Sheep Rock Top to Steeltrap Gap
Sunny and I Like It Camp to Call Home Camp
AT miles: 17.9
Total miles: 67.7
Elevation change: 4826ft gain, 4508 loss
There’s no such thing as a perfect day on trail, or maybe they’re all perfect (something to ponder later). However, today came close. Great weather and a no-rush schedule afforded me the pleasure cruise vibe that I’m always searching for. Just taking the trail as it comes, my way.
With no real schedule to keep anymore, I let my body wake naturally. It was still dark when that happened so I snoozed a little bit until the sky brightened and turned a dusty purple, then red. I was pleased to note that while it was still cold, somewhere in the 20’s, the hellacious wind had finally abated. The morning was peaceful.
I packed my things then got moving, wearing all my layers and warming up quickly. The warm morning light lit up the orange-brown leaf litter, adding cozy visuals to my cozy state.
I passed a huge group of Scouts one mile later at Low Gap Shelter. Observing their collective energy made me smile and grateful that I camped where I did last night. The trail from there followed an old logging road oh-so-gradually uphill around loping hillsides. A few other hikers passed me by while I filtered water, but I hiked on alone, perfectly content to keep it that way for now.
Some icicles proved that my thermometer hadn’t been exaggerating, but the day was warming up for good now. I popped off a few layers, then ran straight into Guardian, just starting out the day. I moseyed with him for a while, learning about his struggles with life pulling him off of the trail on a previous thru-hike attempt in 2020. “Like my own country song,” as he put it. Wishing him better luck this time, I left him on a particularly rocky and muddy hillside traverse. I met U-turn next, a soon-to-be grandfather out enjoying retirement. Our shared experience was short-lived as I pulled into a campsite for a lunch break.
I stretched out my legs as best as I could, with particular attention given to my left knee and right shin where I was feeling the beginnings of shin splints. It’s funny, but at 31, I feel a lot older than my 25 year old self on the PCT. Smarter and wiser, more handsome too, but older. On the PCT, my feet were a mess at this point, riddled with painful, stride-altering blisters, but my muscles took the abuse without much more than an early morning protest. Things are different now, but I’d rather have it this way. A little stretching is a small price to pay for painless stepping.
The first shoes-off break of the AT was a resounding success. I left refreshed and full of chips, chocolate, and peanut butter. After a punishing descent to Unicoi Gap I did still manage to stuff in a banana and tangerine, graciously provided by a trail angel up from Hotlanta. The day got much harder after that, starting with a relentless climb to the summit of Rocky Mountain. I’ve seen rockier, but the viewpoint was a nice change to the monotony of deciduates in winter. That big climb was followed by a challenging and rocky descent to Indian Grave Gap. Then I was bounced immediately up again through rhododendron thickets to the top of Tray Mountain, probably the highest point of the AT so far at nearly 4400ft.
The day was working its way into evening by the time I started down the opposite ridge. I got cold when I tucked into shady dips, then warmed up again on the sunny bulges. Having nearly made my mileage goal (setting up perfectly for a resupply delivery tomorrow), I had no qualms with stopping before 6pm. Besides, I was tired. Dead tired. It was all I could do to stretch, lie down, scarf some cold beans, and make the first call home to SpiceRack. I was in danger of dozing off each step of the way.
With tremendous effort, I got up to brush my teeth and pee one last time. There is no harder task on a thru-hike. Thinking about how I’ll take cold and sunny nine times out of ten when hiking, sleep came easy, and I slept hard.