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.

 

 

 

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An Update and Trail Days: May 15th

Appalachian Trail: Day #68

Damascus, VA (Again)

Total AT Miles: 589.9

Kodak here signing in from Damascus, Va. Mountain Goat, My Shadow, Firecracker, and myself caught a ride here late Wednesday night to attend the Trail Days Festival. Trail Days celebrates hiking with the town swelling from a population of ~800 to an estimated 15,000 people. The main event of the festival is a hiker parade. Current and former thru-hikers tramp through town while locals bathe away our smell with water guns. The town also fills with vendors competing for business, repairing worn-out gear, and hosting gear give-a-ways.

After vendors vend their wares, hikers party around their fires. A field fills with tents so close walking becomes a gnarled maze of tripwires. The woods fill as well with two separate areas: quiet and chaos. We camped in chaos not entirely sure what we were getting ourselves into. Our tents happened to be right next to the largest bonfire I’ve ever seen with hundreds of nearly naked hikers tribal dancing to the thrum of a drum circle.

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Tent city Sunday morning after clearing out. All that grass was packed with tents.

The blog being a month behind my current where-abouts, I’m posting some photos from the last thirty days. The hike is going well, better than I ever imagined. In fact, when people ask me how it is I tell ’em, “Everyday feels like the new best day of my life.” While this isn’t totally true, it isn’t too far off.

I am still hiking with Dr. Kool-Aid, My Shadow, Mountain Goat, and Finch. Firecracker is a recent addition, but has been with us for a couple weeks now. We are all eating better than ever with the occasional cookout.

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Here we are grilling sirloin skewers at Woodchucks Hostel in Damascus the first time we were here (two weeks ago).

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We arrived at Watagua Lake a few days before to find former thru-hikers performing trail magic. They were grilling burgers and had coolers filled with beer and pop. We stayed put that evening and the next night as well. A kind family lent us their kayaks and paddle boards. We fried bacon, beans, and eggs on a charcoal grill adding wild onions for extra flavor.

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We crossed another border! Three states down, eleven to go.

We crossed the 500 mile markers – there were three with one made of pony poo – in the Grayson Highlands with it’s wild ponies.

We’ve entered the rainy season. I’ve been soaked through a couple times now. It’s actually a nice change and I often enjoy the rain.

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Lots more hitchhiking.

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And bellies full of pizza.

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Wheeling carts of backpacks as we purchase food for days to come.

And then feasting with the addition of wild foods. Those are ramps in the backpack and all diced up. Firecracker is holding Solomons Seal, a root we’ve decided needs too much cooking to be worth our while. We also eat stinging nettle and wild garlic with the occasional green salad. We are all eagerly anticipating the arrival of berry season.

 

My shoes died a horrible death as I walk them to shreds. My friends all tell me they were dead weeks ago. Maybe they were right. My feet were sore for a time. I replaced them today tossing my poor old shoes into the trash where, I hate to say it, they belong. You definitely do NOT want a whiff of ’em. They smell bad enough to kill an elephant. I can hardly imagine how a recently bathed, clean-laundered person would fare. You know those movies where noxious gas touches a person skin causing them to convulse, blister, and boil…

Epic sunsets,

And frightening night hikes.

Stunning vistas,

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And pony poo??

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Salamanders,

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And wild animals.

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Plants,

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And hikers blowing their seeds across grassy landscapes.

Our hair grew long but then was cut by friendly church-folks here in Damascus. My shirt is in the wash if you were wondering.

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I’m hoping to prepare some new posts for the coming days but first must heed the call of the bottomless pit that was once my stomach. Tomorrow, we catch a ride back to Bland, Va then hike a few days to the town of Pearisburg, Va where you’ll hear from me next. Take care everyone and Happy Trails.

 

 

 

 

 

Day 30: Merry Music Making and a Panda

Appalachian Trail: Day #30

Hot Springs, North Carolina: Zero Miles

Total AT Miles: 273.2

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??!!!! Mountain Goat found a panda onesie in the hiker box. Of course she had to wear it!

