Sleeping in the St. Thomas Episcopal Church in Vernon, NJ (AT SOBO mi 832.3), walked 14.7 miles today
It rained solidly for hours last night, but I stayed warm and dry and happy and psychologically unscarred in my tent. Got up and felt fairly strong; unfortunately, the trail was dastardly hard for the first few miles. The elevation profile didn't give away much, but it turned out the trail wound up and over countless bare rock humps along a ridge, and with the rock wet from the night before I couldn't afford to hurry lest I slip and destroy myself. After a while that ended, and coming down from the ridge I encountered Clam and Bugout, two SOBOs I'd never met before. Estimable Virginians (as most Virginians are), they and I walked and talked for several miles, until we stopped together at New Jersey's Wayawanda State Park and I ended up leaving before them.
Got to the road to Vernon a few miles later, and just a hop skip and jump from the trailhead was a farm selling incredibly good homemade ice cream at its store. After pausing a half-hour to gorge myself there, Clam and Bugout rolled up and we all scored a ride from the parking lot into town and this church hostel. At the church were several new faces, most of them SOBOs. Another, named Princess, rolled in soon after and five of us ended up going out to dinner at the Vernon Inn, the only establishment in town serving beer. It happened to be Taco Thursday at the Inn, so everyone stuffed his or herself with tacos, margaritas and Yuenglings (not quite Mexican, but it was on special), and then to top things off, a man at the table next to us, apparently a respected figure in the town, picked up the tab for our entire table of hungry hikers. This is the first time such a thing has happened to me on the AT, although it happened several times on the PCT, and then, as now, I don't really understand what I or any other hikers have done to deserve it. We all were all profusely thankful, and then sort of speechless (and, speaking for myself, confused) afterward once he had left.
An incredible thunderstorm, with one of the heaviest cloudbursts I've ever seen, passed over while we were in the Inn--I cracked open the restaurant door to get a look at it, not getting the chance to see many storms back home in Oregon, and water started flying in immediately so I shut it right away--and the walk back to the church was done in the dark on utterly soaked streets. Tomorrow I think nearly everyone has the High Point Shelter, about 20 miles south, as their goal, so I'm expecting more company for the next few days at least, which is great. The AT in this part of the country doesn't have much to reward the solo hiker.
More pictures on Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/scrubhiker