(6/1/19) I slept in my tent last night. It was a pretty rough night of sleep. It rained off and on all night. Some water got in my tent too– but it wasn’t too bad. I typically set my alarm for 5AM, but usually don’t actually get up then. I usually end up rolling out of my sleeping bag around 6AM. My plan was to try and meet up with Pretzel and Show Me at a campground about 5 miles away. When talking to both of them via text last night they ended up at the same spot.

There was a camping store with food and drinks at the campground as well. I planned on doing a quick resupply there. There was an actual restaurant about a mile further. I told Show Me if I didn’t catch up with him before the restaurant, perhaps we could just meet there, and grab a warm meal together. He agreed this was a good idea. We didn’t set a time but I knew Pretzel wanted to be back on the trail by 8AM. I didn’t end up getting packed and hitting the trail until 7AM. Typically I hike at about 2 miles an hour. So making 5 miles in an hour seemed pretty unlikely– but I set off to try and meet up with them anyway. I told Mulligan my plan and that I’d see him later in the day.

Being the first on the trail has its pros, but it also has its cons too. Clearing cobwebs that were spun overnight by spiders with my face is definitely is a con. I was certainly clearing a lot of cobwebs this morning 😐 But, one of the pros is, being able to see more wildlife. With less people on the trail, there’s a lower chance of any wildlife that’s out roaming around, has been scared off. The Shenandoah National Park is known for its bear population too. So I eagerly scanned the woods, on both sides of the trail, as I marched forward. Doing so while also watching where you walk, to ensure you don’t step on any snakes, can be challenging. Thankfully the terrain was fairly flat which made things a little easier.

I was hiking along when I heard a “snap” come from directly behind me! I thought, “oh snap, a bear!?” I turned around to see what it was. Something was charging right at me! Oh, it was just a doe, a deer, a female deer… and a pretty young one at that. She was prancing along right towards me, doing what I was doing, glancing from side to side, to see what was around her. She didn’t see me standing right in front of her. When she finally saw me, she stopped in her tracks. She just sat there and stared at me. Then she turned away, then back at me, then away again, almost like she was shy. Either that or she was thinking, “Dude, you’re in my way. Stop staring at me and move will ya?” I didn’t of course. Instead of slowly walked towards this fierce beast with my camera, snapping a few pics, and recording some video as well. She finally darted off down a side trail.

I turned and continued north up the trail. I didn’t eat breakfast as I was trying to get packed and get on the trail quickly. Plus I knew there was a restaurant coming up– where I could get some real food. Instead of my usual cold oatmeal and protein bar. I remembered my stomach was growling most of the night. So skipping breakfast probably wasn’t the best idea. I quickly started running out of steam, slowing down. I just didn’t’ have any energy in me. I grabbed a snickers out of my pack and devoured it quickly. As I was eating it, I realized I was standing in the middle of nowhere, in the forest, and I remembered something someone told me about bears. They can smell a tiny raisin from a mile away. I wondered how far away they could smell a tasty snickers bar? I glanced around to see if I could see any watching me. Nope. The coast was clear. As I marched on I thought, I wonder if they can smell my breathe? Should I stop and brush my teeth? Ha! I laughed at myself, don’t be silly I thought, of course not:)

I arrived at the camp store around 9AM. So 5 miles in 2 hrs– not too bad. Faster than my normal pace. But not fast enough to meet up with Pretzel. We exchanged texts and I just missed her. She wasn’t planning on stopping to eat at the restaurant so I told her I’d probably catch up with her later. I went in and resupplied on food. These camp stores are a bit pricey, and more geared towards campers, or RV’ers, so the food selection they had wasn’t really for hikers. Hikers and campers are the same thing, right? Nope. For example hikers don’t need microwave popcorn, big boxes of cereal, big bags of potato chips, cans or tuna or spam, etc. But there was enough there to get me through the next few days, so I was good to go. I checked out at the front desk, jumped back on the trail, hiked another mile to where the restaurant was.

I walked in, and there was Show Me, checking out at another resupply store. We greeted each other and went into the restaurant area and ordered breakfast. We sat down to eat together. He asked me if I wanted his bacon off his biscuits. Of course I said, and thanked him. But then asked, you don’t like bacon? He told me he was a vegetarian. I asked him why. He said, if he’s not willing to do something himself, like kill an animal for food, he wouldn’t accept someone else doing it for him. I thought his response was interesting. I did a vegetarian diet before, for about 6 months, and lost about 20 lbs. I don’t recall why I tried it before, nor why I stopped. But I did know, for now, while hiking the AT, I was going to eat whatever I could, to help propel me through each day, until I reached the finish line, at Katahdin.

