04 September 2016

Knot Maul Branch Shelter to Chestnut Knob Shelter (AT Day 3, Fall 2016)

Appalachian Trail, 9.4 miles

Today was so, so hard. How could it only have been nine-ish miles? It felt like ninety.

When I was leaving the shelter this morning, I tried to get the stray dog to follow me. I was hoping I could get her to walk with me far enough to where I could get a cell signal so I could call the phone number on her collar and her owner could come claim her. But she followed me for only like five minutes and then was gone. She is a free spirit, I think. Just like the rest of us out here I guess. I hope she made her way to somewhere safe.

Huge mental challenge today with a giant, non-stop climb during the second half of the day. It is much harder, I found, to be mentally stable when I am hiking alone. When I'm with other people, I'm serene, determined, steady. Jaunty, even. But when it's just me, I am a hot mess of nerves and self-doubt and I spend most of my day wondering if I will actually live through all this. Like I seriously have actual thoughts of dying right here on the trail. But I did make it through the day, and now I am at Chestnut Knob and it's lovely. The elevation makes for a beautiful view. I have heard from other hikers that the weather can be very fierce here at the top of the knob, but tonight it is calm and breathtaking.

View of the valley from Chestnut Knob
There is a stone shelter here at the top, which hopefully will be comfortably warm tonight. It is four-sided and even has a door, which is pretty rare for AT shelters. The roof of the shelter is bolted down with very thick steel cables, which says something about how windy it can get here. Right now, from where I am lying in the shelter, I can look out the doorway and see a beautiful starry sky.

Sadly, there is no water this high up. So I had to camel-up about a mile and a half before reaching the peak and lug 2+ liters of water up to the top of the knob. I'm told there is only one good water source between here and my next northbound stop tomorrow, so it looks like there is more water-lugging in my future.

An older guy is here, another southbounder. His trail name is Mary Poppins, because during his first long-distance hike he actually brought and used a giant black umbrella. He is a funny, polite, older southern gentleman. He arrived shortly after I did, and we talked a bit as we both made our dinners. He told me that he finds a lot of comfort in these mountains because it is a place of healing for him. He said he spent several weeks backpacking after he came back from fighting in Vietnam, and that nature is a good listener. He got a little bit teary as he was talking about it. I can only imagine the pain he has been through. Tomorrow is his 69th birthday. I need to remember to wish him a happy birthday when we both wake up in the morning.

I saw a first today: a huge Amish clan, hiking. I ran into them at the top of Chestnut Knob, in a nice grassy area not far from the shelter. I snuck a picture of them after they passed me (isn't it against their beliefs to be photographed? I seem to remember something about that, so I decided to get a stealthy shot). Seeing these sturdy amazing people was actually a good reality check for me, because I encountered them just at the time that I thought I might actually lie down and expire from heat exhaustion after climbing the 2500-foot ascent to Chestnut Knob. And then I see these women with thick, long, black dresses and long-sleeved shirts and flat black shoes on, some of them carrying children on their hip, and I think: okay. I am fine.

Two thru-hikers showed up later in the evening and tented near the shelter. The one guy dropped his pack and immediately disrobed almost to the point of being completely stark naked, walking around in nothing but his boots and compression undies. And I do mean compression. I guess once you've completed three-quarters of a 2,200-mile trail, you get pretty comfortable in your own skin.

The pain in my left knee is still there, and it's getting more pronounced. I am not sure what to do about that. My feet are doing okay, though the bone spur on one of my heels produced a pretty impressive blister today which broke. That I can handle; it's the knee issue I'm not so sure about. We'll see what tomorrow brings.

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