I started hiking at the Tye River at 3:00 PM, happy with my new, light pack. The weather was nice, though a little muggy. I found myself a little more easily tired than perhaps I ought to have been, perhaps due to my extended break. It's true that an long town stop really will affect your hiking the the next few days. I felt a little silly, as I was still doing much better than your average joe.
After spending enough time thru-hiking, my perspective of 'normal' or 'good' has changed dramatically. After a few times of being asked "Oh -- this is just your first thru-hike?", I've begun to feel like thru-hiking is the norm, that doing it differently is what makes a person shine. I've met enough people that have done multiple thru-hikes that I don't even feel like I can shine 'til I've done another one. All of these feelings, I realise, are normal when on the trail. But perceptions clash when I read e-mail, do interviews or talk to people from home. All of the praise seems unfounded, and I find myself brushing it off or not being thankful for it. This worries me, since I'd hate to appear stuck-up or too willing to accept undue praise. But that's just how things end up when one is immersed in a world of thru-hikers. This is why I felt like, perhaps, I was just spoiled in whining about my lack of fitness, from a thru-hiker perspective, on this July 16th.
It took about an hour to reach Harper's Creek Shelter, where I found I needed a fairly lengthy break. There were three hikers there, camping on the opposite side of the creek from the shelter. I ate some snacks, drank a quart of water, read the entire register and continued on around 5:00, never having talked to the other hikers. I was too lost in thought to really consider their presence.
I'd been told that the ascent up Three Ridges, which began after Harper's Creek Shelter, was a difficult one. I remember having climbed it a couple of years ago in a few feet of snow. It was difficult, but I'd thought that my winter hike had increased in difficulty through the years of memory. I nearly wimped out and took the Mau-Har trail, a four-mile blue-blazed side trail that bypasses Three Ridges, passes some swimming holes, then ascends to Maupin Field Shelter. Instead, thinking that I'd probably get nasty e-mail and have a guilty consience, I decided to take the AT. The ascent up Three Ridges really wasn't terribly difficult. It was well switched-back, though the trail was crowded with thorns, stinging nettles and a few downed trees. None the less, it wasn't bad. One downed tree, crossing about three feet over the treadway, caused me a new joy. I'd never before been able to just duck and waddle under such a small blowdown. But now, with New and Improved Pack (Guaranteed to Improve Your Life and Prevent Heartburn!), I could duck right under and spend a good five minutes reveling in this newfound pleasure.
I hit Maupin Field Shelter at 8:30, hoping that I'd catch up with some friends, despite their old journal entries in the Harper's Creek journal. I passed a couple of all-male groups of teenagers, probably some camp trip, judging by the couple of guys in their mid-20s. They barely noticed me through the melee of wrestling, faux fighting and headbutting going on. (I'm reminded of a Jane Goodall book I once read.) I found the shelter full of piles of sleeping bags, food, trash and packs, not a bit of space for a thru-hiker. I spent a few minutes there, remember my last visit to Maupin Field Shelter.
I was hiking in the summer of '95 in the same area, from Humpback sorthward, with my friend Lee Seal. She and I had spent the night at Maupin Field along with a large youth group, that we happened to share Harper's Creek with the following night. Also at Maupin field was a grizzled old guy who descibed himself as a thru-hiker. Though I knew by this time that I was going to thru-hike, this was the first time I'd been able to talk to a thru-hiker from the perspective of being a potential thru-hiker. He gave me a lot of advice and seemed to really enjoy the questions. This was a fellow who ate, drank and breathed hiking. This evening was my first where I felt like a thru-hiker -- or, rather, a potential one. And now, nearly a year later, here I was -- and now I was that thru-hiker.
In retrospect, I imagine the reason I'd sat at Maupin Field Shelter so long was in hopes that some kid would come up to me and say he was going to thru-hike, thus continuing the passing of the torch. But nobody showed up, and I was left staring at piles of cheap camping gear, the shouts of teenagers in the distance. I decided, without even really thinking about it, that perhaps I would prefer not to be around these people tonight. And so I went down a fire road, just after the side trail for the shelter, and spent the evening down there. Summer sausage and "Song of Solomon" were my companions for the evening.
Song Stuck in my Head Today: Love and Rockets, "Here Come the Comedown"