CareFree and I made progress today, but nowhere near as much as we hoped, as my back pain took a major regression. We did hit one milestone, though: halfway.
I woke up to a nice cool morning breeze, and even more back pain than before. The kind that makes it hard to stand up, let alone hike. However, we were in the middle of nowhere, and the only thing we could do was move forward.
CareFree helped out by taking one of my food bags (in addition to my half of the tent she had already been carrying), and shortly after nine, we set off, very slowly. (So much for an early alarm to get a head start on the day!)
We set our target for today to be today’s “slow” goal from our planning on Saturday. With the extra distance we covered yesterday, it would only be eight miles to get there, a large campsite next to a creek. Presuming we made it there, we’d still be “on schedule”.
We made two stops along the way. After a mile and a half, I stopped, took off my pack, and laid on the ground, writhing in pain because I could barely stand. (And also trying to stretch, to whatever extent that might help, which wasn’t very much.) After a half hour of that, I finally found enough focus to will myself off the ground and back to hiking, assisted by CareFree stuffing my other food bag somewhere in her pack. That will lasted another two miles, at which point there was a repeat of the earlier writhing, though with a tiny bit less pain. (Ostensibly, the actual reason for the second stop was because my knee was bothering me. But that was caused by the back pain, so it’s a somewhat pointless distinction.)
Even though this was one of my least favorite days of hiking, it was a beautiful day out, and I tried to remind myself of that. The trees swayed in the wind, a nice light breeze rustling the leaves. The sky was bright blue; there weren’t many clouds to dull its color, which was only enhanced by the bright green of new leaves. The trail itself was in good shape, easy to hike, with new plants adding green on both sides of the trail.
A couple of blow-downs over the course of the day made for a bit of an annoying obstacle course for me today, but it really wasn’t that bad. It just took three times as long to get through because of limited mobility.
It had looked like someone had been through a several mile stretch of trail doing maintenance; the trail itself looked like the dirt had been overturned recently. Later, we thought we saw tire tracks in the dirt, and supposed it had been churned up by mountain bike riders. Boars going through the trail looking for food was another possibility.
Somewhere around already through the day, we reached the halfway point on the trail. Where exactly that was is unclear; the BMT thru-hiker’s guide suggests on a mountain called Rocky Top; Guthook’s guide (which I’ve been using for distance markers) suggests a couple miles earlier on Round Top. Either way, we at least managed to get that far!
With only eight miles today, we had one long uphill interrupted by short flat and downhill sections, kind of bouncing around a bit, followed by a downhill to a campsite on Brookshire Creek.
Near the campsite, we met an older man who was just as surprised to see us as we were him. Also an avid hiker (though not for long-distance trails), he had hiked over 11,000 miles over the last 30 years, and was out for a few day hike on the BMT. Hearing of my back problems, he suggested that some of my muscles might be unbalanced and suggested some stretches that might release the tension.
A short while later, we made it to our campsite, somehow managing to hike 7.9 miles today. While CareFree went to get water, I tried to do some stretches, though I mostly laid on the ground and tried to relax. The stretches helped a little, I think.
Part of me wanted to hike further, and get to the next campsite another four miles ahead. But sanity quickly prevailed, and instead, we set the tent up and I tried to take a short nap.
By dinner time, I was feeling better than I had all day, but still not as well as I was yesterday. Since I thought part of the problem was being caused by my air mattress, CareFree and I decided to swap mattresses this evening; my hope is that her more firm mattress will better support my back. We also propped up my feet slightly, hoping that’d help counteract some of the slope the tent was on. (We set it up on the flattest, most level space we could find, but it wasn’t level enough.)
Hopefully, that’ll make a difference and my back will be feeling better tomorrow. We made it far enough today that we could (under normal circumstances) make it to Fontana Village, our next resupply, with the supplies we have. Whether we can make it there is going to depend entirely on my back.