Day mileage: 16.0 mi
AT total mileage: 66.0 mi
Time: 8 hours
This morning started off as a chilly one, with temps at the shelter measuring in at 33 degrees. The challenge of today was well known going into it, with the terrain including three separate mountain summits each over 4,000 feet. Things looked up a bit, when as packing up my stuff that I left to dry by the fire, I came across a 'donated' stick of Old Spice deodorant. Yes, this may seem gross, but after 5 days and more than a few miles/mountains, I'm willing to share deodorant with strangers in order to feel even slightly more human. Let me tell you, it did wonders. I fell in love with the smell of this, and enjoyed catching a whiff of myself throughout the day as I worked away at these mountains. Next time I'm in town, I'll be picking some up... Not sure why I didn't plan to pack that in the first place.
After making our way (Kevin and I are still hiking together) to Unicoi Gap, we were joined by many hikers who spent last night in warm hotel rooms with freshly laundered clothing and warm showers.... Yes. I was jealous. Our ascent out of the gap was the first strenuous one of the day, and we played leap frog with the other hikers. I'm still stopping every couple hundred feet on the challenging uphills to spend 30 seconds catching my breath. Despite my stopping, we still average just over 2 miles an hour throughout the day. By the time we began descending from the summit, many layers had been shed and the temps were in the 50s with gorgeous blue skies. After coming off the mountain, we crossed through a gap and meandering trail segment that lead us to the second time for 'things to look up' as there was a man-made drainage pipe leading a stream under a roadway. In what can only be described as 'a sight to see' we splashed water on our faces, arms, and legs, hoping to achieve some sort of socially acceptable bathing on the trail. As if this wouldn't look funny enough to a stranger passing by on the road (the road that was not even 5 feet away) I started singing along with imaginary Johnny Cash (full mimicking voice) "...when I hear that whistle blowing, I hang my head & cry..." It went with the moment rather well. If I'd been a runaway convict in the 50s or 60s the scene would have been perfect.
We kept on and summited Tray Mountain (elev. ) just after 1230. After enjoying a moment there soaking in the sun, we traveled a quarter mile or so to the next shelter where we ate lunch with other hikers. One gentleman thru-hiker named Dre complimented my camera and showed me his 2 dSLR Canons that he's taking and photographing the trail with. It was nice conversation, but that's more weight than I'd want to mess with. Throughout the day it seemed everyone we talked to was heading for the same shelter we were. This is good and bad news, camaraderie is great, however the risk of losing valuable camp sites is always present. Regardless, we kept on keeping on, and pushed for the 8 more miles it'd take to get to our destination before dark. On our afternoon hike we met Roundabout, a hiker who thru-hiked in 1975, and is currently cross hiking with his wife. In essence, they drive to a location on the trail together, he drops her off and drives to an 'end' point where the trail crossed the road, and then hikes back towards where she started. They cross in the middle, then she picks him up when he's done. They've been hiking the AT together for 3 years so far like this, since their oldest graduated from college. He seemed very content with this approach, and is excited to be a 'two-timer' when he's done hiking for the second time with her. He scurried off the way we'd come, and soon after we ran into Mark and Grunt who are mid-20s missionaries, who decided to hike the trail together. Grunt was an REI employee, alike Ashli and Kyle. At one point we stopped and I followed a labeled trail down to 'water' which ended up being a huge mistake. Total distance off the trail was a 1/2 mile of steep trail by the time all was said and done. I was very frustrated, and considered labeling the waypoint sign 'Just Past Narnia' to warn others. It's always fun to see labels people add to signs, but I refrained.
At 14 miles for the day I was exhausted, and still 2 miles short of my goal. Knowing our pace, and it being 1550hrs, I could assume we'd be at the shelter by 1700. This did, however, require the summiting of our 3rd 4,000 foot mountain - not an ideal task after 7 hours of solid hiking. Regardless, we pushed on, and made it to the Deep Gap shelter just before my guessed time. This place is *packed* with 30 or so people, two dozen tents, and lots of conversation. Although there was nearly three hours till sunset, I ate a cold (no interested in the added effort of boiling water and cleaning my bowl) dinner, I climbed into my tent and hunkered down. The temperature is dropping fast with 'below 0 tonight' being repeated in barely distinguishable English by the German hikers staying here. Cold temperatures make early rising a lot less inviting, but tomorrow's another day with more miles to attain.
Totaling 16 miles is exciting. It was by no means my plan to hike these longer distances so soon, but I feel almost guilty by stopping for the day at lunchtime. There's a lot of ground to cover, and no time like the present to keep chipping away at it. Hitting the North Carolina state line tomorrow is easily attainable. For now, hunkering down in my sleeping bag with a few layers of clothing top and bottom, and hoping for the best with temperatures tonight.