Thursday, April 14, 2016
AT 20.8 – 26.7, 5.9 miles.
Let me just start with saying, the day began well enough. It was Ben’s birthday. All the hikers at the hostel sang Happy Birthday to him, and he blew out his birthday candle on his pancakes. We had the chance to talk to more of the hikers that morning. One of the things I’m most struck with on this adventure is the diversity of hikers. There are all ages represented, from college-aged, all the way up through recently and not-so-recently retired folks. One question that is always asked is, “where are you from?” I’ve met hikers from Washington state, London, New Orleans, DC-area, just to name a few. And, everyone has a story as to why they’re there. It is hard to sum up in a paragraph, but what I thought would be a journey of self-discovery is more about meeting the other hikers and learning from them (which, I know, is part of self-discovery). I’ve really enjoyed the people aspect of this hike.
One of the more interesting (to me, anyway) characters we’ve run across is Bigfoot. Bigfoot sat down next to Ben for breakfast this morning and said, “Happy birthday, man!” He is attempting to thru-hike BAREFOOT. BAREFOOT!!!! He said he started out barefoot, but I believe it was the 2nd day he said he put shoes on because “it felt like he was stepping on glass every time he put his foot down.” But this day, he was back to being shoe-less. In talking with him, he said he hitch hikes every where he goes, and his whole life is in his backpack. For me, I just couldn’t imagine! Turns out, he was dropped off with us this day at Woody Gap. It took him a lot less time to get hiking than us. We never did catch up to him, and throughout the day we’d wonder where he was and how his feet were doing.
Our hike this day was to include hiking up Big Cedar Mountain (a pretty steep incline, but again, short) and then take on Blood Mountain and wind up at Neel Gap. The night before, I’d called ahead and reserved a cabin for us at Blood Mountain Cabins. From there, we could either wait for our scheduled extraction for the weekend, or go on to Tesnatee Gap for extraction. I’d planned to see how we felt.
We were dropped off around 8:45, and were hiking before 9:00. I was feeling pretty good about meeting our goal, when Alice started her talk of quitting again. By now, it was really starting to irk me. We had all discussed well before this adventure even started the commitment that would be involved, and that yes, there would be challenges and quitting simply wasn’t an option unless we had to be taken out due to medical problems. Everyone had agreed. She just kept saying, “I don’t know if this is my thing or not,” and she let slip once that she “didn’t know if she had it in her” to do it. Now, as the responsible adult I can assure you I would never put my kids at risk or put them in a situation if I didn’t feel they could handle it. I felt 100% confident that both kids could do this.
On top of Alice’s wanting to quit, Ben was having to stop seemingly every 10 feet to do something – scratch an itch, take off his coat, adjust his pack, put his coat on, adjust his pack again, etc etc. Then they started in on “we’re not going to be able to get to Neel Gap before night.” Now, I don’t know where that was coming from because we were making good time and it was not going to be an issue at all.
After so much of this, I grew frustrated with the both of them. As we were nearing the final stretch before starting the climb to Blood Mountain, Alice tells me her ankle hurts, that she’s rolled it several times. The situation with our friend on Monday was at the back of my mind; I certainly didn’t want to push Alice and have her wind up with an injury but at the same time, I so wanted to get over that mountain! After debating with myself, I decided to just call for a shuttle at Jarrard Gap. The only problem was that we had to hike about a quarter of a mile down a dirt road but it worked out; the last guy on my shuttle list was the only guy that answered the phone. $40 later and an hour and a half later, we were in the cabin. I had already decided at that point I’d had enough of the whining and complaining and we’d just go home on Friday. Definitely not the “bonding” experience I had in mind!