Leaving the Microtel this morning was a relief. I’ve spent too many days off trail and I’d started to worry about my trail legs which, I’ve noticed over the last few days, were growing in. The trouble with being off trail is your body doesn’t go through the nine hours of brutality as it would, so it softens. I started this part of the hike with Don’s Brother and Highlighter, and as Don sped onward and Highlighter hung back, I spent the next 2.5-3 hours on my own; it was actually quite nice to be able to get inside my own head again. I like being in my head, getting to know myself a little more each day is enjoyable.
I was feeling strong climbing up from Winding Stair Gap, and I hiked the first four and a half miles in an hour and three quarters — I was motoring — that was until I looked up from the trail for a quarter of a second to check my surroundings, and boom… I went down like a sack of shit. My left ankle rolled badly and fast, and my right leg went into recovery mode bending at the knee to absorb the drop – but it couldn’t hold the extra 30lbs on my back so I went arse over tit and hit the ground hard. My trekking poles flew out of my hands, right knee breaking a lot of my fall, and my body let out instant shock sweats. I freaked out this time — I’ve rolled this ankle twice already — I thought I’d bought the farm on this third roll. Agonizing, I composed myself with clenched teeth and some limping and walked it off. I would realize later when I took off my clothes and footwear to shower at the hostel, just how swollen my ankle was.
Don’s Brother and I hiked up and over to Wayah Tower and had lunch, and he told me that he’d already booked a bunk at the Aquone Hostel for that night. Aquone… I remembered Tie Dye had mentioned in a text a few days ago that she was staying there. I hadn’t seen her since we got separated before Standing Indian, so I called the hostel to enquire about an available bunk. Maggie, one of the owners (and originally from Newcastle), said they had one left, and I also asked if Tie Dye was still there – she was. Awesome! I took the bunk.
I met lots of other thru-hikers today, and even two south bounders — Snowman and River Dog — which was cool, and in no particular order: Nomad, Mountain Man, Noodles, Cookies and his son Dash (Cookie was walking with the biggest walking staff I’ve ever seen), Paperboy, Bojangles, Whiskers, Rocket, Walker, and Piper. Piper was stopped at a small creek with Nomad, Mountain Man, and Noodles when I saw him, and he seemed a bit unhappy; maybe he was tired. Piper is someone I’d met on my first night at Hawk Mountain Shelter, and I’d leap frogged him again after leaving Carter Gap. Great guy, young lad, determined, and quiet.
Arriving at Burningtown Gap we were picked up by Steve (Maggie’s husband and co-owner of the hostel, originally from Manchester and a former Marine), and he drove us to the Aquone Hostel — when I say “drive”, I mean something Colin McRae would have been famous for. Talk about hugging the apex.
We arrived, and after signing in, we were taken around the back to the actual bunkhouse and I saw Tie Dye and Cap’n Dan — it was really great to see them; happy faces that were familiar to me. Lots of hugging and back slapping, it felt pretty good to have caught up to them (I’d hiked a pretty quick 14.6 miles today).
I showered; shower gel, shampoo, even a can of deodorant was offered, as was a fresh towel and flannel. That’s when I saw my ankle, not pretty. I showered and put on my “camp clothes” (shorts and my AT t-shirt, Crocs) and joined everyone in the lounge/common area. Dinner was about to be served, and it was a beauty: meatloaf, mashed potatoes, carrots, and gravy – unbelievable. Dessert of sponge cake with icing followed, and I poured myself a coffee. There’s no cell service here so I used their shared PC to write home and let my better half know that I’m still breathing.
My blogging is accompanied by sporadic glances up at the TV showing a rerun of Man vs Food, and it’s 8:22pm; or as I’ve come to learn on the trail, it’s past hiker midnight. Hiker midnight is typically around 8:00pm, and certainly around the time I’ve been hitting the hay of late.
I’m looking forward to sleeping in my bag on a soft mattress tonight. Our ride back to Burningtown Gap is 8:30am, right after breakfast at 8:00am. Highlighter didn’t make it in time to make a booking here which sucks, I hope he makes it to NOC tomorrow – but that’s a 18 mile day, yikes.
NOC tomorrow and I have a room booked with Cap and Tie Dye for the night. Pretty pleased that I’m going to make Franklin to NOC in two days.
Wish my hun was here.