There’s a lot to talk about, today. It started with some fairly easy hiking and me planning on doing 19 miles and making it to Franklin, NC. I started the day after everyone else, again. This is becoming my ritual as I hike a little faster than the rest of my group. This way, we usually make it to camp around the same time.
I encountered a fallen rhododendron tree this morning almost immediately after passing 6’12”. It was a nuisance for me to go through it, so I knew he was definitely going to have a problem getting past it. In a moment of brilliance, I dropped everything and got out the phone to video him coming through. The following is the result. You’re welcome…
6’12” vs. Rhododendron
Where Georgia was full of pointy rocks, North Carolina had made its presence known with ankle breaking rhododendron roots. These must be the most prolific root systems in the plant kingdom. I mean, they’re everywhere out here.
Not two minutes after passing the crazy root mosaic, another downed tree crossed the trail. Again, for your viewing pleasure…
6’12” vs. Downed Tree
I kinda slipped into a turbo mode today, during which I passed everyone with whom I’d camped the night before. Walking at that pace isn’t very conducive to picture taking, and for that, I apologize. I did, however, find this little side trail to one of the best views I’d seen, to date.
After I’d done a little over eight miles in about three hours (remember – I’m fat, out of shape, carrying a pack, and in the mountains – this is great time for me – it took the entire first day to do a little over seven miles) I stopped for lunch. You might think pregnant women eat strange things, and you’d be wrong. Strike up a conversation with a thru-hiker and find out what the most interesting thing he or she had eaten on the trail was and I’m sure you’ll be amazed. You see, trail food has to meet a certain set of standards in order to be considered. In this case, variety is sacrificed in order to maintain high caloric offerings in lightweight doses while still having some sort of nutritional value. Did I mention flavor? Nope. That’s just a bonus. Cue the SPAM and tuna salad tortilla. A little delicacy I like to call, “SPAM and tuna salad tortilla.”
While I was eating, a Dark-Eyed Junco was hopping around on the ground in front of me and flying around the immediate vicinity. I meant to mention these birds earlier and forgot. I see plenty of them every day, usually at higher elevations and almost always really close by. It’s like they’re not afraid of humans. They’re fun to watch, as well. I’ve always liked birds and do my best to learn about them. I never knew how bold these little guys are. It wouldn’t surprise me if someone were able to feed them by hand.
I stopped to refill my water and then kept going. Since I found out I had LTE during lunch, I took a long one to catch up emails and send a few texts.
Lo and behold, DABS came lumbering along as I was finishing up. He’s starting to get trail legs and I don’t think he realizes it. He’s exponentially faster than he was two weeks ago. Anyways, we kept going and noticed an area where the fine citizens of North Carolina had clearly taken the time to make an obviously rocky area much more pleasant to the feet of thru-hikers. Take that, Georgia!
Up ahead, I passed an RV. Yep, an RV. That’s a caravan, for you British lads/lasses. Nothing can crush that ‘one with nature, doing something most people don’t do, in the wilderness’ feeling quite like a family of fatsos out having a vacation right beside your gateway to the outdoors. Sorry for the harsh words, I was just having a really good day and for some reason, that RV ruined it for a few moments. I mean, I’m thru-hiking the AT. This is the wilderness. There are, quite literally, signs everywhere that say so. The idea of someone being able to drive out and bring a camper along with tons of food and drinks just kinda made me feel like a moron for laboring up and down these confounded mountains for days on end. Rant over.
A bit further on, I got a glimpse of today’s highlight – the Albert Mountain fire tower. Apparently, there’s a fire tower at the top of one of the highest peaks around and not only does the trail pass it, you can go up and inside of it. Sweet!
On we go, yeah? Remember how happy I was when I realized my state cared about thru-hikers and their feet? A concern made evident by careful placement of a pathway through an otherwise rocky area? Remember when I thought that North Carolina was better when it came to rocks? Scratch that. Scratch that entirely. Strike that from the record. I was so wrong. The approach to the fire tower was my first “scramble.” For those unfamiliar with the term, it means you have to crawl up rocks – not making par after missing the GIR. Fun. Well, at least I got to take some good pictures of the trail and a few videos of DABS coming up, which is always entertaining!
