11.7 miles, 66 overall (Deep Gap shelter)
In the morning I am among the first to get up. I can hear others starting to stir, but I am the first out of my tent. I am packed before most have emerged. UV comes to get her food and together we struggle for several minutes to get the bear bag down. Because of the number and weight of the bags on the line the rope is so tight around the stick that we can’t untie it. We end up sawing the 2 sides of the stick right next to the rope so we can get the bags down. After they are down I still have to work for a few minutes on what is left of the stick in order to get the rope off of it.
I join UV and Ninja for breakfast a few yards down the trail where they camped. We sit on a rock with views across the valley below and eat as the sun rises. I take the extra time to make coffee this morning, knowing that I’ll still start hiking before anyone else is ready.
As I prepare to leave another hiker named Steve is leaving as well. We hike together a few times over the course of the day and I learn that he is an actor/performer. Recently he has been working at Disney. I turn out to be a faster hiker than he is and I don’t finish the day with him.
The day begins with a long downhill followed immediately by a long uphill. The up isn’t so bad as it is lined almost the entire way with rhododendrons and mountain laurel, which create a cooler microclimate on the trail. I cruise up the mountain at an incredible pace, feeling really strong this
morning. At the top I take the time to give Christy a phone call, thinking that with the pace I’ve set there shouldn’t be any hikers close behind me. I’m a little embarrassed when one does come through a few minutes into the call and I find myself hoping I didn’t ruin his summit.
Down the hill is a shelter so I stop to use the privy and to get a snack. I leave a note in the shelter register and add a note of encouragement for Bunny and Button. We have a long day planned and I hope they can make the miles. I am really surprised when I leave and I pass Button on her way to the shelter. She insists she has not been going that fast and that she will not make it all the way to the planned shelter.
The rest of the day I hike mostly alone. I catch up to UV and Ninja just before the last climb of the day where they have stopped to eat. I push on with them not far behind me. When I start the final climb of the day – 1000 ft in 1 mile – they are right behind me.
On ups I don’t stop. I set a pace that I know I can keep based on the grade of the climb and concentrate on breathing. It works extremely well for me, and my breath seems to be my limiting factor where others say that their muscles are their limiting factor. It seems my pre-hike conditioning has paid off. When I reach camp UV and Ninja are several minutes behind. We sit around enjoying the afternoon for an hour before we see two more hikers walking in. We are pleasantly surprised when it turns out to be Button and Bunny, both arriving only an hour after us. Mr Incredible and Elastigirl follow another hour later and some other hikers trickle in late to make for a cozy but not crowded night at the shelter.
Among the group I am becoming known as the strongest hiker, usually leaving first in the morning and setting the fastest pace, especially on ups. I know at this point that I can do bigger mileages if I hike longer into the day since I am usually stopping around 2:30 and don’t always feel done. Tomorrow we will nero into Hiawassee and take a break for a day. We will get clean, resupply, rest, and eat. After Hiawassee I will have to make decisions about staying with the group or pushing ahead. I plan to get everyone’s phone number on the way into town so I can contact them if necessary while in town but also so that if I push on after the town I can reach them in the future. Perhaps after one of my planned detours from the trail I can reconnect with some of them who will have caught up during my time off of the Appalachian Trail.