Luray to Front Royal: When Things Go Wrong

What’s up everybody. I’m in Front Royal and have completed Shenandoah National Park! While I’m sad to be leaving the beauty of the mountains and the perfectly groomed trails that made for easy walking, leaving the park is a milestone. In 54 miles we’ll be in Harpers Ferry which known as the psychological half-way point. I’m excited and could use a boost to moral. Everything seems to be going so wrong.

Firecracker and I arrived yesterday on the 9:50pm trolley. We picked up Firecracker’s new tent from the post office courtesy of my Mom. She’s now using my old tent that I retired before crossing the Mexican border on my bike last year. It’s heavy and has been around, but will make for a fine, fabric home.

We assembled the tent in the park behind the visitor center and we took a nap. Neither one of us slept well the night before. With a full shelter, we were forced to cram into my tiny, one-person tent. “Get off my hair!” was the conversation of the night along with groans of pain as we kneed and kicked each other.

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Setting up the tents in the park. One is drying. We’re making sure the other is ok. Firecracker’s in there sleeping.

We walked to the grocery store for dinner. Two packs filled the cart with the baby seat holding a rotisserie chicken and a box of rice sides. Leaning against a wall of the store, we feasted tearing into the chicken with a ferocity even the bears of Shenandoah don’t possess. We must have looked homeless judging by the sneers of shoppers or the careful avoidance of eye-contact by others. I can’t say I blame them. I feel more homeless than I’ve ever felt in my life, but that’s a conversation for another time.

Reactions to our journey never cease to amaze me and even in our sorry state we offered many rides to anywhere we may need to go. One guy in particular sticks with me. As I returned to our seats along the wall, after having washed the chicken grease from my hands, arms, and face (my clothes must wait for a washing machine in Harpers Ferry. Can you say, “bear bait?!”), I hear, “Hey man, ya lookin’ like ya’ll been seein’ to many treeees.” He exhales from his e-cig a cloud of vapor that obscures the door I just walked through. “Food coma,” I mutter before sitting down.

Bellies now full to bursting, we address the next need: sleep. I pull out my phone clicking on google maps. The map reveals that the park boundary is near our location and satellite imagery reveals it’s wooded. “Perfect!” We walk to the tree-line along Skyline Drive and find a suitable place to pitch a tent. We stealth camped there last night.

It’s now 4pm and we’re sitting in a coffee shop. Firecracker is reading her book on waves. It alternates behind the science of rogue waves and surfing stories (I know this because she read me a chapter as sat in the tent avoiding a storm). Me? I’m working on this post trying to ignore the pain in my eyes. They ache so bad from old contact lenses I seriously consider going blind. I’m not sure which is worse, pain or a blurry world. The pain, apparently, cause I’m still wearing the lenses…

As for everything going wrong, I’m being dramatic. Not everything is wrong. Only a small serious of disasters that make a person — already tired and sore from walking hundreds of miles yet facing a thousand more — feel like life is conspiring against them.

After the tent fiasco and the missing mail that’s making my eyes ache, the zipper ripped off my tent. My tent stake snapped. My food bag fell off my bear line hitting the ground with enough force to tear the bag in half. I’m covered in poison ivy. Firecracker’s shoes are dead (making her complain a lot :-p). My pant seam split in the butt meaning I can no longer “go commando.” The stitches on my BRAND NEW backpack are pulling out. And to top it all off — and compounding every issue — I’m way under-slept from sleeping in shelters every night with guys like Dozer who get their names from their sleep-shattering snores. AAHHHHH!!!

But worry not dear readers! All will be well after a good nights sleep and a little bit of time. New contacts await me in Harpers Ferry along with new shoes for Firecracker (no more complaining!). Thread will fix my tent and pants; duct tape my food bag. Poison ivy goes away and my backpack might be alright. If not, Gregory or REI will fix or replace it. Mountain views and sunsets have the power to erase all but the most major of problems and like I mentioned last time, I have a bad memory for things like this.

 

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Firecracker says goodbye to her tent. We built a raft and set the burning tent adrift in the lake prior to leaving. Not really, but a good idea. I’m sorry for your loss Miss Firecracker.

 

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We walked a mile out of town after being shuttled to the trailhead by the hostel. We called it an early night at the shelter.

 

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Dozer and Cruzer carry mousetraps. Here, Dozer is baiting the trap with almond butter. A good last meal don’t you think??

 

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Cruiser hands Dozer a dead mouse. They average 3-4 a night and have caught as many as 7.

 

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Firecracker showing off her new blanket. She sent her sleeping bag home in Waynesboro trading it for a Hello Kitty blanket. It wasn’t warm enough. This one? Just right.
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WhiteCap is from Pittsburgh as well. We actually met once. I sold him an MSR Dragonfly on Craigslist. We sat talking for a while afterward. He recognized me when I mentioned Guatemala. Funny running into him!

