Post Hike – Wellness Check

It has been two weeks since I climbed Katahdin and while I have written about the trail since then, none of it has been migrated to this site – obviously I am letting other aspects of life take priority. That stops now. Why now, you might ask? Because I see that I am letting attempts at perfect style and segue become the adversary to timely.

While traveling south from Millinocket, I transcribed numerous pages of AT overnight notes into several pages of typed content on my iPhone. I concluded that was too much content for the Confederate Yankee to consume in one sitting, so I planned to parse it into smaller elements. I intended on doing that yesterday afternoon until events got in the way. Let me explain further.

After Scamper and I arrived home last Sunday following stops in Kennebunkport, Guilford, Jersey City, Woodbridge and Fayetteville (NC), I worked getting up and down the staircases with the same agility I managed on the Trail. Surprisingly, staircases have not been easy. More rest was needed. Then I began to catch up on missed appointments, like the optometrist on Thursday and my physician on Friday. That left the weekend open until a Medicare Wellness appointment Monday. I had wanted to cancel that appointment since I saw no ROI; however, the physician and Lana convinced me to stick with the program. In retrospect I should have stuck to my plan of skipping it, except that by attending I found reason to start writing anew. Here is what happened on Medicare Wellness Monday…

I approached the door to the medical clinic behind a man of my age who was struggling to keep pace with his wife despite her much shorter stride. In turn, I had to slow my pace, but not by much, to follow him through the building’s double set of doors. I confided to the fellow that I was going to take a “memory test” thanks to Medicare. He laughed and said that he took it recently and that the answers were Sunrise, Chair and Banana. Text Screen ShotI repeated them out loud to make sure I heard correctly; he confirmed I had heard and remembered correctly! So my outlook on the appointment was instantly improved! We took the elevator to our floor and I let them proceed ahead of me to the receptionist’s counter. As they registered their arrival, I quickly sent a text to Scamper gleefully sharing the test answers. After registering my own arrival, the receptionist gave me a clipboard with several pages of Medicare Wellness questions. I competed the forms, returned them to the receptionist and took to reading a copy of Sports Illustrated with its dull, front-page story about basketball prospects for each pro team – while occasionally pulling out my iPhone to review the memory-test answers. Three minutes past my appointment time, I was called by a nurse who stood in the passageway leading to the patient treatment rooms. We made a stop at the railroad-sized scales to check my weight. Never mind that it had been checked on the same scale on the previous workday. This time I had to remove my shoes – which turned out to be part of the test. She noted I had demonstrated “Good balance!” And then, to get my height measured, she made an overly solicitous suggestion to “Please place your back and heels against the wall and stand very straight. Gooood!”. Good grief, she was treating me like a geezer. My height was already a permanent entry in my medical records and has not changed in, well, let me stipulate there has been no change in the 22-years I have been using the clinic for medical purposes. (Note to self – stick with the Wellness protocol.)

I was then ushered into a treatment room where she carefully pointed out my chair – beside the desk with a laptop…just like every other treatment room in the clinic. As soon as I settled into the chair she began the next stage of the Wellness visit: “I see from your records that you recently fell and that you have an appointment with Dr. Jones about it tomorrow; is that right?” followed immediately by, “Where did you fall?” I should have seen it coming, but I admit to being a bit dim-witted at times. So, I was not ready with a humorous reply like, “I fell down the spiral staircase while visiting at the White House”. No, I took the easy way out and said I fell on the AT. That drew a look of consternation and she admitted to not knowing what an AT was, so I clarified it: “On the Appalachian Trail”. Even that was no help to her so I offered a few more sentences of explanation which were readily accepted. Or so I thought. She then took to reviewing other answers I gave in the questionnaire, one of which asked if I had fallen more than twice in the last year. Twice, mind you, was the threshold for concern. She asked the question as if I had not actually answered it in writing. Was this part one of the dreaded Memory Test? I paused to ponder my options: Should I admit to the minimum threshold for falls, or should I stick to my original answer. I stuck with my original answer and said, “Conservatively, I’ve fallen 75 times – and I believe I set a record of falling seven times in one day”. I thought she was going to self-administer smelling salts. 10.18.17 - fall down mountainShe squinted at me as if that was going to squeeze the truth out of me. “Where?”, was her only response to which I replied, “On the AT!” With a quicker wit I could have tried a “Who’s on first?” gambit, but I was beginning to get agitated so I went stoic. I was then asked if I had a fear of falling to which I offer a simple, No. (Who hikes the AT with a fear of falling?)

