Currently sitting in my tent...
Happy three months to me, happy three months to me, happy three months dear ROOOSTER, happy three months to me. That's right, three months ago I stood on top of Katahdin and tried to fathom the task in front of me. I don't know when the remaining mileage started to become reasonable, but it has. I'm camped just a mile or so from the three-quarters mark of my journey. Seems like a cool day: I've been hiking for three months and I'm 3/4 done with the mileage. By my estimates, I have less than a month to go unless I dilly-dally a lot (which I just might). Anyways, about today. I haven't ever walked you through a "typical" day on the trail. That's how I'll structure tonight's post, so you at home can get a sense of what I do and think about during the day.
1. I get going and evaluate all the systems.
So first things first, I have to start moving. My morning routine hasn't deviated much, except now I eat more and wrap my ankle before I head out. Also, I sometimes have to wear a headlamp when I first start out because sunrises are getting later and later. During this first part of the day, I'm not too focused on speed or mileage for the day. I need to dust off the cobwebs and get my wobbly body back in the groove. Mornings are typically when my body is the least cooperative. Today, I had to climb 1500 feet up to the ridge to begin. Between doing this partially in the dark and after a thirty mile day, it was a slow start. What was mostly important was getting out on the trail early to allow for some flexibility later in the day. What if the trail was one giant rock field and I couldn't manage more than two miles an hour? What if I felt good and wanted to go farther than planned today? Getting up early meant I'd be able to deal with any changes. Once on the ridge, the cold wind blew. I knew it wasn't supposed to rain today because of a cold front moving in, so I just focused on staying warm. The distance yesterday definitely had sapped my muscles, but I had no pains to report. That's good news. I just focused on getting to my first break spot, Chestnut Knob Shelter.
2. Take a break and look at today's plan again.
At this point, I've walked for a while and have a sense of how I'll be feeling today. Whenever I find a convenient spot to stop within 6-12 miles of starting, I will sit down, snack, and look in my AT Guide. Was the plan I came up with last night too ambitious? Not ambitious enough? For this second evaluation, I found myself at Chestnut Knob Shelter. At 4400 feet, this was the highest shelter I had seen yet. To combat the harsh conditions on top of the mountain, the shelter was made of stone and completely enclosed. I could have shut the door if I wanted, but it wasn't that cold. The sun had come out for good. As I ate, I thought about what my body was telling me. Yesterday was long, so my body was tired. I decided I would have to wait until my next stopping point to see how I felt. I knew I was going at least as far as Knot Maul Branch Shelter, which would make my mileage for the day 19. A little low, but if my body needed the rest, I was willing to wait. Damascus would still be there if I arrived a day later. To make sure I was fueled up for the next leg of the day, I ate a lot. Two peanut butter tortillas (one with instant coffee powder mixed in, were my staple. I've had success having a big meal during my first stop, and caffeine always helps.
3. Slog through the middle part of the day.
You gotta get there somehow. The day isn't fresh and new anymore, so it helps to find something to entertain you. These are sometimes the toughest miles of the day because you can't think about getting to your endpoint yet. One coping technique I often employ is to pick intermediate points along the way and shoot for those. Today I focused on things less than a mile away to help pass the time. Springs, creeks, road crossings, tops of mountains, side trails. Anything that was listed in the AT Guide. I would pick out a landmark ahead and estimate when I would arrive based on my average pace. For example, 0.8 miles at 3 mph is sixteen minutes. Estimating my arrival time also helped me anticipate when I could expect to see the landmark. The first couple miles after the shelter took me through a clearing with amazing views, so mind games weren't necessary. When it was time to climb again, I listened to my playlist for an extra boost.
4. Re-evaluate and commit to a plan.
I start the day with a plan, but then the day actually happens. Sometimes things change. During one of the last breaks of the day, I'll size up my options then pick one. Once I start walking again, I am bound to that plan unless something dramatic happens. Today, I found myself at Knot Maul Branch Shelter before 2:15. Way too early to be done, but what was my next move? I ate some more, in slightly smaller proportions than my mid-morning meal. I could stay there and rest (no), I could camp a little farther down (maybe), or I could push to a farther campsite (potentially). With plenty of time to make it to the further campsite, I picked that choice. My legs had gotten less tired throughout the day, so I knew it would be alright. I ate more to make the longer journey. All that was left was actually doing it.
5. Live with your decision.
By now, I just have to put my head down and go. Sometimes this is the best part of the day, other times the worst. Today turned out to be the latter. I walked through agreeably-graded cow pastures, avoiding a fateful miss-step into the cow pies that littered the trail. The sun was shining and the air was crisp. It might not be here to stay, but the cold air was just like the stuff I remember from my four years at Duke. Once a chill got into the air, I would walk around taking big nose-fulls, savoring the feeling that fall was finally there. I liked it. So today was a good walk at the end of the day. Other times, there might have been a big climb to contend with or I could have just been tired of walking. I rolled in to the campsite, cooked food, and planned out my day for tomorrow (tentatively, of course). Then I took the words out of my head and put them into my phone for your reading pleasure!