that you don't always have to hike north.  Moonshine, Albatross' wife, had planned today as a southbound hike because there was a major climb that we would have had to go up rather than down if we went northbound.  2-Step and I were part of the first shuttle to the trail that day so we got a good start on the hike.  Shortly after we hopped onto the trail, there was a blue blaze that led to a 200 foot waterfall that we thought would be an interesting site, especially since there was a loop back to the trail.  The trail to the falls was 1 mile off the AT and we didn't think much about it because of the loop back onto the trail; that is until we found out that there was no loop and we had to hike back up the mile we had gone down.  It was at this point that we realized the loop that we thought was there was another side trail that paralleled the AT for a mile before cutting back onto the trail.  We had already gone out of our way so 2-Step and I decided to see where this other trail took us.  We followed an overgrown path that looked as if it had once been a road of some sort. At first we weren't sure if we should turn around or not, but our interest in seeing where the trail led kept us going forward, and since we followed white blazes everyday, we thought a break from that would be good since we were already off the trail anyway.  About a mile after turning onto the second side trail, we came to an intersection that pointed us in the direction of the AT, and a half mile later we were back on our way north.  We thought we were going to be getting back earlier since we had gotten such a good start on our day, but the whole waterfall fiasco had taken longer than we thought, so we ended our day much later than we had initially planned on.  Oh well, that's one of the things about the trail, you can plan on one thing, but more than likely something else is going to happen.  It wasn't the end of the world, and we got to hang out at the Jennings Creek swimming hole another night, so it wasn't all that bad.

Day 59
6/18/12
Daleville,VA - Jennings Creek
28.2 miles

We started out late for such a long day, but the plan was to see where we got.  If people didn't want to hike all 28 miles, the driver of the rental car, Albatross, would be waiting at the last road crossing before our campsite to help shuttle people to the Jennings Creek swimming hole.  2-Step and I weren't worried too much about where we ended up and just enjoyed the day.  The terrain wasn't that bad, there were some climbs, but it was a comfortable temperature and a good day to be hiking, especially without a full pack on our backs.  About halfway through the day, the clouds grew dark and it started pouring on us, fortunately we were only about a mile from the next shelter and we were able to get there and meet up with the other slack packers to dry off for a minute and see if we could wait out the storm.  It wasn't long before the rain stopped, the sun came out, and we could continue on our merry way.  There weren't many views, so we didn't stop for too many breaks and we were at the road crossing where Albatross was waiting for anyone that didn't want to continue on to the Jennings Creek road crossing 8 miles away.  2-Step was tired after 20 miles and decided to take the ride to camp.  Since there were only 8 miles left, I figured I would leave my pack with her and only bring a water bottle, granola bar, and the page from the guide book with the terrain profile for the last 8 miles.  Now I'm the first person to avoid running, but since I've been on the trail and my legs are my only mode of transportation, I've tried to get to places faster and faster, and that has started to involve running. Only carrying a water bottle in my hands gave me the opportunity to do a little trail running, and I finished up the last 8 miles of the day in about 1 hour and 30 minutes.  That's definitely no world record, but I was happy to have set, what I thought, was a good pace for myself.  2-Step helped my mood even more when she told me she had gotten me 2 Whoppers for dinner.  It didn't take long before dark came and we were in our hammocks waiting to see what the next day would bring.

Day 57-58
6/16/12-6/17/12
Daleville, VA
0 miles

Since my dad and brother were planning on coming to pick up Molly we had a zero day to spend in Daleville.  On the slack pack into town, I had decided it was time to get a new pair of shoes.  My clean socks that I had put on the morning of the hike should not have been as dirty and crusty as they were at the end of one day.  The stench emanating from the bowels of my shoes was more than anyone should have to deal with.  After about 750 miles of use, it was time to retire them and I wasn't sad.  2-Step was also in need of a new pair of shoes since the ones she had bought in Hot Springs, NC were already starting to blow out and looked just as old as mine after only 300 miles of use. We thought that the outfitters in town might have a pair of shoes for each of us, so we headed that way after a leisurely morning.  The outfitters wasn't much help since they didn't have a pair of shoes that worked for either of us less than $100.  The whole store was rather outrageously priced and we didn't spend much time looking around.  After that little excursion we spent the rest of our time waiting for my dad and brother to arrive.  We parked by the pool with the other hikers staying at the hotel.  Soon enough they arrived and we spent some time catching up before heading out to Roanoke, VA where 2-step and I had found a Gander Mountain that had some shoes we were interested in trying on.  Success!  We both found a pair of shoes we liked and we didn't have to pay as much as we thought we would, which is always a bonus.  After a successful shoe search, we got back to the hotel to drop our things off before going out to eat some delicious southern barbeque.  The next day, we got up earlier to get our resupply done before my dad and brother had to leave to head back to D.C.  2-Step and I were so glad that my dad could take time out of his weekend to help us out.  We are truly very thankful for all the help and support my parents have provided this summer.  I don't know what we would have done if they had not been able to help us get Molly off the trail.  I was able to tell my dad happy Father's Day and thank you the next day, but I'd like to give a belated Happy Father's Day here as well.  Thank you for all the support and guidance you've given me over the years; without it I don't know if I would have been confident enough to have planned this hike.  I appreciate everything you've done for me over the years and I apologize if it hasn't always come across that way.  Thank you.  After saying our good-byes to my dad and brother, and of course, Molly, we went about organizing our things and repacking our bags to get back on the trail.  We were moving pretty slow since we only planned on hiking 5 miles.  Even with a late check out, we still went down to the pool to finish doing everything we wanted to do before heading north.  We ended up having some left over food that we couldn't finish and when we finally decided we couldn't drag our feet anymore, we picked up our bags and went over to a group of hikers that had just arrived, to see if they wanted any salad and a bottle of dressing.  I'm so glad we did, because while talking to them we found out that 2 people had just left their group and they had an opening for 2 more people to join their slack packing group.  It didn't take much convincing and within 2 minutes of talking to them we had dropped our packs, been handed a couple beers each, and were sitting in the circle of hikers catching up with Screaming Eagle, a friend of ours that we hadn't seen in a few weeks.  It's funny how things work out sometimes.  We did not want to get back on the trail that day and in a matter of minutes, had found ourselves taking another zero with the opportunity to slack pack all the way to Waynesboro, VA, 134 miles away.  There were going to be some long days ahead of us since we were going to get done with the 134 miles in 6 days, but we also weren't going to be carrying our full packs everyday.
 
