I’ve not slept a solid night whilst hiking the Smokies; my Therm-a-Rest NeoAir XLite Sleeping Pad felt like sleeping on a block of granite (despite trying different firmness options), and I would turn over 45° every 15-20 minutes: back, right side, front, left side, back… and so on, all night. My knees and ankle would flare up in pain all through the night and I would spend 10-20 minutes awake trying to “think” through the pain. I’d listen to my own breathing, anything to try and get me to sleep. I’d get a rhythm going and it would be interrupted by a rumble of snoring. Seriously, it was an exercise in futility.
I sensed the typical nuance of hikers waking and I felt dead-like. The worst of hangovers without a drop of alcohol passing my lips, and my eyes looked like sheeps’ fannies. St. Croix was, as ever, chipper and smiling. “Morning, Jolly!”, came his salutation. I grunted with a wry smile – he understood. For the next 20 minutes I was in and out of fatigue and mental failure, I felt completely smoked and ready to go nowhere… except home.
Blue, SC, and Bitter Goat asked in succession how my ankle was — it had been a topic of conversation the previous night — I kept the conversation small, and through one side of my mouth I muttered “I’m ok.” I wasn’t.
It felt like an eternity between me waking and getting around to packing, and I remember SC asking how I was – I stood up and turned away from him while simultaneously responding “I’m good, man” – I was fighting back some tears by this point as I’d started to succumb to the fact that my AT thru hiking days were over; I was still in pain. It was extremely upsetting. I’d failed.
We said our goodbyes (they were packed and ready to hike) and I was alone – two other hikers left at the shelter that I’d met only the previous night. I made coffee. Slightly better.
I’d been texting with the missus about my condition and where my mind was since the night before, and this morning she sent me something I was not expecting: one hell of an inspirational and motivational message:
“First of all, get that negative vocabulary out of this conversation. U are tired and in pain. If you weren’t. We wouldn’t b having this conversation. Tomorrow is a new day. U just have a little more pain to go. In a few hours you will b closer to comfort. You can do this. You’ll bitch about It in your head. But tomorrow you may think differently. U will always remember it was hard but u will b glad u stuck through this. This is part of the trail. U knew this would happen and CAN get through it. Be my little engine that could. Come on David. I’m rooting for you.”
I changed gear.
I finished packing and hauled arse up and north and I’d caught up with St. Croix, Blue, and Bitter Goat pretty quickly.
High fives were thrown and I felt good; it felt good to be amongst friends again.
After the 2.1 miles of ascent, it was time for the 5.2 miles downhill. Downhills are brutal, especially with such sharp descents and rock littered trails. Every step was a concentrated step, there was no way I was going to rush this and destroy my ankle with another roll. I had Bitter Goat and Etch-a-Sketch (met her the night before at the shelter) sign my ball cap.
I got to Davenport Gap around 1:15pm and was blown away by trail magic: cold sodas and chips of every variety. Epic times.
I called Melissa Browning from the 2013 AT Guide (page 32) and she picked me up and dropped me off at the Motel 6 in Newport. It only took her about half an hour to get to Davenport Gap which was superb. I threw my pack and poles in her trunk and we were off. I waved goodbye to my hiking buds and they disappeared in the dust kicked up from Melissa’s car as we curved downhill.
Melissa was awesome; we shared stories and I took in some of the local info. She has an incredible shuttle service that covers most areas around this part of the trail but draws the line going as far as Clingmans, for example. It’s best to call her and ask: (423) 623-7074.
Melissa will be dropping me off again day after tomorrow. She’s making my zero day extremely easy to navigate.
I did laundry at the Motel 6 and afterwards walked 0.5 mile to Walmart to buy some ankle support and pain meds. I bought some shaving foam and a razor, too. My face is getting messy.
On the way back I stopped off at Sagebrush Steakhouse – small cup of chili and a burger, just perfect.
I wasn’t too pleased with the group of locals that walked in two hours after me and flipped the channel to a baseball game they never even watched.
Whatcha gonna do, huh? I’ll behave. They’re lucky we’re not in Donny or NY, I’ll leave it at that. They’re noisy and obnoxious.
It’s 8:51pm and it’s time for bed. Icing the ankle shortly, then shut eye.