Day 45: Knot Maul Branch

Day 45. I did something today I haven’t done out here yet. In the 45 days since I started this trail, I didn’t listen to anything on my phone to pass the time. No music, no podcasts, no books on tape … nada. I did this for two reasons, 1) to conserve battery juice, and 2) to stop treating the day’s hike like a chore. It was magical, to say the least.

Expanding on #1 … it’s been 5 days since leaving Damascus, and still 3 more until my next hostel stay at Woods Hole. That’s 8 days, which is twice as long as I’ve ever gone between battery pack charges. I think I’ll make it, but it’s going to be close.

Expanding on #2 … part of the joy to this adventure is everything you get to see, and everything you get to think about and process internally throughout the day. If you distract your mind, you distract your eyes and your thoughts. Although I like the sound of music, radio, etc., the sound of nature is clearly much more entertaining. You hear more, you see more, and you realize more when your senses are all in use. I saw a snake today, countless squirrels, a hawk circling above me, bullfrogs jumping into a pond, and lots of additional scurryings in the woods. I also thought a lot about what makes me happy, what doesn’t, and the things I can change in my life to get more of the latter.

I’m not going to get too philosophical here, and I know I won’t do it everyday, but it was really a treat to simply let myself be in the woods. On all my other backpacking trips, I never listen to my phone, so why do it now? Just because a thruhike makes you walk 20 miles a day, over and over again, doesn’t mean you have to trick yourself to manage the mental fatigue with manufactured noise everyday. It’s good to take a break from time to time.

There were also 3 spectacular moments during today’s hike. It was hot today, real hot. Sunny and high 70’s. I was drenched in sweat all day with the sun beating down on me all day. But twice, I stepped out of it. The first time was when I walked through Atkins. I ordered a Piña Colada icee at the gas station restaurant and sat in the shade sipping it. Words cannot express how great that drink tasted. It was an existential level of bliss. I am drooling again just remembering it.

Then a few hours later, I came to a campsite with access to Reed Creek. It was around 2pm now and my feet were hurting me too. So I slipped off my socks and shoes and took a short nap in the shade, my feet dangling in the cool water. The ice cold water washed away the pain (and 5 days of dirt) almost instantly. After 20 minutes I felt fully refreshed and ready to hike on. I could have stayed all day, but still had 10 miles to go before dark. Nevertheless, I felt much more willing now.

Lastly, I took a shower today. We’ll sort of. I took a “cowboy shower” at the shelter. Meaning, I mixed up some soapy water in my pot, then gave myself a sponge bath to wipe off all the yuck. There are few things I hate out here more than crawling in my sleeping bag when covered in a layer of sticky, salty, grimy, sweat. Now I’m “clean” and resting comfortably. It’s a small victory.

Other than that, today was a fun hike through some pastures, farms, and private grassy lands. The trail literally cut right though hilly farmlands, making for some really nice breezy moments and views of Southern Virginia.

I also hit a big milestone today (woot!). Someone put up a sign signifying the official 1/4 mark of the AT … 25% done! Since the trail ebbs and flows a few miles each year, they even marked it as the 2018 marker. So I took a very Hello Neiman-ish photo (above) to celebrate quickly, then hiked on.

Its late now and haven’t seen Shelter Dog or Ridge at all today, so I’m guessing they won’t make it to the shelter. I’m sure they’ll catch up, but if not … I met some new friends when I arrived here. Spice is a nice young lady from Minnesota who averages 25+ miles a day. I doubt I’ll see her share j, but we had a good long talk about home, which I enjoyed. Another woman named Donut is here, who is originally from White Plains near my wife’s hometown, so I had a fun chat with her too. It was nice to have some familiarity out here to talk about! Another guy, Auto-Pilot is here, but he’s from Ohio. No connection there so I ignored him. Just kidding, he was also a really nice guy, but also hikes long miles per day. Probably won’t see him again either.

We all said goodnight around 7pm and retreated to tents/hammocks for a restful night. Supposedly the rain isn’t coming until around 11am tomorrow (knock on wood), so I should be able to pack up dry and hike dry for some of tomorrow’s planned 20 miles.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start to Mile: 540.5
  • Start Time: 09:10
  • End Mile: 559.8
  • End Time: 17:50
  • Miles Hiked: 19.3
  • Miles to Go: 1631.1
  • Lodging: Knot Maul Branch Shelter