Without segue, Nurse Squinty moved on to the abuse questions: “Has your spouse or significant other abused you verbally?” – and – “Has your spouse or significant other abused you physically?” I am certain that the anticipated answer was Yes, but I replied No and saw her squint again. I remained agitated; Why was I being questioned as if I was a 96-year-old soon to be 97, rather than a just turned 66-year old with a diminishing sense of humor? It was a question I should have posed earlier in the process. (I intend no offense to any 96-year-old reading this blog.)

The next part of the Wellness checkup was to read my BP – “Oh my, oh my”, I thought, “this is going to be hysterical”. With the cuff in place and my knees properly uncrossed, the gauge proceeded to register 40 points higher than the Omron BP gizmo had read at home just two hours earlier! 10.18.17 - BP CartoonClearly, she saw that I was a patient in distress, so she recommended that a confirmation reading be taken in a few minutes. Without delay she moved on to questions about my advanced medical care directive – did I have one, she asked with squinty eyes – and, do I know where is it? I gave quick, knowledgeable answers to both questions – Yes! The subsequent BP reading — taken after she advised that I think “happy thoughts” (To self…How about thinking about that perfectly pleasant technician at the optometrist’s office.) — read a mere four points lower. I could have predicted the results!

Then the topic shifted to hearing aids. “I see from your chart that you are wearing hearing aids,” Nurse Squinty stated, which I presumed was a lead-in to another test question. I confirmed that I did, but when she obviously could not see them, I offered that I wear them mostly to appease my wife and I was not wearing them now. I did not hear her reply to my answer, so I may have failed the whisper test I saw mentioned in my electronic records later in the day.

Finally, the dreaded memory test was pulled from the folder in Nurse Squinty’s hands. It was a plain sheet of white paper on which she wanted me to draw the face of a clock and enter the time: 11:10. But first…she gave me three words that I was to repeat to her to ensure I heard them correctly (A helpful step for hard-of-hearing geezers like me!). I was advised that the three words were to be fed back to her after I drew my clock face.10.1817 - Clock face Those three words were… Dang if I wasn’t being tricked! Squinty gave me three words that were different than those I given to me the elevator! Arragh!! Still, I tried to hold myself together while silently repeating the three words and very mechanically drawing the plain clock face. Uh oh!! While I could mentally recall the three words, I had forgotten what time I was supposed to draw. But good Nurse Squinty helped! “Don’t forget to draw 11:10 on the face of the clock!”, she chided. “Ha” I snorted to myself, “Patient passes Medicare Wellness memory test by trickery – failing to remember the time!”

Let me quickly offer a cautionary comment as a close out on the topic of Medicare Wellness. I had placed “Funny” in a remark block at the bottom of the multi-page form before handing it back to the receptionist. I am sure there are aged folks and caregivers who might not use the same adjective or who might express some manner of umbrage with my word choice. Fair enough. Perhaps a final, triage question is in order like, “How would you describe the previous questions?” Those who describe them as Funny or something similar would get to skip the test.

I later wrote to my doctor, via his medical practice message portal, that I’d like to pass on taking next year’s test; I think I already have the answers.

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Day 127 – Katahdin

Start Milepost: 2184.6 Time: 07:21B8BA9110-AF46-4FE7-B6C1-7C243C7A5984
End Milepost: 2189.8 Time: 10:38
Miles hiked: 5.2
Miles to go: 00:0
Weather: chilly
Temps: low 40s to high 70s, windy
Blue Side trails: Abol Trail (4.2 miles)
Map: Click on map pin

The nighttime temperature was warmer than either Jack or I expected so we both had to strip to our base layers in order to get a good night’s sleep. Scamper slept just fine in her heavy winter sleeping bag. At BMNT all three of us woke and began efforts to break camp. With sleeping gear stowed and day packs retrieved from the Ford Edge, each of us ate our breakfast of choice. Mine was a pair of breakfast Quaker Squares and a Cliff protein bar.

