Day 118 – Tuesday, July 5: Stealth Camp to Manchester Center, VT, 20.7 miles, 1,650.7 total AT miles.

I woke up very early, probably close to 5:00am. The burn on my foot had blistered, and popped, overnight. It truly looked serious – I was staring at half-dollar sized patch of burnt flesh on the side of my right foot. I put Neosporin on the wound and slapped a gauze patch on top of the mess. I laced up my shoes and was surprised that I could move around as if nothing even happened.

We packed quickly. I choked down a few protein bars and we hit the trail. We high-fived at our early departure – we were leaving camp at 6:20am. Manchester Center, VT lay 21 miles ahead. Despite our multiple detours into towns lately, Greyhound and I had both been hiking some serious miles. We knew we wanted to stay in Manchester Center – I needed to address some serious gear concerns. And I hadn’t had a zero day since Brooklyn, NY.

Our challenge today was Stratton Mountain, some seven miles away. After that, the elevation profile called for an easy 14-mile descent towards the trailhead at VT 11 – Manchester Center was rumored to be an easy hitch.

We set off early and cruised on the easy terrain – at 9:30am, we ascended Stratton Mountain. It was a challenging climb – I felt like I was back in Virginia again. Greyhound coaxed me to climb the fire tower – we got some pretty nice views.

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After having an extended snack, we set off, excited to get to Manchester Center. By 11:00am, we had hiked an additional three miles to Stratton Pond. The weather was starting to warm up a bit – there was a nice cool breeze coming off the water. We ate another quick snack and hiked on.

We stopped briefly at Prospect Rock before making the final five-mile push to town. After an extremely weird hitch (the guy acted like he was being forced to pick us up), we stopped at the Palmer House and checked in to our room. It was a little pricey, but well worth it. There was plenty of room should Black Santa make it into town tonight – regardless, I knew I’d be seeing him tomorrow.

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We both quickly showered and headed to the outfitter. I bought new Montrail trail runners to replace my busted Merrells. I also bought a pair of Patagonia hiking shorts and immediately ditched the Wal-Mart swimsuit.

We headed down to the laundromat and stopped at the New Balance outlet store. I scored a pair of cheap running shorts – looks like my clothes problems are solved. After putting away our clean clothes (and my new purchases), Greyhound and I walked down the street to Gringo Jack’s to grab dinner – we’d both been craving Mexican food for a while.

While we were eating on the patio, a familiar voice called out from the sidewalk. Black Santa had returned! He joined us, immediately ordering dinner and a big, cold beer.

The three of us sat and talked for a while – it feels like so much has happened since last I saw him. I also had to keep reminding myself that this was the first time he was meeting Greyhound – they briefly met in a hostel in Delaware Water Gap, PA.

After finishing our plates, the three of us headed back to the hotel room. Black Santa hopped in the shower while Greyhound spoke on the phone with her mom. After hanging out and watching tv, the three of us decided to call it a night.

Author: Chris Kummer

Hey y'all - Cool Dad here. Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to thru-hike the AT. It remained a nagging thought for nearly a decade - then it got loud enough to warrant my attention. So I quit my unfulfilling job(s) in Seattle and commenced hiking north from Springer in the spring of 2016. And I'm exceedingly thankful I did. The people I met, the things I saw, the gross foods I ate - not a day goes by without fondly remembering life on the trail. If you've already thru-hiked a long trail, you know exactly what I'm talking about. If you're thinking about tackling a long-distance hike, do it. Do it now. I'm probably gonna do it again...

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