Day 7: All Good

It’s Not Just the Distance

I learned something today.

Yesterday’s 14.3 miles was a new high for this hike. I finished yesterday like a champ, feeling strong and confident that I could make to Katahdin.

Today’s hike was only 2.4 miles longer, but I was dog-tired walking into Dick’s Creek Gap. Ironically, Roux was not. She still had energy enough for a game of chase with another doodle.

So here’s what I learned. It’s not just the distance. It’s distance & elevation together. And perhaps, it’s distance, elevation, and the cumulative effects of the previous days’ hikes. Today’s hike from Unacoi Gap to Dick’s Creek Gap had 4,908 feet of climbs (two of which were over 1,000 feet) and 5,063 feet of descent, in addition to the 16.7-mile length. Yesterday’s hike had only 3,000 feet of climbing spread over more than a dozen ascents, and no thousand-foot climbs.

Some Foreshadowing, For You Literary Types

By the way, my hiking buddy Brian developed a cool rating system for climbs that includes distance, elevation gain, and steepness. I’ll write more about that later when Brian joins me at Fontana to hike the Smokies.

And Now, Back to the News

Other than being long and tiring, today’s walk was a treat. I started before dawn, climbing out of the fog at Unacoi Gap and into blue sky views in both directions off the Blue Ridge. A group had set up breakfast trail magic at Tray Mountain, but they were just getting organized when I walked in before 8:00 am. I chatted briefly with a section hiker I’d seen previously, ate a banana, drank some Gatorade, and hiked on.

In the next gap, DrewB and crew were trying to restart last night’s rain-doused campfire, as well as disproving the adage that where there’s smoke, there’s fire. Bamhauser, who we’d taken into Hiawassee had returned to the trail, resupplying DrewB when he did, but had gotten ahead of him and was camped at the top of the second big climb. He was disappointed to hear that DrewB was making smoke and not miles.

A mile later I came across Fancy-Feast talking into his ipad – probably vlogging. He smiled and said he’d seen Roux the past two days and had admired how well-behaved she is on the trail. We leap-frogged after that for a few miles, chatting each time we passed. I got to hear part of his intriguing story (his trail name comes from a close encounter with a panther on the Florida Trail). Eventually he pulled away on a climb and disappeared when I stopped to take a picture of my first May Apple blossom.

I passed Las Dos Madres (my name for them – they introduced themselves on Day 2 as “we’re two moms”) at midday. They are sectioning from Springer to Winding Stair Gap over nine days and have some big days ahead to hit their goal. Just before I walked into Dick’s Creek Gap, a guy with two teenagers walking a doodle stopped me and said he’d seen my wife at Amicolola on Easter. He recognized Roux, not me. He was day hiking up to surprise his wife and her friend who were section hiking. Yup, he was el espouso de una madre. Small world.

A Chance Encounter in the Woods

In the gap before the last big climb of the day, I passed a hiker sitting on a fallen log by an empty campsite. I called out a “howdy” as I passed and asked how her day was going. She replied “Excellent! How are you today?” with such enthusiasm, I had to stop to answer and ask a follow-up question. I’m glad I did.

It turned out she was few days from finishing her thru hike. You might be wondering how someone could be finishing a SOBO (southbound thru hike) in April. I was. In fact, she was a flip-flopping SOBO. She’d started at Harpers Ferry last year, summited Katahdin in the fall, and then hiked south from Harpers Ferry, hoping to finish by Thanksgiving. But she got seriously ill and was unable to continue before winter.

She said she’d reach Springer Mountain this week, just before her 365-day window was up, and thus qualifying for a “real” thru hike. To which I replied: “Pshaw, it’s a real thru hike regardless.” Which got a big smile and led to an interesting discussion of “real” thru hikes, so-called purist thru hikers she’d encountered, and some people’s need to create rules about other people’s hikes.

Before any of my more excitable readers get all fired up about the official definition of “thru hike” or what constitutes “judging” someone else’s hike, try to understand this moment. I was tired and facing yet another long climb. This hiker exuded so much excitement about her AT experience and how it had changed her. She’d faced adversity, adapted, and overcame it. An aura of self-confidence surrounded her. She radiated energy. Her joy of finishing was palpable.

I want all of that. I want to be 50 miles from Kathadin, full of excitement for the end and the thrill of what comes next. In the face of all that, quibbling over an arbitrary definition of a “real” thru hike seemed irrelevant.

All Good

As I turned to leave and start my climb with renewed energy, I asked her trail name.

“All Good,” she replied.


Daily Stats:

  • Start: Unacoi Gap (Mile 52.5)
  • End: Dick’s Creek Gap (Mile 69.2)
  • Weather: Back to bluebird sunshine
  • Earworm: Those who wait on the LORD
  • Meditation: Is. 40:31
  • Best Thing: Meeting All Good
  • Worst Thing: Stubbed that same toe again. And again.

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