 
Hiking the AT has always been something I've wanted to do. I'm not sure exactly when I started thinking about wanting to hike it; I just know I wanted to hike it.  I'm not even sure why I wanted to hike it.  I suppose it was mainly a romantic idea of walking in the woods, being one with nature, and getting away from society; back to our roots in a way.  All these things still apply.  There are those days where everything lines up and you feel as if you're one with nature, you see amazing views or an animal that makes you stop and think about all the beautiful beings out here, you forget about everything on the "outside", the hike is so easy it's as if you're floating along experiencing nirvana and not lugging a heavy pack up and down mountains.  All these things can and will happen, but the reality is that you struggle for these days.  

Everyday it's a constant mental battle to be able to get up not knowing what's going to happen and not having a day that's so easy you feel as if you're not trying at all.  Most days you wake up tired, hungry, and not wanting to hike at all, knowing you're just going to have to do it again tomorrow, but you do it anyway.  Why do it day after day?  That's what I set out to find out on this hike. 

I've been racking my brain to figure out why I do it everyday.  What keeps me going when others have decided to go home and not put their bodies and minds through the stresses of the day to day life on the trail?  It's been 856.5 miles and I still can't say exactly why I'm still hiking.  Part of it might be that I decided to do this for school and feel the need to finish to get the credit, but I don't think that's it entirely.  Part of it could be that I told so many people that I feel I have to finish to prove to them I can do it, but that's not it as well.  One person I talked to said that they hate hiking, but they finished their thru-hike because they had to prove to themself that they could actually complete something they set out to do.  I can relate to that feeling, but I don't hate hiking enough to entirely feel that way.

The other day, as I was crossing the James River Bridge, someone asked me why I'm hiking the trail.  I couldn't think of anything eloquent to say and after a few "ums and ahhs" the best response I could come up with was, "I lived in a small town before this and it didn't take much to move to hiking in the woods alone all day."  I don't even know what that means.  I know I enjoy my solitude more than large crowds, but my response didn't really seem good enough even for me.  I had to laugh at my loss for words when asked the exact same question I plan on asking others.  I've asked myself countless times why I'm out here, especially during tough parts of a hike.  Why am I putting myself through this?  I chose to do this and I can choose not to.  Why wouldn't I just stop when it got hard?

I've found that I can do a whole lot more than I ever though possible.  One of the toughest days was my run into Damascus with Early Bird.  We did 37 miles in 10 hours and when we got to town I could barely move, but I kept picking up my legs, step after step, as much as they hurt, and when I thought I couldn't walk anymore I kept going.  Since then, when things get tough, I think back to that day, and I realize I haven't come close to hitting my physical and mental limit.  Maybe not having an answer to why I'm hiking isn't a bad thing.  The good thing about it is that I haven't found a reason to quit yet.  That, at this moment in time, is the best answer I can give.  As hard as things get, as miserable as I feel, as many things that can and have gone wrong, I still haven't found a reason to quit and for now that is what keeps me going.

Something else that has come up recently is the question of what defines a thru-hike.  Some, known as "purists", would say you're only a thru-hiker if you see every white blaze on the trail.  I've already become a long distance section hiker in the eyes of a purist.  On the other side of the argument are blue blazers. 

These are people that will stray off the trail on one of the hundreds of blue blazed trails.  These trails may lead to a view and then loop back to the AT, skipping part of the trail.  The blue blazes sometimes take you all the way to the top of a mountain when the AT only skirts the peak.  Sometimes the blue blazes are there for inclement weather when the AT might be dangerous, like during a lightning storm if the trail goes over a peak, for example.  Blue blazes are there for any number of reasons, sometimes they're worth the diversion from the white blazes, sometimes they're not.  You never know unless you take them. 

I started out the trail a purist.  I was determined to not miss a single white blaze, otherwise I felt I wouldn't have completed an actual thru-hike.  It wasn't long before I realized that I couldn't always be that rigid.  I began to think about one of the best pieces of advice I heard before starting the trail.  A former thru-hiker told 2-Step and I that its good to plan out everything and figure out an itinerary, but when you get to the trail head throw the itinerary away, because everyday brings something new that you can't plan for.  I thought I understood that, but I've found that it's hard for me to adjust plans I've made already when situations demand a change. 

I've had to learn how to adapt to changing situations on the trail more than any other time in my life.  2-Step is much better at thinking on her feet than I am and since she's leaving the trail in Harpers Ferry I look at the second half of my hike as an opportunity to fully learn how to adapt to changing situations on my own.  This also parallels how I've changed my definition of a thru-hike. 

I started out thinking I had to do this, or I had to do that, or it wouldn't count.  I felt guilty when I yellow blazed (getting a ride in car to skip a section of the trail) a section I've hiked before in order to be able to do the 37-mile run to Damascus with my buddy Early Bird.  Afterwards, I was so excited that I had taken that opportunity.  I didn't feel I had achieved anything less by yellow blazing that section, I had just done things a little differently than other hikers. 

It's been a few hundred miles since then and 2-Step and I have taken a few blue blazes and missed a few white blazes here and there.  We feel we haven't experienced anything less than a purist.  So when the opportunity to aquablaze (taking a canoe down the Shenandoah River, which parallels the AT for a few miles) came along, 2-Step and I were intrigued.  Granted, if 2-Step wasn't with me I might not have considered aquablazing as seriously.  We are in this together until Harpers Ferry and we figured this would be a fun way to end her section of the trail.  We'll be canoeing for a week and it will be the equivalent of about 160 trail miles.  Maybe this disqualifies me as a thru-hiker, maybe it doesn't. 

People come out here for different reasons, but one of the main reasons I've heard is for an outdoor adventure.  When it feels more like a job than an adventure, you might as well go home and work for money.  Since we've been dealing with the "Virginia Blues," 2-Step and I couldn't think of a better way to re-enliven our sense of adventure than to aquablaze.  Never having gone on an overnight canoe trip before, we don't know what to expect and that feeling couldn't be more exciting. 

I've definitely strayed from my original idea of what this hike would be.  I can't say I regret any of the choices so far.  2-Step and I have both learned so much about each other, about how to rely on each other in stressful situations, and about ourselves as well.  You can make the trail whatever you want it to be and with all the different people on the trail, there are a lot of different hikes happening all at once.  So get out there, have an adventure, have fun, and as people on the trail like to say, "hike your own hike!"
 
