I woke at 7:30 – I was very aware I wasn’t in the woods. It didn’t feel right. I didn’t sleep well – I tossed and turned most of the night and noticed the sheets came off the bed. I was partially laying on the bare mattress. Gross.
I skipped the shower and packed quickly – I wanted to get the hell out of there. I dropped my keys off with a person I assume worked there and left in a hurry. I caught a ride to a local diner and sat in a booth. After sipping coffee, I ordered a huge meal (I was starving) and slowly ate as I updated the website. The server was very friendly – you can tell she’s the rare restaurant worker who enjoys waiting on hikers.
I wasn’t in a rush. It had rained overnight and we were supposed to have showers into the afternoon. Plus, I just didn’t feel like jumping back into the fray – I knew that, moving forward, I’d have fewer and fewer opportunities to enjoy a day in town. I wanted to make the most of it.
At 10:00am, Champa texted me. Savage, McDoubles and himself were only a mile away from US 206 – they had been hiking since 7:00. I told them I thought the food was great and that they should hitch in for breakfast – they joined me half an hour later.
It was great to see those guys – I genuinely missed them. We occupied two booths (in the corner, far away from the locals) and caught up. Two nights ago, when I scared off that bear at Sunfish Pond, Champa chased two bears away from camp. So New Jersey does have bears (and turkeys).
They ordered and I continued picking at my food. By noon, we were all done and getting anxious to get back on trail. We filled up our water bladders from the soda machine and Champa asked a local with a pickup for a ride. Five minutes later, we were at the trailhead. I texted Black Santa – he was still at the MOC and bored out of his mind. His package wouldn’t be arriving until 3:00pm.
We stood in a gravel parking lot listening to music for a good fifteen minutes before hiking on. The plan was to hike 16 miles and camp on/under/near an observation tower marked in the AT Guide. The terrain looked similar to yesterday’s and we got moving in a hurry. The ascent out of Branchville was very gradual – I hiked with Champa (we talked politics) and made really good time.
Note: I’m a political person in the real world – before I decided to hike the AT a year ago, following politics was my hobby. Out here, I rarely discuss political matters. Today was the first day I had an extended conversation about it. I can’t believe it.
We caught up with Savage and McDoubles two miles away at the Culver Fire Tower. After psyching myself up, Savage, Champa and I climbed to the top flight of stairs (the observation booth was locked). I was terrified – this thing was probably built in the 40s. I snapped a few pictures and scrambled down. I made it back to Earth with my knees shaking. Good job, Cool Dad.
The four of us set off at 2:00. Champa and I re-engaged in conversation, but were stopped short by McDoubles and Savage a mile later. They were pointing at a trail register box attached to a tree – they told me to carefully open the lid. A mouse family had made a nest inside and was curled up in a small, cute ball.
As we hiked north, we got caught in a brief rainstorm and paused on the trail under a small grove of trees to wait it out. Fifteen minutes later, we were back on trail – we still had ten miles to hike to get to the observation tower.
It was about here that I started slowing down. I didn’t have the restful night in town all to myself I had been hoping for. For the first time this entire hike, I felt truly unmotivated. I decided to start looking for a place to camp.
I felt bad. I had just caught up with my hiking buddies only to find myself wanting to crawl into my tent. About a mile away, I found a suitable, flat spot just off trail. I set up my tent in a light rain. This was a good thing – I finally got to see if I could set it up rainfly first to avoid getting the tent body wet. It was successful. Good job, Cool Dad.
As I was unpacking in my tent, I got a text from McDoubles. They also decided to stop short and were camping at a pavilion ahead. I checked my GPS app – they were 0.1 miles away. Geez, if I knew that I would have pressed on.
It was only 5:00, but I got into my sleeping bag and shut my eyes. I woke up from my nap at 7:00 and felt better. I considered packing up and hiking to meet the rest of the group, but decided to stay put – I needed to finish updating the blog and I wanted to talk on the phone with family and friends.
And I did just that, eating snacks (instead of cooking) the entire time. After talking on the phone, I pulled out my keyboard and started writing.
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So here I am. I’ve been in my tent now since 5:00. I’m a little disappointed I didn’t hike further today. It happens, I suppose. Not every day comes up aces.
I read a lot about thru-hikers experiencing what I’ve been going through these past few days. It’s all part of the “mental struggle”. It’s not that I’ve lost interest in hiking (although I’ve read that happens). I guess my mental struggle lies in the enormity of this whole thing. Tomorrow will mark my 100th day hiking – and I still have 45 to 50 days to go.
That and the trail got a little boring after leaving the mountains behind in Virginia. While PA had it’s moments, it was mostly painful and quite dull – I spent most of my time looking down to make sure I wasn’t going to trip on a rock. So far, New Jersey has gotten better, but it still feels like I’m hiking in a forest rather than on mountains.
Maybe that’s why I’ve been wandering into so many towns lately – I guess I’ve been trying to keep this thing interesting.
Looking forward, I have a mail drop (with my trail runners) coming to Fort Montgomery, NY 80 miles ahead – I’d like to be there by Tuesday afternoon. Doing so would mean I’d be close to the Appalachian Trail Railroad Station late next week. This station is actually right off trail and services New York City – I could be in Manhattan in two hours.
I’ve always wanted to go into New York City the same way we visited Washington D.C. – fresh out of the woods and with packs in tow. I’ve even budgeted both the time and money to do so. I’m gonna say “we’ll see” for now, but am pretty sure I’ll go.
Black Santa and Get Weird texted me – he’s 11 miles behind and claiming he’ll catch me tomorrow. And she’s just four miles ahead, having gotten off trail to eat homemade meatballs in New Jersey with another hiker she knows.
I’m looking forward to starting tomorrow with a clear head – I usually bounce back pretty fast.
I hear weird noises coming from outside my tent. It’s like a repetitive grunting followed by a cooing. It’s close. At first I thought it was a bear, but the cooing threw me. I’m pretty sure it’s turkeys and I’m pretty sure they’re mating.
Breakfast: Jumboland Diner – two huge pancakes with pork roll (it’s like a homemade piece to fried bologna), half pound bacon cheeseburger with a pickle spear, coffee, OJ
Snack: dried cranberries
Dinner: The last of my Dot’s Pretzels. I’m still really full from breakfast – the Jumboland Diner has been my favorite diner so far.