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Appalachian Trail: Days 6-11

Day 6, cont. - March 6th


I know we've only been hiking for 5 days, but wowww did a day in town feel great! I don't think a hotel room has ever felt like such a luxury. A shower has never left me feeling cleaner. A load of laundry has never brought me such joy.


Even the hotel breakfast was fun. Dee, the woman running food service - "Dee for Dee-lightful," "fourth letter followed by two fives" - was just a hoot, and she made sure we went to our rooms with full bellies and smiling faces.

Dee, food service extraordinaire

I got a patella strap for my knee, thermal leggings at the local outfitter, and a bunch of food at the grocery store. Along with some granola bars and dried mangoes for my trail food resupply, I got a bag of potato chips, and the grapes I so craved, and a lemon plum (whatever that is). And a giant salad. I thought I'd be craving something greasy and calorie-dense, but I really just wanted produce in my system. I ate almost a full bag of grapes throughout the day, and put the remainder in my bear can.


The evening was spent in James and Wilson's room, drinking beer and eating our various fruits and vegetables. By 7:30 or so, we were all wiped, and Mitch and I retired to our room next door.



We stayed up later than usual - 9:15. Amazing what warmth and electric lighting will do! Also Monsters Inc. was on tv and we couldn't resist.


Day 7 - March 7th

Daily miles: 10.4

Official distance covered on trail: 62.9


Actually had to set an alarm to be awake before 7:00. We were anyway, but just wanted to be sure. Getting out of a warm and comfortable bed (and room with walls that blocked the wind) was tough, especially knowing that tonight's supposed to be really cold.


After enjoying a warm hotel breakfast, a couple at the hotel offered us all a ride back to Unicoi Gap so we could resume our hike. Way easier than trying to get a hitch for 4 hikers!


The hike started with a brutal and long uphill, and I only slipped on an icy rock once! Enough to get fresh mud all over my freshly laundered fleece, which was by far the most upsetting part of that fall. There were a lot of really cool ice formations in the grass and dirt, as if individual flecks were decked in their own icy cover.



The terrain was full of long ups and long downs. My right knee is starting to bother me a good amount, even with the patella strap I got in town. At least everyone seems to be struggling with something. Mostly knees and achilles tendons. There's a large family we keep encountering who's finishing their Triple Crown - they hiked the Pacific Crest Trail and the Continental Divide Trail last year and the year before - and we overheard some of them talking about how their knees have never been more uncomfortable as they have been this trail, so that's somewhat vindicating. Still wish my knees wouldn't hurt, though.


Lent my trekking poles for a bit to a kid named Tom, who just graduated high school but I thought was older than me. He also told me, after I said I was a teacher and I'll be teaching 10th grade math next year, that if I told him I was a senior in high school, he'd believe me, so that's swell. His knees have also been bothering him, but he doesn't carry poles, and watching him limp down the mountain was as painful for me as my patella. We've passed each other a bunch so far, and he joined our group for the day.



One of the features we passed today was called "Swag of the Blue Ridge." After looking it up, we learned that a swag is a low point between two peaks, and not some indication that this point of the trail was particularly confident. We all giggled at the name, so it's good to see our sense of humor has diminished. "Maybe the Swag of the Blue Ridge was in us all along" Wilson, pg. 27. Additional nearby points of names of interest are Young Lick Knob and Dick's Creek Gap (the latter of which happens to be at mile 69 - can't make that shit up), and I wish we were mature enough to look past it, but honestly we're just not.



Most of what I've eaten today was that bag of potato chips, since they couldn't fit in my bear can and I didn't want to waste them, and the remainder of the grapes. Mitch had the same dilemma with his jalapeño Cheetos, and Wilson with the leftover beer, so we had to ("had to") polish all those off before the end of the day.



We were hoping to get a few miles further, but after all of us reassessed our various injuries, we decided to call it a day after 10 miles, even though we stopped before 3:00. None of us wanted to be the one to slow the group down, but fortunately Mitch had the wherewithal to notice all of our pain and call it on all of our behalves.



Not sure which I want more: warmer evenings or no more knee pain. Both seem to be the only things making this experience less enjoyable.


Day 8 - March 8th

Daily miles: 10.8

Official distance covered on trail: 73.7


Didn't sleep well last night. My dilemma is I don't like when my face gets too cold, but I also hate breathing in warm air, so my options are: leave my face out of the sleeping bag and breathe in cold air, or tuck my face into my sleeping bag and breathe in warm air. Neither are great options for me, so I woke up a lot to try to readjust. Still probably got a good amount of sleep; when you're in your sleeping bag by 7:00pm, you're likely to get 7 or 8 hours over an 11 or 12 hour span, even if it's not continuous.


It was chilly when I got up at 7:00, but the sun was already coming out over the ridge. It wasn't long before I was warm enough to remove my fleece. May have had something to do with the lengthy uphill to begin the day. Kelly Knob, she's a massive bitch. Lots of uphill stretches today, but better for me than downs, so I didn't really mind. Still, our whole tramily is injured enough that we're still calling it at 10ish miles per day, and nobody is complaining about our immediate desires to push longer miles. It's not that I'm glad that other people are in pain, but it certainly is reassuring that everyone is struggling. At least I'm not the weak link in the bunch, you know?


The weather today has put me in a really good mood. It's almost warm; I can hike in a sports bra, but when I take a break, I immediately have to put on a heavy layer. A Georgia ATC volunteer told us yesterday that this time of year on the trail is usually colder and rainier, so I'm glad to be hitting better weather. Cold rain is not something I enjoy all that much.


