Day 10. Rain is a reeeeally great motivator. With impending showers today and tomorrow, we woke up early to get on the trail by 8am and see how far we could go before the rain hits. My hammock setup is pretty good in the rain, but the others were not as confident, so we looked at the upcoming shelter options. There were shelters after 7.5 and 16 miles, so we decided to press for the latter, but also willing to settle for a short day if needed.
At first the rain was supposed to hit at 9am, then 1pm, then 4pm … but it never opened up and we stayed dry all day. A very light sprinkle just before lunch, but that was it. So we just kept hiking and hiking and hiking. Before long, we made it all the way to Rock Gap just shy of 20 miles away! I did not expect to record a 20 mile day so soon, but the body was feeling great, and my feet stayed the path. This is officially the longest day of hiking I’ve ever done … by far.
Getting to Rock Gap meant we could shuttle in to a Hostel in Franklin for the night. After strategizing (and realizing how beat up we all were), we decided the push was worth a reward. Tomorrow we will take a full day off, called a Zero Day, and let our bodies recover while exploring this tiny trail town. Since it is supposed to rain all day, it’s definitely a win win. We are staying dry at the Gooder Grove AT Hostel … more on that later.
The hike today was pretty easy, all things considered. Standing Indian proved to be a gentle giant, as the high elevation was balanced with a long trail of switchbacks. It was clear early in the day, so we had great line of sight to Clingman’s Dome. This is the highest peak on the AT, nestled in the forthcoming Great Smokey Mountains. It is still 100 miles away but stands like a monolith above everything else. That will be one helluva climb. You can see it in the distance in the photo below. It looks a bit like El Capitan in Yosemite or Chief Mountain in Glacier.
Side note, as I climbed up Standing Indian, I found myself praising the good people of North Carolina for knowing how to design a trail with switchbacks … something Georgia is apparently still waiting to discover.
The real beast today was Albert Mountain. After hiking 14 miles already, we rose 600 ft steadily over the next two miles. Then, we faced an insane hiking challenge to get the top. No, not hiking. Rock climbing. We climbed 400 ft through a cloud of fog on an incline so steep, I had to use all 4 appendages to scale it. The view at the top was supposed to be great but the fog rendered it nonexistent. Instead, we celebrated a different landmark … 100 miles complete! Someone laid out sticks to signify the achievement and milestone on the way back down, so we stopped for photos (above).
Our lodging tonight is the Gooder Grove AT Hostel. The proprietor is a very chill guy aptly named Zen, and the accommodations are nice. He converted his home to this hostel 3 years ago and welcomes up to 20 people per night. The main level bedrooms are converted to private rooms and the basement is a bunk house at $20 a bed. We see a couple familiar faces here, though it is mostly hikers we’ve yet to meet.
Two hikers are staying here for free, doing a “work for stay” contract with Zen while they heal from trail injuries. Work for stay is common on the AT and can alleviate some of the costs if you are willing to spend your day off running errands and cleaning up after other messy guests. I appreciate that it’s an option, but would much rather relax and recuperate. They also do our laundry as well, so after showering we are all cozied up in hostel loaner clothes (t-shirts and scrub/flannel pants).
We actually will stay here 2 nights and then hit the trail Monday morning. That will give us a full day of rest, and a chance for Fun Facts to pick up her resupply box at the post office. There are a few outfitters in town to check out also, though Steve is very eager to visit Walmart. He has this crazy idea of buying us all onesies to wear around town tomorrow … and you know what? It would not be the craziest thing I did this week. Hello Neiman!
- Start Mile: 85.6
- Start Time: 08:00
- End Mile: 105.5
- End Time: 18:05
- Miles Hiked: 19.9
- Miles to Go: 2085.4
- Lodging: Franklin / Gooder Grove Hostel