IMG_8106Shortly after seven o’clock we asked a hiker in an adjacent lean-to to take our family photo. With it taken, we were ready for our hikes. As we left the campsite, a group of nearby hikers, to include Baggins, Imagine, Hyde and Lazy Boy, were in the final stages of hike preparation. We walked a hundred yards past them to a kiosk where we entered our names, departure time and hiking trails. With registration complete we started up Hunt Trail. In a matter of minutes Jack and I had left Scamper well behind so we waited for her only to be told to “Hike your own hike”. So we did.

The first mile and a half proved to be standard Maine trail surface: rocks and roots. Thereafter rocks became the dominant obstacle. Baggins, Imagine and  Hyde caught up to us quickly and effortlessly passed us. In turn Jack and I caught up to Camel and several other “aged” hikers and left them behind. About a half hour later we passed above the tree line where rocks were the exclusive surface. Unlike the early part of the day’s trail that left us breathing heavily, rock climbing did not. We were essentially taking a break every ten feet as we assessed the best path up jumbled rocks; white blazes only offered a general direction along which we should proceed.

424E8086-39D0-4270-B148-946B0602818BJack occasionally took a look over his shoulder and expressed amazement and delight at the marvelous views. Above us we occasionally caught glimpses of hikers on the Trail and frequently heard Baggins let out a squeal of presumed delight and enthusiast as she passed challenging rock formation after rock formation. Regretfully the picturesque views above and below us ceased as did the sight of other hikers – clouds had moved in and visibility was reduced to less than 100 yards.

Climbing in the clouds was a new experience for Jack. And so was the wind! At times our clothing was making enough noise flapping in the wind that we had a hard time hearing each other’s voice. The wind (which at times left me fighting for balance), clouds, rocks and Jack’s company made my final climb unique. Great stuff!54337849-5C29-4EC1-9C87-6737654A827E

At about 4500 feet of elevation the terrain leveled off somewhat and the trail became bordered by string to keep hikers from wandering off-trail and inadvertently damaging plant-life. After a mile of that type surface the slope once more increased and the exact selection of the trail upwards was left to each hiker. And then, with little notice due to visibility limits, the climb was over. There before me was the sign affixed to an A-frame beside which every thru, section or day hiker wants to be photographed – Baxter Peak – elevation 5,267′.

056EAFE6-DC57-41E4-9B1D-CCC9EDF04E04I immediately sat down and waited for Jack who was behind me – well hidden by the clouds. When he was barely visible, I began to video his final few yards and caught his expression as he too glimpsed the sign. Together we walked up to the sign – smiling broadly. Jack and I held to the tradition and had our pictures taken – while holding containers of a tasty, amber liquid that authorities had cautioned us not to carry (Bourbon for those wondering). I then stood alone beside the sign with my current favorite drink (Gatorade) in a favorite container (a Propel bottle). I’d completed my hike of 2,189.8 miles. Mercifully I had survived those miles without a major injury.

Jack and I then descended from the peak along Abol trail where Scamper met us about a mile north of the Abol campground. Including the descent miles (4.2) and the approach miles (8.8) from Amicalola Falls in Georgia I had hiked 2,202.8 miles with countless blue blaze miles as bonus.

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Last Rest Day

Start Milepost: 2184.6 Time: 00:00IMG_8055
End Milepost: 2184.6 Time: 00:00
Miles hiked: 00:0
Miles to go: 5.2
Weather: sunny
Temps: 60s with light wind
Blue Side trails:
Overnight: lean-to #8
Map: Click on map pin

I finished my burger at Scootio last evening but stayed in the bar area to enjoy a couple of bowls of popcorn to go with my second beer. When I got back to the AT Lodge (a euphemism for hostel) I put my head on the pillow and went fast to sleep. When I woke this morning it was nearly seven o’clock and I gave thought to rolling over like a youngster and sleep in until ten. That thought lasted about five minutes before I was up and at the new day. It was going to be a total rest day: no resupply box to sort and no laundry to do. No chores. Rest indeed!

I dressed and walked the several blocks to the AT Cafe that was owned by the lodge owner. There I ordered a double French toast and bacon. I then saw the big breakfast a couple of other hikers were being served – perhaps I was hungrier than two slices of bread and bacon! The waitress thought the same and brought a large, fresh doughnut to fill the spot. Since the Cafe primarily serves hikers and hikers will soon  cease to be in the area, the Cafe will close for the winter next week. Locals who have frequented the place will have to find an alternative.

