I left camp (mile 90.7) at 7.45am and had such a productive afternoon I was having a hot shower in a motel in Franklin NC (mile 109.8) at 5.35pm!
An early start for once though it is cheating slightly since I waited to use the privy at the shelter 3 miles down the track rather than avail myself of the woods. This turned out providently as I found my Day 0 chum Don pulling down his tent (at 9:15! Shocking.) so we hiked together or crossed all morning. It was great to see him again and also to kind of catch up the days I missed at the start with my arm/hand injury. I am now back in the game.
I had been told the weather forecast was for 70% chance of thunderstorms and today involved crossing Albert Mountain at 5250′ which is one of the few official AT ‘bad weather bypasses’ meaning it is dangerous to be up there during thunderstorms so the ATC allow you to take a side trail around it at a lower elevation when lightning is likely.
It also boasts one of the best views on the AT. In good weather. Today it rained on and off all day (but no storms) so it was just grey dullness up there. Shame. There is a fire tower up there and here is a picture of Don trying to get into the room at the top to have his lunch, with no luck.
Don is going well and now goes by the trail name of Yogi Bear. He absolutely powers up uphills, my big weakness. Birdy (Anna) joined us and we were atop Albert Mountain about 12:30pm and hung around until 1pm before starting our descent.
I assumed the descent would be another ‘pick-a-step’ knee breaker but it started out wonderfully gently and I found myself stretching my legs out and actually WALKING for the first significant time on the whole hike so far. I wondered how long such kindness would last and resolved to enjoy it while it lasted. It turned out to last for many miles and I left Don behind and before I knew it (46 minutes actually, I checked) I had covered the 2.4 miles to the first shelter. More than 3 mph, unheard of!
I kept going at full throttle. I reached the next shelter at mile 93.9, 5.9 miles from the firetower just before 3pm, less than 2 hours later. Although Don and I had earlier agreed that was a likely spot to stay the night I wasn’t stopping at 3pm so resolved to go all the way to the gap where you can get a ride into Franklin, North Carolina at mile 109.8. The lure of a hotel bed and a hamburger was way greater than the prospect of a rainy muddy tent spot.
I dipped down into the shelter to leave a register entry for Don only to be told it was kept in the privy! Bizarre. I wasn’t walking another 0.2m just to leave Don a note in an unhygienic book (I texted him instead later) so instead – for reasons I hadn’t pre-considered – I announced to the whole shelter of about 8 people that I was darn well going into Franklin that evening so if anyone wanted to share that experience to join me now. I assume most people thought me at least a bit odd. Anyway one young brave adventurer jumped at it and took his tent down while I gave out some of my not-needed-now rations to the damp left-behinds and we headed out into the rain together for the last 3.8m to Winding Stair Gap.
The brave man that I had basically swooped in and kidnapped was called Blaze, recognised by the full length running tights he wears in the color of hunting blaze orange. He comes from near Albany NY and this is also his first long backpacking trip.
We climbed at least a mile out then it was horizontal ridge walking for a mile and a half and then down for a mile to the gap. During the climb my strange hyper-energy evaporated and I was left back in Normal mode to struggle as best I could. Still, we made the Gap by 4.35pm which is good.
I had no actual plan to get us from the Gap parking lot to Franklin, 11 miles away. I figured something would turn up. It didn’t. I tried making myself look presentable and went off to try my luck at hitch-hiking. Oddly enough, I had no luck. Several trucks pulled in to look at us but then changed their mind. But here is a picture from where I was doing it:
My phone would only give 1 bar of AT&T which would not connect a call and Blaze’s phone was out of juice but when he said it was on Verizon I dug out my external battery and his phone was brought back to life. He called a taxi and 40 minutes and $30 later we were safe and sound in the Microtel motel. Which has nice rooms but no freaking laundry service of any sort!
A hot shower and an Arby’s beef and cheese sandwich with onion rings, curly fries and chocolate milkshake were the priorities. Tomorrow is a zero day for me as I will have to do laundry and try to sort out my feet.
Not my only blister but one I’m most proud of. You can just about see my foot there on the edge of that blister.