What we eat on trail:

 

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Pasta with quinoa, butter, tuna, and a packet of pesto seasoning.

 

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Guacamole eaten with bagel and pretzel chips. We made the guac with avocado and pico de gallo. Firecracker carried the avocado for six days before they were ripe enough to eat. She was the talk of the trail…

 

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My food bag exploded (we call it a “yardsale” when this happens) so I organized the food a bit and took a picture.

 

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We found fresh mint near a water source.

 

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Fresh-picked mint flavoring my water on an overlook.

 

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Firecracker reading on a lazy morning in a shelter. Notice the pile of mint on the table.

 

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In the next photos: an interesting beetle on a backpack; a deer abnormally close (parks are notorious for this); a bear in the distance sneaking into our camp that we were just leaving;  AHHH!!!! A BEAR!!!

 

 

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She wouldn’t let me photograph saline solution as it streamed from her nostrils and mouth while using a neti pot. Oh well.  

 

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Leaving the Gravel Springs Hut late in the afternoon.

 

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And I thought I had problems… We found this laying in the shelter written on the back of a hostel’s business card. For the record, I sleep in a tent.
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These bear boxes are more effective than the “bear resistant” poles. We woke one morning to find a bag torn open and hanging empty from the pole. The only danger with these boxes is human error. Make sure it’s closed!

 

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We stop for a long lunch at a Wayside (restaurants in the park). Not only did we see Lady Catherine who I started the hike with in the hiker hostel, but Firecracker bought me ice-cream!!!

 

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Firecracker licks clean a butter wrapper. No Shame, No Maine!!!

 

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We stop and hang out at an overlook.

 

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Firecracker literally “hangs out” at the overlook. Those trees are 50ft down! If only she’d let me post the picture of her peeing off the edge. I’m not joking. Actually peeing. Off the edge!

 

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Looking into the Shenandoah river valley makes the mountains in this range special. I’ll hike this park again.

 

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Me, Kodak, and a white blaze on our way into town.

 

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Thanks for the photo Firecracker! It’s my new favorite.

 

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Hiking into the night so we can catch the 9:50am shuttle into town.

 

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Down climbing these rocks in the dark wasn’t easy. We miss Shenandoah NP already. None of this crap there…

 

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Riding the trolley into town. They added the stop at the trail head this year for the hikers.

 

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My first mail drop!!! Thanks Mom! This should have been my second, but my first package was mishandled after I had it transferred to Luray. Three more days…

 

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Who’s Ryan Brown?!?!

 

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An old building in the historic town of Front Royal.

 

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I’ll try and put the Elkton to Luray post together in Harpers Ferry. We are talking about spending some time there. I have the photos narrowed down from 601 to under 100 though… I take too many photos sometimes 🙂 I’ll work on putting up that donation link some of you have asked about as well. As for care packages, anyone wanting to send us some goodies, or even staples like pasta or barley, shoot me an email and we’ll figure out where to send it!

Take care everybody and happy trails!

 

 

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The dog ate your what?!?

Hey, whats up everybody. I have to make this fast because we have a ride out of town in an hour. This section of trail has been incredible. Stormy and wet for a portion — how long, I can’t really say as I forget the bad quickly (a must when adventuring in the wild)  —  but the views have been stunning. I’ll post the photos and writeup in a few days when we get to Front Royal.

Yesterday was one of the most draining days I’ve had on trail (off trail actually). It started out well, really well in fact. We woke at 4:30am and climbed to the top of Hawksbill Mountain to watch the sunrise. It was beautiful of course, but heavy cloud cover from the previous days storms obscured most of the color.

We then hiked 14miles as fast as we could to make it into Luray before the Post Office closed at 4:30pm. The rush was exciting and made me feel like a thru-hiker again. Actually going somewhere and with purpose! It was awesome, but then the world dropped out from under me.

We made it into town with time to spare only to find my package had not arrived. I had it forwarded from Harpers Ferry and someone did not cross out the old barcode. Tracking indicates it left Harpers Ferry only to return days later. Its out there in the world somewhere right now. Hopefully, it will arrive Monday where it will be forwarded, again, to Harpers Ferry.

We walked from the post office to a little hostel. We arrived – tired, starving, and stinking – to find the owner not at home. A guest let us in where we sat talking for an hour before the owner arrived. She said she would drive us to food after she made a shuttle run.

We showered leaving our bags on the bag porch. We planned to camp (we’re poor), but were waiting for a storm to pass to set up our tent. I called my brother. Firecracker went to get something out of her bag.

“Kodak, get your bag off the porch, NOW.”

