Ryan, Jeremy, Frank, and Me (not pictured are Scott and Jeff- two Liberty students who chose to spend their Spring Break on the AT instead of Florida like most college students- great guys.)
We started at 6 a.m. by the light of our headlamps for a planned mileage of 46.2 miles. This was going to be a much tougher section and with far less crew access. Our first section was around 14 miles and it was great again to watch to sun come up on the AT. I was amazed by how few hikers were stirring early in the morning. Some were still sacked out at 10 am! We all cruised into the first crew spot and Horton let us know that the gate was closed at the spot where we planned to end the day; we would have to run 3 additional miles to get to the gate where we would set up camp for the night. It was an absolutely blue-bird day, but soon the nearly 70 deg temperatures made things feel a little hot to our winterized bodies. After a shorter 4/5 mile section, we had a longer unaided section of around 13 tough miles during the heat of the day to ponder the last planned miles. Jeremy and I ran this section together. We had a great time talking and just enjoying the Trail. We both decided pretty quickly that we would be satisfied with a "sissy day" of only 30 miles. The prospect of 19 miles unaided at the end of the day simply didn't sound like fun. After all I thought, "I'm on vacation", no need to push the envelope.
Our day ended after 8 hrs 8 min. Ryan was the only tough guy to continue on and the rest of us hung out at Dicks Creek at the trail head eating and talking to hikers. Frank even gave a thru-hiker his trail name, Chewy. Kadra and I drove into Franklin to pick up pizza and then met everyone else at Deep Gap to set up camp for the night above 4,000 feet.
3/20: (Day 3) Deep Gap to Rock Gap- 23.7 miles
Day 3 was another early start and we started our 3 mile climb behind the gated FS road to the AT at 5:45 am. We were so incredibly fortunate with the weather and got to enjoy yet another beautiful sunrise. Today's scheduled mileage was 43.8 to Tellico Gap, but actual total mileage of around 46.8 counting the road up to the AT. I knew very early on that my body was not going to cooperate with that plan. About 5/6 miles into the initial 23.7 mile section with no crew access (FS roads were still gated b/c of snow and ice) my right shin started hurting. I knew immediately that it was my old enemy instep tendinitis and that the tibialis anterior muscle and my lack of prophylactic icing was to blame. I would have stopped earlier, but I had to trudge on to Rock Gap; finally getting there 6 hrs 15 min later. I'm glad that I had to go on though. I would not have wanted to miss Albert Mountain. The view was awesome from the tower.
The miles of trail off of Albert Mountain were tough. It was awesome trail that was downhill for 6 miles, but it was killing my shin to run it. I ultimately resorted to using some sticks as poles to help take some of the pressure off of the shin. I was bummed to cut my last day on the AT short, but I wasn't willing to risk any further injury. The rest of the guys went on to do one more day and ended up at Fontana. Would have been great to end up at the southern end of the Smokies.
Snow above 5,000 ft
I had a great time on the AT those few days. After some ice and ibuprofen my shin was almost 100% the next day. The AT is a special place to be anytime, but extra special this time of year with all the thru-hikers starting and signs of Spring. I can't wait to get back. . .