 
Day 56
6/15/12
Four Pines Hostel - Daleville, VA
25.5 miles

The owner of the hostel leaves for work at 5:45 AM, so it was an early morning for us.  We got Molly and 2-Step packed up and loaded up into the truck and I finished my coffee before hitting the trail.  The first 6 miles were fairly boring and went by pretty quickly.  Soon enough I was on top of McKaffee Knob, which is one of the quintessential photos you see on the trail.  I got my picture and enjoyed the view and leftover pizza.  Soon enough I was back on my feet and heading to the next break spot, the Tinker Cliffs.  There was a good view fromt eh cliffs of McKaffee Knob and I also caught up to a lot of the hikers who had started 6 miles ahead of me.  We spent some time hanging out enjoying the view and company.  After some more pizza, I was back on the trail for the last 10 miles.  The rest of the day wasn't as interesting and contained less views, so I didn't stop for much, except water.  The last few miles were very dry and since it was the hottest part of the day, I got really thirsty.  I was so happy when I got to the hotel and 2-Step had already checked into a room and had the A/C going.  We were splitting the room with our friend Golden and when I got there, we all went to Kroger's  and got the fixings for a delicious feast.  We walked back to the hotel and had a picnic by the pool.  After dinner we hung out with about 20 other hikers and had a few beers.  The dreariness of the last few days seemed to fade away with the last rays of sunshine.  I don't know what to expect from the next few days, but I know that if things get rough, I just have to give it some time and things will pick up again.

Day 55
6/14/12
Niday Shelter - Four Pines Hostel
16.8 miles

What can I say, except sometimes this hiking thing can be a drag.  This week has felt so long and it's been so hard to get up everyday to hike. We're not the only ones either.  We heard that a lot of people lose motivation in Virginia, because it takes so long to get through this state (there's about 544 miles of trail in VA).  There wasn't much to today's hike, except a lot of up and down and rocks.  At the end of the day though, we got to stay at one of the coolest hostels on the trail.  It's a hobby farm whose owner decided to open up his gates to hikers.  There's a 3-bay garage with cots, couches, microwaves, ovens and a bathroom and shower.  Since there wasn't room in the garage, the owner told us  that we could sleep in one of the barns/storage sheds nearby.  We found an empty shed with a hay loft and set our hammocks up.  It was pretty cool.  There were a lot of other hiker dogs there and Tess had lots of fun running around playing with the other dogs.  At one point, she and another dog were chasing ducks in a small pond non-stop for about 40 minutes.  We also ran into Cooper, who we met when living in Johnson City, about a year ago.  We met him hiking our local section of the AT and it was so surprising when we finally caught up to him, after seeing notes in the log books for me.  The last few days have been a drag, but things seemed to turn around, especially when we found out we could get Molly off the trail 2 days early.  The owner of the hostel works in the town we were going to in order to get her off the trail.  he had offered to shuttle everyone's packs to a hotel and then everyone could slackpack to town.  We took this opportunity to see if 2-Step could get a ride to town with Molly, while Tess and I slackpacked 26 miles.  It worked out and we began to feel so much better.  Things really seemed to be picking up.

Day 54
6/13/12
War Spur Shelter - Niday Shelter
18.2 miles

We got up on time and we were the first ones out of camp.  The early start was nice, because after a short descent, we had a 2.5 mile climb. It may have been a long time, but the cool morning air was refreshing and it helped us get to the top without "too much" sweat.  From the top of the climb we had less that a mile to a viewpoint where I had to me an important call.  We had to make a tough decision the night before and we decided to get Molly off the trail.  At the viewpoint, I called my dad and made arrangements for him to pick up Molly in Daleville, VA.  From the view, we began our descent down to a short section of pastures.  Since Pearisburg I've just felt drained of energy, and the open fields with the sun blasting down on me didn't help.  Fortunately, I got a little boost of energy from a patch of black raspberries.  The few that were ripe were so succulent and sweet.  It was a refreshing break from the sun, and helped give me the energy boost needed to keep going.  Not long after that, we found a good spot for lunch, right by a road crossing that was near a river.  The cooler air was nice, and a cup of cold coffee and some lunch helped me get ready for the rest of the afternoon.  We took a long lunch and let Molly get a good rest.  I've been massaging her leg a lot and she's been doing alright during the day, but it's her time and she doesn't need to be out here anymore.  I'm so grateful that my parents are able to help us with Molly, because without them, I'm not sure what we would have done.  Thank you so much Tom, Lisa and Case!  We've started noticing a lot more ticks lately, and during lunch it was an unpleasant experience to have to pick so many of them off of Molly and Tess.  The more it warms up, the more we're going to have to check the dogs.  Ticks are disgusting and it's so unnerving having them crawl on us and the dogs.  After lunch we had a short, but very steep climb up to a ridge line.  Once to the top, the terrain mellowed out and we made quick time to the shelter before our planned stop of the day.  From there we only had 6 miles, but little did we know, we would be hating the trail by the end of the day.  It was hot and dry, with no water source until the last shelter, and lots of rocky ups and downs.  We were very happy to get to the shelter.  This was one of those nights where set up, dinner and sleep happened in quick succession.  Again, sometimes this hiking thing can be a drag. 

Day 53
6/12/12
Pine Swamp Branch Shelter - War Spur Shelter
12.7 miles

Today was one of those days that just seemed to drag on.  Molly's leg is really stiff, mine still kind of hurts,and things just didn't seem right for hiking today.  We weren't the only ones feeling that way either.  Leif, Nomad and Golden, who stayed at the shelter last night, felt the same way too.  It just seems like we've been in a hiker funk since we left Pearisburg.  It took us six hours to hike eight miles because we kept stopping for this reason and that reason.  It wasn't hard to find reasons to take a break.  It's been nice hiking such short days, but something has to change.  After lunch, things picked up a little bit.  The trail wasn't as rocky and instead of hiking our longest day today, we decided to switch days and hike the shorter one today.  The shelter we stopped at was pretty nice and it had a good creek near it, that was deep enough to soak my leg in. We're going to try and get out of camp by 6AM tomorrow, to avoid some of the heat and humidity of the day.  Tomorrow is one of our longer days this week, and Molly usually warms up throughout the day, so we'll see what happens tomorrow.  If we can get most of the miles done before lunch, we can take a long break and then take our time in the afternoon.  Hopefully we feel a little more motivated tomorrow.  Sometimes this hiking thing can feel like a drag... 

Day 52
6/11/12
campsite - Pine Swamp Branch Shelter
10.9 miles

The day started out gray and just got grayer.  Fortunately, the rain didn't start until later in the day.  The terrain was mellow and kind of boring.  Our goal for the day was bout 23 miles from where we camped.  We felt pretty confident until our first real terrain change, when it started raining during the descent.  We had already planned to stop at a shelter at the bottom of the descent for lunch and were were so happy to see it after hiking for a mile in the rain.  It wasn't a cold rain, but the Smokies ruined any rain day for me.  When we stopped for lunch, it was pretty easy to make our packs explode and the shelter got comfortable fast.  It didn't take long for 2-Step to convince me to stay and the thought of a fire in the shelter (there was a fireplace inside this shelter) while it rained outdoors, sounded pretty good.  Besides the rain, my leg was sore and Molly has been getting very stiff in one of her legs.  Molly like our decision and made herself real comfortable on the floor of the shelter.  After lunch, with our bellies full, we went searching for wood and had a fire going in no time.  It's funny that we decided to stay, because a friend of ours from early on in the trail stopped at the shelter as well.  We hadn't seen him in several weeks, and we spent the afternoon catching up and drying out.  It's hard for me to not hike the miles we have been doing, but for Molly's sake and for mine, it's good we decided to take it easy.  These are the shortest days we've hiked since Georgia, but it's good to take some short days every once and a while.