“I’ll call you back in a minute bro.”

Firecracker comes walking through the house carrying her bag. Her tent is out of the stuff sack and in her hand. I follow suit bringing my stuff to the front porch.

“What happened?”

“The dog ate my tent.”

Earlier, the dog was acting up so the owner put it out on the back porch. It chewed on my hat and, yeah, it shredded her home. The dog was a pain. Soaking wet from the rain, it jumped on us every time we went outside. Not something I wanted to deal with in my condition but, whatever. I like dogs; even bad ones.

The owner of the hostel dealt with the situation as best she could. We were assured immediately that we would be compensated and she let us stay for free (inside in a real bed). Then, this morning, the two worked it out with the owner handing Firecracker cash for the online price of the tent.

As for how to continue, my mom is sending my old tent to Front Royal where we’ll pick it up (hopefully) on Tuesday. We’ll shelter hop and cram in my tiny tent until we get there.

Was this my worst day yet? Probably not, but being tired, STARVING, and so chaffed that even sitting hurt is enough to make even the smallest problem worth going home over. Our group early in the hike adopted HALT as a motto for a reason. Halt and examine your situation: are you Hungry, Anxious or Angry, Lonely, or Tired. If you understand the reason behind overwhelming emotions, they are much easier to handle. It’s incredible how many problems can be solved with food or sleep alone.

Moral of the story? Be vary careful around dogs —— The chair just collapsed on me!!!! It’s time to go. Anyway, don’t give up without careful consideration of your current circumstances. Eat. Chug water. Talk to friends. Call friends and family back home (have trusted people back home that you can rely on to urge you to continue hiking. DO NOT call someone that will welcome you home too quickly).  Sleep. So many problems disappear with food, rest, and sleep. Don’t make quitting a spontaneous decision you’ll later regret.

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Appalachian Trail: Days 99-104 Waynesboro to Elkton

Appalachian Trail: Day # 99-104

Waynseboro, Va –> Elkton, Va

Miles 861.3-906.8

 

The story of the section: Sloowwww and chasing sunsets.

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Firecracker taking it all in.

 

 

Returning to life on the go after two nearly stationary weeks was difficult. So difficult, I needed two zeroes before I was ready to resume the walk! Firecracker sure loved taking four zeroes in town….

We hitchhiked out of town, after resupplying and a long stay at the library, to Rockfish Gap and the beginning of Shenandoah National Park. We registered for our stay and we began hiking. As difficult as it was to leave town, once my feet started walkin’, my face started smilin’. Nothing compares to the freedom of the open trail.

 

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Firecracker pretending to be me, an Appalachian Trail thru-hiking photo blogger.

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Day 35: How We Handle Rain on the Appalachian Trail

Appalachian Trail: Day #35

Bald Mountain Shelter –> Big Bald: -1.2 miles

Total AT Miles: 324.1

Rain drops onto the tin roof as we sleep adding ambient noise that drowns out the twisting, turning, snoring people packed into an Appalachian Trail shelter on a rain day. I wake feeling rested but not ready to face the day.

“Want to zero and watch a movie?!!”

“Duh.”

We lay around the shelter watching the diehards don their wetsuits. They voice their anger at mother nature and curse their ill fortune. The stoic slip silently away into the dreary day.

By evening, the rain has passed and the sky has cleared. Our heads are now fuzzy from a break in routine. It is hard to stay in one place when you are used to moving somewhere new everyday.

Two of our group move on down the trail. The rest of us backtrack to watch the sun set from the top of the bald. I take my pack planning to sleep up there.

The top turns out too cold and windy for a proper nights sleep. I watch the sun sink below the horizon in a dazzling display of stunning colors with my friends. Then, I retreat a bit towards the shelter and a covered rock with a built in fireplace.

Dinner cooks in the coals of a crevice through the rock. The full moon floats above the overhanging boulder. I play with long exposures. Resting the camera on a rock, I set the shutter speed to 30seconds. The two-second self-timer ticks away tripping the shutter. I paint the boulder with my headlamp for ten seconds then I sit beside the fire and flash my face with the camera on my phone freezing my digital, almost ghostly, image.

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Mountain Goat journaling in the shelter while rain falls outside.
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The Big Bald Shelter on a dreary, rainy morning.
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Dr. Kool-Aid’s Zpack tent.
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My TarpTent Moment. It’s been home for ten months now and still going strong.
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Further journaling by Mountain Goat.

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Finch updates her journal as well.
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My Shadow playing in the mud outside the shelter.
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Really glad we’re not walking today…
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Until we do. Hiking to the top of the Bald, Dr. Kool-Aid walks the blazes a little too literally.
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Exiting the forest into the lower bald.
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Someone decided it would be fun to camp on top. Going to be a cold night albeit a beautiful one!
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The sun setting atop Big Bald.

