I made it to my second state on the Appalachian Trail. It is no major achievement as only about 76 miles of the trail are in Georgia, the first state. I am plugging away and have found that like the first few days, it is still fairly easy to get off the trail to civilization if need be.
The last few days have been interesting. I have seen far fewer people than in the first few days of walking, perhaps because it was mid-week, or possibly to the attrition of thru-hikers. I had spoken to at least a couple of people who claimed they would be ending their thru-hike bid and would be getting off the trail. I have also discovered that with the people I do meet along the trail, stories travel quickly and not necessarily accurately. It seems that I am known to some people as a psycho samurai. Apparently the story of me finding the samurai sword in the shelter turned into me brining the thing from home and carrying it along the trail. It's just like the game of telephone. I too have heard some stories of other hikers, but take them with a grain of salt.
As I gain elevation the temperatures are getting colder. It seems that the elevation in Georgia hovered in the 3,000's, in North Carolina the 4,000's and the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee will be in the 5,000's with a top elevation of 6,643. The other night in North Carolina at 4,760 feet was the first night I could claim I was cold. The problem wasn't so much the temperature, but rather a blustery wind that blew into the shelter all night long. I would sweat in my sleeping bag and then the wind would blow right through the shelter. I woke up shivering and was looking forward to getting on the trail to warm up. Getting out the of sleeping bag was the worst part. It was just like on the bike ride waiting to go ride in a cold rain.
There has been some adversity along the trail. My inflatable sleep pad has a small hole in it, so every morning I wake up on the cold hard ground. My stove is being finicky, which doesn't bother me all that much. I usually only use my stove to cook dinner and worst case scenario, I can build a small fire on which to cook.
My feet are another issue. While they aren't in bad shape, I have a feeling it is gong to be a constant battle. It is not going to be that after three weeks my feet are going to be problem free all the way to Maine. It seems that when one spot on my foot feels better, another takes its place. Again, it is nothing major, but if I don't look after it, it may well become major. It is also the reason I decided to take another day off. One thing I have learned in my travels is that I have to rest my body before it requires rest from some type of chronic pain. Switching from cycling to hiking is a major jolt to the knees and feet. I have every intention of being part of the small minority that completes the thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail and with that have to take care of my body.
I have begun fine tuning the gear I need on the trail. I have pared down the weight on some things and have given others the heave-ho entirely. At this point I have even taken off the top cover of my backpack and left it behind as my bag is only about ¾ full as it is. Once I make it over the Smoky Mountains I was planning on jettisoning some more gear, mainly my rain jacket and a pair of fleece pants. With that I was contemplating getting a smaller and lighter backpack as well. If my current backpack were only half full, I wouldn't be able to distribute the weight properly as it would all be sitting in the bottom of my bag. I am thinking that I can drop the base weight of the things I am carrying on my back, excluding food and water to about 12.5 pounds, 11.5 if I go with a different sleep mat and use only chemical filtration for water. Even loaded with a full compliment of food and water my pack shouldn't weight more than 25 pounds.
I was able to knock off a 23 mile day, which is what I was planning to average a day on the trip. Nice that I was able to do it on my 6th day hiking. The terrain was varied and more difficult in some spots than others, but coming off the bike ride gives me the endurance if not the durability. Once I get the body a little more attuned to hiking, I think that I will be able to cover that distance a little easier. It took me nine hours in total and a little under eight hours hiking to do the distance, so I was moving at about 3 MPH...somewhat slower than on my bike. The end of the day was the most cruel. In checking my trail book I saw that where I was and my finishing point for the day, three miles hence, was at the same elevation. What the book didn't tell me was that I had to climb up and down a mountain in between. I should have known as the area in which I finished was called “Winding Staircase”.
From Winding Staircase I wanted to get to the town of Franklin, NC, ten miles on. I didn't have phone coverage, so I just stuck out my thumb. There wasn't all that much traffic but I was picked up by a gentleman named Gary, the high school principal in Franklin. Gary was kind enough to give me a ride to my hotel and even stopped along the way to introduce me to a few people, including his wife. Gary and I talked about small town America and this was an example at its finest. Friendly people everywhere. Even the teenagers in town were as polite as could be. Not one of the kids I had seen looked as if they just came from a Marilyn Manson concert. They were busy being teenages, working at the Dairy Queen and hanging out with their friends. They weren't trying to be older than they are.
It's not like a make a habit of hitchhiking and I certainly wouldn't do it everywhere, it just seems that I do so in the course of hiking excursions. The last time I hitchhiked was after a hiking trip in New Zealand. The trail I hiked was about 70 miles in length, but to get back to my car at the trail head, it was a 200 mile drive. It would have almost been easier to walk back to my car. It took seven rides and eight hours, but I made it to my car that night.
Gary had also asked me to give a little talk at his school about my experiences, but as it was a Friday, I couldn't stick around until Monday. It would have been great talking to some students about the happenings in my life these last three years. Were they the same kids in the classroom that I had seen in town, I would have enjoyed it moreso. Sure its fun to talk about the experiences in my life, but it also hasn't been since graduate school that I stood in front of a classroom. I would have enjoyed it. While I won't be able to stick around and speak to the class, I do hope to come across many more towns like Franklin along the trail.