13.2 miles, 328.2 overall (Whistling Gap campsite)
First of all, thank you to everyone for your support yesterday. I was able to get cell signal several times throughout the day and it was great to see the supportive comments. It was a long day but it was worth it on many levels. First, it was something I had been thinking about doing for a while and it just felt right – the timing was perfect just after a zero day, my feet were feeling good, and I had my trail legs. Second, the fundraising for Delta Society absolutely blew up. In one day the amount raised for them through my blog more than doubled, so THANK YOU! Of course remember that you can still donate until the end of my hike by clicking the “donate now” button to the right. They are a worthwhile cause every day of the year. Finally I should add that another hiker named TP (because he’s always bringing up the rear) also did a 32 mile day. He is a former VT student and although he hasn’t yet graduated he has been working in Blacksburg the last few years and plans to finish his degree soon. When he heard about my plans in Hot Springs he jumped on board too – a great example of Hokie pride and what Hokie Nation is all about.
In the interest of time and space allow me to deviate from my normal format a bit to cover some highlights/thoughts from yesterday.
The section I hiked yesterday covered a wide variety of trail conditions. It started in deciduous forest, climbed to a rocky ridge, descended to a prescribed burn area, passed several grave sites, road walked for over a mile, and finally took us over barbed wire fences and through some pasture land. I did take a few moments to stop and enjoy the scenery but not too many. I started hiking at 5:30am and as it was I didn’t finish until 8:10. When I did finish I was happy to find Bob and Trophy Wife at the shelter. They had a fire going and Bob gave me some water so I wouldn’t have to make a trip to the spring. Trophy Wife also gave me some Gold Bond for some chafing issues (thanks you two!).
Which leads me to my final thoughts from yesterday: the keys to big miles. First, eat a lot. I made sure to eat at least a couple hundred calories every 2 hours, if not more often. I believe I ate 1 panda licorice, 2 Snickers, some pork stew and ice cream (thanks Hercules and Fal for the trail magic!), 3 Pro bars, some dark chocolate, a cup or 2 of trail mix, a Clif bar, and a chocolate latte bar from home. I’m probably forgetting some food in there somewhere. Second, drink lots of water. Dehydration is a hiker’s worst enemy. Third, I had music the whole time. It helped immensely and I’m glad I did it. I usually hike purist-style with no headphones, but I knew I needed the extra boost yesterday. And finally, prevent chafing. I didn’t do the last well enough. It was a hot day which leads to sweat. Sweat leads to rubbing. I got chafed in really weird places like under my arms (shoulder straps + hiking pole movement). Usually chafing isn’t a problem for me, but when you almost double your mileage I suppose these things happen.
And now to return to the normal format:
I sleep soundly through the night – no waking up every hour this time. When I do wake it is 7:30. Too early. I am sleeping in today. At 8:00 I hear Bob and Trophy Wife leaving. Back to sleep. At 9 I finally wake for good, but I putz around in my tent until 9:30. I am debating what to do today. I have 2 options: zero at the shelter, or hike on some small amount. The shelter isn’t particularly special and it’s water source is 0.2 miles up the AT, so I’m not inclined to stay. I pack up and leave my tent. By 10:15 I am on the trail, planning to hike slowly and stop when I feel like it.
My first order of business is water. I am bone dry. I plan to fill up at the spring on the way out of the shelter. It is supposed to be 0.2 miles north of the shelter, but about a half mile down the trail I still don’t see it. Instead of doubling back to look for it I hike on. Worst case: I won’t have water for the next 6 miles according to the data book. However there are often sources that aren’t listed.
2 miles in I run into TP. He started a little ahead of me yesterday so he finished a little ahead too. He didn’t make it to camp until 11:00 and also needs water. I hike to the gap ahead hoping for some liquid trail magic at the road. No luck. I hike on further. About a mile past the gap I finally find a spring. It isn’t the easiest water to get but by using a stick, the miracle that is water tension, and some patience I am able to fill my bladder with 2 liters. I immediately (after treating it) drink the first liter and save the second. Then I get 2 more liters. When I’m almost done TP catches up and grabs some too.
I hike several more miles up a hill, but as I hike storm clouds are gathering. There are supposed to be thunderstorms today, and it looks like they’re coming our way. I am nearing a large bald as it begins to rain, but as luck would have it I am hungry and there is a perfect rock outcropping to sit under to stay dry. I make myself a late lunch while it rains, hoping the weather will pass. I can hear thunder in the distance and remember the lesson I learned from my shakedown hike about not moving to high ground when I hear thunder nearby. By the time I’m done eating the rain has stopped but I can still hear the occasional thunder in the distance. I decide to climb the bald and beat feet off of it.
When I get to the top it is misty. I can see the closest surrounding mountains but not much further than that. I move quickly across the open land and soon I’ve descended into forest again. It starts to rain again but not very hard and a short distance later I am at the next shelter. It is 4:00 and I’ve done 10 miles. On a normal day at this point in my thru-hike this would be terrible, but today I’m happy with it. However the next town, Erwin, is 16 miles from this shelter. By hiking a bit further I could make it to Erwin early tomorrow and potentially have a spot at the hostel. The shelter isn’t incredibly special and I feel ok to hike on. TP is also there and agrees with the plan. After a snack we both leave.
The plan is to hike 3 miles more to a gap that has a campsite and water source. The miles go quickly even though it begins raining on us again as soon as we leave the shelter. It is a ground soaking rain, not too heavy but steady with big raindrops. We make good time and when we arrive at the gap we find a thru-hiker named Hopalong who has already got a fire going. Luckily it has stopped raining, allowing us to set up tents and get water without too much trouble. However by the time I sit down by the fire to start cooking it starts raining again. When I look in the direction from which the wind is coming all I see are storm clouds, so I make a quick decision to cook and eat in my tent instead. I make a cooking area in my vestibule and sit in the tent on my Thermarest, making extra sure not to spill any food morsels that might attract animals during the night. A short time later I am dry with a full stomach. I venture outside during a brief break in the rain to hang my food and then return to the tent for the night.
It feels strange to call a 13 mile day a recovery day. Not so long ago I limited myself (or tried to anyway) to 8 miles per day. The human body has an amazing capacity with the right amount of training and preparation. I’ve always found it interesting that after several weeks of intense physical training your body can stop getting sore. Instead your muscles simply get tired. If I remember my biology correctly, the soreness is caused by lactic acid which is created when your cells switch to anaerobic respiration because they aren’t getting enough oxygen. The lack of soreness means either you are creating less lactic acid because your body is becoming more efficient, or your body is recovering faster and breaking it down before you get sore. Either way, I like it!
I also like this idea of hiking until I am tired. Up to now I’ve been focused on getting my body into shape. At first I couldn’t do too many miles. Then I had to be careful not to ramp up too quickly. Because of those limits and because I was hiking with a group we always picked a destination before we left camp. Now I am at the point where I can do almost any mileage I want. I am also not hiking with anyone, having left UV and Ninja behind with my high mileage day. I like the freedom of picking any campsite or shelter I like. At least for now I don’t mind the trade off of the lack of company.
Tomorrow I can easily make it to Erwin and have a town night if I want to hike the 13 miles. Alternatively I could stop short and let the others catch up. Both options have appeal. It is supposed to rain all night and into tomorrow, so maybe that will have an impact on my decision. We’ll see how I feel when I wake up tomorrow morning on the Appalachian Trail.