DABS Coming Up
DABS Climbing Rocks
Once again, the misery proved worth it and I was rewarded with the most amazing views I’ve seen, so far. Needless to say, I spent quite a bit of time up there. It was breathtaking. I’ll let the pictures speak for themselves.
When I was on top of the tower, I looked down and saw a guy who had taken the sign down and was laying on it. Obviously it was necessary since the entire area was flat. Hike your own hike, bro! (Much, much more on this phrase to follow)
I noticed an attic inside the tower and my curiosity prevailed. There was a single piece of 1″ round stock welded to about a foot by foot piece of 1/4″ sheet metal that was bolted to the floor. It didn’t seem very sturdy. It was my only option, though. After a display of acrobatics that would make any circus proud, I was looking in the attic. There was nothing up there. Way to risk injury for no reward. Oh well. Notice the extreme balance and expertise associated with this maneuver (sarcasm). Also, how do I have shin muscles?
I actually went to the top of the fire tower three times today and was feeling so good, I ran up the four flights of stairs each time. I don’t know if I’m getting back in shape, getting my trail legs, or both. Either way, I’m digging it. DABS made it up there with me, so we snapped a picture from the top.
It was about this time when the day started to take a turn first to weird, and then shortly later, to bad. One of the girls who came up had a rope at the bottom of her pack. I’d like to point out that this was not 550 cord. This was also not rope people use for climbing and rappelling. This was a rope better suited for a tugboat to use while pulling an oil tanker. It was massive. I inquired. Apparently she does some type of rope-climbing-dancing-acrobatics or something… Circus girl? Exotic dancer? I didn’t get the entire story, and to be honest, I didn’t really care. I was too confused to be concerned. What followed shortly after was a display of the strangest thing I’ve seen on the trail, so far (and also a shameless upstaging of my brilliant acrobatics while in the fire tower). I mean, I guess it wouldn’t have been strange to see in a gym, or something; but, this girl is literally lugging around a piece of the Titanic just so she can swing from things like a monkey. Hike your own hike! (Again, more on this later) I took a picture so I could share this with you guys.
So, that was the weird, here comes the bad:
6’12”, who we thought we’d lost, showed up after I’d been up there for nearly two hours. He limped up the trail and told me he’d messed up his hip and leg. Not really sure what happened, I asked him if he was okay and would keep going. He said he would, but, he wanted to go up the fire tower for a few pictures, first. I knew he was in pain when it took him almost five minutes to go up the 30-40 steps leading to the top.
He also showed me this awesome video of him walking. Apparently that’s harder than it sounds for people from Wisconsin. You be the judge…
6’12” vs. Walking
We took a few pictures and then decided to head to camp. Before we did, 6’12” put his pack on and then remembered he needed something from inside of it. He asked for my help and I declined, hoping for more hilarity. I got it.
The rest of the group had planned to rendezvous at a campsite two miles away and then debate whether, or not, to carry on to the next site three and a half miles beyond. I left with 6’12” and immediately noticed how slowly he was walking, wincing in pain with every step. Not good.
Right then, I decided I was going to get down to the first shelter as quickly as I could, drop my pack, hurry back, and carry his pack for him.
I’d like to interject this portion of the story with a little insight. “Hike your own hike.” You hear it everywhere out here. Usually, it’s used when someone sees someone else doing something of which they don’t approve or feel is beneath them. Example: I’m walking into a campsite and see someone urinating near a water source. Rather than argue, I say, “Hike your own hike,” with a hint of condescension in my voice.
Another way it’s used is in defense of something with which someone else doesn’t agree. Example: I have my Crocs lashed to the outside of my pack and when one of the gram counters tells me that’s too much weight, I tell him, “Hike your own hike.”
