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I woke up much earlier than usual after camping alone. I slept well after I struggled to get my bear bag hung properly. Eventually I did and I had no bear issues. I was out of camp much earlier than normal since I had nobody to wait for. I realized that I wasn't far from the next shelter where everyone else had camped last night. I almost stopped in to see if anyone was there but for some reason I assumed they were already ahead of me on trail. I hiked all day alone. I took a lunch break on a bench that was placed on the trail overlooking a nice view. I ate what I usually would at this point: a box of cheez-its, a half brick of cheese, a package of pepperonis, and some sour patch kids. I decided to count the calories for fun and realized I'd had nearly 2000 calories just for lunch. I feel proud of this accomplishment.
Midday I stopped at a shelter and by then I wondered why I wasn't seeing Bullet and Blue. I figured they'd have left me a note in the trail log but when I read it there was nothing from them. My heart sank a bit because I now had no idea if I should try to catch them or wait for them. Our plan was to hitch to Damascus tomorrow morning for Trail Days. I decided I'd hike on to the next road and see if I had service. Once I arrived, about 17 miles from where I camped this morning, there was no service or traffic. I walked to a hostel that was not far from trail and it was empty as everyone had already left for Trail Days. I walked back to the trailhead and a single car was driving by heading the opposite direction of town. I decided to try to hitch. The car passed me and then made a u-turn to come get me. A very nice man, Chris, drove me down to Hampton, TN.
Once I was in town I had service and got a photo from Blue with her feet up in a camper that said "riding to Trail Days in style". I quickly found out that Bullet had hurt her foot and the two of them took a side-trail to a hostel (shortly after where I stopped for lunch). The hostel owner offered them a ride in a camper to Trail Days and they took it. Also, they were at the shelter this morning when I passed by so they'd been behind me all day. They already were in Damascus and set up in Tent City. I figured I was screwed and had no idea what to do. Peanut and Kazoo both hiked on to make it to Trail Days by tomorrow but I had about 40 miles to go and it was almost dark. I highly considered heading back to trail but I figured I'd try hitching instead.
I walked to a gas station that was on a busy road. I was able to get a box and a sharpie from the gas station attendant and I made a sign that said "Trail Days" and stood on the side of a very busy intersection. Normally I would love doing this where people knew about thru-hikers but I wasn't in a known trail town. People passed by me, ignored me, and gave me confused looks. After nearly an hour I started to feel really down and humiliated. Finally, someone stopped to pick me up. They said they just brought hikers to Damascus so they couldn't take me all the way but they'd get me closer than I was. They brought me about an hour north to a Walmart in Bristol, TN. By then it was completely dark and there was no way I'd hitch from there. I was pretty upset that I was left behind when we had a plan and now I was even further away and nowhere near the trail. I started asking people in Walmart and nobody had ever heard of Damascus. I even offered to pay for a ride but nobody would help.
I had a friend at Trail Days post on Social Media asking if anyone could help but still I had no luck. I finally decided that my best bet was to camp in a church parking lot that I could see from Walmart. I assumed that a church would be forgiving of a random person sleeping there. Just as I laid down and was about to set up my camp, Blue texted me and said that her and MP were on the way to get me. MP had recently left the trail and she had her car and offered to come get me. I'm currently laying in the church parking lot waiting for them to arrive. What a day.