With breakfast complete and updates of my iPhone apps concluded, I went back to the hostel to kill time until Scamper showed up in the early afternoon. After texting her and learning she wanted some white bread for lunches tomorrow I walked a mile up the the road for a small loaf of bread – and a bag of corn chips and a Gatorade. With the purchases in a brown bag I made my way to the pizza shop and ordered lunch. (Not much for a hiker to do but eat if there are no chores to do.) I saved two slices of pizza for Scamper and went back to the lodge/hostel.

IMG_8060With time still to kill I picked up a book from the bunk-room table – the AT trail in Vermont and New Hampshire. There were some interesting facts and observations that might have been more useful while I was in those states! Shortly after 13:00 I got a text notice that Scamper was going to arrive in ten minutes which was virtually an hour early. Odd, I thought, since the GPS could nail an arrival time. I text back that she would find me in front of the hostel with my gear. I zapped Scamper’s pizza slices in a microwave and looked out the window to see if the Edge had arrived. As I did so I saw a young man who looked similar to my son, Jack. Too similar! It was Jack! I grabbed the pizza and my AT planning documents and raced down the stairs to greet him. And Scamper. Jack it turned out had flown into Bangor from St. Louis and because his flight was early, Scamper’s GPS was “advanced” an hour.  What a thrill to have him in town. We shopped for supper at a local grocery and then drove out to Katahdin Stream campground to claim lean-to #8 as our campsite. We were refunded the $20 campground entrance fee because Jack was a member of the Missouri Army National Guard.

IMG_8091With the remaining hours of sunlight we configured our day-packs for tomorrow and arranged our sleeping bags/quilt in the lean-to. Then with darkness upon us we enjoyed a couple of hours of conversation at our fire ring. As the night chill closed in on us we burned the last of our two bundles of firewood and got into our sleep gear. Tomorrow’s sunrise  would arrive soon and we three needed ample rest.

I was delighted to have Jack in camp – it would add a special quotient of joy to tomorrow’s climb. Jack and I would follow Hunt trail – also known as the AT Trail while Scamper would branch off Hunt trail and follow Owl trail alone. She would then drive the Edge to the Abol campground and hike up to meet us as we descended on Abol trail.

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Day 126 – Change in Approach Plans

Start Milepost: 2163.5 Time: 06:47IMG_8045
End Milepost: 2184.6 Time: 14.54
Miles hiked: 21.1
Miles to go: 5.2
Weather: sunny
Temps: cold to warm, windy
Blue Side trails:
Overnight: The AT Lodge
Map: Click on map pin

As I left camp this morning I spoke with two NOBO hikers who had arrived last night at 20:45. I inquired about the specifics of signing into the park ranger office at Katahdin and they advised I need only show up. They planned to go the full twenty miles – all the way to Katahdin Stream campground – instead of taking the two days of ten miles that I wrote about last evening. With that input I took off.

As has happened on numerous days, I got off to a very sluggish start – at least I felt sluggish. In fact, I was clocking 2.5 MPH on some fairly gnarly trails so I was moving OK, just not feeling energetic. All the while I contemplated going the full twenty miles vice two increments of ten. First I had to overcome the sluggishness I felt. More food was the fix.

When I reached the ten mile mark at 11:30 I popped out of the forest and met Dave, husband to M’am, a hiker I passed yesterday and saw a couple of hours earlier this morning. He offered me a Coke, which I readily accepted, and remarked that he was not sure his wife would opt to go the full twenty – a decision I had already made. I thanked him for the Coke and pressed on to the Abol campground office and an associated store not far down the road from Dave. There I bought a Gatorade and Oreos, got no useful answers about the trail north, and departed.

IMG_8047A mile later at the AT kiosk I signed up for a campsite at Katahdin Stream campground – the list validated the remark at Shaw’s – only twelve hikers could camp free. As I hiked on I considered staying at the AT Lodge instead, but that required that I be at the campground by 16:00 to catch the last shuttle. And that required that I pick up my pace. So, I did and arrived at the campground just before 15:00. The trail was the best to date to hike at a 3.0 MPH rate!