Day 51
6/10/12
Pearisburg, VA - campsite
8.4 miles

We spent a relaxing morning packing up and running last minute errands.  Check out wasn't until 1PM, so we made sure to take our time.  We also gave Molly her second bath of the trip.  Her fur gets more stuff caught and tangled in it than Tess, so we bathe and comb out the knots that start to form.  Tess just sheds everything off, she might smell sometimes but so do I this summer.  After the bath and errands, we grabbed our bags and walked out of the door.  It was a hot day and we were sad to be leaving the pool, but happy to be getting back on the trail after such a long break.  Our hike started with a few miles of road walking and it was refreshing.  When we finally stepped into the trees, it was significantly cooler and much more peaceful than the highway we had just been walking next to.  Of course, whenever we leave town we always have to be prepared for a climb out of the valley and today we were not disappointed.  Our peace and tranquility was rudely interrupted by the steepest climb we've seen in a long time.  It didn't matter that we were in the trees at this point, we were hot and the climb wouldn't give up.  Then to top it all off, as I came around a bend in the trail, I ran into a very aggressive dog.  The owner had it off the leash and I didn't think anything of it at first.  It stopped when it saw us coming and I just kept walking since I didn't want to lose momentum.  When we got closer, it stepped around me to meet Tess, or that's what I thought.  When I felt a pull on the leash attached to my pack, I turned around to tell Tess to keep going and I saw the dog biting Tess' neck and jerking her around.  This all happened so fast, Tess didn't even have time to yelp before I grabbed the other dog by the neck, yelled, "hey!", and threw it on the ground.  It struggled once before I tightened my grip and put more of my weight on it to keep it pinned to the ground.  I couldn't believe it, and the owners hadn't even yelled or anything.  I was so shocked ti only took the time to check Tess for blood, and then got the hell away from there as fast as I could.  I finished the climb and didn't even notice the heat or steepness from all the adrenaline pumping through me.  The rest of our hike was much less eventful and when we got to camp, set up took not time at all.  We were able to collect some good firewood and had a roaring fire in no time.  While eating an appetizer of leftover pizza, we cooked our dinner and enjoyed the warmth and comfort the fire gave us.  It was good to be back in the woods and when it was time for bed, the sound of the wind through the trees put us into a deep sleep shortly after laying down.
 
 
Day 49-50
6/8/12 - 6/9/12
0 miles
Pearisburg, VA

Since we had decided to stay the day in town, we took our time running errands and I spent periods in between each one icing my leg.  My leg was pretty sore and the most painful it had been since I first began noticing the tightness in it several days before.  It was bad enough that I thought I would go and see if I could find a doctor to check it out.  It turned out that there was a physical therapist only a couple buildings down from the hotel that was a provider for my insurance.  After our errands for the day, we went over to the phyical therapist's office and they examined my leg.  They couldn't tell me much other than I needed to rest my leg and ice it, and they gave me some stretches to help loosen up the muscle.  My leg was feeling better and the icing had really helped the swelling go down.  That night, instead of going out to eat, we used a grill at the hotel to grill up some steaks with some other hikers.  Fuzzy and Sourpuss, Okie, Wiggy, 2-Step and I all enjoyed cooking our own food that didn't happen to be instant mashed potatoes and mac and cheese.  It was a good time and it made up for us having to take a zero day.  My leg was still sore and 2-Step and I thought that it would be best for us to take another day off just to give my leg as much rest as possible.  The next day, since we had taken care of almost everything the day before, we spent lounging around the hotel room and enjoying the pool.  The pool felt really good on my leg and with the swelling down and my ankle wrapped up for walking around town, it was the best it had felt in a couple days.  Our plan is to take it easy over the next few days and see how it goes, we may be taking more zero days than we planned for in Virginia, but I don't want this to end our hike to Maine so I would rather go slow for a while than end our hike.  After two days off though, we're both ready to get back on the trail tomorrow and I can't wait to see how my leg does.  It's hard being stuck in town and we've really gotten used to our schedule when we're on the trail.  We begin to feel lazy when we spend too much time in town, but one thing that my injury has shown me is that I have to enjoy my time where I'm at and not always look forward to Maine.

Day 48
6/7/12
16.6 miles
Wapiti Shelter - Pearisburg, VA

We got up at 5am and were on the trail by 6:15.  We started with a big climb and it felt good to get it out of the way early.  My leg was sore, but not too bad on the climb up.  After the climb, it was a few more miles to the next shelter and our coffee break for the morning.  While we were at the shelter making coffee we met another hiker named Butterfingers.  He earned his name because he keeps losing his stuff on the trail.  He had quite the list going and read it off to us while I was boiling water.  After our break we only had 8 more miles into town and we tried to hurry through it as quick as possible.  Right before we started our descent into town we stopped at a couple views and it was a pretty amazing sight.  We were standing above the clouds and it felt like we were flying in a plane.  Although the terrain was fairly flat before the descent, the trail was pretty rocky and it was starting to aggravate my leg a lot more, but it wasn't anything that I couldn't deal with.  When we started going downhill though, I began to realize there might be more of a problem than I thought.  It takes a lot to keep me from moving and I was feeling a pain so intense it made me stop several times on the way down.  I was moving pretty slow by the time we got to the road that I thought we weren't ever going to make it to the hotel.  We didn't think we were going to be taking a zero day in Pearisburg, but I was beginning to have doubts about that after the descent we had just made.  We walked into town and stopped for lunch before heading to the hotel.  We were surprised when we saw a swimming pool and besides the fact that my leg hurt, I think that may have been a factor in our decision to take a day off.  That night I made it over to the Mexican restaurant for Fuzzy's birthday celebration and had a margarita and some food which helped make my leg feel a little better.