Today begins like yesterday: breakfast followed by hostel work. This morning, we change things up. I whip up omelettes with help from Mountain Goat who makes potato pancakes,  “hashies” as she calls ’em, on the second burner of the hotplate. The real kicker is she is cooking in a full panda onesie. Most would just wear an apron!

After breakfast, I clean the bathrooms and Orion takes care of the rooms. We help Tie load a car full of stuff to go to a garage. Then, with work complete we play. I found a rock climbing harness in the hiker box and, with 50ft of rope purchased from the outfitter, I climb a tree forgetting where I am for quite some time. I climb to the top advancing my rope as I climb and then I swing. I walk out limbs leaping to the next and I hang, upside down of course. I’m a tree guy by trade you see so my behavior is not as abnormal as it would seem. Here’s a link for photo’s of tree climbing and chainsaws: Pittsburgh, Pa: Three Seasons in the Hometown

While I’m climbing the tree, Orion is in a chapel next to the hostel playing the piano. I walk over when I’m good and tired and I sit and listen. He’s fantastic. Seriously. Mountain Goat and Finch join in the merry music making. Mountain Goat plays the piano just as well as Orion. I’m taking aback watching her lose herself in her music.

A man whose name I’ve forgotten (sorry!) hears us playing and joins in on his guitar. To think people pay for shows such as this! When he’s done, Finch barrows the guitar and plays for a while herself losing herself as much as Mountain Goat.

When the music dies we wander into town for dinner at the bar. Dinner turns silly as salad is stuffed into a mouth. I have a photo of the ordeal but am not posting out of kindness… Orion and I split an appetizer. We have spaghetti to be cooked at the hostel. Fun and affordable.

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My Shadow posing with the Goat turned Panda.
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Add a morning Finch to the mix!
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Orion and I helped Tie move a few things. This was hanging in the garage. Y’all know I like bicycles A LOT, right?!
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My Shadow and Mountain Goat bought me a bag of coffee they ground themselves in the store. Thank you 🙂
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A banner hanging in a store in Hot Springs. I have a soft spot for kind words.
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The coffee they gave me! One of the best coffees I’ve ever had.
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Orion was told of this piano in the chapel next door to the hostel. He and Mountain Goat spent a while serenading us.
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Mama Finch!
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And Mountain Goat both sitting in the window of the chapel while we listen to someone strum a guitar.
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That someone a strummin’ said guitar.
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Mountain Goat taking a photo of Finch and myself.
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Finch picks up the guitar and plays some tunes as well.
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Mountain Goat and Finch goofing around. Everyone is so musical!
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A decoration at the Laughing Heart Hostel in Hot Springs, NC.

Day 29: Soaking in a Hot Springs Zero

Appalachian Trail: Day #29

Hot Springs, North Carolina: Zero Miles

Total AT Miles: 273.7

In a soft squishy bed I wake ready to tackle the day. First order of business? Breakfast! I turn the dial of the two-burner hotplate to high adding a stick of butter to sauté onion and tomato. While they cook, I crack a dozen eggs over the compost bin scrambling them with a bit of milk from the fridge leftover from a  previous days hiker.  When the veg is ready the eggs are added along with a bit of fresh, steamed broccoli donated by Jenga. Then, we feast!

Our next order of business is hostel work. Tie takes me into the first of three bathrooms and demonstrates the cleaning procedure: toilets bleached, scrubbed, and wiped down with paper towels. Wash hands. Shower bleached, scrubbed, and sprayed clean. Sinks washed, floor swept, and all surfaces commonly touched thoroughly bleached as well. No Norovirus here!

While I’m taking care of bathrooms, Orion is cleaning and preparing the rooms for the next visitors. In all, our work takes about 45 minutes before we are free to enjoy the rest of our stay. More than fair I’d say. Thanks Tie!