Now, why does this matter? A few of the books I’ve read mention that it’s very common for people to form groups at the beginning of their hike. They go on to say that it’s human nature to form groups and that, although these groups can provide encouragement and support, they can also ruin your hike. How? Like so… Suppose (and in my case, it’s true) you meet up with a group that hikes at a slower pace than you. If you stay with that group, you risk being forced to do shorter days, lengthening your time on the trail. Also, they may want to pass by things you want to enjoy, take more/less time in towns, etc.
Enter: Hike your own hike.
Leave the group and focus on your own hike. Books, articles, and many people advise this. The term literally encourages selfishness.
I’m out here to try to become a better person while fulfilling a dream and an adventure. I’m not super ‘Hooah’ (it’s an army term, google it) or anything, but I’m reminded of another phrase that I’ve recited thousands of times. “I will never leave a fallen comrade.” It’s a part of the Warrior Ethos that every soldier must learn and live. If I’m of sound mind and able body, why should I hike my own hike? Why can’t I also help 6’12” hike his? Why can’t my hike be helping him with his hike?
Hike your own hike? Meh. I’m gonna do me. At the end of the day, I want to be the person who helped a friend, not left him behind because he was injured and hiked slower. I’m not saying that our paths won’t eventually lead different ways, I’m just saying that I won’t leave him behind when he’s injured so I can cover more miles that day. If you would have, I don’t think I’d have a beer with you. Rant over.
I forgot to mention that on my way down to the shelter the first time, I ran by a female Cooper’s Hawk that was undoubtedly on a kill. I say this because raptors are reluctant to leave a kill because they’re so hard to come by in nature, and this case was no different. She didn’t bust out of the bush until I was about three feet away. If my heart rate wasn’t already at max potential output, it was then. Won’t be digging a cathole tonight.
So I met up with the rest of the group at the first shelter, brought them up to speed with 6’12” and his issue, left my pack in their care, drank some water, and ran back up the trail to meet him. After about a half-mile, or so, I found him and told him to give me his pack. I think he shed a tear. I told him the group had decided to go on to the next shelter. He said he thought he’d be able to make it if he didn’t have to carry his pack; so, off I went. I ran back down the trail and caught up with the group about a mile from the first shelter. Because I didn’t want my decision to help a friend to have a negative impact on anyone else’s hike, I snatched my pack from Eugene and proceeded to hike the next two miles carrying both my pack and his pack. Luckily, one of the guys hiking with us, Uphill (that’s his trail name) helped me out by hurrying to camp, dropping his pack, and coming back to relieve me. Unfortunately, it was only for about a quarter of a mile, but it was still great to finally have one pack, again. If you ever read this, Uphill, I can’t thank you enough for that.
6’12” made it to camp about 15 minutes after me and seemed to be in fairly decent spirits, in spite of his injury. He also tripped over a log in a manner that reminded me of a South American soccer player taking a dive in a game. I called him ‘seis doce’ for the rest of the night (six twelve in Spanish). I didn’t have that one on video, but it was great. Trust me.
My legs are shot. I didn’t make it to Franklin, NC today. I did help a friend through one of those moments that tends to make people catch a flight back to their hometown, though. As soon as I’m done writing this, I’m going to sleep like a baby. We only have four miles tomorrow to get to town and I’m going to take two zeroes in a row. I only wanted to take one; but, NC State is playing Friday night in the Sweet 16 and that’s important enough for me to take another one.
Sorry this has been such a long post, it’s been a long and eventful day, so that’s what you get.
Regardless of the pain, I still feel really good. I know I could have made Franklin today if everything else hadn’t happened. My Fitbit says 16.98 miles for the day, so I’m happy with that. I’m trying to push myself harder each day. I’m excited about a few down days, though. Today took a lot out of me with all the running and the carrying two packs. Hopefully I’m able to move in the morning. At least I’m eating Bojangles for lunch tomorrow, though!
I’m sure I’ll have more to write tomorrow. For now, it’s 11:54 and that’s way past hiker midnight. I’m going to bed. Y’all be good.