We finished our meals and packed up to head out. Mulligan hadn’t showed up yet, and we weren’t sure when he would, so we headed out. He typically catches up with us later in the day anyway. There weren’t a whole lot of hikers at this restaurant, which seemed odd to me. After hiking the steep climb back up to the AT after our meal I discovered why. Not only was this restaurant a mile off the AT, there was a massive climb up to get back to it. We made it of course, huffing and puffing, then headed north up the trail. We pretty much hiked the together all day. Our speeds were very similar and our interests were similar too. Meaning, if there was a view, we both wanted to stop and enjoy it, and take some photos. If there was wildlife, we wanted to stop and enjoy it, and take some photos. When he wanted to stop and take a break, I was just thinking “break time” myself.

The terrain remained gradual most of the day– which was nice. But it was definitely more uphill than downhill. We talked pretty much all day getting to know each other. He’s a college swim coach and loves his job. Which we agreed is a rarity these days. He’s very passionate about his work and the kids he coaches. He’s been doing it pretty much his entire professional career and at the same school for most of his career. We talked about music and hiking the AT and quite a few other topics. We had a handful of views and stopped to snap some pics. We walked right up on a deer and stopped and took some pics of him as well. It was amazing how the wildlife would allow you to get close to it. It’s because there’s so many people in the park– they get used to it. And the wildlife is protected too.

I was running low on water so we had to get off trail a little ways to refill at a rangers station. We did so and I checked out what was coming up ahead. I noticed we were at mile marker 899. Which meant 900 was coming up. As we climbed back on the AT and up yet another mountain we looked for the 900 marker written on the trail. Sure enough we found it. Not in just one place, but two. One marker was made out of sticks, the other stones. We stopped and took some more photos and carried on. We got to the top of the mountain, where another view was, and lo and behold who do we find sitting there? Well Mr. Mulligan himself! He must have passed us when we got off trail for a few minutes to get water.

He was sitting on a large rock checking out the view. Show Me told Mulligan his trail name should be Ghost. He just disappears and reappears in places sometimes:) That’s a pretty cool name I thought. There were several others there checking out the view as well. When Mulligan mentioned there were only 6 tent spots at the shelter, everyone darted off up the trail. Why? To ensure they got a spot. I know you’re thinking “you’re in the woods– just pitch your tent anywhere.” Easier said than done. Finding flat open spots for tents can often be a challenge. Especially when you get closer to shelters. After hiking 900 miles of the AT at this point, this is something we were all definitely aware of.

We had 3.5 miles to go. We all made it in record time and grabbed spots. Mulligan arrived and I pointed out a few good spots left. Some others came in later weren’t so lucky. We setup camp, grabbed our water bottles to refill, and food, and headed to the shelter table to eat. We had a pretty full house with 10 people all eating at the same time. We all talked about our days and some crazy experiences we’ve had. It was story telling time, and there were definitely some interesting stories this evening.

Brooklyn, a new guy, told us about hammocking one night be himself in the rain, and a bear pulled his food bag down out of tree and woke him up. He got up and tried to scare the bear off but the bear just bluff charged him. He threw rocks and sticks at the bear but the bear just grabbed his food bag and ran off with it. He had no food and was 27 miles away from the next resupply place. Luckily, someone gave him a few snacks to make it to the next town. Another guy showed us a video where a fawn walked right up to him on the trail. He leaned over and petted it. How cool was that?? I joked with him and asked, “are you sure you weren’t at a petting zoo?!? He replied, “nope”, was just a few days ago in the park. (we found out later why petting wildlife, especially baby deer, it’s a really bad idea) 🙁

We all finished our dinners and hung our food bags up and away from the bears and headed to our tents. Show Me was going for more water and offered to get me some. My feet were killing me as usual, and the creek was way down the hill, so I took him up on his offer. I thanked him when he returned a few minutes later with my bottle full. I started my normal routine of cleaning up, journaling, and catching up on work items. I could hear Show Me outside my tent, helping a young lady with her tent. She was from another country and had only been on the trail a few days. Her tent was setup wrong and damaged too. He showed her how to set it up correctly, and got a repair kit, to patch up her tent too.

What a super nice guy, I thought. She thanked him as he headed to his tent to retire for the evening. We hiked 22.3 miles today. What a big day. I finished up my work and curled up in my sleeping bag and fell fast asleep.

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