Today started off cold, and rather than use a lot of fuel to heat almost-freezing water and a cookpot, I just had some cereal bars for breakfast.
The four of us (Beast, Loon, Verge, and I) decided we were going to go two shelters ahead, 12.5 miles to the Carter Gap shelter, and Beast got off to a quicker start while the rest of us were still packing our packs. I wound up leaving camp shortly ahead of Loon and Verge.
The day got off to a relatively easy start, mostly level and downhill, to (a different) Deep Gap, and a sign for a side trail brought some early morning levity. From the south, the sign looked a bit like a gravesite (a bit of a mound, with an unmarked cross), but on the other side, the "cross" turned out to be a sign for the "Chunky Gal Trail".
Passed Kemosabe and Foxtrot, and thanked them for the dinner they gave me; they were quite happy it also got shared with someone else.
On the way to Deep Gap, I had my first actual fall (as opposed to my usual slightly klutzy stumbles or the near-calls that my poles saved me from). Not entirely sure what happened; I think I misstepped stepping over a branch or rock, and slipped and fell on the aggressively slippery North Carolinan mud. Tried to keep from falling with my poles, but to no avail.
Getting up off the ground while wearing a 40 lb pack is a tricky proposition. Poles help, but you need to be able to plant them somewhere where they can give you useful leverage, and with the somewhat muddy soil, this was a tricky proposition to say the least. Ultimately, I just laid there for a few moments so I could recover enough strength to just push myself up with my hands, and then used the poles for the rest (though I saw them bending precariously, and might think twice using them in such a way in the future).
Truth be told, I wasn't in any real danger; it wasn't that steep a slope I potentially (though unlikely) could have gone down. I could also have waited like five minutes for the people I had passed shortly earlier to happen across me and help me up, but I figured I'd save that embarrassment for when I really need it.
At Deep Gap, the four of us began the main ascent of the day, a gradual 1100ft elevation gain over the next 2.4 miles up Standing Indian Mountain. We were led by Verge, who took off before the rest of us were ready, and then Beast, I, and Loon followed. I passed Beast after not too long, and then Loon rocketed past, and I didn't see the two of them again until partway through the relatively leisurely descent, when I passed them while they were lunching. Beast and I passed each other several times throughout the afternoon, he getting to the shelter slightly before me.
Somewhere on the way down, my right leg started hurting, though only a little, and I mostly just ignored it until I got to Carter Gap Shelter, where I tried to rest it. For some reason, I'd been somewhat klutzier today than usual, with a lot more unforced stumbles than usual, and I just chalked the pain up to one of the many dumb missteps I made today (though, not the fall).
After Loon and Verge arrived, since it was still early in the day, we decided to push on to the next campsite, about three miles further. My leg was fine during he uphill, but really started bothering me on the downhill. Fortunately, we stopped briefly at a short side trail to get some photos at a beautiful scenic spot, before continuing the long run downhill (a slog for me because of my leg, but otherwise would have been relatively low easy).
We got to camp around 4:30-5ish. The immediately adjacent water source was a barely flowing pool, and getting water there was a significant chore. There was another water source shortly down a side trail, but I was unwilling to walk further then I had to; I'll just have to get water for breakfast and hiking tomorrow morning.
After getting water and setting up tents, we sat around a firepit that was disgracefully filled with trash, cooked our meals, and talked, though about what I didn't really catch because I was too busy ignoring my leg.
I went back to my tent early to get the weight off my leg, popped two ibuprofen from the first aid kit I brought, typed this up, and am trying to get to an early sleep.
The past several days, my right shoulder has also been been getting sharp stabbing pains. At first, I had assumed it was improper pack strap settings (didn't seem to be), poor weight distribution (also seemingly disproven after shuffling around the contents of my pack), and poor pole technique. In retrospect, my attempts to reduce the force going into my right pole to reduce stain on my shoulder may have increased the stress on my right leg, leading to its current pain. My current working theory is that I'm possibly slouching forward, and that in combination with the poles and pack are causing that problem; once I realized that and started trying to stand straighter, the pain in my shoulder started to go away.
There's a saying on the AT: "No rain, no pain, no Maine." I definitely have the "pain" part of that trio down now.
Tomorrow morning brings an especially steep uphill at Albert Mountain, at which we will have completed the first 100 miles of the AT. On account of the leg, only planning on going as far as the road to Franklin, NC, 12 miles away from here, and hitching a ride into town for the night. I don't expect to take a zero in town on Thursday, but I'm going to play it by ear.