NC

The one where I leave NC for good

April 21

18 miles, 400.7 overall (Mountaineer Falls shelter)
The mice start moving before we are asleep. I can hear them squeaking and scurrying around. I’ve hung my bag from one of the rafters and sealed it shut, so I hope that will be sufficient deterrent during the night. Unfortunately there is also a very loud snorer. This is ok by me, as long as he doesn’t stop breathing I can still sleep. What I can’t sleep through is the hiker who takes it upon himself to come upstairs and yell, “Boy, quit snoring! You need to get that checked out by a doctor or something!” The way things are going I should probably invest in some earplugs.

In the morning I get up and out before almost everyone else. As a result I am the first to reach the 2 balds in the morning: Little Hump Mtn and Hump Mtn. The view from Little Hump is amazing, but I can see the trail leading up Hump Mtn straight in front of me so I don’t waste much time here, preferring instead to spend my time on Hump Mtn. The trail to Hump Mtn is longer than I thought and it reminds me of hiking in Denali where everything is further away and bigger than it seems. Although I could see the summit of Hump Mtn from Little Hump, on the trail the distance is actually just over 2 miles. I enjoy the 2 miles though. The openness evokes thoughts of what I think the Scottish highlands must be like and I briefly picture myself as Mel Gibson in Braveheart.

On my way up Hump Mtn I can see a line of hikers coming up behind me. I wonder (although I think I can make an educated guess) who will be the first up after me. At the top I grab a snack and take some pictures, including one back toward Roan which is socked in with fog this morning. It’s not long before the next hiker arrives and sure enough it is TW. The first thing I say to her is “Slow down!” She doesn’t appreciate the brisk breeze and is off the summit before I am.

The next few miles take us downhill to a road. They are mostly uneventful except for the fact that along this downhill we finally leave North Carolina for good. Since Fontana we have been criss-crossing between NC and Tennessee, mostly following the border except when the trail deviates to hit trail towns (e.g. Hot Springs). For the next 75 miles or so we will be in TN until just before Damascus.

I try to contain my expectations for trail magic, but this time I’m not so successful and I’m disappointed when I reach the road crossing at the bottom and find none. I make my way across the road and shortly up the trail find TW sitting on a rock playing on her phone. She has been here for an hour already, calling family and such. She claims to have been here an hour already (granted some of that time is due to me stopping for water, but I don’t tell her that). I snack and play on my phone briefly before moving on after her.

I had a request for trail magic instructions so let me pause here to give some guidance on trail magic. AWOL has a whole page in the data book listing guidelines that I will try to remember to upload when I have good signal but for now you’ll have to make do with my quick lesson. Trail magic comes in 2 basic varieties: the donor is present or they’ve left something for us to find. Both have their positives and negatives. When folks are present it is usually at road crossings and we tend to stick around to socialize. They have various food available from sodas and Little Debbie’s to hamburgers and hot dogs and chili. For hikers any food is welcome, but we especially love things we don’t tend to carry and things with high caloric content. Fruits and vegetables are great since we only get them in towns. Snack cakes are always great. Beer is welcome, but you run the risk of people having too many so you may want to be careful if you go that route. When the donor is not present we don’t stay as long, if at all. Sometimes they leave a note with the food with instructions such as pack out your trash, or leave the trash so they can pick it up later. As long as instructions are clear, safe from moisture, and not easily lost/blown away they tend to be followed. In the absence of a note hikers use their own discretion, usually opting to pack out any garbage. I have seen one very intricate trail magic site where the donor had a large bucket of snacks suspended in a tree to keep it safe from bears. I have also seen a simple pack of beers chilling by the road (although in a cool stream is better!). Last week I saw an IGA cold bag hanging on a fence. How intricate you make the drop is your choice, just leave it in a noticeable spot on the trail away from where day hikers would tend to find it.

The next 2 miles take us back uphill, this time along what seems to be a Jeep path through grass and brambles. It seems like perfect tick habitat and I make a note to check myself later. It is still early for ticks but I want to play it safe. I also want to get in the habit of checking for them before I hit the mid-Atlantic states where they will become more common. At the top is a cemetery that appears to still be in use. It makes me ponder for a few minutes whether I would like to be buried near the trail, or whether I would like to be buried at all or rather cremated. I don’t come to any big conclusions and my mind quickly wanders to another topic.

