Went to sleep last night with the full moon rising to my right. By midnight it was above tree line, casting plenty of light for the bathroom break I forced myself to takerather than toss and turn all night. I also put on more clothes, which made for a good nights sleep until about 530 when I woke up to the glorious racket of birds and thoughts of 13.4 miles with a deadline. We are staying at a hostel and we’re getting picked up at a road crossing. Given my slower pace, I didn’t want to make everyone wait for me forever before we can call our ride.
I wiggled out of my sleeping bag, feeling too tired to fully unzip it, and put on my cold shoes for the walk across the woods to “convene with nature” as zach puts it. Then I grabbed all of our food bags, which are so light that we hung 4 bags on one line. I heard Chrissy rustling around in her tent as I fired up my stove. She tottered over with squinty eyes and we had a quiet breakfast surrounded by tents.
Then I went through my breakdown routine. It’s both tedious and incredibly satisfying because I get to figure out the ways that feel good (note I did not say “the right way” even though that’s really what I’m thinking). Then I get do things the same way every time until I stumble on a new way.
I left camp before everyone else and had a gloriously flat and soft walk north for about 3.5 miles. Every now and then a bird would dart across the trail or rustle around in the leaves, but I felt too tired to pay close attention to the life around me. My feet weren’t as sore as I expected and I felt grateful for the unexpected easy stretch.
And then, this happened:
I slowed to a crawl for about an hour and picked my way through the dense rocks. I came to this lookout around 1130 and decided it was time for a break even though it felt early for lunch here:
The nerds arrived while I stood there mouth breathing and trying to figure out what the sign for “showers steps” meant. They decided to break for some food too because we had a nice set of rocks to perch on and that has been in short supply lately. I had an odds and ends clean out the food bag lunch. Polished off my second jar of peanut butter (yes, I’m keeping count).
We only stopped for a few minutes, but my hands were almost numb in the cold, damp air. As we got started again, I took my position at the rear. I immediately felt frustrated that everyone seemed to be pulling ahead even though I felt like I was rushing. Without thinking about it, I started a little jog/shuffle step. Ironically, this was much easier on my feet. I think it has to do with less contact time on the ground and using more of my quads. It also meant I could keep up! Although I felt ridiculous having to half run in order to stay with chrissy and jimmy. But I knew if I didn’t keep up, they would all be waiting at the roadside in the soggy weather.
At some point jimmy and chrissy stopped to adjust something, and I ended up in front of both of them. I felt excited to not be last and also excited by how nimble I felt on my feet. Something about going faster made me less clumsy even though the ground was quickly getting saturated by the steady rainfall. I decided to keep doing it until it seemed like I might trip. I could tell it was putting more strain on my knees, but the feeling of not being last was intoxicating. What is that? And what does it even mean to be “last”??
I stayed ahead of chrissy and jimmy through a flat section that is a total blur. Then there was a short descent into a rock hopping steam crossing.
I ran into halfway taking a snack break after the stream. There was a steep climb up to another flat stretch where everyone eventually passed me. I felt so aggravated that my rushing wasn’t paying off. I finally gave up and slowed down to almost my regular pace. I noticed that my chest was totally locked up and I hadn’t had any water in who knows how long. I had also barely looked up for about three miles. so I took a few pictures, had some water, and tried to examine this whole pace thing.
We rounded our last corner before the road crossing and came upon some trail magic. An odd assortment that included a bag of mayo, which likely means there were sandwich fixings at some point. We stood around like ravaged squirrels eating handfuls of granola out of a bag. Then we tromped trough the last mud pit before the road (of course, because we’re about to get in someone’s car) and met our hosts for the next day and a half. The husband of the couple who own the hostel is an energetic fellow who runs an amazing operation. Nice little bunk house in their side yard with a fire pit and dinner/breakfast are included. Having said that, I’m having some trouble with his incessant talking and the heterocentric and sexist bent to his banter. For example, when he showed us the cute little teardrop trailer that they set up for couples or solos who want to be alone, he said “yeah you know it’s for married couples who want their own space.” Married? And then there was the Mennonite prostitution ring joke.
Zach and I shared knowing looks whenever he said something offensive, but the other people in the group didn’t seem to notice or be impacted by it. I commented on a few things when we had our privacy and received the “yeah but he’s a nice guy” dismissal. It’s hard to be around people who either aren’t attuned to that layer of interactions or don’t have any stake in the comments being made. Maybe I’m not doing a good job of articulating this, but the point is I felt alone and like I was somehow being too sensitive even though I know I’m not.
At any rate, we got a tour of the place and settled in. I grabbed a top bunk, which I love because I get to be in my own little world when I climb into bed. I took a shower that was a very cold pre and post shower experience, somewhat negating the joy of showering for the first time since Saturday. At 415 it felt like we should be eating dinner and going to sleep soon. Time definitely changes out here. They brought us dinner at 6p. We all squeezed into the bunk house and ate our giant bricks of lasagna. So much cheese. So much gluten. But there was salad!
After dinner the scene turned a little dorm room. Jimmy’s friend arrived with a massive amount of beer and apricot brandy. I declined the beer and managed to not eat my body weight in chips by laying in my bunk for a good portion of the night. Got some writing done, and then I decided to be social. We went around the room and talked about why we’re here. Jimmy busted out a bag of popcorn at like 11p. Now I’m finishing this up in a dark room with 5 other people waiting for the snoring to begin. Zach is moving on tomorrow, which is sad because I will miss his energy and having a gay compatriot. Jimmy and his friend are hiking short days until chrissy, halfway and I catch up. We are taking a zero to prepare for the shit kicker section of PA that’s coming.
Mile 1176.7 to mile 1203.0 (13.4)
Total miles: 199.8
Creature feature: saw more squirrels today than I have the entire trip. Not much else because of the rain and the rushing.