AT Day 64 – It’s My Birthday And I’ll Camp If I Want To

almost Delps Spring to Leroy Smith Shelter
Powerline Camp
to Trailhead Birthday Camp
AT miles:
7.9
Total miles: 1285.1
Elevation change: 630ft gain, 1247ft loss

Heeey, happy birthday to me. I’ve had a lot of great birthdays in my 32 years on this planet, but I’ve never experienced one during a thru-hike. I started north from the Mexican border on the PCT a week after turning 25 in 2015, and I was a few months into 29 by the time SpiceRack and I started south on the CDT in 2019. To be on the Appalachian Trail, deep into the Appalachian Trail, as I ring in the new year is a trippy experience for this reason. How can I be a touch shy of 1300 miles into a long hike when the mountains of my youth are still blanketed in deep snow (maybe, it’s been a dry year in CA)? This is partly the magic of the AT. Winter is just now loosening its grip on the eastern mountains, yet here I am, revoltingly stinky with the accumulated sweat and grime of months on the trail. What a treat. To have the continuity of the trail link the end of one year to the beginning of the next is oddly comforting, as well. To have friendly faces waiting for me at a trail junction, even more so. Cake, hot food, and thoughtful notes from the ones that couldn’t be here, what more could I ask for?

With plans set to meet with Spice and Tango just seven-ish miles up the trail, for the first time in a while I woke up without feeling the pressure of the trail to get up and moving. That was birthday treat enough. I snoozed my alarm twice, making sure to sip some water each time to get the day, nay the year, started on the right foot.

The sky did that strange thing that it likes to do, starting perfectly clear before pulling and painting gray out of thin air. I watched it happen as well as I could while tipping back my bag of trail mix until it was just scattering crumbs in my beard. Packing up went faster than it ever had, perhaps because I lacked the fumbling urgency of previous mornings, perhaps because I was older and wiser.

Pennsylvania, you got me rocks for my birthday? Oh, you shouldn’t have.

My pack and body both felt lighter and more agile than they had in weeks as I dodged the tall tufts of tick-grass on the short climb back to the trail. With just three bars and a smear of peanut butter to my name, I was counting on the promise of hot food ahead, and enjoying the freedom of a body suited to carrying a heavier load. The small rocks that had slayed me yesterday were of no concern and I tiptoed and glided over them.

Kicking it.

With time to burn, I moved without urgency, trying to notice more, trying to think less. I sat on a log, just because it looked like a nice place to sit. I watched the light change with the flowing clouds. But I could only sit still for so long after so many days spent in constant motion. Even with my focuses lollygagging, I reached the trail junction to the Leroy Smith shelter a little early and alone.

Woah, what’s Natalie doing here?

However, thirty seconds later, here came Tango bouncing up the trail, tail high and ears perked in my direction. He’d caught my scent. Then I saw someone that I didn’t expect. Natalie, all the way from Colorado, followed the panting hound, SpiceRack right behind her. Bearing gifts of flowers, Oreos, and hugs, they encircled me, somehow not repelled by my stinky socks. We said hello, ate some cookies, and Natalie touched her first white blaze.

Rustic and colorful, just like me.

A mile down the side trail, we reached Blackbird, parked in a large gravel lot, home for the next 24 hours. The celebration commenced with a hot shower, my first since DC, then continued with endless rounds of fizzy beverages and plates of food. I didn’t even step foot in the van, and just lounged in a comfy chair, eating what was placed in front of me. Chips, salsa, guac, booch, strawberries, and tea. A towering, van-baked cake, rustic and chocolatey, followed. It was worthy of the occasion, worthy of my hiker hunger, and I looked forward to eating some more for breakfast. A few raindrops prompted us to set up the awning, but the evening was as warm as the conversation and company. The precipitation was no bother and had been replaced by a Tiffany spread of stars behind a clearing sky by the time I had spooned down my third portion of lentil, cauliflower, and kale stew.

A good way to pass the afternoon.

The following conversation and digestion period covered a range of topics, both close to and far from trail. My belly gurgled contentedly and joined in the warming spread of happy energy pulsing in my limbs. This whole birthday-on-trail thing was pretty sweet. A stick-breaking racoon trundled through camp, then we called it a night. Spice and I pitched our tent, giving the full comfort of the van experience to our guest, then lay down on the dirt, right where we belonged. Lying next to her in a tent for the first time since last July felt right. We each got CDT shivers, and I fell asleep with memories of the past echoing in my empty, old-man skull. 31 year old me did a good job of getting this far on the AT. I was excited to see the new and improved version take me the rest of the way.