Having caught the 16:00 shuttle that actually departed the ranger office at 16:30, I am staying at the AT Lodge for the night. With that I get a shower and my laundry done. A young hiker who had one buck in his wallet would do our laundry with my $3 while I moved down the street for a burger and brew. I will cool my heels at the lodge/hostel until Scamper picks me up tomorrow in the early afternoon. In the meantime, approach Day #3 is off the schedule and a rest day has been inserted. I will complete my AT hike on Wednesday.IMG_8048

I am ready to leave the trail. I suspect Scamper is ready for me to leave as well – as long as I complete the final 5.2 miles! She will join me for the first couple of miles before taking Owl trail. Both of us are ready for chilly temperatures and windy conditions.

As an aside, she and I will sleep in a lean-to on Tuesday night. She passed on experiencing a night in a hostel – even if it was in a private room. Methinks she made the right decision even if the ambient, nighttime temperatures dip into the low 30s.

IMG_8046At the campground today I met Indiana Jane who I last saw at Bear’s Den Hostel in Virginia when my brother did not have the appetite to finish his pizza.  She summited Katahdin today so she and her parents were giving away trail magic – all her leftover supplies of snacks and drinks.  I claimed two bottles of Gatorade and some cookies. They leave for home in Canada tomorrow.

It is almost 21:00 and despite being very tired, I am nowhere near my quilt – because I have nowhere to go tomorrow and no rush to get there on a schedule! Nevertheless, my supper bill has been paid so I will find my bunk and retire for the night. Breakfast will be in the AT Cafe just a few doors down – at my leisure. Tomorrow’s meals will not be trail fare…

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Day 125 – Approach Day #1

Start Milepost: 2145.8 Time: 6:58IMG_8037
End Milepost: 2163.5 Time: 15:15
Miles hiked: 17.7
Miles to go: 30.1
Weather: sunny
Temps: warm
Blue Side trails:
Overnight: tent
Map: Click on map pin

I slept for twelve hours last night. It was Wonderful.

Yesterday I mentioned the schedule for summiting Mount Katahdin without providing any rationale for each day. So, while my Mountain House lasagna supper is being heated via body heat (Remember, I mailed my stove home.), let me offer my insight on what occurs with the caveat that I am going mostly by supposition.

Approach Day #1. I stopped today at Rainbow Lake campsite.IMG_8040 It is not what you think. It has four fairly level dirt areas where a tent might be erected. I was the first one here and I got my pick. There is a piped spring near the shore. I chose this stopping point because it sets up a short hike to Abol Bridge tomorrow.

Approach Day #2. The hike to the Abol Bridge Campsite will be an eleven mile hike. It appears to be a private campground with tenting or a cabin. Both options offer showers (towels?), laundry and a breakfast buffet. It is the last spot to camp before entering Baxter State Park where camping there is by permit/reservation only. Rumor has it that there are only twelve spots (free?) for hikers at Abol.

Approach Day #3. The hike to a camp spot at The Birches is ten miles from Abol Bridge. I will hike there in the morning and meet Scamper at the lean-to that she reserved. She can park her Edge behind the structure but has to move it to general parking before we hike in the morning. I understand that there are two camping areas: one for thru hikers who have registered and one for all others. Scamper got one in the latter category.

Those last two approach days will give me something of a rest given that the last couple of days have been long in mileage and hours.

Back to hiking. I met Joanie at Wadleigh Stream lean-to. Her picture is nearby along with some creatures not often seen on the AT – goats who carried their own feed oats. Joanie is a friend of PAM’s who will be along in a few days. Joanie will place a meal bucket at a designated spot so PAM did not have to carry them all from Monson.

I lost my AWOL charts today. When I noted them missing, while taking with another hiker, I abruptly dropped my pack and ran back for them. It was roughly a mile round trip. I never saw the other hiker again!

There are so few chart pages left that they don’t keep shape as I stuff them inside a Ziploc baggie and then into a cargo pocket of my shorts. That and my failure to Velcro the pocket flap allowed them to slip out. After I lost my maps when entering Shenandoah NP, Scamper told me not to lose my charts again. I aim to please her.

I saw Katahdin from a distance of 16-miles as the crow flies. We bipeds will take 37-miles to reach it. The distance from the current campsite is down to just over 26-miles.

Supper is heated.