The highlight of the day is definitely the hot springs for which the town is named. For around $15, Dr. Kool-Aid, Orion, and me, Kodak, soak for an hour in warm, mineral springs. For the highlight it is, you’d think I’d have more to say besides wonderful and relaxing! But that they were. The warm spring water – I wished it were hotter – relieved our bodies of the weeks of tension caused by the lives we carry on our backs.

For dinner we splurge again eating at the towns finest restaurant: Iron Horse Station. The Iron Horse used to be the towns train station and still bears the high ceilings and brick walls. I order fried chicken that comes cooked to perfection. I’m not kidding when I say it’s the best meal I’ve eaten in months. And I’m not just saying that because I’ve been eating ramen and mac ‘n cheese every night!

To top off our already wonderful day, we join friends at their rented house for a bonfire. Someone tosses in a packet of powder that turns the fire blue and green. Beers are pulled from the fridge and a bottle of moonshine fresh from the hills is passed ’round the circle.

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Finch and Orion updating their blogs in the Laughing Heart Hostel.
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Breakfast of Champions!
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A soak in the hot springs in Hot Springs, NC.
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Welcome to the hot Spring! One hour of soaking for sore bodies.
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A Goat riding Finch’s Shadow.

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Walking through the clean cropped grass of the hot springs spa.
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Dinner at the Iron Horse with the family.
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Licking plates clean! The thru-hiker way.
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The Iron Horse Station is a restaurant converted from the old train station.
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A fire to finish the night.

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Dr. Kool-Aid found a stray cat.

Day 17: Zero Day 3 – Fontana Dam

Day #17

Cable Gap Shelter –> Fontana Dam Lodge

5.5 miles

164.7 Total AT miles

What up! I’m sitting on the floor of the Fontana Lodge bringing the blog up-to-date. The nearly full moon just set over the surrounding mountains that the lodge is cut into. Breakfast beckons once these words are typed.

Today we push into and through the Smokey Mountains. This section is our biggest challenge to date. My pack is enormous with over 20lbs of food. I need enough for 6-8 days to see me through the 109 mile section to Hot Springs, North Carolina.

I’m way heavier on food than everybody else and am carrying nearly twice as much as some. My plan is slow and steady to Clingmans Dome eating as much food as my stomach will hold. After a sunrise on the highest point in the AT, over half my food should be eaten.  I’ll pick up the pace as my bag lightens and hustle off the high Ridgeline to Hot Springs, NC.

On the outside deck, the contents of everyones pack erupted onto the wooden planks as we prepared our food and supplies. Mr. Kool-Aid lost over 10lbs from his pack. Canuck lost a bunch as well with a few pounds subtracted from a switch to his hammock. I sent my e-reader home 😦 Not only am I not carrying a paper journal, but now I lost my book as well. Sacrifices! Their just isn’t time for reading with everything else going on. Oh, Mom, expect another package with an e-reader!

Yesterday’s rain stopped in the night and we woke to a foggy, cool morning. A fast 5.5 miles put us on the shuttle to the Fontana Lodge where we picked up our packages, some wine and beer, and then hit the showers. I showered twice soaking for nearly an hour in total. I’ll take another before leaving.

See ya’ll on the flip side of the Smokies!

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The Cable gap shelter in the morning after a rain. So much water.
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The shelter as everyone packs up for the push into town.
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Hiking on through the fog in a kilt, the AT is the only acceptable place ,outside of Scotland, to wear a kilt.
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Hiking through he fog.
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Almost creepy if it wasn’t so beautiful.
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Canuck walking down a stretch of trail. Grass often lines the road.
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Just a cool rock along the trail.
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Fontana Dam. It is huge! Not what I expected.
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A flower almost ready to bloom.
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Instructions along the trail.
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The AT crosses through this parking lot full of blooming redbud trees.
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The shuttle to the lodge. There is a phone line that connects directly with the shuttle!
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The walk up to the lodge was tiring!
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Celebrations!
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Our trail family is back together!
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Canuck got his hammock! He’s so happy to have his baby back! Sorry for such a terrible photo…
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Shakedown time!
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Canuck cut his toothbrush in half to save as much weight as possible.
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Mr. Kool-Aid’s lunch. Sardines with cheese crackers wrapped in a tortilla.
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Look at all that food!
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Shaking down some packs! Mr. Kool-Aid lost more than 10lbs of gear.

