Day 3: Going the Distance

Appalachian Trail May 9, 2012 • 4 min read

Conditions: Low 50s, Steady Wind, Occasional Showers
Distance: 13.9 miles

I woke up to rain. It took forever to fall asleep. I battled a cold before the trip and there's still a little cough that comes at night. None of it matters. Because I have to hike. I get up, make breakfast, pack my gear, and hike. Knee still bothering me. Hike. Raining. Hike. That is what you do. Hike.

I study the map and set a schedule. I do my best to stick to it. If I don't, I have to make it up tomorrow. And guess what I'm doing tomorrow – hiking. Today's goal is Low Gap shelter. I planned it to be 12 miles away. Intentionally shorter to give myself an easy day. But since I didn't make Neels Gap yesterday, it will be 14 miles today.

The distance becomes a game. You divide and conquer. The entirety is too much. If I thought when I started I have 14 miles to go, I would stop after the first incline. You make deals. I'll get here in an hour. I want to make it there before lunch.

I make it to Neels Gap quickly. It has a hostel and outfitter (supply store) right on the trail. I bought a Powerade to curb the dehydration from yesterday. I also got some cough drops hoping they might help me fall asleep easier.

The college kid that I teamed up with on Day 2 seemed ready to make more miles today. I told him to go on. Upon leaving he shouted back, “Hey Bootstrapper, thanks for the trail name”. On the Appalachian Trail you have a trail name. Either you have one or one is given to you. I named myself “Bootstrapper”. Given his pace I named him “Machine”. Sounds like he'll use it.

The weather was surreal. Like the rain forests of the Pacific Northwest – constant rain and fog. A steady wind turned the rain into mist. The clouds hung low in the mountains. Visibility couldn't have been more than 100ft. At the top of the second ridge, I came across a beat up tent. “Hello”. A lanky, middle-aged southerner stumbled out. His trail name was “Pop Tart”. I immediately realized why as his food supply consisted mostly of Pop Tarts. He offered me one several times. He was taking a zero (not hiking any miles that day) before continuing south. We discussed the weather. He said all the wind was going to move the rain out. He was a chatter. But I was glad for the conversation.

Appalachian Trail - Ferns and Fog

Most of my day was spent alone. I kept leap frogging a father/son group. I'd pass them, they'd pass me. I helped them with the map and told them I was heading to Low Gap. They thought about it for a while and the next time we crossed paths they agreed to Low Gap. We went the last few miles together. Right as we made it to Low Gap, the sun came out. Just as Pop Tart said.

Although my shoulders were strengthening, my left knee was still bothering me. I set up my tent quickly. Hoping to rest up. However, the shelter was full. More people meant more activity. We decided to make a fire. I never pass up a fire. A thru-hiker named “Turtle” had already been collecting wood. I helped him organize the piles into kindling, timber, and logs. Everything was still wet. We used one of his fire sticks to ensure it started. As soon as the smoke hit the shelter, everyone came up and circled around the fire. Amazing how in the wild, fire brings the tribe together. I sat around the fire until dark.

Upon leaving the fire, I realized the temperature had dropped significantly. It had to be low 40s. I could see my breath. I had foregone my sleeping bag due to its bulk. I had my Mom sew together a two sided lightweight bag – thicker cotton on one side and flannel on the other. This way I could rotate it for more warmth. But tonight was cold. I decided to sleep in my rain gear to help reflect my body heat.

I have a big day tomorrow. I cross two major peaks. Both over 4000ft.

Lessons I learned today:

  • Treat blisters right away.
  • Take breaks before you're empty
  • Rain gear is essential. Without it on a day like today, mild hypothermia would have set in.

~ Bootstrapper – 0011

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