Friends Who Mend

Today marks my second week on trail. I’m sleeping near Brown Fork Gap Shelter, mile 152.7 per the 2018 guidebook. I’ve barely made mileage during the past week. Shortly before Franklin I began experiencing shin splints in my left leg. I took a “nero” day into Franklin, hiking only eight miles, and then a full zero day after. Mud Turkey quickly left me behind after the town shuttle dropped us off at Rock Gap.

In town I babied my leg. I iced it, elevated it, took ibuprofen, and ate really healthy foods. The pain leaving Rock Gap was really bad, and I almost caught the shuttle back into Franklin at Winding Stair Gap, just five miles away. I calculated my pace at 1.75 miles per hour, and decided it was good enough to continue. By seven in the evening, I hobbled out fifteen miles.

The next day I experienced a lot of swelling, which I noticed while eating lunch on top of Rocky Bald. The view here was epic, and being a quarter mile side trail, I had it to myself.

The view from Rocky Bald

When I made it down to Tellico Gap later that day, my leg was still swollen and in a lot of pain. A physical trainer named Jeff just happened to be there (the trail provides) so he examined it. He thought it might be a stress fracture, MTSS (shin splints), or Compartment Syndrome. I called my sister, because she is a massage therapist, and I reached out to Some Shine, who has had a similar injury.

My sister and I went through various diagnostics, and everything pointed back to medial tibial stress syndrome (MTSS). Some Shine advised me to listen to my body, and use my intuition.

I decided to take another zero, and Some Shine was kind enough to spend it with me. The following day, I hitched out of the NOC some fifty miles into Murphy. She picked me up, and then her and I went back to Franklin for cheap lodging. She drove all the way up from Fayetteville!

We spent two days there, and it was so nice to hang out with her. I kept my

leg up most of the time, but we did get out and walk short distances. We ate great food, watched the new Spider-Man movie, and fell asleep in each other’s arms each night. It was wonderful.

Friday her and I got up and drove to the NOC. We did a quick gear shakedown in the parking lot. Then she donned her Exos 58, and we headed up the mountain. We found a pretty nice little campsite about seven miles in, and set up.

She was quite amused by my elaborate sleeping system, and simply spread out her torso-length foam pad onto the floor of the tent. We ate a simple Mac and cheese dinner. I managed to loose my bear bag line, and my rock sack in a 20ft tree branch after dinner. This of course, after I told her how awesome I was at throwing bear lines…

The next morning we took our time getting up and eating breakfast. We headed up to Sassafras Gap Shelter for water, and ran into Pippy and Salamander. Salamander taught us a few flowers, among them Spring Beauties and Trailing Arbutus.

Trailing Arbutus

She’s an ecologist who loves, you guessed it, salamanders! Pippy is named for the long-stocking hat she often wears. Librarian is the third member of their group, and those girls are by far the most fun people I’ve met on trail so far.

Some Shine and I walked from the shelter back to the trail and said our goodbyes. I held her for a long time, kissed her forehead, and the time came. She headed south, back to the NOC, and I headed north again. She’s been having a rough time in life lately, which made it more difficult to say goodbye. It also made her choice to come up that much more precious to me.

She is simultaneously the person I most want to leave trail to spend time with, and the only one I trusted to keep me on trail during this time. I had many insecurities during those three days, and she helped me navigate them. She’s one of the kindest and most giving people I know.

I ate lunch on Cheoah Bald, and found Librarian there with Pippy and Salamander. The view was amazing. That is when I decided to make for Brown Fork Gap Shelter, bringing the day to about ten miles.

Cheoah Bald

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