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Day 124 – Level Wilderness Trail

Start Milepost: 2126.8 Time: 6:57Katahdin 1
End Milepost: 2145.8 Time: 15:52
Miles hiked: 19.0
Miles to go: 44.00
Weather: sunny
Temps: warm
Blue Side trails:
Overnight: tent
Map: Click on map pin

Having descended the last mountain in the Wilderness I found today’s level terrain refreshing. Sort of. I hiked the first three miles in an hour and then I slowed down. I am not sure why I slowed but I’d bet it was a combination of roots, rocks, energy level and diet. The last first: the resupply box I got from home was packed back in January. My diet changed since then and I had to adjust. A small but important detail. The hike yesterday sapped today’s energy. At the top of White Cap Mountain I called the hostel to give an update. Gary, the shuttle driver, and I had been talking as if the hike was twenty miles so at the top I had gone twelve miles which with simple math meant I had eight more to go. I advised Bartender that I would cover those in four or four & a half hours. The problem was that the remaining distance was ten miles. I had to add energy to the legs to get done in four because that is what Bartender read back to me. I finished in four and was finished for the day! I drafted yesterday’s blog and slept for eleven hours.

So today was a little on the ragged edge. While I put in four more miles than planned, I had to call it a day with just over seven hours on foot.

I think I got a detail wrong in yesterday’s blog. Katahdin will not limit the count of hikers. I think the count given was the limit for hikers in the Birches campsite. I will confirm when I arrive and I am number fifteen. My option is to cross the road and camp in the private campground. Or stealth camp.

Katahdin 3The picture taken today of Katahdin still does not do it justice. It is huge on the horizon.

I plan now to meet Scamper at Birches lean-to #8 in mid-afternoon on the 3rd. We’ll have supper and get some sleep. At sunrise on the 4th we will start hiking together. Scamper will take the turn to Owl Trail while I continue on Hunt Trail. After I reach the summit and have a proof picture taken I will descend on Abol Trail which is a mile shorter than Hunt. It fits my daily plan: get off the trail as soon as possible.

Relentless, there are no black flies and no mosquitoes in Maine now. There also has been but one rainy night and that was while I was snugly in a hostel. The trail has been dry. The number of puddles can be measured in less than a dozen. As noted previously, I only had to ford two streams and one river. It had been a real blessing to have it be so dry.

Tomorrow’s hike will be just less than 18-miles. A section hiker advised it is all root and rock which could make for an arduous day. Then, my last three days will all be less than ten miles. I am trying more than ever to safely place each foot.

AWOL shows 44 miles to go. But it ain’t over until I safely reach the end of Abol trail and Scamper is safely there as well.

It is chilly in Maine. Should have kept my gloves for the first hour of each day. Spare socks are their poor substitute.

Calling it a day at 16:10. Supper to be served shortly: Mountain House rice and chicken (cold) with a leftover breakfast bar for dessert.


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Day 123 – Last Night at Shaw’s

Start Milepost: 2105.1 Time: 6:00 IMG_7979
End Milepost: 2126.8  Time: 15:52
Miles hiked: 21.7
Miles to go: 63.00
Weather: sunny
Temps: warm
Blue Side trails:
Overnight: Shaw’s Hiker Hostel
Map: Click on map pin

After completing yesterday’s hike I returned the specs that the postmaster gave to me and told her story of how I got mine back. She had already noted that I was wearing a different set.

I then purchased a green salad to go with my  Mountain Home stew – and Gatorade. No dessert.

The party crowd at the hostel kept me awake past lights out. I was tempted to ask for quiet but held my tongue.

My shuttle left the hostel before sunrise just as it did yesterday. I was on the trail an hour later – after paying an out of state fee to the logging company for riding on their road. I crossed the stream without incident – my sticks helped me stay afoot. The trail was fine except in a few places where roots or rocks dominated. On the peak of White Cap Mountain I got my first look at Katahdin. It dominated the horizon although the picture did not reflect that. Maybe it was my imagination.

With less than seventy miles to go I need to focus on the details. I learned this afternoon that only eleven thru hikers are allowed on the mountain each day. Now I have to time my arrival at the sign-in office. That said, I will accelerate my pace and see if I can arrive a day early and scope the situation out. Stay tuned.

Scamper arrived safely at her first stop on her drive to meet me. Events are falling into place. Hoorah.



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