Today’s mileage: 19.7
Total mileage: 530.6
I think today is one for the record books. We didn’t put in our longest day yet. We didn’t hit any big milestones today. And no, not even a touch of trail magic. But, I didn’t have a single problem with my knees or my feet! This may seem trivial, but for me, it’s a huge deal. I can’t remember a day out here when a blister wasn’t nagging me, my knee wasn’t in pain, or my feet weren’t killing me. None of the above apply to my hike today and I can only hope there are more of those days ahead. Although my body decided I can’t get off too easy and so I had a headache the entire day instead. Oh well. I’ll take what I can get.
We didn’t start until after 9:30, but we made really good time today. I’m actually surprised at how quick we were hiking. We were doing about 3 miles per hour today, bounding down hills and propelling ourselves up mountains. I was shocked when we got to the next shelter 9 miles away in 3 hours flat. We’re not trying to be super speed hikers out here, but I was really feeling it today and with my feet and knees feeling good, I was on a hiker high. I think back to our first 19 mile day in the Smokies a few weeks ago and I remember how much my feet hurt and how tired and sore I was at the end of the day. Today, 19.7 miles felt like an average day. Granted, the terrain and elevation gain and loss weren’t bad at all, but the fact that I’m calling 20 mile days “average” is still bizarre to me. I had never hiked more than 18 in one day before the AT and that was only one time when I was 16 years old. It’s strange how your perspective can change so quickly. In only a matter of weeks. I think it’s also a testament to how amazing the human body is at physical adaptation. We are all more physically capable than we think we are; it just takes a little time to adapt.
For the first time today, I noticed that the trees were starting to bud. As we walked into a field midway through the day, we came upon crisp green grass and budding trees everywhere you looked. It was beautiful. Walking along the ridge line later, we looked down upon lush, green valleys dotted with farms and small houses. The weather was warm, but not too hot and patches of grass and small wildflowers lined the trail. Spring is most definitely here.
We made it to the shelter around 5 where we met up with some other hikers we had seen before. The shelter here is really nice. A double level structure with windows, a shower, and a sink. There’s also an indoor privy and a clothesline. This rivals the Fontana Hilton for sure. I forgot to mention before that we met Tincup, a hiker who works at the mill in Bucksport! Steve is his real name and he found us in Damascus and had heard from some people at the mill that there was a couple from Bucksport also thru-hiking. He’s a great guy and it’s funny to hear that we know some of the same people. He even ordered a couple of pizzas for all of us to share for dinner tonight! Did I mention that Pizza Hut delivers to the visitor’s center here? Amazing. It was so nice of him and we enjoyed talking about home.
We also met a SOBO hiker here tonight who started in late September and hiked through the winter. He said he enjoyed the solitude. I think his solitude is over now however as he will encounter a lot of hikers as he heads south. He said he’s met about 100 NOBO thru-hikers ahead of us. I’m really surprised there aren’t more than that.
We’re in the top level of the shelter and we could hear the older guys on the bottom saying that us younger hikers only care about the miles and don’t enjoy our hike and take our time to enjoy what we’re seeing everyday out here. Miles and I could only laugh. We may do some longer days out here, but I know in our case, we most certainly have stopped to enjoy it all. From cutting our day short to camp on beautiful Cheoah Bald to stargaze, extending our lunch break to hang out with ponies, and gazing upon the magnificence of the snow-covered Smokies from Wesser Bald. We laughed only because their statement was simply false.