I awoke just after dawn. I didn't carry a watch except for my cell phone, which was inconveniently stowed away in the lid of my backpack, so I had no idea what time it was. Finding it impossible to get back to sleep, and not knowing what else to do—and also not wanting to disturb Ten-Fiddy any more than I already had taking my tent down and packing my gear—I scarfed down a quick breakfast and then hit the trail.
As it had the day before, the trail followed the edge of the ridge-line, and occasionally emerged from the underbrush to offer a magnificent vista of the river valley and surrounding hills. Although New Jersey is oft maligned—even or perhaps especially by its long-time residents—I could see nothing wrong from my vantage. And that early in the morning, with the air still clear and not yet choked by the oppressive haze of exhaust coming off the Interstate, as thousands of grumpy, irritable commuters make their miserable way to and from New York City? It actually was kind of beautiful.
I took my first break at Blue Mountain Lakes Road; where I utterly failed to extract anything other than stale, rusty air from an obstinately dry water pump. I seized the opportunity to check the time, extracting and turning on my buried cell phone. It was just after eight o'clock in the morning. And I'd already gone nearly ten miles!
It was at this point that I made the tantalizing—and ultimately disastrous—decision to simply go as far that day as my legs and a copious amount of Excedrin would take me. Unfortunately, my plan was not without flaws. I had no set goal in mind, like making it to Virginia in less than 24 hours; nor did I have a stalwart, agreeably delirious hiking companion like Bandito to help pass the time. But then a new wrinkle emerged.
I stopped taking breaks. I don't even remember if I ate lunch. I probably didn't. And it's not that I wasn't hungry, I just couldn't stomach the thought of shoveling another Hot Fudge Sundae- or Cookies and Creme-flavored Pop Tart™ into my mouth. Which, unfortunately, was all I had. It was a blessing and a curse.
I don't remember much about that afternoon. Like I said, it would've helped greatly to have someone there to mark time with, and to help identify landmarks. It's also nearly impossible to keep track of one's own mental deterioration when walking by oneself. It's not as if you can accurately discern your conversational standards slipping, after all. You're either talking to yourself or not.
So I may have been slowly losing my mind. And while I'll readily concede that crazy people generally make unreliable witnesses, the fact remains that nobody else was around to see what I did. Except for the young woman I met named Inferno, although I'm not even entirely sure she was really there.
June 21 is known around the world as Hike Naked Day. At least amongst avid backpackers, and possibly nudists. For some reason, Hike Naked Day had been a hot topic of discussion on the trail in the preceding days and weeks. And I'm not entirely sure why. Maybe it's because hiking naked is awesome.
Even though this was June 22, and I was a day late, a certain confluence of factors contributed to my ultimate decision to strip down to my birthday suit. For one thing, it was awfully hot, like a million degrees in the sun, and quite humid. For another, the chafing along my supple inner thigh was well-nigh unbearable. Thirdly, there's simply nothing quite like a stiff breeze flowing through your dangling extremities.
My experiment didn't last long, however. Despite my lengthy personal history of taboo breaking and enormous, ah, confidence, I wasn't really enthusiastic about the prospects of running into another human being—or any wild animal, either, for that metter—while so inappropriately attired. Also, the combination of deer flies, mosquitos, and exposed human genitalia is... Well, the less said about that the better. Let's just say I eventually put my clothes back on, and not a moment too soon.
What else can I say about that day? I hiked the last few miles to the High Point Shelter with Inferno, where we arrived shortly after dark. I tried squeezing my sleeping bag into a corner of the shelter, but found I was either too cold or that the mosquitos were too persistent. Sometime during the night I abandoned the shelter to put up my tent, prompting cracks about a "UFO landing" when people woke up in the morning.
But I didn't care. I'd hiked thirty-four (!) miles in less than fourteen hours. I'd spent part of that time stark naked. I'd discovered the tragic reality of my last resupply. I'd nearly starved. I'd consumed approximately half a bottle of Excedrin, in just one day. I'd utterly destroyed any of the recuperative effects my week off the trail had accomplished. My knees, legs, feet, and nether regions all throbbed in intense pain. And the chafing. The chafing was awful, and unending.
Still, I'd made up for my ten mile day. And I now only had 117.1 miles to go, meaning I'd dropped my required average back to just over 23 miles a day. I felt heroic. And stupid. And lonely. But mostly stupid. And I vowed never to make the same mistake again.