Day 47
6/6/12
14.2
Jenny Knob Shelter - Wapiti Shelter

I woke up and my leg was still feeling tight, but was much better than the night before.  It was also really grey and we were hoping that it wouldn't rain.  We got off pretty early and not long after we started, it began to rain.  We picked up our pace and since we knew we would be stopping at a grocery store right off the trail we didn't worry too much about the rain.  As we got to the grocery store the rain was on its way out and we celebrated by ordering a bunch of food and picking up some tasty treats for our one day of resupply before we got to Pearisburg, VA.  It was so comfortable at Trent's Grocery Store that we stayed and hung out for a while with the other hikers.  When we finally stepped back outside the sun was starting to break through the clouds.  We had planned to do 16 more miles in the afternoon, but the time spent at Trent's made that seem a little difficult.  When we got to the shelter before our intended stop for the night we stopped to see who was there.  2-Steps's feet were already tender and my leg was really beginning to bother me, but it was so hard for me to give up on our original plan for the day.  It didn't take long though and 2-Step convinced me to stay the night.  It wasn't a bad decision and we had a good campfire with Wiggy, Slash, Dirty D, Spike, Spotlight and Machine.  My one condition for stopping though was that we get up extra early and try to leave by 6am so we could get to town earlier rather than later.  We weren't planning on taking a zero and since our 8 mile hike into town had turned into 16, I wanted to get a jump start on the day.

Day 46
6/5/12
23.8 miles
Jenkins Shelter - Jenny Knob Shelter

Early in our day, we arrived at a bridge that crossed a refreshing looking river and we stopped to fill up our water bottles.  While we were taking a break and rehydrating ourselves, a car pulled up and we met one of the friendliest people ever.  Trubrit, an implant from England, who also happned to be a hiker, had moved to the area about a year ago and had set up a hiker hostel to help out AT thru-hikers.  For $5 you could stay in his dojo and that small fee also included any shuttles around town and to and from the trail.  It was a really good deal and before we could say anything he was already trying to figure out how to fit us and our dogs into the car with him and his dog.  As tempting as he was, we had to decline his offer and continue on down the trail, but we told oursleves that if we made it to the next road crossing before 2pm, we would call him up and stay.  Our goal was to make it to the road crossing before the pizza place across the street from Trubrits dojo stopped their lunch buffet.  We were saddened to find that we hadn't hiked quick enough to get there, but at the same time we knew that we couldn't stop at too many places because then we wouldn't make any progress on the trail.  While stopping at the road for a quick break and a snack I was starting to notice that the shin on my left leg was beginning to bother me.  The rest was good for it, but the muscle on my leg felt pretty tight.  After the break we continued on our way and I tried to ignore the tightness.  We got to camp and were pretty tired, but excited as well because 2-Step had just hiked her biggest day!  She was so excited that at the end of the day she was outwalking me.  I was happy to see camp and get off my feet because my leg had really started to feel tender.  There was a good crew and we were excited to see that Fuzzy and Sourpuss had made it to the shelter as well.  The other hikers that were there were also pretty friendly; Slash, Dirty D, Wiggy, Tarzan and Jane, and Spotlight were all there and we all celebrated our big mile day.

Day 45
6/4/12
19.1 miles
Knot Maul Branch Shelter - Jenkins Shelter

We got a good start on the day and made it to the base of our first climb fairly early.  We ran into a couple of other hikers that we knew who were taking a quick break before the climb, and since we usually split up for climbs, 2-Step decided to hike with Chop Chop and Fedex.  I sped my way up the climb and was waiting for them at the pond about halfway up where the ascent started to mellow out and the views began to get good.  Once 2-Step got up to the pond and had taken a break we continued on to the next shelter where we planned to stop for lunch.  The views past the pond were amazing and the climb was almost unnoticeable.  On the way to the shelter we had a pretty good scare when 2-Step almost stepped on a rattlesnake.  We scurried past as far away from it as possible as we listened to it warning us with its rattle.  Upon arriving at our lunch spot, we saw one of the best shelters we've encountered on the whole trail thus far.  It was fully enclosed since it was on top of the mountain and had separate bunks for any hikers that stayed there with a sturdy picnic table set inside.  It was a popular shelter with all of the hikers that made their way up there while we enjoyed our lunch and the company.  After lunch we thought we had a mellow day since the profile in the guidebook appeared fairly flat.  We were wrong, we were very wrong.  It was flat only because the terrain was condensed to a few inches on a page and in reality it was 9 miles of constant up and down with a trail that was mostly sharp rock.  The climbs were never more than maybe 50 feet, but it was enough that constantly going from up to down over sharp rocks got tiring very fast.  We weren't the only hikers to feel this way and sitting around the fire that night there was a lot of commiserating going on between all of us.

Day 44
6/3/12
14.1 miles
Atkins, VA - Knot Maul Branch Shelter

I woke up early since we weren't surrounded by trees and was the first one up.  I watched the sun rise and  enjoyed the quiet walk back down to the stream to let the dogs get some water.  Unfortunately, the buffet that we thought we would be enjoying wasn't until 11am and 2-Step and I didn't want to sit around town that long.  When we had packed up camp and walked into town we stopped at a convenience store to resupply for the next few days.  After that we continued on underneath the highway underpass and hopped back on the trail.  It was a nice morning and we walked through several cow pastures that were a pleasant break from the monotony of the trees.  During the morning we were trying to mentally prepare ourselves for the climb that we knew was coming up later on in the day.  According to the guidebook it looked fairly steep on the profile and we weren't the only ones that were apprehensive.  It was the biggest climb we had seen in a while and so we felt the need to prepare.  Turns out the climb wasn't that bad and everyone laughed about how they had felt apprehensive about it.  It wasn't a long day, but we were ready to get to camp by the end of it.  Not long before the shelter we planned on staying at, we ran into a group of hikers who were sitting around drinking beers.  When I happened upon them they were sitting on some coolers that I thought had to be trail magic left by a friendly local, who knew what hikers wanted on a hot day.  Before I could even ask what was in them, one of the hikers said that I could help myself to the trail magic, but they had already eaten it all.  This really bothered me and I hiked out of there pretty fast.  My annoyance helped fuel me up the last several climbs of the day and I was happy to get to camp and away from the group of hikers I had just seen.  The group that was at the shelter was much better and after everyone had eaten we had a campfire going in no time.  There had to have been at least 10 or so hikers hanging out around the fire and it was the most we had seen at a fire since we started.  We met some new people we hadn't seen on the trail before and we finally met another couple that was around our age, Fuzzy and Sourpuss.  While introducing ourselves I found out that Sourpuss is from D.C. and that Fuzzy is from Detroit.  Upon hearing that I told them that my parents live in D.C. and I went to high school just outside of Detroit.  Fuzzy asked where I went to school and I told him Cranbrook.  He gave me a strange look and asked when I graduated so I told him the year and he laughed and said he knew someone from my class.  When he told me the name I couldn't believe that I was in the middle of the woods in Southern Virginia and I had just met someone that I had a connection to through a friend from high school.  It was a pretty strange coincidence and we became fast friends with Fuzzy and Sourpuss.

