The 17th. St. Patty's Day. Unfortunately still 2 days out of town, so while there is green all around with Spring in bloom, there will be no green beer. Actually that was one of the last things on my mind. It's hard to think of anything else when every other step causes a little pain. The swelling in my left foot had gone down, but it was still very tender, and my left knee (which has typically been my only problem when hiking) decided to start causing trouble too. When we got to the top of Bly Gap, I was able to put a cold water bottle on it to take the swelling down. We met three brothers at Bly who are doing the trail together. Huge tent with snorkels they call the "Yellow Submarine". Just as I was getting ready to call it a day, a quick rain storm blew in, which hurried me along into my tent for the night.
On the 17th, woke up and took a picture of the crazy looking tree I slept near that sits right in the middle of the trail. Apparently it's a famous tree, or so "Shanti" (means peace) told us. Today was going to be a big uphill day, as we would reach the highest point on the trail thus far. It was a heck of a climbing day! Chris and I were hiking together after we reached a shelter to take a short break. We thought Brian was in front of us and kept expecting to see him sitting down on the side of the trail. We finally got to a low gap and saw another hiker, Trail Mix. We asked if he had seen anyone the looked like Brian pass in the past half hour or so, and he said no. Chris and I sat around for a while, turned on our phones, and started eating. About 10-15 minutes after we got there, here comes Brian trotting down the trail. Apparently when we left the shelter, he thought we weren't quite ready to leave, so he went on up a side trail to check something out. That's how he got behind us, and he found this out when he came across Shanti who he asked if we had already passed, and she said we had a while ago. We ate lunch as Steve came along, then started the high climb when we had finished. It took us up higher and higher until we hit the highest point on the trail so far, at 5,200ft. We made our way down, winding around on an old logging road, then decided to camp at Beech Gap. Ate some dinner and went to bed after chatting with Steve for a while. Sometime in the middle of the night I woke up to a loud crack and crash of what sounded like a huge tree falling in the distance. That was the first time I've heard that, and man was it loud!
The 18th was a rough morning. Woke up and felt terrible. I had apparently been breathing through my mouth all night, so my throat was dry and scratchy, my sinuses were stuffed, and my foot and knee were still reminding me they were there. I went to finally get out of my tent, but as I knocked my Crocs around to clean out the leaves and such, a salamander fell out and lay right in front of my tent. So there I was...trapped in my tent by a dragon. The thing wouldn't even move until I tapped his tail, then he went waddling away. Finally pulled myself together and made it out of camp for another day of climbing. We hit a steep and somewhat technical section that was very rocky. We kept pushing on (with the help of oranges that someone placed along the trail) until we reached a fire tower on Mt Albert. A 74 year old guy came trucking up the other side of the mountain and began talking to us. He said the section we just did leading up to the fire tower is the steepest section in the southeast along the AT. It was one of the most sturdy fire towers I had climbed up. A little larger than all those in The Adirondacks too. Great view and I was feeling alright, just worn out from the climbs of the day. The next downhill section was long and winding and my knee and foot took a toll. This was one of the toughest times on the trail for me so far (primarily based on the pain) and this marked the first time I wanted to quit the trail. I lagged far behind the others and had to take breaks every now and then. I was so frustrated with the struggle this early on. We got into camp at Glassmine Gap, where I set up camp, said forget it with dinner, and went straight to bed. I lay there at 6:30pm, head hot, but the rest of my body cold. Then I went into some series of sweats before I crawled into my bag and was able to go to sleep. I woke up somewhere around midnight or 1am and had to keep clearing my sinuses. I went into a series of short naps for the rest of the morning, and actually felt a quite a bit better when I woke up compared to the previous day.
The 19th (a "Trail Friday" as I like to call the days we are going into town). We had roughly 6 miles until we came to the road crossing that would allow us to pick up a shuttle to the town of Franklin, NC. Foot feeling TONS better today. Still a little tender, but hardly painful. My knee is still a little problematic at times, and now my left calf muscle is sore due to compensating for my sore foot and knee. At least I know that can be stretched out and will get better quickly. Didn't expect it, but today ended up having a serious climb to the top of a ridge. I had to stop at the top to catch my breath and relax for a bit. My sinus issue was really slowing me down today. We passed Standing Indian Gap, then made it to the road crossing for Franklin. We called for a shuttle and Ron Haven (apparently famous along the trail) came to pick us up. Got a hilarious rundown of Franklin and some history on the area. As we were in the bus headed down the mountains to town, my ears got plugged and my hearing diminished. We finally got to the Budget Inn, and after taking a hot shower, both ears were clogged and it was hard to hear people next to me. Too late for a clinic run now. Walked down to McDonalds to grab us guys a snack to hold us over while we did laundry. 3 Big Macs please :). 81 degrees read the bank sign. Nice and toasty. Went to have a good meal at the Motor Car Grille. Sirloin tips, Caesar salad, fries. Then time for some nice sleep in a bed.