After winding across some roads and streams I catch TW taking a break on the trail. She has apparently hurt her Achilles and is in pain. I give her some vitamin I and a pep talk. We have about 4 miles to go and most of it is flat or downhill so it shouldn’t pull on her tendon too much. It does however look like the storm clouds that have been threatening all day might drop on us soon so I put my pack cover on. I leave before TW while she waits for the meds to kick in.

Up ahead is a side trail to a waterfall. I need a snack so I have already decided to sothe 0.1 mile side trail, but at the turnoff I run into a trail maintenance crew. I chat with them briefly about their work and how to report problems on the trail if we find any. They assure me the waterfall is worth the side trip and when I get there they were right. The falls are impressive and, in case they aren’t wet enough, as I arrive it begins to rain. While I’m there TW catches up so we take each other’s picture. From here we hike together to the shelter.

Mountaineer Falls shelter seems to be relatively new and was designed with suggestions from thru-hikers taken into account. It features three levels and holds 14 hikers. It has three ladders to the second level, one in the middle and one on each side. It also has hooks everywhere for hanging gear and a bench/table system at the front of the shelter for cooking. The water source is the top of the falls we pass on the way to the shelter (the second waterfall today). Although it lacks a privy a shovel is provided, which is a welcome amenity. When we arrive there are several other hikers there too. They stayed at a hostel up the road from the gap that lacked trail magic and have only hiked about 10 miles today. It seems like since Hot Springs I have been passing a lot of people still doing low mileage days. I wonder if these hikers will be able to increase their pace in Virginia where the trail gets flatter or whether they’ll continue with the low mileage. It would be hard to reach Katahdin in time averaging 10 miles per day from here.

Before we go to sleep the others tell jokes and mess around for a while. Two of them decide that in the spirit of whoever changed Swinging Lick Gap to Swinging Dick Gap we should also change Mountaineer Falls shelter to Mountaineer Balls shelter. It only takes a Sharpie and a bored thru-hiker to wind up with some creative graffiti on the Appalachian Trail.20120424-095312.jpg20120424-095329.jpg20120424-095352.jpg20120424-095508.jpg20120424-095519.jpg20120424-095623.jpg20120424-101436.jpg

Categories: NC, TN | 11 Comments

The one where I sleep in a barn

April 20

23.7 miles, 382.7 overall (Overmountain shelter)
We are all up early but TW is a little faster and gets out of camp first at precisely 8:00. She hikes very quickly so I doubt I will catch her until she takes a break. I take the time to sign the shelter register before I leave. TP is taking down his tent when I get going.

The first few miles go slowly as I warm up. I pass a couple of day hikers on the way to the first gap. There is a road there but I don’t expect anything since it is early and we are still somewhat close to Erwin. However as I get closer I notice lawn chairs and a man gets out of his car. “Trail magic?” he inquires. “Definitely!” is my response. Mango was a thru-hiker in 2006 and tries to get out to this gap early enough to catch people coming from the last shelter on weekends. He has apparently missed TW and I make sure to remember to rub it in later when I see her. We have been discussing how she should slow down and this is a perfect example of why. I get a soda, a Ding Dong, and some cookies while I talk to Mango. We discuss the AT, the PCT (which he has also hiked parts of), and he asks about my backpack. When I am getting ready to leave TP arrives so I stay a few minutes more before pushing on.

I start to tune out while I hike the next section until I hear voices coming from ahead on the trail. As I get closer I realize they aren’t just voices. They are people making karate noises – “waaaaaaah!” Are there locals out here drinking? It seems a little early for that. When I get closer I realize what it is. The group that pushed on yesterday is camped here. Upon my arrival they explain that they are playing Ninja, which consists of moving one at a time into ninja poses and strategically positioning yourself to slap the other people’s hands. They invite me to join in but I have a lot of miles left so I am mostly satisfied with a picture of their shenanigans. If I run into them again I may join in.

