Mile: 686.9 - 711.4 (24.5 miles)
The morning starts with a good solid climb. The second is rockier and I start to slow down. The day is heating up and the constant little bits of elevation are hard. I find another hiker frozen on one of the climbs and think he's just exhausted, nope my first very large timber rattlesnake.
The hot exposed ridge line is tough but I'm passing plenty of other hikers who look like they are equally exhausted so at least I'm not crazy and it really is tough.
Once at the top I skip the side trip to dragons tooth, a nearby rock feature. Thanks enough cool rocks already. This was a good choice, getting down was more dramatic complete with handles drilled into rock and ledges and boulders the only trail in sight.
Why yes that tiny ledge was in fact the trail.
It doesn't last too long but it's endless small rollers and rocks and I have my first real temper tantrum of the trail. I'm alone and trip on my trekking pole having to chase it partway down the hillside. Its instant cursing and feeling like the world is completely unfair and all just too much. But a snack and some deep breaths help, although I'm sulky and whining to myself all the way to the road.
But by lunch we've made it to a road and a short 0.3 miles to Hampton and a gas station slash pizza/burger place. And then it's 3 hours of relaxing, meeting other hikers and hiding from the sun. I love meeting the different people out here, how often do you sit with an Amish family and a former federal prison warden barefoot eating ice cream at a gas station.
After the much needed break it's back to rolling rocky walking. My crankiness hovers but a little trail magic and a great destination help.
The miles add up and we make it to McAfee Knob by sunset. This is a really well known spot on the trail and I'm excited to be there for such a pretty time.
Unfortunately there is a nice awkward silence up on the knob. Here we are in this gorgeous spot and there are 5 people each in their own little space with no talking or eye contact. Oh well, we giggle and enjoy the view lingering until the last blues disappear. It's been a long day but a good one.
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