13.7 miles, 21.8 overall (Campsite just past Woody Gap)
The night is restless. One of the hikers in the shelter is an incredibly loud snorer, and later many of us figure he has sleep apnea. It is especially bad for Justin and Linda, the musician couple, because they are laying right next to him. Justin has a hard time sleeping and gets up several times during the night, making enough noise in the process to wake several others. By 3am they have had enough and pack up to leave. After they leave at 4 I sleep better but not great. I get up again at 6:30 and am ready to go when the sun rises at 7:30.
I make good time, once again walking through a dense morning fog after a rainy night. As I hike I come across several camps of hikers, some whom I’ve already met (Georgia boys Brad and Bill) and some who I haven’t. They all seem to be making their last preparations to leave right as I walk by them and soon I am leading a veritable caravan. Later when I explain this to Brad and Bill I liken myself to Harry Potter flying through the room with all of the flying keys chasing him. Brad mentions that there ought to be a trail name in there somewhere, but goes no further.
I reach Gooch Mtn shelter just after noon. All morning I have been catching up to Justin and Linda and I finally catch them here. The mission for the day is to get ahead of the snoring hiker, so we plan to eat lunch and move on. There is a hostel in Suches that picks hikers up at a road crossing every day at 5:00 about 5 miles ahead and the thought of a bed, shower, laundry, and breakfast are provoking. Adding to the incentive to bag more miles is the fact that due to bear activity camping within 5 miles of Neel’s Gap isn’t allowed, even in shelters, without a bear can. That kills the only 2 shelters left in the next 15 miles, restricting the options for how to get to Neel’s on 8 miles per day. In a fateful decision nobody calls the hostel before I hike on.
I hike with an older gentleman who thru-hiked 10 years ago but had to get off the trail in Maine due to what he later discovered was Lyme disease. He is a nice enough guy but I find him to be a little depressing so when JB catches up to us I speed up to put a little distance between us.
By just after 4 I reach the road crossing and find out from some other hikers that the hostel is already full. The last 5.5 miles go unrewarded and I am forced to hike on after already doing 12 miles today. There is a ranger at the parking lot and he suggests a campsite about a mile away with a great view.
Before I set off JB catches up to me. We hike the mile quickly, wondering on the way if we have enough water already to dry camp for the night. I know I have enough so when we reach the suggested campsite I quickly claim my spot and sit down to enjoy the view. JB decides he has enough water as well and joins me for the night.
As I eat dinner I mentally berate myself for pushing so far today. Instead of the planned 7.7 miles I have hiked 13.7. Although my knee doesn’t feel great, it isn’t very sore. It feels more tired than anything. It actually feels better when I take off the support strap, and it isn’t “clicking” like it used to. So although I broke my rule about taking it easy, it may prove to be beneficial. JB and I will get an early start and we have the option of hiking the 10 miles to Neel’s Gap (as he will probably do so he can resupply) or making the trip in 2 easy days. We did find out from the ranger that the last campsite before the camping restriction has very limited space, so our proximity (only 2.5 miles away) make it almost guaranteed we will have a spot tomorrow if we want it.
After dinner it rains intensely for several minutes, the first real rain test my tent has had yet. Although it rained the first night it was not a hard driving rain like this is. The rain passes quickly and I stay dry but there is no telling if more is on the way. The plan is to go to sleep early and once again get up at first light for another, hopefully shorter, day on the Appalachian Trail.