Day 15: Thursday, August 28

At the infamous Microtel in Hamburg, PA (left AT at SOBO mi 971.7), walked 18.0 miles today

As expected, there was serious rain not long after going to sleep last night, but the storm system apparently brought much colder temperatures in its wake, because we were cold waking up and cold walking the first few miles in the morning. Couldn't have been more than 55 degrees; it was also breezy and thus very autumnal-feeling. My legs, after yesterday's failure at pacing, could proverbially have had a fork stuck in them--they were done, and I was mentally done with the shittastic rocky trail, to the point where I proclaimed in the first shelter register I came across that four of the previous miles were "unquestionably the shittiest of the 2185." Probably not the proudest thing I've ever written in one of those books, but I was not a happy hiker for most of today. All I wanted to do was _walk_, have some kind of peaceful consistent stroll on my last day of non-Maine AT, and the trail wouldn't allow it. I had to skip, jump, slip, hoist, roll my ankle five more times, etc. I actually have a blister on my right foot now, the first one in 4500 miles. Thank you, mid-Atlantic Appalachian Trail.

Took a really nice break after 7.5 miles (three hours of nonstop hiking, i.e. really slow) at the Eckville Shelter, which is in someone's backyard, then about three and a half trail miles later noticed a shortcut in the guidebook, which I took. Had a feeling that there wouldn't be much reward in staying on the white-blazed AT, which was on a gravel ATV/snowmobile track through dense woods for about five miles; at the end of the day I talked to Princess, who had been well behind me and followed the white blazes, and she concurred and wished she'd taken the shortcut instead. Even now, lying in a hotel bed and not in a bad mood at all, it's hard to see the point in sticking to the pure trail in that environment when you have faster alternatives. It really is pretty goddamn worthless. At any rate, the shortcut saved me about four miles and was a nice mental boost. The last five miles, back on the real AT, shouldn't have been a breeze (they were rocky and steep) but they were because I had my headphones in, was ahead of schedule thanks to the shortcut, and was in general feeling much better about everything.

Got to the road in Port Clinton around 4:30pm and after about 10 minutes was given a ride to the Cabela's in Hamburg by local hero Chris (such a euphonious name). Even though I knew what was coming, having been in there with Perro three years ago, I was still taken aback by how enormous and excessive it is, and how many mounted animals there are in that store. It's in the hundreds, not the dozens. I didn't actually need anything in Cabela's, I just wanted to reminisce a bit--in 2011 Perro and I were given a ride there on a very rainy day, looking like drowned rats, with me on my stress-fractured leg, and then the AYCE buffet upstairs really did seem like a promised land, albeit a weird one with things like the 11th-largest polar bear ever shot standing nearby. Walking over from Cabela's to the Microtel--taking 20 minutes because of the pedestrian-unfriendliness of the whole megaplex--also brought back memories from three years back, namely of me being unable to walk more than a minute or so on pavement without a break. The front desk of the hotel still had me on file as a returning customer from then. Got set up in a decent room, cleaned up, did laundry, then headed over to the Taco Bell once I had a text from Princess saying she'd reached the highway, figuring that she'd ask to be dropped off South of the Border by whomever she ended up hitching with. That was correct, and we rendezvoused over Cool Ranch Doritos Locos Supremes (I'd never had a Dorito Loco before, and now I see what all the fuss is about). Then her boyfriend, Brian, showed up, having driven up from DC, and I retired to my room at the hotel. After an hour or two messing with the blog and the internet and whatnot, I got a very unexpected phone call from Mr. Perro himself. He a) couldn't believe that I was finishing out the AT and back in the fuckin' Hamburg Microtel--to be honest, I barely could either--and b) expressed some interest in flying up to Maine from NC next weekend to climb Katahdin with me and maybe go camping with A-GAME (2011 AT friend of ours who lives in Maine now) afterward. I said fuck yeah to both, and now maybe that's going to be a thing.

The length and looseness of this post should be an indicator that this is a different type of day for me. I was very tired of the trail at the beginning--more upset with it than I've ever been at any point on the AT, never mind the PCT which I love almost unconditionally and simply didn't have bad days on. And once I got to town, I also had a whole bunch of strong and kind of funny memories of how utterly miserable it was when I was here before. This highway megaplex in Hamburg really is an odd place to be making a triumphant personal return to, since it has absolutely nothing to do with the trail and is in fact pretty antithetical to the aesthetic of the trail, just happens to be a mile or so from it. But I'm here now, I'm calling the shots instead of a dumb broken leg, and now I'm about to fly up to Maine and finish the AT beeyotch! That's about all I have to say now. Two days of transit, and then the Hundred Mile Wilderness begins. 

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