Day 43
6/2/12
11.3 miles
Marion, VA - Atkins, VA

In the morning, when we woke up, we were glad to know we were going to be back on the trail.  We had a couple things to do, like wash Molly and resupply, and we hurried through our errands as fast as we could.   After checking out of the hotel we headed to the Walmart and got food for the next couple of days.  While I was in the store 2-Step was watching the dogs.   While I was shopping a friendly lady came up to her and was asking 2-Step about the dogs.  2-Step, knowing that we still had to find a ride to get back to the trail head, asked the lady if we could get a ride from her.  The woman told 2-Step that she would have to check with her husband, but that she didn't think it would be a problem.  When she came back with her husband they told us to hop in and we followed them to their van.  They had just finished up checking out some of the garage sales around town and had purchased some furniture they were taking to their son for his new house.  We got to sit on his new couch for the ride back to the trail and it was very comfortable.  On the way to the trail, John, had to stop for lunch at one of his favorite barbecue places.  While ordering he asked if we would like to split a beef brisket dinner and we politely declined.  No was not the right answer and he bought us a dinner anyway.  After that little detour we finished up the ride to the trail while talking to the Jennings family about our experiences so far and what it was like hiking on the trail.  I have to thank John and Donna Jennings and their daughter Janie (the self procalimed Yankee Hillbillies) for the awesome ride and fantastic barbecue.  We appreciate everything and you certainly left us feeling better about our time in Marion.  Thank you and I hope that you have a wonderful summer!  After enjoying our delicious beef brisket, 2-Step and I threw our packs on our backs and stepped back onto the trail.  As nice as the ride from town had been i was still left with a weird feeling from our experience the day before in town and felt that I couldn't walk fast enough to shake it off.  It was not comfortable and I couldn't wait to see some other hikers, preferably some that we knew.  Fortunately, the hike to the shelter we planned on staying at wasn't long and when we arrived there was a group of hikers that we already knew.  They were in the middle of making dinner and when we started talking they told us they were hiking on a few miles to camp just out side of Atkins, VA to get to the Sunday buffet at a restaraunt right off the trail the next morning.  That sounded good to us, but I also had a surprise for any hikers we camped with and since we would be all alone at the shelter, 2-Step and I decided to hike on as well.  On the way to where we were going to camp for the night we passed by a museum that showed what an old farmstead would have looked like.  2-Step, since having a farm is one of her dreams, couldn't pass up this opportunity to go check it out.  I was less excited, but followed her anyway.  When we walked the few hundred yards off the trail to the old farm site, 2-Step couldn't have been more excited.  She was basically running from building to building thinking about what it would be like to live and work on this farm site.  I could tell that she was really enjoying checking out all the old buildings and was really happy to see her so excited.  From there we continued on down the trail to pass by a one room school house that excited 2-Step just as much as the old farmstead.  Not long after that we reached the camp site that our friend Tugboat had picked.  It was on top of a grassy hill and although there weren't really any trees for the hammocks, we made it work.  We were also able to enjoy a beautiful sunset and after watching the sun go behind the horizon, I told everyone that they got to share my birthday oreo pie.  The other hikers weren't the only ones surprised.  Since Tugboat had gotten there earlier than everyone else he had walked into town and came back with a few goodies.  One of those goodies was a six pack of beer that he had bought for me since he had known it was my birthday yesterday.  We all had a good evening hanging out and it helped shake off the weird feelings that I had felt after leaving Marion.

Day 42
6/1/12
0 miles
Marion, VA

We woke up excited to get into town to celebrate my birthday.  After packing up, we headed to the Visitor's Center, located 0.1 miles from the shelter, to find out if the 50 cent bus would allow the dogs to ride with us.  If they didn't allow dogs on the bus, then we would have to try to hitch a ride.  Fortunately, that was not the case, and we were able to get into town easily.  When we finally arrived in Marion it was not the town  that we expected.  There was no coffee shop to get on the internet, and there definitely wasn't a movie theater for us to go see movie.  The one thing I wanted to do was go see a movie, and eat the biggest bucket of popcorn that the theater had.  That didn't happen.  Marion itself was a starnge town and a lot of the people there didn't seem to know the difference between a thru-hiker and a bum.  When we were at the Walmart, where the bus dropped us off, I was even asked if I needed money.  I was so taken aback by this that I didn't even know how to respond.  Needless to say, we wanted to get into our hotel room and try to re-group and figure out what we would do for my birthday instead of all the plans we had dreamed up in our heads while hiking on the trail.  This definitely wasn't a trail town.  The one thing we were able to do was go eat at the Chinese Buffet in town.  It wasn't the best food, but I got my share and ate more than I had paid for.  By the end of our day in Marion we were more than ready to get back on the trail.

Day 41
5/31/12
10 miles
Trimpi Shelter - Partnership Shelter

I didn't realize it when I set my hammock up last night, but when I woke up, I was able to watch the sun rise without even getting out of my hammock.  Since we only had 10 miles to hike, we took our time getting packed and spent the morning hanging out with other hikers.  The hike to the Partnership Shelter was pretty easy and we got there in no time at all.  When we arrived at the shelter, we were surprised to see a large group of other hikers, already there.  This was the largest congregation of hikers we had encountered since starting the trail in Georgia.  One of the best things about the shelter was that it had a shower attached to it, and a sink in the back, with running water.  This is not usual, and we took full advantage of the shower and sink.  After setting up our hammocks away from the crowd, we started thinking about dinner.  Back at the shelter, we found some hikers we had met already that had started a fire and used it to cook dinner.  It was not long after dinner that we left the crowd for the peace and comfort of our hammocks and dreams of my birthday in town.

Day 40
5/30/12
20 miles
Wise Shelter - Trimpi Shelter

The morning started out really well.  We were excited about all the views we saw, this got us really excited for the rest of the day.  From there we descended to the next shelter.  We met a lot of new hikers and a had a nice mid morning break.  Although we were excited for the rest of the day, we didn't see anymore views and after 500 miles of mostly trees, we were not as enthusiastic when we once again entered into the woods.  The afternoon wasn't a bad hike, but it began to feel long by the end of the day.  Our plan was to end the day at a campsite that was marked in our guidebook.  When we got there, we were excited to be at camp. Unfortunately, the water that was supposed to be there (according to the guidebook) was dried up.  Since we were low on water, we had to hike 2.5 more miles to the Trimpi Shelter.  Although not excited, it only made the following day's hike even shorter.
 
