12.1 miles, 106 overall (Rock Gap shelter)
The ultra lighter who camped with us beats me out of camp this morning. He leaves just before 7:30 and I don’t leave until nearly 8:00. Everyone else is just getting moving when I leave.
The morning is cold. I start hiking in only a t-shirt and shorts and I barely stay warm enough. As I hike I begin to speed up as I warm up. Just as I’m hitting a groove I notice a trail to the right that leads to an overlook. It isn’t long so I take it and I’m glad I do. The view is absolutely amazing, with rolling mountains popping up out of a sea of clouds. I stop for a full 25 minutes to snack while enjoying the view. Nobody passes me before I move on.
Several miles later I pick up more water before the climb up Albert Mtn. Bearpuncher and Zorra are right behind me on the way up the mountain. At the top I am pretty excited. The fire tower at the top overlooks Coweeta Hydrologic Laboratory where I used to do research, so this is a bit of a homecoming for me. I share the excitement with Bearpuncher, but he can’t quite reciprocate. All he knows is he just finished a really tough climb and the view is pretty.
We hike on together for a few miles before he stops for water. I am focused on the shelter. With the only hard climb of the day behind me I make good time and reach the shelter around 1:15, completing the day’s hike in an overall average of over 2 mph despite my stops for the views and water.
Bearpuncher and Zorra are close behind me, and UV and Ninja are close behind them. Nobody else appears for a couple hours and Bearpuncher pushes on to get to Franklin. Eventually Button gets in and is preparing to sleep in the shelter until the Incredibles arrive and convince her to catch a shuttle into town with them. The Incredibles inform us that Peach decided to stay at the last shelter. We eat dinner wondering what Bunny decided to do. This is the paradox that we face as thru-hikers: we have no knowledge of what goes on behind us unless someone with the information catches up to us. With Bunny being the last hiker, we don’t know until nightfall what she has decided to do. Apparently she stopped short. The odds of Peach catching us aren’t bad. The odds of Bunny catching us seem pretty small. We all yell into the woods, “Bye Bunny, we’ll miss you!”
The group has dwindled, as we all knew it at some point would. By tomorrow UV, Ninja and I should be making good miles towards the NOC. It is unlikely that anyone else in the group will catch the 3 fastest hikers unless we take days off. I can’t decide whether now that the group has disbanded I feel even more inclined to stick with the 2 that are left or more inclined to hike on my own. For now we have the same plans up to Fontana. After that we’ll see. For now we are still slowly increasing our daily mileage on the Appalachian Trail.