AT Day 3 – Alone
Jarrard Gap to Sheep Rock Top
I Miss My Beard Camp to Sunny and I Like It Camp
AT miles: 15.3
Total miles: 49.8
Elevation change: 4692ft gain, 4580ft loss
Well, it finally feels like my thru-hike has begun. Not that the hike so far was nothing, just that it was sobering to watch the last of my friends walk away down the trail, leaving me alone to make my way north. Not since the PCT in 2015 have I face something this large with just me and my backpack. It worked out then, and I have to believe it will work out now. I get to see SpiceRack in two months. At this point, two months feels like a good approximation of forever.
Rooster and I lucked out with our campsite. Sure, it may have been below 20F when I started moving, but at least we were out of the wind. It screamed through the canopy, leaving our side of the mountain alone. My fingers darn near froze off as I shook the ice from my tent and packed up. The sun and the moon both shone their warming light our way through a crystal clear sky.
The 8:30am start didn’t set any records, but we were fed and pooped by the time we made it back to the trail. Back to the wind as well. Once again I wished that I still had my beard to keep my poor little chin cozy. Plenty of uphill and all of my layers kept the rest of me comfortable as Rooster and I navigated the switchbacks up Blood Mountain. AT thru-hikers showed up in force this morning, and we shared in the first big climb of the trail.
The view from the flat summit boulder was worth every calorie burned to reach it. Coming to the AT with low expectations in the view department, I was pleasantly surprised by the sweeping vista. Someone more knowledgeable than I may have recognized the route so far over the rolling gray knobs, but I just enjoyed seeing to the mysterious horizon.
Rooster had a date waiting down at Neels Gap, so we booked it down the steep north slope of Blood. Some icy patches made us think a little bit, while also convincing me that maybe carrying my microspikes wasn’t such a bad idea after all. My left knee twinged and yelled a few times during the descent, and I told myself to manage it with care and stretching rather than with worry.
We met Jenny at the Mountain Crossing overlook. She was suitably frozen despite the bright sunshine, after waiting for us for well over one hour. Curious to guage whether she was good enough for my friend, I was happy to find that she was easy going, funny, and tolerant of sweaty hiker hugs. No worries here.
I breezed through the iconic stone building of the Mountain Crossing outfitter at Neels, quickly perusing the excellent gear selection and gathering about a day’s worth of Clif Bars and peanut butter to supplement my dwindling food stores. Without more than one last quick walk down memory lane, revisiting the rainy visit two years prior with SpiceRack, I hefted my pack and fell into line behind the other two, Jenny, up from Atlanta to collect Rooster, leading the way.
We hiked a few miles before stopping to bask and eat lunch on a sunny rock. Jokes and ideas for dubious business ventures made their rounds. I thoroughly enjoyed the company, practically soaked in it knowing that when we started walking again, I would be the only one headed north. After a classic Rooster long-arm selfie, we split, and the weight of the trail finally settled on my shoulders, the time between now and Spice’s arrival in the east weighing heavy on my heart.
I wasn’t alone with my thoughts for long, joining Ironwill on the rollercoaster through the forest. Tall, but with a thin frame and billowing clothes that made him look even thinner, he told me, in the most pleasant southern accent, about his thru-hikes of the AT and CDT. With the patchy stubble of youth, I wasn’t surprised to hear that he was only 20, but finishing the AT after breaking his femur was notable for sure, hence the name. Well earned, I think.
He cruised away, leaving me with the freedom of answering to no one but myself. The trail was beautiful and easy. Dark ridges rose and fell like a serpent’s back, visible through the bare tree trunks. Brown leaves littered the trail, swishing and crunching with each step.
With the sun getting low, and a nice campsite on the forested ridge, I decided to camp a little bit early, around 6pm. Stretching and couscous carried me until bedtime, which comes immediately after dinner no matter what time it actually is. Bright stars shone, distorted, through my tent. The wind rustled gently. By myself, I won’t lie and say that I wasn’t lonely, but I did feel that everything would be alright.
This post was originally published on my blog hikefordays.com. Check it out for trip reports from my other hikes including the CDT and Sierra High Route.
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