The trail is undulating today, climbing for a few hundred feet and then descending again. I pass the road to Greasy Creek hostel, which I find out later was not a great place to stay. Apparently the owners and the neighbor are feuding and the neighbor starts his lawnmower at 5am every day. This may be related to the reason TW doesn’t want to be alone on this section. Apparently a couple decades ago when the trail was rerouted through this area the land was obtained in a way that made some of the locals angry. According to stories from other hikers for a time it was dangerous to hike through this area. Some talk of fish hooks hanging from trees and things like that. Nowadays the hostility seems to have died down but you can still see evidence of the dislike of the trail in painted over blazes, stolen signs, and other such acts of vandalism. Acts of violence are considered rare now, but hikers still exercise caution in the area just in case. I don’t know for sure, but the Greasy Creek feud may be related. However let me pause here to add that, when asked, no hikers I have talked to have been able to cite examples that have occurred recently (i.e. in the last decade) and all of the locals I have run into have been just as nice here as in previous sections. Apart from a painted over blaze or two (which may or may not be vandalism, it may actually be trail maintenance/re-routing) I haven’t seen any of the problems hikers talk about. I continue to practice the same precautionary measures I do on all parts of the trail – be alert, know approximately where other hikers are, camp in designated areas when possible, and be extra cautious at road crossings.

I stop at the next shelter to get water before going up Roan Mtn. Since my big mileage day I have been hiking in a new “bubble” of hikers and have been meeting new people often. At this shelter I meet Animal. He is trying to do his whole hike on less than $1,000. To do this he has bought cheaper gear but it tends to be more bulky and heavy. As a result he has less space in his pack. To add to this problem he buys his food in bulk – he carries a month’s worth of food at a time. To do this he carries his food in a 5 gallon bucket. Just another example of someone hiking his own hike.

Roan Mtn is the last really difficult climb for quite some time. This year it is somewhat easier because the trail maintainers have rerouted the trail to include switchbacks for a good portion. The first half of the climb is long but well-graded. However the second half is torture. It is one of the steepest climbs, rivaling Jacob’s Ladder. In my mind I wonder if somehow the G at the beginning of the name got dropped off at some point. At the top we are rewarded with no view. I go the few feet off the trail to “tag up” at what, as near as I can tell, is the absolute highest point on the mountain. At least it does smell like Christmas at the top, but I am really tired and I still have 8 miles left to go for the day.

The descent is long and most of the trail is the type of rocky roadway that hikers loathe because of the increased likelihood of ankle injuries. I try to keep my eyes out for the Roan High Knob shelter but miss it because of the focus I am keeping on my foot placements. It is getting late in the afternoon and I still have a few miles left to reach the goal: Overmountain Shelter, an old barn that has been converted into a shelter for hikers and has become an icon of the AT.

At the bottom of Roan there is a road through the gap but no trail magic. I move on to what seemed in the data book to be a few easy hills before the downhill to the shelter. The easy hills actually turn out to be balds that are several hundred feet tall each. Although each has a great view and I stop for some pictures, at this point I am ready for the day to be over. On the downhill I pass Stan Murray shelter but I am not inclined to stop. First, it is less than 2 miles to Overmountain. Second, Master Splinter is one of the hikers staying there and I haven’t heard good things about him. The few minutes I spend there talking to the other hikers confirm the hearsay. Third, TW was at this shelter at 4:30 (she recorded the time in the register) so I know she moved on. After a quick snack I am on my way again.

By the time I reach Overmountain shelter it is around 7:00. The shelter is certainly unique, but I don’t have a lot of time to enjoy it. After I pick out my spot in the loft I start cooking dinner. TP shows up too, also able to do the long miles today. By the time we are done with dinner and ready for bed it is 8:30, past the time I usually am in my sleeping bag. Other hikers are already sleeping, and after a tough day I am jealous of their timing. I joke with TW, “who planned for us to do 23 miles over Roan Mtn?” Of course the answer is me. At least tomorrow we have an easier day planned on the Appalachian Trail.

