Franklin, North Carolina/Winding Stairs Gap

AT miles hiked today: 7.4
Total AT miles hiked: 109.8

I got up before my alarm, which was set at 5:00 am, packed up camp and was on the trail by 6:45. It was a nice campsite, but I was excited about getting to a town. I also didn't sleep well due to hating my synthetic long johns and being hot, dirty, sticky and itchy. I have one particular bug bite on my leg that was getting irritated by my tall hiking socks and the compression socks I wore at night and then it got scratched a couple times by sticks as I hiked. It wasn't until I cleaned it off last night that I realized it was becoming an issue. So I took a picture of it, naturally, cleaned it with a wet wipe, put triple antibiotic and a band aid on it and tried to sleep.

I gave up the attempt to sleep after removing all the offending items and just sticking to the silk liner and feeling my leg throb and itch. I want to sleep in cotton!

So, with my early start and only 3.5 miles to go to get to the shuttle pickup spot at Rock Gap, I headed off into the cool dawn. It felt so much better than hiking in the heat, which makes me think I really may flip flop my hike to avoid the worst of the Mid-Atlantic heat. I got to the Rock Gap Shelter at 8:15 and ran into Col Klink and Goose as they were leaving. They said a bunch of hikers had left early in order to catch the shuttle at 9:40, and so I dashed a quick note in the register and hurried the .1 mile to the road.

Nobody was there. It was completely deserted. Now I had managed to get one bar on my phone last night and a text came from Wendigo saying he and a bunch of hikers would be at Ron Haven's Budget Inn. I asked if I could share a room with somebody or did I need to get my own and he said I could take the extra bed in his room. Woo hoo! We'll both use our ear plugs, I'm sure. Then I lost the signal.

Anyway, I knew I had a room and so I called the shuttle from Rock Gap. The woman said the free shuttle stopped after April. It's May 2nd. So, not only do I get to read in the registers about all this great trail magic that happened for other hikers, but now the shuttles are done, too. Just great. Don't start late if you want the hiker feeds and free shuttles on your thru-hike. I felt sorry for myself for a minute, then decided to try to hitch hike on my own, but no cars came in ten minutes and I knew this wouldn't work.

I pulled out my guide and realized the other hikers had headed to Winding Stair Gap and I thought if they were surprised about no free shuttle, maybe they would still be there and I could split a paid shuttle with them. At least on the busy road I might get a hitch. Hmmm, 3.9 miles. The terrain doesn't look so bad. I'll go for it.

So I started a race up the mountain and was surprised to catch up to Col Klink and Goose, on an uphill, even. I passed them and was on my way, but I realized those were the first hikers I have ever caught up to and passed on a hill. I AM getting my trail legs.

I got there at 10:15. Basically, I hiked 4 miles in an hour and a half. More than two miles an hour, another personal record. And I had hiked 7.4 miles by 10:15. But the only hikers there were just arriving in their truck. Hoop said he did a 2011 thruhike and if I was still there when he got back from Siler Bald, he'd give me a ride in about four hours, but he thought I could hitch a ride before that. So I put my thumb out and as he and his friend came my way he said not to be shy or ashamed in my hitching. Then he looked down the road and saw a white van. "That is Ron Haven! He'll take you. Hey, Ron!" We waved and the white shuttle came our way. After loading me up, Ron wanted to go check the road at Rock Gap where I had waited nearly two hours ago. He even drove on the road under the shelter and honked in case somebody would come out, but I was the only one, and we had a nice chat on the way in. Thanks Ron and Hoop!

Then I spent the day eating three giant plates of food at a buffet, two of which were salads, drinking coke, then drinking beer and Angry Orchard hard cider (yum!) with Wendigo, Slaughterhouse, Brett, Will See, and Robert (?). Next I hit the outfitter store and then walked a few blocks to the Ingles grocery store with Slaughterhouse and Brett and #5 and Zen (the Applewoods), who I first met in Atlanta at the MARTA station. All five of us shuttled to Springer together, along with Purple Frog (I don't know where she is). After Ingles was Dollar General for me, where I bought $5 cotton shorts. Yay!

It was great catching up with all those hikers and I decided to try to stay with their group through the Smokies, so I'll be heading out on the shuttle with them tomorrow and not taking a zero day after all. I did get all my chores done, including laundry. Getting a shuttle into Gatlinburg will be cheaper if we can all do it together, and navigating the special rules there will be easier to figure out as a group. I caught them because they all took a zero today. I'll take a zero after the Smokies. NOC in three days!