11.8 miles, 81.4 overall (Muskrat Creek Shelter)
As always I am up first in my room. I get fully dressed and am getting ready to head outside when Mr Incredible knocks on the door. “Housekeeping! You want mint for pillow?” he mimics from Tommy Boy. I go outside and meet everyone from the other room for breakfast. We go to a diner a block away and have a great pre-hike meal. When we return we only have a few minutes before the shuttle leaves so I rush to get packed. Despite my speed, by the time I am ready there are already too many people in the van. I will have to take the next shuttle at 11 with Ninja who was also late. If any 2 hikers could be left behind it is good that it is us because of our speed. We pass the time waiting by talking to the Georgia boys and some other hikers.
When 11 rolls around I am chomping at the bit to get going. I view the late start as a challenge – the hikers ahead of me are prey to be caught. When we reach the trailhead there is trail magic. A group of women has set up cakes and chili. Also at the trailhead are Passionflower and Allen (now Sparky) who I haven’t seen since The Night of the Great Snore. We catch up a bit before I leave. They are on their way into Hiawassee for a nero, so they are exactly a day behind me now. I have a piece of pound cake and thank the ladies but do not wait around for the chili to be ready. Ninja however cannot pass up the free food and waits. I finally hit the trail at 11:15.
The first few miles feel great. My knee warms up quickly and I pass a few hikers including the Georgia boys, who both still lack trail names. A few miles in I reach the side trail to the first shelter – Plum Orchard – as Mr Incredible and Elastigirl are leaving. I don’t think they see me as I take the side trail for a quick break and to sign the register. The shelter is lovely and, as happens to me many times every day, I find myself wishing I could spend a night here. However there are many more miles to be walked, so I push on.
On the way out I pass the Georgia boys on their way in for a break. Brad has been having trouble with his knee and it sounds like the same thing I have been struggling with – chondromalacia patella. He has fashioned a support strap out of his full knee brace and says it is doing much better. It seems it will last him until Franklin, the next trail town.
Having already spotted the first hikers from the first shuttle I am freshly motivated. I push on hard knowing I can overtake them within the hour. When I finally do Mr Incredible gives me a few choice words in jest as I go by. I smile but not for long – I am on a mission.
A short time later I catch up to Bunny who has stopped to have lunch at Blue Ridge Gap. It is about 1:15 and I have already covered 5.5 miles. I am setting a blistering pace. I catch Emily taking a break with several other hikers at a campsite a mile later. She informs me she has found a trail name – Peach because of how easily she bruises. It seems to fit, and later she mentions that she should get a picture eating a peach in every state.
I still have 5 miles to go and the terrain has become flat. I know that based on my pace I should hit the Ga/NC border somewhere around 3:00. I remind myself to start looking for it around 2:45 to make sure I don’t miss it.
As I hike I tend to think about a lot of random things. Song lyrics are usually repeating somewhere in my head. I think about the other hikers and where I think they are. I do mileage calculations in my head. Sometimes I consider what I would be doing if I weren’t on the trail right now. But mostly my mind is focused on the climb or the descent at hand, checking how my body is feeling, deciding whether I am bonking and need to eat or if I need some more water. It might seem like hiking would be a great time for the introvert in me, but in many ways it is more like work and doesn’t really fulfill that introvert need. I still feel myself wanting time away from people once in a while in camp to recharge my battery. Perhaps if I were hiking slower it would be more fulfilling for the introvert in me, but thru-hiking is a full-time job and I tend to approach it as such.
I turn around a bend in the trail and a large rock catches my eye. As I approach I notice a tree below it next to the trail that has a metal rod in the side. How odd! As I get closer I realize there is a sign as well. I check my watch: 2:45. I hit the border sooner than expected. I sit down and have a snack. I noticed that I was bonking about a mile back but I wanted to push to the border. I decide I will wait for the others to arrive so I can share the moment with them. The first to catch up is Emily. As she gets closer I tell her I’ve stopped for a snack. It takes her a few moments as she hikes up to realize that more than a snack is going on. Once she figures it out she laughs and we take turns getting each others’ pictures taken. Button is next and seems to almost cry as she crosses. She is battling some sort of quad injury she suffered earlier today so the border is great news in an otherwise crappy day for her. Bunny, Mr Incredible, and Elastigirl arrive a few minutes later. Bunny has the funniest reaction: an underwhelmed “This is it?” I manage to capture the moment in a picture. She is clearly exhausted from the mostly uphill day and we still have 3 more miles to go to the shelter.
We get water just past the border and push on. Button has decided to push to the shelter rather than stop short. I pass her on a monstrous uphill (welcome to NC, here’s a giant mountain for you to climb!). After I do I feel bad about it. She is walking slow and I want to make sure she gets to camp ok. I turn around and hike back a short distance to find her. She does not like the idea that she is slowing me down, but I feel much better about this than the alternative and convince her to let me walk with her a while. A short time later we find the shelter.
Dinner is quick as we have arrived after 5:00. Bear bag lines go up quickly before the sun gets too low. By 8:00 everyone is in bed. We have suffered a couple casualties today and it looks like some might fall back tomorrow. Bunny has hurt her ankle and has it wrapped. Button is going to have to stop in Franklin to tend to her injury, and it may take her a few days to get there. Since we don’t plan to stop in Franklin this means she’ll probably fall out of the group, at least for a while. Before bed I get Bunny and Button’s contact info so I can be sure to reach them later. If I take a few days off the trail they could catch up to me and we could hike together again. So it goes on the Appalachian Trail.