Trail Update Three: Gear MVPs and Biggest Miles Yet

Tuesday, April 9: Day 11

I continued my day off at Gooder Grove in Franklin today and ran all sorts of errands: laundry, mailing some things home, showering, etc. It was lovely to see some of the earlier guys come in, and we met up at the Lazy Hiker Brewing (yes, that’s two days in a row) to catch up and enjoy some drinks. I met Tater Bag (because he eats mashed potatoes from the bag, which is not rare), Camp Finder (who finds campsites), and a few other new people too. Camp Finder is German and has already hiked the PCT twice: he said it’s got many more views than the AT and that it’s certainly less physically taxing than all the ups and downs we’ve started with. Wonder if he’ll do the AT twice too?

Wednesday, April 10: Day 12

As much as I enjoyed the day in town, I was energized and ready to get back on the trail, and I had a pretty big day. From Franklin at mile 110 to Cold Spring Shelter at mile 125.2, and I arrived with plenty of time to set up and cook. It was a lovely sunny day, foggy in the morning, but cleared up quickly once we got back to the mountain level. The views at Siler Bald were gorgeous and reminiscent of the Julie Andrews  Sound of Music scene, with plenty of cool grass and open sights to be seen. Very much worth the hike up to the top, even though that was an extra half or full mile that wasn’t on the trail.

I’ve been hiking with Hops since we met up at Gooder Grove. Similar to the guys before, I can keep up on the flat sections, but on the uphills I still crank along on my own, waiting for my over two mile an hour pace to kick in. Tomorrow I’m looking forward to my box at NOC, where I am staying for the night, which I feel a bit silly about now because I reserved the wrong room at double the binder price. Might have been better just to camp nearby, but that didn’t occur to me at the time and there are no refunds less than three days ahead.

My feet were getting tender, though I was not sure if it was the over 16-mile day or because I’d just come off the zero day, but I hope they feel better tomorrow. Fingers crossed. Only ten miles the next day to look forward to.

Thursday, April 11: Day 13

Overnight at the shelter I met two guys, Colonel Rock and Al, who have been friends since sixth grade. Now that they’re retired they are hiking together, which I find amazing and sweet: not sure my sixth-grade friends want to be hiking!  They’re also doing YouTube videos (Vintage Leathernecks) and Hops and I did a quick segment where we mentioned our reasons for hiking. Ganon and his dog Pippa made an appearance, which was the first time I’ve seen them since Neel Gap. The five of us and Pippa had a lovely and restful shelter experience, because the stream is right outside, which helps provide white noise.

The easy ten-mile day turned out to be rough, as the short day was a serious downhill and involved some scrambling at times. Maybe just because I’m 5’5” and don’t have quite as much leg as the guys? My knees started to get sore, but I still felt good, just tired.

My recurring thoughts of the day were 1) why do deciduous trees shed and regrow leaves every year, because there has to be a more effective way to conserve that energy, and 2) why are rocks everywhere and so pointy? (Can you tell I was going downhill most of the day?)

At the NOC, I got my accidental two-person cabin (which I had to myself), and a great hiker box from mom. Hops and I split the canned red wine, and I met Crazy Glue, Patches, and Passport, who helped with the mandarin oranges. (Turns out Patches also plays D&D, so that was a fun coincidence and we spent some time bonding.) I also got time to soak my feet in the freezing river at the NOC and spent awhile watching people practice their whitewater kayaking skills. Sometimes it’s nice to watch other people adventure while I’m sitting down; especially when you can order a pizza and beer by the river! I also got a chance to call my family and read for a bit. There’s usually minimal downtime, but as I stayed the night, I didn’t need to take time to set up camp.

Friday, April 12: Day 14

I re-met Kara/Double Love and her dog Phil, who had stayed with a few other hikers in a tiny house while I’d stayed at NOC for the night. Adorable pictures, and probably still more square footage than some apartments I’ve lived in. The climb out of NOC at mile 137 up to mile 147.5 where I camped was tougher than I thought: it snuck up on me, but I still managed to get through at a reasonable time. I also almost stepped on a sneaky snake, sitting right in the middle of the trail, and it did not even twitch when it saw me. There might have been a little scrambling to go around it and a high-pitched EEK or two.

There were two other people at Locust Grove when I arrived, and when I came back from a long uphill water climb, there were 12. Every single person had a different tent, and from a distance it seems like mushrooms were popping up across the hill. Over a nice campfire from Hops, about eight of us (including Frenchie, who’s from Canada and is splitting some wine with me tonight), cooked and talked until the fire burned down. We all decide we’d try to go over 18 miles the next day to Fontana, because the shelter has showers (!!!), but all knew it might be a longer day. (At least everyone except Hops, who’s already done a 22+ miler.) Apparently the trio of Crazy Glue, Patches, and Passport had hiked briefly with some guys from Louisiana, who I originally thought were bikers, and they’d brought marinated steak to cook over the campfire a few nights ago. Delicious and I’m sorry I missed it!

Saturday, April 13: Day 15

I did manage to hit 18.3 miles today, which has been my biggest day yet. I was a little tired, but it was totally worth it as I went to the Fontana shower and got all cleaned up. The walk itself was generally good. I woke up at the Locust Grove tent site at 6:22, which was earlier than my usual 7 a.m. wakeup, so I took the chance to pack up and head out a bit earlier since I knew I was aiming for a long day. It took me ten hours to go the 18 and change miles, which isn’t quite up to two miles an hour yet, but I got her done.

About three miles after our tent site I ran into Hopeful and Mrs. Hopeful, who were doing trail magic as a birthday present and weekend getaway with some trail friends. I got to look inside their trailer (adorable and a great use of space), ate a lot, and got all fueled up for Jacob’s Ladder, a long climb up a steep mountain. That was the hardest climb of the day, and the rest was just long. My feet were tired, but nothing felt wrong. Since there were so many uphills and downhills I started listening to another audiobook to keep me motivated, which was a great idea.

A lot of other people were also staying at the shelter, and my goodness, I have never heard so much snoring before. We had several selections for listeners’ enjoyment, including quiet wheezing, general loud breathing, a car engine stuttering and a long whine, someone I thought was safe but who tore up the air with narcoleptic lurches, an unpredictable sad trumpeting elephant, and the man-sized mosquito whine.

Best Gear Items So Far

Bring earplugs. Even if you don’t plan to stay in shelters.And if not, do you think that two ply tent fabric blocks noises? It’s one of my general travel rules anyway, and I use them in hostels and airplanes whenever I spend time away.

Tiger Balm: absolutely one of the reasons my feet wake up happy every day.

Sock liners: I haven’t had a single blister or even a hot spot on this entire trip, and the only people I know who have aren’t sporting these clever toe socks to keep friction down.

Olive oil in a travel bottle: goes with most hiker foods and adds some calories and some taste.

Plastic spiky ball for rolling my feet: some of the guys were calling it my luxury item. They are mistaken!

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