Week 2: Days 9-11; Dicks Creek Gap Crossing Into North Carolina

Day 9

Today will be our first true zero day. I admit that waking up in a hotel rather than my tent is a welcomed delight. My knee has been incredibly sore the last two days, so the rest is helping the pain. I had breakfast with Keith; Red Coat, a guy from England who appropriately wears a red puffy; and Daniel, a Broadway pianist/conductor.

We did our resupply at Dollar General and also went to Ingals (which I’d never heard of), the southern version of HyVee (which they have never heard of). We ate at a local restaurant called Barney’s where we again had some of the most amazing service. It’s really unbelievable just how excellent the customer service is down here! We spent much of the day just vegetating in our room enjoying not walking around with 40-pound packs. I made Rob (Sherlock) try his first Twinkie, and he wasn’t impressed.

For supper we hit the local Mexican restaurant, which offered excellent food and $1.50 beers. I’m not a beer drinker, but the rest of my crew indulged. We talked about rugby for a bit, as my entire group is made up of internationals. An elderly gentleman sitting in the booth behind us approached us as he left and asked who played rugby. He was a rugby player in his youth when he lived in South Africa. We joked a bit with his accent, and he went on his way. When our check arrived, it was only for a single round of beers and we asked why. The waitress said the South African man picked up our tab–another unbelievable stroke of trail magic from a complete stranger we spoke to no more than 30 seconds! We asked if he was a local, which he was, and we urged our waitress to express our gratitude the next time he came in.

We again soaked in the hot tub, and I massaged my knee praying it would be able to handle the strains of hiking again in the morning.

Day 10

After another all-you-can-eat continental breakfast at the hotel, we phoned a man by the trail name “Encourager,” who often provides free shuttles for hikers in the area. Encourager is a bit famous on the AT often toting 40-pound packs up to shelters with trail magic for others. He’s a remarkable man and an incredibly giving spirit. He has already hiked the Camino De Santiago via the French Route, about 2,000 miles of the AT, and plans to do another 600 of the AT this summer. He’ll finish up with yet another Camino this time from the Portuguese side with his wife and then take a cruise back to Miami. He asked to pray for us as we left the car, which I welcomed. I’m one of the few religious people on the trail, hence the trail name “Prophet,” so it’s nice to see some.

My knee was still struggling, so I advised my group to press on without me and I’d catch up. I often spend most of my day walking alone anyway, so this wasn’t an issue.

We crossed the state line from Georgia into North Carolina around lunch, so we sat on the line for a quick bite. We decided to push for a big day at lunch, so the hiking continued. I arrived at Standing Indian Shelter around 5 p.m. I settled in and did my camp chores and finally crawled into my tent around 7:30 p.m. I could hear the people in the shelter yelling about mice running around, so I was hoping they didn’t venture into the rain toward my tent! Today marked our longest hiking day yet at 16.7 miles bringing me to 93.4 miles completed.

Day 11

Today marked my 29th birthday. I’ve never been a big celebrator of my birthday but very much appreciated when my phone suddenly found service and blew up with about 50 Facebook messages and 20 texts–many of whom also wished me luck on my journey. It’s very encouraging to hear from people back home listening in to see how this is all going. So if you do happen to read this blog, please leave me messages or ask questions! I love the interaction.

My knee still hurts but ibuprofen helps take the stiffness away from it. I leave ahead of my group this morning knowing they will catch me shortly. We climbed Albert Mountain after lunch, and it was incredibly steep. Many have to put poles away and boulder or hand-over-hand climb up to the top. The view from the top was thankfully worth the trouble. We could climb about 80 percent of the way up the fire tower here, and I tried my best to grab a decent panoramic shot. From this shot near the railing on the left is the Smokey Mountains–our destination for the first week of April.

Shortly after the fire tower is the “100 mile marker.” This is another wonderful mile stone to hit, but when I think about it, it means we are only 1/22 of the way done!

I tried to cook pasta again in the bag tonight, but it didn’t cook the water off as it should. I either need a lot less water or need to boil it the entire time. 😦

We settled into Long Branch Shelter after another long 16.3 mile day, as we are planning another nero day in Franklin. Our total hiked is now 109.7 miles.

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