Date- February 23, 2020
Location- Side of trail
Elevation- 1,076 ft
Distance Traveled Today- 16.9 miles
Distance Traveled Total- 104.1 miles
Weather/Temp- overcast, 50s
Pain level- Zero
Wildlife encounters- Squirrels
Days without shower- 10
Days without laundry- 4
I managed to stay above my 15 mile per-day average goal for the past three days, even though I only hiked over 15 miles on one of those days.
Chris and I were hiking by a little before 8 am. We hiked together and conversed for the first 5 miles. It was a nice change of pace from my one sided conversations with Katana. It was also refreshing to be around a newbie thru-hiker. Don’t get me wrong – I love hiking with and around other veteran hikers; you’re always sure to learn something new in one capacity or another. However, nothing compares to the starry eyed nostalgia and reminders of your own early hiking days – through interactions with an enthusiastic thru-hiking newcomer. Everything about their demeanor exudes “this is all new to me,” and it’s contagious. It gets me jazzed about topics, conversations, and common experiences – which have otherwise become mundane at this point in the game. It’s like an awakening… a breath of fresh air.
After those initial 5 miles, we hiked together a little bit more. Then, we leap frogged a few times before Chris pulled ahead, while I was having lunch. His heel blisters were killing him, and he was worried about getting miles.
The Ups and Downs
If the forest had been in full spring or summer bloom, today would have been mind-bendingly beautiful. All day the trail snaked up and down climbs, in and out, and through the endless hollers of the Appalachians. On a warm summer day, there would have been endless opportunities for exploration and superb camping options within the hollers.
Thankfully, there were no more rocky sections and the day passed quite smoothly. It was overcast the entire day with a few light sprinkles of rain, or as an Aussie bicyclist (I met from Montana) once said – “Tinkerbell Tears.” Nothing heavy enough to break out the umbrella though.
Katana racked up a couple miles in small increments, but it wasn’t enough for her. She was sassy with me all day! Every time I stopped for a break, she would try and wander off while ignoring all my commands. This resulted in the need to leash her (for her own safety), which of course resulted in more attitude.
Towards late afternoon the nonstop short climbs eventually wore me down. I came to terms with the fact I was not going to get my 24 miles. As it turned out, Chris was having a rough time too. We’d exchanged numbers, and around 2 pm I got a text from him. He was going into the town of Heflin from an earlier road (different from the one either of us had planned originally). I could sympathize with his foot pain, from about six years ago.
Shorter than Planned
I ended up calling it a day around 17 miles – about 7 miles shorter than I would have liked. At 5 pm I found a nice high spot a couple hundred feet off the trail. It was above a holler, but below the surrounding ridge lines. The spot should be protected from any wind, and not susceptible to the cooler temperatures that will settle in the creek laden hollers.
It’s suppose to begin raining tonight and continue steadily all throughout tomorrow. I wanted to knock out the 7+ miles to the highway into Heflin as quickly as possible — get a room, take my first shower in 11 days, and relax. I… Can’t… Wait!
*Add On:* It’s around 8 pm and I just heard a loud crash in the woods behind me, followed by an equally loud and strange bird-like screech. I can’t identify it as a noise I’ve ever heard before, but it’s not the strangest thing I’ve ever heard. I just thought it was worth noting.