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AT 2017: Day 30, Cherry Gap Shelter to Ash Gap

You know all the rules by now, and the fire from the ice

Hike with Gravity

Today was my 30th day on the trail, if you omit the eight days I left the trail to attend a conference.

It's too much to say I've become a "lean, mean, hiking machine" in that time, but at least I've gained experience and confidence.

Date
Weather Mostly sunny, warming to the low 70s
Trail Conditions Two big climbs, but not steep
Today's Miles 15.7 miles
Trip Miles 375.5 miles

I'm waking up and getting out of camp earlier. When I left this morning at 8:15 I was the first hiker out of camp.

I'm hiking as far as did before, but now I'm ending the day sooner.

And I'm enjoying the hike more.

Admittedly, the trail has had a lot to do with my vigor. For the most part, it has been smooth and wide, with few rocks, roots or steep climbs.

The weather has helped too. It has been warming up, but hasn't yet been too hot. Since that miserable day last Friday it has only rained once, and that was overnight.

There has been plenty of water on the trail, so I have not had to carry more than a liter at a time.

The trail has been going up and down all day today, but not in a wearing way. The elevation change has been gradual.

There haven't been as many wildflowers lately, but there are still occasional reminders that it's still Spring. Today I passed a large patch of dwarf larkspur, highlighted by brilliant sunshine streaming through the trees.

At Iron Mountain Gap the trail crossed a highway. This point was near the state line, so in one direction the road was Tennessee Highway 107, and in the other direction it was North Carolina Highway 226.

After the road crossing there was a sign posted to warn of fire danger. Fortunately, this sign was obsolete. There hasn't been much of a fire problem lately. The sign was posted last year when a drought made the risk severe.

I saw again Skittles and Jeff a little farther down the trail. They were trying to decide if they wanted to go to a nearby diner for a sandwich. The side trip would require walking to Greasy Creek Friendly and paying the owner to drive them to the diner. In the end they decided to do it.

By the way, you read that right. It's Greasy Creek Friendly. The owner named it that because, well, it's near Greasy Creek, and because she was trying to overcome the actions of a hostile neighbor. After years of his harassment she got a judge to issue a court order for the neighbor to stop the abuse.

I decided to push on, but hoped I would see Skittles and Jeff again.

Later on the ascent to Little Rock Knob I met Van Man once again. As he was yesterday, he was walking southbound.

He tried to explain to me yesterday his hiking plan, but I was still confused, so I asked again what he was doing. Now it made sense to me.

Van Man said he drops off his son Darren on the trail to hike northbound, then he drives north to a spot where he leaves the van. He then hikes south to a prearranged spot to camp with his son. The next day he'll hike north with his son until they reach the van. At that point they may go into a town, or Darren will keep walking and Van Man will drive north again to repeat the process.

Van Man doesn't get to hike every mile of the trail this way, but he does get to spend a lot of time with his son, and I know how special that is.

There weren't many views to be had as the trail continued its up and down pattern. The best spot for a view was at the top of Little Rock Knob. The trail took a long and winding path to get up to the top of the ridge.

From there I could see distant mountains, which are becoming more green by the day as the trees in upper elevations leaf out.

Coming off Little Rock Knob and descending to Hughes Gap I saw another granite marker, similar to the gaudy one I saw a few days ago near Sam's Gap.

It's one thing to feel a need to erect monuments to yourself or your ancestors, but why must you do it in the wilderness?

Heading up from Hughes Gap the trail began to climb Roan Mountain. When I started the day I thought I might try to reach the shelter near the top of the mountain, but I wasn't that keen about staying there.

The shelter is located at the highest elevation of all shelters on the trail, and has a reputation for being cold and drafty. It's also said to be a popular place for bears and mice.

By now it was approaching 4 p.m., and my plan for where to stop shifted to Ash Gap. According to the Guthook's app I use for navigation, the tenting space there was limited and the water source was a long ways away, but it seemed to be a better, more comfortable option than Roan High Knob Shelter.

I expected that going up Roan Mountain would be difficult, but it wasn't. There were only a few spots where the trail was steep. There were a lot of switchbacks to make the climb easier.

I reached Ash Gap at about 5:30. There were only a couple of hikers camped there when I arrived, a thru-hiker named Haze, who was joined for a few days on the trail by his friend, Dave. Haze said he recently retired as an emergency room physician.

Later, after I set up my tent, a few other hikers arrived. Twisted, Nails, Rusty, Salsa, and Magic Taters all managed to find a space to pitch there tents, despite the fact that Guthook's said there was only enough space for about six tents.

Late in the day, Skittles and Jeff arrived after their side trip for lunch at a diner.

The air was chilly but comfortable. As I crawled into my tent I thought about what I've learned in my first 30 days on the trail.

I've learned how to stay focused on what I need to do to successfully reach Maine, while still maintaining some balance by enjoying my surroundings and time with people.

I've learned how to keep my energy up by consuming calories all day long. I now recognize the importance of getting the right kind of nutrition, not just sugary snack bars.

I've learned the trail isn't just a physical challenge. Being away from my wife, family and friends, and putting up daily with discomforts of bad weather and an aching body, make this hike as much an emotional challenge as a physical one.

Do I know it all now? Of course not, but it's starting to feel like I have the skills I need to go the distance.

It's a buck dancer's choice my friend, better take my advice
You know all the rules by now, and the fire from the ice
Will you come with me, won't you come with me?
Wo-oh, what I want to know, will you come with me?

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