Thanks for all the support and well-wishes, everybody. I love you all.

43 thoughts on “AT Day 64 – It’s My Birthday And I’ll Camp If I Want To

  1. Happy birthday, youngster!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Happy birthday!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Happy Birthday. At that age, I thought I knew everything. I did not. Love the writing, cheers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, my man. It’s funny that you say that, because I actually DO know everything. No doubt about it.

      Like

  4. Happy birdday!!! From a happy recent subscriber, bowzer

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Heeeey, thanks, Bowow. I’m happy to have you visit this corner of the internet!

      Like

  5. Happy day late birthday wishes. That cake looks amazing. Love and Hugs to Spice Rack.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Bonnie. I will certainly pass both those things along to Spice. I hope you are well after a cold winter in your part of the country.

      Like

  6. Happy birthday! Love your blog posts…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Sandra! Thanks for reading.

      Like

  7. Happy birthday! I love reading your posts. My wife and I are hikers too but the 4-7 miles type. I look forward to sharing your travel posts.
    Mike

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Mike. You know, 4-7 miles is a great range. Short enough to leave some of the day for other things, and long enough to earn a burrito!

      Like

  8. Tim from Jersey April 28, 2022 — 9:54 pm

    Happy birthday Owen! Stumbled across your blog just a few days after you started, been following along ever since. You’ve got the gift for sure. Enjoy my home state this weekend, and have a great hike!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Tim! New Jersey was great to me, as I’m sure you’ve read by now. I look forward to visiting again in just a few months when there are leaves on the trees.

      Like

  9. Happy birthday, keep on pushing north. Good memory, spent my 43rd b.d. in the Mojave high desert

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I used to go camping in the Anza Borego desert for my birthday every year when I lived in San Diego. The desert is a good place to ring in a new year.

      Like

  10. Happy Birthday… twice your age. Youngest son older than you. Following you since day 1. Had the AT on my bucket list… won’t happen. I’ll have to experience it though you and others. Enjoy your time on the trail. You and Spicerack make a great couple.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for the kind words. I’ll do my best to keep capturing the essence of the trail to share with you.

      Like

  11. Principal Hiker April 28, 2022 — 11:55 pm

    Just wanted to join with others in wishing you a happy birthday.
    First time commenting but have enjoyed following you since day 1.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! I rarely leave comments on the internet too, so I really appreciate every one that I receive. Thanks for reading.

      Like

  12. I have loved following your journeys. Happy Birthday, thank you for the gifts you bring to us by sharing your journey

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Rebecca. It can feel like a chore sometimes, but writing about these places and experiences is so important to me. I’m happy to share them with others.

      Like

  13. Happy Birthday Owen. Thanks for sharing your adventure with all of us!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Kim. Happy to share. Thanks for reading!

      Like

  14. Happy New Year!!! You rock!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. No, you rock, Tomas!
      Thanks.

      Like

  15. Karen Velazquez April 29, 2022 — 4:33 am

    Happy Birthday! What a great way to spend it 😊🎂 Stay safe and enjoy the rest of your hike!

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Happy birthday, Owen! I am double your age,but you are doing something i have only imagined! Surprised you know that old song from 1963! Been following you since day one and enjoying the trek. Thanks and best wishes!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Lee! Is that song really that old? It bubbles up from deep in my childhood memories, although I can never explicitly remember listening to it. Thanks for reading!

      Like

  17. I would camp too if if happened to me.

    HBD

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha, nice, you totally get it.

      Like

  18. Late Happy Birthday!
    I continue to look forward every morning to your daily posting. Enjoy your hike and the new year.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Lizabeth! Late equals right on time on the trail, so don’t sweat it. I’m doing enough of that for the both of us. Thanks for following along.

      Like

  19. HAPPY YOUNG BIRTHDAY OWEN !
    what a fine way to start the your 32 year, on the trail with loved ones. So glad everyone made it for the visit.
    Enjoy the rest of your journey.
    Jane G…

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Happy Birthday 🎉

    Here’s to many more years, miles, and nights on the trail.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Jason. I can get on board with that. Cheers!

      Like

  21. A few days late, but Happy birthday to you! 🥳

    Like

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