 

 

Day 12: Zero Day #2

Day #12

Franklin, North Carolina

Zero Day

109.8 Total AT miles

We wake in the grass alongside the highway to the sound of a car entering the parking lot: day hikers. Some of our group rallies and begins breaking camp. Not me. I stay in the warmth of my sleeping bag for as long as I can. I turn over, unzip my tent, and brew a cup of coffee. I’m carrying a GSI Java Drip and a pound of coffee. Everyone has their vice, right?!

Hitch-hiking is SO easy right now and it is not long before we have a ride to the front door of our hotel. Cool Dad booked us a night from somewhere on the trail. So crazy that we have cell service out there.

We are too early to check-in but the woman hooks us up. She lets us eat breakfast! We walk into the dining room to find the rest of our trail family finishing their feast. They pushed hard through the night for some sleep in a bed.

Towns are cool. They’re are a lot of work though. After breakfast it’s time for chores. I shower and get my dirty clothes together. Savage does laundry. We go shopping for our next stretch of food plus a mail drop to Fontana Dam. I mail myself 20lbs of food in two medium-sized flat rate boxes. The food barely fits and my boxes are “lookin a little wonky,” as one of the shuttle drivers would say.

Canucks hammock didn’t arrive. The post office sent it to the wrong town, Charlottesville. He’ll have to wait until Fontana Dam. Bummer dude. That tent your carrying is heavy and I know how much miss sleeping above the ground.

We walk to Walmart for more supplies. I need bear cord and alcohol for my stove. My bear line just wasn’t long enough. 550 paracord will work for now. I’ll replace it when I find some climbing accessory cord.

The pizza place’s shuttle, the cook driving the bosses car, picks us up at Walmart and drops us off with the rest of the family for a huge pizza dinner. Afterword, we head back to the hotel.

The hotel gets little crazy. People are piercing blisters with needles while others whittle away at packs that have exploded across the room. Dice are tossed on beds and  bills change hands. What a day. What a night.

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It is so nice making coffee in the vestibule of my tent all cozy in my sleeping bag. What a good start to the day.
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Mr. Kool-Aid packing up while Cool Dad and Savage attempt to hitch into town.
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Savage hoping for a ride.
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Stop! Hey! Over here!
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Mr. Kool-Aid and Canuck in the back of a pickuptruck hitching back to the trailhead.
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Cool Dad taking a photo for me inside the cab of the tuck. Thanks for the ride dude!
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There was space inside, they just wanted to be cool. It is pretty fun.
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Shaggy, Moonboots, Bambi, and Savage at the AYCE breakfast of the hotel. We just walked in to see these guys already sitting there. They pushed hard through the night.
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My foot after a few days in the woods.
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Not too grimy…
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Mr. Kool-Aid threading a blister on his foot. Keeping the thread in for the night allows the blister to drain.
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Canuck, Cool-Dad, and me walk to walmart for supplies.
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Bradford pears in flower along the highway on our walk to Walmart.
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Minor barrier: a barbed wire fence stands in our way of stove fuel and bear cord.
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Walmart! I haven’t seen one of you in like, two weeks!
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Group dinner in the pizza bar. Can’t remember the name, but they shuttle hikers from anywhere in town. Smart move cause we eat a LOT of food.
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A lamp on the bar of the pizza place in Franklin.
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Shaggy with the pizza man.
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Beer goes great after a long days hike.
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Hitching back to the hotel with this amazing family. The others jumper in the shuttle.

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Bambi piercing a blister on his big toe. Look at all that blister juice!
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Cool Dad and Mr. Kool-Aid shooting dice on the bed for dollars.
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Mr. Kool-Aid hooked me up with this bag of candy. Thanks dude!
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Savage asleep with a death grip on her glasses.