3: elk garden campsite to hurricane mountain shelter

Happy birthday to me!!! 

Whoever wrote those nativity hymns about cattle lowing got it all wrong. They make WEIRD, LOUD noises. 

I woke up a lot last night, mostly freezing. At 4am I decided to start eating and that helped me get a few more hours of sleep. 

I celebrated with birthday cake, too. Did you guess what my second milestone for this trip was? I turned THIRTY. it feels good, honestly. I’m exactly the kind of person I always wanted to be. Except with more blisters. But that’s vastly improved with my new double insole system. 

I started hiking and was immediately rewarded by hiking through a COW PASTURE. I love cows. They have best friends! 

Can I present this gorgeous stretch of trail without comment? 

Here is fatmans squeeze. My pack and I made it through. 

Finally, FINALLY, it was pony time. I sat down on a rock and this one immediately came up to me. After I left the ponies ignored everyone else it seemed like. I got special birthday treatment. 

And can you guess what my third and final milestone of the trip is? 

The trip has been amazing. 
This afternoon I met a thru hiker named danger. Then, later, I met another named storm trooper. He offered to let me pass him but I liked his pace so I told him I’d like to keep following him as motivation to not slow down, and we chatted for several miles. Eventually we stopped when we ran into his friend at a sign for trail magic. We went down to check out the hiker feed. Pork and beans! We ate, meeting up with Danger, Red Dragon, Brew, and Stick. The whole group of us set off for the same shelter. 
We got here and set up camp. I had mentioned at the hiker feed that it was my birthday, and they treated me right. Red dragon is a classical voice performer, and he performed a song for me. It was INCREDIBLE. Have you ever had a professional musician sing an Italian arts song just for you, in a lean to in the woods, with new friends and the sun setting behind you? I have. 

 Brew built up a fire, stormtrooper sautéed some ramps he’d foraged on the trail, danger gave me some candy, and everyone was friendly and cheerful and it was just…perfect. 

I ate my birthday dinner and my birthday cake (uh, #3 for today) and we sat around the fire sharing stories. We’re all headed to the same shelter tomorrow, and we have our pizza order all planned out already. 

If this is thirty, then bring on thirty one. My day has been filled with the beauty of nature, the generosity of strangers, the love of my friends and family, and the promise of more to come tomorrow. 

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