 
Day 39
5/29/12
Lost Mountain Shelter - Wise Shelter
17.3 miles

Virginia is awesome!  I've been excited to hike through the Grayson Highlands Sate Park and hopefully see the wild ponies.  Not only did I see the ponies, but one of the foals came up to me when I was taking pictures, sniffed my shorts and then proceeded to lick the sweat off of my legs.  It was an amazing experience.  They are not scared of humans and it was so cool to see them finally after waiting so long to get here.  Shortly after that, 2-Step and I had to don our rain jackets becuse the clouds crept in around us and they unleashed the fury.  It was a cold rain, but the days hike was almost over and the walk helped keep us warm.  By the time we got to camp and set the hammocks up, the rain was on its way out, although the clouds stuck around.  The more it rains, the more I feel like we can handle it.  That's not to say we enjoy the rain, but it doesn't seem as bad as the first day of rain we had.  Someone at the last shelter said we could have rain most of the week, but we'll just see what tomorrow brings and start with that.  Another exciting thing about today was that we hit the 500 mile mark!! The shelter we stopped at for the day was right at the 500 mile mark and were were so excited to end our day there.  It's been a lot of long days and some not so fun times as well, but we've had an amazing experience so far and we look forward to the next 1,500 miles.

Day 38
5/28/12
Damascus, VA - Lost Mountain Shelter
16.7 miles

After a leisurley morning with my parents and a delicious breakfast of pancakes we finally had to get back on the trail.  Several people had told us that instead of following the white blazes (shhh...don't tell anyone!) we should take the Creeper trail out of town and hop back on the trail when they intersect.  Since the Crepper is the original route of the AT I didn't feel too bad.  And since I got a chili cheeseburger with coleslaw on it, I really didn't feel too bad.  Because we had eaten not long before we got to our campsite for the night all we had to do was set up our hammocks and we were ready for bed.  Besides the fact that we got to eat at the Creeper Trail Cafe on the way to camp we also got to walk by a river for 10 miles rather than climb two unnecessary mountains to look at more trees.  I started out thinking that I would follow every white blaze, but sometimes the side trails are a little more interesting and rewarding.  I think it was a first good day back on the trail and I'm excited to see what Virginia has to offer.

Day 35 - 37
5/25 - 5/27
0 miles

I was so happy to be doing nothing on Friday instead of hiking.  Early Bird and I spent a good part of the morning at a coffee shop enjoying the AC.  After we started feeling more normal we walked around town to check out the outfitters...  There wasn't much and we were pretty disappointed that there wasn't more to this trail town.  The Virginia Creeper trail was pretty cool Though...2-Step and I got to ride from the top of Whit Top Mountain to Dmamascus with my parents.  Tess came along too and she cruised by my bike for the 17 mile ride.  She was amazing and never got tired the entire way down.  It was really nice to see my parents.  Thank you so much for everything.  The country steak was amazing. 2-Step and I really appreciate everything and thanks for the early birthday gift!  I'm so glad I got to see you guys, hopefully it won't be the last time this summer.  2-Step and I also got a little taste of what the Grayson Highlands State Park is going to look like.  We took a hike with my parents and I'm looking forward to that section of trail.  As much fun as town is though I always get antsy to hop back on the trail.  I'm looking forward to what lies ahead.

Day 34
5/24/12
Wilbur Dam Rd. - Damascus, VA
37.3 miles

The next morning, after a more than satisfying dinner with Detroit and his girlfriend, Lisa, and our buddy Early Bird, I woke up and started getting ready for my 2 day hike to Damascus.  When I was in the store getting some food items to supplement what I already had, Early Bird talked me into skipping the 15 miles I'd hiked countless times before.  Instead, I was going to get dropped off with him where he had slackpacked to the previous day.  I got excited to be hiking with a buddy of ours and it made the next 2 days seem not quite as long as I thought they would be without 2-Step and the pups.  As I was packing my bag, Early Bird was telling me how he was planning on sending some of his heavier cold weather gear home and how he had been trying to figure out how to slack pack to Damascus.  At about the same time we both got the idea to leave most of our gear with 2-Step and just hike the 37.3 miles from Wilbur Dam Rd. to Damascus.  We called it "The Dam Challenge"  With our plans changing every few minutes we didn't even get to Wilbur Dam Rd. until right before 10am.  After a photo op with Detroit and his girlfriend, Early Bird and I stepped onto the trail at 10:02.  We started out with a quick pace and made it up the 4.7 mile climb to the first shelter in 1 hour and 30 minutes.  We signed into the log and set our sights on the next shelter 6.8 miles away.  It was good to break up our day into short 6-8 mile segments with the shelters as little goals to help keep the day from being too daunting.  By the time we got to the last shelter, it was 5:40 with 10 miles to go.  We were just about to the end of our ropes.  With just enought time to fill our water bottles and eat a quick snack we were back on the trail with our next goal being the TN-VA border 6.5 miles away.  Now I don't know where the time went, maybe we passed through a black hole or something, but I swear that 6.5 miles took us about 2-3 hours.  When we got to the border and checked the time we found we had done the miles in only 1 hour and 10 minutes.  We couldn't even believe it, but we had never been happier to reach one of our short goals for the day.  After a couple of pictures and a snack break we were back on our feet for the last 3.5 miles, which definitely took us just as long as the previous 6.5 miles.  In the end, our day took us about 10 hours including the breaks at each shelter that we took to refill water bottles and eat a quick snack.  When we finally made it to Damascus we were quite a sight.  I could barely lift my legs the last mile, but the thought of beer and food kept me going.  We didn't even know where we were going to spend the night, but our top priority was a cold drink and a big meal.  By the time dinner was over, I was ready to fall asleep in our booth, but we walked to a hostel called "The Place" and found some bunks to crash on.  We both got a shower and even though they didn't supply mattresses we tried to fall asleep on the wood shelves that were the bunks.  I guess the hostel figured everyone had camp pads, but we didn't and so our sleep was not comfortable, but I was still excited.  We had done 37.3 miles in 10 hours and when I woke up the next day feeling only a little tight I couldn't have been happier.

