Cell service has been spotty. I'm posting from a fire tower on top of a mountain, soaking up amazing panoramic views of the Smokies. Photos to come :)
Day mileage: 16.3 mi
AT total mileage: 97.7 mi
I awoke to another gorgeous morning on the Trail, with temperatures low in the 40s. As I put away my tent. my morning cinnamon raisin bagel, and took my multi-vitamin, I noticed that the shelter had filled in quite a lot more than I'd seen it last night. In what looked to be sprawled out like tents at the original Woodstock festival, campsites had been set up on every inch of the property, including lower levels and next to the creek. I suppose a lot of people had decided that was the place to stop! We hit the trail around 8:30, per our usual, and meandered along a great ridge including some peaks well over 4,500 feet for about two hours. During this comparatively casual morning walk, I had a section of the 18" wide trail give out under my left foot, causing me to start sliding down the slope of the mountain. With the frustration I've had with my right knee lately, I'm surprised it didn't cause me severe damage when my right leg twisted perpendicular to my torso. Using trekking poles as support, I was able to climb forwards back on the trail. Quite the exciting moment.
At mile 86, two hours after beginning, we came to the base of the next big obstacle: Standing Indian Mountain. The next two trail miles would include the climb to the summit, standing over one mile above sea level at 5,498 feet tall. I'm insanely impressed to inform you that Kevin and I made it up in 1 hour, 24 minutes. With a steady pace, and lots of switchbacks we found ourselves at the summit of the mountain, a large grass opening with gorgeous panoramic views, an area that used to be home to a Forest Service fire tower. The western view overlooks the valley of the Tullulah River, as well as many mountains the AT has already traversed. We ate lunch at the top with a half dozen other hikers including Papa Doc- psych. professor on sabbatical at Avery University who is hiking with his recent college grad son Keegan (also present), Wild Turkey- a Chicago based ESL teacher- and her 3 year old Irish wolfhound named Cormack. After eating I closed my eyes, basking in the daylight, and drifted off with my Red Sox hat shading my eyes from the sun. After a few minutes of no talking on the summit, I began drifting through my thoughts, and the scene in my mind began to change. Between the warmth of the sunlight, to the smell of my hat over my face, to the sound of the ocean waves crashing on the shore, this moment could have been one of a thousand summer days as a kid on Nantucket Island with my mom. The summer sunlight and warmth of the dunes, part played by the sun and warm grass surrounding me; the sound of the waves, part played by the gentle breezes blowing through the leafs and tree branches of summit vegetation. It's amazing how that kind of sensory stimulation can transmit you miles, even years away from wherever you are.
We stayed at the summit for over an hour just relaxing. These moments of feeling like there's nowhere else to be are moments I'll remember forever. The ease of just being right there at that second, is something that I hope the trail will afford me with a lot of. After parting with a few other trail friends (by this point Doc, Keegan, Wild Turkey, and Cormack had left) we flew through what was nearly 5 miles of amazing downhills from the summit of the mountain. We passed under many green tunnels of trees, and by many rushing streams that we needed to cross by hopping on rocks. We talked aimlessly about movies, music, friendships, travel, etc. Conversation is limitless. At mile 94, we came across Carter Gap Shelter, and after sharing a Snicker's bar with Doug & Becca from last night's campfire, we decided to push on the 3.7 miles to a campsite further along the trail. As we merged back onto the Trail from the shelter trail, we fell into formation with Doc, Keegan, Turkey, and the pup again. At a phenomenal (and for the first time pain free) pace, we walked another 2 hours along to Betty Creek Gap. Since summiting Standing Indian, we've still not crossed under 4,200' of elevation. We're gearing up for the +6,000' elevations we'll encounter in the Smokies very soon.
Upon reaching camp we set up tents with two other hikers, Fumbles and . Wandering almost 1/3 mile to a gorgeous creek, we all sat with our feet in the frigid water, taking the heat off after nearly 8 hours of being stuffed into shoes and boots. It was unbelievably cold, but felt incredible. The sun was beginning to set, the light dancing in the stream, four hikers relaxing and a puppy chasing sticks through the water. Dinner was cooked, and we gathered around a campfire until the sun set and the stars started peeking out from the blue-hour sky. The moon's still gearing up to be full, but again illuminates my tent.
I like these hikers and their pace. Maybe they'll be a good group to latch on to for a few days. Cell service has been spotty, but I believe the GPS is still working flawlessly. That's all I've got to say about that!
Onward & upward...