Upon reaching the first summit my father and I said farewell, and I was off on my own again. The sun was shining, the sky was a beautiful blue. I felt great, better than great, fantastic. My knee wasn't bothering me and I was figuring out a pace where I could recover my breathing and heart rate all while still climbing. I had a smile on my face and I was thinking that I might actually be able to make to Maine.
About two hours in, I came to a long stretch that snaked its way steadily back and forth as it steeply went down hill. Not long after starting the descent I felt a slight twinge in my left calf. I stopped and stretched for a minute and continued onward. Steadily the twinge became a little more sharper, almost feeling like a cramp.
The hill finally leveled out and I tried shaking out the calf while striding forward. When the terrain started going up the feeling subsided and I again felt great. I even figured out a way that I could stretch my calves while still going up. Then came the down hill. Eek, step, eek, step, eek, is that my knee again? Crap, now my knee is acting up again? So now my descent was, ouch (left calf), eek (right knee) and repeat.
Thankfully this day had one of the biggest climbs so far, over a placed called Blood Mountain. I looked forward to each climb because nothing hurt as I was going up. It seemed as if the uphills made my knee and calf loosen up, so for a while there was no pain. I ran in to two older guys also attempting a thru-hike named, "Jarhead" and "Grandbob". I hiked with them on the main ascent towards the peak, a never ending series of switchback going ever upward. Happy we were climbing, I was smiling.
The top of Blood Mountain was beautiful. A rocky summit with views in every direction and a stone two room shelter for anyone who planned on staying the night. The Georgia forest service had mandated anyone staying in a five mile stretch of here to carry bear proof canisters. Evidently, bears had become quite a problem for over-nighters. I heard somewhere that last year a group of hikers staying the night were harassed all night by a bear who actually came into the shelter looking for their food. They repelled the bear and blocked off the door to prevent it from coming back in. I guess they weren't thinking everything through because the bear just came in through the pane-less windows. Everyone retreated into the back room, left their food in the front for the bear and blocked all entrances until morning.
Needless to say I wasn't staying there that night. Besides, it was early in the day and I was feeling good. After taking a few pictures I started the long hike down. I kept my strides short and steady. Twenty minutes of nothing but rocky descent I came to a place called Neel's Gap. This is a hiking outfitter directly on the trail at a road crossing. They are known for their friendly staff and outrageous prices. They also offer free gear shake downs. That is where they go through all of your gear and give their advise as to what to keep, what to upgrade and what to get rid of. I passed on the service, feeling like I had made good choices from the beginning, except of course for the insoles in my first pair of boots.
There were a lot of other thru-hikers milling about and it seemed like most were planning on staying there for the night. I still felt great so I decided to keep on going further. So off I went. The next part was pretty mild with gentle rolling up and downhills. Three miles in, I ran into the older couple I met a few days back named, "Heading out", and "Tagging along". "Tagging along" greeted with me a big hug and an even bigger smile. She said she didn't think she would see me again. "Heading out" told me that "Big Dumb Animal", my buddy from the previous section, was about two or three hours ahead of me. He said that he had dropped forty of his original seventy-five pounds that he was carrying and was much happier and faster. I felt motivated to try and catch him so I said my farewells and headed off.
This next couple of miles were a bit of a blur. There was some pretty steep going and I was running low on water. Still, I was feeling pretty good, with only an occasional reminder that my knee and calf were officially protesting this trip. I came to a beautiful overlook with views of an adjacent mountain. There was evidence of the tornadoes that ripped through the area last year. At the base of the slope you could see trees down in a great big patch. I took a picture and moved on.
I soon came to a place called Tesnatee Gap. Here I had to make a decision in the fading light, to camp for the night or push on one last big climb to a shelter a mile or so ahead. Obviously, I pushed on. Up, up, up I went as the sun raced down. I had a big smile on my face because I knew I was an idiot. The smart thing was obviously to stay at that gap, but what fun is that. Also, this mountain I was now climbing was the same mountain that I saw from the overlook with the tornado damage. As the light was turning grey I came upon the intersection for the shelter. Here, "Big Dumb Animal" and a guy I met the second day named "J Beard" had set up camp. Greetings and pats on the back were exchanged and they cleared out room for me to set up my tent. I had a hasty dinner as the sun set and then we all retreated to our sleeping bags as night set in. We stayed up telling dirty jokes for a couple hours and slowly fell asleep.
|J Beard, Big Dumb Animal, Frenchy|
The rest of the morning was mild hiking but soggy conditions. Pain was intermittent, but tolerable. We stopped for lunch at a place called Low Gap shelter, where "J Beard" and a few others were also drying out and eating. I used the privy here and if I tell you the smell struck me like a bat, that would be an understatement.
After lunch and the rest of the day were pretty much the same. Cold, soggy, drizzly weather with slight inclines and declines. "J Beard" fell behind early on and said to keep going, he preferred hiking alone. "Big Dumb Animal" and I pressed on. The trails were covered in a mist that made it seem as you were walking in some kind of Sleepy Hollow fairy tale. It was beautiful. The only problem I was having, besides occasional pain in my knee and calf, was my poncho that I had to keep me dry was failing miserably. I was happy that I wasn't in a heavy downpour or I would have been soaked through. As it was, I was still wet. I couldn't stop kicking myself for not going with a traditional raincoat and pack cover. Noooo, I had to think that I was smarter than the rest of the planet and come up with my own concoction.
Late midday we came to a place called Blue Ridge shelter. It was the end of the mild hiking for a while. Afterward was a thousand foot decline, a road, then immediately back up a thousand feet. We stopped to eat and get out of the rain. "Big Dumb Animal" was talking about pushing on, and I was getting colder. He wanted to stay about six miles away and I felt my joints getting stiffer. I also had run out of food. When packing my food bag I accidentally left out my main dinner meals. So each day I was eating into my meals for the next. Reluctantly, I told "Big Dumb Animal" that I was going to stay at the shelter the night and get picked up in the morning. We finished eating in silence. He packed up, we shook hands and away he went. I sat in the shelter trying to warm up.
"J Beard" showed up not long after and planned to stay the night as well. We set our tents up near each other and prepared for a cold wet night. As darkness fell I retreated into my tent, massaged my knee, calves and feet then fell asleep to the sound of pouring rain, not caring if I got a few drops on me.
In the morning I set off early and alone down to Uncoi Gap where my father was waiting to pick me up. We got breakfast at a southern greasy spoon restaurant and went back to his trailer where I showered and reunited with my friend of frozen peas.