Georgia whipped us hard. John turned an ankle coming down Springer. Pushing a long day after Neels Gap, I messed up my knee. We both limped along with bruises and inflammation over those tough ups and downs.
We lost our first hiking companion at Unicoi Gap. Dark Age was sitting at the trailhead waiting for a ride. “It’s my knees,” he said. “I’m going home to see my own doctor.” Home being Pennsylvania, he was hoping for a shot at returning southbound, if the prognosis was good.
At Betty Gap we passed LDog, who’d camped out two nights to rest his knee before climbing Albert Mountain. A doc with us gave him some pain pills. He had to pull off the trail, we just heard. One of the ladies we camped with two nights ago, word has it, broke her ankle on that mountain descent the next morning.
At the last big road crossing, a young couple were huddled against the wind cooking a meal. When John tried to strike up a conversation, the fellow looked pained. “We’re done,” he said. The girl huddled deeper into her jacket. It was bitter cold that night, so they made the right call for her sake.
Any of these folks could have been us. This is the most physically and mentally punishing thing either of us have ever done. Our knees are stronger – we’re both wearing knee braces – and our packs lighter. Calling it quits isn’t our plan, but as we watch others fall by the wayside, it underscores how tough this journey truly is, and how grateful we are for good health and good advice from thru-hiker alumni friends to keep us moving north.