AT - Day 85

Cool 40-degree conditions greeted us, but did not dampen the warm company. Toby reminded me of Romans 8:31. After a brief stop at Roaring Fork Shelter, I was on my own again, crossing Max Patch with clouds scraping across the bald mountaintop. It was a mystical event, reminiscent of Saddleback Mountain in Maine, warning me to be humble. As I descended Snowbird Mountain, identical twins Hel and Emmadog came striding athletically uphill. Hel advised me, “Be nice to yourself. Take a day off.” Continuing on the long downhill, I found that I could eliminate the knee complaint by trotting. The trail led across Pigeon River and Route I-40, then over a big bump to Davenport Gap. I ate a big dinner at Mountain Momma’s. Nobo section hikers Woodbadge and Ovenbird shared the honeymoon cabin with me and supplied tips about the trail ahead. My maildrop had shoe replacements.

Taking Hel’s advice, I looked for opportunities to take half-days off the trail. I called them “Be nice to yourself” days in her honor. The twins completed the AT in two section hikes, according to the grapevine.
My knee complaint pretty well went away after today, but I continued taking the medication, since it had been prescribed for up to a month. I did not realize it was ten times the normal dose of ibuprophen.
Ironically, the knee injury taught me how to run on smooth sections of trail, with an ankle trotting motion, like skipping rope. This trail running subsequently helped me gain time on long downhills, and incidentally caused lingering soreness in muscles immediately above the knees.



AT - Day 77

After 7 miles, the trail reach-ed Vandeventer Shelter with its picturesque view of Watauga Lake. The trail wound through ups, downs, turns, and road crossings to the earthen Watauga Dam and the deep ravine off to the right. The trail bordered the heavily-used picnic area before crossing Route 321 and ascending by pleasant switchbacks to Pond Flats. Contrary to the profile map, the trail became rugged while descending Pond Mountain to Laurel Fork Gorge. The landscape assumed an untamed, prehistoric character. A steep climb out of the falls led to a railroad bed passing through dramatic, hilly terrain to Dennis Cove Rd. Arriving at Kincora Hiker’s Hostel after 5 p.m., I went out with proprietor Bob Peoples and section hiker Neutron for groceries. After consuming most of a large pizza, a good hunk of steak, and a pint of ice cream, I still felt hungry. Go figure.

Bob told me the story of one person’s transformation into a thru-hiker. Pointing to the white waste basket in the bathroom, Bob said, “See that 5-gallon pail there? A guy walked in here with all his possessions in that pail. A sheriff in Georgia had told him to follow the white lines on the trail north, and not to come back. I swapped him a pack for the pail, and he went all the way.”



AT - Day 65

Woken at 4 a.m. by cool air, I hiked by moonlight, then flashlight into Daleville by dawn. After obtaining my maildrop at Econolodge and a buffet breakfast at Shoney’s, I climbed the rocky trail past buzzing powerlines to Hay Rock with its view of Carvin Cove Reservoir. After ups and downs, the trail offered westerly views of the valley, with hawks soaring above. The trail ducked off the ridge at Lamberts Meadow Shelter, where I got murky water from a stagnant stream, then rose to Tinker Cliffs. Up and down, up and down to McAfee Knob, with a view back. Up and down, up and down to Route 311, the road to Catawba. Mistakenly stretching the day 6 miles over a sawtooth ridge with more ups and downs, I cried tears of desperation. In the dark I descended to a cow pasture at Beckner Gap, crossed shoulder-high growth on Sandstone Ridge, and emerged from a pine-covered rise at Route 624. I walked a half-mile uphill to 4 Pines hostel at 9:30 p.m., where Joe Mitchell’s wide-eyed young son opened the door.

The best of days and the worst of days. High mileage in dry weather over demanding terrain with less daylight. Magnificent views for inspiration and a bad choice of water. Excitement, solitude, exhaustion.
In hindsight, I would reschedule Daleville as the two-thirds point in my southbound time-line, with segments of 600, 900, and 700 miles taking 33 days each. Truthfully, most hikers have had enough after 1,500 miles. Completing the remaining 700 miles may be attributed to determination.



3c. Ministering Angels

The last month unveiled completely new challenges. There was no way to predict the solitude that my schedule placed me in, nor the stress of keeping my eyes glued to the six feet ahead of me for 50,000 footsteps per day. In this manner, the fixation of completing the trail in a hundred days, in order to live a hundred productive years, became a fervent prayer.

It seemed that, helpless and naked as a newborn child, I prayed honestly and my prayers were answered. It seemed that rays of light provided not just inspiration, but physical nourishment. So the flickering light of nature answered my supplications as I persevered in this bare emotional state. The idea of “racing light” formed, not about hiking, but around ethereal clouds, translucent leaves and reflections in water.

The “idea” had transformed from walking softly to receiving inspiration. However, the insight came at the cost of my dwindling physical reserves. Whether tripping over roots or gliding on air, I pressed onward with a passion.