Appalachian Trail, 9.4 miles
Our final hiking day. Matt and Joe set their alarm for 5:30 this morning and made all sorts of clattering as they bumbled around and got their stuff packed up. We didn't really mind the early wake-up though, since we were all eager to get an early start and make our way into Damascus. The boys were hoping for one last opportunity to see a bear, and they felt that being the first on the trail in the early-morning hours would boost their odds. Since it was a very warm day and rain was predicted, they both hiked shirtless, which also boosted their wilderness quotient. :) Sadly, no bears were spotted.
I was a little concerned about Joe because he woke up feeling kind of green. He insisted it was because of the mushrooms in the freeze-dried beef stroganoff meal he ate for dinner last night. Despite not feeling well, he and Matt powered through the 9+ miles to Damascus. We never did catch up with them until we got to Hikers Inn.
I decided to hike with Jay all day, since it would be our last stretch of time on the trail together for a while. We had a lot of fun talking over the highlights of the trip and enjoying some nice views from the side of Straight Mountain and Feathercamp Ridge. It helped that it was a pretty easy hiking day: three miles of descent, then three miles of gentle climbing, then three more miles of descent. He has been such a good sport on this trip! He has muscled through with his usual sense of humor. I love him so much!
Here he is, looking pretty sprightly with only about two and a half miles to go before reaching Damascus:
He didn't really feel the need to yell and shriek until around mile 9. He unintentionally startled some day hikers with his whooping... he didn't see them because he was so focused on getting each foot in front of the other. The day hikers were in tennis shoes and looked clean and perky - a sharp contrast to our sweaty, smelly, beleaguered selves. But seeing clean, tidy people also meant that we were getting close to civilization. Before long, we were stepping onto level ground and following another stretch of the Virginia Creeper Bike Trail into town, and within another quarter mile we were at Hikers Inn.
Still shirtless, Joe and Matt had arrived about an hour before us, and asked a passerby to take their picture just before they ditched their packs at Hikers Inn. I think this is my favorite picture of the whole trip. I'm so happy these guys came along and that they had fun together.
By the time Jay and I arrived at Hikers Inn, Tim was there too. Joe was lying on one of the bunks in the hostel and not feeling so well. Though he was in good spirits, he had thrown up twice soon after he and Matt had arrived. I don't think you can blame all that on the freeze-dried mushrooms in the stroganoff, so my mind of course went all sorts of directions: maybe it's giardia from the water? Norovirus from the unsanitary shelters? Some other scary bacterial or parasitic thing that will take months to shake? A mum worries. He was also feverish. We were all a bit concerned, but not so much that we couldn't leave him for a couple hours while we walked a few blocks to Hey Joe's for a much-anticipated taco lunch. While we were out I stopped at a drugstore and bought him some Tylenol and ginger ale (alas, no Vernors, so Schweppes had to do). By evening, he was on the mend, but he still didn't eat much. Hoping he feels better in the morning for our drive back to Michigan.