Days 4-6 on the Appalachian Trail

In which issues are encountered, and names are revealed.

Thu 3/28: Day 4

8.6 Miles, 2,536′ Elevation Gain

I started out on the later side again, a little before 10 AM, after breakfast and breaking down camp. Last night and this morning I had been talking with some other thru-hikers who were moving at about the same pace, comparing notes on our experiences. Most everyone was planning to stop at Neels Gap today – including me, to pick up my first mail drop.

Which was making me kinda nervous.

The prepared meals had been working out great but I had way overestimated how much I’d be eating early on. I still had food left over and I had a lot of food coming in the mail drop. It would be a lot to carry.

Other than that I was feeling pretty good and felt like I was doing well in these first few days. I had no real issues cropping up other than that I was still pretty amped up just being out here. I set out at a brisk pace to climb Blood Mountain, which was supposed to have great views. It was another bright sunny day.

Can we get the groundskeeping crew to handle this? This is a vine of poison ivy hanging right over the trail.

Along with the more well-known saying, “Leaves of three, let it be” to help ID this plant, there’s another one that goes, “Hairy rope, don’t be a dope.”

We got to the top and the views did not disappoint.

Birch and me at the top of Blood Mountain.

On the way up, though, I began to notice some pain on the top of my foot that I hadn’t had before. It wasn’t bad, but, you know, pain in one’s foot on a thru-hike is generally just not desirable. I babied it on the way down to Neels Gap but it was definitely noticeable.

I got to Mountain Crossings, a hiking outfitter store that’s directly on the trail, to get my resupply. The guy who brought it out set it down with a meaty thud on the counter and said, “Wow, your people sure love you. I’d sue ’em.” Sadly, I’d packed this first one myself, although Maddie personalized it a bit.

My first resupply.

Aside from being too much food, there were a few other small technical difficulties.

It’s possible that this package was not handled with the utmost care.

Nothing major though. I had worried that the dinners might all burst the bag seals open if they were handled roughly, but there was just one bag that had opened and very little actually came out.

But it was SO much food. I packed it all and weighed my pack on the scale they had at the store: over 45 pounds. That was just a big fat no. The store offered to ship things out from there, so I split the package in half and sent some on to another outfitter in North Carolina that was also along the trail.

A bunch of us spent a long time there reassessing our situations, and perhaps even our recent life choices. A couple of people even changed out their pack after being unhappy with the early going. Because of the time and my foot, I decided to cut my day short and go to the next tentsite at Bull Gap instead of the shelter further up that I’d been shooting for at the beginning of the day.

A lovely end to the day at Bull Gap.

The sunset was beautiful, but I was kind of preoccupied with my foot. The long break at Neels Gap had been good for it, but it was not 100 percent. It was tender if I pressed down on the area where the tendons extend down along the top.

It wasn’t super encouraging to start googling “sore tendon” and see “…on top of foot” as one of the top autocomplete options.

The most likely condition seemed to be inflammation of my extensor tendons. This wasn’t great news, as this kind of injury can be tricky to heal while spending so much time on trail. I would need to monitor this carefully. As a windy night swirled around overhead, the words of the ridgerunner at the first day’s presentation rang in my ear: “no more than eight or nine miles per day…”

Fri 3/29: Day 5

10.6 Miles,  2,247′ Elevation Gain

The wind had completely died down to nothing overnight, revealing a quiet, still, bright morning. Which over breakfast also brought some clarity to the fact that my planning-ahead skills needed some work.

The kitchen: spare but effective.

I had bounced half of that resupply from Mountain Crossings ahead to the next outfitter along the trail. But that place was actually quite a ways up the trail and now I had too little food to get there. Doh.

I hadn’t thought about stopping at nearby towns along the trail. The first of these was Hiawassee, GA, which we’d hit in a couple of days. The group I was traveling with planned to stop there, and after thinking about it a bit I realized it was the smart move. So I somewhat hastily arranged for Maddie to send me a supplemental package there and then another in Franklin, NC. We set out, a ruffed grouse thumping in the background to see us off.

The sunshine was brilliant and if not for my foot I would have sailed through the day. As it was, the pain wasn’t bad by any means, but it was just… so… distracting. Nice going there, man. You jacked up your foot four days into the trip. I spent the day paying close attention to it, seeing if it would get worse. If I angled it outward as I walked it seemed to help a little.

It’s tough not to want to keep going when you’re seeing stuff like this.

Some great new stair work. A lot of work like this is done by EXTREMELY generous volunteers.

Another gorgeous sunset.

Birch is extremely hopeful about her prospects of having the sleeping bag as her bed. Alas, it was not to be.

That night in camp, as barred owls hurled competing calls back and forth, I reassessed my foot. It almost seemed more tender at night; maybe once the excitement of the day has subsided the pain comes to the forefront. “Hey! Remember me?” Um, yes.

Sat 3/30: Day 6

11.3 Miles, 2,927′ Elevation Gain

The great stretch of weather continued as we moved on, still trying to feel our way forward on this trip. The early days are full of continual questions, variations on a theme of: Am I doing this right? Is it too much mileage? Too much gear? Too much food? All of the above?

I had whipped through those first few days at a mad pace, powered by morning coffee and adrenaline. Now I was happy to go at a more moderate pace, but I hoped I hadn’t already tipped the scales too far with my foot. The first data points of these first few days of dealing with it seemed to suggest that it wasn’t getting worse, but it was still early.

We camped at the top of Rocky Mountain after another spectacular weather day.

Birch chilling post-hike.

The view from Rocky Mountain at sunset.

And Your Name Is…?

For whatever reason, I had envisioned this trip as so much more of a solitary venture, Birch and I just sitting in stony silence each evening as I stared off into space and mechanically stuffed spoonfuls from a can of beans into my mouth (Note: I did not actually pack any cans of beans, that would be insane).

Instead, the group I fell in with were all so warm and welcoming. It was so helpful to share experiences of the day and hear what other people were going through.

Less than a week in, and many people had already picked out trail names. And there were already some good ones:

Night Pony

Most of the above were traveling in a loose group together, headed for Hiawassee.

And my name?

I decided on mine the second day in, but the seed had been planted before I left for the trail.

A group of us were doing the stairs at Harvard Stadium. I was trying out the trail running shoes I was planning to wear:


And James said, “Those shoes have a real Incredible Hulk vibe going on.”

A week or so later we were back at it again, and I said I had decided to use the shoes for the trip. “And you really nailed it with that Hulk comment,” I added.

His back was to me, but I could sense the sly smile as he said, “Might I suggest that as a trail name?”

I thought about it for a bit. I liked the Hulk part, but it didn’t quite seem to fit somehow; I don’t exactly have a massive frame. Then it hit me:

Pocket Hulk.

The namesake shoes in action.

As I sat in Stover Creek Shelter on the morning of my second day on the trail, the rain moving closer, I looked through the notebook that serves as the trail register for people who are passing through. Page after page of trail names and dates. I figured it was a good a time as any to pull the trigger.

“Pocket Hulk and Birch stayed here 3/25. Thanks Stover Creek!”

So, that’s me. People seem to have gotten a kick out of it so far, so it looks like it’s a keeper.

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