In the morning, I cooked grits with ham and tomatoes topped with pizza-flavored cheddar cheese goldfish crackers. My lower back had stiffened overnight. Attempting to stretch, I could not bend or twist to the right without inflicting a jolt of pain. I took two pain-relief pills and soldiered on toward Mountaineer Shelter. It rained all morning—as if my gloomy mood required it. A group of northbound hikers passed by at three times my speed. One of the young women asked how I was doing, and I said, “Tired.” I felt bad for passing off negative energy, so later, when others asked how I was doing, I stood up straight and said, “Great,” before resuming my laggardly pace when they were out of sight.
The trail was mush all day—liquid loom. The footing was slippery on hills, and when the trail leveled, my boots sunk into the black muck with a sucking sound. I skirted the puddles at first, but before long, I plodded right through them. Why waste extra steps? A deer with her fawn crossed the trail ahead of me and left hoofprints in the mud. Due to the rain, I snacked on trail mix and sweet potato bark instead of cooking a hot lunch.
Mountaineer Shelter was a welcome sight when I arrived late afternoon.
Compared to the small cinder block or rock shelters I had slept in so
far, Mountaineer was a villa. It had wood siding with three sleeping
levels. The top loft overhung the front area of the shelter, providing
space underneath to move around and stay dry. When the rain stopped, I
fetched a bucket of water from the spring below the shelter and stepped
into the woods for a sponge bath. Back at the shelter, I cooked Mexican
beef and rice with apple pie for dessert. One hiker had claimed the top
loft of the shelter before I arrived, so we spent the evening in our
I looked over my itinerary under the light of my headlamp: one full day behind schedule, thirty-two miles to go to my first mail drop. I had one full day’s rations in a vacuum-sealed bag, plus extra snacks and one lunch. That would hold me to my mail drop at Greasy Creek Friendly hostel. If the back pain slowed me down even more, I could hitch into town at Highway 19 and buy food. When I clicked off my headlamp, the darkness was profound—I could not see my hand in front of my face.
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