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Categories: NC, TN | 3 Comments

The Christmas inhalation

April 19

17.5 miles, 359 overall (Cherry Gap shelter)
The night is uneventful, a nice change of pace from the last 2 hostel experiences. Uncle Johnny’s hostel was a neat place and has restored my faith in these pillars of the AT community. In the morning I pack my gear and take it outside while everyone else sleeps so I can eat breakfast on the picnic table. Other hikers soon begin to gather around waiting for the 9:00 breakfast shuttle. As they leave TW and I are putting on our heavy, resupplied packs to start hiking.

The trail takes us over the Nolichucky River and back into the woods. Unlike most trails leaving town this one is not incredibly steep and we ascend next to a mountain stream. The stream is not as great as Ogelsby Branch was, but it is still enjoyable. In only 4 miles we reach the first shelter and find Flugelhorn still preparing to get moving for the day. I discover he is a recent VT graduate and we spend a few minutes talking before he moves on. TW and I stay a little longer for a snack. The shelter is only about 2 years old and so has less graffiti than others. However 2 things catch our eyes: first, the American flag in the second floor, and second, the “pizza and beer challenge”. We take pictures of both.

We move on soon but the trail is uneventful for the next few miles until we climb to a bald called Beauty Spot. The view is amazing and we pause briefly for a snack and a break. There is a large group there including Flugelhorn who have been hiking together for a while. They have set up to stay for a while, but we want to reach the shelter early today and the big climb of the day is still ahead.

The data book says, “Unaka Mountain, dense spruce forest”. We can see the mountain from the Beauty Spot but the forest on top doesn’t look incredibly dense. On the way we do find a snake in the middle of the trail that has a salamander in its mouth – pretty neat. The climb looks as if it will be steep, but once we start it isn’t that bad. The trail has lots of switchbacks and is graded well. When we do reach the top it reminds me a lot of the Smokies. It is completely different from the deciduous forest I’m used to. I take my time passing through, enjoying the Christmas smell of the area and some of the new plant life. The forest does turn out to be rather dense, and we praise AWOL (the author of the data book we are using) for the accurate description. On the other side we go downhill and transition back to deciduous forest before we reach the shelter for the night.

The shelter is old and not appealing. We both prefer to tent if possible anyway and since there won’t be rain for a few days we set up our tents. Unfortunately while setting mine up I make a genius move and wind up breaking my tent pole. Luckily I brought a piece with me that will fit around the break and serve as a temporary fix. I make a note to call the supplier soon to find out about a replacement. Hopefully once I drop “thru-hiker” in the conversation they will replace it for free. If not I may get to buy a lighter tent after all!

TP catches up to us a short time later. He is continuing to match my mileage since our long day. The group from Beauty Spot arrives too but they plan to push on to a campsite ahead. Their plan is to zero tomorrow for 4/20 so some of them can enjoy some recreational inhalation items. TP, TW and I end up being the only ones at the shelter and we all tent. We’re in our tents before sundown, getting some good rest for a long next day over Roan Mtn on the Appalachian Trail.

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Categories: NC, TN | 1 Comment

My hostel paradox

April 18

13.3 miles, 341.5 overall (Uncle Johnny’s Nolichucky hostel, Erwin)
It rains constantly all night. When I wake up I don’t hold out much hope for it to stop. The weather report has been calling for rain all week and its consistency all night means it probably won’t let up soon. I pack as much as I can in my tent before I venture out to get my food bags. When I retrieve them I return to the tent for a dry breakfast. Since it is cold and wet I indulge with a cup of coffee. When I’m done I pack up the tent and put the remaining items in my pack. By now it is 8:30 and people from the shelter a few miles back are beginning to pass by. I see no signs of life from TP’s tent.

The hike begins with a moderate uphill. I’m quickly overheated with the 2 shirts and rain jacket I have on so I remove a shirt as well as unzipping my pants to convert them to shorts. Although I’ll get wet, there’s no avoiding that today and I’d rather not sweat on top of it.

After the small hill it is downhill to a gap, then up again. On this climb though the trail follows Ogelsby Branch up the mountain. When streams along the trail have names it is a signal that they are large. This one is definitely large, and it is flowing even stronger due to the rain. It has cascades all along its reach and in several places we cross footbridges just in front of a cascade. It is by far my favorite stream so far on the trail and it makes the uphill climb enjoyable for me.

