It would only seem appropriate that my good running friend , Brad Dodson, would play a major role in my first 20 mile day (21.4, to be exact). After all, during the four years I had the privilege to coach Brad in cross-country and track at Shaw High School, we logged at least a couple of thousand training miles together. So when Brad offered to let me slack pack today by driving me back to the trail this morning at Davenport Gap and then picking me up in the afternoon at Lemon Gap, I knew from the outset that big miles were on today’s agenda.
After a hearty breakfast at Bojangles, we headed up I-40 shortly after 8:00. By a little after nine I was hiking. What I had not anticipated about the early part of today’s hike were the water crossings. During the first two miles they occurred often. Since the rushing water required a concerted effort to cross, the beginning of the walk was a bit tedious. Taking my time for fear of slipping on a wet rock or taking a tumble in the chilly streams, I managed to stay upright for each of the crossings; however, I did slightly lose my balance once, which resulted in a wet shoe.
Bu the time I finally reached the I-40 underpass, I was beginning to move. While walking across the bridge, I noticed a car headed toward me at a very slow pace. Looking through the driver’s side window was Piddling Around. All cleaned up after finishing his section hike from Springer to the northern terminus of the Smokies, he looked excited to be going home to Alabama. It was a pleasure to meet Piddling and hike with him for the past five days. He wished me well as I hiked away in a light rain that would continue all morning.
Just before beginning the climb that would extend for over six miles, with a gain of about 3000 feet of elevation, I met two German hikers, Restless Cowboy and Fresh Coke, who had been treated to a stay at a cabin by Joe and Debra (or Deborah), a couple from Florida. We took some pics before I began the ascent. On the way up I passed several thru hikers, including Mustard Plug, Oops, Private Snowman, and Chicago. Chicago was wearing a shirt with Wrigley Field pictured on its front. The reference to the “Friendly Confines” immediately brought my brother to mind. Twice Don and I had the opportunity to watch games at Wrigley. On the second occasion we were joined by Don’s son, Brent and my son, Sam. I wrote about the first trip on my web page under the heading, “Don Loved Baseball.” I told Chicago how much Don and I had enjoyed Wrigley.
As the climb continued I met and hiked with for a short while, Twix, a young lady from Phoenix, who is sharing the experience with her mom, Salsa. Having corresponded with Salsa on TJ, I told Twix I was looking forward to meeting her mom, who was a few miles up the trail. Sure enough, a couple of hours later I came upon Salsa who had stopped for a break and was talking to Twigs. It was good to meet someone from trail journals on the trail.
When I finally reached the apex of the ascent, the hike became one of the less demanding of the first three weeks. At times I was practically running on the level and mildly downhill portions. Even though I was hiking at a very good pace, I still regularly paused to introduce myself to other thru hikers that I had not met previously. Among them were Red Knees and Guru, and later on in the day, Wooden Spoon and her dog, Gaia. Just before wrapping up the day’s hike, I stopped to chat with Waffles and Enoch, who were cooking up some chow by a stream before heading on up the trail to find a campsite.
The highlight of today’s hike by far was crossing Max Patch, a bald that affords 360 vistas. With plentiful sunlight that had arrived in the early afternoon, the views were again…. well, OK, they were breathtaking. I just can’t think of a more appropriate adjective right now. With the wind practically blowing me horizontal, I remembered last fall when Linda and I had visited Max Patch by car. It was especially poignant to be hiking up today.
When I finally reached Lemon Gap where Brad was scheduled to pick me up, I was a full hour ahead of when I had expected to arrive. For the half hour I had to wait, I began journaling in the rather isolated area. Since I was getting a little cold, it was good to see Brad pull up. Today’s hike was indeed special, but not as special as the quality time I was able to share with my old friend on the ride to and from the trail. On the return trip it was especially meaningful to discuss how some of Brad’s former high school teammates are doing these days. It seems hard to believe it’s been 25 years since I coached them. In fact, I couldn’t have asked for a better ending to another beautiful day on the Appalachian Trail.