11.1 miles, 54.3 overall (Campsite on Rocky Mountain)
Morning comes quickly. I sleep well through the night and am awake at 6:30 once again. I begin packing and try not to wake Naked Ninja who is in the tent next to mine. I am not the first out of my tent though – I see other headlamps on when I emerge. By the time I have most of my packing prep done Ultraviolet is up as well and fixing breakfast so I join her for mine. Pretty soon others are up and I think maybe they’ll be ready soon so I start some water for my coffee while I wait. By the time I am done and packed several hikers have left but none from my group. Naked Ninja and Ultraviolet are both almost ready but they are fast hikers and I want to take it slow today. I know bigger mileage days are coming soon and I want to rest. Also, I enjoyed hiking with JB the other day and want to get to know someone else. Bunny is almost ready and a slow hiker. She expressed some concern yesterday about an 11 mile day. She’s one of my favorites and I’d like to keep her around, so I ask if she minds if I hike with her for the day. Pretty soon we’re off at what has become for me a slow pace of 2 mph.
The terrain for the first several miles is flat today. I start with my knee strap on but it hurts again and I quickly take it off. It remains in my pocket all day. We chat leisurely about family, friends, biology, geography, hiking, and anything else that comes up while we’re walking. Pretty soon we’ve bagged several miles and we’re both feeling good. Button catches up to us when we take a water break and hikes with us off and on all day. Button is a woman from Britain with a dry sense of humor (of course) but a fun personality.
Several of us lunch at Blue Mountain shelter: me, Jersey, Bunny, Emily, Button, Red Fury, and High Life. When Bunny takes her pack off this time she also takes off her shirt and is able to see the sweat stain for which she was named. She treats a bad blister that has formed on her small toe while the rest of us lounge around a bit. After a while we pack up and move on.
The day ends with a long down followed by a long up. The down isn’t so bad and Bunny and I catch up to Button at the bottom. We read some signs posted about the trail while we down some water, preparing for the massive climb we know is ahead: 1000 ft over 1.4 miles. We start just ahead of a day-hiking family and wonder if the 3 year old will beat is up the mountain.
On the way up we need to fill up on water. Everyone has planned to dry-camp on the peak of this mountain tonight. Halfway up there is a wonderful stream so we stop and fill up, adding several pounds to each of our packs. Button finds a huge millipede and Bunny has to take a picture. I take off my hat and shirt and douse them in the cold water. When I put them back on I am only cold for a few moments before my body adjusts. As we are doing all of this the family catches up to us and I notice the daughter take a picture of us – we have become tourist attractions!
We finish the climb but not without a lot of jabber between Bunny and Button about how terrible I am at estimating the distance remaining. I argue that they simply heard me wrong, but it is 2 on 1 and I have no witnesses. Once we do reach the top we have a short walk before we notice High Life, Red Fury, and Naked Ninja sitting in a clearing to our left. They have found our campsite for the night. It is 3:30 but we are done for the day. We put our packs down and claim our spots for the night.
Others roll in over the next few hours, some in our group and some not. The clearing fills until it looks like a tiny tent city. Before dinner Ultraviolet leads me, Naked Ninja, and Bunny in another round of post-hike yoga. We eat dinner in a large circle and visit with some of the newcomers. We hang our bear bags from only a few lines to save everyone the effort of finding a tree and throwing their own lines. We socialize some more before bed and while talking I realize that I still have some gorp in a side pocket of my pack. In true thru-hiker fashion I bring it to the group and suggest we all eat some so we don’t have to re-hang the bag. It is finished in short order.
Right around sunset we all retreat to our tents. Our plan is to put in some good mileage again tomorrow, setting us up for a nero (a “near zero” mile day) the next day into Hiawassee. I do wonder what will happen from there. Bunny and Button are worried about doing bigger mileage days because their legs haven’t strengthened up enough yet. Naked Ninja and Ultraviolet could both do longer days if they wanted. Mr Incredible (the name stuck) and Elastigirl (Bea’s name which also stuck and logically follows from them being together) are hauling massive packs and probably couldn’t keep up if we started really moving. It seems the group may break up a bit after Hiawassee. I’m caught between my fondness for the group and the desire to press on. I know I need to hike my own hike, but at this point I don’t know what my hike should be. What I do know is I have a schedule I need to stay somewhat close to following, but that I also want the interpersonal experience that comes with the AT. For now those goals aren’t clashing. Perhaps they won’t. We’ll find out soon enough as I make my way up the Appalachian Trail.