Although still somewhat hot and humid out, the trail today was far more agreeable, and it's a shame my broken pack is forcing me off-trail for a few days to get it dealt with.
It was a nice morning out, still damp and humid from the rain, but otherwise calm. It didn't take long after I woke up to notice that my shoulders were fairly sore. Not having a properly functioning hip belt adds a lot of stress to all the wrong places. My hands were also rather sore as well from being wet all day (from sweat, and from the water-absorbing foam handles on my poles), and the straps from my poles rubbed some of the skin raw. (I think by the time it got to be extra-humid on the AT, my hands had already calloused enough from rubbing the poles while dry that it wasn't a problem.)
I looked a bit more at the broken rod on my pack. I'd initially thought it was part of the load transfer mechanism to the hip belt (and it may well in part be that), but more specifically, it looks to be part of the pack's frame. Which definitely explains more the soreness on my shoulders: the pack's body was no longer capable of even holding itself up properly, so even if it wasn't poking me in the hip, it was never going to ride on my hips and shoulders properly.
After breakfast, I managed to get the rod in my pack jammed back into place-ish and got my (still completely soaked) towel in just the right position to hold it in place. I left Rod Hollow Shelter around quarter-to-nine, much later than I wanted to leave.
It wasn't terribly humid to start, and the trail itself was much more sedate than it had been the past few days, but it was not without its challenges. The storm the blew through last night left a few small blow-downs that were annoying to get through. And there were so many spiders out, it seemed like they were all working in concert to try and capture a hiker. I was able to avoid a few of their webs, either because the sunlight caught them just right, or because they were large enough to be visible anyway. But it definitely slowed me down a bit.
Still, the trail was much nicer than it had been, and I was managing a decent pace, spider webs and blowdowns aside. I reached today's only major road crossing (US 17/50), and stopped for a break at a rock wall just south of the road. My pack had, so far this morning, been behaving; I knew that as soon as I put it down, the rod would pop out and be a problem again, but I knew that I needed to take a break there while I had the chance; it would be too far to where I needed to go to not take a break somewhere.
While I was there, a butterfly landed on my boot.
Not surprisingly, after putting my pack down, the rod did come out, and it took another ten minutes to get it sufficiently jammed back into place and the towel to hold before I could begin the climb up the mountain to Sky Meadows State Park. I'd of course been through Sky Meadows during my AT thru-hike, but I'd also gone back to hike other trails in the park because it was such a nice section to hike through.
While I was on my way up the mountain, I briefly stopped to chat with two women who were out on a day hike heading down the mountain with their rescue dog (who was very not chill, and had to be dragged away a bit for us to be able to have a conversation). It turned out that one of them was a volunteer with PATC (which maintains this section of the AT, as well as the Tuscarora Trail), and she was able to give me some information on the Tuscarora: namely that it was quite rocky (in a different way than the Roller Coaster). I may need to revise my distance goals downward a bit on the Tuscarora.
After trudging through another blowdown, I passed by a turtle on the trail.
After noon, the trail climbed up out of the forest, into the meadows Sky Meadows is well-named for. It was definitely a very nice change of scenery compared to the full-on forest behind (and ahead) of me. Unfortunately, by this point, I was almost an hour later than I had anticipated, and my towel was no longer holding the rod at bay, so it was very hard to appreciate the view. Not wanting to stop, I unfastened my hip belt so that the rod would stop poking at my side, which helped, but doing so put my pack's entire weight on my shoulders. I was only able to handle that for about 15 minutes before I had to stop for a short break, during which time I was able to readjust the towel, which mercifully did its job the rest of the way down the mountain.
I finally made it to the park's visitor center parking lot around 1:20 pm, and my mom was there, ready to give me a ride home. Also there were the two women I'd passed on my way into Sky Meadows, and we continued our chat from the mountain; this time their dog was considerably more chill.
We headed home, stopping at a McDonalds along the way for lunch.
The plan from here is to get a new pack, go out on a test hike to confirm that it's working, and head back out to the trail as soon as possible. In theory that could be as early as Saturday, but I may take the opportunity to avoid some of the bad weather heading this way over the weekend, so Monday is also possible.