Day 33
5/23/12
Mountaineer Shelter - Dennis Cove Road
15.6 miles

We were both very tired this morning so we definitely did not rush out of camp.  We took our time and tried to figure out a way to get 2-Step to the hostel without having her hike 15.6 miles.  Fortunately there was named road only 1.5 miles from the shelter so we slowly made our way to the road hoping that one of our phones would have service.  I could tell 2-Step was in pain, but we made it to the road...and we had service!!  I called our friend Lisa from Johnson City and as soon as I told her 2-Step and I were on the trail she immediately asked us what we needed.  I told her the situation and with a little help from her friends she found out where Walnut Mountain Rd. was and was heading our way.  While waiting at the road crossing with 2-Step, I started emptying my pack of all unnecessary items so I could hike the 14 miles from Walnut Mountain Rd. to Dennis Cove as quickly as possible.  Soon enough, Lisa pulled up and 2-Step and the pups were on their way to the hostel.  Lisa, there is no way we can thank you enough for all the help you provided for us.  We appreciate everything and you really helped lift our spirits more than you could know!  After Lisa and 2-Step pulled away I put my game face on and set a goal of 3.5 hours for the 14 miles I had to hike to the hostel.  It was a very gradual elevation gain with little ups and downs, but I was crusing my way down the trail.  I definitely ran just as much as I walked and I got an extra boost when I got to the section of trail that led to this whole crazy idea of thru-hiking the AT (a section I have hiked many times while living briefly in TN).  When I recognized that section I knew I was close to the road and I started running down the trail.  When I made it to Dennis Cove Rd. and asked someone the time I found that I had done the 14 miles in 3 hours and 20 minutes.  I beat my goal...and the rain (kind of).  When it started raining on the .5 mile road walk to the hostel I could've cared less.  I was so pumped about my hiking time and I knew that I was heading to a hot shower and dry clothes.  2-Step was still feeling under the weather when I got there, but she was feeling hungry again so that was a step in the right direction.  Detroit was also at the hostel and when he saw me he handed me a cold beer and the microwave burgers I was eating seemed that much better.  Since 2-Step could stay in Hampton, TN, I started making plans to get to Damascus a day earlier than we had planned.

Day 32
5/22/12
Overmountain Shelter - Mountaineer Shelter
18 miles

This was another long day with rain falling for most of it.  There were highlights though.  We had a long road walk on an old dirt road that was enclosed on both sides by wild rose and with rain the smell wafting from the roses was intoxicating.  The smell alone helped make the rain more enjoyable.  Then we got to an open ridge that had the coolest tree right next to the trail.  There were so many branches and they extended out from the trunk in all directions and provided the best rain protection around.  Although the end of the day felt long, the sun came out and the shelter we stayed at was cool.  It had three levels and was perfect for seting up our hammocks.  We camped with Detroit and I'll Try (whose unofficial name is "This Sucks So Far").  Things were going good and then 2-Step got the hiker flu.  It was not a restful night.  We had heard there was a stomach flu travelling up and down the trail and our buddy Mercury had gotten it a few days prior.  Now 2-Step was in the middle of finding out how uncomfortable this flu could be.  Everytime she woke up that night I woke up too so we didn't sleep much.

Day 31
5/21/12
Apple Orchard Campsite - Overmountain Shelter
19.4 miles

Because we had stopped short again we had to go for the long haul today.  The Overmountain Shelter was a renovated barn and came highly recommended.  The hike North from Roan Mountain to 19E (a road crossing) was also highly recommended and the end of our day was a climb up Roan Mt. and the beginning of one of the best sections of the trail we've hiked so far.  On the way up Roan Mt., we encountered a group of volunteer trail workers building new sections of trail.  I thanked them for their hard work, especially since some of them were other thru-hikers who volunteered some time from their own hike to help build new sections of trail.  When I stopped to thank them they also took the opportunity to take a break and meet the dogs, exclaiming that they were some of the cleanest dogs on the trail that they'd seen (I was a proud owner at that moment).  While talking they found out my trail name and one of them had a joke about a "No Name" brand of toilet paper.  The joke ends with a man renaming the "No Name" brand to John Wayne, because its "rough and tough and don't take no s*** off of nobody!"  Well I figured since I was rough and tough and don't take no s*** off of nobody they could just call me John Wayne too.  So my name has evolved slightly and people accept it much quicker.  After that conversation and a new name we still had a few miles to hike so we kept heading on down the trail.  When we finally got to the Overmountain Shelter at the end of a long day we didn't even set up our hammocks before dinner.  We were excited to realize that we could set up our hammocks on the second story of the barn.  There was a chance of rain and if we didn't have to pack up wet tarps in the moring we would be happy campers.  Sleeping in the old barn was awesome and the dogs kept the mice on the other side of the shelter.  Unfortunately, for the couple that was sleeping on the other side, the mice happened upon a Snickers bar and had a good feast that night anyway.

Day 30
5/20/12
Curley Maple Gap Shelter - Apple Orchard Campsite
17.2 miles

We had planned to hike further out of Erwin than the first shelter, but we took a leisurely day instead.  It was worth it.  Our plan was to make up the lost miles over the next few days so that we could keep on schedule to meet my parent in Damascus, VA.  We tried to hike the 22 miles that would put us back on track, but our packs were heavy and our feet were slow.  We stopped short again, and I'm so grateful for that.  We had an amazing evening with just the dogs and a bonfire in a clearing that used to be an old apple orchard.  We strung our hammocks on some of the apple trees and enjoyed the light show that the fireflies put on for us.  It was a good way to end the day.

Day 29
5/19/12
Erwin, TN - Curley Maple Gap Shelter
4.7 miles

We caught the morning shuttle to town and bought food for our next few days.  We also got a surprise for any hikers that were at the shelter with us.  As we dined on Krispy Kreme doughnuts, we sorted our food and organized our packs to head out of town.  The climb away from Uncle Johnny's was steeper than we anticipated and we were cursing our food choices.  Our bags felt like they were a couple of elephants riding on our shoulders.  The climb didn't last long though and soon enough our 4.7 mile day was over.  Then came the exciting part...dinner and dessert!  For ourselves, we made a cheesy tuna pasta with some dehydrated red peppers and other green-looking flakes.  The pièce de résistance was the dessert though.  For everyone to share at the shelter, we brought the ingredients for a no-bake cheesecake, complete with graham cracker crust.  It was a hit with everyone and "Ghost of a Flea," Detroit, Mercury, Quiksilver, 2-Step and I went to bed happy, after indulging in one of the most satisfying dishes prepared on the trail.

Day 28
5/18/12
Low Gap - Erwin, TN
20.4 miles

2-Step's first 20 mile day ever!  So pumped for her!  I don't think she was quite as excited at the end of the day as I was, but when she saw Uncle Johnny's, the pain of the day melted away like a slice of butter on a big ol' pile of flapjacks.  We'd visited Uncle Johnny's before, and this was one of the stops we'd been waiting for.  We were so excited to order a pizza after we were all cleaned up.  Two large pizzas and a salad all found their way into our stomachs.  We were bottomless pits and we loved every bite.  There was a good crew of hikers hanging out that night.  Shout-outs to Detroit, Screaming Eagle, Philly, Early Bird and Sherpa & Lakota (hiker/dog duo). We didn't last long after dinner and our heads hit our pillows pretty quickly after eating.