I was now fully equipped other than my still broken tent. The night in Mountain Crossings Hostel had reunited me with Memphis whose trail name is now No Name, Logan and Silver Bullet as well as Beth and a cast of 10 other hikers. It was supposed to be a rain soaked day so we waited for the store to open, got some coffee, and a few other extraneous items. With a light rain falling No Name, Silver Bullet, Logan and I met under the famous gate which evidently is the only structure you walk under on the entire trail. I expected to find some words of wisdom or encouragement inscribed somewhere but instead only found a sign stating “Restroom closed. Use privy”. It was accompanied by an arrow pointing to four porta potties. Oh well…. it wouldn’t matter in a few steps. Word of encouragement would have to come from within,
We began the climb with me in the lead. I don’t normally like that because I’m always concerned about holding up faster hikers. But on this day they all seemed ok with it…. at least for the first 5.5 miles to Testanee Gap. The combination of light rain and clouds made for some interesting views. The rain was holding off. A good omen?
In between we had conquered Bull Gap, Levelland Mountain, Swain Gap, Wolf Laurel Top, and Cowrock Mountain. It’s amazing how much you can learn about one another in a short time. Four men of totally different backgrounds and yet now connected in a special way. We were all out of breath.
After lunch Silver Bullet took off followed by No Name me and then Logan. It was a brutal climb up wildcat Mountain which whooped my tail. I immediately knew that they all had more endurance than me so it would take some heavy duty will power to keep up. In spite of Logan’s 267 pounds he was equipped for strength and he motored past me. We saw Beth several times and then lost her. By the time we got to Whitley Gap Shelter and Hogpen Gap I was ahead of Logan but falling behind No Name and Bullet.
As the day progressed we were together or solo. The miles passed over Poor Mountain and Sheep Rock top. Our first goal had been Low Gap Shelter…..we arrived about two thirty….11.2 miles in. The two of them were converged in a pile when I staggered into the spot. Bullet approached me and with a smile on his face stated that Blue Mountain Shelter was only another 7 miles away and we could probably do it in four hours. Did I want to go for it? Well…..ah…..gee….gosh darn…..sure.
What’s another seven miles with friends. The terrain was flat (not), it was warm(not) and it was sunny(not). Let’s do this!! A fist bump later and we were gone. Logan and Beth were now somewhere behind us. We were going for 18.8 miles. I’m dumb. I’m dumb. I’m dumb.
No Name kept us up with our location on his app which helped me since Im so goal oriented. The seven miles became five and then 2.3.
It was there that I began to hit my wall. You all know that wall…. it’s the one that you just can’t seem to get by no matter what you are doing. My pace became slower and less sure footed. It became rocky and then the rains began again. Where the heck was that shelter? I was solo again and whooped. As I quietly moved through the forest (other than my freight train breathing) I was surprised by a hiker behind me in shorts and moving at the speed of sound. “Oh sorry”, he said. I mumbled the mumble of a whooped dog. This dog had reached the end of his hunting limit. As dark came upon me at 7 pm I stumbled into the Shelter. Luckily the first person I saw was No Name. “Oh good” he said, “I’m glad you made it”. The thought of putting my tent up in the rain did not excite me but it promised warmth of some degree so…… footprint.. frame….tent…rain tarp….stakes….I crawled in….made dinner outside the front of the tent in what was now a hard rain…. soaked…..I love this… no I’m hallucinating . Why am I doing this? I drifted off to sleep in my wet clothes. My mud caked boots at the back of the tent along with my extra muddy gaiters that Whitney had given me reminded me of what lay ahead. But first blessed sleep.