I was the first in our group to reach the spot we'd agreed to camp at, Plum Orchard Gap Shelter. Upon arrival in the general area, I found a wonderful tree in the sun with big roots that looked like the right spot for sitting. It wasn't so much a nap as a bask, absorbing the sunlight while shutting my eyes and letting my thoughts wash over me. I don't even know what I was thinking about, but it's likely the closest I've ever gotten to meditation.





While waiting on the tree roots for my friends to come through, a section hiker named Sky came by and joined me for a break in the gap. He chose that for a trail name because, as he told me, it could also serve as his legal name and his darma name. We had a nice conversation about why we choose to spend our time hiking and what being on the trail means for us. After everyone I knew had come through, I decided to head to the shelter, and upon saying our goodbyes, he told me he "liked my energy," which I take as a huge compliment from someone who practices Buddhism. He also told me that the image of me sitting in thought under the shelter of a tree reminded him of Buddha seeking Enlightenment, and it was the first (and likely last) time I've ever been compared to any sort of deity or religious figure. Not sure I can accept such a comparison.



It's funny, spending so much of the day hiking and spending so little time actually thinking about the hiking itself. It's like the act of hiking is the in-between, and everything else is what's notable. I suppose it makes sense, but as I reread my daily thoughts, I can't help but wonder why so little of it is actually about most of what I do all day.


Oh! And tomorrow we'll cross the border into North Carolina! Last night in Georgia. In bed now; going to listen to some of my audiobook, but first I'm listening to an owl in the distance.


Day 9 - March 9th

Daily miles: 12.2

Official distance covered on trail: 85.9


One state down, thirteen to go! We officially crossed into North Carolina around 10:30 this morning. It felt SO GOOD crossing state lines - like I've actually accomplished something instead of being in a lengthy limbo between notable events.





It's easy for me to get stuck in a weird headspace where it feels like I'm working super hard all day for nothing in particular - waking up at one campsite just to hike to the next - especially if there are no notable views or landmarks or milestones to keep me grounded. Today was a helpful milestone. I am quite happy to be out of Georgia.


I think, though, that I'm too heavily motivated by instant success. Actually, I know this to be true. If I'm not immediately good at something, I'm hard-pressed to continue that activity. In that same vein, I get easily flustered if I'm not given a grand motivator during a day of hiking. We're 9 days in and I'm noticing that already; hopefully, I can get better at appreciating the small moments and finding motivation through those.



I know we have so much left to hike - we haven't even finished 5% of the trail - but now it feels (to me, anyway - everyone has their own criteria) like we're real long-distance hikers and not total novices playing pretend. My criteria are crossing a state border and having a trail name. I still don't have a trail name. Some have been offered up, but I'm waiting for one to feel just right. James is the only one in our tramily with a trail name: Very Nice (bonus points if you say it like Borat).


Day 10 - March 10th

Daily miles: 16.3

Official distance covered on trail: 102.2


My knees ache. My arches ache. My calves ache. And damn it if this isn't one of the best days I've ever had in my life.


From the beginning, it was bound to be a good day. The first mile and a half of gentle uphill was along the ridge line, which means we could see mountain views on either side of us. The view to our right was a stunning display of layered blues and hazes. Then there was an optional summit. The vista-to-challenge ratio was like 10:1. Getting to the top and looking out over the mountains - it was the epitome of amazement. It was a moment that, when I find myself struggling with motivation, I will remember as the freedom and joy that I came here to experience.





The next many miles were beautiful and honestly just pleasantly easy. We'd finished 7.6 miles before 11:30 - a little over 3 hours of hiking. I hiked most of that distance solo, and I felt nothing short of liberated. Whole minutes were spent smiling as I hiked. It felt like I was alive to experience that section of the trail. I can't explain it, but it was perfect. The gnarled tunnels of crooked trees, the gentle rolls of landscape, the exuberantly blue sky, the warm sun, the simplicity of each moment - those moments that I want to capture but simply cannot - that's why I'm here, right?




If we weren't trying to get into the next available town early to resupply and then hop back on the trail, we likely would have stopped at the creek 11.3 miles away from where we'd camped last night. However, we wanted to push distance today to make tomorrow's distance more manageable. As of now, 12 miles and a stop in town and getting back to the trail isn't feasible for us. The next option was to go an extra 5 miles over the next mountain and to the next shelter, since we weren't sure what offhand camping options there would be between the mountain and the shelter, and we figure 7 miles is a more manageable distance before heading into town. If the terrain is anything like today, maybe we'll be in town by lunch.


Getting over the next mountain meant a wildly fun (but challenging and knee-paining) quarter mile vertical rock scramble to a fire tower atop the mountain. Sadly, Very Nice decided not to join us due to knee pain, but hopefully he can rejoin us after taking some time off in Franklin. The fire tower was amazing. We were all so excited, and the views were incredible. The remaining 2.5 miles down to camp were the worst part of the day, not because they were the hardest, but because we were so exhausted by that point. However, we reached two big milestones today: our longest distance yet, and the 100 mile mark on the trail!!




Unofficial 100 mile mark at the fire tower
100 mile mark 0.3 miles past the fire tower!


Day 11 - March 11th

Daily miles: 7.5

Official distance covered on trail: 109.7

Booked our asses to Winding Stairs Gap so we could get into Franklin. Made it there before 11:00, enjoyed some good good trail magic, hiked a little further to set up camp, walked back to the gap to hitch into town, and we'll get back to camp later. But fuck am I in a good mood! First time hitch hiking, also first time riding in the bed of a truck. Mildly scary at highway speed but honestly in such a good mood. Currently at Lazy Hiker Brewing Co. in Franklin, NC. Can't grocery shop on an empty stomach, right?


Kentucky Krew comin in clutch with trail magic







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