Day 17: Monday, September 1

Tenting by the West Foahhk of the Pleasant River (local pronunciation) (AT mi 2096.9), walked 15.3 miles today plus about .8 extra for water at one point

Got hiking around 8am after a great night's sleep and the first climb, a little blood-circulator that gained 1,000 feet in less than a mile, swiftly brought me to the conclusion that I couldn't hike 21 miles today like I'd been planning. Other climbs and descents in the next few miles bore that point out even further, but I didn't worry about it and set a more modest goal, this riverside camp, which still ended up taking me all day to make. The terrain was extremely challenging and the hiking laborious, appropriate for the holiday. Still, everything stayed just as beautiful as yesterday and I was in a great mood the whole time.

Took two breaks today that have to go down as all-time classics, shoe-ins to the Hiking Breaks Hall of Fame--the first at Cloud Pond Lean-To and the second on (stay with me here) Third Mountain. The one at Cloud Pond was born out of necessity, since it was the only water source for miles and my Moxie bottles were getting empty, so I made the trek .4 miles off-trail. Once I saw the pond I was extremely grateful I'd gone, because it was a pristine north-woods affair, with some ideally situated rocks for reclining and relaxing and gazing at the lake, and only me to enjoy it (presumably the distance off-trail scared other hikers away from stopping). I spent about 45 minutes there lazily munching Snyder's flavored pretzel bites and finally moved on to continue the parade of brutal ups and downs that was the trail today. Got rained on with medium intensity shortly thereafter, enough to scare me into battening down all hatches and covering my pack up, but it only lasted ten minutes and that was it for the day; more had been forecast but we escaped yet again. In fact, this whole AT experience this year has been surprisingly free of rain--I realized that in the mid-Atlantic section it never rained on me once while I was hiking, only at night, for 15 days. That's unheard of on the AT. 

The second break, on Third Mountain, was gloriously unplanned and happened when I stumbled upon a panoramic view just as the sun was coming out. Thunderstorms were off in the distance--I got cell service and Instagrammed a picture of it--but I was able to sit in full sun for a half-hour straight and dry everything off and eat a bunch of cheese. It was important to dry my hiking shirt off because I've sweated an unholy amount in it, especially today, and it's starting to fall apart already, being made of tender merino wool. Today I sweated so much that the pinholes at the bottom of the back panel of my pack started to let in sweat and it ended up pooling at the bottom of the inside of the pack, which I only discovered to my disgust (things *inside* the pack being soaked with my own sweat) at the end of the day. That never happened once on the PCT, or in the mid-Atlantic of the AT this year, with the same pack and same pinholes.

A thru-hiker named Siesta (not the most original trail name; I've now met four in the past two years) caught me up towards the end of the day and he and I walked and talked for a bit before he outran me. Even though I feel strong, I don't have true thru-hiker speed yet and won't have time to build it up this year. He ended up camping in the same spot, as did most of the other crew from yesterday--the Swiss couple, the German Dortmunder guy, and Eastwood. They all started out ahead of me intending to go 21 miles but, like me, were cowed by the incredible difficulty of today's trail and decided to end well short. I have no idea how anyone, like Shorts from the PCT who tried to set a speed record out here SOBO this year, hikes 30+ miles per day in this terrain. It seems physically impossible to me. Everything else about speed-hikers' pace seems feasible, like once I'm in good hiking shape I could keep up with them for at least one day or part of one day, but not 30 miles over this. I would collapse after half a mile at that pace.

Tomorrow is a 16-18 mile day, and then the terrain finally eases up and we're into the promised land, the much kinder second half of the 100 Mile Wilderness.

More pictures on Instagram: