Started off today a little sluggish, but my thigh felt much improved. Beast, Loon, and Verge all went on ahead while I was still packing up my tent.
Partway into the morning's moderate uphill climb, I remembered a bit of advice from when I was getting hiking shoes: "a pound on your feet is like four in the pack". I moved my day's worth of snack bars from my pants pockets to a pocket on my pack, and my legs instantly felt much lighter, which made the rest of the morning's climb easier. Along the way to Albert Mountain, I got a great view of the landscape below.
The morning culminated with a steep climb up Albert Mountain to the fire tower at the 100 mile marker, which provided both a great sense of accomplishment and a terrific view.
The rest of the day was largely downhill, though a few miles after leaving the fire tower, my leg started hurting again, and as it got worse throughout the day, I made the decision that not only was I going to go into Franklin for the evening, I'd probably take a zero day on Thursday to let my leg rest and recover.
Halfway up the last climb of the day, with my leg almost in revolt (and for once, not my feet!), a man named Paul came by. Paul, in town from Kansas on family business, wound up being a bit of trail magic. While he didn't actually do anything, his presence both provided a sense of reassurance that if I couldn't go on, someone would be able to get help (there was no cell signal in that area, and in the three hours since I left the fire tower, I'd only seen a few people); and also just encouragement to go on.
Once I made it to the top of the hill, it was a mostly gradual stroll down, and most of my usual agility and speed returned, slightly pained as it was, and I followed Paul down the mountain. (He was clearly an avid outdoorsman, and he moved quickly, with a spring in his step, barely actually using his walking staff.)
Upon reaching the bottom, more trail magic awaited: a group of people waiting for a hiker named Cold Turkey, were also sharing soda, fruit punch. As I drank the punch, a shuttle into town came in, and I hopped on, accompanied by several other hikers also waiting at Winding Stair Gap.
On the shuttle to Franklin's Budget Inn were Hobble, a former coast guard serviceman who had been living in the Philippines recently; Limey, from England; Mountain Eater, from New Zealand; and Driftwood and Wildwood, a mother and son from New Jersey.
On our ride into town, the van ran over something in the road and blew a tire. This is apparently the second of three shuttles Hobbled has been on that blew tires (and a third broke an antifreeze line before leaving), so now, he's earned the additional name "Shuttle Killer".
We eventually made it to the motel, and Mountain Eater and I got a room together to lower costs.
Afterwards, I went and got a great burger at Motor Company Grill (themed like a 1950s diner), and then went for beers at the Lazy Hiker Brewing Company, where I was much disappointed to find that they did not capitalize on Franklin being near the 100 mile mark of the AT and have something accordingly named and themed. They had a large banner for AT hikers, which I signed.
Back at the motel, played toilet paper football, and then frisbee, with other hikers in the parking lot. Managed to only get the frisbee on the roof once, where it was successfully rescued by a hiker who scaled the side of the building with an assist from the vending machines.
"Can you imagine what the NFL would be if they replaced the football with a roll of toilet paper?"
"I guess that'd make it the Toilet Bowl?"
Warm shower, then sleep. Zero day tomorrow. Leg's feeling better, but it deserves a day off. (A thunderstorm scheduled to roll through Thursday/Friday has, of course, no bearing whatsoever on this decision.)