After the climb it is a series of small undulations until the next shelter. I am chasing one of the section hikers who stayed at the shelter before me last night. He is faster than his buddies and has been pacing well with me all day. He reaches the shelter first and we both stop for a snack. Inside the shelter is a hiker in his sleeping bag. For a moment I wonder if he is alive until I hear him snore. Apparently when faced with hiking in the rain he chose sleeping in the shelter. No rain, no Maine….

From the shelter it is a tediously long 3 miles, downhill of course, into Erwin. I have decided I am going to go ahead and get there today. If I’m going to hike in the rain and have the possibility of a shower, laundry, and AYCE dinner at the end of it then I’m going to take it! This will put me a day ahead of UV and Ninja who don’t plan to arrive until tomorrow, but it will keep me caught up with Trophy Wife (TW) and Bob. I have a mail drop waiting for me at the hostel and I decide I will check things out before deciding whether to stay there.

When I arrive at Uncle Johnny’s hostel the guy working is gone on a shuttle run but I recognize Walker and Can Do, a couple I met on my 32 mile day. They explain that they ran out of dog food for their dog and called the hostel from a gap to get picked up. They have arranged for work-for-stay and inform me that the hostel is a great place. I am sure they are right, but it is the people staying there that I am more worried about. However I decide to take my chances. When Graham, the guy running the place, returns I pay for a bunk and laundry. Graham is perhaps the most like-able hostel caretaker yet, rivaling the group at the hostel in Hot Springs. He jokes often and never makes anyone feel silly when they ask where something is. In short order he has me set up and I proceed to the first order of business: a shower.

The shower is amazing. The water is hot and, as has become custom, I wash twice. Even so I still find some dirt on my feet when I inspect them afterward. I start my laundry and set about evaluating what I’ll need for the next few days. The hostel provides a free shuttle into town and back three times a day for meals and resupply. I will be on the dinner shuttle.

While fiddling around at the hostel I get word that TW is staying here in one of the cabins. I’m surprised since she and Bob had planned to stay at a hotel instead. When I go back to look for her I find her immediately airing her tent out to dry. I like the idea and start drying my tent as well while getting her story. Apparently Bob disappeared yesterday and nobody is quite sure where he went. Piecing together some conversations and voicemails, it seems something happened at home and he had to leave the trail. We all hope he is ok and is able to return. He’s a great guy and we’ll all miss him while he’s gone.

TW is not excited about hiking the section from here to Damascus alone. She has heard things about this stretch of trail and had planned to hike with Bob. With him gone and with UV and Ninja a day behind me, we team up for the next several days. I plot out a schedule based on what mileages I think are possible for me, making sure to include the shelters and hostels I want to stay at, and run the plan by her. It gets us through the section in 7 days, and we both like it. We both plan to meet our significant other in Damascus next weekend, so it seems like the trail may have brought us together for a reason.

The dinner shuttle drops us off in Erwin and we make tracks to KFC which has an all-you-can-eat (AYCE) buffet. For $8 we can eat all the chicken, green beans, mashed potatoes, fried okra, bread pudding, etc we desire. I put away a full 2 plates (I didn’t have much for lunch) plus some dessert. From there it is on to IGA for resupply. I split tortillas and bagels with TW since neither of us need a full package, and I find the deliciously-bad-for-you gas station type fruit pies for snacks (4oz, 400 calories!). Some Snickers, cheese, and a 6 pack of Blue Moons to be shared at the hostel round out the resupply.

By 8:30 we are back and I take some time to sort through everything. Christy sent more than I need for this section (better than the alternative) so I take my favorites and give the rest away, earning myself some hiker bonus points. It is late already for hikers, but we stay up to watch Crimson Tide before going to sleep. We joke about the prevalence of concurring in the movie when missile launch drills are done and get excited when the discordance begins. I finally get to bed at almost 11. Tomorrow we have planned a 17 mile day to set ourselves up for Roan Mtn later this week. Hopefully we’ll get there before the cold front moves in over the Appalachian Trail!

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Categories: NC, TN | 6 Comments

My recovery day

April 17

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.

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Categories: Fundraising, NC, TN | 6 Comments

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