11.5 miles, 43.2 overall (Low Gap Shelter)
We are all in bed by 9 and spend some time talking before turning out the lights. I wake to the smell of breakfast cooking in the next room. I am one of the first to get out of bed and observe the readying of our feast. As I do, I realize that the “breakfast bonus” may just mean that we get breakfast, not that breakfast is especially grand. It is a tasty meal though of pancakes and sausages. Everyone eats quickly and it is less of a social affair than dinner was, however during breakfast another hiker gets a trail name. Due to his ability to creep up on Button without her hearing him and his tendency to hike shirtless, we dub him Naked Ninja.
We begin packing and making preparations for the day. I buy a bottled water both to supplement what is in my hydration pack and to get a new bottle to replace the one I’ve had since day 1. The plan among those in the hostel is to make it 11+ miles to Low Gap shelter. It would be a big mileage day for many of us. Although I have already pulled a 13 I am hesitant to push myself too hard. Others have maxed out around 8 to 10 and are nervous about upping the mileage. Still, it is already a tight knit group and everyone seems willing to give it a shot in order to stay together.
I hit the trail just before 9, hot on the trail of Ultraviolet. The climb out of the gap is tough. It is extremely windy and a bit cold this morning, and my legs feel sore and tired from the last 2 long days. On the way up I run into JB who is on his way back to Neel’s. He has decided to do the pack shakedown and I wish him luck.
My knee begins to hurt on the first climb. However it hurts on the opposite side of where it used to hurt when I originally injured it. I decide perhaps the support strap is the cause of my discomfort and I remove it. Soon after my knee feels fine. Although I mentally check periodically whether or not any pain has returned, I do not find a need for the strap for the rest of the day. It seems my hiking legs may be coming in a bit early.
The trail follows the ridgeline, offering views to either side through the trees. A few miles in I see a side trail and when I look over I see High Life and Red Fury enjoying a view. I decide I could stop for a minute so I go to join them and find Naked Ninja and Ultraviolet there as well. We grab some food and rest a bit before continuing on. Ultraviolet is he first to leave, followed by myself and Naked Ninja. He takes the lead down the mountain and with the pace he sets I wonder how I ever caught him. We leapfrog back and forth for the next several miles as he takes breaks and I pass him.
After the descent into Tessantee Gap I take a moment to look around before I hear hikers yelling at me. They are on the ascent out of the gap and I think they are just saying hi so I wave back. When they yell again I realize they are pointing to my left – trail magic! A case of Rolling Rocks is waiting for me. I stop to enjoy one while Naked Ninja observes. Then we begin the awful ascent and I find out how I was able to catch him. I am able to power ahead and get some separation. At the top I find Gumpy and Peeper enjoying the view with Ultraviolet. I hike with them for a while until I refill my water at Hogpen Gap.
From there the hiking is much easier. The trail follows the ridgeline a bit less, is well-graded, and less rocky. It reminds me of the portion of the trail in Shenandoah. I make great time here and arrive at the shelter before everyone else around 2:30. Ultraviolet and Naked Ninja are close behind. NN and I take advantage of our trailblazer status and tent near the shelter. Soon after the others from the hostel start to arrive. High life and Red Fury are first followed by Button. Then Emily, IBS (who the group has renamed Jersey), Brian and Bea, and finally Sam. When Brian and Bea arrive they inform us that Sam is now named Bunny. Apparently during the day she took her pack off and she had a sweat stain on her back that formed a perfect rabbit head and ears. We all agree that in addition to this fortuitous accident the name actually fits her and it sticks.
I eat 2 dinners tonight, one when I arrive in camp and one when everyone else eats theirs. Even though both fill me quickly, they also digest quickly. I assume the infamous thru-hiker appetite is soon to follow.
The evening is spent eating, doing yoga (some of us, led by Ultraviolet), and chatting. During the course of conversation we are making fun of Brian for holding down one side of a lopsided picnic table. He calls himself fat but a passerby says he looks muscular. The dichotomy reminds me of Mr Incredible so I suggest it as his trail name. It may stick, we’ll see tomorrow.
Tomorrow we plan another 11 mile day but the terrain looks incredibly flat. The only worry is whether there will be enough tent spots at the place we are targeting which is not a shelter location. We’ll see, it’s not the worst problem to have when you’re hiking the Appalachian Trail!