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Appalachian Trail: Fractures

We've reached the 1000 mile mark and now we are broken. Bear Squad has split into Shire Squad and Recon Squad. Recon Squad is doing what's called a flip-flop, where they will go to Katahdin (the northern terminus) from Harpers Ferry (the halfway point) and then hike south. I and the rest of Shire Squad--yes, that shire--will continue north to brave the coming cold. We're sad to see the group split up, but we all understand you need to hike your own hike.

Today Shire Squad is zeroing at the Bear's Den hostel, which has a computer with a seizure-inducing rave screen. I'm constantly moving the window around the desktop to avoid the AUTO CONFIG PLEASE WAIT message that appears without warning and is disinclined to leave. I must use the computer as a few weeks ago I broke into spontaneous free-from dance at the top of a ridge line and managed to shatter the screen of my phone. It has been difficult to coordinate a replacement from the middle of the woods.

Since last I wrote the rain has relented somewhat though still it still strikes with vengeance on occasion and soaks us to the bone. Other issues have emerged to take center stage in the drama of our misery. We wake at night to a burning throb in our knees and feet. Our feet swell into fat sausage parodies in the morning and the first few steps are agony. The pain dulls with the walk and then returns whenever we sit. I think it is our bodies taking any chance they can to heal. The pain and drudgery lead me to a minor breakdown in the Shenandoah Park. I missed the turn-off for a wayside grill and somehow the thought having to eat ramen again was too much for sapped emotional machinery to process. I took off my pack and sat down and gave up for about a half hour until I realized I was crying over a hamburger. The AT does weird things to you. Almost all of the thru-hikers who make it this far are worn down in some way.

Not that it's all misery. Later that same breakdown day we got showers and hamburgers and if felt so good to be clean and to have hot food and to feel like human being for a few hours that it was almost a high. Some people gave us ice-cold Coors Light on a hot day and it was the best beer I'd ever tasted. We did a marathon day, 26.2 miles, and though we got dumped on the last two miles and the shelter was full of giant spiders, pain doesn't survive memory, and all I can recall are the good times. The feeling of accomplishment that comes after a hard day is like a balm for the psyche.

A friend of mine came to visit us for a few days and it was an almost cinematic adventure as we had no modern means of communication to coordinate the rendezvous. We found her first tantalizing note written in a trail journal and then began the hunt, following her notes and the gossip of other hikers. Ironically the first people she talked to were the members of Recon Team that had gone ahead, and when she asked about me they figured out she was the friend I had mentioned a few times. No Boots, if you're reading this, thanks again for coming out (and for carrying a Budweiser for 30 miles just to surprise me).

Some minor plagues have befallen Shire Squad, leading us to wonder if we have offended a trail deity. Flint, our survivalist, found a two-inch bulbous spider building a web in his tent. Cici, our marine scientist, and I awoke one morning to find about fifty dead slugs in our tent. The other night the ground was swarming with millipedes so thickly they covered my boots resting in the vestibule of the tent. I discovered the small craters appearing on the fingers of my right hand were likely warts. Not a big deal--just another scoop of unpleasantness on the pie of our discomfort.

Today's zero is well-earned and much needed. Last night we gorged ourselves on pizza and played the most fun game of Bullshit I've ever had with some other thru-hikers staying at the hostel. There's an amazing amount of freedom among the people who choose to live in tents and pee on trees. Now we are watching movies and keeping off our feet. It's nice to lie in the tent and not have to go anywhere in particular. I'd say that 1000 miles in, with throbbing feet and warty hands and a stink so bad you can taste it, there's still no place I'd rather be.

Updates may remain sparse until a new phone is procured.

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