Monday, April 18, 2011

April 11

You know the 18.2-mile day we did on Saturday? We shattered that record today with 19.3 miles into Hot Springs, NC. The day began early when I woke before sunrise on Max Patch. The sky was still mostly clear and it was surprisingly light at 6:30. I woke the others and we began our usual routine of packing up camp and breakfasting. I left camp right at 7:30 and headed downhill knowing that today would be a tough day. My feet were sore and stiff but loosened up with use and I cruised down the mountain quickly to the next shelter where I stopped for a privy break along with half the people who camped on the bald last night. Obviously on the bald there is nowhere private to use the restroom unless you walk 5 minutes down the hill (and who wants to do that after hiking all day?). Most of the shelters have moldering privies where tests are being done to determine the efficiency of their ability to decompose solid human waste. They are nothing more than a toilet seat covering an above-ground hole where the waste collects and decomposes along with handfuls of dry duff that is supposed to be thrown in after each use. Most have 3 short walls, most have roofs, and if you get lucky, some have doors. They are understandably smelly and dirty but keep the "pollution" down in the areas around the shelters. A few shelters in the Smokies did not have privies and the designated "toilet area" was a mine field...completely unsanitary as most people do not properly bury their waste. You'd think that in the most-visited national park, they'd have privies to avoid that problem, but...not so. Anyway, a privy is not a pleasant thing to use in most cases but it does offer a bit of privacy in crowded shelter areas.
Back to today: I made decent time this morning hoping to beat the heat and conquer the day's biggest climb, Bluff Mountain, before the sun reached its peak. The climb was easier than expected but anything would have felt easy compared to yesterday! I met up with Muffin Man and AJ on the summit and we sped down the 4 miles on the other side in just over an hour. We've all perfected the downhill jog technique...going downhill is hard on the leg joints; going downhill for an extended period of time with a pack on your back is even harder on the joints. To avoid the repetitive and painful plodding, it's sometimes easier to sink your hips down, "ski" with your poles, and half-jog down a mountain...very carefully, of course. We stopped for lunch at the bottom with 6.6 miles to go. I hiked these last miles alone as Muffin Man and AJ went out ahead...I made decent time, about 3 mph, despite the fatigue that was setting in. The blister on my left heel popped itself after 3.6 of these final miles but didn't cause me much discomfort. The last mile or so seemed to drag on and on as my feet were hurting and I could see Hot Springs displayed in the valley below. I finally made it and plopped next to AJ in the grass to wait for Pappy, Shepherd, and Phil. They arrived shortly after and we headed up the trail, which cut right through town, to the Smoky Mountain Diner where we had a delicious dinner and several pitchers of Dr. Pepper. AJ's cousin met us there with his Grandma's van and we all piled in to go to his parent's house in Asheville, about 45 minutes away. We were planning to take a zero in Hot Springs but this will save us some lodging money. We've been hanging out here at the house and are cooking breakfast in the morning. I am tired and sore and cannot wait to give my body a good rest tomorrow. It's been another long, tough day but there are still smiles on all of our faces...
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