After shedding the excess weight, I managed to pick up the pace a bit, hiking 11 miles (17.5km) on my first day back on the trail, followed by a cruisy 18 mile (29km) day and a subsequently painful 14 (22.5km) day.
After leaving Woody Gap, I passed through the Blood Mtn wilderness. Blood Mtn (highest point on the A.T. in Georgia) is known for its high frequency of bear activity, so you are required to carry a bear canister for all your food if you plan to stay overnight there. I didn’t have one of these and didn’t want to add the extra weight, so that was the impetus for my first long day. I came across a guy sharpening a stick into a spear with a machete (I am guessing to protect himself from bears? But guess what? I was now less afraid of the bears than I was of my potentially unhinged fellow hiker, so that was something…). When I arrived at Slaughter Creek on the approach to the Blood Mtn ascent, I had to curtail the word association games my mind was playing.Needless to say, between the bears, the machete wielding thru-hiker and the threat of impending rain, I made it over that mountain in record time. I was perhaps moving a little too fast as I face-planted on the descent (no major damage), playing stacks-on with all my gear. For an object that is inert when not in contact with my back, my pack has a surprisingly good tackle… I was more than happy to sacrifice a little of my blood to the mountain in this way than the alternatives my mind had been conjuring earlier… I made it down the mountain to Neel Gap, where I purchased a new (hopefully waterproof) tent & took a bunk for the night.
The next day was clear blue, with predominantly flat terrain, so I walked for as long as my legs would carry me.
I received some trail magic coming out at Testnatee Gap. Trail magic is something you read about in all the trail memoirs. Hikers speak of it with reverent awe, so you begin the hike knowing such a phenomenon exists, but you are still taken aback slightly the first time someone appears in the middle of the trail offering you free food & drink. “Are you sure I can’t pay you anything for this?!”
I camped on a lonely ridge with a couple of other hikers in my new palace:I also strung a bearbag for the first time (there have been cables or bear boxes at each of my previous stops). That was a fun adventure (and my food was still there the next morning so yay)!
The walk from my lonely ridge to Sassafras gap was a tough haul, taking in Tray Mtn, the second highest peak on the trail thus far, after an already grueling series of ascents and descents. But the payoff was a nice short 6 mile hike the next day, ending with a night in town (read beer, bath & bed, in that order – small pleasures ☺️).