18.4 miles, 240.8 overall (Standing Bear Farm hostel)
It is cold when I wake up. We knew it was going to be cold, but this is serious. Inside the shelter someone has a thermometer that tells us it got down to 25. That means outside it probably got to something closer to 20. Add in the wind chill and we’re talking single digits. I change quickly in my bag. I am the second one up in the shelter. Kennedy was first up, but he never leaves camp before 10 so he doesn’t really count. I take my gear outside to pack and take my food down from the bear cables. On the way back I slip on a rock that has iced over during the night. I make a mental note to be careful hiking today.
I am packed, fed, and ready to leave by 7:45. I am on a mission for the hostel. Trophy Wife told us last night that she planned to get to the hostel by 3. She has unknowingly given me a goal. I like goals. I start strong but I am quickly stopped. I have nothing on my hands and I am walking along a ridge exposed to the western winds. They are freezing. The first chance I get I stop and pull a pair of socks out of my pack to wear as gloves. I purposefully did not bring gloves on this trip because 1) I knew I wouldn’t need them often and 2) I knew that if necessary I could use socks. It works well and my hands are soon warm enough. Then I notice my other potential fateful mistake: I left my hydration pack hose full of water and it has frozen. While I walk I contemplate what I could do to fix this situation. I try using the bite valve. It is chewy but I can get a tiny bit of water out at a time. The water in the pack is still liquid. For a few minutes I work at the it’s valve. I suck some water out, let it warm in my mouth, and then spit it back in. After a few minutes the process works well enough to have cleared a line. I blow as much water as I can back into the pack to ear the line and leave it alone until I need water. While it is this cold I will make sure to always clear the line when I get some water.
I also am having some problems with my feet. In addition to the Achilles tendon problems that have plagued me through the Smokies I have also gotten my first blister on my heel. I started out with it taped but the tape doesn’t seem to be working. In fact the tape has come unstuck and is now rubbing. While I stop to fix it Trophy Wife passes me, putting me behind my goal.
Once I work out all of the kinks I am able to start focusing on hiking. I am feeling really strong today, and with a goal in mind – beating Trophy Wife to the hostel – I hike fast. The miles begin to fly by. Before I know it I pass Trophy Wife and reach the next shelter which started out 7 miles away. It is before 11, meaning I have hiked more than 2 mph despite the stops. More importantly I haven’t really noticed and it has felt great. I have gotten my first hiker high. I’m not sure if this exists, but I imagine it does and that it is similar to runner’s high, where you feel wonderful and like you could hike/run all day.
At the shelter I refill my water, get a snack, and use the privy. Trophy Wife doesn’t come by so she must have bikes on, meaning that now i am behind her again. I hope that when I start hiking again I will regain my hiker high. I still have over 10 miles to go and I would love for it to go by quickly. The hike out of the shelter begins with an uphill but the majority of the remainder is down. The uphill is longer than I thought, and although I power up it well I am thankful when I start going down again.
For the next 3 hours or so I am on a downhill. I feel good and my pack feels light. My knee doesn’t bother me and my blister is an afterthought. On some flatter portions I even try trail running at an admittedly slow pace. The trail is well-graded since it is used for horses too, which means lots of switchbacks. As I approach one switchback I see a large pile of rocks with an overlook. When I get there the view is so great that I decide to cancel my plans to try to beat Trophy Wife to the hostel and instead stop to enjoy the view. While I am there I take advantage of the cell signal to post a blog entry and check my email, where I discover that although my niece’s birthday is coming up she is ok with me not being there because “Uncle Travis is hiking in the woods.”
The rest of the downhill hike is uneventful. At the bottom UV and Ninja catch me. The trail passes under I-40 and we have some trouble figuring out which way to go until we realize the guardrails and traffic signs are blazed for us. From there it is a short hike tithe hostel. On the way though we run into Trophy Wife who has stopped for some trail magic. Apparently one hiker who is getting off the trail went to town and got a ton of food and brought it back to give to other hikers. He has snack cakes, cookies, sodas, beers, and he is making calzones on a fire. We stop to enjoy but I am wary of spending too long. I don’t want to lose my space in the hostel because I spent too long at the trail magic. I push on up the road to the hostel where I find that only a few bunks are left. I run back and let the others know so they can grab a bunk before they run out.
The hostel is an interesting place. It is only a few hundred yards off the AT. It has a fully stocked hiker resupply pantry (I do mean fully stocked, including spray cream cheese, which none of us have seen before). The accommodations are primitive, but work well enough. The bunkhouse is not heated, laundry is done using a washboard (but they have a heated dryer), and the kitchen is tiny. However we don’t need much, and we all agree that the hot shower we receive and the bunkhouse are well worth the money. I go on a beer run with the owner and several other hikers and pick up some beers for us for the night. Trophy Wife hangs out with me, UV, and Ninja for the night. The rest of the hikers staying here are somewhat more eclectic and err more on the partying side of the trail experience. By 6 several of them are slightly worse than tipsy and we wonder how they plan to hike hungover.
In the morning we hope to be up early. We are thinking about camping on Max Patch tomorrow which would be a mostly uphill 14 mile day. I plan to start the day off with 2 Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches from the hiker resupply before I get hiking again on the Appalachian Trail.