Day 25: Roaring Fork

Day 25. A friend asked yesterday how I was holding up mentally, since it appears I am doing well physically. As it relates to the former, I’m doing great. A couple cruddy days in snow/cold, but nothing I wasn’t expecting (though did hope to avoid). I listen to music or podcasts, chat with fellow hikers, and take in the beauty of these mountains … while desperately trying not to trip over myself.

The physical challenge, however, has been a daily struggle lately. I’ve been fortunate in the toes/blisters front, but it seems every day I am dealing with a different lower body ailment: arches, calves, ankles, hamstrings, and today … shins.

After the 18 miler yesterday, I woke up in pain. Actually, to be more accurate, I woke up over and over throughout the night in pain. From the top of my foot to halfway up my shin was just shooting pain. When I finally woke this morning, I hobbled over to the main house at Standing Bear to access the WiFi and lookup symptoms. It sounds like this could be early signs of shin splints, so I’m going to be very careful for the next few weeks. That injury would be no joke.

Side note, I heard sad news about Ground Score yesterday, who we hiked the first half of the Smokies with. Apparently he had a bad fall a couple days ago from the snow and dislocated his hip. We are all sending positive vibes and healing thoughts your way Score! That is a serious injury and has me evaluating every step I take very carefully today. My own ailments are worrisome but not yet hike-ending like for Score the next few weeks. I have no doubt he’ll be back eventually, hopefully this year (but not too soon).

As for me, I promised I would evaluate my legs every couple miles, but still wanted to shoot for Roaring Fork Shelter 15 miles away. In retrospect, I should not have come this far, but I felt fine until about mile 11 before anything noticeable started hurting. I could have set up the hammock anywhere, as stealth camping is legal in Tennessee, but knew it was only 2 more miles uphill. That would get me to Max Patch, a beautiful clear summit and highlight of this section of the AT.

So I suffered and moved on. I learned a bunch of new stretches to help with the shins, and practiced them all day, so it wasn’t too bad when we finally stopped. Now I’m resting comfortably in the shelter, hopped up on ibuprofen, and ready for tomorrow. Fun Facts is proving her pre-med qualities as well, learning how to tape up the shin for best support tomorrow. Thanks Fun Facts!

Side note, we had some really neat views today, including a giant radar tower that looked like a spaceship. We ate lunch there before moving on. Another neat view was on the ground … mile 250! Someone set up sticks again to recognize the accomplishment, so we honored it with some photos.

Another side note, folks talk often about “false summits” on this trail. Where you think you are at the top, only to find there is more up to be done. I think it’s a matter of expectation management though. If the guide says 3 miles to the top, you won’t get there in 30 minutes. If you see more trees above the possible summit, it isn’t one. Keeping your expectations in check helps to ensure you keep the spirits up.

It’s 17 more miles to Hot Springs, but I will NOT do it all in one day. The new plan is to go 12-15 tomorrow, camp, and Nero into Hot Springs for a full day of hot tub recovery.

Hello Neiman (Sharkbait)!

  • Start Mile: 241.4
  • Start Time: 10:00
  • End Mile: 256.6
  • End Time: 18:15
  • Miles Hiked: 15.2
  • Miles to Go: 1934.3
  • Lodging: Roaring Fork Shelter