Day mileage: 11.6 mi
AT total mileage: 81.4 mi
What. A. Day. Gorgeous, sunny, low 70s.
Staying in the hostel was weird. It was packed with people, many of whom I know, but the bunk under where I was sleeping became occupied after I'd fallen asleep. Had I never seen this individual face to face, I'd have guessed them to be a middle aged obese man with a sinus issue, solely due to the noises emitted from their face throughout the night. Come morning, I find out the perpetrator is a 5' 4" woman. In no way to I mean to sound sexist, but wow, I was certainly surprised. I took one more very quick shower before we were shepherded out of the hostel and driven back up to the trail at 0800. Before leaving the hostel, I applied some Capsaicin cream to my knee and the top of my foot where pain has been present. The basic ingredient of said arthritis-aimed pain reliever is ground up peppers. This will come into play later.
We (Kevin and I) began the hike and slowly climbed out of the gap we were in. Knowing today had a few climbs, but also the exciting prospect of the state line crossing, we pushed forwards with the goal of making it to a shelter at mile 86. This was ambitious, but not out of line with our hiking mileage from the past few days. Not even half an hour onto the trail, I started noticing something was wrong with my feet. Although I applied the same small dosage of the medication to my knees and feet, my feet were reacting quite differently than my knees. They felt as if they were literally on fire. Words will not do justice to the apparent inferno that was ablaze inside my shoes. It actually became unbearable enough that in a rush to make it even a bit more tolerable, I emptied all 32 immediately available ounces of water out of my water bottle onto my feet. This didn't exactly 'solve' my problem, but it made it a bit more tolerable for the time being. It felt as if my feet had each eaten a dozen jalapeños, followed with a plate of the hottest buffalo tenders you've ever consumed, with no beverage to balance it all out. The looks I got from other hikers while pouring water on my feet were quite comical. Once I felt capable of walking again, we headed along the trail, playing leapfrog with three guys that we've been seeing for the past few days. T-Bird, a recently retired robotics/automation electrician for International Trucks, Murray, who today celebrated his 51st birthday, and Murray's son 'O' which is short for some trail name that I don't remember. O and Murray live in Orlando where O is finishing his masters degree in performance/teaching the trumpet. These three keep a good pace, and are great conversation. About 4 and a half hours into our hike we came to the small wooden sign on a tree marking, albeit anticlimactically, the state line between Georgia and North Carolina. This was it! One state down, 13 to go.... Haha. Only 13 to go.
So this is all well and good. We snap some photos of each other, refill our water supplies at a great tent site right after the state line (this tent site is where I'd intended on staying last night had we hiked) and head.. Up. There's a great tree at Bly Gap that's famously photographed and is an awesome distraction from the hell that's about to be unleashed on your calf muscles. It really doesn't seem like much on a map, but in the course of 1.2 miles we'd gain over 1,000 feet in elevation. Unlike most climbs, this one had almost no switchbacks, meaning it was a pure straight walk up the side of this mountain. I'll attach a photo of the elevation map below to explain my point. Anyway, by the time I finished the second one, I thought my heart would fall right out of my chest and I'd die right then and there, barely two miles into the state of North Carolina. For better or worse the world has other plans for me, and I survived without cardiac arrest, although I'm almost positive I left a gallon of sweat on the trail of this climb.
The scenery is starting to change already. Trees have new buds ready to bloom, small flowers line the trail, and the birds chirp incessantly as I walk along. At one point sitting on the trail, a half dozen mice ran out and around where we were. One notable thing about North Carolina is the sparkle in the dirt and rocks. From what I remember, this is the state with the largest mineral exports in the United States. It seems there's sediment everywhere, and it's quite captivating to the eye as I walk along. At one point we were walking through Sassafrass Gap and I was reciting lines from Forrest Gump out loud (those who know me are aware that I can do a pretty spot on Forrest voice) which would be quite comical later at the shelter when a woman arrived and said 'we're you the guys flying by our lunch site reciting Gump??!' ...Guilty as charged, she thought it was quite comical for the middle of the woods. After the many hours of climbing today, we found a great vista to hang out at, laying down and napping for a few minutes looking out over the mountain chain in front of us. A quick discussion led us to agree to stay at the next shelter we'd come to, Muskrat Creek, at mile 81.4 instead of pushing on for another two or three hours. As such, we were able to set up tents and relax for a while before dinner. We met Viva, Doug, and here at the shelter, the latter two living only miles from where I did in Orlando a few years ago. Small world. It felt really nice to not stroll into camp so late.
Dinner was ramen noodles, some Mac & cheese, and an oatmeal raisin cookie. We all sat around a somewhat pathetic excuse of a fire for a while before heading up to the vista to watch the sun go down over the valley. No cell service at the tent site means I won't be posting this before bed, but as I type it there are a few owls conversing with hoots in the trees around our tents. The moon is gorgeous and bright tonight, easily illuminating my tent as I lay here. There's a peacefulness in these tent sites after a long day that's hard to describe.
Tomorrow's a new day. Enjoy the photos. I wish I could post the ones from my dSLR but the iPhone ones will have to do for now.
Onward & upward.