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Cooking rice and beans in the crevice of a rock. 
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A hole in the back creates a perfect fireplace acting as chimney to draw away the smoke.

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Sitting beside the fire after dinner playing with long exposures. I really wish I had a tripod!
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The full moon behind the rock ledge where I sleep.

 

 

 

Day 34: Making Miles and Blazes

Appalachian Trail: Day #34

Shelton Gravesite –> Bald Mountain Shelter: 21.7 miles

Total AT Miles: 325.3

(Current Whereabouts: Pearisburg, VA @ Mile 634.6)

Yesterdays funk cleared making today all about the miles. I hike fast but still stop for photos and to meet new folks.

I met Breezy at the Shelton Graves campsite. She began hiking Sobo (southbound) last year and had to get off trail for a while due to fractured feet. Ouch!

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The trail crosses this road and climbs the stairs over the barbed wire fence.

Messages from the trail.

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I found this bag hanging in a tree. Trail magic oreos!!!
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Making a white blaze!
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A trail maintenance crew.

The trail crew behind the oreo magic. Thanks guys!

The Appalachian Trail winding through the countryside.

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Dr. Kool-Aid left me a note so I’d know where they were headed. I love trail notes!

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Signs on shelters direct us to water and privies; the only things we need in life!

The trail crosses the road next to the Tennessee welcome center then heads back into the woods. Welcome to Tennessee! We’ve been walking it’s border with North Carolina for a while now.

I run into Dr. Kool-Aid again up on the hill. What’s up buddy! Long time no see.

We see this shack down a muddy road. Curiosity draws us closer and we take some photos. After walking back up the hill, and sitting to catch our breath, we ponder what we were thinking…

 

Views and poo?! I’m not sure of my obsession with poo photos… maybe someone can tell me what it is.

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Walking up Big Bald on a cloudy, threatening day.

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Thankfully, the weather is kind once more and we only deal with occasional bouts of drizzle.

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The trail winds off Big Bald and through the odd shaped bald below.

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Blazes on posts.
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Clouds cowering in the sky. Can clouds cower?! For alliterations sake, eh?

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We arrive at the shelter at dark and I sleep like someone who hiked 22 miles!

Day 33: Rocks that Speak

Appalachian Trail: Day #33

Jerry Cabin Shelter –> Shelton Gravesite: 3.5 miles

Total AT Miles: 303.6

(Current Location: Pearisburg, Va – 634.6 miles)

I walk through the woods in a daze when I stumble upon rocks that are the ground we walk on. A white patch of clean granite(?) looks like a blaze. I know the trail leads on but I wander up the slick rock anyway to find an overlook not marked on the map. I drop my pack as a voice as cold and distant as the mountains yonder beckons me to stay. I think of another hiker who says the trees commune with and guide her. I stay.

I know the voice is my own mind, an instinct or my subconscious, yet I ponder why it would speak to me though the rocks and not directly. Perhaps it knew I may not listen. I am attuned to myself though my mind still wanders. I do not always listen.

I find a nook in the rock to fit my butt. I sit, crossing my legs, and I breathe. I become aware of birds fluttering and chattering in the trees surrounding me. I hear the sounds of civilization in the valley far below.

When my mind stills, I dredge up the thoughts that plague my mind. I inhale them to the top of my conscious then, on the exhale, release them into the world. After a few rounds of breathe my body tingles. I am no longer troubled. I am fully in the moment.

Hours later after meeting many hikers stopping for the view as well, the rocks speak to me again. With urgency, they tell me it is time to go. I previously planned to stay cowboy-camping in this beautiful place. I listen once more and I walk.

It is late, an hour from dark. I see smoke rising through the trees. A drizzle begins to fall. I thought I would hike on until dark but whatever this voice is, obviously not the rocks, guides me to the camp. I walk up the path to Shelton Graves and meet a south-bound hiker. She built a bonfire. I cowboy camp here and we talk into the night around the warmth of the blaze.

Morning in the camping area at the Jerry Cabin Shelter. I lay around my tent. Dr. Kool-Aid joins me for coffee.

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We walk through open fields of red plants and still lifeless trees.

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The rocks that spoke to me.
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Lino, a thru-hiker from California(?). His family is from El Salvador.
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Kristin, whose trail name is now Arrow, and Firefly. Both thru hiking.
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Sun tea with honey brewing in the sun on this rock.
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Rice and beans for dinner cooked in sun tea. It was the only water I had.
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I cut the hair out of my eyes with my knife.
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Earl Grey!
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Bright Bags who is also from Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh!!!
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Stairs holding the slope together in the mud. Imagine this in the rain…

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